In the coming weeks some beef cattle farmers will begin their fall calving season. Running from September to November, fall calving has been practiced for many years, although in smaller numbers than those farmers who have their herds setup for spring calving. Recently fall calving has received more attention and become an increasingly popular strategy as a result of its many benefits.
"An advantage of fall calving is more consistent weather throughout the calving season," explains Southern States Feed Sales and Technical Representative Harry Walker. "There is less volatility from cold to warm days and warm to cold days," adds Walker. Calves born in the fall are generally born in large, dry, clean pastures during warm weather. Conversely spring calving season, February to April, tends to be the wettest and sloppiest time of year. It's not uncommon to have spring born calves get sick and/or die as a result of the moist conditions. Consistent fall weather improves calf survivability rates and plays a factor in overall health.
Calving in the fall can also improve reproductive performance of the beef cow. After grazing on summer pastures the body condition of cattle should be excellent. This body condition should allow the cow to have an easier time calving and require less assistance than their spring calving counterparts. Improved body condition is also important when it's time to rebreed your fall calving herd, as these cattle return into heat quicker than thinner spring calving cows.
Another advantage of fall calving is improved fertility in both the cow and bull at breeding time. Heat stress reduces reproductive performance in cattle, however this is mitigated when breeding occurs after fall calving.
One of the most appealing aspects of fall calving is an increased market for weaned calves in the spring. As 70-75% of all calves are sold in the fall at weaning, you will have a prime opportunity to sell your calves in the spring during an up market. Southern States Feed Sales and Technical Representative Jeff Dryden agrees, "Selling fall calves in the spring brings on average 10 to 12 cents more per pound." Calf prices are typically at their highest from March to April when fall born calves may be weaned.
Two main disadvantages of fall calving are lack of availability of quality forage and cost to feed your cow-calf pair. Fall calving season comes at a period of transition between warm and cool season forages. Therefore warm season forages will have decreased in nutritional value, while cool season forages have not yet produced enough growth to adequately graze your herd. Additionally as fall calving cows are lactating during the winter, their nutritional needs are greater relative to spring calving cows during this time.
"Several cow-calf operators have both a spring calving group and fall calving group enabling them to have calves to sell in both spring and fall," explains Walker. Splitting up your herd can allow you to take advantage of the unique benefits of each calving season. Take a look at the size of your operation and your market to determine what will work best for you. Experiment to see the results. Remember there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing when to calve.