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Identifying the best time for calving is a strategic choice for breeders, and it must consider multiple factors.
There are three factors to consider when discussing calving season:
- geographical and seasonal climate,
- type of farming system,
- cows’ nutrition.
Assessing how these factors interact can allow the breeder to understand what is the best strategy to introduce new-borns in the herd and to ensure their well-being and the one of cows, before, during and after calving.
Let us analyse in dept the factors that need to be considered.
Choice of calving season
Usually, the most suitable seasons for calving are: spring, late winter, late spring, and summer.
Calving in late winter/early spring
If you choose this period, it means that the cows went through pregnancy over the winter. It also means that they had access to sufficient quality and quantity of food during the winter to allow a successful pregnancy, and that the cost of feed was sustainable for the breeder in the cold season.
In addition, having births in spring means both that cows will not have access to a large amount of fodder, since it will be more available from May onwards, and that calves will be weaned in autumn and switch to solid feeding in winter, seasons in which the quality of fodder tends to decrease.
To evaluate the cost-benefit trade-off of calving during this season, you need to know how long you can wait before you have finished cattle, since calving in late winter/early spring would often entail slower calves’ growth.
Calving in late spring/early summer
This choice is particularly suitable in geographical areas with a wet climate, where pastures remain green even during summer and allow cows to access fresh fodder during the lactation period. Thus, a greater nutritional intake for cows, and therefore for calves, can lead to a more rapid growth of calves that, despite being born in late spring, could be as large in autumn as those born in the previous months.
The choice of calving in late spring would allow the farmer to considerably save on feed costs. Choosing this period can, however, have downsides if the climate is very warm during gestation or even for the success of mating, since high temperatures reduce the fertility of bulls.
Calving in late summer/early autumn
In this case as well the geographical and climatic factor is crucial. Planning to calve in autumn means that cows had access to good pastures and fodder during the summer.
But, oftentimes, grazing lands are dry in summer, and afterwards they are unavailable or more expensive during autumn when cows are lactating and need the maximum nutritional yield from their feeding. Surely it will be necessary to supplement fodder or feed with proteins, causing the farmer more investment and spending on feeding livestock.
On the other hand, calves will be ready in late spring and will benefit from fresh pastures immediately after weaning.
Free grazing VS feedlots or ranches
Much depends on how the breeding and the feeding of animals are managed.
It’s known that fodder-based feeding and grazing have lower costs than feedlots: for this reason, those who raise their cattle on pasture tend to prefer to calve in late spring/early summer, when fodder is ready to support cows during lactation (to meet their nutritional demands), but this requires as well to prepare higher feed demand in autumn and winter when calves will switch to solid feed, so farmers need to manage feed stocking in advance.
Instead, if new-borns arrive in autumn, farmers will have to consider that lactating cows will need a lot of feeding during winter, and both calves and cows should be kept warm in suitable facilities.
On the other hand, calving in autumn means the animals will be kept in stables, hence reducing the space occupied by the herds, since calves and cows would be together, and the total demand for feed will be lower in winter because calves will still be lactating.
So, if you choose to plan births in autumn make sure you have adequate facilities and a feeding strategy that can guarantee animal welfare during the winter, especially where the climate is harsh.
Where the climate is milder, warmer, or drier, it is necessary nonetheless to guarantee availability of food for lactating cows during the winter season when the cost of feed is generally higher and the availability and yield of pastures are lower.
Feed for lactating cows
After discussing the choice of calving season and the type of farming system, we can understand how the third factor is important, which is the feeding of lactating cows, a fundamental aspect for the health of calves and for the success of breeding.
Lactating cows need a lot of nutrients, so breeders should always take into account the availability of food they can supply to animals and choose to schedule the calving season in accordance.
In particular, the hay that is given to lactating cows must be of excellent quality, rich in proteins and energy. As we mentioned, pasture fodder tends to deteriorate in autumn, so the choice to move the calving season to autumn means that there will be a need for fodder supplements.
Corn as well is a fundamental diet ingredient; it has the advantage of being an ingredient that is always available and needs minimal processing.
As for what concerns vitamins and minerals, it is always very important to ensure the integration of these nutrients. If cows give birth in early spring, mineral salts and vitamins must be supplemented until the pastures are ripe.
It’s well understood that feeding cows is fundamental for the growth of calves in their first months of life, for further information read the article dedicated to feeding calves.
For the choice of the best calving season there is no single answer (best or wrong time).
Each farmer must evaluate, based several factors reflecting his holding, his economic resources and market needs, which period would be better to obtain maximum benefit at the lowest cost.
To accompany breeders in choosing the best strategy, we at Farm4Trade have developed a Suite of farm applications that allows to track all animals on the farm, including pregnancies, lactation, weaning, etc., to control production costs including feed costs, and to formulate the best food rations for animals depending on their status, whether it’s pregnancy, breastfeeding, finishing…
We recommend to all breeders the use of Farm4Trade Suite because it is the best way to evaluate the best strategies based on the characteristics of their farms.