Ranch Musings: The waiting game

Columnist David Zirnhelt writes about later calving and breeding

David Zirnhelt

Observer Contributor

For sure, we have had enough rain, thanks.

Now it is going to take some time and heat to dry many of the fields, especially those that are irrigated from below either through groundwater, springs, or flooding.

Ranchers, like all farmers, are tied to the weather and climate. We are constantly reminded of our vulnerabilities. So, when the rain won’t quit when the crops are just right, we feel somewhat anxious.

We know the quality of the feed crops is declining with every day. Those crops that do well in cooler weather are thriving. Those that depend on more heat won’t pick up until there is a lot more sunshine.

What does it matter? For one thing, nutrition is a major factor in determining reproductive performance, i.e. whether or not a cow will be bred. High-protein feed, either fresh or preserved, is most helpful in bringing on the estrus in cows.

Later calving and thus later breeding can be a problem. That cow has to recover from the birthing, feed a hungry calf, maybe grow a little herself if she is young and get ready to breed again.

If that breeding takes place when the protein content in the grass is reduced, as happens late July and early August, the reproductive rate may be reduced.

Conversely, if the cow calves early, late winter or early spring, that presents its own challenges with mud and cold.

If the cow is on good preserved feed with high enough protein, and then especially once on fresh grass with high protein, she should be fertile.

So late calving and therefore later breeding can be assisted by the ranch manager having vegetative, i.e. growing grass, ready for those later-calving cows. This is achieved by moving the cattle on the home pastures quickly around from pasture to pasture, letting them graze just the top one-third of the plant, leaving lots of leaves to allow immediate regrowth.

When the bulls are turned in with the cows on the early-grazed pastures, the quality should be much higher because the plants are not mature. Done this way, the same effect on the cow’s nutrition is achieved as though they were turned out on fresh pasture much earlier.

All of this is more intensive work for the rancher, but the benefits are that this extra work is done after calving and hopefully this later calving is less work. That is the evidence — the cows calve easier, and the calves are healthier than the earlier ones.

No mud to harbour harmful bacteria and no bitter cold to freeze tender parts.

The benefits to earlier calving are earlier-maturing first-time breeders and bigger calves at market time.

We should have two measures here: the cost per pound to raise the calf, not an individual’s weight per se, and the welfare of the newborn. Many of you out there will have your own reasons for your management practices. We need to drill down and analyze the impacts, especially the financial, of whatever you are doing.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake.

READ MORE: A trip down memory lane



editor@quesnelobserver.com

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