Switch to late season calving helps ranchers
RAPID CITY, S.D. -- While calving season is just beginning for some ranchers, others have a while to wait. It is becoming increasingly more common for ranchers to push back calving seasons until later. By doing so, ranchers such as Pat Guptill en...
RAPID CITY, S.D. - While calving season is just beginning for some ranchers, others have a while to wait.
It is becoming increasingly more common for ranchers to push back calving seasons until later. By doing so, ranchers such as Pat Guptill enjoy many benefits.
"The reason we switched was because we were aiming for a different market," Guptill says. "But we've seen benefits across the board."
On their ranch near Rapid City, S.D., Guptill says they aim to calve approximately 300 cows. They begin calving the first week of May and typically continue for about a 45-day period. The ranch uses a later calving season as a management tool.
"There is no way I would ever go back. Now, I don't have to deal with mud, snow or cold weather," he says.
By changing their calving season, Guptill was able to reap benefits such as fewer calving problems, clean ground, minimal scours, warmer weather and forage available to meet nutritional needs. He no longer worries about blizzards or about ears or tails freezing off.
Heat is a concern for many ranchers, however Guptill says that hasn't been an issue.
"Hot temperatures are not a factor, unless your cows are not ready to work for you," he says.
Guptill is able to have lower input costs and gain a higher return on investment. This is due in part to having the highest quality forage available to cows around calving time, therefore saving feed costs and improving efficiency. A higher return on investment is gained by marketing cattle at a different time when the market is more favorable.
"We're not going to sell the biggest calves in the fall," Guptill says. "However, with lowered input costs, we can take a lot less and get a higher return on investment. That's something the industry in general doesn't look at."
They also save on lowered fuel costs. Guptill says when they calved earlier they would use approximately 1,600 gallons of diesel, but now only use around 300 gallons.
Adele Harty, SDSU Extension cow/calf field specialist based in Rapid City, has been in the state for 11 years.
"In my time here, I've seen a lot of producers moving calving into late April, even early May," she says.
She says there are a lot of factors that go into the timing decisions. Seedstock producers and those who farm often still calve earlier. Later calving typically results in lighter calves at weaning, which could provide opportunities to background and market at a different time than most producers, an advantage that Guptill is able to utilize. Harty adds that it also decreases labor costs, decreases pathogens and often has better weather conditions.
While there are many benefits, a later calving season isn't for everyone.
The drawbacks for Guptill using this system is that he is no longer able to brand or give shots, as they would have to do so in July when temperatures are hot. They don't work their cattle until fall or even winter. For producers selling off the cow, many buyers find this undesirable.
Troy Hadrick is a rancher near Faulkton, S.D. He begins calving season March 1 and has chosen to continue the early spring calving season for a combination of reasons.
"We use AI (artificial insemination) for everything, which has allowed us to greatly improve our genetics. We need to complete this when cows are close to home, before going to summer pasture," Hadrick says. "We have to have a balance. None of the factors involved in this decision are independent of each other."
Guptill has found success with a later calving season, and encourages other producers to consider looking at it in a different way.
"Some people think it won't work just because they haven't heard of anyone in their area doing it," he says. "I would tell people not to be afraid of trying something different. It might work."