Establishing a Controlled Breeding and Calving Season

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cow with calf

Cow with newborn calf

Article written by Matthew Burns, Extension Beef Specialist with Clemson University, and published in Progressive Cattle magazine on August, 25, 2020.

Establishing a controlled breeding and calving season that works best with your operation is vital to the profitability and sustainability of your cattle business.

And by defining a controlled breeding season, you will in turn have a controlled calving season.

Calving seasons are usually classified into three categories:

1. Winter (January – February); This means calving in the coldest time of the year, but it sets your calves up to wean on summer pasture, leading to potentially higher weaning weights. During this cold calving season, the cow herd must be watched especially close for calving and calf health problems.

2. Spring (March – May); Having a spring-calving cow herd means increased nutritional needs of cows during the winter leading up to calving. Good winter grazing or access to economical feed supplement is needed for a spring-calving herd.

3. Fall (September – October); Fall calving allows the use of summer pasture to keep the cow herd in good condition prior to calving. Calf health, however, will have to be watched closely due to the extreme swing in temperatures from early September to late October.

To be successful in the transition from continuous breeding to a controlled 90-day breeding season, several steps must be taken:

  1. Determine when your breeding season will take place.
  2. Make sure you have adequate, secure facilities to house bulls when they are not with cows.
  3. Determine how the transition will be made. Make a plan and stick to it.

Producers have a few options when it comes to making the transition, but both options have advantages and disadvantages.

Option 1: Use a period of three to four years to gradually decrease the amount of time in your breeding season, creating a more defined breeding and calving seasons. This option allows producers to maintain a normal calf crop every year. Open cows that do not fall within the parameters of that year’s breeding season should be culled. The time investment and management to make this transition is certainly a challenge and a long-term commitment.

Option 2: Use one year and make the transition for all of your cattle. If it is determined that the breeding season is going to be in April, bulls would be pulled on April 1 of year one. The last calves would be born in January; the bulls would be turned out April 1 of year two for a 90-day breeding season. This option will cause a smaller calf crop over one year due to the extended period of time bulls are removed; however, it does make the transition much quicker.

Having a controlled breeding season will increase operation efficiency, decrease nutritional needs, decrease labor needs and, when combined with other best management practices, will increase profit.