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Don’t Treat Breeding Season Like It’s a Professional Sports Season

By John F. Grimes, Extension Educator, Ohio State University Extension

If you think about it, there are some basic similarities between a beef operation’s herd sires and a professional athlete. Both the sire and the athlete can be impressive physical specimens. Both are asked to perform at a high level during a specified time frame. Both can be very expensive to purchase and maintain! You may be able to think of other similarities but I believe this is where the comparisons can stop.

A major difference between the herd sire and the professional athlete is that their “season” should by no means be similar in length. Professional basketball and hockey begin their seasons in the fall and do not wrap up until the following June. Obviously, owners of these teams have vested financial interests in seeing their seasons last as long as possible. Longer seasons mean more ticket sales, concession sales, parking, media exposure, etc. which tends to improve the bottom line.

The concept of extending the season in order to increase profits definitely doesn’t apply to beef cattle. Nearly one year ago in the Ohio BEEF Cattle letter, Dr. Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University’s Extension Cattle Reproduction Specialist, asked the question “Why Have a Calving Season?” He provides some very sound economic arguments for having a calving season in the next two paragraphs.

One of the most asked questions in the cattle industry in the Southern United States: If I “pull” the bulls out for part of the year, won’t I lose an opportunity to get a few calves? Should I leave the bull out with cows year-round? Here is the answer: A research analysis of 394 ranch observations from the Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico SPA (standardized performance analysis) data set provided insight into the age old argument about “leaving the bull out” or having a defined breeding season. Oklahoma State University and Texas A&M Agricultural Economists (Parker, et al) presented a paper at the 2004 Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists. They found a positive relationship between number of days of the breeding season and the production cost per hundredweight of calf weaned. Also they reported a negative relationship between number of days of the breeding season and pounds of calf weaned per cow per year.

The data suggested that for each day the breeding season was lengthened, the annual cost of producing a hundred pounds of weaned calf increased by 4.7 cents and pounds of calf weaned per cow per year decreased by 0.158 pounds. The range of breeding seasons in the data set was from extremely short (less than one month) to 365 days or continuous presence of the bull. The trend lines that resulted from the analysis of the data give us an opportunity to evaluate the economic importance of a defined breeding season. The producer that leaves the bull out year-round (365 days) would sell 45.82 fewer pounds of calf per cow per year on the average than producers with a 75 day breeding season. That same producer would have $13.63 greater costs per hundredweight of weaned calf than the producer that used a 75 day breeding season. In this era of cost/price squeezes, a well-defined breeding and calving season provides a better opportunity to survive the volatility of cattle prices and input costs.

Among the common reasons given for continuous or long calving seasons is the lack of facilities or willingness to separate the herd sire from the cows. I will admit that managing bulls outside of the breeding season is no easy task but it is worth the effort. While separate facilities for sires do not need to be extravagant, they must be substantial enough to safely keep the bull away from the rest of the herd. By separating the bull from the rest of the herd, a producer can do a better job of managing feed requirements, maintaining or improving body condition, reduce the chance of injuries to the bull, and allow for continued growth of bulls that have not reached maturity.

Now that we have established that year-round calving is not an economically sound decision, we have to consider the proper length of the breeding season. This answer will vary from operation to operation, but I believe in this discussion that SHORTER IS BETTER!!

Nearly every management decision associated with the cow herd is simplified with a shorter calving season. Herd health, nutritional, and reproductive management are much easier when all cows are in a similar stage of production. Restricting the breeding season to 60 to 90 days will produce a more uniform calf crop which enhances marketing opportunities. It is easier to match up your forage supply with the nutritional demands of your herd when all animals are in a similar production cycle. Vaccination programs are more effective when animals in the breeding herd are in a similar reproductive status.

A more concentrated calving season is important for the smaller or part-time producers who have major time restrictions in their daily lives. I don’t know of any producer that enjoys the stress and worry of calving season over an extended period of time. This is especially true if calving season comes during inclement weather and you are away from the farm for long stretches of time during an average day.

A shorter calving season will eventually lead to greater efficiencies in reproduction rates. Cull cows that don’t conceive within your given calving season and don’t look back. Keep daughters of the cows that get bred early each calving season. If necessary, buy bred females that calve within your desired window to replace the open females. Implementation of these practices will certainly improve your herd’s reproductive performance over time.

Forgiveness is an important virtue to have when dealing with your family. While they are sometimes treated as such, members of the breeding herd are not family members. Manage them for what they really are: a business asset that should perform at a high level within a specified period of time. Even for great athletes like Ken Griffey, Jr., there is a time to retire.

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