To pass, 60% must calve in 21 days

Sharla Sackman
Friday, April 16, 2021

Kris Ringwall, former NDSU Extension Service Beef Specialist, wrote an interesting column on how to evaluate the success of your calving season. Ringwall encourages livestock producers to check the calving book. Count the number of cows that calved within 21 days from when the third mature cow calved. After that, check the number that calved the next 21 days and the next 21 days. Keep counting until you get to the end of the calving book.

Why? The number one indicator that the cows within a cattle operation fit the managerial program is timely reproduction. In other words, they calve on time.

The type of cattle operation is not important, nor is when the calving season is set. According to Ringwall, what is important is that at least 60% of the mature cows expected to calve do so within 21 days of the start of the calving season. Any excuse that allows for poor reproductive performance within the cow herd will mean increased costs and a decreased output of beef.

To go to the next 21 days, a total of 86% of the mature cows should have calved within the 42-day calving window. As a cattle producer, if you meet the percentage, continue as is or tweak your managerial thoughts to try to improve. If less than 60% of the mature cows are calving within the first 21 days, a major re-evaluation of one’s managerial protocols needs to be considered.

The first point that is noted will be nutrition because it ultimately determines reproduction. However, increasing nutritional inputs carries a cost, so cow genetics needs to be evaluated at the same time. Are the cows the right ones to match the available resources or nutrition?

In addition to the need to evaluate the cow herd’s ability to reproduce and produce beef, fall culling already needs to be thought through. How many cows are staying and how many are not? Those cows calving after the first 42 days probably will remain. For cows that calved after 63 days, producers should consider those cows as cull candidates.

After reviewing the calving data, Ringwall recommends drawing a big circle around the date that the bulls are to be removed from the cow herd. Breeding for 45 days is quite acceptable, and removing the bulls certainly defines the end to next year’s calving season.

Ringwall reiterates that the calving book holds the answers to most questions. Producers just need to look at it. Count the cows and calves and then evaluate and take action. Apply the “Lazy L” technique, which means getting rid of the proper mix of older and late-calving cows. Positive pressure on management means time spent evaluating what one thinks is working. Reviewing the actual numbers and data points will determine if it really is working.

As those good heifers are bred this spring, ask yourself if those good heifers that were bred the year before and the year before that still are in the herd and performing according to plan. Are those cows destined for artificial insemination truly ready for synchronization?

There are so many good questions to be answered. However, according to Ringwall, the answers are readily available. It’s called a calving book, so once it’s filled out, read it.

(Sharla Sackman is the MSU Extension Agent for Prairie County.)