University research has made it hard to deny the economic benefits of green-grass calving when compared to the higher costs of winter calving (read here and here).
But to get a more intimate feel for a topic such as this, it's probably best to talk to the producers actually making the management changes and implementing them on their own ranches.
One such ranch which made the switch to calving in a milder season of the year is the Padlock Ranch in Ranchester, Wyoming. Wayne Fahsholtz, CEO and President of Padlock Ranch, recalls they made the change in 2003.
"We went to May-June calving because we decided to try to graze out as much as possible," says Fahsholtz. "Calving in May-June put the calving at a time of year when the nutrition level of grass is the highest."
He believes for the Padlock Ranch's particular situation, making the change to a later calving date worked well. "We are very happy and found little that was not positive," he says.
Fahsholtz notes, however, that when selecting for cows in a later-spring calving herd, you must make sure you do not select for cows that have high milk production.
He cautions, "If you have not selected for low milk you may have a problem with bad udders."
This is mainly due to the increased milk production that occurs in late spring, when a cow is exposed to the high plane of nutrition of forages at that time of year. If a cow was a high milk producer on a lower plane of nutrition during winter months, this could spell bad news for her when making the switch to late-spring calving.
The biggest challenges the Padlock Ranch saw throughout the transition process from winter to late-spring calving were culture and tradition. Employees were slow to change – some adopted the new ideas, others left.
And interestingly enough, even with the favorable reviews, Fahsholtz says he would go back to winter calving if needed. For him, it's what makes the most economic sense.
"I once moved from May to January-February because that really paid for the ranch that we acquired," he says. "The extra pounds per calf more than paid for the extra supplement."
He notes, however, that particular time was a rare situation.
In the end, Fahsholtz says he would not hastily encourage others to switch their calving season.
"It would be stupid on my part to encourage others to switch without knowing the whole picture of the individual ranch."
Things like gross margin, other ranch enterprises and family labor available should all be considered before one makes an important management decision such as changing calving seasons, he says.
"We have some 'authorities' out there telling folks that they know what is best," Fahsholtz adds.
Clearly, there is no ideal calving date for all ranches. The choice of when to calve will vary by ranch goals, region and environment, among many other factors.
Look in the October print edition of Beef Producer, as I delve deeper into the reasons why producers are making the switch to green-grass calving and share testimonials from ranchers having success in that endeavor.