Category Archives: Uncategorized

Fall Calving?

Heather Smith Thomas has written an interesting article for Progressive Cattle magazine entitled, “Fall Calving – Worth the Off-Season Plunge?“.  It’s worth a read for consideration, however, in my opinion, the answer is given in the question.  Seldom, if ever, doing anything off -season is smart or profitable.

The advantages listed in the article are straw man arguments, however, so if you are considering changes to your heard, be certain to talk to producers who can show you the real costs.

Advantages listed for fall calving:

  1. states that better prices for calves sold in the spring – this is true, but has nothing to do with fall calving.
  2. states that cows are on a better nutritional plane – not necessarily true since it depends on what they have been eating and the weather.  Missouri grasses and weather can have mighty thin cows by early fall.  Heat and humidity and toxic fescue play havoc with a body.  Inventory your location and resources before adapting.
  3. Row croppers are busy in spring (yes, they are) and so don’t have time to check cows.  This has nothing to do with fall calving.  Cows calve on their own.
  4. i think the issue on this is cold, muddy, health conditions.  This is largely, though not entirely, a producer making poor management decisions and can be issue no matter what season you have your cows calving in.
  5. Vaccinating/processing calves – there is no difference.
  6. Weaning calves in October when weather starts turning cold – why are you weaning just before winter?  Winter the calves with their mums.

Disadvantages listed for fall calving:

  1. more feed due to higher nutrient demands – yes, this is true, increased cost for feed and labor.
  2. lighter calves may be weaned in the spring – yes, this is true, and usually bring more dollars than heavy calves.

 

Wildlife have been working out the time for having babies for millennia, so mimicking their patterns is definitely worth a look since it is likely they go for the time of the year with the greatest survivability by now.  In the case of cattle, the closest animal type would be bison or buffalo in the Midwest, USA.  Most of the calves are born between the middle of April and end of May.  For this reason, I have chosen that same time frame for calving out my cows, and it works very nicely.  I seldom see a calf born and i haven’t assisted a cow in years.  That doesn’t mean every cow has no trouble or never gives birth to a dead calf, but even those times are extremely rare.  So, in my case, labor and labor costs are a nil.  Grass is coming on nicely, so the cows are in good condition and can feed themselves. (no labor)

So, while it’s a good article – you must do your own research.  As you see, i easily refute all the ‘advantages’ listed in the article of fall calving in my own operation and resource base.  I like to be profitable and fall calving simply doesn’t fill the bill.  (Disclaimer – my husband has a spring and fall calving herd and he likes it that way)

Another thing to remember when reading articles is that many producers call spring calving Dec through Feb/Mar.  That is the dead of winter!  Spring starts March 20.  Fall calving would mean starting September 20.  Make sure you clarify what people actually mean when these terms are bandied about.

Fall-calving cows

There are advantages and disadvantages to every calving season; producers need to figure out what works best for their own climate and management system.

Dr. George Barrington, Washington State University, says the advantages and disadvantages to fall calving are partly geographic, with regional and management differences. “Some producers in the Intermountain West have successful fall-calving programs, even though it might work best in a milder climate,” he says.

Advantages

The benefits of fall calving include a chance for better prices when fall-born calves are sold the next spring or summer. More people are spring-calving, with a larger supply of calves in the fall at weaning time, so the market generally drops. There is more demand for calves marketed in the spring.

Dr. Shelie Laflin has a mobile veterinary practice and helps run the family ranch and registered Angus herd near Olsburg, Kansas. Her family has both a spring- and fall-calving herd, and she prefers fall calving. “Several studies have shown that fall calving generally gives a better return for your investment. Cows tend to breed back sooner because they’ve been on a better nutritional plane through summer rather than having just come through winter before calving, and also tend to have less dystocia when they calve,” says Laflin.

Cows that come through cold during pregnancy tend to have heavier birthweight calves. “Cows that are pregnant in warm weather tend to have slightly smaller calves at birth – on average – and fewer dystocia cases compared to calves with the same genetics and management born in the spring,” says Laflin. “This means less labor needed, less stress on calves, healthier calves, with less scours and pneumonia, and fewer cases of mastitis in the cows.”

However, if cows are calving on mature grass pasture in the fall, calves sometimes get umbilical infections from grass awns getting up into the umbilical cord stump. “In the spring, umbilical infections are usually due to mud and dirty conditions,” she says.

There is no perfect situation. “From a management standpoint, however, from calving up until calves are about 2 months old, fall is hands down better than spring, especially in terms of illness.” By the time those calves are 2 months old, they are less vulnerable to some of the common diseases and can also withstand cold weather.

“Fall calving might mean from early or mid-September until late November,” says Barrington. “If producers are doing any farming, spring is usually a very busy time, and fall tends to have fewer demands on time and labor. Some producers in eastern Washington prefer fall calving because they also grow wheat. They are so busy in the spring that they can’t devote time to calving,” he says.

“We spend a lot of time treating calves for diarrhea in the spring – in wet, muddy confined areas. If weather does not allow producers to put the cows in larger, clean areas to calve, they are usually calving on the winter feeding area in contaminated conditions,” says Barrington. There are often better options in the fall for where the cows can calve.

“We calve fairly late in the fall,” says Laflin. “We are busy with haying until early September. There might be some producers harvesting crops in the fall – putting up the last of the hay and ready to start cutting corn or other crops. There might be overlap with harvesting and calving, but fieldwork overlap can also be a problem if a producer is calving in April/May,” she says.

“For us, the labor becomes a big factor. We are a family operation, and our kids play a big role in what we do. The labor involved in spring calving is just more intensive, trying to manage baby calves in cold weather. We feed the cows a lot through cold weather, and they tend to produce bigger calves and also make more milk than young calves can consume – which can lead to scours, mastitis, etc.”

Regarding vaccination, fall- and spring-calving herds are managed the same, but since there is less risk for scours in fall-calving cows, they may not need pre-calving vaccinations for scours. With fall calvers, this would be one less time those cows have to go down the chute. Those are late-gestation vaccinations, and most people would rather not stress their cows at that time if they don’t have to.

“From a bull management standpoint, there isn’t much difference, but the nice thing if you run two herds, is the opportunity to spread out your bull power and decrease your cost per calf,” says Laflin. Fewer bulls are needed because they can manage both breeding seasons with a period of rest in between.

Disadvantages

“Some of the disadvantages of fall calving in certain climates is that grass is maturing and going dormant,” says Barrington. “In the Southeast, however, there may be new growth of grass, and fall-calving cows have good nutrition.” At higher elevations and northern regions, fall rains might bring a brief flush of green grass, but dropping temperatures soon end the growing season. Cows generally must be fed through winter, and lactating cows have higher nutrient demands.

“We sometimes have lighter weaning weights with fall-born calves,” says Laflin. “Those calves are born at a time when we soon have to supplement the cows. Many fall-calving herds in our area start in September and are done by Thanksgiving, and by then, our native grasses are dry and dormant, and we need to supplement. There is an increased cost in feed, but several studies show that even with the increased cost, over the years, you will fare better with the fall calving compared with spring calving,” says Laflin.

“All of this must be penciled out, looking at the amount and quality of feed that will be needed,” says Barrington. “You lose all the advantages of fall calving if the cows aren’t producing milk or if it costs too much to feed them. Fall calves may also be a little lighter at weaning than spring-born calves because they went into winter soon after birth and require more feed for maintenance and body heat. Small calves are not yet ruminants, so they are not producing body heat from fermentation in the rumen.”  end mark

PHOTO: Fall-calving cows can calve out on clean pastures and in generally better weather than those dams in spring. Photo by Heather Smith Thomas.

Heather Thomas is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

Determining which season to use

There is no perfect calving season. “Ranches with both a spring- and fall-calving herd have the best chance to weigh benefits and disadvantages for their own environment, management, labor availability and feed,” says Dr. George Barrington. They can compare, within their split herd, to see which season pencils out best when figuring feed costs, etc.

  • Weather is a big factor and it can be variable from year to year. “If someone wants to try fall calving, they should not base a decision on just one year’s experience. The more data you can get, the better decisions you can make,” says Barrington. The year you try fall calving might be really good or really bad – for weather, or calf prices, etc., but that year might not be typical.
  • Feed inputs are something to think about. “If you are buying most of your feed, it will cost more, especially if you need to push first-calf heifers nutritionally to get them to cycle back again,” says Dr. Shelie Laflin. “You’ll have to put some feed into them because your native grass is gone, dormant or snowed under, whereas in the spring, the grass is coming on lush, and this will flush the cows for cycling.”Cows grazing new green growth breed better, and a person might not have to buy as much feed. However, you are also feeding calves through winter until weaning in April. In a spring-calving herd, you are only feeding cows through winter, rather than pairs.
  • Health: On the other hand, wintering calves with their mothers has some advantages. They tend to stay healthier through winter than calves weaned in late fall just before going into winter.“We run fall and spring calves – about half and half – and our fall calves have fewer problems. There is less labor involved, and the calves wean off better. We don’t have to deal with disease at weaning time; they’ve already come through winter.” By contrast, the spring-born calves are weaned in October, and it’s starting to get cold, and weather can be bad.

 

Alaska, USA!

To begin our escape from annual ragweed allergies, Dallas and I headed to Alaska on 20 August 2019, the day after i mustered in my bulls and hauled them away from the cows.  All according to plan.  We got away just in time, however, this was a short trip because we needed to be back in time to celebrate Allen’s Aunt June’s 100th birthday party on the 7th of September.  Monday, we had appointments to adjust our backs, hips, heads, shoulders, ribs, etc and since allergies were extremely bad with no trend down, we came home from our afternoon appointments and i started booking Iceland.  We left for Iceland on the 10th.  Another blog entry for that later.

58848133153--7341EB0A-EE25-464E-86A7-F59DE99BA28F
We flew Alaska Airlines from Kansas City to Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska.  It’s a long way from our house.  Since we attended a wedding near Hamilton the afternoon before, we took separate vehicles with Allen returning home whilst Dallas and I drove on to Kansas City.  We stayed at a hotel that allowed us to park there for the duration of our holiday.   After 15 hours of flights and connections from Kansas City to Barrow, Dallas stood beneath the iconic baleen whale rib bones on the beach of the Arctic Ocean in the most northern city of the United States.
IMG-6263
Arctic Ocean, Barrow, Alaska
IMG-6281
Looking towards Point Barrow.  We could only drive within about a mile of the Point.  Mud and degraded road conditions preclude going further – plus, you pretty much have to obtain permission from private landowners to go any further.
IMG-6273
Bowhead Whale Skull – these buggers are huge and are still hunted in traditional wooden boats with harpoons during the spring by local  Iñupiat,

IMG-6266

In an October 2016 referendum, city voters narrowly approved to change its name from Barrow to its traditional Iñupiaq name, Utqiaġvik. The governor had 45 days to rule on the name change and it was officially adopted on December 1, 2016.

IMG-6331
Yup, proof – we was there!
IMG-6320
Main airport terminal at Utqiaqvik (formerly known as Barrow), Alaska.  Name of the airport is the Wiley Post-Will Rogers Memorial Airport.
IMG-6317
All the dumpsters were decorated as part of a town beautification project.
IMG-6329
Rebuilding the ocean wall protecting the town from the constant waves needs regular attention.
IMG-6307
This is the old Top of the World hotel which burnt August 31, 2013.  We stayed at the new one located on the north beach.  Highly recommend.

IMG-6300IMG-6285

IMG-6288
Evidence that this area has been settled since at least 800 AD.  Remains of horses and musk ox indicate that this area was much warmer in the past than it is now.
IMG-6341
Since there are no roads and rails from Barrow to Fairbanks, we flew, then hailed a cab for a trip to our hotel.  Our hotel did provide a free shuttle, but i had no phone service in Alaska!!  One of the spots that Chariton Valley Wireless doesn’t quite reach i guess.  The iconic Moose Antler Arch – Gateway to Fairbanks.  Antler Arch web cam
IMG-6347
Downtown Fairbanks is an historical and tourist destination.  The locals have created a wonderful place to learn about this city’s unique contribution to US history.  If you have time, read the above Vignette of History about the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.  Amazing structure.
IMG-6348
The horizontal support is topped with a Teflon type product which allows the pipeline to slide back and forth as needed to accommodate the 39,000 earthquakes (about every 15 minutes) Alaska experiences each year.
IMG-6376
Sure you can rent a car out of Fairbanks and drive to Denali, but the train provides a different view and experience.  We chose the dome top full service guided car.  Well, we did have to pay for our meal.  
IMG-6366
Hiking in Denali National Park
IMG-6412
Ptarmigan – Alaska state bird.

IMG-6425

IMG-6428
There are no fish in the glacial melt in Denali National Park because there is so much gray silt in the water.  However, someone thought they spotted a fish, so this multi million dollar overpass is being built courtesy of you the taxpayer just in case there was one.
IMG-6453
Beaver dam on the Horseshoe Lake Trail.  There are a multitude of easy and moderate trails in the park.

IMG-6454

IMG-6459
Not just big ole mushrooms are grown in Alaska.  Despite the short growing season in days, the length of daylight each day compensates and record breaking produce is grown and exhibited at the state fairs.  The 2019 pumpkin weighed 2051 lbs!
IMG-6392
There’s the engine pulling our McKinley Explorer dome topped car – Alaska Train Denali to Anchorage
IMG-6489
Gray silt-filled glacial melt water just outside Anchorage.
IMG-6508
Not as much to do as i expected there would be in Anchorage, but a highlight is this well maintained Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.  We didn’t walk the whole thing (11 miles one way), but we enjoyed part of it.  There are no grocery stores in the touristy areas.  Historical and cultural museums are great as well as the city tour on the Anchorage Trolley.

IMG-6510

 

 

Ivan Tomato Seed Saving

As you may remember, my husband was beat up by a mature bull last summer and ended up in hospital and eventually ICU for several days.  Fortunately, and against all odds, he was back on a four wheeler and checking cattle in 15 days from the incident!!  So the tomato story comes from his nurse in ICU who gave us some heirloom seeds he had saved – a tomato called “Ivan”.  The seeds he share were prolific with high germination rate, so i had far more plants that i could possible use.  i just had to end up throwing them away.  However, a 25 foot row of about 20 plants produced ample enough fresh eating and canning for our family until next year’s crop is ready.

“Ivan” i learnt is a native tomato of Missouri which was apparently in need of rescuing!  My plants were not properly pruned or staked, so i had a lot of vines which no doubt took away from crop production. But, i simply didn’t have time.  If Yah allows, I’ll be ready next year with panels and time to care for the plants properly.  These tomatoes are delicious.

For the first time, I’ve tried my hand at seed saving with both this Ivan and Pink Oxhearts (Hungarian Heart Tomato), which i like for slicing and using on sandwiches.

Happy Gardening!

tauna

 

 

IMG-4877

Blessed Beef Broth for what Ails Ya

As followers of my blog realise, I struggle mightily each late August through September with ragweed allergies.  It’s been so since my middle child turned one year old in 1994.  Oddly, of the three children, he is the only one who also suffers badly from same allergy.  I’ve discovered this year that our home raised grassfinished beef broth either drank alone or with finely chopped onions and a pinch of powdered garlic really hits the spot.

IMG-4653
Cook a roast or stew meat or thick cut steak in water  just deep enough to just covering the meat, then remove the meat and any bones with a strainer spoon.  My go-to is this Nesco Roast Air Oven.  I don’t know if these are even made anymore, and i didn’t like the noisy fan and motor.  However, i simply covered the attachment hole in the lid with tape.  Paid $2 for this handy kitchen item at a church bazaar some 10-12 years ago.  Handy, handy, handy.  You can buy new ones in this 6 quart size and others from Nesco without the attachable motor.

 

IMG-4654
Pour the liquid into a pot or jar to cool.  I like using these quart sized freezer jars since i can pour it in piping hot instead of waiting for liquid to cool.  Plus the slim design allows for not taking up much space on the counter whilst cooling and later into the frig.
IMG-4655
Whilst cooling, the saturated fat will rise to the top and eventually harden.  I put mine in the frig once the liquid has come to room temperature.  Once cooled, transfer to a plastic container to freezer or top with the screw lid and stick these jars in the freezer.  Great to thaw and make broth this winter, cook potatoes or pasta in this, or thicken for brown gravy.
IMG-4656
Scrape the hardened fat from the top of the cooled beef liquid.  i place mine in a storage container and stick in the freezer or frig.  Use in place of butter or oil for extra flavour.  Or feed it to the chooks and your pets.  Just please don’t throw it away.