Author’s note: Following a series of life events which conspired to prevent me from writing, I’m finally publishing the remaining stories from last year’s trip, as well as more recent writings which have never been released. Thank you for your patience, and enjoy the ride!
There’s a story in David Batstone’s book Not for Sale about a woman who works in rural Thailand to rescue children from the slave trade. It’s a powerful, moving tale as she boldly goes into situations where she is not wanted in order to rescue them, and it left me wondering. You see, almost no one outside of those who have read the book and she knew directly will ever hear about her. Yet how great is the work that she does? Almost all of us would agree that she is having a tremendous impact on the world…
Conventional wisdom from cattle management experts as well as those in the Ag University system insists that to properly develop future cows for a profitable cow herd young females (replacement heifers) need to calve by the time they are 2 years old. The main idea is to identify those females which are the most fertile and to select for early maturation. But is that really the way to do so? And is early maturity a desirable trait? Consider that most producers (in cattle) are expecting those young females to give birth by what is a comparable human age of 14, gestate, and raise a baby every year thereafter. Whereas, the 3 year old compares to 18. Animal Age Calculator
There is also the ‘belief’ (because i’ve never seen any data to support this) that a cow calving as a 2 year old raises one more calf in her lifetime than the older heifers. I cannot speak to this with my own data since i’ve not been at it long enough to gather data, but i also don’t plan to do the research and have another herd that calves as 2 year olds. However, I’ve spoken with a few producers who have been doing this for a long time and they are just as convinced that allowing their heifers to be physically mature before calving them allows them to live longer and more productive lives.
My heifers are not exposed to a bull until they are at least 2 years old – actually most are born in May of a year and not exposed until mid-July two years later, so they are actually 2 years and 2 months old and they will calve when they are right at 3 years old the following May.
Outside the obvious lifestyle benefits for producer/rancher and the comfort and animal welfare of the livestock, I’ve put together some financial figures which will apply to my ranch and indicate to me that I’ve made the right decision for my operation.
Heifer Development Costs
2 year old
3 year old
Value of Weaned Calf
Value of 2 year old
Pasture Year 1
Pasture Year 2
2nd calf conception
Manage growing, breeding, gestating, calving heifers as one mob with cows
Older Heifers are physically and mentally mature with no special feed requirements
Observing older cows calving seems to teach the heifers what to do
Less than 1 % calf death loss
Calves at least 50 lbs heavier at weaning and can be weaned with the cows’ calves
No special treatment
*PPI – post partum interval – the number of days it takes for the female to recover from calving and becoming pregnant again.
The calving assistance and pregnancy rates are taken from various University research data over decades of record keeping. Most research heifers are developed with considerable grain and feed inputs which incurs more costs including labor. However, my comparisons are grass and forage only. Therefore it is likely that the grass managed 2 year olds could be significantly higher open (not bred) percentages than what is illustrated here. Whereas the 3 year old development percentages are actual from my ranch. My grass managed 2 year olds were only 10% bred! Ouch!
WOTB – Working on the Business – tweaking the plan to discover a bit more opportunity for profitability in ranching. Margins are too thin for my hobby level of ranching, but trying to do my best.