Thanks to Chip for sharing this excerpt from his new book “Cow Country Essays and a Little Slantwise Logic!”
Time of calving has to be the first thing considered when moving from a high input operation to a management oriented low input method of raising cattle. So many things are connected to this timing that it creates a significant impact on other segments and compliments all procedures in the yearly cycle.
A calf is born with a summer hair coat. That alone is a warning sign. A calf born in late spring or early summer is in its natural order, just as are all wild animals. A calf born out of time is challenged from day one. Any challenge such as, snow storms, wet weather, sickness (especially when barn calving), and stress of any kind will have a far ranging effect on the calf. A calf born in nice weather has a much better chance of getting off to a good start by not having to fight stress of any kind.
In the early nineteen nineties Dr. Dick Diven published his research findings pertaining to calving in sync with nature. The following is a synopsis of his teachings.
“There are two forms of growth: cell multiplication and cell enlargement. Formation of cells begins with conception and concludes shortly after birth. Cell formation keeps going after birth, but some have suggested that it stops in as few as 13 days.
“Just keep in mind that the little 13-day-old calf on the ground pretty well has all the cells it will ever have. This is a critical period of growth. You do NOT want the calf to experience any kind of starvation at this time. If it does, cell formation will be limited and specialized cells such as nerve and muscle will not fully develop. Make sure the calf has plenty of milk.
“Even though the calf has most of the cells after 13 days, intramuscular fat cells do not happen until around 60% of empty mature body weight. It is at this period that cell differentiation occurs in the muscle. Cells either become connective tissue or fat cells. This is another critical area of growth.
“We want the animal on a rising plane of nutrition at this stage so fat cells will form in the muscle. If the animal is losing weight or just maintaining itself at this time, less fat cells and more connective tissue will form in the muscle. The rising plane does not have to be much, but it does need to be rising. (Author’s note: These fat cells will begin filling around a year of age which coincides with springtime green grass if they were late spring or early summer born, which also cheapens the cost of filling the fat cells.)
“You might think of the muscle as a dry sponge. If connective tissue is formed, the sponge cannot absorb very much. Conversely, if fat cells are formed, the sponge can absorb quite a bit. A fat animal can store 10% of its total fat in the muscle. (Authors note: This is significant for both grass fed animals and replacement heifers. An easy fleshing cow has this along with putting fat on her back.)
Animals that have the ability to store fat can be strategically managed to draw on these reserves when feed energy is short as well as postpartum recovery (Animals should be in good condition by calving time which can be done with green grass if later calving). Animals with mostly connective tissue do not have this flexibility. This ability to store fat cannot be seen or felt.”
The timing of calving should be similar to the wild ruminants in the area. Nature led them to birthing after sufficient growth of new grass to build up flesh from their natural loss through winter. A cow, like the wild animals, should have at least a month to gain weight as this increased weight before calving is recognition of the importance of nature’s natural cycle.
Gary Rhoades comment on summer calving: “I feel I am overworked if I have to set my coffee cup down.”