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The Benefits of Calving on Grass in Pasture

From our friends in Alberta Agriculture in Canada, here’s a 5-minute video of ranchers describing why they prefer May calving on grass.

Jess Hudson of Hudson Ranch in Bashaw, Alberta describes it like this:

“The grass system for me, with good weather, works really well. The cows will spread all out, have their calf, mother it, lick it and get it to drink and do it the way nature intended it. When I bunch them all together, that’s when they get problems.”

He uses bale feeding partly for nutrition, but also as a management tool. “Cattle line up to feed and can catch, tag and doctor the calves.” He does it every other day because he can’t catch calves after their 4 or 5 days old. While he says he says calving on grass costs him revenue that he might have gotten from using that land for a crop or hay, he’s saving a lot of money on drugs and disease that he would have spent with confinement calving. “What we give up in an economic sense we gain back in a different part of the farm – peace of mind and animal welfare pay back in a non-dollar sense,” Jay says.

Iain Aitkin, of Medicine River Luings in Rimbey, Alberta seconds the health benefits of May calving on grass. “Since we moved to this system of calving on grass this time of year, the majority of our problems disappeared. It really is an incredible transformation. The same cows moved to this environment vs winter calving the issues really go away.” Other ranchers note that spreading the cows out reduces problems with scours, with cows mixing their calves up with those of other cows, and with calves getting trampled during storms.

There are economic benefits too. Jim Bauer of Anchor JB Ranch in Acme Alberta says it allows him to move his herd to pasture in April, allowing them to better manage the pasture better. Doug Wray, Wray Ranch in Irricana, Alberta says, “By calving in May we can push our cows a lot harder through the winter and I think that’s one of the areas where we capture some economics in terms of cost. We don’t have as heavy a calf at weaning, but we also don’t have the dollars invested in that calf either.”

Check out the video for more on how these ranchers manage their May calving on grass. This video is part of a series put together by Alberta Agriculture and partners showing how Alberta ranchers approach winter grazing. You can head here to check out the whole video series. We’ve run a number of articles based on this series and you can see them all in Special Collections here.


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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


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