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What Calving Season is Best for Your Bottom-Line?

By   /  March 1, 2021  /  7 Comments

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These graziers focus on calving with nature to reduce inputs and make more money. But while May-June is great for them, it doesn’t fit for everyone. I’ve updated this article so we can revisit it together, paying attention to the principles at work. You’re invited to tell us what works for you and why. How do these principles work for you?

Your fellow graziers can learn from your experience!

Listen to the seven ranchers in this video and you’ll hear the same reason for calving in May/June: Profit, Profit, Profit.

John Marble wrote a fine article on figuring margins. Click to read more.

What’s the Principle at Work Here?

Local climate influences calving success, infrastructure needs (barns, shelters, etc.) and feed for the herd. Adjusting to the climate improves success and profit.

As these ranchers report, their gross margins are better because they don’t have to spend money on infrastructure to support wintery calving conditions. As Keith Reuer says, if you’re building a barn because calving in a blizzard is no fun, then maybe you should rethink something. They also say that infrastructure size limited how many cattle they calved. But now, thanks to calving on grass, they can have larger herds.

This video is part of a series on “Alternative Calving ” dates from the South Dakota Grassland Coalition. The 25-video series features ranchers from across South Dakota who have discovered the benefits of matching calving dates with their ranch resources.

The Calving Alternative videos are being released over a five-week period and cover:

• When and where to calve
• Managing the herd
• Assessing ranch resources
• Finance, profit and marketing, and
• People, relationships and quality of life.

Even if you’re not in South Dakota – and even if you’re never in danger of calving in the snow, you can learn something about how to think about your climate, your infrastructure and your own finances and relationships.

The videos are free and available at the SD Grasslands Coalition’s web page, or on the Coalition’s Youtube channel. The Coalition is also hosting “Tuesday Night Live” zoom meetings at 7 pm Central time on March 9, 16 and 23. The meetings feature the ranchers in the videos who will be answering questions from participants. This is the link for the Tuesday Night Live zoom meetings.

For now, check out the video on Facilities and Infrastructure below. For those with a slow connection or who don’t like to watch the video, I created a transcript below. I’ll also share some additional videos and transcripts in the future as folks often have questions covered in this series. Enjoy!

And if economics don’t matter to you, maybe more fun does. In this week’s Classic by NatGLC we John Marble tells us how to make calving more fun.

Transcript:

Luke Perman, Rock Hills Ranch, Lowry, SD:
We used to calve in March and April when I was a kid and up into I first really got full time involved with the ranch after college. We were stating heifers in first part of March and cows last part of March, first part of April As time went on and our herd grew, because we didn’t use to have quite as many cows, we started to outgrow our facilities. And it was getting harder and harder to get 300 cows through the system that we had.

I think that as we start looking at this, I was already of the mindset reducing overhead costs is one of the keys to being profitable in the cattle business and not having to much money tied up in things that rust rot and depreciate.

I never priced out a barn, looking at going bigger on the winter calving facilities, but I didn’t think I really needed to because how many saved calves or how many pounds of weaning weight to I have to get to pay for a $50,00 barn? I think it’s hard to pencil it out from the commercial cattleman’s perspective with the set of resources that we have.

Gene Holt, Holsing Farms, Wecota, SD
Traditionally we calved in March and April, but we set it up now where it’s May and June. And we’re out away from any facilities or structures or anything like that. Just kind of out in the open. If we do have a problem, we have portable corrals where you can get a cow roped and into the corral and get her taken care of. We deal with problems as they arise, is how we handle that. But there are so few problems out there. It’s pretty minimal.

As far as infrastructure, we can get by with bare minimum as far as facilities. When we think infrastructure now we think of a single hot wire fence. We have some windbreaks, we hve some portable structures that we can set up. but for the most part it turns your focus more away from the barn or this magic thing you’re going to build, to the land itself. I think when you focus on that, that’s where the real gain can come financially too.

Rick Smith, Hayti, SD
As far s any structures out there, there are no buildings out there. We do have just a small corral area if something does need to be assisted or needs to be loaded out for some reason, we can do that. But otherwise it’s just open land.MOst of it is native grass where we spend most of the time for calving. But we do have some areas that are introduced grasses that have just your common mix of brome grasses and blue grasses and whatever. The change was that when we calved earlier, I calved less cows. OK? Because when we were calving in March we used barns and sheds that were around the farm yard. And they would only hold so many head. I didn’t have a 20-50- $100,000 barn. wouldn’t need one now.

Arla Hamann-Poindexter, Blue Bell Ranch, Clear Lake SD
We don’t have any buildings. We have some corrals that are right next to some water sources. IN a year like 2018 and 2019, it just wasn’t feasible to have anything in the corrals. And do you want to put $40,000 worth of buildings up, or do you just want to turn the bulls out later? That’s kind of where we were at. It made more sense for us on grass to just keep turning the bulls out later instead of huge investments in buildings that we were only going to use 2 or 3 weeks out of the year.

Doug Sieck, Deep Root Ranch, Selby SD
I’ve got a portable corral. One of those on wheels that could fold out. I use it to make me feel more comfortable calving away from home. It used to be that I had to calve in by the trees or in by the yard because if I had a cow that I wanted to get in, I wanted her close so it was easier to get her in. Now I’m more comfortable calving away from home because I’ve got the portable facilities. So most of my calving’s done on grass now. Some of it on land when we’re bale grazing.

Lyle Perman, Rock Hills Ranch, Lowry, SD
I started calving our cattle, angus-based cattle in March, like most people did. Now we’ve transitioned that and we’re calving beginning about 6 weeks later than what we did when I started the cattle business. That probably was done for two reasons, #1, I had an off-ranch business that required a lot of my time. So I needed to have something that required less labor and then as our cow numbers grew, we of course didn’t have the facilities or the labor to put them inside and calve them in a place that would be protected from the weather. And we didn’t want to build the buildings – the expense involved. So the later calving date was brought on primarily out of necessity. We fell that it has not negatively impacted out bottom line.

Keith Reuer, Reuer Ranch, Chamberlain, SD
My deal is total pounds of beef have to get sold. Gross margin has to be so much and I have to make so much. That barn, if it creates opportunity for you, yeah. If you’re just trying to solve a problem that’s going to be, you know, I hit a blizzard every year, well, you probably ought to stop and rethink something. No, you’re not going to solve a problem by building a barn. You just created more work for yourself. And sometimes in a very good way , you created that work, if there’s opportunity to make money. When you drag him in the barn and he’s dying, that’s when there’s no opportunity. Then you’re out.

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

7 Comments

  1. George Rorick says:

    A good time to revisit this is 3rd week of July when it is time bring on the bulls with a blast from snowy past.

  2. Ron Sealock says:

    Is there any middle ground?

    • Kathy Voth says:

      I’m not sure I understand your question. What is it you would like to know more about?

      • Ron Sealock says:

        Is there a space somewhere between a $50k calving barn and turning them loose to see what happens?

        • Kathy Voth says:

          Good question. What do you think? I’m sure you can imagine adaptations that would work for your operation. As an example from this article, Doug Sieck describes how he used to calve: “It used to be that I had to calve in by the trees or in by the yard because if I had a cow that I wanted to get in, I wanted her close so it was easier to get her in.”

          I don’t think these ranchers would describe their calving technique as “turning them loose to see what happens.” They all seem to have some kind of facilities for when things don’t go well on pasture. But we’ll delve further into that in upcoming articles from this series.

          Also, you might be interested in participating in one of their Tuesday night live Zoom meetings where these ranchers will be available to answer questions. The link for next Tuesday’s Zoom meeting is in the body of the article.

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