South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Pete Bauman

May 2019

Have past or recent weather events made you pause when you think of your calving dates? Many producers across South Dakota have asked themselves this same question over the years. The impacts of these weather events are challenging for some producers, but devastating for others. Now that things are drying out and spring is ebbing into summer, it’s a good time to look back and look ahead to evaluate and consider alternatives that can improve calving conditions and quality of life while also reducing financial and health risks.

If you are considering alternative timeframes for calving, this article will serve as a jumping off point for different aspects you should consider. However, each operation is unique, so this article will not necessarily provide all the answers, but there are common threads. The South Dakota Grassland Coalition and SDSU Extension have recognized the need to help livestock producers address these key concerns by starting with the challenge of thinking about the ranch or farm as a whole, complex, and integrated business. Therefore, the Grassland Coalition, in partnership with SDSU Extension, will be hosting a series of initial meetings in various locations across the state in the coming months. These meetings will feature producers who have successfully synchronized their calving dates to better match their overall operational management needs. Also, these meetings will serve as an opportunity to hear from producers about critical issues and questions to develop improved information and guidance for those who want to make changes in their operational structure.

Some important considerations when evaluating changes to calving dates.

1. Evaluate the ‘drivers’ of your current system: Why do you do what you do? For instance, are you calving in the March mud and snow so you can farm in April and May? If so, even if this was necessary in past years, is it still necessary today with advances in farming tools and techniques?

2. Assessing your own need for change: Do you have a problem? Some indicators that a problem exist could be stress, fatigue, or minimal profits. If you find yourself wondering ‘how do they do it’ when looking at a neighbor, it may be time to evaluate your own need for change. Perhaps the best way to assess the need for change is to engage a trusted friend and ask them to give you an honest opinion about your operational structure.

3. Financial resources: Is your operation unduly influenced by your banker or loan officer? If so, it may be time for change.

4. Existing calving conditions (environmental): Taking a step back, are you happy with the conditions you normally calve in when considering animal health/cleanliness, ground conditions, or inputs?

5. Existing calving conditions (financial inputs): What is your calving program costing you? Electricity, bedding, vet bills, or other overhead like machinery repairs, etc. real expenses. Can these things be avoided if you change your calving season?

6. Existing resource limitations: Are there structural, access, human, machinery, or land resources that significantly impact your current calving program? Are you currently expending financial or other resources to overcome these limitations? Would a change in calving dates potentially reduce or eliminate some or all of these limitations?

7. Breeding and marketing program: Are there marketing options/opportunities to consider that better fits your re-source concerns? Would a change in breeding/calving dates allow you to capitalize on a different market or size of calf?

8. Calving pastures: Do you have reasonable access to existing pastures under your current calving model? Would an alternative calving date create improved opportunity for animal health and nutrition? Are you forced to consider a ‘sacrifice pasture’ in your grazing or calving plan? Does your fall pasture management limit your spring calving options?

9. Managing calving pastures: Can you adjust your operation to ensure dry, healthy, nutrient rich calving pastures?

10. Creating calving pastures (native and non-native): Can you adjust your land resources to create improved access to healthy calving pastures, whether native grasslands or by planting cropland in close proximity to resilient, non-invasive, permanent cover?

11. Cow health, exercise, nutrition, calving ease: Would there be a benefit to calving ease in your herd with improved exercise and nutrition?

12. Human resources/labor: Can calving at a different time reduce your labor commitment?

13. Human health/stress/family: Is calving stressful on your personal or family health?

14. Plan (business plan, drought plan, or other whole-systems plan): Have you taken a step back and evaluated your entire operation. Have you evaluated your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? Have you considered alternative livestock that may fit your situation better?

15. Consider what mom would do: Mother Nature generally has things figured out. Assess when most of the native animals in your area have their young and consider the pros and cons of moving your system closer to those dates.

For more information on any educational events sponsored by the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, visit To register for events contact Pete Bauman 605-882-5140, or Judge Jessop

Source: SDGC Newsletter

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