Removing bull evens up the calf crop

Calf herd uniformity goes back to the calving season, which goes back to the breeding season, which goes back to taking the bull out sooner. The longer the bull is left with the cows, the longer the calving season.

Long seasons lead to lack of uniformity in calves. There’s no way calves 60, 90 or 120 days different in age can be uniform.

“There’s tons of data that show buyers prefer uniform lots of cattle,” says Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist.

Lack of uniformity in calf age complicates getting proper nutrition into cows that need it the most — and eventually, proper nutrition for their calves. If all the cows are fed in one herd, the cow with the 60-day-old calf has quite different nutrient needs from a cow about to calve. A lactating cow, with high-energy demand, will be much more assertive in seeking feed than the cow that is about to go into labor. A pregnant cow, full of calf, doesn’t have capacity for a large, bulky diet; she needs an energy-rich diet.

Key Points

A long calving season results in lack of uniformity in calves.

MU Extension specialist recommends a shorter breeding season.

Tightening the breeding season improves cow nutrition program.


The longer a calving season stretches out, the more subgroups the cow herd should be divided into to properly meet nutrient requirements of cows in different stages of gestation, or in lactation.

For producers with fall-calving herds — usually bred in late November or early December — Sexten has a suggestion. Mark a day on the calendar to pull the bull. If management has been casual about taking the bull out, then mark Groundhog Day (Feb. 2), Sexten says. “Tell the bull: Don’t show your shadow here.”

If a short calving season is in place, think about shortening it some more. Put the pressure on breeding more uniform calf crops.

Make the move

The reason many cows are in a fall-calving herd is because they fell out of a spring-calving herd. They wouldn’t breed early in the season. If they breed late in a fall herd, there may be a problem. The producer may need to collect that good cull-cow price.

Think of this scenario: A cow herd is synchronized and bred with timed artificial insemination on Dec. 1. The bull goes in 14 days later. Then pull him 45 days later, Feb. 1. By then, cows will have had three chances to be bred. How many chances should a cow get?

More pressure can be put on fall cows, Sexten says. They are on pasture stockpile, the endophyte level is low and there’s no heat stress. Tightening the breeding season helps get proper nutrition to cows as they approach calving season. With a tight calf crop, maintaining cows after calving is also easier.

The payoff comes in better feed management, aiding cost-cutting. The cow about to calve requires 33% fewer calories per day than a cow that has been lactating 60 days. That milking cow takes more energy. Calculate that cost. This assumes all cows had body condition scores of 5 to 6 going into the season.

If cows with different needs are not separated, feed can’t be properly allocated. If you put out feed for the herd average, one cow gets too much while the other gets too little. When nothing is right, there’s waste on both ends.

Producers using the Sand Hills Calving System are already splitting the cows by calving dates. The shorter calving season requires fewer groups.

Marketing advantage

The real value of uniformity comes at calf marketing time, Sexten says. That end goal must be kept in mind at breeding time. Increasingly, uniformity in cattle is thought of in “pot-load lots.”

Owners of average-size herds in Missouri can’t think pot-loads. Even the 100-cow herd will struggle. First off, there will be only 50 steers, give or take.

Owners of smaller herds can benefit from bunching or pooling their calves. “If they can’t put together a pot-load lot themselves, someone must before they ride to the feedyard. An order buyer sitting at a sale, buying four or five head at a time putting together a pot-load to go to Kansas, perks up if 30 steers about the same weight come into the ring. The buying time and the cost of putting calves together will be cut by buying 30 at a time. That time is worth money than can be put on the bid price.

To feed calves, the feedyard manager needs uniform lots of calves. Producers who supply that need get a better price.

That brings us back to taking the bull out, not leaving him in for an endless breeding season. What do you do with that last cow bred? She becomes another problem to solve. For that late-conceiving cow, it becomes a matter of deciding when to cull her. Sell her as an open cow, a bred cow or cow with calf. She no longer fits in the herd.

Reduce those awkward decisions: Pen the bull early. No bull shadow showing on fall cows after Feb. 2.

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AVOID HIS SHADOW: To gain calf uniformity and marketing advantage, bulls working fall-calving cow herds should be pulled by Groundhog Day (Feb. 2).

This article published in the January, 2011 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.