Fall calving brings more bull sales

Calving season comes around twice a year at the Spickler Ranch near Glenfield, N.D. They calve 450 cows from March 15 to May 15 and 150 cows from Aug. 10 to Oct. 10.

While that may sound like double the work, brothers Justin and Nathan Spickler say spring- and fall-calving herds offer several advantages.

“The primary reason we added a fall-calving herd was to increase our marketing opportunities for selling seedstock bulls,” Justin says.

Key Points

• North Dakota producers add fall calving of cows to their ranch.

• Calving is easier in the fall, but the weather can affect rebreeding.

• Their older bulls are in demand at their production sale.

They hold an annual bull sale at the ranch on the first Monday in May, offering about 100 yearling bulls. “We were concerned about selling more yearling bulls, so as we expanded our cow-herd size in 2003, adding a fall-calving herd allowed us to also have older bulls to sell.”

Today, in addition to about 120 yearling bulls, the Spicklers offer 40 coming 2-year-old bulls at their sale. Those older bulls have brought in new customers. “The 20-month-old bulls are really sought after and often top our sale,” Justin says.

Spreads out workload

Splitting the calving season makes the workload more manageable for the Spickler brothers, who are partners in their operation with their spouses.

“Calving about 450 cows in the spring is about as much as our facilities can handle,” Justin says.Fall calving is not as labor-intensive as spring calving. “We check the herd twice a day in the fall,” he says.

They have to AI cows and wean calves twice a year, but they enjoy working with the cattle, so they don’t count that as a disadvantage.With two herds, they are also able to use herd sires twice — in the spring and the fall.

Two cautions

Justin says there are a couple of factors to consider with a fall herd.

One is nutrition. “When we calve from August to early October, we try to have the cows graze as long as possible into the fall, but this is when the nutrient quality of the range can be fairly low, and the cows are at peak lactation.”

They supplement the fall-calving cows about 30 days prior to breeding in November. They feed alfalfa hay or processing byproducts, such as distillers grains, to boost protein and energy.

“We try to keep the supplementing economical, but we think it is important because it helps with breed-back,” Justin says.

Another factor is the weather. If the temperature drops suddenly, and there’s a wind chill, cows may stop cycling until they’ve had time to adjust to the cold, even if they were synchronized.

Despite those factors, Justin says it’s been profitable to split the calving season. They’ll consider adding more fall-calving cows in the future.

Gordon writes from Whitewood, S.D.

This article published in the September, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.