The good, the bad and the ugly of fall calving in Iowa

Many producers in the state endured the extreme heat and humidity we expect from Iowa summers. Unfortunately, many experienced much less rainfall than we are used to at the same time. Much of the western US needs rain and has for some time. Cow culling has become a necessity in many predominantly cow-breeding states. A climbing calf market and strong bull heifer prices have Midwest producers considering fall calving herds…and now is the time to make that decision. Next month, the necessary bulls came out.

The famous Eastwood spaghetti western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly It’s an effective approach to fall calving for any beginners out there. There are many positives to fall calving, but there are also some things that put Iowa producers at a distinct disadvantage to producers in other parts of the country.

we will start with Good

Many producers who traditionally calve in early spring call fall calving EASY. There are several reasons for this. First, cows calve on grass rather than on land, which greatly reduces disease pressure and bacterial load. Second, the weather is, on average, much more comfortable than a February blizzard or March mud. We’ll talk about the downsides of this in a minute. Finally, and perhaps the most important part easy, calving ease. On average, autumn calves are lighter than their spring counterparts. Plus, the cows have grazed (exercised) all summer and are simply in better shape to endure the labor. All told, less help is needed, so labor reduction is often implemented. This is good, because this time of year a combine or grain cart awaits.

Another benefit of fall calving can be bull strength. If the producer is also calving, the bulls have likely been idle since August, tearing through feed bins, hay rings and anything else they can find. Get them back to work around Thanksgiving through Groundhog Day and you’ve got a 75-day calving window. Bulls will be happier breeding cows in a cold December than in a hot July. You’ll be happier, too, because you won’t have to deal with the bull pen for 75 days. The bull battery still takes a four-month break to recover before starting the spring herd breeding. Don’t forget to get your sperm checked before you attend in November. Forgetting this step is often how calving flocks start in the fall; more about this Ugly division.

For now Bad

The industry often refers to “spring” calves as anything born after January 1stSt Until May 31St. Similarly, the “fall” calving window begins in August and ends at Christmas. Depending on which end of the autumn window you choose, the challenges can be very different. From August to the first half of September, it can force cows to endure labor in extreme heat and humidity. Access to the shade in early autumn is a must. Unfortunately, this often prompts cows to calve near Iowa’s shady riverbanks, where swinging newborns can get into real trouble. Another problem of early fall is flies. Nothing loves a wet nose and udder more than flies, and they can cause some real problems for new calves. To combat this problem, consider a topical treatment for fly control or even a garlic mineral. Better yet, find a hill with trees where there is more wind and create a calving pasture in the fall. If there is no natural system, build or create a water system.

Iowa’s fall calving system requires both fed cattle and replacement females to endure two Iowa winters before generating any revenue for the operation. Delivered feed is expensive, especially when fuel, grain and hay prices are as high as they are right now. Feed efficiency and growth also suffer; Iowa cattle must use a larger portion of their diet to stay warm than their southern counterparts. On the side, fall calves weaned in Iowa can be used as a backdrop, taking over the excess grass growth we experience in May and early June. Catching overgrowth in a round bale seems to be more popular, especially when farm labor is busy planting soybeans and seeding corn.


Usually, the ugly part of fall calving in Iowa is about why the herd started in the first place. The ox became sterile. They just milk too hard. The cows lost weight. The grass got too short. Spring calving was a disaster. The list goes on. Rather than culling open females from the spring herd, producers justify “rolling” them into a fall-born cow. It is rarely a profitable venture in the short term unless the producer’s profit margin per cow exceeds the cost of carrying a non-productive cow for 5-6 months. More importantly, the core of the fall herd is often a group of females that lack natural fertility and/or the ability to thrive in the environment they call home.

Inexpensive cows from drought-prone areas of the country are a popular “starter pack” for the fall herd. Although this initiative can sometimes have beneficial consequences, proceed with caution. Although females can gain weight quickly during the breeding season and pregnancy, they will still be required to adapt to the available grasses. Fortunately, you won’t need him to nurse for most of this time. However, you will ask him to recover and breed again at the end of the growing season.

“I’ll never go back,” said many producers in Iowa who have moved some or all of their herds to fall calving. The challenges of winter cold, spring mud, scabies, and pulling calves simply outweigh the trials they face in the fall. Futures markets are giving strong indications that herd expansion should occur wherever possible. Besides, everyone is looking For a few dollars more or even A Fistful of Dollars in today’s beef industry.

Source: Iowa State University

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