As we get later into the spring calving season, the dilemma starts with "What do I do with my late calving cows?" In this circumstance, the decision needs to be made to either try to breed the cows back quickly to get her calving with the rest of the herd, or hold her over and breed her to calve in the fall. My first experience came about due to a bull going bad during breeding season, resulting in 23 open cows at fall preg checking. The cows were too good to cull, and it would cost too much to hold them over a year, so breeding them for fall calves ended up being the best option.
Not always does this decision need to be made due to circumstance. The decision to calve in the spring, fall, or both is one that needs to be made after establishing your goals. I think the three biggest factors to take in consideration when deciding is your available market, your resources, and weather.
1. Market: This is a no-brainer. If you do not have a viable market to sell your calves to, don't throw your money away. Sometimes though, switching part or all of your herd to a different calving season can bring added value and expand your customer base. Fall calves can open doors to a southern steer market and fall bulls can bring in customers that will not use a true yearling bull.
2. Resources: Resources can range between a lot of different factors. It could mean your ability to segregate different ages of calves in your lot, or having multiple pastures to manage your spring and fall herd both separately and properly. Your ability to feed cows can be a major issue. Fall calving cows require supplemental feed int the late fall and winter months. Cows need extra energy and protein to make up for the poor quality forage in the winter and to make up for the fact that she is lactating. The ability to creep feed the calves is almost a must for fall calves. All that being said, the extra money spent in the winter is made up for in the spring and summer months because the cows requirements are at their lowest, and the same amount of pasture will run more cows. Our farm in Nebraska had a few swampy pastures with very low quality grass. Cows with calves at side did very poorly on these pastures, but when we started putting our fall calving cows on these pastures in the summer, the cows actually gained weight.
3. Weather: This is pretty self explanatory. Calves in the spring require shelter from the elements and the rancher must have the ability to warm less vigorous newborns or just be able to bring the calf in due to extreme cold temperatures. Summer and fall calves have the opposite issue to deal with. Hot weather can cause calves to become dehydrated and die within a matter of hours. And cows can become exhausted faster when calving in the heat. Abundant shade is a must during summer and fall calving time.
Every type of calving program has its place. You just have to decide which program or how many in each program is right for your operation.