Success for a cow-calf producer is related to the ability of the producer to wean one healthy calf per cow each year; a set of twins is additional dollars in the bank.
When that calving season is done varies, but the objective of any operation is to try to keep the calving interval as short as possible, according to Manitoba Agriculture.
Some producers calve at a particular time of the year because that’s how it’s always been done on the farm, while others have chosen a particular calving season because it best fits with their other farm commitments (i.e. multi-enterprise operations) or to reach certain production targets (i.e. purebred breeders). To decide what’s best, cattle producers must consider a number of factors.
Terrence Woychyshyn of Woychyshyn Farms, situated between Oakburn and Vista, is among producers who opt to calve in the winter — over January, February and March, however, he does take February off.
“From a purebred Black Angus standpoint, targeting the yearling bull market, calving season takes place in January,” said Woychyshyn. “Fifty cows then, and another 50 commercial cows start to calve as of March 1.”
According to Dr. Bruce Waddell of the Shoal Lake Veterinary Clinic, the largest percentage of calving in Shoal Lake and area is done in March, although for the 20 per cent that begin calving in January or February, the 2019 calf crop has already been welcomed.
There are advantages and disadvantages of each of the four calving periods in a year: winter (January, February, March), spring (April and May), summer (June and July), and fall (August, September, October).
“In winter, producers must be willing to check very frequently throughout a 24-hour period, as calves can suffer from hypothermia if born in extreme cold or excess snow,” said Waddell. “Truthfully, I’m not sure if consumers truly know what it takes to calve in the coldest part of the winter. Frozen fingers and faces come with the territory.”
There’s also the possibility of a calf not sucking, a cow not interested in her calf, a cow laying on her calf and injuring it, and frozen ears or tails, or even a dead calf.
Additional problems requiring the assistance of a veterinarian — also on call 24-7 throughout calving season — may be an added expense to the producer but also a cost-saving measure if a cow can be saved in the calving process.
Labour requirements are greatest for winter calving operations because along with constant vigilance, there is a need for good calving facilities. There’s also the increased risk of neonatal diseases due to higher animal density because of confinement.
Manitoba Agriculture says all management systems can be made to work, as no one calving system has all the advantages. By factoring in the land resources, equity position, labour availability, and wants and needs of the operator, success can be seen when a producer combines all variables. Winter calving is the most common type found in Manitoba, as the cow-calf enterprise doesn’t interfere with the cropping enterprise and calves have extra months to put on weight prior to sale.
For Woychyshyn, and hundreds of cattle producers like him, thanks to the extreme cold experienced this winter, he’s definitely ready for spring, looking over a young healthy crop of bull and heifer calves.
Raising cattle is one of the primary incomes for a number of farms in the area and across the Prairies. It is a job, a choice of occupation, and a family livelihood. Most people know that cattle farmers raise beef as an income, but few realize the time and dedication involved in getting that beef from birth to their table.