Luhman: The Benefits of an August Breeding Season

For us at Dry Creek Red Angus, it’s breeding season! To many of our neighbors, and maybe to many of you, it may seem like an odd time to turn out our bulls. Most people in our area have already finished breeding season and perhaps even begun to preg check. Why do we breed so late?

Our goal is to mimic nature and minimize our costs to keep a cow and produce a calf for a year. When we look at nature before settlement of the West, wild animals like deer, elk and bison were not fed silage or baleage all fall and winter; they were forced to eat what nature provided. Since an animal’s highest feed requirement is when they have offspring, they gave birth when nature provided the highest quality feed, which in Goodhue, Minn., is in the late spring.

For our cow herd, winter is the most expensive time to feed a cow and we wanted to reduce this cost. An option to do that is to graze dormant stockpiled grasses and cover crops as well as to graze corn residue. These feed options are not high enough quality for a cow late in gestation or a cow with a young calf at side. So rather than change our feeding plan to a more expensive option, we chose to change our calving window to May where ample high-quality feed is available allowing us to cheaply graze corn stalks and dormant cover crops well into winter. Last winter we were able to graze corn stalks until Feb. 1 with no additional supplement, saving over $2/day per animal compared to feeding hay.

In addition to the cost savings, calving in May is a huge time and labor saver. When we used to calve in March, I would spend hours per day feeding and bedding cows. I would check regularly for calves to pull them out of the group and put them in a pen with their mom to bond. I always joked that I would lose all my winter weight in about two weeks of calving because it was so much work.

Now, calving on grass, cows have the ability to walk away from the herd to calve and bond by themselves. I check twice a day for new calves, once in the morning and once at night. So yes, turning bulls out in August may seem odd, but to us it makes a lot of sense. I would encourage you to consider the context of your farm and determine if there are any ways you can mimic nature that will improve profitability, work/life balance, or your soil.