As many farmers are beginning what they call their “spring calving” here in January and early February, I am grateful that we have set our calving season back to true spring calving in May.
I am writing this after coming in from morning chores of breaking ice off a tire tank for our heifer calves because it was -14 this morning. The obvious benefit of calving in May is that we are not fighting cold weather in January or mud in March, our calves are born easier and we have fewer health issues, and not to mention for myself as the farmer, life is pretty easy this time of year. However, there are other benefits many may not consider, that largely revolve around our ability to graze longer by utilizing cover crops and crop residue to reduce our winter feed costs.
When a cow calves in January, she needs a much higher quality diet through the winter to provide for that calf. By calving later, her nutritional requirements are significantly lower and allows us to keep her grazing. In fact, our cows are still grazing corn stalks and will until the snow gets too deep or ices over. Every day this reduces our winter feed costs by between $1.50-2.50 per cow per day. Talk about savings!
For the crop farmer, think about this as an opportunity to add value to the corn field. Or if you are a farmer who has the desire to plant cover crops to help jumpstart the biology in your soil but are unsure how to monetize it, grazing cattle on it in the winter can be a prime way to capture value while leaving all of the nutrients on the land in the form of manure and trampled forage.
If you want to learn more about both grazing livestock and integrating covers with cropland be sure to check out our Midwest Soil Health Summit, specifically Day 2 on March 9, where farmers from across the state will come together to network and learn!