This winter has been hard on livestock and the people managing them according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
"The severe cold, wind and precipitation is now causing beef cow-calf raisers to evaluate their breeding season for later this spring," said Cole. "I've had more than one say they are not turning their bulls out until May 20 or even later because they don't want to calve in February again."
Cole says he sympathizes with those raising cattle regarding livestock losses due to the weather this year. At the same time, he wonders if holding the bulls out or delaying the artificial insemination date is the answer.
Predicting the weather
According to Pat Guinan, the Missouri agriculture extension climatologist, there are no guarantees on what February 2015 weather will be like but data collected over does help him make a forecast.
"Overall, February temperature trends across southwestern Missouri over the past 25 years have been mild," explains Guinan. "Since 1990, there have only been nine Februaries with below normal temperatures and of those nine, only two were especially cold, 2010 and 2014."
Guinan went on to note that our winter temperature trends have been mostly benign.
"Only seven of the past 25 (28%) have been colder than normal. There were three that have been notably cold: 2000-01, 2009-10 and yes, 2013-14," Guinan says.
Problems with delays
Farmers who choose to delay the breeding season for their cattle should be aware of those downsides too.
"Calving 30 days later will affect weaning weights by around 50 pounds per head. Sure, you can leave them on the cow longer but that may mess up your weaning and sale marketing schedule," Cole says.
Some beef producers put their calves in the feedlot, but the younger calf might not hit the top market for fed cattle. Cole says it seems the best fed prices usually are in April.
"It's likely a later breeding season will result in more open cows if you follow a limited breeding season of 60 to 70 days or less," he says. "Late May and early June breeding should not be so hot as to result in poor conception rates."
If breeding moves into late June, July and possibly August, conception rates drop and early embryonic deaths will increase due to hot weather stress. This problem exists especially on the "hot", endophyte-infected fescue.
"Just as we can't say for certain that February 2015 will be very cold or relatively mild, we don't know this summer's breeding season temperatures," he says. "Delaying the breeding season could result in late summer or even fall calves depending on bull management and the summer heat."
Consider improving conditions
In lieu of altering the breeding season, Cole says livestock producers may make plans to provide a better calving environment if February 2015 is another bad one.
Changes could involve: a more protected calving pasture; more bedding; feeding females late in the day for more daytime births, especially heifers; more night-time checks on heavy springers and evaluate warming techniques for severely chilled calves.
"Remember, there are tradeoffs on any management decision," he adds. "Cow-calf raisers need to thoroughly evaluate those tradeoffs before delaying their bull turnout this spring."
Planning for all possibilities is the best way to prepare for a successful calving season. But do it right! Download our free report, Best Practices for a Successful Calving Season, to ensure you have everything in place to limit stress on you and your herd.
Source: University of Missouri Extension