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Are You Tracking Your Calving Distribution?

Do you know what your electric bill was last month? Or maybe your propane or gas bill? What kind of mileage do you get with your truck? I’ll bet you know the premium for your health or auto insurance. As these expenses increase, they negatively impact your bottom line, so you naturally pay attention to them.

Now, what was your average weaning weight last year? What was your conception rate? How many calves made it to weaning? These all impact your paycheck, so they are usually top of mind as well.

But calving distribution? What is that? Why track it? Can you improve it, and if so, what does that improvement pay you?

An opportunity

Let’s start with what calving distribution is and why you should be concerned with it.

Calving distribution is a look at which cycle of your breeding season each of your calves is born in. If you have a 60-day breeding season, you have about three 21-day cycles to get your cows bred. If you keep track of the birthdates of your calves, you can then generate your calving distribution: the percentage of calves born in each of the 3 breeding cycles in this 60-day breeding season. While conception rate will greatly impact how many calves you have to sell, calving distribution greatly impacts their weaning weight.

The focus of managing calving distribution can be summed up in two sentences: Regardless of when a cow conceives, the cost to carry her for a year will be pretty much the same. She may just as well conceive earlier and deliver a heavier calf at weaning.

The payback

A few years back, former NDSU economist Harlan Hughes put together the graph in Figure 1, showing the relative profitability of calves depending on where they are within the calving distribution of a herd. This profitability is primarily driven by weaning weight. Older calves weigh more and are generally worth more.

Figure 1 is an index, but let’s put some actual numbers to this. I have heard ranchers tell of herds where 65% of the calves are born in the first 21 days, as well as herds where 80% of the calves were born in the first 21 days. It is entirely possible that both of these herds have the same conception rate, yet one is likely to be more profitable.

Let’s say both herds are 100 cows, and 95% of the cows are pregnant during the same breeding season. Let’s also say 2% of the live calves are lost by the time they are weaned. This still gives us 93 live calves per herd to sell at weaning.

If the ranchers are only measuring conception rate, they are likely to be equally happy at this point. But will the checks for both herds be the same? Probably not.

The second herd has 14 more calves born in the first cycle than the first herd (93 x 65% = 60 calves, while 93 x 80% = 74 calves). If those 14 calves gain 2.0 pounds a day for an extra 21 days before they are weaned, they have added 588 pounds more pay weight than the first herd. That could total over $1,750 more in your paycheck. And that herd probably has calves moving from the third cycle to the second cycle as well. Getting back to that focus of managing calving distribution, each cow that conceives a cycle earlier can add about $125 more in profits.

An added benefit of keeping as many cows calving in the first cycle as possible is that they are much less likely to be culled. The fewer cows that are culled, the better your bottom line.

How can we affect calving distribution?

Nutrition, genetics and management are the tools you have to play with, and you may still have time to take a good run at some of these before your 2025 calves are conceived. I’ll let you handle the genetics and management, but below, I’ll describe how you can manipulate nutrition to get more cows bred early.

You need to ensure that more than adequate levels of energy, protein, phosphorus, trace minerals and vitamins are available to your cow herd from prior to calving through the breeding season. Cows should be in a body condition score of 5.0 to 6.0 at calving. This has been shown to be very important to breeding back early. Crystalyx® self-fed protein and mineral formulas allow ranchers to adequately supplement their herds when labor and time are in short supply and getting shorter every year.

Crystalyx® Blueprint® products give you an added advantage of removing all inorganic forms of trace minerals from your herd’s diet. The difference this can make is impressive. Two years of research from the University of Florida with 160 replacement heifers gave the following results:

  • Year-one heifers fed Blueprint reached puberty 9 days earlier when compared to the inorganic control group. Upon continuation of the study, year-two heifers fed Blueprint reached puberty 41 days earlier when compared to the inorganic control group.
  • Year-one heifers fed Blueprint were confirmed pregnant 8 days earlier when compared to the inorganic control group. Year-two heifers were confirmed pregnant 18 days earlier when fed Blueprint versus the inorganic control group.

The year-two increases were likely due to the herd being on Blueprint for a longer period of time. Heifers conceiving 18 days sooner will likely give you calves that are 40 pounds heavier at weaning time. This could be worth an extra $120 per head.

D.M. Price et al., University of Florida, 2017

For your bulls, Crystalyx Blueprint Omega contains 100% Bioplex® trace minerals, along with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to improve semen quality and sperm motility.

Crystalyx Brand Supplements are available to your herd 24/7, and are an excellent way to supply protein, vitamins, minerals, Bio-Mos® 2, and fly control. Crystalyx self-fed supplements require minimal input of time, labor, equipment and delivery costs. When all costs are considered, Crystalyx will often give you the lowest cost per head per day, with optimal results and greater profitability from your herd.