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    Benefits of Choosing a Calving Season

    Authored by Katie Navarra

    Mother Nature skillfully executes breeding and calving season for wildlife species like elk and bison, but beef cattle producers will find their calving season drags on and on without good management. Implementing a defined calving season significantly influences herd health, productivity and profitability. 

    Spring or fall calves

    Spring calving is the most popular choice among beef producers, but a fall calving season may be a good fit too depending on your situation. Your goals, the nature of the market, available forage, and labor resources factor into which season makes the most sense for your operation. In either case, being strategic about the calving season is vital.

    “Having a spread-out calving season leads to all sorts of challenges,” explained Jordan Thomas, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri.

    “When we chose our breeding season, it is our responsibility to think about how to manage the herd and pull bulls from the herd at a certain time,” Thomas said. “Ultimately, we want a short calving season so we can keep pairs in groups with calves around the same age.

    Reasons for choosing a calving season

    Thomas offers these seven reasons for strategically choosing a calving season for your beef cattle operation rather than leaving it unmanaged.

    • Calf survival
    • Calf health
    • Feed costs
    • Labor requirements
    • Productivity
    • Market fluctuations

    Calf survival

    In cold climates and extreme winter weather conditions, calves need extra care or may succumb to frigid temperatures, snow and damp conditions. The higher the survival rates in your herd with the least amount of labor input, the greater the profitability. When choosing a calving season, consider your climate, budget, and access to resources and facilities.

    Calf health

    Newborn calves are susceptible to disease, such as scours when exposed to older calves. According to Thomas, keeping a short calving season—so that all calves are within a few weeks of age—decreases disease risks. Plus, calves born several weeks or months apart will not achieve the same weight gain and size for market as their peers in scenarios where you plan to market and sell them simultaneously.

    Feed costs

    Feed is the highest expense for cattle producers, Thomas noted. Purchasing feed or stored forages drives those costs higher when your cows are lactating and have the greatest nutritional needs.  

    “From a business perspective, you want calving season to align with when the feed cost is inexpensive, in order to economically meet nutrient requirements for lactation,” said Thomas. “That is in the true spring or, in some regions, in the fall when we have good forage quantity and quality.” 

    When exactly does this time vary geographically? In Missouri, the true spring season is typically mid-March/early April when the grass greens up, while operations targeting fall calving often aim for September. However, timing varies in Northern and Western states based on climate and forage species.

    Labor requirements

    It’s far simpler to manage routine care like vaccinations, dehorning, castration, and weaning when animals are in a similar production stage. Also, before selecting a calving season, consider the logistics of your operation. For example, if you’re also growing crops, the fall harvest season results in less time to manage the herd. Conversely, if you’re working off the farm with a job that has busier periods than others, it’s important to take that into account too.


    Cows have an average gestation period of 283 days (about 9 and a half months), leaving a relatively short time to breed back for the following season.  

    “Cows that don’t get bred back lose value if you try to sell them as a cull cow,” Thomas said. “Keeping a cow bred and in production for next year minimizes the need to replace cows, which is a significant investment.”

    With a defined calving season, it’s also easier to keep track of those reproductively unsound cows, making it easier to cull less desirable animals from the herd.

    Market fluctuations

    The profit potential of your herd can also be influenced by seasonal changes in market prices. If you plan to sell claves immediately after weaning, prices tend to be higher in the spring, making fall-born calves potentially more valuable. 

    A whole system management approach

    Choosing a calving season is only one part of the production system for a cow-calf operation, which involves being strategic about breeding, weaning and when and where to market your calves. But it’s also important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

    Talking to experienced cattle producers of similar size in your area and asking them questions about what they have learned and why what they do fits them can supply critical insights when planning for your farm. By supporting good production and financial records, evaluating available forage, and tracking herd fertility, and calf performance, you can find a calving season best suited to your operation.

    More about calves and raising cattle

    Read about calf housing & management.
    Learn how to feed a calf in our guide.