Calving When it’s Time to Calve

From Wednesday’s Pharo Cattle Company PCC update:

Just one week after the official beginning of our calving season, we are almost two-thirds done calving.   That is impossible for those who do not calve in sync with nature.  Since all calves are born with a summer hair coat, doesn’t it make sense to calve in warm weather?

That’s pretty much the boat we are in. Our animals were all naturally serviced in a short window and it has taken 17 days for four out of five calves to hit the ground. The cows were on pasture all year but we turned them on new grass 2 months ago. They are fat, healthy and clean. The grass is tall. The air is warm. Calves are all coming unassisted. We just look away for a second and look back and there’s a calf up nursing.


Certainly some of the vigor we are seeing in our calves is due to the bull we used but there is more than just that. Certainly some portion of calving ease is due to herd genetics but that doesn’t account for the whole picture either. The calves are warm. Their bellies and moms’ udders are kept clean by tall, fresh grass. They are standing, running and romping on firm ground. Mom is making milk just at the time when the pasture is at its peak of production.


So now the question…should I breed at the same time this year? Last year the bull arrived on July 27th. Three heifers did not breed. Did they miss because they were inferior animals? Too tall? Infertile/unhealthy? Were they just too hot when the bull was here? So far, all heifers bred on their first cycle but the bull was here until the end of September. Do those other three really have an excuse? Really?

I don’t know. I mean, I guess I can stick with the same window and continue selecting for cattle that will breed in the heat. It’s hard to know what is best.


Our pastures are dominated by infected fescue. Infected fescue does all sorts of bad things to cattle including increasing their body temperature. Lots of ranchers just to the west of us breed in December to calve in the fall flush of growth and take advantage of stockpiled fescue when it is of the highest quality…when it is frozen. Then they wean in the spring when calf prices are high but to this point we have allowed the cow to wean the calf herself…at about 9 months. That’s no big whoop either.


I don’t know if I am doing the right thing. We aren’t worried that the calf will be cold. The cows are fat, clean and in good health. We are doing what other, apparently knowledgeable, apparently successful farmers and ranchers do. We are doing what the deer do. It seems to be working out well.

10 thoughts on “Calving When it’s Time to Calve

  1. I am confused… where are the calves being born/pulled in the middle of the night in a Cdn winter, in a calving barn on straw, donned with calf ear muffs so their ears don’t freeze off while they fight off scours while their mom’s do their best to make milk while they eat hay (that was baled 5 mths earlier, hopefully before it rained and got moldy) on an overcast snowy 5F/-15C day? I just don’t know what to make of this eye candy -calves born healthy out on green grass – looks awesome lol!

    What to do? Mother nature is the best leader in mimicking what she does. However she does not build fences and force animals to graze in a specific spot and species of forage infected or not. In which case a good philosophy like Pharo’s comes into play – ‘To achieve optimum production ranchers must produce cows that fit their environment, instead of artificially changing the environment to fit their cows.”

    On Open cows from Pharo – “In order to produce momma cows that fit our environment, we require our cows to run on short native grass year-round with very little feed supplement. We let the environment sort out the “good ones”, while we show absolutely no sympathy for open, late, or dry cows. They must produce and wean a calf every year or they are culled. There are no second chances!”

    Your previous post was farming as a business so closiing the wk with that theme still, it seems you need to step back and look at what works for your business in your environment,,,which includes infected fescue. While you are at it, you can decide if you want to wave your magic wand of give your open cows a second chance.. or replace them – brutal back seat driver comment eh? lol!

    • It’s hard to cull half of the herd. Not just emotionally, we weren’t geared up to sell beef this early and haven’t made a marketing push for the beef. But, yes. Julie and I were talking about it this morning. There are any of several “tells” that we should cull for early and often. Some cows just can’t take the heat. Right now they are moving quickly across some pretty poor pasture and I can see them beginning to lose a little condition. Some of that is my fault. Some of that is…well, dangit guys…I don’t know what to say. The cows that stay fat and slick are the cows that breed back and will, over time, build a herd that breeds back. The rest taste good. The end. The cows that are panting in the heat need to go. The cows that show parasite signs need to go. The cows that aren’t slick need to go. The cows that lag behind need to go. The cows with their heads up need to go. The whole herd building thing is tough and it’s something Henderson dedicates a whole chapter to later on. And I read and generally agree with Pharo.

      • IMO plain and simple you guys got the short end on starting your cow herd. Thinking out loud, my assumptions are you started with a good plan of 8 cows, breed to good bull for your environment, likely planned on one open/cull out of it all to get your feet wet in mrktng grass fed beef, and moving forward with the calf crop likely planned to keep the heifers to add to your herd and grow out the steers for mrkt? …and dangnamit, it didn’t turn out that way!

        Sounds like you are totally on top of it though and I know first hand how hard it is to cull – MUCH easier said than done. Well worth it in the long run if you look at it as you are creating your Foundation herd- those you want to be special as you know. (I really look forward to your chapter review on what George says on herd bldg) Animals can be hard too as it is not quite as easy as when ie Super Culling Woman Julie went through the house over the winter – where you can recycle and remove things wkly and they are gone. Cows will be there until they are ready for butchering and hopefully have a mrkt or freezer to go. They will likely still be in the same pasture as the others when the bull comes through and you may think… maybe I can recoup a bit of my loss … that is if you are human of course when you got a raw deal – lol.

        In my mind, the question is do you bite the bullet el pronto to get things back on track and find replacements for the 4 you will cull, so you can breed them with your keepers this yr so everyone is on the same program and your plan is back on schedule for next springs crop? I know that is also easier said than done too with the cow mrkt so high right now – so still thinking that overall you did get the short end of this deal! Hmmm the plot thickens… what will HFS do next… I will stay tuned as this story unfolds… 😉

        Regardless of that, it seems like that invisible Board of Grass Fed farmers voted you in as the next beef producer ready or not. Darn it – that PhD in Small Farming doesn’t always allow you to set your course schedule – seems like – surprise HFS! Your grass feed beef mrktng curriculum courses are on the agenda for this fall and oh yes – you will be turning in 4 assignments so to speak! What can you do… go with making lemonade?

        Just having a conversation here not trying at all to be preachy or bossy (my blanket disclaimer for the entire duration of reading your blog, that I may forget to include sometimes but don’t take me the wrong way) – lol! I am just a reader 17 hrs away that makes assumptions based on my world, experiences and notions when I don’t know all the facts on your blog so I auto fill in the blanks-bear with me 😉 Tell me though – what did you get for calves this yr – # heifers vs bull calves? Is my assumption right that you would plan to keep your heifers to expand your herd (if they meet your criteria outlined in your comment)?

        • So far we are 2 and 2. 41 gave us a VERY nice bull calf and 76 a beautiful little heifer. 111 is still holding out though her bag looks like it’s about to pop. Pressure drops tonight as a storm system comes through so we have high hopes. Flora dropped a little cross bull calf and May a little heifer cross. I suspect the heifer cross will stay.

          Cattle prices are high. But since I’m selling beef and buying heifers in the same market I should be fine. But I don’t want to buy heifers. I want pairs. Financially I’m ok but I’m way behind schedule. But them’s the breaks. Take cows off of hot feed and roll the dice. This year I’m buying open March heifers in June or July so I know which ones shed out well.

          There is still a lot of remodeling, cleaning and purging going on in the house but Julie doesn’t seem to have time to write about it. Where does the time go? A lot of it goes to the dairy. A lot.

          • Did 111 break the tie yet? Would be nice to see formal intro’s/pic of each new calf and their mom with your initial comments on which you like vs the ones to cull etc as they grow and am sure will have ongoing guest appearances in upcoming blog posts. Would be nice to be able to follow along rather than guessing which one you are talking about…

            What are you doing with all your Dairy right now? You don’t have pigs right now (I assume you still have a good supply in the freezer?), and don’t show it listed as for sale. Is your family consuming all of it so no surplus?

          • 111 is still pregnant. Any day now…

            Milk. We don’t push our cows for production. Henderson talks about this at one point, you can push concentrates through your cows to get high production OR you can keep your cows producing for many years.

            The calves get their share of the milk. We take about 3 gallons total out of the two cows. We use a gallon at home. The other two gallons go to the chickens and pullets right now. But, yes, I need some pigs.

  2. How did 111’s condition compare last spring to the cows that calved already this yr? Did she come from the same herd/same time as the ones that calved already this yr? Not sure if you kept any records but may have as you use this condition tool… curious minds…

    • Last year 111 was slick and fat early in the season. Our dream cow…except for the 6 teats. I don’t know why she bred late but she’s really not all that late. I’m OK with a 60 day calving window. Obviously the sooner the better but she’s within spec. We’ll shorten the calving window to 45 days before long but even then, she’s OK.

      • Interesting that she was slick and fat early in the season. Makes me wonder if she was the Superstar Dream Cow and was the first to come into heat and the bull was just not there yet?

        6 teats – I would be interested to hear if she passes that to her calf. More interesting though will be to hear comments from you on 111’s supernumerary teats. A study in 1928 concluded, “that supernumerary teats are based on a single dominant autosomal gene, and that this gene is identical with the one that raises milk production by 15 per cent”.

        Slick, fat, 15% extra milk – could she be a silver lining you guys deserve with your cows? Fingers crossed!

        • Well, if she’ll hurry up and calve maybe we’ll put her in the milking line. I’ll need to buy a goat claw in addition to the cow claw to get on all six. I bet she would give a low volume of creamy milk.

          Probably won’t happen.

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