Manitoba Forage & Grazing Symposium

Bev & I attended the Manitoba Forage & Grazing Symposium on Dec. 9th & 10th. The information presented & the net- working opportunities were superb. Unfortunately the attendance was low. I find it hard to understand why more people don’t take advantage of learning opportunities like this. It is hard to progress in your business if you aren’t challenged by new & innovative ideas. I always find that there is so much to learn.

Brian Harper from Brandon was one of the presenters. Brian is doing an excellent job of grazing. He is utilizing high stock densities & achieving excellent results. Brian breeds his heifers to have their first calf at 3 years of age. I can remember when this was common practice. In the last 40 or 50 years it has become common to breed heifers to calve at 2 years of age.

My first question was: “as we moved from calving at 3 years old to calving at 2 years old was it a profit or a production decision?” I think it was a production decision. What is your opinion?

We are all aware that a yearling heifer is barely sexually mature. It isn’t too difficult to get the heifers to breed but re breeding for the second calf & even the third one can be a challenge. There is a big fall out in these 2 years. When we try & avoid this fall out we increase our costs. Depreciation on our cows (the difference between a bred heifer & a cull cow) is usually the second highest cost of keeping a cow herd. Anything we can do to reduce fall out due to poor breeding is likely to make us more profitable.

We had looked at breeding to calve at 3 before. At that time we decided it was not a good economic decision. We reached that conclusion when we considered the value of a long yearling heifer that was not bred. She is still considered a heifer & sells for a decent price. A two & a half year old heifer is considered a heiferette or a cow & brings a lower price. When we reached this decision I think we likely used the same breeding percentage on our yearlings & 2 year olds.

The first thing I learned from producers who are calving at 3 is that the breeding percentage when calving at 3 is high. It is commonly in the 90% plus range. The breeding percentage when calving at 2 is more likely to be in the 80% range. This difference in breeding percentage would go a long way to making calving at 3 a good economic decision.

Another point to consider is that breeding to calve at 3 will result in a heavier calf at weaning. There will be no need to use “heifer bulls” as a 3 year old should have no trouble calving when bred to a cow bull.

Producers who have been calving at 3 feel the cows stay in the herd longer. They likely produce at least one more calf over their lifetime. This is a huge factor in profitability. We are currently reviewing our breeding plan. There is a strong possibility that we will start breeding to calve at 3 years of age. Re breeding is always a struggle. Breeding at 2 may eliminate a host of problems & increase profit. What is your opinion?

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