Open and Late Calving Cows: The Conundrum

Garth Ruff, Beef Cattle Field Specialist, OSU Extension

Figuring out why we have a late calving female is important when deciding to keep or cull.

Being that most of the spring calving cow herds in Ohio and beyond have calved, and breeding season is upon us, there is a cow conundrum that we need to discuss. In the 9 or months that I have been in this position, my favorite questions to answer have quickly become “how quickly can I rebreed a late calving cow?” or “I have a spring calving cow that calved late or never calved at all, can I roll her over to the fall?”

The answers to both of those questions are yes, as I do not have the final say as to what cattlemen can or cannot do on their operations. As someone who is often asked for recommendations on this topic, the real question is should we hang onto those late calving and open females?

Open Cows

In most cases involving open cows the answer to that question is no, they should be in the cull pen. Open cows are a profit drain, no matter if we can roll them over or not. At the simplest form; Profit = (revenue – expense). An open cow is not going to generate any revenue in the form of a weaned calf, while continuing to consume resources (feed) that could be better utilized or perhaps sold. Cull cow prices have been strong as of late and timely culling can generate significant revenue for the farm.

Late Calving Females

What about the producer who has fall and spring herds? There are potential benefits to a fall calving season, that said economics must be considered and often do not favor holding over those females. However, a cookie cutter approach does not always work from one farm to another. There are several points that are often covered when evaluating females that are unfashionably late to the parturition party.

Why did she calve late? – Figuring out why we have late calving females is important but is not always clear cut as we would like it to be. If we cannot determine the root cause of the problem then, we should consider the value of culling that female from the herd, to maintain a production schedule that maximizes the profit potential of a group of calves. Below are some of the “why” questions I have discussed with producers since last fall.

Repeat Offender – “Was she late to calve last year?” If she is chronically late to calve, culling is often the most economic option.

The Bull – The bull is probably not the one to blame here, unless there is a significant portion of the herd open/late calving or we know that the bull was injured or lame.

Nutrition – “Was fertility compromised by a lack of nutrition, particularly energy and minerals?” This question often leads to a nutrition discussion.

Lost Pregnancy – “Was she a victim of statistics and simply lost an early term pregnancy and came back into heat?” Quite possible, we know that a varying percentage of females that are checked bred in early gestation, lose an embryo or fetus.

Once we determine the “Why”, all the following should be considered and acceptable before we consider rolling any cow over into the fall calving herd: Body Condition, Udder, Feet/Legs, Temperament.

Cow Age – If we consider the cost of developing a heifer from calving to her first calf it can be a more difficult decision on what to do with a late calving younger female, especially in a smaller herd. Was she one of those two-year-old’s that struggled to get rebred on an annual basis, often at little fault of their own? One may be more inclined to hang onto these females to recoup some of the cost in developing them, just be aware that there is a cost of holding that female over.

In a time of high feed cost and strength in the cull market, 2021 might not be the year to retain cows regardless the reason they were late to calve.