Improving Sustainability of Cow/Calf Operations with Natural Forage Systems

1994 Annual Report for LNC94-074

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1994: $82,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $258,400.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Don Adams
University of Nebraska, West Central Research and Extension Center

Improving Sustainability of Cow/Calf Operations with Natural Forage Systems


A beef cow’s highest nutrient requirements occur during lactation. We hypothesized that inputs of harvested feeds, labor and other resources would be reduced when high requirements of lactation are matched with the high quality of immature grazed forages. To test this, the traditional calving date of March is compared to a non traditional calving date of June. Cows were bred to calve in either March or June. Inputs (e.g., feed, labor, equipment) and outputs (e.g., beef production) are being quantified and will provide a basis for an economic analysis. The carcass is the end product; however, body weights will allow evaluation of all marketing opportunities. Steer calves born in March are weaned in September and put in the feedlot and finished about June 1. Steer calves born in June are weaned either mid-November or mid-January. Half the calves from each weaning date are put in the feedlot and finished for slaughter in August. The other half are fed a hay diet until May when they graze until September. In September steers from range are put in the feedlot and fed to slaughter in January.

Two weaning dates of June born calves were selected on the basis that November weaning would benefit the cow and January weaning the calf. Cow body condition scores and pregnancy rates do not show measurable benefit to weaning in November, but weaning in January reduced hay fed to calves by 1,779 pounds per calf in 1994 and 923 pounds per calf in 1995. Weights of June born calves were about 10 pounds heavier for calves weaned in January. Harvested feed was reduced for cows calving in June. During 1995, 2,234 pounds of hay was fed to each cow calving in March compared to 0 pounds of hay fed to cows calving in June. During 1996, 3,460 pounds of hay was fed to March calving cows compared to 83 pounds per cow for cows calving in June. An average of 130 pounds per cow of a protein supplement was fed March calving cows and 115 pounds per cow for June cows. Pregnancy rate for March calving cows has been about 93 percent compared to about 95 percent for June cows. At about six months of age March born calves are about 65 pounds heavier than June calves.

Data on steer calves is being collected but are limited because as of September 1996 only one calf crop had completed a full cycle. It is our assessment that labor is lower for June calving cows than for March cows because of reduced feeding and labor. March calving requires sheds and corrals to protect cattle from inclement weather, while June calving is on range. June also appears to have greater marketing opportunities than March. Grazing was extended about three weeks by grazing cool season meadows in May after calving when cows are traditionally fed hay. Cows grazing meadow in May gained body condition score compared to those fed hay, but pregnancy rates and date of calving were not significantly different. Calf weaning weights were 15 pounds higher for cows that had grazed the meadows in May compared to those fed hay in May.


Don Adams

Univ. of NE
NE 69101