Choosing Bull Turnout Time This Spring

   This past winter (2013-14) has been hard on livestock and the people managing them according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
   “The severe cold, wind and precipitation is now causing beef cow-calf raisers to evaluate their breeding season for later this spring,” said Cole. “I’ve had more than one say they are not turning their bulls out until May 20 or even later because they don’t want to calve in February again.”
   Cole says he sympathizes with those raising cattle regarding losses due to the weather this year. At the same time, he wonders if holding the bulls out or delaying the artificial insemination date is the answer.
   According to Pat Guinan, the Missouri agriculture extension climatologist, there are no guarantees on what February 2015 weather will be like but data collected over does help him make a forecast.
   “Overall, February temperature trends across southwestern Missouri over the past 25 years have been mild,” said Guinan.    “Since 1990, there have only been nine Februaries (36 percent) with below normal temperatures and of those nine, only two were especially cold, 2010 and 2014.”
   Guinan went on to note that our winter temperature trends have been mostly benign.
   “Only seven of the past 25 (28 percent) have been colder than normal. There were three that have been notably cold: 2000-01, 2009-10 and yes, 2013-14,” said Guinan.
   When it comes for forecasting, Guinan declined to go out on a limb to speculate what exactly might happen in February 2015. However, the past February was the 18th coldest in southwest Missouri dating back to 1895.
   Farmers who choose to delay the breeding season for their cattle should be aware of those downsides too.
   “Calving 30 days later will affect weaning weights by around 50 pounds per head. Sure, you can leave them on the cow longer but that may mess up your weaning and sale marketing schedule,” said Cole.
   Some of producers but their calves in the feedlot and the younger calf might not hit the top market for fed cattle. Cole says it seems the best fed prices usually are in April
   “It’s likely a later breeding season will result in more open cows if you follow a limited breeding season of 60-70 days or less.   Late May and early June breeding should not be so hot as to result in poor conception rates,” said Cole.
   If breeding moves into late June, July and possibly August, conception rates drop and early embryonic deaths will increase due to hot weather stress. This problem exists especially on the “hot”, endophyte-infected fescue.
   “Just as we can’t say for certain that February 2015 will be very cold or relatively mild, we don’t know this summer’s breeding season temperatures. Delaying the breeding season could result in late summer or even fall calves depending on bull management and the summer heat,” said Cole.
   In lieu of altering the breeding season, Cole says producers may make plans to provide a better calving environment if February 2015 is another bad one.
   Changes could involve: a more protected calving pasture; more bedding; feeding females late in the day for more daytime births, especially heifers; more night-time checks on heavy springers and evaluate warming techniques for severely chilled calves.
   “Remember, there are tradeoffs on any management decision. Cow-calf raisers need to thoroughly evaluate those tradeoffs before delaying their bull turnout this spring,” said Cole. ∆

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