How (and Why) These Eastern Canadian Cow-Calf Producers Changed and Defined Their Calving Periods

There are many interconnected variables that affect, or are affected by, calving season. Considerations such as infrastructure and facilities to remove and house bulls following a defined breeding season, herd size, regional market prices, targeted weaning time and labour availability are a few factors that impact a calving period.

These producers did their homework and planned ahead before shifting their calving seasons in order to meet the needs of their particular farms and families.

Spencer Yeo, Nova Scotia – Shorten Calving Period from Twelve to Six Weeks

Six years ago, Spencer Yeo who now farms in Nova Scotia had a large calving window, with the bull in year-round. About 60% of his herd calved during a 12-week timeframe but there were always stragglers which meant a lot of extra nights checking cows. Yeo had a small herd and was selling calves direct from the farmyard. With a mix of weights and smaller calves pulling the average price down, he saw an opportunity for change.

Spencer Yeo, Nova Scotia – Shorten Calving Period from Twelve to Six Weeks


“If you’re going to adjust your calving window, you need to make sure your cows are in good shape to do it successfully.” – Spencer Yeo, Nova Scotia

Yeo aimed to transition to a six-week calving period to help with time management as he also works off-farm full-time. He chose to aim for February calving because it is typically a little warmer then, in his region. It is also a time of year when he has the most free-time, and it was when the majority of his cows were already calving so he was working with the herd versus against them.

The transition occurred within a single year with the breeding season shortened to May 1 through mid-June. Preg checking occurred in August, and any open females were sold. This worked well as cull cow prices were seasonally higher in August versus later in the fall, which resulted in extra income. Bull management includes the option of leasing out for a few months or selling after the breeding season. Yeo replaces the bull every two years, so only has to deal with a bull in the off-season every other year. Continue reading

Cut Costs Carefully

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Beef producers managing cows and calves in winter

Research that’s underway now won’t solve this year’s drought, but it should help us deal with the next one. By the same token, research done during the big drought of the early 2000s provides some valuable lessons about managing the cow herd in today’s drought.

Dr. Cheryl Waldner of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon led a large beef cow productivity study from the start of the 2001 breeding season through weaning in 2002. This corresponded to the widespread drought that impacted much of Western North America and inspired the original Hay West program.

What They Did:

They examined factors affecting the productivity of over 30,000 beef cows in more than 200 well-managed herds across Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Peace Region of British Columbia. Participating producers individually identified each cow and calf, recorded all calf births, maintained an active veterinary-client-patient relationship, had good animal handling facilities, pregnancy tested all breeding females, had a veterinarian evaluate all herd bulls, had an established spring or summer breeding season (i.e., not calve year-round), and worked with the research team to collect the needed samples and data.

What They Learned:

Drought had significant impacts, even in these well-managed herds. Continue reading

A Guide to Keeping Records That Help Make Profitable Decisions

The start of a new season and year is the perfect time for beef producers to look back on what went well and think ahead to what can be improved.

Do you feel like you have a good understanding of your farm’s profit and production? Do you have goals for the upcoming season?

You can learn a lot about your farm when you make the effort to collect and take a look at your financial and production data. Perhaps you assumed an area of your operation was performing better than it truly was and records demonstrate improvement is needed. On the other hand, analyzing data may point to improvements that you didn’t realize occurred.

Good farm records are useful to provide the data needed to understand your farm performance and will help take the guesswork out of management decisions. Research shows that when producers set goals and keep records, they can achieve up to 60 more pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed. Benchmarking also helps producers be prepared for challenging times such as drought and other environmental disasters, and will maximize the benefits of your annual VCPR (Veterinary Client Patient Relationship) visit with your herd veterinarian. Continue reading

Always Look a Gift Cow in the Mouth

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
beef cattle in sale barn
This year’s feed situation is forcing many cow-calf producers to make very difficult decisions. Those who are short of feed may cull their herds harder than usual or look for alternative feeding arrangements to winter some or all their cows. Others with feed carryover from previous years may be tempted to custom feed other people’s cows, or to expand their own herds. Those who are selling cows this year may rebuild their herds in a year or two when the weather is more promising. In short, there are potentially a lot of cows changing hands, either permanently or temporarily.

Regardless of whether you’re buying now, buying later or considering custom feeding, remember that there’s more to the decision than price alone. Some apparent opportunities can bring significant hidden costs. This lesson was illustrated recently in a project led by John Campbell and Cheryl Waldner, with co-workers from the Universities of Saskatchewan and Calgary (Biosecurity Practices in Western Canadian Cow-Calf Herds and Their Association with Animal Health; Canadian Veterinary Journal 62:712-718). Continue reading

Optimum Condition = Maximum Production

When feed supplies are short, it may be tempting to feed less and allow cows to lose body condition, but this short-term solution can have a long-term impact on the performance and profitability of a cow herd. A herd of cows maintained in the right condition with an ideal layer of fat cover will have more (and heavier!) calves than a herd of thin or over-fat cows.

In a drought year, when feed access and quality is uncertain, hands on body condition scoring (BCS) is a simple and accurate method to assess the condition and productivity of your herd. Continue reading