Many producers were forced to de-stock through summer and fall of 2006 due to the drought. Though often painful, it also was an opportunity. If we were smart, we used this chance to increase herd uniformity, culling "outliers" and emerging with a herd more uniform in size, breed type and stage of reproduction. Why is this good? First, a limited calving season of 90 or fewer days contributes more to efficiency and profit potential than any other management practice.
That's a strong statement, but the drought emphasized the disadvantages of a year-round calving season, especially in the areas of marketing, herd health and nutrition. Second, there are significant price advantages to calves uniform in age, size, breed make-up and that are marketed in larger groups.
Since ranchers are traditionally optimistic, we now are thinking about restocking before the next growing season. Buying replacements that maintain or increase herd uniformity should be a primary focus of this effort. This is our second chance to be "smart." Consider these recommendations.
Define a 90-day calving/breeding season appropriate to your resources and management. Buy mature replacements that will calve as early as 30 to 45 days before to no later than half way through the calving season; bred heifers should calve at least 30 days before the beginning. Replacements that will calve late in the season will most likely always be late and have a higher risk of not rebreeding at all. Also, late calves are lighter at weaning.
If you have a uniform majority in your herd, and that cow size and breed have been productive for you, buy replacements that fit that majority. If not, define a cow type appropriate to your resources and management, and make your replacements fit this definition.
Finally, remember that body condition is critical to calving success and eventual conception. Buy spring-calving replacements in a body condition score (BCS) of at least 5; preferably 5.5 to 6. If you consider a set of cattle with a 4.5 BCS, discount them at least $200 to cover the cost of feeding them up to a BCS of 5 before calving and/or lower conception rates at pregnancy checking time. Pass on any cattle below a 4.5 BCS.
The drought of 2006 has triggered a couple of opportunities to increase the uniformity of our herds. First was culling, second is restocking. Plan and be deliberate in selecting females for the future.