Multiple-calving strategy has its benefits

Using more than one calving season is a family tradition for Jerry Groening of Marion.

He’s used spring and fall calving in his beef cow herd since he began business on his own in the early 1970s. So did his father, Howard, and his brother, Gordon.

“It’s nothing special,” Groening said. “We’ve done it this way for a long time. We always have done it this way.”

Groening keeps a moderate-sized herd of “70-some” cows, limited by the grass available, with 50 calving in the fall and 20 in the spring.

He and his family once raised Hereford-Angus crosses to produce the black-baldy cattle then in demand.

He went to predominantly red Simmental cattle to start in business, and has returned to black bulls on the crossbred cows.

He likes the two calving seasons to make more use of expensive bulls, and better utilize the feed produced on his farm.

“It’s easier to control the bulls when they’re always with a bunch of cows,” Groening said. “They aren’t out there trying to fight with a five-wire fence. They can do a lot of damage. There’s always a place to put them.

“We can also spread out the labor, and it’s a way of using feeds. We get all kinds of hay, some good, some bad. We use it all up.

“We use two kinds of feeding. The cows that calve in the spring can rough out the winter grazing on stubble. The fall-calving cows have to be fed good all winter.”

Groening is able to sell the fall calves right off the cow.

“They’re good sized and ready,” he said.

The spring calves are weaned a little smaller, backgrounded on grass and then fed some before selling in the winter.

Groening doesn’t count on having two seasons helping him with marketing. He said he just tries to raise the kind of calf the market demands. He believes the best action is to find the plan that works best for an operation and then stick with it.

Groening noted there are fewer fall calving herds around.

He does spread his risk for hitting bad weather for calving with the two seasons.

He likes to start fall calving in October and have it done in early December before the first bad weather really hits.

Spring calving usually gets a little trickier. The first calves this year, born only a week ago, were caught by some windy cold rain-sleet mix.

Avoiding bad weather also avoids weather-related health risks for the calves.

Groening said a limiting factor for the small cow-calf producer is finding grassland for any expansion. Landowners frequently are looking for large stocker cattle operations to lease pasture to.

“You have to own it,” Groening said.

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