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Published April 23, 2012, 09:37 AM

Calving rates a concern

Area beef cattle producers are watching to see what impact a July 2011 heat spell will have on calving rates this spring.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Area beef cattle producers are watching to see what impact a July 2011 heat spell will have on calving rates this spring.

“I’ve been getting some calls” about beef cows that didn’t become pregnant last summer, says Carl Dahlen, beef cattle specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

He and other experts say it’s difficult to estimate how many cows are affected. Most area cattle producers began their calving season in earnest in the middle of April.

Temperatures that soared into the 90s, accompanied by high humidity, stressed cows last July, a key time in their reproductive cycle. Cattle producers want cows that give birth in the spring to be bred over the summer. That way, the cows will give birth again the following spring, maintaining an annual cycle.

Numerous studies have found that heat stress reduces reproductive success in beef cattle.

Other factors also could have stressed cows last year and contributed to the animals not becoming pregnant, experts say.

Parts of the region were hammered with a late-spring blizzard last year. That weakened some cows and may have hampered their chances of becoming pregnant in the summer, Dahlen notes.

Jim Krantz, cow/calf field specialist with the South Dakota State University Extension Service in Mitchell, S.D., says he doesn’t think an unusually high number of cows are open, or unbred, in his area this spring.

But that could be because producers who pregnancy-checked their cows last fall sold the unbred animals for slaughter, he says.

“There’s a lot of expense to keeping an open cow,” he says.

If open cows hadn’t been sold last fall, the number of cows not giving birth this spring might have been higher than usual, he says.

Many, though not all, cattle producers in the region pregnancy-check their cows in the fall. Usually, though not always, producers sell the unbred cows.

Cattle producers never want open cows, but the lack of a new calf is particularly unwelcome this spring, given record-high cattle prices.

Ranchers appreciate the strong prices, as well as the warm, dry spring and the good calving conditions that it’s bringing, says Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

However, the number of cows not giving birth is a concern, she says.

South Dakota’s 2010 calf crop ranked sixth nationally, with Montana seventh and North Dakota 14th, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Texas led the nation.