Every suckler herd will have a handful of cows that calve late every year. Some cows have a genuine reason for calving late, for example a sub-fertile stock bull or a caesarean section the previous year.

But on the flip side, there are plenty of cows that repeatedly calve late for no reason other than poor fertility.

Such cows are a drain on any farm. These cows are always out of sync with the main herd when it comes to management tasks such as worming and weaning.

In a spring-calving herd, cows that calve late will normally produce a light calf off grass and weaning is always delayed to mid-winter.

Added costs

These cows usually need concentrate to support milk production when housed, whereas the main herd of dry cows can be fed a silage-only diet.

Meal comes at a cost and with rations approaching £400/t this winter, feeding 2kg/head to cows daily costs 80p/day. For 10 cows, this will cost £240 for every month weaning is delayed.

With inputs on the rise, this is not the year to be carrying passengers. Poor-performing cows should be removed from the system.

Beef markets are buoyant and there are numerous options to consider for persistent late-calving cows, some of which are outlined here.

1 Sell the cow and calf outfit now

The most straightforward way to remove persistently late-calving cows is to cash them in as soon as possible. However, this only applies to herds not under movement restrictions with TB.

Ideally, cows should have a calf around six to eight weeks old before selling as the young animal will be stronger and exhibiting more of its potential.

Sale price will depend on the type and quality of the outfit, with stronger buying demand at present for cows that have a high cull value.

At most sales, prices are typically between £1,500 and £1,900 for genuine suckler stock. Cows and calves with better conformation are making over £2,000.

Assuming each cow and calf outfit normally requires one acre of grass for grazing, selling late-calving cows now will ease the pressure on the grazing rotation.

This will free up more grass for more productive animals and reduce fertiliser requirement over the summer.

Assuming five late-calving cows are sold at £1,700 per outfit, this generates £8,500 for cashflow now.

Freeing up five acres of grazing and saving two bags/acre of CAN (£670/t) is worth £67/cow, improving cashflow by another £335.

As there are normally only a small number of late-calving cows, is the hassle of working with such a small group worth it when compared to the possible cash flow benefits?

2 Graze the cow and calf as normal and sell in autumn

Option two is to run the cow and calf over the summer as normal before selling in the autumn.

The calf will be stronger and heavier. This may attract more buying interest if the calf is at a suitable size for weaning. Selling the cow scanned in-calf should also help sale value.

However, the value of the outfits in October is unlikely to much higher than current prices for suckler outfit, despite the inputs required over the grazing season. These include fertiliser, wormers, lick buckets and concentrate for creep feeding.

The other downside of this option is that at the outset of summer, many farmers intend to go down this route.

But when the cow scans back in-calf, culling plans are often scrapped and repeat offenders are given another chance.

3 Run the outfit separate from the bull and sell in autumn

Farmer who would prefer to run late-calving suckler outfits over the summer might consider keeping these animals separate from the bull.

The purpose of this option is to split the cow and calf come autumn and sell separately. This is often far more profitable when compared with option two.

With late-calving outfits separate from the main herd, put the creep feeder out in July to boost weight gain in calves.

This will take the pressure off cows, helping them maintain, or even gain body condition. Coming into the autumn period, the outfit should then be split.

The calf could be weaned and sold at suckled calf sales, with the cow sold for intensive finishing. If the herd is closed with TB, the calf can be wintered with other weanlings, while the cow can be intensively finished.

For a herd calving from late February to late April, a mid- to late May-born calf with continental breeding, weighing 270kg in late October and sold at a modest 270p/kg, is worth £729.

Assuming the cow weighs 750kg and sold in the live ring at 200p/kg, this option is worth £2,229 per outfit when sold.

Even allowing for the cost of the calf, creep at 2kg/day (£370/t) over 120 days comes to £89. Factoring in grazing and worming costs, there is still potentially a higher return compared to option two.

4 Pulling cows forward with a short gestation bull

Most farmers will want to give cows that calve late through no fault of their own another chance. Healthy, fertile cows on good grass should come forward naturally. But to give them every help, is it possible to run a bull with a shorter gestation?

This is more likely to be an option in herds with multiple stock bulls, or where AI is frequently used.

Stock bulls running with replacement heifers are likely to be easy-calving, short-gestation sires. Therefore, running a handful of late calving cows in this group may be worth considering.

5 Moving cows to an autumn herd

If the farm runs a separate spring- and autumn-calving pattern, it will be common practice for late cows to slip from the spring herd to the autumn herd and vice versa.

This may be practical where a cow is calving late through no fault of her own, but it is a false economy for unproductive cows that have poor fertility.

In the case of autumn-calving herds, operating costs are higher. So unproductive spring-calving cows will cost even more to keep when moved to the autumn herd.

Fertility will be reliant on having high-quality silage and concentrate available. There is no place for average or below-average silage in an autumn-calving setup.

Cows with poor fertility will quickly slip out of an autumn-calving set, especially when there is a definitive date when breeding ends.

Therefore, consider the economics of this option carefully when dealing with repeat offenders.

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