Black Ink

Dec 20, 2013

Planning, reality and planning

’Tis the season to plan so you can stay jolly all through the year. That may include deciding it is time for Plan B in a few cases, but being on the fortunate side of the drought/recovery line, we are still on Plan A.

It is hard to say when our production year starts. It’s probably at breeding in May and June, about the time we get steer carcass data from the previous year. But it always feels like it starts with calving.

The first calves are supposed to share my birthday in early February, and that means they are supposed to wait until I get back from NCBA. That’s short for the Cattle Industry Annual Convention and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Tradeshow, held in Nashville, TN, this winter.

A few generations of artificial insemination (AI) and breeding up to greater accuracy in calving ease let us hit the target most of the time with heifer AI the second week of May and cows a little later. When something comes more than a week early, it’s usually small and no problem in the sheltered heifer corral. We have a seasoned hand “on call” just in case.

Last February it was the AI cows calving that shattered my plans. Given access to basic shelter, they’ve been selected and culled to be problem-free. However, the one night that the little black book said most were due was the one night everything went wrong. For a long time, I thought it was too bad to even write about.

I won’t dwell on it now, because it’s nothing compared to what folks in the Dakotas went through, except to say I could have done more in this case. And I will do more this year. The calves are due one week later, and a key fence that failed to keep several head from drifting with the snowstorm will be reinforced. I’ll patrol three times as often during those crucial few days.

We’ve seen cold nights already, that’s for sure. I think we’re ready, and I’m excited to think about a great calf crop on the way, surely the best ever.

When I look past the possible pitfalls of winter calving, I think longer term. Will the 2014 heifer calves get every chance to be all that they can be? I have lately considered what sires would be on my short list for a flush to make full-brother bulls. You’re free to pick your own, if only for a mental exercise, but it will make you think ahead.

A flush this winter for a fall band of brothers would mean I’ll likely not use them until 2016 in my springcalving herd. I’ll use a complementary AI sire that year to double-down on consistency.

After all, that’s the main reason for such a strategy: It brings more dependable results for all of us, from here to the consumer’s plate.

It will be especially interesting to see those 2017 calves, get the steer carcass data in 2018 and choose AI sires for those heifers, so I can see how well it’s working in 2019. Kind of like thinking about a package you can’t open for five years.

Whoa, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. This business is all about the past, the present and the future.

Keeping them all in perspective will help us build tomorrow together. — Steve Suther

(“Black ink” is a cattle management column written by Steve Suther and Miranda Reiman of Certified Angus Beef. The column is not designed for strictly Angus producers, and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of WLJ or its editorial staff.)