In 2021, Long Pines Land and Livestock decided to move its 2022 calving season to May and to expose cows for only 30 days. This compares to previous years of calving mostly in April (some years as early as mid-March) for 45 to 60 days.
“We did a lot of homework and penciling this out,” says Deb Brown, Long Pines owner. With the severe drought conditions of 2020-2021, the ranch had to significantly reduce its herd. The commercial cows, all steer calves and open cows, and some of the heifers were sold last fall. That left 188 head total, including Sterling Brown’s herd and 30 first-calving heifers.
With the April and May moisture, the ranch hopes to hold onto the current herd. “We should have a hay crop worth harvesting, too,” says Deb.
In this semi-arid range country, managing grass like a drought is coming has become normal for Long Pines and most other ranchers. Implementing a custom rotational grazing system based on forage growth and availability is a must because it allows higher pasture productivity per acre, helps control weeds, ensures better distribution of manure, keeps soil healthy and allows pastures to rest and rejuvenate. The ranch has mainly privately owned land but also has a Forest Service grazing permit.
“We revised our grazing and winter feeding program planning for May calving. Fortunately, we have a great ruminant nutritionist – Katie Bivens – to help us with rations,” says Deb.
According to Sterling Brown, who handles all the calving, the season has gone very smoothly. “As usual, the calves are up and nursing soon. The cows are strong and healthy. I’d better get to the calves the day they’re born for tagging or they get a lot more challenging to catch,” he says.
So far, May calving has proved beneficial. Long Pines wasn’t calving when the two April blizzards hit the area hard. May blizzards can happen but are less likely to be as severe. Branding calves is planned for mid-June. Weaning, culling and shipping will still happen about the same time in late fall. “The calves may not have quite the weight because they are younger but we also have a lot less expenses into them, especially feed,” says Deb.
But ranches like Long Pines can’t back off smart range and water management. “The range is beautiful right now with all the green grass and waterholes filled. But we know it only takes a few weeks of hot, dry, windy weather to change the outlook.