“ We have tried to basically go back to nature and the way that the wildlife reproduces,” says owner, Ken Yakielashek. “They always reproduce towards the longest days of the year.”
As a result he has switched from bringing the cows into the barn to calve in February and March, to leaving them out all year, with calving in the pasture from late April through to early June. “There’s a big labour saving,” he says. “We just check them late in the evening and in the morning and generally, there are no problems.”
The later calving season is only part of the overall change that Yakielashek has made on the farm since deciding to adopt a holistic management system. To more closely mimic natural cycles, he has incorporated other practices that support the later calving, like stockpiling pasture for the springtime and growing around 150 acres of corn to graze the cows on over the winter months.
The stockpiled paddocks not only provide food, but also shelter for the newborn calves. “In those stockpiled paddocks the grass is tall and when the cows calve those calves nestle down in the grass and the sunshine warms them up,” says Yakielashek. “They are dry and warm and that is basically what keeps them healthy.”
The lactating cows are also under a lot less stress because, with the milder spring weather, they are not trying to produce milk at the same time as generate additional energy to keep warm, which means Yakielashek has seen a big reduction in the amount of feed intake. “It makes a big difference,” he says. “I find too that with the stockpiled paddocks the soil seems to warm up a lot sooner and then you have got green shoots coming up a lot earlier than they do on an open field. So they are getting a transitional type of pasture, where they are eating half high-fibre forage from the previous year, but are also getting the nutritious new shoots off the new growth as well.” He rarely needs to supplement with bales during winter or spring, but when he does, usually six bales at a time is more than sufficient for his 300 head.
With winter calving it wasn’t unusual for Yakielashek to fork out $30,000 in vet bills, now his vet bill is almost down to zero.
His own experiences with two different calving seasons have convinced him that calves are much more susceptible to wind than many people realize. “When we used to put the young calves out in the fields it seems to me they couldn’t take a lot of windy weather and they would get quiet pneumonia, which is hard to detect,” he says. “And now with them being in that stockpiled grass, it cuts the wind and we rarely get anything that we have to treat.”
Lots of space is the other part of Yakielashek’s system that he believes has paid dividends in terms of herd health. “I am convinced that as soon as you give livestock a lot of space you reduce the disease pressure,” he says. He fences off the stockpiled pasture into 10-to 15-acre paddocks and as the cows calve they are moved out to a new paddock and then rotated almost weekly through the remainder until the ground starts to thaw out when they can be moved on to the spring pasture.
Yakielashek has never sat down and carefully pencilled out, to the dollar, how much money he has saved by applying holistic management techniques to his cow-calf operation, but he knows for a fact that he has reduced his overall costs by close to half. “At one time I thought I was a low-cost producer,” he says. “Well now I know what it is really like to be a low-cost producer.”