Fall calving works best for Bar 6 Charolais

Bar 6 Charolais ranch headquarters is near Mitchell, Ore., on the John Day River.

Most purebred breeders keep their cattle close to home for breeding and calving.

A few, however, run their registered cattle in bigger pastures and rougher conditions, similar to their customers’ ranch environments.

Jim Anspach has been raising registered Charolais since 1989. His 350 cows run on 100,000 deeded acres in Eastern Oregon. He only uses half the ranch each year, and allocates about 250 acres per cow for 10 months of grazing.

Bar 6 Charolais ranch headquarters near Mitchell, Ore., on the John Day River is at 1,300 feet of elevation, with 350 acres of irrigated ground for haying. When the cattle go to grass they may go up to 6,000 feet in timbered country. Grass in the high country stays green into July whereas lower regions dry out quicker.

“We fall calve, which works best for us,” Anspach said. “We spring calved when we moved here, but with green feed for only 60 to 90 days, it didn’t work as well. This grass starts growing in late February.”

The cows were calving during green-up and with all that good feed they produced too much milk for young calves to handle. Baby calves don’t eat much grass yet, so this wasn’t an efficient use of grass. By the time those calves got big enough to eat grass, it was dried up.

Switching to fall calving also worked better for breed-up. Even though the cows only use half the ranch each year, it’s still a large area with cows scattered over 70 square miles. This made it challenging to get them all bred.

Now most of the calves are born in October. The cattle are on hay meadows during winter and by the time they are turned out on range the cows are all bred, and have a 250-300-pound calf at side that can utilize the green grass. Calves are weaned in late July-early August and some of the bull calves coming off that dry country are close to 800 pounds. This makes the most efficient use of the range.

“We’ve had very few calving problems,” Anspach said. “The best thing we ever did was let them start calving out where they couldn’t be watched or helped. This sorts out most problems and in the long run saves a lot of money, time and labor. Some outfits have all their cows and heifers under their bedroom window and are helping them calve. That’s not the way to raise problem-free cattle.”

On this ranch, it’s survival of the fittest.

“This sorts out the genetics that can do it. Rather than picking a replacement heifer that ate at a creep feeder and grew up big and beautiful, we select the ones that did best in our environment. Most of the cattle we have today have been selected from this environment and are well adapted. We try to pick cattle that exhibit the most forage-based traits in this dry environment,” he said.

These are also the most efficient cattle to feed in a feedlot.

Most of his bull customers are big ranches that run cattle in large range pastures on the deserts or mountains; they know these cattle will work in their conditions.

“We’ve sold 250 bulls to True Ranches in eastern Wyoming. Roaring Springs Ranch runs 7,000 cows, and has bought about 300 bulls. I’ve also sold a lot of bulls to the ZX Ranch in Paisley, Ore. (possibly the largest cow-calf operation in the U.S.) and the Wine Cup in Nevada.”

One thing he likes about Charolais in this hot, dry country is that they are a lot more heat-tolerant than black cattle. At one time he had 300 registered Angus.

“They were good in rough country, but when it got hot they couldn’t handle it as well,” Anspach said.

“The Charolais would be out grazing 45 minutes longer in the morning. The black ones would go to shade, and stay in the shade longer. We got about 1½ hours more grazing per animal unit per day with Charolais than we did with the Angus,” he says.

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