Sanders: Calving conundrums
During a heavy winter like we’ve had this year, many wonder why cattlemen calve when it is cold. Choosing when to calve is always a gamble for cattlemen. It is a personal decision based on what works best for the farm/ranch as a whole. Although vaccines have cut down tremendously on calves getting scours (diarrhea), it still occurs. Traditionally, calving when the ground is frozen is a deterrent to calves getting scours and spreading the disease. Calving later in the spring when the spring rains are likely, and a risk of muddy, wet pastures would be common, contributes more readily to sickness. Experience says those spring rains can be cold or even turn to snow.
For ranchers that only run cows and don’t farm also, it could be easier to calve in May, with the understanding that May calves would likely weigh at least 100 pounds lighter than February calves. Livestock producers who also put in farm crops need to get calving done and out of the way before farming takes full-time precedence. Still others choose to calve in the fall. One downside is hot fall temperatures are hard on cows when they are in labor. If a producer decides to change her calving program to start calving in March instead of late January, the decision has to be made with aforethought.
In each instance, cattlemen have to consider feed requirements, pasture availability, timing for markets and many other factors. The decision of when to calve is made final the day the bulls are put in the pasture with the cows. Cattlemen know they have nine months to get ready for the next calf crop.
Observers often ask why all of the cattle can’t be kept in a barn. Just like people, closed in groups practically invite infectious diseases and baby calves are more susceptible than cows. It is better to give the cattle room to spread out. Most ranchers could not build a barn large enough to hold several hundred head at one time.
The long winter of 2018 has thrown all of the “normal” expectations out the window. No matter how hard the people work, some calves don’t make it and it is almost a personal affront to the cattle folks. Having multiple sets of twins offsets some of the loss because one of the calves can often be grafted onto the cow that lost her calf. That is better for the mama cows too as beef cows don’t usually have enough milk to raise two good calves. The cow that lost her calf would be sold if not for a replacement calf. Losing a calf is so much more than a financial loss. There is a personal connection between the livestock producer and the cattle, not a pet-owner type relationship, but certainly a bond.
The heaviest calving generally is over a 60-day period. When the run is on, that is about all a rancher and his family can think about. The animals are watched frequently and carefully to see if they need assistance.
Above all, the livestock is the priority. The cattle are given the best feed and care possible under all conditions. ❖