Calving Season | Friday On The Farm 🤠
Welcome to the another ‘Friday On The Farm!’
This is an update from Hannah about things that are happening on our farm and local farms in our area during this time of year.
Calving season has started in Nebraska! This is the time of the year when most rancher's cattle have baby calves. While each cattle operation is different, calving season is usually between the months of January until May. You might be wondering how the ranchers get all their cattle to have babies around the same time of year… There is also a breeding season! Nine months before calving season starts. I'll share more on this when that time comes.
As I've shared before, Eric and I do not have many mama cows ourselves - it is a big investment to own enough land and supplies to take care of them, and we aren't quite able to do so yet. We just graduated from college about two years ago, but we are working towards owning more!
BUT exciting news - this year will be the first year that Eric and I will calve out our own cows. We bought a few heifers in partnership with Eric's dad this year, and the heifers are set to start calving March 1st... Any day now!
Since this is the first year we have our own cattle that will be calving and they haven't started calving yet, I will share about the season from my experience with my parent's cattle operation. I will be sure to share more about our heifers calving when they start!
Calving Season When I Was Growing Up:
Growing up on my parent's operation, we started calving at the end of January and usually went until early March. The cows were pampered during this time! Due to these months being cold in Nebraska, we would set up a ‘calving hotel’ in our shed - equipped with fluffy clean straw and protection from the outdoor elements.
- Every night, we visually inspect the cows to see who looked like they might be close to calving, and we would sort those cows off, so they could have a night in the ‘calving hotel.’
- Throughout the night, dad woke up every two hours to check on the cows and make sure none were giving birth, and if they were, he needed to make sure they didn't need any assistance.
- A lot of times, cows can lay down and give birth to a calf easily, but occasionally there are complications. If it was a heifer (a female cow that has never given birth or only has once before), there was a larger chance that they would need assistance.
- Dad was also there to help the calf learn how to nurse - the first milk produced after birth is the most important for the calf to drink, just like with humans. Most times the calf and cow could figure it out, but there are always those tricky ones that need assistance.
- In the morning, if the cows did calve overnight and it was still cold outside, they would stay in the ‘hotel’ for a day or two before going back outside. If they did not calve, dad would let them out in the morning and proceed to check them every two hours throughout the day.
As you might imagine, this is a very tiring season for ranchers! They are up all-night and day some days. When I could, I would take a ‘night check’ for dad or help him check throughout the day when my school schedule allowed me to do so.
Calving season was easily one of my favorites on my parents farm. However, I also wasn't doing the every-night checks every two hours and sleep-deprived like my dad was :) The newborn calves make it worth it, and when you are able to save one of their lives, it is one of the most rewarding things you can do. After a few weeks, all the calves will sprint around the pasture with their tails in the air, and it is such a joyful time of year!
You might be wondering…
Time Of Year: You might be wondering why so many ranchers calve in the winter when it is cold… The answer is because a lot of the other seasons aren't much better! MUD can be very harmful to newborn calves. It can make them sick, and, overall, not get a good start in life - so spring and fall are out. Another reason spring and fall do not work for some cattle producers is because they also farm crops, and they are working around the clock to plant and harvest the crops in those seasons. Summers can often be way too hot for cattle, and with the bountiful grass in the summers, it is a great time for the calves to grow and mature. All of this to say that every rancher does it differently! There are a lot of ranchers who calve in the spring, fall, or summer. I am just sharing this information about what we did on my parent's operation!
Nutrition: Remember from the last email when I talked about cows grazing cornstalks? Our cows would graze cornstalks until it was close to their due-dates, and then we would bring them to the pasture on our home place, so we could keep a good eye on them. During this time in the gestation cycle, cows need a lot of energy to keep themselves and their babies nourished. We fed them a large bale of hay and/or alfalfa every day to keep their energy levels up. They also have the highest need for energy right after they give birth and are feeding the calf from the outside. Cattle caretakers pay very close attention to their ‘conditioning score’ to ensure they are getting enough feed during these very two important time periods.
After the Birth: Even though the birthing process is the most time intensive, we keep a close eye on the newborn calves after birth. Sometimes they will not be nursing, they might catch a sickness, or their mom might lay them down in a not-so-smart place (like in a creek!). Ranchers are there to take care of the calves from birth and on.
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