About the second week in January marks one of my favorite seasons at the farm.
CALVING! It’s such an exciting time – 450 contented cows all about to bring new life into this world! It’s also one of the toughest seasons – unpredictable weather, arctic like temperatures, long hours, some sad moments, chores and to-do lists that never get shorter – but when you walk through a pen of mama cows with their calves you can’t help but smile and know it was all totally worth it.
Cows have fairly close to the same gestation as humans (approx. 9 months).
Cattle also have the same cycle as humans (21days). We begin with our breeding program in April where we sort our cattle into small groups to be put out with a bull (breeding male) at pasture and then we AI (artificially inseminate) majority of the heifers (females getting pregnant for the first time). My Dad, Andie and I all have our AI’ing course so between the three of us we work together to get it done. Breeding is a time where we do a lot of observing – we need to watch if the cattle come into “heat” which means they are cycling and at peak fertility time to become pregnant.
How does one identify “heat” you might ask?
Heifers will ride one another, become sweaty, and have discharge – all identifying that they are at a peak time to get bred! Breeding runs until about mid June. Once breeding is over we bring the bulls back to their own pasture over summer – and send the girls out to the lush grass pastures on their own! We check the cattle weekly throughout summer – making sure their water supply is good and monitoring the grass conditions. We bring the cattle home generally in October (weather depending – it can be as early as end of August on a very dry year with limited grass or as late as November on a mild start to the winter and enough grass in the pasture) We then do a preg check on them. Our Veterinarian comes with his ultrasound wand and checks each female to see if she is pregnant, how far along she is, and if everything is healthy!
From there we sort the cattle into groups by age.
First time calvers get their own pen, 2nd time calvers get their own pen as well – and the older cows go together – this keeps an even playing field for feed (older cows will beat up on the younger ones and push them away from feed) We want to focus on animal health management – being strategic about how we manage the cattle to prevent injury or illness therefore sorting them into age groups helps. Then January rolls around and we begin to have our first calves! We keep very detailed breeding records and have approximate due dates on all the cattle (cattle are also like humans in the sense that calves can come early or later than expected – that’s the beauty of nature!)
We do regular “checks” through the pens.
(Walking through to see if we see any cattle showing the signs of early labour – kinked tail, water breaking – and if things have progressed far enough – hooves!) We like to let the cows do the work but keep a close eye in case any need help (backwards calves, first time calvers sometimes need assistance) in these rare and special cases we will bring the cow into the barn and assist her in our calving pen to make sure she has a safe and healthy delivery. It’s important that the mom and baby calf are paired up good – its critical for the baby calf to get colostrum (from moms udder) in the first 4-6 hours after birth. Colostrum is nature’s way to help fight off any bugs (disease/infections) and nourish the calf. We then give the calf a tag with a number that will then become its identity the rest of its life at the farm. This helps us with our records – when we sell cattle, or need to treat them for an injury or illness – this is all recorded. Over the next month calves and their moms are fed in large pasture pens free to roam and explore – we check every calf, everyday, to make sure they are healthy! My kids love coming to work at the farm to play and watch the baby calves!