Saturday, February 5, 2011

Seasonal Transitions

Right now we are still busy feeding and checking water for our cattle daily. Rain and snow have made this a bit of a trial over the last week or two, but it's hard for anyone in agriculture to curse weather that involves moisture.
Our house water also froze and broke almost two weeks ago, and in the midst of all this winter weather (and mud) my family has hauled water, fixed broken pipe, and blown out the pipeline multiple times. We are very self-sufficient, as many in agriculture are, and had to fix our own water, and provide water for ourselves until it was fixed.
In a few weeks, this winter scenario of bundling up with your mug of coffee, jumping in the feed pickup with the dogs, loading a couple bales and spending the morning feeding, chopping ice, and looking over our livestock will change.
We will still be feeding, until the spring growth of grass begins and the temperatures rise, but calving will also begin, and the transition from winter to spring work will arrive with it.
While this date isn't exact, it's usually just few days before the date marked on the calendar based on when bulls were turned out last summer. We do a lot of preparatory work to make the transition as smooth as possible whenever that first calf arrives.
First we clean out a shed we use for calving, and set up our calving system. Some people calve all their cows close to the house, where they can keep a close eye on them and provide assistance if needed. We don't do this, and our older cows are on their own until branding. They do just fine, and are very self-sufficient and capable of finding shelter in the many draws (little canyons), creek bottoms and areas with thick sage brush. I've noticed that cows tend to adjust to whatever situation you put them in, and ours don't care to see a human during the calving season.
We, and everyone I know, keeps their heifers in close and watches them diligently throughout calving season. This will be their first baby, and the combination of them not having a clue what's going on, potentially bad weather, and a number of other possible problems results in them needing help sometimes.
We do spend a lot of time on our genetics making sure we are producing cattle, and heifers since we keep our own, that will have small enough birth weights that they can have their calves without difficulty. We also select for cattle that are aggressive, and our calves will get right up after they're born and suck, which greatly increases their chance of success during bad weather. The drive to get right up after birth is a trait associated with the Angus breed, which our herd has a lot of.
All of this long-term planning results in very few calving problems in our heifers, but even with all that work, problems do occasionally occur. Some heifers just aren't that smart, or don't work at having their calf in a timely manner. Others will have a calf that is backward, or will have it in a snowstorm and not get him licked off and warmed up fast enough. We are prepared to deal with these and countless other issues. We want every single calf to live, and thrive, and we work hard to make that happen in every single case. We aren't always successful, but we are the vast majority of the time.
Back to our planning. As I mentioned we have a delegated indoor space where we will set up our calving system, which consists of a pen with an automatic headcatch, and additional pens that can hold mothers and their babies if more than one needs to be in the shed at any given time (Hopefully I will have pictures in the future, but just in case my schedule doesn't allow that, I'm sharing all this with you now)
We gather up all the equipment necessary to help a heifer have her calf, and make sure we have "the 2011 calving bible" aka the calving record book, all ready to go. This book matches each calf to its mother by eartag, and is very helpful with heifers. It eliminates discrepancies between multiple heifers, who sometimes decide to like someone else's calf, and multiple tired ranchers who are crabby and not running on enough hours of sleep.
We also make a windbreak outside the calving lot using big round bales of hay. This provides shelter from the wind and snow during storms. Water in the corral is checked, anything that might trip, tangle or hit a tired rancher on the head is removed from the shed and corral, and gates and fences are also double checked and repaired if needed.
We also try to get any other work that need our corrals for done and out of the way, so they are free for the use of the heifers during calving. This weekend we will be weighing our calves and sorting our replacement heifers for next year. We are also planning to do all the other preparatory work I've mentioned in this post, weather permitting.
Weather has a huge impact on agriculture. We have to get all this done for the sake of our animals, regardless of any snow, mud, blizzard issues that arise in the next few weeks. We try to accomplish our tasks on fair weather days, but if that is impossible, we will be out in the snow or mud or rain, in early morning or late night hours, setting up our pens, working our cattle and getting anything else that needs accomplished checked off the list, all to ensure our new calves have the greatest chance of survival we can provide.
Then, in just a few weeks, we will see sights like the one in the photo below. I can't wait!

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