Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring and the first week of calving

It's that time of year. To say I have spring fever would be putting it mildly. This is my all out, hands down favorite time of year. Perhaps it's the teasing weather that shifts between cold and warm, snow and rain, heavy coat and jacket days. Or it could be the green grass just starting its appearance. But, I do believe the biggest influence is the new life that constantly surrounds someone in Wyoming in the spring.
Baby calves are my first thought of springtime new life and are just the cutest things. My family isn't calving heifers this year, but if we were we would just be finishing up the first week. My brother is at my uncles helping him and I am practically green with envy as I sit at my desk.
If you aren't aware of what calving heifers is like, here goes...
Heifers are young females pregnant with their first calf. Since they are new at having a baby and being a mother they are usually kept near the house and checked regularly. By regularly I mean they are checked on a schedule 24 hours a day and if there are any problems they receive immediate, full care. If you do not check the heifers and provide any needed care on your shift, may God be with you because you will need mercy from somewhere.
Most do fine and have a nice, little calf all by themselves. I have spent a lot of time researching genetics and buying what are called low birth weight bulls to reduce calving problems. Most ranchers buy these bulls, also called heifer bulls, who carry genetic traits that result in smaller calves at birth. This makes it easier for the first time mom.
But, just as in humans, there are complications sometimes. A calf might be backwards, the mother may not try very hard, or the calf might be a little big. This is where the full, immediate care comes into play.
Where I'm from we usually give a heifer a few hours to calve on her own. Everyone does things a little differently and we keep an eye on any giving birth and if we notice anything out of the ordinary in she comes.
This doesn't occur often on our place, it's more stressful when you have to get a heifer in and the fewer problems the better, so we and most other producers do everything we can to prevent a problem. But, as I said, sometimes there are complications.
Ranchers have facilities used to care for a heifer that has problems. It generally includes a chute or head-catch to hold the heifer in. This also keeps her from running over the rancher (remember all those "I'm going to kill you" jokes you hear about women yelling at their husbands in the delivery room, that's the stage she's at). There are also pens, usually bedded in straw, to keep the newborn warm.
After assisting with the birth the cow and calf are put into such a pen until both are deemed healthy enough to be turned out.
The mother cow and baby calf are known collectively as a pair. Most calves are given an ear tag, which is the human equivalent of getting an ear pierced. This tag has a number that is written in a little book along side its mother's tag number. You do not, under any circumstances, want to lose this book.
Again, as with humans, some cows are better mothers than others. If one decides she doesn't like her calf or is a little dumb, you can look up in your handy book who her baby is and get them back together. It doesn't go well for you if you lose the calving book and many people keep multiple copies. It will also include such information as the sex and color of the calf. Registered breeders often keep much more information in their little books.
There are few things that can compare with helping bring new life into the world or witnessing a mother and baby getting to know one another. The wobbly little legs and mooing mother as you ease a new pair out of the calving lot and the playful nature of older calves. All of which result in me taking literally thousands of photos each year. Ahh, springtime.
Photo note: Green tags belong to my dad. The pink tags are mine :)


  1. oh they are the cutest things!!! I can't even imagine what witnessing one of these births is like. If I'm ever out in Wyoming, I'm going to have to give you a call :)

  2. i love the way you put your baby calf photos together.