LINTON, N.D. – Many cattle producers have wrapped up their production sales and are now in the midst of their most important time of year – calving season.
Helping bring hundreds of newborn calves into their operation is hard enough on the surface but doing so in frigid conditions and life-threatening wind chills can lead to quite an exhaustive time of year.
“That’s an understatement. Yeah, I’m tired,” said Doug Bichler during a March 4 interview where afternoon wind speeds hovered around 40 miles per hour and temperatures remained well below zero.
Despite the challenges, Doug said calving season, so far, has gone surprisingly well, considering this winter.
“We’ve had to change the way we do things a bit,” he said. “We’re keeping the [cow/calf] pairs in the barn a little bit longer than we normally would to make sure all the calves have a barn and fresh bedding to go into with this wind and snow.”
More and more calves are hitting the ground at the Bichler ranch in Linton. For every hour that passes by, their barns are getting more crowded.
“It’s the only option we have to keep them alive, so that’s what we’re doing,” he said.
Calving season got off to a bit of a rocky start for Doug following their production sale last month, but since then things have been progressing well.
“I’ve just been trying to spend more time with the cows during the day so I can notice any little changes that indicate they’re going to calve,” he said. “I guess I haven’t missed one in a while, but I’m still human, so I know it’s possible to miss something. So far, knock on wood, I haven’t had a slip up. There’s no margin for error in this weather. If you’re 10 minutes late, they’re gone. It’s just too cold.”
The long hours of calving season can take a toll on any producer, but the accompanying poor weather conditions this year have made the whole process even more stressful.
“It just takes so much more energy,” he said. “Not only on the cows part to calve, they’re tired, but just the fact you’re always on edge and wondering if you missed something. You’re trying to keep everything bedded and dry, but it takes so much extra work when they’re so over-populated in a small area. Everything gets dirty so much faster, and you’re just trying to combat that, and it’s a challenge. It’s just what you have to do in this weather.”
By March 4, Doug had 83 calves on the ground, over one-third of the way through the herd and about 20 away from the halfway point.
Ever since Doug’s farming accident during the summer of 2017, which resulted in the amputation of his right arm above the elbow, he has had to adjust to how he operates on the ranch.
“I can do a lot of things, but there are some simple things like spreading straw with a pitchfork, that really isn’t an option for me,” he said. “I have a shredder I purchased for that reason. I knew I couldn’t spread bedding by hand anymore, which is how I did it before. So, that’s been good for outside, but in our barns [the shredder] doesn’t really fit well.”
Having to compensate for his injury has led to his left arm taking the brunt of the extra workload.
“It’s getting way overworked and my hand falls asleep all the time, but we’re getting there,” Doug said. “We’re managing, but it’s not easy.”
The inability to do simple chores he had done his whole life can sometimes lead to moments of frustration, but Doug, along with the help of his nephew Patrick, have found ways to power through and get the job done.
“It gets frustrating,” he said. “Even if you think about closing a gate in this weather, I have to take my glove off because I have to use my fingers more. Something like that is frustrating. I’m lucky to have the help of my nephew, and he does a lot of the things that are harder for me to do. I’m lucky in that way. I’m trying to think of ways to make things easier for myself in the future because not every year is like this, but in the years we do have winters like this, I couldn’t function by myself.”
As for assisting with calves with one arm, Doug said he has no issues on that front.
“I do all of that and it’s a piece of cake for me,” he said. “It was tough at first, but I had to figure it out and it’s kind of second nature now. To get the chains around the feet you have to make a loop. Making a loop with two hands is simple, but to make a loop with one hand is more difficult. There are times when I’m trying to get the loop around the foot and the cow is working against me, so having to try and push that loop on while pulling on the chain is a challenge, but I’ve gotten used to it. I wouldn’t even call it hard anymore. I’ve adjusted. I just try to stay calm and patient.”