We started spring calving season this past week, and often it is the small victories that mean the most.
I say small victories because it seems like I never have any major victories when it comes to calving. It also seems like it takes a few calves to get into that calving season groove where we operate like a well-oiled machine. OK, we aren’t exactly a well-oiled machine – maybe a machine with a couple of bearings going out – but still operating.
The first day of calving season was like that.
Four calves on the first day, and five days before the chart said they would drop. I guess no one consulted the cows about the chart, because we didn’t just have one early, we had four in one day.
We were a little rusty when it came to catching the first calf, and then there was the second calf. I went to the place where I had last seen mother and baby, and while I was driving there, mama came steaming in like the house was on fire. I started looking for the calf curled up in the tall grass and I saw nothing.
Mama cow was not settling down, running frantically back and forth and acting like she did not know where her baby was. I had a hunch we were being played and decided to move on to the next calf and give the cow time to let her guard down and lead us to her baby.
The next calf saw me kick my shower caddy where I keep medicine, tags, syringes, buttons and castrator bands. Of course, being the first day of calving it was fully loaded and ready to go. Stuff went everywhere.
The big stuff like the medicine bottles, tagger, bander, tags and pliers weren’t hard to find and pick up but the buttons and the bands took forever. To make matter worse, I got grass and other stuff in my formerly clean calving tagger caddy. I knew better than to set it down where I or the cow could step in it, but I was a little rusty.
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We got the calf tagged and went back to see if the previous cow had let her guard down. We found her with the main bunch of cows frantically going around looking for junior. She kept coming back to the first calf we had tagged, and that calf’s mother assured her that she was not about to share custody.
I was starting to get concerned. I had just talked to a neighbor about how bad the coyotes were and how they could run a new calf off. The cow was acting like she did not have any idea where her calf was and she couldn’t be that good of an actor, or so I thought.
We went back to the original scene of the crime and started widening our search. I even gave a lost calf bawl. I am not as good as Dad was at this, but in usually works.
It sort of worked this time. The cow came back running and bawling and acting like she had no idea where her baby was. I had just about decided she wasn’t acting and was getting worried myself. Worrying about the calf going through the fence, we started working up the fence.
Well, she stayed there until we got about 100 yards up the fence line and then here she came, bawling and running. I felt a little better. Maybe we had gotten a little closer. It was kind of like when I was a kid looking for Easter eggs and Dad would tell me if I was hotter or colder.
Even with her losing her nerve, we still could not find the calf. I knew we were close, or at least I hoped we were close. A foot search revealed nothing, and again I started to worry about a baby calf, spooked and on the wrong side of the fence.
The decision was made to back off, regroup and come up with plan B. That was either going to be to go on the other side of the fence and look, or to go home and hope the calf showed up. I didn’t like either of those options.
Then it occurred to me, the cow kept stealing nervous glances back to the lone cedar tree in the fence. She had just tipped her hand. Cautiously, we made our way up to the tree. As we did the cow took off in another direction.
Sure enough, there was the calf, laying under the tree, up against the trunk. Mama knowing the gig was up came back and watched as we tagged and vaccinated a really nice heifer calf. Hopefully this hiding thing is not genetic, although I know it is.
In the end, I got my calf tagged and worked. It was Glenn 1, cows 0. I am sure that score will swing to the cows as calving season goes on but, like I said, you have to enjoy the little victories.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension educator for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.