Calving season is going about as strong as Biden’s ground game. I wish cows could come to the consensus that “hey, you know they put embryos in on the same day, we should calve on the same day”, but nope, never works like that.
I told the business partner this week as she was starting to get antsy with how slow calving was that I bet a dollar that our last February recip will calve on Feb. 29, and the first March recip will start on March 1 because that seems to be what happens every year.
As I was scrolling through social media while feeding at the background lot Sunday afternoon, I saw a couple calving post pictures that made me think it might be a good refresher to give everyone some calving season reminders.
g It may be an old show heifer or a family pet, still never turn your back on a newly calved cow. This is something that I attempt to hammer in constantly with help, as I have found it very common that if someone is unfamiliar with cows, they will almost always have their back to them, especially when tagging. I always think of calving like being on a stage — you always want your body to be open to an audience, and in this case your audience is one uncertain mommy that may be very hormonal.
g Make the cows adjust to your “style.” When I first started taking over the Boss Man’s tagging around five years or so ago, the cows had to adjust. The previous tagger was OK with the cows being in his personal space, constantly smelling their calf. I like having cows in my personal space as much as I like humans in that same space. In other words, no thank you. It took the cows about two tagging sessions to learn to adjust and now, for the most part, they stand off to the side patiently waiting until I’m done with their kid.
g If they can’t learn to adjust, what’s plan B? I try to tag, weigh, and band (if necessary) everything within 24 hours. If I can’t get a cow to adjust to my personal space, I will adjust to the cow just as long as this is a “hormonal” thing and not a “normal” behavior thing. I’ve grabbed calves before and had them on my lap while I raced the ATV over the hill to work on the calf in peace without someone breathing down my neck.
g Pasture calving cows and lot calving cows have completely different behavior patterns. We will lot calve all of the recips and also our natural service calvers that are at the North Place. I dislike lot calving for multiple reasons, including increased disease risk, more chance for injury to baby calves, and the cows tend to be more aggressive. The one advantage to lot calving, though, is if you don’t make that 12- to 24-hour tagging window, the calves are easier to tag than chasing them through the hills and soapweeds. If there is one that can’t adjust her behavior and gets to a point where she’s spending her time chasing you and not focused on her calf, she doesn’t need a calf. I’ve grafted calves off of cows that had “issues” quicker than I could load that cow for the sale barn, but my safety and those around me is the top priority.
g Relax. Even if you are in a hurry or there are way too many things on the plate for the day, remember that this is a stressful time for both mommy and baby, and there’s no reason to make it a negative experience. Try to keep the calf as calm as possible, a hand to the side of the neck rapidly decreases the struggle of a newborn. I was at the feedlot walking through the pens a couple weeks ago and had a yearling steer come up and start rubbing his head on my leg, I like to think that it’s because he remembers me and my actions from the time he was born.
g This is the perfect time to start the data collection. Do you know what you are raising? Do you have a recordkeeping system that will tell you how much that calf weighs, sex, udder score on cow, if there were any calving difficulty, and if not, why? This is the perfect time to start keeping track of that data, and then continue it on — you may be surprised at what it shows. Maybe your birth weights are a lot higher than you want them to be, maybe certain sire groups don’t perform as well as they should have if you follow them through to sell time or harvest, or maybe the maternal side is having struggles. This is the time to take notes on the cow, too, if she’s having calving difficulties or her udder looks like that of a goat, should she be on the list to ship? One little tiny trick that has made a huge difference is to tag bulls/steers and heifers in different ears, if you don’t already. It makes sorting a breeze.
g Have fun. At the end of the day, there is not much more rewarding than seeing the newborn calves bucking and running.
Jaclyn Wilson is an industry leader and rancher, raising Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Nebraska. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.