WILLMAR, Minn. – Weather forecasters spent a week talking about the big storm coming.
Snow totals over 20 inches were predicted for many areas of Minnesota, and everyone took the forecast seriously at Cardinal Creek Cattle Co.
“We were bundled up getting ready for it,” said RJ Orsten.
The heavy snow never materialized at the farm. Instead of the forecasted 20 inches, the Orstens received just 5 inches of snow on Feb. 22-23. Cold temperatures and wind made up for the lack of snow.
Still, the closeup cows were affected the low-pressure system and started to calve.
Sixteen calves – mostly embryo calves – were born from Feb. 22-26.
“My dad and I were taking turns about every two hours – every night/every day – checking to make sure everything was good,” RJ said. “It was not a lot of sleep this last week, but you do what you have to do when you have a winter storm and have calves coming.”
All had gone well except RJ noticed the hooves of one calf were coming out upside down, indicating a backward calf.
“You see the feet and know it’s coming backwards, and you are just hoping it’s still alive,” he said. In this case, he was able to help the cow and save the calf, a very good outcome and one that no one takes for granted.
It was exciting to see the new Hereford calves.
The Orstens purchased semen from an exciting young Hereford sire – C GKB Guardian. Guardian comes from Colyer Herefords in Bruneau, Idaho. He garnered a lot of attention at the 2022 Cattlemen’s Congress in Oklahoma City, Okla.
The semen was used to produce 30 embryos using three of the Orstens’ top cows.
One of the cows originated with Colyer Herefords, and the other two cows have genetics dating back to the 1990s and early 2000s at the Orsten farm.
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“The cow genetics have been around here and connected with our farm for over 20 years,” RJ said. “We wanted to keep that going and put some new fresh genetics in here. We’ll have to watch this summer to see how they do.”
The Orstens converted their fall-calving herd to recipient cows for the embryos.
“It worked out well,” he said. “We had quite a few that stuck with embryos. We are happy about that.”
The recipient cows had been calving in the daytime, which was nice. They were mothering and bonding well with their calves. The newborns weighed 60-100 pounds.
The Herefords were also well mannered and quiet. RJ was able to weigh, tag, and process the newborn calves.
“The cows just stand there and watch,” he said. “I can go right into the pens.”
One calf, a new Black Angus baby, stuck out from the red body/white face Hereford calves in the pen. A few years back, they purchased five Black Angus cows. They had been AI’ing the cows with Black Angus and then using a Hereford bull for cleanup. Rather than get Baldy calves, they decided last year to buy a Black Angus bull, so they will get all black calves from that group.
Just five days into calving, it was time to start moving cattle around.
The calving barn has many 10- by 10-foot pens that were all filled up by Feb. 26. They kicked the cow/calf pairs outside as soon as the weather allowed. That filled up the outdoor cow/calf pen, so they moved the yearling replacement heifers to a different pen. After bedding the former yearling replacement heifers’ pen, the cow/calf pairs were moved to that pen. A six-acre pasture will provide a nice area for the pairs to graze after the snow melts.
Another large pen held many cows that are due at the end of March and into early April.
On this day, Feb. 27, temperatures stayed between 30-33 degrees. Freezing rain created slick spots in farm yards. Tar roads harbored mushy snow that stuck in place and threatened to pull vehicles into the snow-filled ditches if you drove too fast or braked too hard.
The white sky blended into the white landscape creating no real horizon. Fortunately, seasoned rural folks were used to the conditions and maneuvered quite well.
Out in the cow yards and calving buildings, farmers continued with the bedding process to keep calves dry.
RJ knew that spring wasn’t far off. He’d tried unloading some manure and was surprised to learn there wasn’t much frost under the thick blanket of snow.
Even as the cows continued with calving, the Orstens turned some of their attention to preparing for the rapidly approaching planting season.