HARRISON, Mont. – So far the 2019-20 winter has remained relatively open in southwest Montana. With little snowfall and several bright sunny days, ranching in the mountain valleys surrounding Harrison has been pleasant for Chris and Jena Madrid.
All this was true, at least until Ground Hog day. An early spring may have been predicted, but not until Old-Man Winter has squeezed every ounce of cold and misery out of the season.
“We got about 10 inches of snow the other day,” Jena Madrid reported on Feb. 4.
The blanket of snow came at just the right time, because as luck would have it, the Madrids have started calving.
Last summer, the Madrids had to buy some cows in order to fill a Forest Service grazing permit. Those permits often operate on a “use it or lose it” basis and the Madrids certainly didn’t want to lose access to prime grazing. The cows they purchased apparently had a bull get into the herd early. The result is three healthy little calves born about a month earlier than expected.
The Madrids would normally be calving heifers at about this time, but this year they opted to breed their heifers for a fall calving date. Those heifers were ultra-sounded, and out of the 65 that were bred, only three came up open and 75 percent of the breds where AI caught.
Officially, calving for the Madrids is not slated to start until mid-February. In years previous, the Madrids used to raise seedstock and they often did embryo transfers within their own cow herd. The couple has shifted their operation to more of a commercial base, but the way they ran their embryo transfer program caught the eyes of several other seedstock producers around the state.
“We put embryos in about 200 cows for six different breeders. They are due around Feb. 20, but with embryos it always seems like they come a week early,” Jena explained.
Embryo transfer work in cows is incredibly labor-intensive and doing it on the scale the Madrids chose to do it is even more tedious. Sleeping Giant Genetics out of Livingston, Mont., came to the ranch and did the actual, physical flushing and transfer of the embryos, but Chris and Jena have been doing everything else.
Jena explained, protecting the embryo is key above all else. The cows set up to receive the embryos are fed a nice, consistent diet of quality hay until about the end of May/beginning of June. After the embryos have been placed, the cows remain around the Madrid’s home base operation for two weeks. This gives the embryo time to settle.
After the two weeks are up, the embryo cows go out on the pastures closest to the home base. The Madrids do not like to truck their cattle that are carrying embryos. One bad slip or even the stress of trucking could jeopardize the embryo, so the cattle are moved on the hoof from pasture-to-pasture for several months. Once it is fall and the embryo becomes a viable fetus, the Madrids feel more comfortable trucking the cattle if the need arises.
Needless to say, after all the hard work Chris and Jena put into these embryo cows and all the months of handling them with kids gloves, the Madrids will be on high alert for calving.
Jena plans to get the cows into the calving lot in the coming days in preparation. More snow is on the horizon and Jena certainly doesn’t want to be caught off-guard. Chris will be gone trucking over the official start of calving, so Jena will be doing it all – feeding, day calving and night calving.
“If the weather stays nice I’ll only check them a couple times during the night, but if it’s really cold out I’ll be checking them as much as possible,” said Jena.
For right now, Chris and Jena are busy getting ready for the official start of calving. Calving season is a wonderful time of year, albeit a stressful one. The long days and even longer nights are all worth it when spring time finally hits and all the pairs can be kicked out to grass.