The air is crisp and the wind is bitter; we stumble around in the dark with our flashlights and bulky cover-alls and look for calving cows. It doesn’t matter that it’s two in the morning and freezing cold, all we want to do is protect “our girls” and ensure that they give birth with ease. We as ranchers sacrifice our own health, sleep, time, and energy to provide the most comfortable environment for our livestock as possible. Calving season is one of those times of the year that exemplifies that sacrifice perfectly. A day in the life of a rancher with a herd of calving cows is a busy one, but always rewarding. What do our days look like you ask? Our days are almost always filled with assisting a struggling “mama” in the birthing process, tagging and vaccinating newborn calves, and checking our calving herd on an hourly basis.
Assisting cows in the calving process is one of the most disheartening yet rewarding experiences during calving season. It’s disheartening because you want them to do it on their own and sometimes when they need help, it also means that they have a problem. These “problems” can range from a large calf, to a calf that is breach, all the way to a cow that is carrying twins. In the same breath, pulling a calf is rewarding because you have helped with bringing a life into this world, most times, alive and healthy! It also makes you feel good to know you helped in the process of calving a healthy calf. Most of the time, our cows don’t need help calving, they are able to do it on their own without assistance. This has been done by selective breeding and selecting genetics and bull power that produce smaller calves for moderate framed cattle. Though not often, birthing assistance is a necessary act to get as many healthy baby calves on the ground as possible. No matter what time of day or night, we are always available and waiting to help our cows where help is needed.
After the birthing process for each cow is completed, they have much more work to do. The cows stand up after calving and “get to work” on that baby calf to get them going. They begin by cleaning the calf off and licking them completely dry and then help them in getting up on some pretty “wobbly” legs. There is nothing quite as cute as a newborn calf taking his first steps. Once they are up and can retain balance, they try to feed for the first time. The cow stands perfectly still so that the calf can keep his balance and get a belly-full of milk. Once we see that the calf is up, healthy, and has eaten his first meal, we process the calf and get him in our record books. To do this, we always “test the waters” with the cow. Sometimes, she can be EXTREMELY protective over that calf, and rightfully so. That being said, trying not to get run over by a mad mama cow is not the best way to spend the afternoon. Most of the time, our cattle are mild-mannered and gentle and we are able to tag and treat the calf. Each calf is tagged with an identifying ear tag that allows us to see his mama’s number, his or her number, along with their year of birth. By doing this, we are always able to identify the calves mother and age at any given time. They are also given a vaccination. This vaccine prevents them from falling ill in the first months of their life. Black Angus calves tend to be hearty, but it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to their health. After we are done processing the calf, they are recorded in a calving book so that each calf we tag and treat is accounted for and we know exactly what numbers they received, who their mother is, and if they were treated. Keeping diligent records is the best way to ensure you are always up to speed with your herd.
After we have processed each pair, they are then hauled to a pasture with other pairs where the calves are free to stretch their legs, run to their hearts content, and grow like weeds. These pairs are checked daily to ensure there are no problems and each cow is getting what she needs nutritionally to raise a healthy calf. With good mamas and healthy babies, we can spend the rest of our time checking and assisting cows that have yet to calve.
Our schedules during calving season are absolutely crazy. It doesn’t matter the time or the weather, our cows health and calving ease is our number one priority. Every hour,on the hour, we are checking our expecting mothers and helping where help is needed. In between checking calving cows and pairs we are feeding, doing chores, caring for our horses and dogs, and grabbing a quick bite to eat or a much needed nap when we can.
Though the hours are demanding and calving season can be exhausting, there is so much beauty in new life and the prospect of another healthy calf-crop. The first deep breath and wide-eyed stare of a freshly born baby calf is what ranchers dreams are made of. This time of the year determines the success of the rest of our year for the cattle, so we take it extremely seriously. Though tensions can get high and we are all running on little-to-no sleep, we can laugh together at a newborn calf bucking around after his first meal or smile at a first-time mother tending to her very first calf. Even in the crazy days and cold wind, we Thank God for the opportunity to tend to His creation and be caretakers of His land and livestock. Now that the weather is warmer, spring has arrived, and calving is drawing to an end, I look back and smile at our calving season. A day in the life of a calving rancher is long and tough, but always worth it.