A Little Bit Western


Calving Certainties

Apr 11, 2019

People are pretty particular about how they raise their cattle. The breed, colour, size, temperament, horns or no horns, registered or commercial, roped or tabled.… The list of variations, and associated opinions about different methods, can go on for a country mile.

Calving season is one example of how different farms and ranches can be. Do you calve in winter? Or wait until spring? Are the cows out on grass, or in a pen? Do you have a short calving season, or does it have stages? Do you tag your calves or not bother?

When it comes to preferences around cattle, I’m more of a “you do you” sort of person unless you ask – then I will tell you! It’s easy to get caught up in the differences, but I’ve been thinking a little about some of the similarities too. Regardless of breed, season, or herd size, there are some calving facts that apply to every cow-calf operation.

They Move on Their Terms

It is remarkable to watch newborn calves stand up right after birth. At first they might wobble a bit, but with a nurturing mama and a belly full of milk, they are quickly bucking around. Until you want to move them into a different pen, that is. Sure, these calves were racing with their cohorts a minute ago, but now that you want to move them in a coordinated effort, perhaps even as part of a tiny gang, it’s a different story. You nudge them, poke them, and push them in the right direction, one at a time, then start again with the first calf who has already wandered off in the wrong direction. When you get everyone within a hair’s breadth of the gate (or whatever goal you’ve been doggedly working toward), those calves regain their energy and race their buddies…back in the opposite direction so you can repeat this process again.

Fecal Contamination

There is nothing stickier, smellier, or with a greater ability to coat all the surfaces you don’t want it to than fresh, yellow, baby calf poop. At best, you might get away with just a little on your boot or perhaps you kneel in some. At worst, you’ll get fresh poo on your glove, then transfer this fudgy, goldenrod sh*t to the tractor door handle, then gear shift, steering wheel, and finally your coffee cup before you smell its distinctive odour and realize your error. You will encounter this stinky substance both in a corral and in a large grass pasture. No rancher is immune – it will find you.

Flat as a Pancake

With longer daylight comes bright, warm sunshine that is most welcome however also responsible for the emotionally charged job of checking calves. Calves will stretch out flatter than a pancake out in the field to capture some rays. Honking the horn yields no movement, so you are compelled to walk or ride or drive over to check. You get closer and still nothing moves, other than your quickening heart. This was a healthy, live calf last night when you checked! You proceed to get a look at the tag and at the last moment, the calf springs to life, flashes you a “dude, what’s your deal?” look and bounces away, leaving you with a roller coaster of emotions that at least has a happy ending.

Whether you’re all done calving, right in the middle, or haven’t started yet, enjoy this season of birth and renewal…and all the manure that goes along with it.

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