Calving

A new baby with Momma, off by themselves. Cattle often move away from the herd to calve.

We are in the middle of calving season. It’s a little earlier than we have done in the past, but when we moved, the calving date was already set. Fortunately, it was not January!

If you follow me, you know that we prefer spring-time calving because it follows nature’s natural rhythm, plus we live in Montana: January and February are brutal months to be calving. The weather is traumatic for their health, you have to watch them constantly so they don’t freeze–even so, they often lose ears, tails, etc to frostbite. It is not good for the cattle, the owners, or the pocketbook.

I understand that some also farm and have to calve earlier to get ready for farming or to make grazing permits work. Some claim calving earlier guarantees bigger calves–not so. That’s a possibility, but the hazards to their health and ours–(night checks at 20 below zero–yuck!) actually delay gain. We’ve had similar weight calves when calving in April to those who calve months earlier simply because it is easier on the animal.

Anyway, I digress…I have received questions about calving from people outside of the agriculture circle. Their biggest concern boils down to one thing: Are we kind to cattle?

A fair question!

Of course!

We believe cattle ought to live healthy lives that follow their natural cycles. We will not beat them or mistreat them. It is unfortunate that people ask this question because it means that somewhere it has been projected that this is the norm. *Sigh*

We’ve warmed calves in the barn because it was too cold outside after they were born. (We had calves in February from a handful of cattle. Again, not our choice, but it renewed our opinions about spring calving.) We have brought them in the truck to the barn, wrapped in old coats or blankets.

Goofy faces! No one got peed on and this calf is back with Momma in the field.

Yes, cattle are a business. Yes, we have to manage them in a way that is financially responsible. AND-we will try to nurture them in the best way possible.

Calving is a reminder of renewal. The life cycle continues and we get to watch it unfold in the fields.

Happy Spring Everyone!

Nearly Calving…

cardwell ski day, cattle pics 074
Some of the new girls.

It’s almost that time for us–calving season! I know its cliché, but calving season and spring are true reminders of the cycle of life. The snow will stop (although sometimes in Montana we wonder). Trees will become green. Everything that slowed for the harsh temperatures and weather patterns of winter will indeed come to life again in the spring.

As I’ve mentioned before, we downsized when we moved, selling our herd. We’ve had short-term cattle and steers and now we are building back a small herd. We picked up a few “late” calvers from some friends. They begin calving in January, but we prefer to aim for the first of April. Their lates were our on-times.

Most every rancher has their calving preference. Some like after the first of the year because it allows for older calves in the fall, it doesn’t interfere with spring farming, and rebreeding happens before you turn them out to pasture in the summer.

We like April calving because the temperatures are milder and we don’t have indoor facilities. We have very minimal farming on our place and historically our calves gain well by November. This timing works for us, but each producer must do what works best to fit their needs. Where a small group didn’t fit the winter calving bunch on one place, they were a perfect addition to our pasture.

Wouldn’t it be handy if everything in life worked that way? There are avenues were it does: that’s why craigslist and garage sales are successful.

Don’t you ever wonder sometimes though–what does work best? Certainly trial and error are great teachers. If you happen to have heritage on a place, perhaps time has shown you what works best. However, conditions (people included) change over time. It isn’t ever a bad idea to create a business plan for ranching. (More on business plans in ranching next week.) Having a vision of where you are going will help you take steps in the right direction.

We began ranching from scratch and we are thankful for the piece of land we have now. Is it feasible to stock it with a lot of cattle? Absolutely not. It’s going to need a few years of TLC before it reaches maximum production. It is in our best interests to have a small scale operation focused on instilling quality grazing for meat production. Our goal this fall isn’t to sell to a feedlot, but to sell high quality veal to consumers.

We believe in a symbiotic relationship between land and animals. This vision gives us an opportunity to grow and care for both land and animal alike with a family focused production. We’re quite excited about this spring…

Let the calving commence!