Calving season. It is a true magical experience to watch a mother cow develop her natural instincts to care for her calf. As you may already know, we AI'ed (artificially insemenated) our herd last May. You can read a blog post I wrote all about that here. By doing this procedure, we had the opportunity to use bulls that carry the genetic profile that we find valuable to our herd and beef program. As well, we bought a "clean up bull" to take care of any ladies who did not get pregnant with AI. A cow's gestation period is just like us humans, 9 months. So, we are in full fledged calving season right now, February 2022!
So far, we have 3 calves on the ground that were born last week. Luckily, the heifers that calved are amazing mothers. We have even caught one mom in particular nursing two babies at a time while the other mom came to eat hay and spent brewer's grain with the rest of the herd. What a good friend. Don't worry, we bring her hay as well.
I have also seen these three heifers actually hide their newborns in bushes and tall grass around our pond below the house. This is also a very natural instinct we see in cattle. The mother cows do this so they can go graze and mingle with the herd while they know their baby is safe. Like a newborn should, they usually take a solid nap and when mom comes back they are ready to nurse, wagging their tails and head bumping mom's utters to help the milk drop.
For the American Angus Association, we have to weigh our calves within 24 hours of birth to record and report back. This helps with collecting phenotypic data to regulate and ensure that the EPDs (estimated progeny differences) are as accurate as they can be. We use both calf tape we bought through Valley Vet and an actual scale which we hold the calf, we ourselves and the calf and subtract our weight. We have noticed the calf tape gives a lower weight by 5-7 lbs. So, we have been using the scale weight for reporting back to American Angus Association.
We are happy to report that so far, we have not had any sort of complications or had to intervene during birth. This is partially because we choose genetics that help our herd produce and develop calves that suit our program.
The bulls we chose have great "calving ease" numbers. This is literally a genetic component that gives a better chance for a bull to throw a smaller calf so the mother can give birth easily. Additionally, our cows/heifers were selected for being good potential mothers with their docility, milk score, calving ease and maternal traits. Selecting cattle with good genetics on paper really shines through during our calving season and makes a huge difference in our business.
Sometimes, cows will reject their baby, not produce adequate milk, get injured or even die during birth. This is definitely more prevalent in heifers (young cows that have not produced a calf yet). It is important for us to check the herd multiple times a day to ensure everyone is doing well and if we do notice a cow having difficulty calving, we can assist. If a mother rejects her baby after calving, we will take that baby closer to home and bottle feed it until it is ready to be weaned (5-6 months old).
Depending on the cow and the situation, she may get one more chance to calve the following year. Such as us having to assist and then she accepts her baby. An example were we would need to consider selling that cow is if she completely rejects her baby, or if she doesn't calve that year.
That may seem harsh, but hear me out. Having extra head on our land that isn't turning a profit is not worth keeping. It is like having someone rent your house and they don't may for several months. We ware running a business and do our best to give our cattle everything they need to succeed in our program
After these girls calve, we check on them several times a day to ensure mom and baby are doing well and adapting to each other. We also feed the moms some extra hay and grain to refuel after giving birth. It is also important to watch for any other medical intervention signs like not expelling the placenta fully, mastitis, difficulty moving for the mothers. For calves, we need to make sure they are nursing, getting around well and bright/alert.
Keep up with calving season my checking out our Instagram @flying_f_ranch/Facebook Flying F Ranch stories. I try to document what I can if I am able to. Questions regarding calving? Comment below and I am happy to answer.