Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Calving in the Snow

If you live anywhere within about 150 miles of Rock Springs, Montana, these images are probably pretty familiar to you. We have had quite the winter here in the middle of Eastern Montana. We've had days upon days of overcast skies and thick fog that makes the tree limbs look like sparkling arms and the branches look like fingers encrusted with diamonds.

I couldn't resist taking this picture of the wheel barrows, right near the garden. Looks like it will be a while before it's time to plant huh? At least there should be lots of good moisture to help the plants get sprouted when we actually get them in the ground. .

Here are some mule deer that are grazing near the stubble on a field across the creek. I was driving to Miles City the other day and I could see trails where the bucks had grouped together, and were plowing with their hooves and muzzles to get some sort of grass to eat under the cover of the 8-10 inches of snow. If I had to work like that to get something to eat, I'm guessing I wouldn't still have this spare 15 lbs

And so here we are. The middle of February and it's time to start calving. Our heifers are synchronized and AI-ed every Mother's Day weekend in May. That makes the due date somewhere around the 10th of February, and sometimes we have early arrivals around the 1st. This year was no exception. We had one calf arrive on January 30th. We get funny looks from people when we tell them we're busy calving, but when late March and early April hit, it's about time for us to get into the fields to start the spring planting. It usually works out pretty well. Many years we are running around in sweatshirts and jackets, slogging through mud to get to the corral in February. This year is a little different

I took these two pictures during the first week of calving, when it was in the teens and snowing. I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I'd enjoy getting ready to calve with a below zero wind chill and snow hitting me in the face.

After spending the first hour in the warmer, and the next 23-48 hours in the barn, the mommies and their newborns are shuffled outside to the small pen, where there's a shed for shelter, and lots of warm straw. We only put 5-6 at a time in this pen so the new moms can practice their matching skills. It's a little easier to keep track of their new calf when there are only 4-5 others to sort through. Then they get turned into what we call the "Triangle" pen. This pen is a little bigger with a calf-shelter and water tank and is next to the big pasture where they get turned out when they finally have the whole "mothering" thing figured out.

A calf checking out a salt block. It's a whole new world!

This mama wasn't really liking me wandering around snapping pictures of the fresh calves. She looks a little like one of the Hollywood moms coming after the paparazzi! Snorting, blowing snot, and pawing up the straw. Good thing there was a fence between us!

And here they are, out in the big, cold world.
On this particular day the sun was shining at it was about 17 degrees.

Today it's closer to 25, but it's overcast with snow that comes down for a while and then changes its mind. We are nearly done with the 1st cycle heifers, and then we will have about a week's break before the 2nd cyclers are due. We sold the heifers that were 3rd cyclers... getting up in the middle of the night for 2 solid months gets pretty old, and I only have to do it when Scott gets completely worn out. We have an extra hand this spring, so he takes the checks until midnight, and then Scott has the early morning shift. I'm the "on-call" checker, when everyone else is busy or elsewhere. We've been really fortunate and have only had a couple of tough pulls. Birth weights have been just about right, but it remains to be seen how they'll grow up by weaning time. We used a couple of new sires this year.

We were talking this morning about how we're going to handle the cows (3 year olds and up). Lots of times we bring the younger ones (3s and 4s) in and calve them through the corral when the weather gets bad. But we are not really set up to do the whole herd when we are getting 25 in a day. With the weather cold and snowy like this, the calves are in danger for respiratory damage due to the cold. And if it's really wet and miserable, even calves that are a couple of weeks old can get frozen down and die. I just checked the 8-14 day outlook and it says "Below normal temperatures and below normal precipitation". That means it' won't be 30-40 degrees, like we usually have this time of the year. Good thing our Iowan hired hand brought his snowmobile out... we might be using that to tag calves instead of the Ranger!


Marina said...

I have never been around more than a few inches of snow (that usually melts off by the afternoon) so I cannot even begin to imagine how cold it is up there! Brrr...I have the chills just thinking about it!

Kathy said...

Great post on what daily life is like for you all right now. Not for just anyone. I love the photos of the mule dear especially. Yes, I too prefer using a fork and a grocery cart as opposed to a hoof. : ) We'll pray for a safe and speedy "all is well" calving season.

Cowboy's Sweetheart said...

Great pictures! This winter has been good for picture taking, but it is starting to become LONG!

Your "babies" are getting a good warm start. Maybe we will have a surprise and have some warmer weather. I keep thinking, one day closer to spring!!

Rosie O'Grady said...

I like the straw the calves are in. I am sure it makes all the difference in the world for them too. Ya'll have had a winter haven't you, and I'll bet you are so ready for green grass this spring? We had snow today and no school (you would laugh at the small amount of snow that it takes to shut school down). I hope your springs starts next week!