Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Valentine to Warm a Rancher's Heart

We didn't make any particular plans for Valentine's Day this year, mostly because I'm just back from a four day trip to Tacoma to visit my brother, followed by three nights of kid wrestling practice this week, which means we either stay at our apartment in town or don't get home until almost 9 pm. By Saturday you'd have had more luck stuffing a cat in a bucket of water than getting me in a car to drive at least an hour to go out for dinner. 

Which was just as well, because we got a little Valentine's Day surprise right here at home. We aren't due to start calving for a few more days but these things don't work on a strict schedule. Late in the afternoon my husband spotted one of our heifers in labor out in the lot. Less than an hour later, our first calf of the season was on the ground. And it's a bull! This is particularly good news for us and for him. With the combination of his early birth date and excellent bloodlines, he's already got his spot in our breeding program reserved. 

And so calving begins, and will go on. And on. And on. From now until at least early May. That's over a fourth of the calendar year on maternity watch. 

Believe it or not, we do this on purpose. The bluebloods like this heifer are bred via artificial insemination to calve early. Any later and their male offspring wouldn't mature in time to be herd sires as yearlings. Buying semen from highly acclaimed bulls means we can improve the quality of our herd genetics for less cost than buying well-bred bulls. Plus there's all that excitement every year when the new semen catalogue shows up. Better than back when I was a kid and we couldn't wait until the Sears Wishbook came in the mail at Christmas time. We have around sixty cows in the early-calving herd, a small enough number that if the weather turns brutal we can house all the expectant mothers in our indoor arena. 

Next up are the first calf commercial heifers. These are the non-pureblood two year olds, and they're bred to calve beginning in mid-March, as the registered cows are finishing up. We usually have thirty to forty of these depending on how many cows we culled the year before, and they require the closest supervision because they've never done this before. They're more likely to have difficulty giving birth and less likely to have a clue what to do with that slimy little thing they just pooped out. Unless the weather is spectacular and the calf mothers up immediately, we separate the pair from the rest of the herd for a day or so to let them get it figured out so Junior doesn't get lost in the shuffle and we can tell right away if he's not sucking. 

Then around April 1st the main commercial herd starts calving. This will go on all month with some straggling on into May. By that point the weather is usually warm enough that we leave the cows out in the pasture, these being experienced mamas, but if we do have spring storms all the cows due to calve within the next week or so are brought in and housed in the arena at night where they're under cover and easy to check.

Spreading out our calving this way means we never have more cows due to calve than we have space inside, which has saved untold numbers of newborns over the years. And in case you wondered how we know what cow is supposed to calve when--they all get an ultrasound in the fall and the vet tells us how far along each cow is in her pregnancy. We write down all the cow numbers and days bred and they get a little color-coded button tag in their ear to indicate which cycle they're due to calve. The vet is amazingly accurate, at least twice as good as back when we used to stand in the corral walking cows back and forth and arguing about whether they looked like they might be bagging up. 

As for our little bull, he's up and frisking around today, cock of the walk. We don't usually name our cows, but I wanted to call this one Valentine if it was a heifer. Since it's a bull, a friend suggested he should be Valentino. I like it. Here's hoping he grows up to be a legendary lover. 

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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Thanks for choosing Valentino! It just fit perfect!

Unknown said...

Great name for a bull.