Thursday, March 1, 2007

Calving Has Begun

Calving Has Begun

Calving has begun and Mother Nature is on our side. It is a glorious sight to see healthy young uns bucking and playing. Midst unusually balmy early spring weather, the cows are busy finding secluded places for birthing. My bulky Carhartt coat has been replaced by a lined shirt jacket and gloves are left on the floorboards.

At early morning light we bounce the pickup along a side hill to see who can spot the first one. It is a race. Born and raised on this ranch, Rick knows every nook and cranny of the creek bottom and the sloping hillside pasture. Just like his daddy did before him, he has the ranch topography memorized and that gives him undue advantage. However, today I win, pointing first to the sleek black profile nestled at the foot of the willow brush. He complains, “I have to look where I’m driving, you get to do nothing but look for calves.” The truth is, Rick left his glasses home and that gave me the edge.

The bulls were turned out the 26th of May and 280 days have gone by signaling the beginning of calving. In weather like this, we do not lock them up in the lot by the calving sheds; they are able to be out on the clean calving pasture reserved for this purpose. Six cows this morning standing guard, they have newborns in out of the way places. Some of these old cows can be pretty protective. Tagging is actually not a safe thing for one person to do. While Rick knows the cows and can usually stay this side of trouble, he welcomes my help. So far according to the already dog-eared log, nineteen have calved. I pen the mother cow’s number on to an ear tag: yellow to the right ear for heifers and orange for bulls. While he tags the calf I keep the cow at bay, swinging a stick to discourage the mommas who want to wear Rick as a head ornament.

The hundred first time calvers are up by the house where we can keep an eye on them. No action in that bunch today. Rick teases, “Maybe these heifers don’t think they are going to calve this year…maybe they are just putting on a show.” By this time next week we should have a better idea how all that is going to shake out. Did we buy the right bulls, what we call heifer bulls, to produce smaller shoulders on their calves? With only 4 unassisted births logged in the heifer book, we cannot say. But they sure look good. Curious, they stand around us in a semi-circle, coming as close to the yard as Rascal-dog will tolerate.

The long term weather forecast on Yahoo promises this unseasonably warm weather to continue for at least another week. We’re hoping that the weatherman guessed right. It is a joy not to struggle against the below zero weather that we battled the last two years. One night last year the thermometer settled in at twenty below and with the wind howling the chill factor hit 48 below. Calves are frozen stiff in a matter of minutes if they are left on the ground with those conditions. Rick would roll them into a tall sided sled and run for the barn with the excited mother following along. It took superhuman effort to keep 24 hour watch on the cattle, taking turns with the hired man snatching bits of sleep here and there. Thankfully, all of those nights are in the past.

This year is nothing like the last. Calving has begun and Mother Nature is on our side.