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Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Bulls are Out to See the Girls

 So, last weekend we were hoping for an inch or two of rain to wash all that expensive nitrogen fertilizer down to the corn roots.  Well…we got 2 inches of rain plus 5 more!  That was too much rain!!!  We did feel lucky that they did not get that much rain north of us and the rivers did not get out of their banks; however, our friends to the south were not so lucky.  Some of our friends received 12 inches of rain.  They had a lot of corn and wheat fields under water and at least one had the creek running through his machine shed.  Luckily, we did not get the hail or tornadoes that were predicted.

Turning the bulls out with the cows was on the calendar last week.  With all the rain, the pastures were pretty wet, so we tried not to get off the roads.  Here is a picture of one of the boys looking toward his new girlfriends.

 When The Farmer’s extended family was here for Easter they asked a lot of questions about the cattle and the breeding program.  I will cover some of these questions along with some others I have heard.

1.        How long does a cow live? 
We love it when a cow lasts on our operation for 10-15 years, but the truth is a lot of them don’t make it that long.  If a cow doesn’t breed back, she is sold, because there is usually a health reason that she didn’t get bred.  Also, cows that have a calf die are sold.  My dad taught me that if a cow loses one calf she will lose another.  Well, I had this cow that I showed.  She was awesome and I loved her!  I said I would never sell her and she would die on the place.  She had 3 calves die during her lifetime before she died of Bovine Leukosis at 12 years of age (a form of leukemia) that affects older cattle.  Cows are the most productive and produce the most milk when they are 4-9 years old.

2.       How long is a cow pregnant (or what is a cow’s gestation length)? 
The average gestation length is 283 days plus or minus 10 days.  Just like humans, each pregnancy is different.  Some breeds and even some cows have been shown to have longer or shorter gestation lengths.  I laughed when I was pregnant with my oldest, the nurse had a wheel and she took my personal dates, lined up the wheel and gave me my due date.  I laughed because we used the same type of wheel to predict due dates of my cattle.  We took the bulls to the pasture on April 30, so we will expect the first calves to start arriving February 6, plus or minus 10 days (if you are wanting to plan your vacation for a calving season visit.)

3.       How often does a cow have a calf?
We like for our cows to have a calf every year. 

4.       How long do you have calves and how often do you have calves?
We turn our bulls out with the cows for 45-60 days.  Cows are fertile every 21 days, so that would give them 2 or 3 times to get bred.  This groups our calves together so they are closer to the same age and reduces the amount of time we need extra labor for the calving season. 
Most of our calves are born in February and March, but we have a small herd that calves in September and October.  We try to have the cows calve when the grass will be green and nutritious for the nursing mothers when the demand for milk is the highest.

5.       Do you have to feed them well to get them to breed that often?
To get a mama cow to breed every year and raise her baby, we work very hard to give them a balanced diet year round.  In the winter, when most of the grass is dormant and dry, we supplement both protein and energy to the cows.  We balance the rations carefully so we aren’t over or under feeding them.  We also give them mineral and vitamin supplements all year long.  The grass when it is green has most of the nutrition the cows need, but the supplements help them fulfill all the nutrient requirements-just like expecting mamas take pre-natal vitamins and our kids take Flintstone vitamins. 

My co-workers and I took the 4 wheeler out to a couple of pastures
 that don’t have good rock roads to them.  To deliver mineral and
 check to make sure that we didn’t have a cow struck by lightning.   
We didn’t find any cows or calves struck by lightning, but we did
 have a bull killed by the lightning.  :(

6.       Our nursing cousin (who had a one month old at the time) felt sorry for the cows with the big udders.
The calves on our ranch at that time were 1-2 months old.  The calves were just like her son, only getting milk to eat for all their nutrition and a 150 pound calf requires A LOT of milk.  Cattle have a stomach with four components.  When calves are born,   their stomach is very much like our human stomach.  As they grow older, the stomach compartments change in proportion and they can begin to digest and utilize grass when they are 2-3 months old.  The only calves that get formula on our farm are those whose mother’s would not care for them and they rely on my boys to feed them.  We have 2 bottle calves this year. 

7.       How many bulls do you need for a group of cows?
Well, that depends on how old the bull is and how many cows are in the herd.  A one year old bull can usually take care of 15-25 cows, but a mature bull can handle 40.  If you give them too many to take care of, they have a hard time taking care of all the girls they need to each day and it really can wear them out.  Our bulls are expected to really work for the breeding season.  (I know you thought they just enjoyed it.)  Some of them will lose a considerable amount of weight during the breeding season.
The bulls are also checked over thoroughly before the breeding season to make sure they will breed the cows efficiently.  We had one bull that didn’t check out perfectly a couple of weeks ago.  The bulls had not been used for a year, so their “system” had a bunch of old “boys” swimming and dead taking up space.  We turned him out with a group of cows to “clean things out.”  I took him back this week and everything was wonderful and he is back at work in the pasture.

We have 2 bulls in with this group of cows.  Look how good 
the calves are growing and all that beautiful green grass!

As you can see, there is science, luck and a bunch of calculations mixed together to get a healthy calf crop next year.  Sure hope the weather is good next February!

I also spent a considerable amount of time in the office last week getting caught up on a mountain of paperwork.  Planting, spraying and fertilizer records needed put into the computer and I had to go back to the FSA offices to finish up some paperwork for the government.  The wheat is rapidly turning golden which means harvest is coming up.  

 We have a week of dry weather predicted and we will probably be planting soybeans next week along with helping to host the local Kindergarten Day on the Farm!

PS. I said that in the beginning that we were blessed to only get 7 inches of rain.  One of my friends sent my some pictures of the crop damage due to 12 inches of rain a week ago.  The bulk of the rain fell on Sunday and these pictures were taken on Friday.  Thanks for the pictures, Anita!
Remember, this picture was taken 4 days after it stopped raining.  This is someone's field not a duck pond, normally.

 If you look closely at this picture, you can see there is golden wheat in the middle of the field and dark brown wheat on the outside.  The golden wheat is dead, won't fill the grain kernels normally and won't yield much.
 Water still standing in the field.  The green wheat higher on the slope is what the wheat should look like right now.  Again, the white wheat is dead and probably has no grain left in it.
 This flood was very costly to our friends south of us.  The Farmer spoke with one of our friend Saturday night and you could tell it was really working on him mentally.  He had just finished replanting corn that had drowned out from smaller rains earlier in the month.  Other corn was growing good and by the time the ground dries out, it may be too late to plant corn again this year.  The wheat was so close to harvest and some fields were totally wiped out.