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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cattle Obstetrics

Calving season is starting to wrap up here on our farm.  Other ranches across the country are just starting.  Picking when to calve is a personal decision that is different for every operation.  We choose to calve in February and March, so we will be done before the crop farming gets busy in April.  I like to have a little help occasionally when a cow has trouble and they don't like to have to leave the tractor to help me.

Most of the older cows get along just fine without us, but we spend a lot of time with our heifers.  Heifers are cows who have never had a calf.  When I say a lot of time, I mean they have had us visit their pasture every 4-5 hours for the last 50 days...including at night.  (We are still waiting on 8 of them to calve as I write this.)  If everything goes right with calving, a rancher will never see the calf born.  We see a lot of this...

If you look closely, you can see the tip of one foot starting out of the birth canal.  Heifers are very nervous (just like people who have never had a baby.)  They also like to be by themselves usually.  We count the heifers A LOT.  It's no wonder that my kids are really good at math, they have helped count since they could ride along in the truck (about 3 weeks old).

Calving heifers will hide behind trees, brush and lay down in low spots just to be out of sight.  They don't like to be watched, so we usually leave them alone and come back later to check on them.  If all goes well, we come back in 30 minutes to an hour and see something like this...

It excites us even more if we come back to see the calf standing up or walking around the cow.  Maybe even nursing...can you see what the cow is doing???
Yes, she is cleaning up after child birth by eating the afterbirth.  When I was a kid, I thought this was totally gross.  My kids do too.  LOL  Coyotes (and skunks I found out this year) love to eat afterbirth.  The cows eat it to clean things up and not invite predators to their new calf.  It also returns valuable nutrients back into her body.

Since we are visiting the heifers continually, that includes at night.  We check them just before we go to bed and again sometime between 2 and 3 am.  Nap time is essential during calving season for the adults.  :)  Sometimes when you go out in the middle of the night you find this...

Scientists have found that if you feed cows their main meal at night, approximately 85% of the them will give birth during the daylight hours.  We feed our heifers at about 6 pm and had very few calves at night this year.  The older cows get fed in the morning and typically don't have too many delivery issues. 

The next morning we give most of the calves an eartag...
Tags really help us when a cow or calf is not feeling well.  We like to think of it similar to the matching hospital ID bracelets that mothers and babies get in the hospital.  If a calf needs to go to the barn for extra attention, mom needs to come along, too.

Snow days can make calving a challenge and lots of extra work.  Calves are cold, cows need extra feed and we have extra people in the cab of the truck (no school means it is take your kids to work day)...yeah, they don't like to have their picture taken with mom for her blog. Hehehe
But that does give us some time for some driving lessons...
and the boys are getting pretty good at opening gates for mom, too.

I would love to post of video of a cow giving birth, but my chances of catching it this year are slowly disappearing...which is fine with me.  That means there are lots of calves being born without my assistance.  I guess I will keep it on my bucket list of things to do or maybe the boys will record one for me over Spring Break.

-A Kansas Farm Mom