Posted 2/27/13 (Wed)
This time of the year you start thinking about calving. And a few people are starting. Those that are ambitious and want to wean big calves. Others wait until April or May. But we like many others, forget how those March and April storms can fill the canyons with snow. And there are a lot of people like us. You turn your bulls out when you no longer can keep them in, or you are out of hay.
The last 10 years, more people are switching to fall calving. You calve those cows out in August or so. The chances of a blizzard are slight. Very few ears are frozen off. No short tails or frozen feet. You don’t have to have sharp shoes on your horse. Just saddle up and trot around the pasture and enjoy the best nature has to offer.
But now I am going to let you in on a secret. We invented fall calving. Only we didn’t call it that. We called them late. And then you sold her cause she was always late. After they were gone a few years, we realized those cows weren’t late. We were early.
But back to spring calving. We, using the word ‘we’ loosely, always buy a few heifers. Because I like to watch Shirley wrap up and check heifers at midnight or two in the morning. She is good at it. And you always calve your heifers early. To get them out of the way before the cows start, give them a chance to breed back easier, and give their calves a little head start on growing. Now, I’m getting a little long in the tooth. And last year I bought a few heifers that were to calf in March. They started in January. But it was a mild winter and things worked out all right.
Shirley made me promise that we were done calving heifers. Her knees hurt when she walks around a frozen pen in the dark. And I can’t get back to sleep when she wakes me up with her whining. So under the threat of death or worse, I agreed. But that was last spring.
I was at a sale a while ago, and evidently, word was out that calving heifers can be a tough task. Heifers got cheap. I tried to stop, but my hand shot in the air completely on its own. Shirley now has 120 heifers to calve. Then Shirley reminded me of a time years ago when we were young enough to kind of enjoy the challenge.
I don’t know what year it was, but we had some heifers to calve out, and I talked Gene into sending his down, too. No sense in the whole neighborhood slopping around the corral in the middle of the night. Shirley could handle that for all of us. One night, Shirley couldn’t check heifers. She was at some kind of meeting. And a storm set in. I mean a rip-roaring blizzard like they used to make.
I fought my way down to the barn at about midnight. The heifers were in a pen right in front of the door, under a yard light. One of Gene’s heifers was just starting. I opened the door and proceeded to put her in. And it wasn’t easy. She kept ducking back and running over me. The snow was up to my knees and gaining fast. I was playing out. Running out of things to throw and things to say. Finally she gave up and walked into the barn. I figured I would let her sit awhile and settle down. I checked her in an hour. Nothing. I checked her in two hours. Nothing. Finally at three a.m., I decided I’d better reach in her and see if that little guy was breeched.
Now, it is dark inside a cow. But even in a dark place like that, if there is a calf in there, even a dumb guy like me will find it. There wasn’t one. I sat down on the edge of the pen and had a cigarette and tried to think this thing through. I know that cow was bred. And I know she was about ready to calve. And the calf wasn’t in the cow. And it wasn’t in the barn. Then, it dawned on me why that heifer was reluctant to leave that snowy pen and go in the barn!
I’d like to tell you that the story had a happy ending. I would like to tell you I went out in the sub-zero temperatures and found another heifer had dried that calf off and allowed it to nurse. It was up and bucking and feeling good. I’d like to, but that would be a lie. And I hate a guy that lies!
But now, I have to run! I believe our first calf is coming today. One month before they were supposed to start!