Farmers are really great at telling you all about what we do at calving time to make sure that the delivery process is going smooth and that we have a healthy, happy baby and momma at the end of the day, but we never seem to tell you what it takes BEFORE babies arrive. Now, as a farmer in Iowa I want to let you know that calving season is different across the world. It depends on the weather, the environment, and what time of year the farmer is calving. Let me tell you how many of us do it in Iowa!
Being prepared for calving season begins at conception. You know how women know their expected due date for their babies? Well, we know the cows expected due dates. We want to be just as prepared so we keep track of when we ‘expose’ the bulls to the cows. We understand that many of them will not be bred that exact day or that exact week, but we know their reproduction cycle. After three weeks, many of the cows should be bred. That is when we watch to see if any cows are in heat. (Heat is a simply way of saying they are ovulating.)
Some signs of this are seeing other cows ride each other, the hair on her tail head is sticking up, and if the bull is following very close behind.) If we specifically see a cow get bred, we write that date down in our ‘calf book’. Why all this hassle of figuring out due dates? So we can be prepared for babies. We have a rough estimate of when the babies will be born and which momma’s we need to keep an extra eye on.
Many farmers let their bulls with the cows on June 1st. This allows the farmer to know that babies should start coming at the end of February and throughout the month of March. (Some cows have a hard time breeding, which the farmer already knows, so he will watch for them to deliver later in the year.)
Baby prep begins in February. We get out the calf book and see which cows we know are going to calf soon, which ones we really need to watch (after spending multiple years with a certain cow you know if she calves early, late, or needs some extra help getting her calf sucking on her teats), and then the fun begins.
Since every yard/barn is being currently used with cattle we have to do some moving. Some calves get put with other calves, some move to a different yard, some fall calving cows are put out in the pasture with the whole herd (since we know she isn’t going to be calving any time soon), and making adjusts on food rations to make sure that everyone is getting enough food and nutrients.
Next is preparing the ‘maternity pens’. We have a lean to (please tell me everyone else calls a building off the side of another building a lean to) that has three large pens. These are our maternity pens (I should say our main maternity pens, we have about three others around the farm). Now you may assume that three isn’t very many–but not all the cows are going to calve the same day.
So, to prepare the pens, we clean the manure out and put a ton of bedding in them to make them soft. We then bring over tubs to put in food and water. Then we go to the barn and get some of the best hay around and put it in a certain place so that we know we are saving that for the cows. Next is getting the supplies rounded up. We make sure that we have the devices used to ‘pull’ calves. Sometimes calves are too big or backwards and need a little assistance coming into the world.
We then make sure we have lubrication for our hands in case we need to help her get a foot out of a bad spot or simply to check her and see how the baby is sitting.
Next on the list is getting the medications lined up. These aren’t medications that are used on every cow, but more for emergencies. Sometimes if a cow has a rather large calf, we give her some Banamine. This is very similar to Advil for humans. Also, cows need to ‘clean’ after they have a calf. This means getting the placenta and other materials left over from baby out of her uterus. If she doesn’t do this, there is a drug, Lutalyse, that will help her do this so she doesn’t get an infection. These are simple things that aren’t used a lot, but it’s better to be prepared then not.
There is a specific pasture that is used to put all of the ***close cows in. There may even be up to eight cows in there at a time, but they don’t calve on the same day. If one seems extremely close, then we lock them in one of the three maternity pens so she can be alone and have her calf in peace. She is feed that night (which encourages a day delivery) and given plenty of water! Plus, the best alfalfa hay known to man. If she doesn’t have the calf the next day or that night, she is locked up each night until she calves. Locking them up at night is a precaution that we do to ensure we are able to help at any point. There is no reason she needs to be locked up besides the fact that if she is having issues we can easily assist. Plus, the girls love the extra attention.
***When I refer to a cow being ‘close’ there are a few ways we detect this. A.) She is in our book as being one of our early calvers or she was seen bred and we know the approximate date. B.) Cows have physical signs. The skin in their rear end will become rather loose and sagging. It’s preparing itself for birth. C.) They are sunk in at their hip bones. D.) Their udder will start producing milk and will start to fill out. E.) They start acting different. They either are alone in the pasture by themselves or they start acting different then normal. A farmer will be able to tell this because he knows his cattle and each of their temperaments.
All of these signs are checked daily starting in late January (because Dad and I get so excited), but we really start seeing things happen in February.
Once we see the signs starting they are sorted from the herd and put into the other pasture. I think they secretly know that they get extra attention when they walk in the other pasture because as soon as they do, they magically don’t have a baby for a week or two! 🙂
Fun Fact: Did you know that calves grow the most in the last month of pregnancy. They gain up to a pound a day!!