#1 Soapweed Ranch Ramblings, March 2, 2017
At this time, calving is well underway here at the Spearhead Ranch. Due date on our heifers was February 22nd and the cows were due to start just two days ago, on February 28th. They have kicked right into gear. We don’t do any artificial insemination, so all of the heifers and cows are bull bred. Over 40% of the heifers have already calved, and about 10% of the cows have accomplished their birthing task.
Tonight promises to be fairly pleasant, so the calves can be born outside and left outside. Our slightly flexible rule of thumb is that if it is no colder than 20 degrees, with no wind, the calves can survive being left outside with their mothers. If it is colder than that, either actual temperature or with the wind chill factor, they should probably have shelter. Of course how vigorously the cow licks off her newborn calf, and how quickly it gets on its feet to suck makes an immense difference.
We have the luxury of a night calver again this year. A pleasant and capable young lady from Kansas has been hired, and she is doing a splendid job. She has a good horse and a bright flashlight, along with adequate yard lights to monitor the progress of calving cows. We have box stall space for up to 64 pairs if need arises, but with relatively nice weather the past few years, we have not needed to fill them all at the same time. We are again this year hoping for the best, but trying to be prepared for the worst. The rest of us on the crew greatly appreciate the opportunity to get uninterrupted sleep each night.
The rest of the crew consists of: our son, Brock, who is the head honcho and hardest worker; his mother Carol, who is the glue that holds the whole outfit together by filling the roles of cowgirl, cook, secretary, hay feeder, grandkid baby-sitter, and thankfully being my dear wife; my sister Sybil, who has experience in other more civilized occupations, but has always kept up with the continuing education necessary in the field of ranching; and myself, a senior citizen slightly crippled by West Nile a few years ago, but still actively involved as chief feeder of hay. Sybil rides along to open gates and cut net wrap. All in all, our crew operates fairly efficiently. We do enjoy the capabilities of pickups with Hydra-Beds and our gentle but active Polaris Rangers.
Brock’s delightful bride, Chelsie, rode a Ranger this evening to help get in the heavies. After the cows were situated into large lots for ease of night calving, I told Chelsie how times have changed in recent years. Not too long ago, about three of us would saddle horses each night to get in the cows. Pairs are dropped back, and the cows yet to calve were pushed into the night corrals with some reluctance on their part. As a chain is much easier to pull than to push, so are cattle. Now we string out a bale of hay each evening, and the cows practically corral themselves. The pairs even seem to stay behind better in this fashion, and a quick trip on a Ranger around the day lot gives the satisfaction that all remaining cows are paired up with their new babies.
Our new method lacks the glamour of being horseback, with Stetsons worn at a jaunty angle and spurs a-jingling, but this works very well. We are trying to work smarter instead of quite so hard. Of course, if we were really trying to work smart, we would calve in May and June when the sun shines every day and only gentle breezes blow, but I regretfully confess we are not that smart yet.