Diane Prather's columns appear in the Craig Daily Press and Saturday Morning Press. You can call her at 824-8809.
Calving season — it’s what Northwest Colorado ranchers have on their minds right now.
Although some ranchers start calving in February (and therefore are almost finished), most ranchers choose to calve in March and April. One thing’s for sure — no matter when calving occurs, calving seasons are amazingly
Ask ranchers how they’d describe calving season, and they’re apt to say the following:
• The wind blows all the time, whether it’s sunny or stormy.
• The barn and calving shed lights are left on all night long, and you walk or drive back and forth between the house and barn, checking mostly first-calf heifers but also older cows.
• The lights are often on all night at the veterinary clinic, too, where the veterinarian is helping with a difficult birth. (There’s often a waiting line, as well.)
• Because you check heifers every two hours, you put on clothes, including coat, coveralls, hat and gloves, countless times to go outdoors and then take them all off again when you come back inside to go to bed for two hours. Or you may not go to bed at all and just sleep in the recliner.
• Depending on the month, the corrals and feedlots are beginning to thaw or filled up with slop that comes to the top of your boots. The slop is the kind that grabs your boots and refuses to let go. You feel like you’re wearing a plunger as you try to walk across the mess. Because you have to pull your boots out of the “gunk,” they soon develop holes and the sloppy water seeps inside, making your socks wet.
• Because of the messy conditions, a good portion of the hay you put out sinks down into the mud, and you have to keep buying mineral blocks because they melt away.
• There’s a good supply of Clorox and enzyme detergents in the house laundry room to keep up with stained socks and pants, coveralls and coats that are covered with manure and calf afterbirth.
• Then there’s the inevitable heavy spring snow — usually a doozey — that comes in as a blizzard that blows snow first one direction and then another. The next morning there’s a lot of plowing and shoveling that has to be done before feeding and chores. And, of course, cows often choose blizzard conditions in which to calve.
• You worry all night about older calves that are out in the blizzard, but there’s relief the next morning when they come up onto the feedlot, tails up in the air as they jump through the snow, no worse for the storm.
• You deliver calves that are way too big, backwards or upside down (or all three), and are grateful that they’re born alive.
• You try to teach a wiggly newborn calf where to nurse, you have to hold onto him and manipulate his head to the cow’s bag, he takes hold … and the cow moves. You have to start all over again.
• Neighbors come to help you deliver a calf, and you return the favor.
• Wind and sun contribute to chapping of a cow’s bag, which means the cow is often “testy” about letting the calf nurse. You have to bring the cow and calf into the corral and put the cow in the chute to treat her bag.
• Once in awhile, you help a cow deliver her calf, she gets up and takes to you.
• You check calves for signs of scours and other early spring diseases.
• Somehow a gate comes open, six calves escape, and the chase is on. (There is nothing to compare to a calf chase.)
• Ranch and feed stores run low on vaccines, colostrums and other calving supplies and owners try to decide how many more of the supplies to order.
• There’s one first-calf heifer left to calve, and you’re beginning to dream about what it will be like to have a full night’s sleep again.
• The grass starts to grow and the cows are starting to “work the fences,” having their own dreams about summer pasture, but that’s a story about another ranching season.