A lot of melting is going on right now in the feedlot at Pipi’s Pasture. As a result, we’re having to deal with a gooey mixture of manure and dirt. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the moisture, but it’s hard to drive a feed vehicle through the goop. In fact, the pickup has gotten stuck a couple of mornings now, and we’re having to feed with the tractor.
The melting happens every year around calving time, and calving season is what’s on my mind at the present time. It seems like it takes a while to get into the routine of the season. Sometimes it even takes a surprise birth on the feedlot to get into gear. But usually the first step is to make a list of supplies and to go shopping.
First, there’s a trip to the ranch/feed store to buy items like vaccines, scour tablets, iodine and colostrum. Next, there’s a stop at the grocery store for coffee, light bulbs (for the corral buildings), a flashlight battery and plenty of detergent for the washer.
Writing about detergent for the washer reminds me of something my husband said this morning when he came in from outside. He said that it must be spring because the front porch (where we take off our boots and outer wear) smelled of “barnyard,” or more specifically, of “cows.” I had noticed it, too. It doesn’t matter if we don’t even touch a cow; this time of year the scent just seems to attach itself to clothing. Thus, clothing has to be washed more often, and the front porch has to be vacuumed and mopped more often, too.
We go through a lot more socks and pants as well because the corral is even sloppier than the feedlot. Somehow the slop seems to creep into boots and settles on our pant legs. And then there’s delivering calves. In other words, we go through lots of detergent during calving season.
After the supplies have been purchased and gathered from the supply cabinet, it’s cow sorting time. The cows, particularly the first-calf heifers, that appear to be closest to calving are brought into the corral where they are near shelter and don’t have to be chased down in case they need help calving. This sorting process is a tricky business because sometimes a cow outside the corral will “pass up the others” and calve first.
So ranchers keep a close eye on all of the cows, watching for signs that they’re getting ready to calve. For example, a cow that’s getting ready often takes off for the far end of the feedlot, where she can have her calf in private. Sometimes she even tries to throw us off by calmly itching on a post. There are other signs, too.
Because cow-checking can take place every two hours, especially in the case of heifers, it comes as no surprise that lack of sleep is the first thing that comes to mind when a rancher thinks about calving season. During the night, checking is done at the corral, though I have also checked feedlots at night. The cow-checker sets the alarm, crawls out of a warm bed, puts some clothes on over pajamas, followed by coats, hat, gloves and boots. After a check at the corral, if none of the cows are calving, it’s back to the house where the coats, hat, gloves, boots and other clothing is taken off again. The bed feels deliciously warm — but just for two more hours.
The cow-checking goes on for the entire calving season. If a cow or calf does have trouble, then the rancher and family are up a good part of the night. But the rewards of watching a newborn calf nurse are worth it all.
After the calves are born, they also have to be checked to make sure they’re nursing, that they don’t have scours (or worse), and that their mothers don’t have sore bags.
Calving season — it’s a busy time!