Calving season up close: A yearly routine for some, a lifetime experience for others
I knew I was out of my element as soon as my boots hit the mud outside of Joe Camilletti’s barn Tuesday afternoon.
Aside from driving to Hayden to the OTHER Camilletti Ranch, I knew that I had no idea what I was getting into when I tagged along with Joe, 25, Tuesday for his afternoon trip around the ranch, checking on the heifers in one pasture, and cows in two other pastures.
Joe is currently knee deep in calving season at the Camilletti Ranch along Colorado Highway 394. The 60-90 day season started March 16 for the Camillettis and should run through April and into early May.
This year, with more than 500 cattle on the ranch, the Camillettis are expecting 75-100 calves.
Prior to my arrival Tuesday at the ranch, Camilletti and one ranch hand pulled three calves, one which had drowned inside its mother. On the ranch, the newborn calves were still wet and adjusting to a whole new world.
“The first thing I want to see from this calf is I want to see if its nursed from its mom,” Camilletti said from inside the cab of his side-by-side on the ranch. “There’s a lot of different ways you can tell if the calf has nursed or not.”
Camilletti went on to show this city slicker how to tell if one has nursed or not, pointing out one side of the heifers teat that was shiny black, indicating its calf had nursed from that side, one the other side was larger and harder, meaning there had been no nursing done from that side.
“Once they get ahold of the boob, they’re fine,” he said. “That’s one of the most important things is getting them on the ground and nursing mom. If they can do that, they’re in great shape.”
After loading back into the UTV, Joe continued to show me around the ranch, describing how the mating process works. In June, the Camillettis turn their bulls out in the pastures for the mating process, and also rely on artificial insemination to help with the process.
“You do that to get the best genetics and fast,” Joe said. “You just improve your genetics a lot.”
While riding along with Joe in the UTV, I felt like I was asking a number of dumb questions involving the calving process and what happens after they are born and raised. Joe was very accommodating and answered each dumb question that I may have asked while keeping a watchful eye on the cattle on the ranch during his usual rounds.
Leaving the first-time moms pen at the Camilletti Ranch, Joe and I traversed over to the wetlands in front of the ranch, where more than 400 cows were penned in, mingling with each other waiting for their feed.
It was a startling sight to see these massive cows following our UTV around the field, expecting us to feed them that evening. Joe told me that was common, which was quite the surprise for this reporter who’s only real interaction with cattle is eating the beef that comes from them, or covering the steer show at the Moffat County Fair.
When I mentioned this to Joe, it raised a question for me, which is what happens to the calves once they’re born and raised.
“We’ll take them off their moms around mid-October, so they’re moms for about seven, eight months,” Camilletti said. “Then we’ll wean then, and we’ll keep replacement heifers that we like, if we like their moms and they have good milk, good frame size, a good mom, just a lot of good things about her, we’ll keep her calf and put her in a herd and have offspring from her.”
According to Joe, the rest are sold and then go to a feed yard.
“I don’t know where exactly they go once that happens; some of them go down to Texas for wheat and cornstock, stuff like that,” Camilletti said. “Others will go to a feed yard to be butchered. They’re typically with us for just about 10 months before we sell them.”
Two months after selling them, the cycle starts all over again for the Camillettis, which is a long, arduous process for Joe, who is currently taking turns with his dad, mom and one other ranch hand keeping an eye on the heifers and cows waiting to jump in at a moments notice to pull a calf.
“Usually, I’m up monitoring things from day break to around 1 or 2 in the morning,” Joe said. “It makes for long days; this is the busiest part of the year for me, but you get used to it, having done this since I was 5 years old.”
Following a check around the ranch, Joe and I drove back to the barn to pile in with another ranch hand to head out and feed the cows, which featured a special nutrient-dense pellet made locally by Snyder & Counts Feed & Seed.
Driving around in the UTV while the cows fed from the back of it was quite the experience for me. Seeing all those cows racing up to the back of the vehicle was quite the sight, as was watching these massive animals battling for position to eat right out of the back.
I came out of Tuesday’s experience enlightened by the process that is calving season, and want to learn more, considering how important agriculture is to this community.
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UPDATE 5:27 p.m. — Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon has reopened in both directions Saturday evening after a safety closure due to a flash flood warning. There were no reported mud/debris slides.