Farmer's Daughter: Calving Commonalities

Posted: 2/22/2016

By: Rebecca Christman


Calving season is here again. Across South Dakota you’ll find new calves and tired farmers and ranchers in abundance. Each farm does things a little different, but everyone’s goal is making sure that every calf arrives safely and both the cow and the calf are healthy.  If you stop at a farm or ranch with mama cows this time of year, there are a few things you’ll probably find:

  1. A messy house. Between muddy boots, making tags for new calves, record-keeping, and a lack of time spent inside, it’s a safe bet that cleaning the house has moved to the bottom of the priority list.
  2. An assortment of tools by the front door. A scale to weigh the calf, iodine to prevent naval infections, a syringe to give vaccinations, and an ear tagger and tattoo set to identify each calf are just a few of the items we need on hand.
  3. A pocket notebook / calving book. These little notebooks fit easily in your pocket and save you from having to memorize which cows have calved and if they had a bull or heifer.
  4. A calf sled. This handy item is similar to children’s sled, but larger and with higher sides. Instead of carrying an 80 pound newborn calf through the snow, you can put them in the sled and pull them up to the barn.
  5. Straw by the calving barn. When it’s wet or snowy, the new babies go inside the barn to dry off and warm up. Straw is the perfect bedding!
  6. OB chains. Most cows are able to have their calf on their own. However, if the calf is coming backwards or is big, the cow may need a little help. The chains slip over calf’s hooves, and farmer is usually able to pull the calf out.
  7. The vet’s number on speed dial. If a cow needs extra help, the farmer will call the vet. The vet will either come out to the farm, or we’ll load the cow up in the trailer.
  8. A pot of coffee. Getting only four or five hours of sleep a night for a couple months can be draining. Coffee is essential!
  9. A calf in the bathroom. On the days when it’s extra cold or wet, some babies just can’t get warm. At our house that means they get to spend a day or two with a space heater in the bathroom.
  10. Bottles and milk replacer by the kitchen sink. It seems we have at least one calf a year that ends up being a bottle calf. This could be because the cow wouldn’t claim the calf or she didn’t have enough milk. Feeding a calf two or three times a day means that cow sized baby bottles are always drying next to the sink.
  11. Vaccines in the fridge. The spot in the fridge where most people put condiments is reserved for vaccinations for the new babies. On our farm, these vaccinations are to prevent respiratory infections that can be common in damp weather like we’ve been having recently.
  12. Boots, coveralls, and gloves. They’re almost never clean, but they’ll still keep you warm (most of the time).
  13. A tired farmer / rancher. Making sure each calf is born safe and healthy is the top priority. At our house this means the cows are checked on every four hours, even through the night. Getting up and putting coveralls on at 2 a.m. to go out in the cold is no one’s idea of a good time, but it’s done every night to see if there are any cows that need help having their calf.
  14. A great team. Whether husband and wife, father and son, or farmer and hired man, it takes more than one person to run a farm this time of year.

They might be tired, and their house might not be clean, but this time of year is very rewarding for South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers. Seeing healthy calves that you have waited for the past nine months is one of the best feelings in the world. Happy calving season!

*Special thanks to my parents, Tim and Sandy Naasz and Sarah Myers, for adding items to this list as they are in the midst of calving season! 

Listen to this week's Farmer's Daughter radio segment here: FARMERS_DAUGHTER-FEB_22TH.mp3


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