Calf Questions

Posted: March 18, 2020

As a 4th generation farmer, I have grown up around agriculture my entire life. It is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do!

My great-grandpa started farming in the early 1950s growing corn and soybeans and building a beef cattle feedlot. Over the years we have grown and expanded our farm with each generation.

I now live on our family farm, along with my wife and twin boys. Besides the feedlot cattle, we have added a cow-calf herd.

Q: Why are more beef calves born now than any other time of the year?

A: The main reason we have calves born in the spring is that it gives the calf the best chance to survive and thrive. The days are getting longer and the temperatures are ideal for growing healthy, weight-gaining calves.

The feed input costs are lower because the grass begins to grow and is readily available to forage on versus fall calves that require greater nutritional intake to get them through the winter climate.

Lastly for us, as with many other cow-calf herders, it fits in our schedule better than having fall calves when we are too busy with long days of harvesting crops to be able to oversee and assist with birthing, if necessary, and other issues which may arise.

We breed the cows right after planting season in June to give birth the following year, ideally in March and April, which is right before planting season begins again. The calves then grow (as the crops do, too) and are ready to be weaned and sold or in our case moved to the feedlot or held back and grown for breeding stock by the fall.

Q: How do you care for the newborn calves?

A: Calf care starts in the womb with good genetics and a good nutritional program for the mothers. After approximately nine months gestation, when calving day arrives, it is as exciting to a cow-calf herder as Christmas morning is to a child!

First and foremost our goal is to make sure the calf is born alive. The majority of mothers don’t have a problem calving, but we are there to assist them if they do. This may require using calf pulling chains or a calf jack to help get the calf out. Some difficult instances include the calf is coming out backwards, the calf has a leg in the wrong position, the calf is too large, or labor is stalled.

Once the calf is born we make sure it gets up to nurse and has the first milk, called colostrum, that helps them to build immunity from diseases until their own immune system develops at one to two months. After that we give them a dose of vitamins and a vaccine to further boost their immune system and start them off on a healthy path.

From there the mother cow takes over feeding and growing them until we ween them in the fall. In the meantime we oversee and make sure the calves don’t get scours or pneumonia, which are two common diseases that must be treated.

Summertime is our favorite time when we are able to take daily Gator rides through the pasture as a family to check on our herd and watch them grow. A cow-calf herd takes a lot of hard work and effort but is also very rewarding. As we say, farming is not just a job but a way of life.