While many farmers across America are busy planting crops this time of year, ranchers are busy getting their cows and calves out to grass for the summer. Spring calving time means long days and short nights, so moving the livestock to pasture is an exciting time on our ranch for everyone – the cows and the people!
The beef cattle industry is continually improving in terms of calf health, efficiency of growth, and ultimately, beef quality. Everything begins with the cow having a live calf, which means she needs the right nutrition, body condition, and fertility. Once that baby is born, she needs to provide it high quality colostrum (milk produced during pregnancy) the first time it nurses, which is usually within the first hour of its life. Beef cows can raise a healthy calf on their own, but there are some steps that are taken on many ranches to help reassure a successful outcome.
On our ranch, we weigh and tag each calf within 24 hours of birth. We also vaccinate so our animals aren’t vulnerable to catching any diseases, just like any newborn human. Most times, calves will then just nurse their mama, begin nibbling on hay along her side, and thrive. In some cases, like this year, a stretch of cold, damp, cloudy weather will cause stress on the calves that they may become sick. This could range from lethargy to fever, and in these certain cases, we have to treat the calves with an antibiotic purchased from our veterinarian, specifically for the indicated symptoms. We may also need to feed them electrolytes if they are dehydrated. As ranchers, we hate seeing calves suffer, so it is quite a relief when they perk up and go back to running their nightly races at feeding time!
Working calves for spring turn-out is often a community event, and we even have neighbors who all help out with everyone’s herd. It truly is great to have a group of people that all work well together – we have some really good cowboys in our bunch. Everyone knows everyone else’s job, and we can easily get 130 calves done in 90 minutes. At this point, our calves are vaccinated for respiratory diseases and the bulls are castrated. This is done at this young age to cause the least amount of stress possible.
Finally, it’s time to get the animals out to pasture. The sorting of cows and calves to make sure pairs are matched up properly and taken to the desired pasture requires patience, and complete attention to detail by everyone helping is a must.
In the meantime, while the calves are running around and looking cute, last year’s cattle herd is nearly finished and ready for beef production, and we begin to plan for next year because breeding time starts next week! It’s a continuous and gratifying cycle on our ranch, and we couldn’t be more proud to raise healthy cattle that provide delicious and nutritious beef for today’s consumer.
Dawn Caldwell, who serves as the treasurer of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), helps run her family’s cow-calf operation in north central Kansas and leads governmental affairs for the Aurora Cooperative.