Calving season is here, and we’ve had some beautiful calves born- so far 20+, and counting! This is actually our first season having an actual “calving season”. When we bought our first cows 2 years ago, some were pregnant already, and some we put with the bull as soon as we got them, and so the calving was happening whenever. This is difficult. Some were calving in the deep, brutal winter and it is just too hard for both mamas and babies. We now introduce the bull in the summer/early fall so they calve in the spring (takes them 9 months just like humans!).
It really is amazing to watch how nature works in the circle of life. The cows at our farm get pregnant “the old-fashioned way”. We introduce a bull and he goes at it for three to four months- (I know, lucky guy!) When a bull gets the cows pregnant they call it "the bull has settled" the cows.
In a farm that raises beef like ours, there are important, but different traits you look and hope for in the cows and in the bull. What is important in the cow (female) is that they have a good disposition, are good with calving, have good teats for milking, produce enough milk, are protective mothers, and can wean the calves at the right age. The bull is very important for us, as he is the one that can improve the herd through his genetics. For him, we look for an easy disposition, able to do well in the Wisconsin climate, a solid wide frame, and medium height. If he is wider and has a medium build he will grow well on the grass pastures and will likely pass on these genetics.
The birthing process is interesting (and beautiful) too. At our farm, the cows give birth out in the pasture- just like in nature. We watch them carefully while they are pregnant and in those final days, making sure they have plenty of water and that they don’t seem uncomfortable or sick. The seasoned mothers usually drop them with little assistance and no intervention. These are the ones where we just wake up, check on them, and there’s a new calf sucking on them! First time mothers can be a bit trickier. Some may need a little intervention since it is their first, and those we watch more closely. We had one this season that gave birth to a stillborn calf and was weak after the birth, but still alive. We tended to her, but she didn’t make it. I must admit, this is the saddest and the hardest part of farming.
Believe it or not, some cows are NOT good mothers, while others are extremely maternal. We had a cow that would not let her calf suck; she wouldn’t even look at it! She had NO maternal instincts. And that’s when you decide- she has to go! On the other hand, there was a relentless mama of twins that was pregnant again so we needed to separate the twins from her to wean them (they were already “teenagers”) so that her body can prepare for the new calf to be born. This lady jumped over fences, knocked over gates and finally got to the calves we were trying to wean. Wow! We’re keeping her…but watching her. And we still have to wean those twins a different way. We’ll take them to one of our far pastures for two weeks stretch.
And sometimes we are just in awe with nature and animals will to survive. A calf was recently born and no cow took ownership of her, usually this is the end of the calf, as it can’t get milk. We call this particular calf the “milk bandit”! She works her way around the herd and sucks milk from whichever mama shares some of its milk. Now that’s a street-smart calf!!!!
It’s been a great season so far with only 1 sad loss and many beautiful beginnings. Now on to growing the herd on our great, green pastures!
Marisa usually writes about nutrition, grass fed beef, organic agriculture, as well as sharing delicious recipes; Paul writes about farm work- sharing his stories and experiences, and sometimes... we both collaborate on a story!