Early Calving Season in Eastern Montana

By ELLA MAE HOWARD

Our 2018 calving season started two days before Christmas 2017. The early start was not because the bulls got out before the June 1 turnout date. Or because we miscalculated our artificial insemination schedule. First calf heifer No. 609 went into labor about noon on the 23rd. I walked her down to one of our calving sheds.

When I went back to check her, I found her standing over a small black lifeless form. I gave her a couple of hours to identify with her dead calf, then I hauled it off to a spot the coyotes and birds of prey would easily find.

There are a few ranchers who calve in the fall, but most ranchers control the breeding season, so the first little guys show up starting in March or April. We AI our replacement heifers and expect them to start the first week of March. But with heifers you can be surprised a couple of weeks early. About the middle of February, we keep a close eye on them, watching for the signs of labor. Any soon-to-be young mother is moved to a calving unit where we can keep around-the-clock vigilance on her.

We expect our older cows to calve without problems, but we know that Mother Nature doesn’t get the calf in the correct position to pass through the birth channel.

Cow 85 is 14 years old, never had any problems in the past. She’s a really good cow—raises a big soggy calf every year. She has good feet and a good bag; we keep her heifer calves as replacements.

But when I found her away from the feedground, a nose was showing, but just one foot. I watched her lie down, push, get up, walk around, lie down, push some more. I thought about walking her to the corral where we could help her, but when she lay down again and really started struggling, I slipped up behind her, took my coat off, rolled up my shirt sleeve, and went in and got a hold of the foot that was tucked back.

I straightened the leg and stepped back, and with 85’s next big push out came a beautiful heifer calf.

Mom was up immediately, cleaning her newborn, and in a few minutes, she had her calf on its feet, nursing.

I drove back to the house with tears streaming down my cheeks. It was such a special moment when that little calf got up on its feet and wobbled around until it found Mom’s teats. I don’t know if Mom knew that I helped her bring forth a precious little black bundle that will in a few days be on the feedground, chasing around with tail in the air and giving Mom some concerns because it is getting too far away from her.

Then there was Cow 011. We knew she was getting close. We watched her. It was like she didn’t want to take a chance on not getting her share of cake, so she started walking across a muddy area to where she thought we were going to dump the cake. But then she stopped, lay down, and popped out her calf. It was a chilly, damp day, and the little guy was struggling to get its feet under him. In a matter of few minutes, the calf was covered in mud. It was cold and had not gotten to its feet. We got the Ranger, loaded the little fellow in the back, and drove to the house where we moved him to the porch. Usually, a couple of big bath towels will suffice to get the calf dried off and warmed up, but not 011 Calf. It took five big towels to get it cleaned up and dry.

We fixed a bottle of colostrum milk, which the little guy drank in a few gulps. In a couple of hours, 011 was warm, dry, and trying to get to its feet.

We loaded him in the Ranger and took him back to a very anxious mom. The next day, Calf 011 was bucking and kicking on the feedground. I had to smile at him.

And tomorrow, we continue our routine of checking, looking, prepared to help If needed. That’s the path of calving season. MSN

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