Helena, Montana

Montana Ag Network: Calving in cold weather

Calving season is underway and that means a lot of work for Montana farmers and ranchers, but cold temperatures add an extra challenge.

When the calves start coming and temperatures struggle to get above zero, the days are never really done at East Bench Cattle near Power.

“We spend 24 hours a day with these cows,” said Cassidy Brunner Davis, who farms with her husband and father. “We each have our own little shift, me and Dad and Jessy, and we just rotate through them all, all day long.”

In subzero conditions, their dedication can be the difference between life and death for a newborn calf.

“They have sacks over those babies heads when they come out,” explained Davis. “Those sacks, if they don’t break, it will suffocate the calf right away or if it freezes.”

She said the amniotic sack can especially be a problem for new mothers, but the older cows know how to handle it.

“The calf sometimes will shake it off their heads, but mainly the cow licks it off, that’s what gets the calf going, gets them warm right from the start,” said Davis.

Right now, to keep calves healthy, each newborn warms up inside the cattle shed.

The calves stay inside for one or two days depending on how cold it is, then after some shots and plenty of food, most have the strength to head back out.

At the peak of the season, East Bench Cattle welcomes 8-15 new calves a day.

As the season progresses, the constant vigilance is exhausting.

“By the middle of March, we’re tired, it gets to be a lot,” said Davis.

Despite their best efforts, not every calf survives. Davis estimated they lose 5-10 calves a year.

In a normal season, about 300 new calves are born, mostly in March.

“This is what makes or breaks us,” said Davis.

While the size of cattle operations differ greatly, calving season is key to them all.

-Reported by Joe Huisinga/MTN News

MTN News

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