Farmers spend cold nights with cows at calving time

By: 
Duane Dailey

I have no real reason to complain about this cold-weather impact on my old body. I’d forgotten what real winter feels like.

But what tells me to give up wimpy complaints are reports from farmers out each night checking their “springer heifers” about to calve. In this weather, they must be there to save calves born into this wind chill.

This brings back farm memories of picking up wet new-born calves to carry them to the house. (That was before four wheelers.) We’d warm and dry them with gunny sacks beside the wood stove.

Do they still make gunny sacks? That’s what feed rations came in. Those rough sacks could hold 100 pounds of feed. I thought I was something when I could carry feed sacks.

Back to now and this winter.

Jon Schreffler, manager at MU Thompson Farm, says they are past half done with calving “with good luck.”

One drawback: There will be a bunch of short-ear calves this year. Ear tips that freeze never grow to full size. That eliminates them from ever being a Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer. Along with the genetic requirements those premium-price heifers must be blemish free.

But, even with short ears they can become good mama cows in their own herd. Their DNA isn’t hurt by the freeze.

There are reasons buyers pay more for Show-Me-Select heifers bred by fixed-time artificial insemination. When all heifers are bred on the same day, calving season shortens. And an ultrasound pregnancy check confirms the expected calving time.

In bull-bred herds, calving seasons stretch over much longer time. A bull takes his own sweet time getting all the cows bred.

First-time users of fixed-time AI fear all calves will come in one night. Not so. Each calf comes on its own time around that nine-month gestation period.

At the SMS heifer sales, buyers are told an expected birth date. But also they’re warned to start checking early. Those bred with calving-ease genes will likely deliver a calf early.

An AI calving season will be about two weeks. That compares to a bull-bred season of 90 days or more. One of the first advances in breeding seasons was to put a bull in with cows at a set time and pull him out on a set date. There are, unfortunately, some herds with year-round calving seasons.

Calving goes better if a barn is equipped with one-cow pens. The farmer brings in a cow that shows she’s about to give birth. There’s an art in doing this right. In the barn, she’s easier to watch and help. Still, some are missed and must be brought in.

I can’t imagine what it’s like for a new-born calf after nine months in a nice warm womb to be plopped out steamy wet onto frozen ground in this weather. Mama and calf need help.

The new mama cows know it’s their job to lick the calf dry to claim it as her own. That’s in their DNA. It’s called a maternal trait.

So many advances are being made in cow herds as we learn to decipher the genomic map of beef heifers.

That life map can be learned right after birth. A blood sample taken from a calf’s ear after birth reveals all.

In a visit Friday afternoon, Jared Decker, MU geneticist, added to my know-how on genomics. I have much to learn. That new test reveals all. And, it stays accurate for the life of the cow. It’s still usable even 10 years later.

What else do you buy that lasts that long.

OK back to this cold weather. Sunday’s calving report tells of a heifer with frozen teats. She might not stand to have her calf nurse.

Should I patent my idea for fur bras for cows? That may take some design work first.

Send hot ideas to duanedailey7@gmail.come or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo., 65203. Back to the drawing board.

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