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This Week on the Farm, Calving Beef Cattle

Winter is winding down and things are starting to get busy. So begins our calving season. We try to have calves in February and March so we will have feeder calves for the count fair. We breed some of the herd AI (artificial insemination) and then we bring in a bull to bred the cows that we didn’t choose to AI or any cows that didn’t get pregnant from the AI. We have a calving period of about 3 months with the majority having them within a 3 week period.

Of course, things don’t always go as planned during calving season. Since we know the exact date the cows were bred for the first round, we knew they were due on Feb 14th based on a 283 day gestation. It is typical for them to have babies 2 weeks before or 2 weeks after their due date. Andy was sick the week leading up to their due dates and didn’t get the birthing pens all the way prepared. On Saturday the 11th we went out to finish getting things ready and there was already a baby in the barn that the cows use as a shelter, not in the calving barn. Fat Amy was taking care of her baby and we had some time finish getting things ready. While we were working on the pens we noticed Katie had some blood dripping, thinking that she was getting ready to calve we hurried up and got two pens ready. We went to check on how the baby was doing and there were actually 2 calves in the barn and Fat Amy was cleaning both of them off. Initially we though it could be twins, not unheard of in beef cattle, we have had a few sets of twins born on our farm. It did appear that these calves were probably born within hours of each other.

As we started to try and move Katie into the barn we noticed she was actually passing her placenta, so one of the calves must be hers. Typically most cows are pretty protective of their babies and will run to them when they are stressed. Katie appeared oblivious that she even had a baby (this is her first calf). On the other hand, Fat Amy who has had 3 other calves, decided that both of those babies were hers. We scooped up the babies and carried them into the barn that we wanted them in. Trying to carry a 75# baby that is wiggling around, while watching your back to make sure the mama doesn’t get mad and try and plow you over, gets the adrenaline pumping a little bit.

We settled the calves into their new pens and based on Fat Amy being more protective of the boy we decided that he must be hers and the girl is probably Katie’s. So we separated each cow/calf pair into their own pens so that the mamas could bond and we made sure everyone nursed and got the much needed colostrum. We have had over 100 babies since we started raising cows and very rarely run into an issue with the mom taking care of her baby. But due to the unique circumstances of this situation things didn’t get better.

Fat Amy was mad that we took one of the babies away and wouldn’t stop calling for it. She didn’t calm down and Katie wasn’t really letting the baby nurse. We decided it would be best to just put them all together in case we got the calves mixed up. Most cows will only take care of their own babies, they will attempt to kick any other calf from their udder. On rare occasions you will get a cow that will take care of any baby and it is “open bar” from her udder. We figured if we had them all together then we could figure it out later when we saw the calves actually nurse. The cows were restless and irritated from the birth, being moved and all the shuffling around so we figured that we would just let them be. In 20 yeas I have only had to intervene to help with a calf nurse on rare occasions. We figured it would all work itself out.

Beef Calf Bottle Baby

On Sunday things seemed like they were still going well. We didn’t see anyone nurse but all the cows teats were cleaned and everyone seemed pretty good. Sunday night the heifer (girl) calf didn’t to be as strong and alert as the other calf. We decided to give it a bottle of powered milk to give it a boost and get its strength back up. Usually a few extra calories is all they need to get back going again. We didn’t have any calf milk replacer on hand but did have some goat milk replacer so we mixed up a bottle and thankfully the calf sucked down half a bottle. Many times we are not that lucky, the calves can’t figure out how to suck out of a bottle and we end up having to put a feeding tube down their esophagus and tube feed them. After the bottle she had a little more pep and started walking around better and was more alert.

The next morning she still looked good so I ran to the store to buy some proper milk replacer. When I got home, I mixed up another ½ bottle and again she drank that right down. I wanted to keep her a little hungry so she would still want to nurse. A few hours later I went back out and she was looking worse. She wouldn’t stand up and she was shivering a little bit. Did a temp check which was normal and her mouth was damp and didn’t feel dehydrated. I could just tell something wasn’t right though.

Quick call to the vet, who thankfully was able to return my call and give me advice over the phone. Grateful to good friends in the area who also raise beef cattle, we were able to obtain all the medication the vet recommended. By this time, it was 7 at night and she wasn’t looking too great. At 10 we tried to give her another bottle but she wanted nothing to do with it. We left her in the pen with the mamas and crossed our fingers she would still be alive in the morning and the medications would work.

The next morning, she actually looked a little better and ate a whole bottle. Per the vets advice we were to feed her a bottle twice a day and leave her with the mothers. We are hoping she will figure out how to nurse and be able to feed herself, but for now we have to make up a bottle twice a day to feed.

We are still waiting on the other cows to have their babies. We had 6 that were bred for this first round but only one other looks close. Then we will have 10 more to go!

Meat chickens

We also received 150 meat chickens in the mail this week. We raise Cornish crosses due to their rapid growth and large breast size. They are delivered to the post office where we go and pick them up. Once they get home, we dip each of their beaks into water to encourage them to eat and drink. The babies are packed in a box to keep warm with no food or water for shipment and then overnighted to their destination. Once a baby chick hatches they can go 1-3 days without food or water. This natural behavior is to allow the mother hen to stay on the nest to allow all the chicks to hatch before she has to teach them to find food and water. By dipping their beaks in water, we are essentially “teaching” them to find the water. These chicks will stay in the brooder for a few weeks until they get their feathers then they will be transitioned outside to bottomless moveable “chicken tractors” where they will be moved to fresh grass daily. In 8 weeks we will have fresh chicken!

Small Scale Maple Syrup Production

If we weren’t busy enough, this is the time of year for maple syrup. We only put in 10 taps because we only need a little syrup for our family and friends. We were able to get enough sap to run small batch of syrup over the weekend resulting in ¾ gallon of pure maple syrup. It will be great on pancakes! I will hopefully do a post on how we make our syrup and what equipment we use.

Garden Planning

This is also the time to get those seeds ordered! Onion plants need ordered and any new trees, shrubs or berry plants that you want to add. This year I really want to plan out and start a “food forest” behind my main garden. I have been looking at lots of plans and ideas! I won’t be able to get anything actually planted in it this year but I plan on getting more of a plan put together and start getting the plot ready and the soil amended. Stay tuned for garden updates and maybe I will get that small greenhouse make this year!!

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