Sunday, February 26, 2017
First calves hit the ground yesterday. It's always a special time.
We haven't had February calves for a long time. When I were a lad we calved in January and February; that was the common practice at the time. We raised cattle and grew crops, and it made more sense to calve in late winter so you'd have that chore finished with when you needed to be in the field and on the tractor in the spring.
Sometime after I ran away and joined the circus we quit farming, planted crop fields back to grass, and went to an all-cattle operation.
Since there was no longer any spring farming to do, it made sense to calve in April and May, when the weather was nicer.
I'm guessing the last time we had February calves was about 1980.
Anyway, I had to sell all the cows last fall when I was battling a bone infection and couldn't do a proper job of animal husbandry. I got better in January and ordered more cows from Amazon. Well, not exactly from Amazon, but an online auction is pretty close!
These cows were bred to begin calving on March 1 and continue for 70 days. What that really means is that the bulls went in with the cows on June 1 last year and came out 70 days later. Cattle have a nine-month gestation period, so if you do the math you get March 1 for the first calving date.
Nature doesn't care much about humans and their bloody mathematics, though, and it's far from uncommon to have early calves.
So yesterday we had the first two. It was cold but clear and not a bad day for calving, considering the season.
This morning I tagged the first calf, a nice little, petite, red heifer.
I did not tag the second calf, a solid red bull, because he expired sometime in the night. Judging by the lack of rigor mortis and his unfrozen condition, I suspect he died no more than an hour before sunrise.
While I don't know what he died from, and it could have been some kind of fatal internal malformation, it's more likely that he simply fell behind the energy curve and died from the cold. I should have done more overnight monitoring, but I fell into my April calving methods and didn't properly factor overnight temps into my thinking. So the loss is almost certainly on me, and in money terms it was a thousand dollar mistake.
These things happen in ranching. I'm kind of bummed out and cross with myself, but I'll learn from this episode and become just a bit better at my job.
On a slightly happier note, a few days ago Paul asked about the somewhat common lore that cattle always graze while facing north or south. In my experience, cattle tend to graze with their noses pointed at the next bite of food, so they can and will graze pointed in any direction at all.
There are times when they will point in certain directions, and here is one of them. They're all facing either northeast or southwest. Care to guess why this is so?