It's still early, but spring calving generally is off to a good start in the region despite a nasty late-March snowstorm.
"We're doing OK so far," says Dale Lueck, an Aitkin producer and spokesman for the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association.
However, ranchers in some areas most likely will battle flooding in the next few weeks. Those ranchers "need to have a plan," including moving cattle and hay to dry ground before flooding occurs, says Carl Dahlen, North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist.
Calving in the region typically begins in late January and early February in western Montana. The season usually starts in late February and early March in eastern Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
Kim Baker, a rancher in Hot Spring, Mont., in the northwestern part of the state, says calving has gone well on her family ranch. About three-quarters of her ranch's 400 cows have given birth.
An unusually good hay crop in 2010 gave producers plenty of forage and helped cattle overcome the long, cold winter, she says.
Lueck and Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, also say plentiful supplies of good-quality feed were crucial during the long, cold winter.
In contrast, many area ranchers didn't have enough good-quality feed in the tough winter of 2008 to '09, which contributed to calving problems in the spring of 2009.
A late March snowstorm dumped as much as 20 inches of snow on parts of the region, though most areas received far less. Minnesota ranchers are accustomed to snow and cold and generally were able to cope with the snowstorm, Lueck says.
Ellingson says she hasn't heard of any serious death losses from the snowstorm. But the storm stressed cows and newborn calves, requiring even more time and effort from producers.
Calves in areas hit by the storm are at greater risk of illness, particularly pneumonia and scours, or calf diarrhea, Dahlen says.
Ranchers need to watch calves carefully, keep appropriate medications on hand and work closely with their veterinarian, he says.
Providing high-quality feed to cows after they give birth is vital, he says.
The period from giving birth to rebreeding is highly stressful, and cows need proper nutrition to provide milk for its calf, recover from giving birth and to be prepared for successful rebreeding, he says.
In 2009, about 1.7 million calves were born in South Dakota, 1.5 million in Montana, 890,000 in North Dakota and 820,000 in Minnesota.
The number of calves born annually in South Dakota, Montana and North Dakota exceeds the human population of those states.
Jonathan Knutson writes for Grand Forks, N.D.-based Agweek, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.