Calving season brings new life and hope for a good year
An unexpected crop of calves bring optimism for a good year.
The cows came when it was cold and windy and dreary. We have enough feed, even after feeding calves in the feedlot since fall, and cows were going cheap. My husband figured he could put some weight on some thinner cows and sell them before calving time.
But I knew the truth. Cows are unpredictable, and so is weather, and neither likes to be worked into plans. We were going to be calving out some old, thin cows.
We used to run cows here, but in recent years, my husband sold them to focus more on his feedlot. It's been a good move for a small operation that doesn't have enough labor to split its attention. We keep a few cows around that belong to our daughters and calve late enough to avoid the worst of the cold and the wet. It's worked well.
But bred cows were selling just as cheap as the calves that could be fed in the feedlot; the drought conditions appear to be dissipating in parts of the region, so certainly there will be a market for bred cows ... or pairs, as I knew was going to be the case.
The late winter was cold, and it was hard to put weight on the cows, though their condition did improve. And in no time at all, they started to bag up. Calving started with a cow delivering a stillborn set of twins, which seems to be a typical way for calving to start.
The calves started coming soon after that, thankfully with few problems given that we don't know the cows or much about their backgrounds and breeding. And you know what? I'm glad they're here.
There is something optimistic in watching a group of calves chase each other across the corral or sun themselves in the afternoon rays. Even as the blowing dirt combined with melted snow to make March dingy and ugly, the calves have brought a lightness and a hope that spring is coming in earnest. It's been the first sign of new life on the farm. And while they add extra work and worry right now, they are a sign of hope, whether they end up in our own pasture or replenishing the herd for someone who had to sell down during the drought.
As a lifelong player and fan of baseball and softball, it's kind of like spring training. Every spring, your team still has a chance to win the World Series. The grass is green, the sun is bright, there's a zero in the loss column and no one is on the DL.
We're coming off of a pretty bad drought in the region, and the fact that our area has been removed from drought categories doesn't take away the fears that we'll miss all of the spring rains and the pastures and hay fields will be stunted and brown again.
Strong, healthy, growing calves playing in the corral don't make those worries completely go away. But they are a sign that every spring is a new start and a new chance for a good year.
Just like last year, farmers and ranchers will raise calves and prepare fields and plant seeds. And it may work out and it may not, but you can't help but start the season with the hope that this will be a good year.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-595-0425.