Tuesday, February 1, 2011
A Cattleman's Fashion Statement
And now, Randy models the latest in heifer-checking apparel.
A trench coat and dress pants are the garb of choice for this task, right? And those black dress shoes? They are the perfect color in case a fashionable farmer steps in the wrong place.
Well, the laundress and housekeeper might beg to differ.
But a guy has to do what a guy has to do. After a rocky start to the calving season, a farmer/stockman must remain ever vigilant - even if it means wearing his church clothes to do the job.
As I told you yesterday, the heifers were scheduled to start calving January 28. So how do we arrive at that magical due date circled on the calendar?
Last March, Randy and Jake mixed MGA into the feed given to 21 heifers. MGA stands for melengestrol acetate, which suppresses the ovulation cycle for the heifers. For 14 days, the guys added the MGA to the grain in the feed truck and fed the equivalent of 1/2 a pound per head per day.
Then 19 days later, on April 21, they gave each heifer a shot of Lutalyse, which makes the heifers come into estrus (or heat).
The same day the Lutalyse shot was given, five bulls came a callin'. The bulls were chosen for the "job" because they are bulls whose offspring are expected to have lower birth weight, making it easier for the first-time mothers to deliver their calves.
Then 283 days later, the babies are supposed to arrive. This year, the date was January 28. But the heifers didn't get the memo evidently since no babies arrived on the due date. (That sounds like most human babies I know, too.)
The five bulls stayed with the heifers for 10 days. Then one remained with the heifers, while the others went to different pastures with mature cows. Our cows should begin calving around February 7. (However, we did have one from that group yesterday: Please refer to the Cattleman's Law.)
So why do we try to synchronize the heifers' cycles? We do it to shorten the calving season for the heifers, which saves labor at calving time. (Well, it saves some labor for the humans - not the mama cows.)
Since heifers are first-time mothers, Randy and Jake check them several times a day to see if any are experiencing trouble calving. If they are having difficulty, Randy can assist the birthing process, helping the mama and - hopefully- yielding a healthy baby calf.
I helped Randy run several heifers into the barn Sunday evening. With temperatures set to drop into the teens, the barn can provide a little shelter for newborn babies and keep a cold winter wind from freezing them.
We had moved them into a smaller corral, and Randy then looked through the group of 20. He was looking at each heifer to to see if her udder was more pronounced, a sign that she's closer to calving.
We then sorted off several and sent them off for accommodations in the barn for the night.
Randy didn't stay the night in the barn. He just made sure our "guests" were situated and comfortable.
When he checked the heifers one last time before bedtime, there were two new babies!
And there was a heifer in trouble. He came back to the house to get me to help. I'm not much of a cow midwife, but I can provide another set of hands.
We put the new calving pen into use, and it was definitely a good investment. But unfortunately, despite Randy's best efforts, the baby calf was twisted inside its mom. By the time he got it pulled out, it didn't survive.
I am always impressed with how Randy deals with these tense situations. He is calm, talking gently to the heifer. That's a very good quality to have in a cattleman - and a husband, by the way.
And it also does a lot to explain why my guy was checking cattle in his dress clothes. He's all about helping damsels in distress - whether he's wearing his coveralls or his dress clothes. He's always there to help us out.
However, the laundress around here usually votes for work clothes whenever possible. Today, though, I'm just thankful his meeting got postponed, and he's here to perform any midwifery services required - no matter how many clothes he gets dirty!
He had to pull another baby calf last night, and thankfully, that turned out better than Sunday night. However, with the wind howling, sub-zero temperatures and snow, I think I may need to trademark that Cattleman's Law thing.