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Calving Tips and Tales

Mom and Pet

I am writing to tell you a story about a special woman and a remarkable cow. My mom’s name was Loretta Jean and for the 64 years that she lived she almost always had cattle. Her pride and joy was her favourite cow named Pet, a Charolais-Tarentaise cross. Pet was born in 1995 and that fall Mom kept back a bunch of heifers including Pet who quickly became the lead cow, always bringing the herd in for some grain and making sure that she got a scratch from Mom before leaving the barnyard.

In this cow’s 18 years of life she has only been open once, in 2009, the year Mom became ill. My mom sold her herd in February of 2009 but kept Pet and one open heifer back. The heifer was supposed to be for beef.

When I asked what she was going to do with Pet she said that she could take a break, enjoy the summer and live out her days on the farm because she had been such a great cow. No slaughterhouse for her.

As it turned out, Mom’s neighbours needed pasture that summer for their few heifers and a bull, so Mom offered her pasture to them. On July 4, Mom’s 64th birthday, the neighbours’ bull bred Pet. I know because Mom marked it on her calendar.

2009 was a year of drought here in the Peace River Country. The dugouts were dry and the grass dead by Aug. 5, and life as our family knew it was over.

Even in the hospital Mom would ask me to check on Pet, make sure she had salt, etc. My husband Jack went with the stock trailer to pick up Pet and the heifer. He was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to get them in and loaded without help as the heifer was a little spooky. Leave it to Pet to show her how it’s done. He backed the trailer up to the corral and opened the door, and in climbed Pet, the heifer right behind her. It was like she knew Mom wasn’t coming back. He brought them home and put them in with our herd. I promised Mom that I would take care of Pet. My mom, my hero, passed away Sept. 20, 2009.

Early in 2010 Jack was checking cows in the morning and came back to the house with a tear in his eye. He said, “You’ll never believe it but Pet has a beautiful heifer calf. She made Maudie (Mom) proud.”

So Pet’s daughter ended up with the name Little Maudie. Pet gave us two more heifer calves to add to her legacy and this spring had a big bull calf. Her bag is good, her feet are good, never been trimmed, never had to pull a calf or assist her in any way and she is still a solid cow after 18 years.

Lynette Paice
Hines Creek, Alta.

King-size teat spray

My tip is for ranchers who live in snow or dry wind country who have cattle that get chapped teats and won’t let their calves nurse. Take the fire extinguisher off their baler and fill it with canola oil, either raw or refined, from the grocery store. Go check their cows right after feeding and spray any cows high on their udders from behind that are not letting their calves nurse. When they walk the oil will get on their legs and rub on their udders and teats. Works great on most cows. You don’t have to bring them in to treat them. The sprayer will spray 15 feet or so. Remember to stay back far enough so you don’t get kicked. A 16-litre jug of canola oil from the grocery store costs about $26.

Once you get the hang of it, it will treat a lot of cows. You don’t have to pressure your tank up all the way to get it to spray 15 feet or so.

Jack Woolford
Cardston, Alta.

Ferocious fostering

In 2013 a cow had a stillborn calf which she watched over faithfully trying to make it get up and go with her, all to no avail. The next day another cow had twins so I took the stronger one over and replaced the dead calf. The first cow came roaring back, began licking the twin, had it up nursing in minutes and has looked after it ever since. The cow has kept a wary eye on me ever since, as if it was my fault “her” calf took so long to get up. In fact I had to put them in the corral to tag “her” calf!

Loren Rodvang
Coronation, Alta.

Hi, Honey

While calving in cold weather, colostrum can be like gold and anything you can do to save some calves is worth doing. When we find a new calf that hasn’t sucked yet and it doesn’t look hopeful, I take three to five c.c. of honey, rub some around inside its mouth then put the rest in. It will be absorbed through the tongue and mouth lining into the bloodstream. The taste and the energy it gives wakes them up, and loosens up that clamped-tight mouth. Most will get up and suck. If not, I then try and get them to suck a cup or less of colostrum and usually that will do it.

It’s always better to get the calf sucking than to use a tube or esophageal feeder as they learn nothing and it seems to weaken them for a short time. When we find a newborn that has to be brought in and warmed we again use the honey. It gets them up in half the time and they will then suck from a bottle.

Another tip is to always watch calves born in wet weather for E. coli. A calf that has sucked and seems OK can stop sucking. Give it five c.c. of an injectable tetracycline. The liver absorbs some and releases it into the stomach. The calf should return to sucking in a few hours.

Any calf that is treated for scours gets the regular antibiotic and fluid treatment plusa tablespoon of slippery elm powder mixed as a slurry or in the fluids. It helps protect the stomach lining and regulates both scouring and constipation.

The last tip is to have a shelter or two in the calving area where you can lock a mother and newborn in. You may need a few panels in front to help catch the cow with. Keep a clean bed and some feed inside. Put them in and go back to sleep.

Ken and Donna Ettinger
Czar, Alta.

Past experience

I ran a cow-calf herd (for 45 years) and calved out in late March. I found that by feeding my herd in the late afternoon and just before dark, that my calves were born during the daytime hours.

Once the cows started calving I would make a new bedding grounds for them and not have them use their previous bedding grounds. In this way I prevented scour problems.

A calf should start breathing in 30 seconds of birth and be up within about 15 minutes. If it doesn’t you should intervene. I did have a calf once that did not shed the membrane and I could not tear it open so I had to use my knife to cut it open. On another occasion I had to pull away mucous from the nose and open the mouth so the calf could start breathing. A couple of times I also had to grab the back legs and hold the calf upside down for a minute to facilitate breathing.

Robert Tannahill
Battleford, Sask.

Five tips

Buy an older Ford pickup with cloth seats. If you have a calf in cooler weather that could use a little warming put the calf on the seat with the heater on high for two hours. You will not believe how it brings the calf around.

Keep your best feed for two weeks before calving.

Have some small bales of second-cut alfalfa handy. If you have a cow that doesn’t want her calf, put a little on the calf. This seems to work.

Use lots of bedding.

Calve on level ground and move locations after calving.

Doddrick Greenwood
Viking, Alta.

Life lesson

In spring 2008 I went out to check our bred heifers at about 5:30 p.m. I rode out into the pasture and saw from a distance a black heifer off by herself and lying down. As I get closer she jumps up and starts to walk off. I see some feet showing and can tell they are the front ones, so I let her go. I think to myself that I will let her settle down and continue to calve and I will check on her again in an hour. So I go home for supper.

My wife had to take my daughter into town for soccer so I brought my four-year-old son with me to go check on this heifer. He sits in front of me on my good horse Dude and off we go. We get close to the heifer and she still has feet showing. Crap! We and Dude get around the heifer and start easing her towards the corrals where we can have a look.

We get her into the pens and up to the headgate with very little stress. I set my boy up beside the squeeze and I strip down to my waist to check things out. April evenings are not real cold but not real warm yet either. I put an arm in and feel two front feet, a head and another front foot. Crap!

I push the other foot back, run and get the chains and start to pull. I get the calf halfway out and things stop. I am standing behind this girl trying to twist this calf, so I can rotate the hips and try to get it out. Now I’m starting to get tired and anxious and not having much luck and a little voice says, “Don’t quit Daddy, don’t quit.”

Encouraged I try one more time… pop, and out this guy comes. Of course he’s not breathing, so I pump a leg and clean his nose and try CPR and this calf is still dead. Crap! Well, I better try and see what is attached to the other front leg, so back in I go, get the legs and head into position and pull. Out comes another calf, just big, just as black and just as dead.

My family has been ranching on this same location since 1911. My widowed great-grandmother emigrated with her son and four daughters from Sweden to homestead in a new and unknown land. At that time I don’t imagine they had a whole lot of “quit” in their vocabulary either. My wife and family were able to move back to the ranch in 2004. We do not have enough land and livestock to survive solely on agriculture income as my ancestors did, but let me tell you, with the time and finance invested, this is no hobby farm. I can also guarantee we take our responsibility as stewards of our land and cattle just as serious as any operation in North America.

Since that spring day I have often reminded my son of those words he spoke. During the times when he was tired of trying to learn to skate, ski, read, spell, or build his Lego Star Wars spaceships. We don’t quit. Hard work and practice will get us through just about anything life throws our way. This was a life lesson that was worth every bit of the price of those two calves. Would I trade the time I had with my boy, my good horse Dude and a beautiful spring evening? Not a chance! Would I change the outcome of that evening? Once again, another life lesson: we don’t always get to decide how things turn out. Maybe that’s why I decided to tell this story.

The reason I am checking heifers at 5 o’clock and not knowing how long this heifer had been trying to calve is because I have a full-time job in town and don’t have the ability to be in two places at once. The reason I have a job in town is because North Americans feel that having something affordable to eat is a right, not a luxury. Therefore the entire food chain has to operate as efficiently and with as razor-sharp margins as possible. This means that quite often there is very little profit left at the end of the day whether you are a cow-calf operator, feedlot operator, beef processor or retailer.

I don’t think people realize that when someone coins the term “pink slime” and causes an urban panic about food safety and drives down the price of beef, that they are not “…outing…some…evil corporate giant.” They are essentially having the same effect on my margins as me losing one, or two, or three calves at calving time, except I don’t get the opportunity to be responsible for this loss.

We ranch because it is who we are and where we came from and most days I really enjoy it. Having said that, I must agree with an article I read on Beef Daily that asks the question, “Why do farmers feed the world and then take a second job to feed their families?”

Maybe this story will change someone’s mind about what ranching is all about and maybe it won’t but I’m tired of having someone else decide my family’s future in agriculture.

“Don’t quit Daddy, don’t quit.”

Jody Tondell
Melfort, Sask.

(This was written in response to Brenda Schoepp’s March 29, 2013 column, You Are The Story.)

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