I once had a professor that said there is nothing more beautiful than a newborn baby calf and I think he was right. There is just something about going out to check cows and finding a newborn calf that is so exciting. It is God’s work and our hands taking care of the cattle each day. We put so much effort into making breeding decisions and caring for the brood cows for 9.5 months in anticipation for calving season. Well, the season is finally among us and we cannot wait to see how the calves turn out this year!
Our cows started calving about two weeks ago and we just hit a halfway point today. We put the bull in with our cows in December so we can start calving in September. Most North Carolina beef cattle herds calve in the fall. It makes sense for our climate, forage availability, and market. We have an abundance of forage this time of year and the weather starts cooling off, making it an ideal time to calve. We have our cows pregnancy checked each spring to determine pregnancy status and an estimated due date. This is helpful information that we use to monitor the cows closely with. We really like to see all of the cows bred on their first heat so calves can be born within one month. It is easier on us if the calving season is short and we do not have to check cows for several months. A short calving season also allows the calf crop to be more uniformed in size and for the cows to all be on the same page. Which is important when it comes to nutrition and breeding back.
When we check the pastures each day, we are looking for cows that are off by themselves. We then look at udder fullness, if there is any vaginal discharge, and restlessness. When a cow gets ready to calve, she separates herself from the herd and will be up and down until active labor begins. If all goes well, once in active labor it doesn’t take long (1-2 hours) for a mature cow to calve but it can take longer if it is a heifer calving for the first time.
Once the calf arrives, we assign the calf a herd ID number, record the sex of the calf and birthdate, and then leave the cow to bond with her newborn. We check on the pregnant cows, and cow-calf pairs multiple times a day to ensure everything is going well. It is important that the newborn calf is up and nursing not long after it is born so it can receive colostrum. Colostrum is the rich, first milk that is full of antibodies and helps give the calf a good start in life.
So far, we have had two Hereford calves that have been born (both heifers!) and four crossbred calves (black and red baldys). We still have six more cows to go and we will be done for the season. Then, the excitement will continue as we watch the calves grow and plan for the upcoming breeding season!