With Thanksgiving coming up tomorrow, I cannot help but feel very thankful. We have had a busy fall on the farm with new calves, good grass, rain, and a new hay shed (we lost ours to a bad storm this summer). As I reflect on the past couple of months, I thought I would share some highlights from a very exciting calving season.
For 2019, we were expecting ten calves to be born starting at the beginning of September. During the second week of September I was away on a work trip to Indiana for the National Association County Agricultural Agents Annual Meeting. In true fashion, the cows started calving as soon as I left NC. First calf born of the season was a Black Angus bull calf out of one of our newly purchased registered Black Angus cows. Next, came the surprise! I remember being in the hotel lobby waiting to be shuttled to the airport to come back to NC when a photo came through my phone from my dad of TWINS! Twin Hereford calves had been born and while it is exciting, it also brings up fear, doubt, and what ifs.
You see when twins are born to a beef cow, you do not know if the cow will take and nurse both calves, if she will provide enough milk, and the list goes on. Twins are not very common, especially on small beef cattle farms like ours. This is only the second set we have seen in ten years. It is estimated that 0.5% or 1 in every 200 births will result in twins (Lester Gilmore Study).
Luckily, everything went well at first and the cow accepted both calves and was doing her best with them. Then came the phone call from my dad that the calves seem to be weak. More times than not you have to intervene with twins. Most of the time one twin is taken and either bottle fed or grafted (placed) on another cow. This can be because the cow did not take both calves or another reason.
We decided it would be best to load up the calves and the cow and place them in their own pen. This way, we could monitor nursing, bonding, and provide extra feed for the cow. In the beginning the calves were weak and small and we were concerned that they weren’t nursing enough and having trouble keeping up with their dam. After about a week in the pen together they were like night and day different! The calves had so much energy and were really thriving so we decided it was time to return them back out onto pasture. We really think that putting them in close quarters helped the calves get to the cow easier for more frequent nursing.
While our story had a happy ending, a lot of twin stories do not. The first set of twins born on our farm resulted in one dead while the other was fine. It is always a gamble and as a producer we would rather our cows have one calf at a time.
With that being said, the Hereford twins have been so much fun to have around and we have all truly enjoyed them despite the rocky start. The best part was that my little girl, Payton was able to visit and pet the calves when we had them penned up. She is learning right alongside me what farm life is all about.
Moving twins on foot with their mom is no easy task. We decided to halter the calves to keep them together and walk them with their mom back to the pasture since it wasn’t far away. If the pasture was far away we would of trailered them in separate compartments (so the cow wouldn’t accidentally step on the calves).
We ended up with another fun surprise too! One of our commercial (but fairly close to being purebred Black Angus) cows had a red calf instead of a black one. We use a Hereford bull on our Black Angus cows to produce black baldy calves (black with a white face). This cow traditionally has had black baldy calves with this cross so it was a pretty big surprise to see her with a red calf! Genetics can be a fun thing and sometimes unpredictable unless the animal is purebred with a pedigree.
With the calving season over, we are very thankful for eleven healthy calves and the start of breeding season next month!
Happy Thanksgiving Friends!