Born On a Ranch:
The First Day
Editor's Note: This column is to educate our readers on the life of a calf on a fictional ranch very much like the Bar T Bar and Flying M. We are working with both ranches and the AZ Beef Council to make sure this story is both fun, and educational!
Sunday, Feb 25
This morning was chilly, as most February mornings are on the range.
It hasn’t been the best winter we’ve seen, but with the new year came our first snow, and at least we aren’t in a total drought.
The cows are doing well, even those that didn’t get pregnant during the too-dry summer on the mountain. Unfortunately, they’ll probably be auctioned off, but that’s how it is on a modern ranch. We follow the Lasater Philosophy: selection, selection, selection. If a cow doesn’t take, she’s out of the herd. She might go on to live on another ranch, or become part of the marketplace, providing meat and dozens of other products for everyday use.
But we’ve still got a good number of healthy, fertile, and pregnant cows in our herd, so the future looks bright.
It snowed yesterday, adding about 40/100s of an inch to the eight inches we’ve accumulated thus far. Again, not the greatest, but good enough.
Cows like to birth (or ‘calve’) with the low pressure, so with the storm we expected a few new calves on the ground this morning. It helped that we fed the mamas last night, too. Feeding late in the day helps warm up the rumen, and that encourages the birth.
One of our cowboys, Jim, lives out at the calving cell, in a rustic cabin. It’s not high society living, but it’s not a hovel, either. It’s just fine for a single man living there for a couple months, with the important task of caring for the cows during calving season.
At 5AM he sent us a text that one of our favorite cows, Zelda (aka #52), was about to give birth.
After about 45 minutes, he sent us a picture.
It really only takes 15 to 20 minutes from the time the water breaks to the calf on the ground, but Jim knows what to look for in a cow who’s ready to drop: she gets agitated, tries to go off on her own. A good way to tell if she’s ready to give birth is when her tail is kinked up to the side.
From there it’s a waiting game.
When she’s ready to go into labor, she’ll lie down on the ground.
If Jim had seen the water break and then nothing really happening in the next 10 minutes, he’d have gone out to help Zelda, strapping her in to a tight chute, feeling inside of her to determine the calf’s orientation, and trying to get the calf’s hooves out around its snout.
But fortunately, for us, Zelda, and the calf, it was a smooth birth - far more common than what most people think. Zelda is 4 years old, which means that this is her third ‘rodeo,’ and that usually means smooth sailing.
Little 52 was born, and Zelda turned around to ‘talk’ to her baby, and lick him clean.
Zelda’s attention to the little bull calf helps him wake up, breathe, and get moving – instincts are much stronger in cows (and pretty much all animals) than in humans.
The bull calf, once on its wobbly legs, hobbled over to his mother’s udder to nurse. If a calf –any baby mammal – doesn’t get colostrum, or the first milk, in the first couple of hours, their immune system can be really compromised.
Fortunately for us, Zelda's a pro and her calves inherit that trait right quick.
After the calf gets his fill, Zelda licks him down some more.
Jim has been watching from the fence this whole time, making sure Zelda and the calf are doing well. Now that they’re both moving and nothing’s awry, the cowboy gently moves them to a larger part of the corral and turns his attention to some of the other mothers who haven’t calved yet.
We’ll check back in with Zelda and her baby bull next month!