As I mentioned in a previous post, Elk, Deer and Leaping Ants on the Front, I've taken a break from other pursuits and returned to cowboyin' along Montana's Rocky Mountain Front; specifically, calving cows. While it may seem a simple question, a few folks have asked, "What do you do when you calve cows?"
The simple answer (although seemingly flippant) is, "Well, ya' calve cows." The more detailed answer is, well, longer.
It ranges from the regular cowboy stuff like moving cows from A to B to more complex stuff like knowing when to call a veterinarian.
|Moving "heavies" to the calving facility. Heavies are the cows that appear to be within two or three weeks of calving.|
For the most part, the cows are going to calve whether you are there or not. It's a natural act that cows, elk, deer, etc have been doing long before man came along. But, man has meddled in that natural act and caused problems.
In nature elk and deer still have their calves and fawns in late spring and early summer. Humans want the largest calves they can sell in the fall, so they adjust their breeding dates to have calves earlier. Some years that is not a problem. This year is an exception. So far we have had several three to five day periods where the day time high temperature hasn't gotten out of the single digits and night time lows have dipped to minus thirty--not counting wind chill effects. If elk and deer (and cows) decided to have their offspring drop in this weather, unaided by man, they would eventually go the way of the Mastodon. (I am not sure what time of year Mastodons gave birth.) Anyway, in this case every cow that calves must be brought to the calving shed so the calves can dry off, get some colostrum and get their legs working. Very few calves last more than 30 minutes at minus 20.
|Angus Bull waiting for the next snow storm.|
There are other problems that can be either man-made or natural. Big calves are one of those. Big calves make bigger calves when it come time to sell, but the trade off is too big means C-sections, which are costly, and if not performed quickly can result in a dead calf. No one wants to pay for a C-section on a dead calf!
Besides just big, calves can be upside-down, backwards, a foot back, or breech. Not recognizing these early enough translates into another dead calf. In most of these cases you can reach in manually and manipulate the calf, although a backwards or breech calf can't be manipulated into a normal presentation--head and front feet first. Cows can also have twins, which can come naturally or be a tangle of legs that needs to be manually manipulated to get one calf out at a time. I don't know sometimes; maybe they both want out at once.
|"Heavies" arrive at the calving facility.|
So far it's been a tough year. About 280 of the 850 cows have calved; we've only had two C-sections, two uterine prolapses, and a couple of frozen feet. A uterine prolapse is caused when a cow continues to strain after the calf is pushed out, and she pushes her uterus out on the ground. Takes an experienced hand or a vet to put it back in and get a live cow out of the deal.
My wife says a person needs to love animals to do this. I'm not sure. Working with animals that aren't breed for intelligence and occasionally want to stomp ya' in the dirt wouldn't be my first job choice--well, maybe it would be; I get a measure of satisfaction when I see a two-day old calf running and jumping in the snow--all because I had been there to help.