From Our Farm to Your Table

Calf-birth by Appointment?

Mon, 2019-04-29 07:02 -- Carole Soule
Sarah follows her baby as we take mother and daughter to the safety of the holding pen

   Three of the 15 calves we expect this year have been born. Star gave birth to a Highlander heifer named Rain on April 11 at 7 a.m, Alice on April 26 at 5pm, and Sarah on April 28 at 7pm. Like most beef farmers, we plan for springtime births by breeding cows in late July and August. Nine-month gestation means calves will arrive in April and May when the weather is warmish, and a nutritious explosion of grass is imminent. Green grass provides high-protein forage for moms, and warm weather keeps calves from freezing to death.     

    It’s an effective system. However, can we take it a step further and schedule the time of day for the birth? According to Drovers Magazine, the answer is “yes.” 

    A survey of 15 beef producers in Iowa and Missouri showed that the feeding schedule affects birth times. Feed the girls in the morning, and only half of them will give birth in the daytime. Feed them at night, and 85 percent will give birth in the daytime. This is huge!

    Farmers much prefer daytime births. Most cows give birth without assistance, but sometimes emergency aid is required. 

    For example Creamsicle, a friendly Simmental cow had her first heifer calf easily enough. However, she needed help the next four times. Each time the calf was perfectly presented – head between the front feet – but these were bull calves, which tend to be larger than females. After watching Creamsicle struggle for an hour, I stepped in to enhance her pushes with some pulls to get the babies out. 

    Sometimes the weather poses a problem. A calf born during an April snowstorm – this is New England – needs to be dried off and warmed up pronto. Another task easier accomplished during the day. 

    Farmers need our sleep at least as much as anyone else, and I can’t effectively monitor the maternity ward from the boudoir. Sometimes veterinary assistance is, and vets need their rest, too. 

    Cocoa, a Highlander cow, had been struggling for several hours with a calf that was backward in the womb. That birth, also during the day, required two people and the vet to help extract the live calf. It would have been a challenge to find a helper and a vet at 3 a.m.

    So we are trying the new method. It only works if the farmer can control feeding time. We have no grass yet, so all of our cows are still getting hay. We are feeding the cows their daily ration at 5 p.m. rather than at 8 a.m. So far, we've had 100 percent success; Star gave birth in the morning. That's only one out of 15 – not statistically significant, but I hope the trend continues.  

    Of course, no matter when a healthy baby is born it is always a joyous occasion. Stay tuned, and I'll share baby pictures as the other 12 bundles of joy join the herd.

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