Rare when trouble doesn't stalk calving season

If you know any cowboys who have been assisting pregnant cows for the last few weeks, be kind. They are real tired about now and just want to get their jobs done and have some peace.

Our cows are done calving. All our babies are on the ground and doing well. We didn't keep any heifers this year. Cowboys calving heifers get the least sleep and usually do the most work.

A lot is written about the care and assistance a cow needs when calving, commonly none. But once in a while nature gets complicated and calving chains, come-alongs and late night shifts are involved with a first time heifer. Gates have to be set, animals rounded up, chains disinfected, and a lot of running around, for the husband and wife calving team, not so much for the cow. You try to keep things calm while trying to extract the protruding hoof with its twin still somewhere inside the heifer.

Or assist a down heifer through hip-lock by trying to get her to stand and walk it out. Sometimes the calf falls out in the process. Sometimes not. Then again have to get the pull chains.

Sometimes heifers get their calves out while you just sit and watch from the warm cab of your pickup.

Then you drive around the field looking for any problems but always come back to the heifer pair to make sure the new calf is up and sucking.

If mom and baby have not made any progress in the mothering up phase they may have to be taken to the calving chute inside the barn where the mother will be milked out while trying to get the calf to stand.

Sometimes heifers kick at their babies. Then mother's leg needs to be hobbled. And there was the hormone flooded new mother who picked up her calf with her teeth and flung it across the barn. A rough start for any newborn.

Sometimes a new mother is so excited she bawls and pushes her calf around while he is just trying to find lunch. Action will be required to keep mom still.

If you have a herd of experienced settled cows your calving season can go pretty good. If there's not too much rain, deep snow or freezing winds, calves do pretty well on their own out in the field. If wind, rain and snow combine to make blizzard conditions freezing off ear and tail tips a cowboy could be busy for days on end with only snatches of sleep while sitting in a chair or pulling off their mud boots for a quick nap on the couch before going back out to check on newborns or the being-borns.

This season with only a small herd of experienced cows, and the weather holding had 100 percent live calf crop; a first in the 20 some years of doing this. Now we have to keep an eye out for scours, pneumonia and what ever else the calves feel like getting to get sick. But for now we've got some real nice heifers' calves out there on the ground. It might be worth trading sleep for in a few years.


n Marie Johnson is a Fredericksburg, Calif., resident and is married to Kent Neddenriep. Her column, "Fencelines," appears once a month.

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