Farmers and ranchers are not known for their 8 to 5 schedules. But they do, for the most part, head to work as the sun goes up and return home when the sun comes down. Except, yes there is always an exception, during calving season.
Now calving season is not the same for any two farms. Some cattle owners chose to calve in the fall while others, like my husband, prefer to have the new calves born in the spring, or late winter months.
We are about two weeks into calving season and the work hours on our farm have become long and unpredictable.
The normal workday begins just after sunrise. The cows, steers, bulls and horses receive their morning meal. Water must also be delivered and straw for the new mothers is replaced.
Once those tasks are completed, the farm staff takes an hour for their lunch and then it’s back to the farm for the second feeding of the day. Those tasks consume most of the daylight hours during the winter months but dark doesn’t mean the farm activity comes to a halt.
We have more than 300 new or soon-to-be mother cows on our farm. Like any mother, the timing of a new child, puppy, kitten or calf can’t be predicted. Some cows and heifers will calve during the daylight hours but many prefer to wait until the dark of night to go into labor.
Because heifers have never delivered a calf before, they require special attention – and sometimes a little help. That means my husband and his father must keep a constant eye on our 210 heifers that will calve during the remainder of January and into the first few weeks of February.
My father-in-law will check the soon-to-be mammas every three hours until about 10 p.m. each night. That’s when my husband takes over and must make regular trips to our cattle facilities to keep an eye on the ladies. Some nights there is relatively little activity and the checks take only few minutes. Other nights my husband spends his entire night helping and watching heifers in labor. My husband is the watchman for the cattle until my father-in-law returns in the early morning hours. The schedule allows someone to always be available to help any heifers or cows that are having trouble but it also means a major loss of sleep for my husband.
It’s a lot like having a newborn in the house, my husband’s ability to sleep is completely dependent on another being’s needs. The schedule is not ideal and definitely wears on my husband and his father but it’s part of the job and is the only way to ensure our cattle – both mothers and calves – are safe, secure and healthy.
The end of the heifer calving doesn’t end the late-night hours. Once the heifers have calves, it’s time for the cows to deliver their young ones. Fortunately, they have delivered a calf before and usually require a little less attention and help. By the end of March, we hope to have all of the new calves on the ground.
The calving schedule makes for a long winter, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!