Making Babies (Calves, of course)

For our first date, Derek and I met at a sandwich shop in downtown McPherson. I had walked over from work and Derek had just pulled into town after being on the road all morning. When I asked him what he had been doing he responded that he had been delivering bulls to the cows at his summer pasture. I asked him why . . . and after a chuckle (and a stark realization he was dating a city girl) he began his version of the birds and the bees talk and I slowly began understanding what it takes to make a calf. I’m still learning and my husband is still hauling bulls to pasture.

My husband has been raising cattle all of his life. To raise livestock is to understand what makes a healthy and productive mother. The role of a cow is to produce and care for a new baby calve each year. These are what cows are bred and raised for – it’s their mission and their natural instinct. Steers (the bros of the farm) on the other hand, they live to eat. Period.

We want our mother cows to have their calves during the first three months of each year to ensure that we are feeding our pregnant and nursing mother cows a diet high in energy and protein. And also to keep our expectant cows in certain pastures or sheds that allow us to watch them day and night. (Read more about calving here: A Mothers Guide to Calving)

As I detailed in a previous post: Sale Day: Buying Bulls and Investing In Our Future, genetics and the dads (aka the bulls) are important on our farm. We want bulls and cows that can withstand the Kansas climate, produce healthy calves and have the disposition that make them good mothers and approachable animals.

Cow breeding schedule
A genetics catalog, top, and a farm calendar, bottom, have occupied a spot at my dining room table for weeks now. The farmer hubs keeps his heifers on a schedule has the fertilization process planned well in advance.

But the cows are just as important. We need strong, healthy, dependable mothers. We also need animals that can get pregnant, stay pregnant and deliver a calve with ease. We all know that fertility can be tricky and it’s no different in cows. So the farmer hubs and his father work hard to make sure as many cows as possible ends up pregnant by the end of the spring.

For our first-time mothers, we don’t leave procreation up to the birds and the bees. The farmer hubs steps in to ensure things go smoothly and on schedule. The whole process starts with syncing our heifers’ cycles so that they all come into heat at the same time. These are cows that have never had a calf so getting them all pregnant at the same time will ensure they have calves about the same time. We artificially inseminate our heifers so that hopefully they are pregnant by the time they leave our farm for the Flint Hills in May. For those that don’t get pregnant in April, a bull is turned out with the herd to catch those that come into heat again.

When it comes to the cows, we leave the hard work to the bulls. Like all mammals, bulls can detect the signs of ovulation in a cow and gets to work. It’s literally his only responsibility each year so we count on him to get it right the first time. Before sending these ladies off to grass we make sure the are healthy and protected from any diseases that could be contracted while out to pasture. These ladies all had calves the previous year so they should be in heat about the same time. We don’t leave the bulls in pasture all summer – again to keep pregnancies on the same general timeline.

All of this takes planning and preparation so on top of corn planting and field prep, April is full of heifer breeding and cow hauling. Yeah, it’s a lot. But good preparation and top-notch genetics makes for happy, healthy, pregnant cows each fall. And in case you’re wondering, cows has the same gestational period as humans: 9 months.

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