The Winter That Won’t End

Keeping our cows and calves safe and healthy in the cold and snow

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It’s snowing AGAIN here at Sawyer Land & Cattle in Central Kansas. It’s been years since we’ve dealt with this much snow in one winter, but Mother Nature has decided that we need to live like Canadians (no insult to those north of the border).

The cold wouldn’t be so alarming but winter is also the time we welcome new baby calves to the farm. Between the first of January and end of March, our mother cows will deliver a couple hundred baby calves, and it’s our job to make sure they are safe, healthy and, most importantly, warm and dry. Cows have, for centuries, endured the cold and snow so they are built to endure this weather, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help make winter a little more bearable.

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A cow’s instincts work well in this weather. As soon as a mother delivers a new calf she begins licking the calf dry and encouraging it to get up and suck. If all of that happens within the first few hours of birth, the calf’s chances of survival are good. If the calf fails to get up or the mother never gets the calf dry and fed then the cold can quickly take over. It’s our job to ensure our mother cows are doing their job – and thankfully we have a herd of great moms.

This year we created a fully enclosed space in our barn for our first-time mothers to deliver. This is an extra step to further protect our novice moms and keep them out of the elements while they figure out this new thing called motherhood.

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Two new momma cows and a baby calf enjoy the comforts of our enclosed calving barn.

For cows in our pastures, we provide windbreaks (in the form of trees or buildings) and dry straw to help protect the cows from the wind, moisture and cold ground.

The final piece of keeping our ladies and babies safe and healthy during winter weather is proper nutrition. Cows – like people- produce their own body heat to keep warm – fun fact, a cow with snow on her back is warmer than a cow with melted snow – but that takes a lot of energy and calories. We feed our cows a grain-based, energy-rich diet that provides them the calories to grow a baby calf and keep themselves warm. That means we’re on meal duty 7-days a week, rain or shine!

The farmer hubs and his father make the rounds and check on every cow on the farm at least once a day. Those momma cows we know are due to deliver anytime are checked on multiple times a day. We aim to interfere in the natural birthing process as little as possible but are always ready and willing to step in when needed. Winter is busy on our farm, but a few inches of snow or ice means extra work and attention for our cows is necessary – but most definitely worth it.

A Mothers Guide to Calving

Pairs at home
Every year a group of mother cows and their new calves reside in the pasture right outside our front door. It’s pretty neat to wake up and see the mothers eating and babies running and playing with one another.

We are about a month into our 2018 calving season and I am loving all the new faces on the farm. Our first baby calves starting arriving in early January and will continue through March. Everyone understands the basics of pregnancy and birth, but here are a few details on the who calving process I know my fellow mother friends will appreciate.

  1. Cows have the same gestational period as humans. Cows and people carry their unborn for 40 weeks or 9 months. Calves can be born early and easily survive, but if they come too early they will often suffer from undeveloped systems and fragile health. But with a little extra care and a watchful eye, these preemies usually end up just fine. A full-term calf will weigh somewhere around 70 pounds at birth, and that number jumps to about 85 pounds for a calf from a mother who has previously given birth. (Why the increase? Cows usually have their first calf at age two and will continue to grow so that they have a larger frame and more room to carry a larger calf once they hit 3 years of age.)
  2. Calves receive all nutrients from their mother. Be it in the womb or during the first months of their lives, calves subsist exclusively on the nutrients delivered through their mother’s milk. That means we, as the farmers, must provide the mother with a nutrient-dense, well-rounded diet. Because these mothers’ third trimester occurs in the late fall and winter months, when grass is more scarce, we provide supplemental hay, distillers (made from corn during the ethanol production process) and grain pellets to ensure they are receiving enough protein and carbs. We will continue them on this diet through the spring since they will need the extra calories for nursing. Just like humans, a mother cow’s milk is the only food a baby calf needs for the first six months of their life. They can and often do try to eat grass or hay during that time but their digestive systems simply are not mature enough to process those items. By the fall they will have transitioned to a diet of grass supplemented by mother’s milk. P.S. Calves are born with teeth – ouch!
  3. Birthing is a natural process, but a little help is sometimes needed. For centuries humans gave birth with little to no medical assistance. Babies were born at home with a doctor no where to be found. The same is true for cows. However, just like in humans, things don’t always go as planned. Our first time mother cows are called heifers and those ladies require the most oversight. My husband and his father will take turns checking on our heifers every four hours or so around the clock to ensure everyone is doing well. But it’s not uncommon to have to pull a calf from a mother who is struggling or is just worn out, and on the rare occasion a veterinarian will be called out to perform a c-section. A mother cow will then need to begin licking her calf clean and encouraging the calf to stand and drink. This should all happen in the first few hours after birth. If it doesn’t we will intervene.
  4. Daycare is a thing. If you drive by a pasture or field with mother cows and baby calves, you’ll often find one mother with a group of calves. No she didn’t have quadruplets, she’s just the designated babysitter for that day. Mother cows work together to watch over baby calves because the calves will initially spend most of their time sleeping or lounging in the sun. However, just like humans, a baby calf and mother will recognize one another by scent and sound. A baby knows when it’s his or her mother calling for lunch.
  5. Mothers Rock. Most of us humans would earn passing grades on mothering but I’m gonna guess that our mother cows would exceed us in parenting abilities. Remember, mother cows do not have hubbies to lean on when caring for these babies, they are on their own. But they do an amazing job of feeding cleaning and watching over their calves. They will tuck the babies away under shelter or in a hedge row when the weather gets crummy and will stand guard when prey like coyotes or wolves attempt to attack the younger members of the herd. As I noted before, the mother cows work together – that’s where we get the phrase herd mentality – to protect one another and their young. That strong maternal instinct makes our jobs so much easier and allows us to keep watch but not have to be present every moment of the day. In fact, a vast majority of our mother cows will give birth and raise their calf with little to no intervention from us. And that’s the way we prefer it. When selecting bulls and cows for our cow herd, we look for maternal instincts – yes some breeds of cattle are considered more maternal than others – strong udders and well built mother cows.

There is so much more cool stuff I could share about our mother cows but I’ll leave it at this for now. Have a question, shoot me an email or leave your questions in the comments section. I’ll be sure to follow up and address it ASAP.

Calving season is here!

The tractors are safety stored away in the barn and the cows are munching away on veggies and corn stocks but that hasn’t allowed farmer hubs any downtime. The new year marks the official start of calving season for Sawyer Land & Cattle. Like most years, we’ve had a few momma cows jump the gun and deliver before the new year – but the majority will give birth to new calves between now and early March.

Like all expectant parents, the hubs is extra busy setting up the nursery. We have feeding pens that are partially covered, allowing cows the opportunity to escape from the elements. During the winter months, we use these covered areas to create birthing pens for mother cows and their new calves.

This year, the crew has been busy cleaning out the pens, laying fresh straw – harvested from our wheat fields – and ensuring the fence, lights and gates are all in working order.

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This covered area will be broken up into smaller pens that will allow a mother and baby some bonding time and shelter from the elements. 

If we see a cow is in labor, we’ll pull her into a pen so that she delivers in warm, dry conditions. We can also check to be sure the baby is up and nursing after delivery. It’s also important we get each new calf an ear tag bearing the same number and its mother as quickly as possible so that we can be sure mother and baby are sticking together. (This usually happens naturally but is not a guarantee.)

The hubs and his father will take turns checking on the mother cows and calves. Derek often takes the night shift (he’s a night owl by nature) and my father-in-law will take over about 4 p.m. (he’s naturally an early bird). Some nights there’s nothing happening. Other days, we’ll see up to a dozen different babies born – and some very tired farmers.

During this time, the mother cow’s diet is of the up most importance. We create a mix of grains that ensure mothers have the energy and nutrients they need to feed themselves and a growing calf.

Calving season is one of the busiest times on our farm but there is nothing like seeing new babies running, playing and growing. We’ll retain ownership of nearly all of the calves, moving them to fresh, green grass with their mothers in April and returning them to the farm in the fall. By then they will be 500-600 lbs. and full blown teenage cows, ready to leave their mothers. But before we get there, we have to help deliver a couple hundred healthy calves.

Happy 2017! Bring on the babies.

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A mom and baby trek through the snow. With the proper diet and nutrition, cows and calves can stay warm in even the coldest conditions. 

 

Generations of Good Genes

June Calf Max for Beef Empire Show
Max is one of my son’s steers. He’s a good looking young man and will represent our farm in the Beef Empire Day steer contest.

When Derek and I were newly married, I accompanied him to the sale barn. He was selling some cow-calf pairs and then a lone calf that has lost its mother. I hated to see the calf sold so I made a deal with Derek that if it didn’t bring more than $200, I was going to buy it from him.

Two hours later, we were headed home with a calf in tow 🙂 Fast forward a few years and this bottle calf is now a mother cow named Jo. She’s a great cow and has produced three calves: two heifers and a steer.

Jo happened to have her first heifer calf the year our oldest son, Evan, was born. We decided this lady would become Evan’s first cow – in what we hoped would become a growing cow herd. The cow, which I named June grew to become another great cow and gave birth to a steer last spring that my son named Max. Max is a good looking young man who is now a full grown steer.

This spring, after my husband and I welcomed our second son, Owen, Jo had another heifer calf. We named her Daisy. Meanwhile Evan welcomed a second heifer to his herd, we settled on the name Sally – after Lightening McQueen’s girlfriend in the movie Cars.

Not only are we teaching our sons about animal car and the responsibility of ownership, we are building them a cow herd that will pay dividends for years to come. Ask Evan about his cows and he’s happy to tell you all about them. Owen’s a little young to understand but we hope that he too will grow to love our cows and way of life.

This year, Derek decided to enter Max in the Beef Empire Days steer show. It’s pretty cool to see one calf make such an impact on our farm and family. Jo will be in our herd for many more years and will, fingers crossed, continue to mother great calves. And with any luck June and Daisy will follow in Jo’s footsteps and help our sons continue to grow their herds.

Farming and ranching is a family business and we doing what we can to make sure our way of life continues onto the 5th generation.

 

Cow Facts – For The Fun of It

I ask a lot of questions – always have. It’s what lead me to pursue a career in journalism since the most important trait of a good journalist is the ability to ask questions. When I started dating my husband, the questions only seemed to increase – there was so much to learn, so much to figure out and so many questions that rattled in my brain. The poor guy, he never saw it coming.

We’re four years into marriage and while I’ve learned a thing or two about farming and cattle, the questions still remain. So, since the basis of my blog is passing along my new-found knowledge of the farming world to you, the reader, here are a few fun facts about our cows that I’ve learned along the way.

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– A cow will sleep between 4 and 5 hours a day.

– A lactating mother cow will consume about 70 pounds of feed per day. We feed our animals twice a day.

– The average cows will drink 1 gallons of water for every 100 pounds of body weight during cooler and cold weather. That means the average mother cow will drink 12 to 13 gallons of water per day during the winter months. During the hot, summer months that amount can double.

– Like humans, a calf’s milk consumption will increase as it grows but a 2 month old calf will drink about 2 gallons of milk per day.

– As I eluded to earlier in my post, mothers can often be heard bawling for calf. It’s a low repetitive almost horn-like noise that can be likened to a mom calling for her child to come inside for supper. The calf will likewise bawl for its mother. A mother and calf can also find one another by smell. (We use ear tags to help us pair mother and baby together, when necessary.)

– A heifer is a female cow that has not delivered a calf. Once a heifer has calved she is referred to as a first-calf heifer until she delivers her second calf the following year. (Because heifers have not been through the birthing process, we monitor them closely and make sure they help clean and feed their calves within hours of the calf being born.)

And add for your reading pleasure, a few additional fun cow facts . . .

– A cow will always get up rear legs first.

– A calf will gain just over 2 pounds per day. Between February and October a calf will gain more than 500 pounds.

– Baby calves are born with teeth. They will lose those teeth after a few months and new teeth will replace them. This will happen twice between birth and age 5, when their permanent, adult teeth grow in. But, unlike humans, the next tooth is already under the gum and will almost immediately replace the lost tooth.

Have more cow questions – send them my way. If I don’t know the answer you know I’m happy to ask, it’s kind of what I do!

Cows In The Yard

Derek moved about a dozen mother-calf pairs to the pasture at our house. It's pretty neat having baby calves right outside my bedroom window.
Derek moved about a dozen mother-calf pairs to the pasture at our house. It’s pretty neat having baby calves right outside my bedroom window.

Calving season is in full swing! We welcome a handful of new calves each day and with a 7-day forecast of warm temps and clear skies, I’m predicting plenty of action in the calving barn.

There is a lot that goes into welcoming a new calf to the world and ensuring it remains healthy. We watch for cows that are showing signs of labor or pre-labor and remove them from the herd into a calving pens. We assist if needed but most mothers give birth with no help from us. We keep mother and calf together for 24 hours to ensure they like each other, claim each other and that the calf is eating. Mothers can tell their calves by their scent and baby calves know the voice of their mother and come running when she calls.

When it seems both mother and baby are happy and healthy, we move them to pasture to give them room to play and grow. In just a few weeks, the pasture surrounding our house will be home to several dozen mother cows and baby calves. That means we get to spend the next three months watching the calves run, jump and figure out the world around them.

Stay tuned for more adventures from our new crop of baby calves.

Top 10 for 2014

Yes, I know. This time of year is supposed to be spent in reflection and looking back at the year that was. That’s all well and good but I have never been a terribly nostalgic person, preferring instead to look ahead at the future and all it’s possibilities.

So with Christmas wrapped and 2014 right around the corner, here are my top 10 hopes, wishes and dreams for 2014 . . .

(1) Growth and prosperity for family and friends. I would not be the person I am or have the fantastic life I do without my wonderful family and fantastic friends. I have a mother and father that would – and often do – anything for me. I have a sister I am blazing the new parenthood trail with and a husband that works tirelessly everyday to provide a home and life for my son and I. My in-laws make our dreams of farming and ranching a reality and my father-in-law is three employees in one. My friends provide continuous support and companionship for the occasional adult-only night out and a listening ear when the road gets a little rocky. I know my circle of family and friends will continue to grow in 2014 and I look forward to new welcoming faces, young and old.

(2) New milestones for our son. Derek and I welcomed our son, Evan John, on April 12 and I don’t believe we have sat still since. As everyone warned us, our baby has turned our world upside down. It’s now all about him, on his schedule and catered to his needs. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being a parent is rewarding and I’m looking forward to seeing Evan continue to grow and hit new milestones. He’s a happy and charismatic little guy that so desperately wants to be on the go and into everything. I know life will only get more hectic once he begins to walk but I also know with walking comes talking, hugging and words. I know my husband looks forward to the day Evan can accompany him in the feed truck and on the combine – without mom, of course. We work to provide him a farm and animals he can love and I’m excited to see him take it all in.

(3) Continued leadership from my husband. Derek has always been a natural leader and has found a family and place in Farm Bureau. He’s served at the local, state and national level and continues to be asked to lead and help move his industry forward. He will continue serving on the Kansas Farm Bureau resolution’s committee and lead the county Farm Bureau board as president. And starting in 2014, Derek will become a member of the very first Kansas Dept. of Agriculture Marketing Advisory Board. He applied and was selected from a pool of applicants to represent the state’s agriculture industry in helping guide the Dept. of Agriculture’s marketing efforts both domestically and internationally. It’s never easy having Derek gone for meetings and conferences but I always enjoy seeing him utilize his leadership talents and know he will continue to be a great spokesperson for his industry.

(4) Female leadership. Speaking of our state agriculture department, I am excited to see a woman at the helm of a still male-dominated industry. In late 2013, Jackie McClaskey was named the new Secretary of Agriculture. McClaskey was at Kansas State University when my husband attended so I have been fortunate to know Jackie for a few years now. She is a great lady, a great leader and will do great things with the department. I always enjoy seeing women break gender boundaries and I know she will do female producers and advocates alike proud.

(5) A farm bill. On the federal level, I am hoping lawmakers can get in the spirit of the season and come to a compromise on the new farm bill. I shouldn’t say new, this bill has been in production for two years now. The agriculture industry needs a farm bill. Producers, like my husband, must make planting and marketing decisions and need a farm bill to know what the future holds. It will take compromise and cooperation but I’m confident 2014 is the year of productivity on Capital Hill.

(6) A new crop of calves. Owning cattle means we never truly have downtime on the farm. Once the crops are out of the field, the cows return home and the daily feeding and water routine begins. There are times that those tasks keep my husband at work far longer than I would like. And I guarantee there will be at least one social function we will be late to because a group of cows manage to escape from the pasture. But all of that time and hard work is rewarded with a herd of new calves. We will start calving in about two weeks. From there it’s a continuous parade of baby calves. Some will come on their own with little commotion and no help from us. Others will require hours of monitoring and assistance from my husband or the local veterinarian. Regardless how they come, once they are on the ground they are fun to watch grow, play and find their way through fields and pastures.

(7) Weekend racing. Now comes the selfish part of my list. As I mentioned before, having a baby changes everything, including your long-held routines and habits. I have been a nearly daily runner since middle school. That’s more than a decade of waking, running and tackling the day. With a baby in the house, that routine doesn’t always happen as hoped or planned. While still pregnant I purchased a treadmill for my basement. I use it and occasionally sneak out of the house while the hubby and baby are asleep to run outside with the dogs and take in some fresh air. But my runs aren’t as frequent or intense as they were pre-pregnancy. It’s been a nice change but I am ready for the 8-milers and Saturday morning races. I am back in running shape but am looking forward to getting into racing shape. I love my weekend races and am anxious to get back on the starting line.

(8) More blogging. On the sideline with my running is my blogging. It has gone weeks without updates or new posts. I always enjoy sharing my pictures and stores and hope to be more regular with my blog posts and updates. Add to that keeping our new farm website (www.sawyerlandandcattle.com) updated and I have a part-time job to add to my full-time position. Thankfully I have two great subjects – my hubby and my son – and lots of great landscape and animals to capture.

(9) A little R&R. And now comes the whiney part of my list. I grew up taking regular vacations. Have I mentioned I have great parents? I knew marrying into the farming world, vacations would be more infrequent and occur in the precisely two week period between when all of the animals have returned home and the first cow calves. But last winter came and went without a trip out of our great state. Two Farm Bureau conferences – which for the past two years had provided some form of travel and sight-seeing – took place without us and the summer flew by without a trip. So I have informed my husband that we need a vacation in 2014. Something that will take out of our everyday, away from the hustle and bustle of life and provide us a day or two of little to nothing at all. It sounds fantastic and I’m already starting to plan.

(10) The unknown. And finally, the planner, type A, control freak in me is looking forward to the unknown. Yes the new adventures, hidden obstacles and undiscovered pleasures that await us in 2014. Be it new friends, new opportunities or just a new normal, I’m excited to see, experience and live it all. I have always been a planner and it kills me to not know what the next day holds but I’m trying to relax, go with the flow and just enjoy the ride. I know we will survive whatever we encounter, likely make some new friends along the way and live to see another day.

I wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2014 and best of luck in the new year!

 

 

Preparation Makes Perfect

 

A baby calf relaxes in the grass as a mother and her calf enjoy the sunny spring afternoon.
A baby calf relaxes in the grass as a mother and her calf enjoy the sunny spring afternoon.

The Sawyer Farm has considerably fewer mouths to feed this Memorial Day weekend as a majority of our cattle have been moved to pasture ground in the state’s gorgeous Flint Hills region.

The cattle will spend about five months grazing green grass before returning to our farm in the fall. During their time at pasture, mother cows will continue to nurse their calves and become pregnant with a new calf, steers – or male cows– will add weight to their frames and young calves will grow with the goal of being weaned from their mothers in the fall.

One of the most important aspects of the summer grazing period is the preparation process. We take considerable care to ready our cattle for the heat, diseases and pests that roam the grasslands. We provide ear tags and insect spray that keeps flies at bay. We also immunize for diseases commonly found in grassy areas. The calves are given their first round of routine shots and all animals are branded so they can be easily identified.

Preparing and moving the cattle makes for a long and tiring week but nothing is more rewarding than seeing mother cows and calves enjoying themselves on pastures of green grass and rolling hills. We visit our cows regularly to make sure all is well, the water source is still viable and all of the animals are thriving.

We will miss the animals this summer but they will be back again in the fall to start the calving process and grow our herd once again.

Read more about cattle care and production on the Kansas Beef Council’s Beef Chat Blog at http://www.kansasbeefchat.com/

 

Looking Ahead to April

Our heifers always like to check out the new comers to the pasture. It's their territory and we were trespassing!
Our heifers always like to check out the new comers to the pasture. It’s their territory and we were trespassing!

As snow fell again last weekend, the Sawyer Land & Cattle family looked longingly to the end of March and the start of April, with hopes of spring temperatures, dry ground and plenty to get done in the next four weeks.

April is, by far, the busiest month of the year on our farm. In addition to planting corn for harvest this fall, my husband, his father and our two full-time employees will spend hours upon hours at our cattle facilities, preparing calves, mothers and the bulls for six months on green pasture.

Just like families who prepare to head to a new climate or different part of the world, our animals are prepared for the changing landscape and climate before they leave the farm. They are given ear tags to fend off flies, and vaccinated for common diseases. The bull calves are castrated to become steers and all animals are checked for overall health and well-being.

Our calves, which range from three months to three days old, will be transported to grass pastures in the Kansas Flint Hills alongside their mothers in starting April 15. The mother-baby pairs will graze through the spring and summer months. The calves will return to our farm weighing close to 500 pounds and the mothers will, hopefully, return pregnant with their next calf.

My husband and his father are responsible for a large portion of the trucking duties, spending days on the road moving cattle from our farm to pastures we have leased for the spring and summer months.

While the cattle may be out of sight for the summer, they are never out of mind, as we travel frequently to check on them and ensure they are getting the minerals and nutrients needed to thrive.

In the midst of all the cattle duties, we also must be present in the field, preparing the soil for fall crops and planting corn on hundreds of acres. And this year, April will be extra, extra hectic as we prepare for the arrival of our first child. The official due date is May 1 but we have a nursery to arrange, a crib to assemble and doctor appointments to attend before “Bull” arrives.

April is guaranteed to be a hectic but enjoyable month with several busy days and a lengthy to-do list but it’s part of life on our family farm.