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.

The Tale of Two Disasters

Wildfire 2
A hole remains where a bridge once stood – destroyed by a wildfire that burned nearly all of the grass acres on this ranch in Clark County, Kan. 

Twelve hours after witnessing, first-hand, the devastation wrought by fire and wind, I turned on the television to reports of sleet, snow and blizzard conditions.

These were two separate natural disasters, one predicted, reported and planned for, the other unforeseen, nearly unimaginable and deadly.

Last week, more than 10 counties in Kansas fell victim to wildfires with Oklahoma and Texas also fighting blazes. The exact causes of the fires are still under investigation but dry conditions, heavy winds and low humidity created an atmosphere ripe for a blaze. Ranchers across southern and western Kansas were caught unaware and largely unprepared. The fire leveled homes, metal buildings, vehicles and animals. Hundreds of thousands of acres of pasture were blackened and thousands of animals were killed or so injured that owners were forced to put them down. The scars of the fire are still visible and daunting and the recovery will take months, if not years.

A week after the fires, the Northeast is experiencing a late winter storm that is dumping cold, wind and snow. Public transportation has slowed, offices and the government are abbreviating operating hours and people are being asked to stay home and stay warm. Meteorologists saw the storm coming and municipalities were able to treat roads, close schools and reschedule events. Some estimates predict 18 million people will be impacted but no fatalities have been reported.

The fires in the Midwest and the blizzard in the east are two separate but not equal disasters. Television reports would lead you to believe the blizzard will handicap and devastate the I-95 corridor when in fact, life will likely return to normal in a matter of days. But the farmers and ranchers still sorting through injured animals, broken fences and piles of ashes that were once homes, have received little to no national attention. No major television networks giving hour-by-hour updates or ticker tape read outs of the economic impact of the fires. Instead volunteers from far and wide, many livestock owners or farmers themselves, have trekked to Clark County and other impacted areas to donate their time, energy and resources to help the rebuilding efforts. There are few federal dollars helping the recovery and municipalities in the region are too small to provide any substantial level of support or service.

Federal dollars will be slow to arrive to the fire victims – as most are funneled through FEMA, which cannot help these types of situations – and what few disaster programs exist will only cover a fraction of the lost income and future revenue sources. The fires will completely change some ranches and force those who have lived off the land for their entire lives to find other sources of employment.

Wildfires
Burnt remains of a metal building lay in a pile to be removed. The wildfire that destroyed pastures and killed livestock also decimated homes, offices and sheds. 

Meanwhile, those living in the Northeast will return to work Wednesday, having had a day to rest, recoup and let the storm pass them by. Federal and state dollars will power snowplows, tree trimmers and salt trucks to lessen the burden on residents.

We often hear about the invisibility of the “fly over states” but the timeliness of these two disasters only proves to illustrate the resilience and determination of Rural America. No warnings to help them prepare and evacuate, no public dollars to clear away the debris and no minute-by-minute updates to inform the nation of the devastation. Just hardworking families and farmers working tirelessly to rebuild their homes, their businesses and their way of life.

If you want to help the victims of the recent fires, please use the link to below to donate online:

http://www.kla.org/donationform.aspx

 

Any and all help will be appreciated.

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.

 

Beef is Always in Style

Sliders (small burgers) are seen backstage before the Herve Leger by Max Azria Fall/Winter 2011 collection show during New York Fashion Week February 15, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Sliders (small burgers) are seen backstage before the Herve Leger by Max Azria Fall/Winter 2011 collection show during New York Fashion Week February 15, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Recent reporting from Reuters (find the complete article HERE) finds that Americans’ passion for burgers and beef isn’t dwinding – good news for us cattle ranchers – but is shifting from the frozen patties of a Big Mac to the fresh, greasy, finger-lickin beef of a Five Guys cheeseburger (I can almost taste the goodness!) Many, especially millennials, believe that they are eating a healthy version of beef but truth be told, beef is beef is beef, no matter how you slice it.

Let me take a moment to explain how this all works:

  • We raise cattle on our farm – starting from birth. When the steers (male cattle) or cows (female cattle) reach about 900 pounds, they are moved from pasture to the feedlot where they stay for about 100 days and dine on a diet of high-end grains.
  • Representatives from beef packers (Cargill, Tyson, etc) visit the feedlot, personally inspect the cattle and purchase the animals. My husband prides himself on growing really good looking cattle.
  • From there the cattle are processed and given a grade (Premium, Choice, Select) and that determines both the quality grade of the beef (think Applebee’s recent marketing of Choice steaks), and the price cattle owners like us are paid for our animals. The grade only speaks for the marbling and thickness of the steaks. No matter the grade, all steaks and beef processed is antibiotic free and inspected and certified by the USDA before being sold.
  • The grade applies only to the steak cuts not to the hamburger, which is marketed by its fat content or its percent lean but if a steer produces Premium steaks then you better believe the hamburger is going to be extra tasty.
  • From there customers (McDonalds, Shake Shack, Burger King, Ruth’s Chris and everything in between) purchases the beef to prep to their specifications.

What consumers often don’t realize is its the same cattle owners that produce the beef for Big Macs and Premium, high-end steaks. Cattle produce a wonderfully diverse line of beef products that can be used and served in a variety of ways. My husband prides himself of raising animals that are served at white table cloth restaurants but does so in a way that beef is affordable for those wanting to eat beef on a budget.

So if you think the $10 cheeseburger is healthier or somehow better for you than the $2 Big Mac, think again. It’s all nutrient-rich, protein-packed beef sourced from ranchers like us who invest time, money and a whole lotta energy raising healthy, happy cows. The only difference is the preparation method and the special sauce. So find your favorite burger and enjoy and don’t worry about staying trendy – beef is always in style!

No Bull, It’s All Antibiotic-Free

 

thinkstockphotos-135496010

Check out Kansaslivingmagazine.com for great beef recipes and preparation tips

My husband and I raise Angus cattle on our fourth-generation family farm in Central Kansas. We believe in the humane treatment of all of our animals and therefore use antibiotics in our animals on an as-needed basis to cure an illness and help the animal return to full health.

Antibiotics are not our first line of defense against sickness in our animals but they do allow us a resource to help the animal overcome illness, fatigue and stress.

Without the ability to use antibiotics, we would be forced to watch innocent animals die from basic, treatable conditions.

We keep records of all uses of antibiotics to ensure the withdraw period has passed before the animal enters the food system. However, most of our animals remain on our farm long after the antibiotics are administered.

What most consumers don’t realize is that all beef sold in grocery stores and used in restaurants is antibiotic free and tested, by the USDA, for antibiotic residue before leaving the processing plant.

The standards are strict and farmers and ranchers do everything they can to ensure the beef enjoyed by consumers is healthy and safe.

Everything we do is to protect and support the health and welfare of our animals. We don’t want to have to doctor sick animals so we do everything we can to ensure their health and well being. But when we do find one of our animals is not feeling well, it is our duty to return them to health. That’s part of being good stewards of our animals and your food.

Ghost Towns and Cow Tales

A recent ‪KansasAgLand article by Amy Bickel showcases Evansville, a little known ‪‎Kansas ghost town, but a ranch and family near and dear to our farm. For years, my husband has purchased cattle from the Merrill Ranch, which sits on the site of Evansville.

Dee Scherick talks about a building that remains on the Merrill Ranch. The building at one time housed the post office and mercantile shop of short-lived Evansville.
Dee Scherick talks about a building that remains on the Merrill Ranch. The building at one time housed the post office and mercantile shop of short-lived Evansville.

I’ve been fortunate enough to make a few trips to the ranch and get to know Dee and Phyllis Scherich, who manage the Merrill Ranch. As technology becomes a larger part of the agriculture industry, articles like this are a nice reminder that the true backbone of farming and ranching is good land, hard working people and a passion for producing high quality food. Follow the link below for the full article.

http://www.kansasagland.com/news/stateagnews/a-fast-carcass-on-the-kansas-canvas/article_960fa463-9b22-5f18-ae5b-91c41bb6283a.html

Beware The Comment Section

I did it to myself. I clicked a link for an article bad-mouthing agriculture authored by a publication that has never been friendly to farmers But as a livestock owner, mother and concerned citizen, I wanted and needed to see what this group was saying about antibiotic use in livestock.

Turns out it was nothing new. The same old finger-pointing and miss-representation of the issue and the fact. And I could have stopped there. Opting to move on and keep my opinions to myself. But I did it. I kept scrolling . . . right down to the comment section.

I hadn’t commented on an article in a while. And I quickly remembered why. The section should come with a warning: “Enter at your own risk. Reading comments can lead to high blood pressure, headaches and anxiety.”

In today’s digital world, the comment section of any online article has become a digital playground dominated by a pack of demeaning and malicious activists with no intentions of learning from the other side.

As a agriculture advocate, it is my job and passion to work with others to explain the other side of the issue and exchange thoughts, ideas and concerns. I aim for a dialogue and honest, respectable conversation focused on the issue, not the person.

It didn’t take long for the hate to find me. After commenting on a few errors in the article, I found myself bombarded by two brash and vile readers with no limits and no filter.

A self-described 51-year-old vegan triathlete expressed her delight in the idea of my drinking myself to death. “We would all be happier,” she wrote. What?!? Hiding behind a screen name and avatar, she asked no questions and quickly moved to name calling and insulting. Apparently she’s not a fan of meat-eaters and livestock producers. It was spectacular how childish an adult could act when protected by a computer screen and anonymity.

A second gentleman asked if he could eat my child if he got hungry – because that was akin to me raising cattle for beef. I simply had not words. It was obvious they were looking for a fight – not a conversation.

So with elevated blood pressure and a new opinion of humanity, I shut my computer and crawled into bed wondering how we got to this.

When did it become acceptable for adults to name call and belittle people with opposing views? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I follow politics and sports. But I never realized the level of hatred, immaturity and loathsome behavior some people are willing to stoop to over a simple disagreement in dietary choices.

There are many things in this world I don’t agree with but I would never and could never use the language I witnessed in the comment section. This world is dealing with major, complex issues. Wars are raging in the Middle East, displacing millions. African nations are killing their own people and human trafficking is rampant around the globe. Ask a victim of any of those situations and they’ll tell you they don’t care what they eat – they just hope to live to see their next meal.

The growth and efficiency of American agriculture has allowed for a huge diversity in products available to consumers. The ability to choose should be heralded as a benefit of living in America, the land of the free. But choice is instead the catalyst for online, verbal warfare. Americans have the freedom to consume a plant-only or gluten-free diet. They can opt for grass-fed over grain-finished beef and choose locally sourced over imported produce. It’s the result of farmers and ranchers working hard to meet growing consumer demands. Most countries and people have only one choice and sometimes that choice is whether to eat or allow someone else to have the meal. We are blessed beyond belief and we should be thankful.

So to the lady who wishes death upon me and to the gentleman who thinks I’m an idiot a**hole, I hope you enjoy your next meal and I hope you give thanks for the ability to eat three meals a day. It something we should never take for granted. And if you ever have questions or concerns about your food. Ask a farmer or come visit. I’ll be happy to show you around. And I pray you find a more constructive use of your time, energy and passion.

Antibiotics In Our Animals

These calves are not feeling so well. Given their young age, only a few days of sickness can lead to death. We pay close attention to all our animals and when a calf is showing signs of illness- like lowered ears (bottom picture) or scours (diarrhea in calves, top picture) – we give them a place in the barn and do everything we can to nurse them back to health. That includes administering antibiotics. It’s not the only took in our toolkit but sometimes its the most powerful and key to health.

Some consumers want to deprive ranchers the ability to use antibiotics in their animals. That would basically mean we would have to watch our sick calves die from regular and treatable conditions. We practice the responsible use of antibiotics in our animals and record all uses so that sick animals never enter the food supply.

This little girl is not feeling well. She has scours - which is basically diarrhea - and has been under close watch and care for about a day now.
This little girl is not feeling well. She has scours – which is basically diarrhea – and has been under close watch and care for about a day now.

Sick calf2

Made To Be Mothers

I have a love-hate relationship with winter. It’s my favorite season on our farm because it brings a new crop of baby calves and proud mother cows. But it also creates long, sleepless nights for my farmer hubby and the occasional sad news of a calf that just didn’t make it.

But as I soak up the joy that is new calves playing in our backyard, anti-animal-agriculture groups continue to criticize animals owners like my husband and I for breeding our cows each year. They consider it abuse for our animals to be continually pregnant and instead advocate for cattle to spend their days mindless munching on green grass and carrying a calf every few year.

But I disagree. Our cows are born to be mothers. Not just in the literal sense of reproductive organs and hormones, but in their behaviors and temperaments. It’s their genetic make up and natural calling to carry a calf.

Our cows deliver a calf each winter and nurse it through the spring and summer months. In late April and early June they are usually impregnated again. All the while receiving the proper feed and nutrition – which varies according to their stage of pregnancy. We work to ensure all of our cows get pregnant around the time same so that we know when to expect calves.

The mothers provide all of their calf’s nutritional needs. She protects it from wildlife and the weather and watch over it as it runs, plays, grows and explores. Mothers lick their newborns warm and dry and clean a dirty behind with a quick pass of the tongue. Mother cows and calves communicate with moo’s and bellows and pair up each night and throughout the day for food and protection. It’s a relationship not unlike that of my son and I’s and as I hear for the mothers call to their calves at the end of each day I know that motherhood is in their DNA.

We treat our cows with respect and a gentle hand and they, in return, allow us to participate in raising their calves. A cow’s job is to raise calves. That is her mission and purpose in life. Cows allow us to grow our herd and continue our dream of handing this farm and way of life on to our children. Motherhood is not abuse, it’s a continuing of the life cycle we all depend on for food and fuel and it’s what our cows love to do.

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.

January 25

– 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!