Washington Evening Journal
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Spring is the air, and calves are in the fields
Spring calving season in Iowa wraps
May. 12, 2023 12:15 am
MT. PLEASANT — With the highly anticipated arrival of Spring, comes green grass, blooming flowers, and calving season.
Despite those in agriculture calling it Spring Calving season, this period of rebirth can begin anywhere between Jan. one and March 1 depending on the farmer.
“So, the guys that start in January usually done by the first of March or the middle of March,” Henry County Cattleman Association President Adam Smith said. “And then, like myself, we start the end of March and we'll be done about middle of May.”
Mt. Pleasant High School FFA and 4-H student Alexis Francy said her family also began their calving season in March, while her classmate Tyi Alter’s began in January.
Calving is not as simple as just letting nature run its course, though.
According to Smith, in order to get the best return on their investment, farmers plan and prepare to make the most efficient calving seasons possible.
“The main thing is making sure you got a clean environment for the calves to be born in,” Smith said.
For Smith, who practices a more hands-off approach, this means preparing the fields.
Farmers must check fencing and gates to keep cattle secure. They should also look for unsafe conditions in the fields in which their heifers might give birth.
Alter’s family operation takes a more hands-on approach to calving season, and prepare a field area and a barn.
“We keep them in the fields until it's about catting season,” Alter said. “Then we'll bring them up to the barn just so we can keep a better eye on them.”
Smith keeps an eye on his birthing cows through consistent field checks.
Despite the best laid plans, however, hiccups inevitably happen.
One calf from Smith’s herd landed itself in a hole and could not get itself out.
“The mama wouldn’t let us get close to it,” he said.
With a little creative engineering, however, Smith was able to pull the calf to safety.
Both Alter and Francy say that their most unfavorable conditions for births occurred in the rain.
“The worst time I've ever had to help deliver a calf is at the middle of the night and it's cold,” Francy said. “Like it just rained and stuff, and they decide they're going to have them right out in the open. They're not going to wait to have them in the barn.”
“It's not the best because then they get cold and then that's when they get frostbite,” she said.
Even after the calves make their appearance, the work continues for farmers.
Last week, Smith checked on his heifers and their calves only to find one stubborn calf that separated himself from the rest of the herd.
“I’ll have to come back and get him,” Smith said.
“After a calf is born, you're kind of making sure they've got their colostrum so that's that first drop of milk that a cow has, and you want to make sure they get that in them,” Smith explained. “That kind of helps kind of helps them with their whole life span, because if they don't get that, it kind of holds them back for quite a while.”
So, as Smith checks his fields, and finds stray calves, he makes sure to reunite them.
Additionally, he checks to make sure the calves can keep up with mama and get enough nutrition from her, especially in those early stages.
“So when we have a new calf, we tag it,” Francy added. “We tag it because we want to be able to make sure we know which calf belongs to which mom.”
Both Francy and Alter learn a lot about keeping accurate records as they help with their families’ calf-cow operations.
Francy, Alter, and Smith all sell their calves part of the way grown for other operations to finish.
“I sell feeder calves,” Smith said. “I sell calves that will go onto the feed lot.”
According to Smith, his calves go up for sale anywhere from 400-650 pounds. Finishing farms will commonly buy these calves and feed them to reach 1200-1400 pounds before slaughter.
Not every calf in Francy, Alter, or Smith’s operations await the same fate.
“I'll keep some calves back to breed them again,” Francy said.
Francy and Alter each choose their show cows for fair from their herds, also.
“We're showing three of the steers that we kept back,” Francy said.
Tyi will show two heifers and a steer she helped birth.
Smith says that his own children pick their show cattle from the family herd.
“There's, like, a lot of work that comes with showing a calf or even having a cow calf operation or any cow operation, because you have to feed them, make sure they always have food and water because you don't want them to, like, get sick,” Francy said.