The OB Ward and Nursing Home Ranch

by Amy on April 8, 2010

The problem with deferring replacement heifers too long is that you’re apt to end up with a lot of really old cows and a bunch of young, first time calvers to take care of simultaneously come calving time.

Hanging on to cows too long and not incorporating younger cows into the herd gradually, creates more calving work than necessary. Or so we’ve found.

During the worst of the drought on our place, our cow numbers went down due to continued culling of cows and not being able to justify keeping replacement heifers. A couple of times we intended on keeping our heifer calves in order to gradually replace some of the older cows, but ended up having to sell our potential replacement heifers due to a shortage of grass, a hay crop, and excess funds to buy hay for additional cows.

We were finally able to swing keeping some heifers that are now two year olds. At the same time we’ve had first time calvers to monitor, some of our gentlest, best mother cows in the herd showed signs of having maxed out their calving health vitality and mothering abilities.

Since mid-calving season, we’ve had one old cow after the other needing doctoring, extra help or special attention. Difficulty in getting up, injuries due to slipping on icy terrain, lameness, and lack of milk or gumption to attend to a calf have all been issues we’ve had to deal with in our older cows.

We made it easier to care for these golden girls by putting them in a lot where water and feed wasn’t so far for them to get to—we brought it to them. The lot’s become somewhat of an assisted living area for those not as mobile as the rest of the herd.

Then we have our heifers. Due to being difficult to sort off from the rest of the herd and squirrely to handle, they’ve also been kept nearby for easier handling. This has been useful when we wanted to put some heifers in the barn or needed the help and safety of the chute in helping them.

Most of our heifers have done alright on their own but we’ve had to help some of these first-time mothers deliver their calf or give them guidance in getting started feeding their baby, or help the calf establish where the milk is. A few heifers were a bit confused or baffled by their own offspring.

Some of them would back away when their calf got up or tried to find an udder. These mommas just needed to be held still long enough for the calf to get its first dose of milk, which we needed the chute for; as well as for the heifers that had to have their calf pulled. We’ve also had to make sure there wasn’t a mix up in the barn if a heifer attempted to claim another heifer’s calf. If we felt it wasn’t time to release a young momma and her calf, we’d bring the cow something to eat and drink until the pair seemed mothered up good.

Between all the care taking my husband and I have done among the different generations of cows, my admiration for doctors, nurses, and aides has reached a whole new level. I admire them for getting to work with human patients.

column originally published the week of April 11-17, 2010

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