Second-Guessing Season


This column was originally published March 26, 2014

It’s March, and calving time, which means we are currently in the season of second-guessing. March definitely lives up to its reputation around here as being erratic between my husband’s last minute mind-changing and my constant second-guessing what he wanted me to do.

During these transition months known as spring-winter, we begin each day with a little self-doubt starting with where we feed cows. An analysis is always done late afternoon or the night before to review the most up-to-date weather forecast for the night and next day, a hay/alfalfa consumption evaluation, a determination of whether a cow-sort is needed for the barn, and which cows should go in the barn based on the next day’s forecast. Anytime the forecast acts like it wants to be winter posing potential life-threatening weather conditions for a newborn calf, a cow-sort is done to put springers (cows showing signs that they’re  likely to calve soon) in the barn for the night.

This seasonal self-doubting quandary affects our decision on which springers we chose to put in the barn especially the next morning if we discover a cow outside calved instead of one in the barn. Second-guessing carries over into barn checking. When there’s a new calf in the barn sometimes our presence can mess with a cow’s nurturing, bringing out the protective meanness in her, and can sometimes turn a cow’s threatening behavior into a perpetual issue instead of a temporary one.

Regardless, plans for the next day are set accordingly; action is taken if necessary and nothing is second-guessed until morning. If it suddenly gets windy, the wind changes direction, the sky looks like it might rain, snow, or rain-and-snow, then the original feeding location is second-guessed and sometimes changed without notice.

Determining our cows’ hay-alfalfa ratio is based on what they didn’t eat the previous day. To avoid wasting hay we feed only what we think they’ll clean up, especially if it’s not as cold or there’s a lot of pasture-picking available. When shoots of green grass start popping up there’s second guessing whether it was wise to turn the cows out of the calving pasture when we did because ingesting too much fresh green grass they acquire grass tetany—a potentially fatal metabolic disorder resulting from a deficiency in magnesium.

Turning cows out of the calving pasture (a pasture that’s easier to check and closer for getting cows and calves to the barn if necessary) creates new opportunities for second-guessing because cows have more places to hide when calving. We also second-guess how much time we need to give a pair before getting involved to help them with the bonding process.


Choosing which cows go to the barn, how long to keep them in the barn, if intervention with a new pair is necessary, and if our help is the cause of a cow getting mean are all second-guessed actions. This leads to temperature and forecast second-guessing. Once we’ve over-prepared for an anticipated unpleasant forecast and nothing happens, future forecasts and what’s considered too cold for a calf becomes frequently second-guessed also.

Despite all the questioning, we’ve had ideal calving weather and minimal problems  and we are feeling optimistic about the remainder of our season, but so as not to jinx things, I am highly second-guessing that expectation.

© 2014 Amy Kirk

One response to “Second-Guessing Season”

  1. Mike Avatar

    It always seems that calving season can be one of the harder seasons for ranchers and farmers. You almost never know what winds up happening when they start giving birth.

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