So many babies

March and April are busy months around here when it comes to calving. We like to take vacations in January and February, and we don’t like fresh cows with frostbit teats. To do the things we like and avoid the things we don't, we take a break from breeding cows for a couple months. We do not have any calves from around Christmas to March 1. The only problem with taking a few months off from calving is that they have to be born some time, and that makes for a busy couple months of spring calving.
Calving season started off a little slow with just a couple of beef calves born from our first springing heifers. We graze our heifers on rented pasture near New Prague, Minnesota, in the summer and run a beef bull with them to get them bred.
I like to breed heifers to beef bulls for a couple reasons. First, we always have way more replacement heifers than necessary, and second, we never seem to have enough beef cattle for our retail meat business. Possibly even more important than both those reasons is that beef bulls make for easy calving. I’d rather give up a little genetic advancement by not breeding my heifers with A.I. for dairy calves in exchange for an easy calving and a successful first lactation.
Last year, we bought a mystery speckled bred yearling beef bull from a neighbor who has a small beef herd. The calves born from him are the cutest little speckled babies often with black noses and ears. Unfortunately, that bull didn’t fill out as much frame and muscle as I’d have expected, knowing what his sire looked like. We ended up shipping him.
By mid-March, cows and heifers were calving in regularly. The huts were filling up fast. That was kind of a problem as most all the individual and group huts were frozen into big blocks of ice thanks to the ample snow we had this winter melting and refreezing. Eventually, we just decided to sacrifice some gate bottoms and boards on the huts and made everything come loose with the skid loader.
We got all the huts cleaned up, reset and filled fairly quickly for a bit. Then, we started to have a lot of Holstein bull calves from the cows calving in. Even my nicest cows bred to sexed semen had bulls. Sometimes we just have runs like that where most of the calves are bulls or heifers, and this time we got bulls. The calf born before milking this evening was a bull of course. Oddly, the beef calves were primarily heifers this spring. Not exactly the way we’d prefer that to have gone, but I guess it does leave us with less calves to raise as we sell the Holstein and Jersey bull calves at the sales barn or to neighbors. We’ve found they take too long and don’t finish out well in a grass-fed system.
Now that it’s almost May, the dry cow and springing heifer group is much smaller than it was in February, and things are calming down. There shouldn’t be many more three- to four-calf days in the next couple months. That’s convenient as it will soon be time to transition into the grazing and haying season. I finally got the chopper tractor started the other day after it has had dead batteries most of the winter and hasn’t moved since we parked it in October. Time to start getting everything ready for the year. It’s still pretty chilly, and all the plants seem to be waiting for another week of warm weather to get going like we had a couple weeks ago. I don’t know if it would be wise to hope for more nearly 90-degree days though.
Until next time, keep living the dream, and I hope you all have a lot more luck than us getting bulls when you want bulls and heifers when you want heifers.
    Tim Zweber farms with his wife, Emily, their three children and his parents, Jon and Lisa, near Elko, Minnesota.


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