For many farmers with cowherds, this is the time when their cows begin to calve.
It’s a time they look forward to with excitement and also with some trepidation, never knowing what the weather will bring or how much trouble they will have.
Dennis and Anna Marie “Kiki” Krause of Lincolnville are in the midst of calving season. They have about 125 spring-calving Angus heifers and cows.
Like many other cattlemen, their season began with heifers, first-time calvers that needed close supervision. Their 15 heifers are kept in a corral close to the house. They began calving in January. Dennis and Kiki take turns checking on them every four hours at night.
Heifers that show signs of calving are put into a barn. The calving has gone smoothly so far. Just two or three remain to calve.
Sometimes, the couple finds a newborn calf that is cold and not responding well.
They said the most important thing is to get the calf out of the wind and into a dry environment. If the calf is chilled, they take it into the basement of their home, where they put it under a heat lamp and warm it up before returning it to the mother. They have done this two or three times so far this year.
They said a tub of hot water works best in an emergency situation in which a calf is extremely cold.
The cows are beginning to calve. Each calf is tagged soon after birth to record the order in which it was born, the date, and the identity of the mother.
One of the first calves was born when the weather was warm. Then the weather turned cold, and the mother bumped the calf into a small ravine that had a little water in it. When the couple found the calf, they took it into the house and kept it there all day, trying to warm it up. But the calf died anyway.
This winter has been an especially difficult winter with all the snow.
“It’s hard to walk through the snow,” Dennis said. “It wears you out.”
After the snow came the mud. And there’s the daily exercise of getting up and down, in and out of the tractor, feeding hay. He figures he may have lost 10 pounds this winter.
After the brutally cold snowstorm in early January, Krause shoveled a path from the house to the barn door. He used a front-end loader to blade snow away from an evergreen shelterbelt and then spread straw down. The straw is replenished regularly to keep it high and dry.
Krause calves out his cows on grass and vaccinates them against scours, a disease that can kill calves.
“It takes a lot of hard work to make it work well,” Kiki said.
Krause has a college education and was in the retail business before he returned to the farm in 1980. So why does he do it?
“That’s something I ask myself some mornings,” he said. “But then I think about spring. There are days when the sun comes out, the wind is calm, the little calves are romping around, and I think, this is the life!”
Kiki enjoys working with the cattle. She said sometimes she spends an hour just watching a mother cow nuzzling her newborn calf and mooing at it, then watching the calf as it struggles to stand on wobbly legs and find its way to the mother’s milk.
“It’s neat to go out at night, too,” Dennis said. “If there is a full moon and the ground is covered with snow, it’s like daylight.”
“I like going out in the early morning hours, walking on the crunchy snow, and walking among the cows,” Kiki said. “It is so peaceful.”
Heifers are just beginning to calve at the Chuck DeForest farmstead near Florence. He has 50 Angus heifers that are calving.
He has lost a couple of calves.
“We weren’t ready for the first one,” he said.
One of the calf’s hooves was bent back, so the heifer was unable to deliver it. By the time DeForest found the situation and got it straightened out, the calf was dead.
As of Sunday, he had 16 live calves.
DeForest has owned cattle since 1976, when he was in high school. He bought 200 head of cattle right out of college. His family owns a lot of grass and has always run cows.
“Sometimes I wonder why I do it, but I know I’ll always want cattle,” he said.
Scott David of Tampa has owned cows his whole life. He acquired his first beef cow when he was 9 years old. He and his father, Fred, work together. They have a bunch of heifers that began calving this past week.
So far, things have been going well. Heifers are put into barns for calving when it is cold. Sometimes, a newborn calf is placed into the pickup for a while, to warm it up.
Raising livestock seems to be in cattlemen’s blood. It’s something they do as a way of life.
“This has always been our business,” David said.