In our family and on our ranch, we hope that March comes in "like a lion and out like a lamb." Why? Because March is the start of spring calving at Crow Butte. And while most of our cows don't start having babies until the end of the month, we pray Mother Nature unleashes her spring fury in the first few days so new babies can arrive in sunshine and warmth.
Calving season is my favorite time of the year; weather permitting of course. I love driving down the highways and dirt roads of Nebraska in March and April. Often times you will see new babies frolicking through the meadows or nursing on their mamas. Those mama cows are brought in closer to the home place, and calving pastures are cleaned and set up just waiting for the miracle of life to begin, and the birth of next year's calf crop.
At Crow Butte we raise certified black angus cattle. Black angus cattle are typically known for producing high-quality animals, with increased marbling. Because of this, Angus beef is considered one of the top choices for consumers. In addition, about 40% of our beef grades USDA Prime. This is the most elite grade a carcass can receive. Check out my blog post "Prime of Choice. What's the Difference?", to learn more about the USDA grading of beef.
Every year our mama cows come home from pasture around January. And every year we have a handful of heifer cows that we've kept and raised from our previous year's calf crop. A heifer is a female cow that hasn't had a calf yet. Once she has a calf, she can officially be called a "cow."
First year heifers, or heifers that are having their first baby, need extra attention. This is because having a calf is new territory for them, and we have to make sure that she delivers her baby okay and continues to take care of it once it's born. During calving season we separate our "cows" from our "heifers", and put them in separate pastures. This helps us to manage the heifers more efficiently as cows typical don't have as much trouble when calving.
Calving season requires a lot of time babysitting the mama cows and heifers. We watch for signs that cow is going to calf. Signs of labor can include water breaking, the appearance of the calf's hooves, and often times the mother ventures off to a corner of the pasture so she can give birth alone. Once we notice any of these signs, we make sure to come back to check on mother every so often. If a calf is not born within two or three hours, the mother might be having some complications and might need assistance. This is when we pull the calf.
The birth of a calf is a miracle; as is the birth of any living creature. What I find most amazing about the birth of a calf, is that usually within one hour of being alive, it is already trying to stand up and nurse. The initial milk that the calf receives is called colostrum. Colostrum is full of nutrients and antibodies that the baby needs in it's first few days of life. Did you know that baby calves drink almost a gallon of milk every day?