The end of January is the beginning of one of our favorite times of year, calving season! On the Broken Horn D Ranch, the mother cows live year round in four separate herds. Bulls are put out with the cows on April 15 each year to begin the breeding season. The average gestation of a cow is 283 days, about nine months, so our calves usually begin to appear around the end of January.
When a cow is ready to deliver, she will typically separate herself from the rest of the cow herd and find a quiet, secluded place to deliver. After delivery, she will lick the calf thoroughly to clean and dry him and stimulate circulation. Ideally, the calf should stand and nurse, receiving vital colostrum within the first 4-6 hours. Newborns need a lot of sleep, so after nursing, the cow will help the calf find a safe place to bed down, often under some brush or low trees. The calf will remain there while mother grazes and waters. The cow will return to the last place the calf nursed when it’s time to feed him again. When the calf is a few days old, the mother cow will bring the calf to join the rest of the herd as they graze. As more and more calves are born in the herd, we see the appointing of the “babysitter cow”. This is the cow with the youngest calf and you’ll find her keeping an eye on all the calves big enough to be with the herd at that time. She helps protect them from any predators and tries to keep them out of trouble! We’ve witnessed the babysitter cow chasing coyotes off and bellowing for the other cows, who come running to help protect the calves.
We ride through our cow pastures every few days to document the birth date, sex and color of each calf as they are born. When the calves are branded and ear tagged in late May that data is merged with the ear tag number of the calf, and his parentage.
As mentioned earlier, we put our bulls out with their cows April 15, which means the calves will finally get to meet their sires! Another interesting and enjoyable sight is getting to watch the calves, especially the young bulls, following dad around as they all graze. The calves will remain with their mothers until October. They will nurse exclusively for the first 3 months of life when they’ll start ingesting grasses and hay. As long as they are nursing, their rumens (stomach) function much like a monogastric animal. As they eat more roughage, the lining of the rumen develops more papillae, finger like projections that increase the absorption ability of the rumen. The rumen microbes also slowly adapt to the changing feed. Often, by the time we physically wean the calves in the fall, they have already stopped nursing and are eating forage exclusively on their own.
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Broken Horn D Ranch