Calving season has started

Yesterday was a day to mark down on our calendars – literally. We had two heifers calve, which means that calving season has officially begun. Unfortunately, one calf was born dead, which is always a hard situation to take.

So what went wrong? Well, somehow, during the birthing process, the calf ended up having a foot back. You see, a calf should be born like this:

But instead, it looked something like this:

And Boss Man did what he could to bring the foot forward, so the calf could be born safely, but sometimes it doesn’t work out…and this was one of those cases. We do our best not to intervene unless we have to, but you never know what Mother Nature has in store for you.

This morning I was fortunate to go out right at sunrise. And with the new day:

At first light, I noticed something on the straw.

At first light, I noticed something on the straw.

The sun was just kissing the sky as I went out.

Comes new beginnings:

This heifer is a good mama.

The only problem with the calf being born on the straw, is that it’s only 19 degrees outside. Not ideal for a wet, warm calf fresh to the world. So I called Boss Man down and let him know what was going on. New mothers aren’t always predictable, can be feisty and mean, and really don’t appreciate their calves being messed with…so I let my hubby deal with the logistics of getting the calf someplace warmer. (It’s kind of like him doing laundry, I’m not happy, he’s not happy, so it’s just best if I do it myself.)

Boss Man uses the calf sled to bring the calf to the barn. Mama is close behind, making sure her calf is safe and doesn’t get too far from her!

The last 12 hours have had its highs and lows, but I know that we are where we’re supposed to be…and days like today make it all worthwhile.

No man needs sympathy because he has to work . . . Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.

– Theodore Roosevelt

Is there a calf in there?

A few weeks ago, we had a crew of people out in our pastures. Although the set up and take down took a little time, the reason behind all the work was definitely important. You see, we were ultrasounding our cows, to find out which ones were going to have calves and when they would be having them.

Just like at the OB’s office!

That’s right, we used an ultrasound machine…much like the one that is used every day by obstetricians when they are looking for a baby’s heartbeat, measuring the size of the baby or checking for any other problems.

Why would using a machine like this be important for our cows? One reason is where we live. Since we start calving in February in North Dakota, it’s important to know which cows should be calving and approximately when. That way we can make sure that they are closer to the barn, so they can hopefully have their calves inside, where it’s warm and protected from the elements.

The head gate makes sure that the cow stands still and doesn’t hurt itself.

Another reason we use ultrasounding is so that we can more accurately determine those cows that are definitely having a calf, and those cows that are not having a calf (we call them “open”). It’s expensive to raise cattle, even more so right now. We only keep the cows that are bred and the ones that are “open” are sold. Many times our open cows go to other farms that have a different calving cycle then we do, allowing them the chance to become bred later.

The girls, waiting their turn!

The ultrasound technique is very similar to the same used in a doctor’s office…well, in general theory anyway. 😉

Once the probe is in the cow and an image is on the screen, a measurement can be taken, just like how the technicians measure the length of a baby’s bone to estimate it’s gestational age. On a calf, the measurement is taken of the space between the eye sockets on the head. The number of centimeters between correlates between the number of days the calf has been in the uterus, giving us an estimated “due” date.

The calf’s age can be measured on the screen!

Of course, these numbers are just estimates, but every bit of information that we can use to ensure our herd is taken care of and healthy is definitely a step up from before!

Wordless Wednesday – Cows

The cows, enjoying their straw bed on the fresh snow while waiting to calve.



When is it my turn?



Cows are curious (and photogenic) by nature.



Oh, that angle makes me look fat.



You can't see me, I'm hiding behind this weed.



We’re not quite half-way through calving season, but the last few days have been very, very busy. But the weather has been wonderful, and everything is going pretty smoothly so far.

If you look back at the ear tags, you’ll notice that not one of the close-ups have the same color. Wonder why? Find out here!

Farmer Friday…and a winner!

This morning has been an interesting one indeed…Boss Man and I moved cattle from the pasture where the plane crashed, to home. It’s less than a 2 mile trek, but there’s corn in between…lots of corn. And cows tend to like corn. (In fact, contrary to what some would have you to believe, cows do tend to prefer corn over grass, but these gals get both!)

The problem is, that cows, when allowed to move on their own, can destroy corn, and destroyed corn makes unhappy neighbors.


So off we were, moving cows, staying calm and everything going smoothly…until…(well, you KNEW there’d be an until, right?)

Let’s just say that Boss Man isn’t the greatest at communicating exactly where it is that he wanted me to be placed. His response was something along the lines of, “Well, let’s see how they go.” Which means??? Yeah, I don’t really know either…which was the problem.

But we made it home, I found out that our suburban can act a lot like a border collie and I’m still talking to my husband. What more can a girl ask for?

But now for the announcement you are all really looking for:

The winner of the new Crock Pot and prize package is…Rita Luri! Congratulations! Please send me your mailing information, so that I can get your package to you in the mail! 🙂

So far, so good

Last night’s trip here to Rochester was uneventful. We were able to meet up with friends in the Cities and ate at Fogo de Chao’s (a Brazilian all-you-can-eat steakhouse). It was wonderful! But the company was even better. It’s great to meet up with friends and take a moment to relax and enjoy yourself, even if it’s just for an hour or two.

George likes to keep up-to-date on the Royal Wedding details.

Today’s appointment went pretty well. The blood draw part went better than expected. It usually takes several tries and a few different pokers. But this morning was a one-time shot. It was great! (Maybe the extra flesh on his bones has helped?)

Then we were off to see the dietician. She had good news for us, telling us that his ammonia level had dropped by almost half. (Proof that the diet is truly working.) They want to see it below 20 and we hit 18. Yay, George!

Boss Man was a little disappointed. He asked her if George would someday be able to enjoy a hamburger with the family. She burst his bubble when she told him, “Probably not.” He’s holding out hope that maybe a slider wouldn’t count as a full burger, so I’ll let him live with that dream for awhile.

The surprising news? She told us to start watching calories. Yeah, imagine that. We’ve been struggling with putting on weight, fighting for every pound. Now she tells us to back off. That’s just medicine for you, always changing.

His heighth has hit the 41st percentile, but weight is now at a whopping 93rd percentile. From a boy that was born at over the 95th percentile, then dropping off the chart, we’re now where a Wagner boy normally resides…well into the top of the charts! What a blessing!

We travel economically. Make-do cribs! (Just kidding!) 🙂

I’ll let you know how tomorrow goes. It’s snowing now, so we’ll see how our trip home progresses…if the docs don’t change our plans.

Here is Ag Book of the Day 12, a suggested reading by my sister-in-law. I don’t own this book, but it will definitely be added to our farm library!

A Brand Is Forever

“A Brand is Forever” by Ann Herbert Scott. It’s about a young girl who has a pet heifer, and she’s nervous about branding hurting her pet. The book explains why we brand, and walks through the process. What a great book for those that are familiar with branding, as well as someone who is questioning why we brand! (I think this would work for the parents, as well as the child!)

I’d love to hear any other suggestions! And thank you, for all the thoughts, prayers and support. It’s been a long ride, but we’re keeping our heads above water!

Records – Part 2 (Ag Book of the Day 7)

So, as promised yesterday, I said that I would explain what records we keep for our heifers (females that haven’t had a calf).

At birth, the records are the same. We keep track of the cow number, the sire (or bull), date of birth, weight at birth, calving ease number and weaning weight (adjusted to 205 days). The only thing that is different, is when we decide to keep a heifer to include her in our herd.

As I’ve mentioned before in my blog, bull calves get white tags at birth, heifer calves get yellow tags. If a heifer is chosen to stay in the herd, she keeps that yellow tag until after she’s been bred with her first calf. Sometime between breeding and calving, those heifer tags are switched to a new cow tag, the chosen color for that year and a new number.

That’s why it’s so important to have those records. This way we can keep track of which calves came from which cow, which bull sired which calves, etc. This way, if we have really large calves, we can see if the bull is the problem, or if there are other genetic abnormalities or issues. Also, we can make sure that no heifer is bred to its own bloodline.

Boss Man writes down the calving information in a small notebook that he keeps in his pocket, then he transfers that information to his calving book that he keeps in the shop. We used to keep that information in the kitchen, so I could help with writing out tags and such, but one Easter morning, right before church, we found out that Scooter knew how to use a Z-tag marker.

What happens when you have a child find a Z-tag marker right before church on Easter Sunday. (Pic is of Scooter, Big Bro, EJ and their cousin)

So, needless to say, Boss Man does all his own tags now…in the shop.
On to Ag Book of the Day 7 – “Senses on the Farm” by Shelley Rotner.
I had the privilege of being able to be involved with the American Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher committee that read this book to a small, young classroom outside of Atlanta this year. It’s a great book, with great pictures, allowing lots of discussion and question-answering.

A matter of record – Ag Book of the Day 6

I was asked if I could explain the records that we keep for our herd, so I will do my best to do just that. (And I’m willing to take other blog requests!)

Before I get to the details, let me tell you that our record-keeping has joined the 20th century (I would say 21st, but we don’t use smart phones…yet) and it’s mostly computer-based, and has been since 1988. We use what is called CHAPS, or Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software.

We have one of these for every calving season, since 1988.

This is how the typical method of record keeping goes for a calf – from birth to sale barn (let’s just say that this particular calf is a steer, since most steers are sold). (And to clarify, a steer was born a bull calf, but was castrated within a few months from birth.)

Shortly after birth, the cow number, the sire (if known), date and weight is wrote down, as well as whether the calf is a bull or heifer. The calf number is the same as the cow, as long as it’s a single birth and both the cow and calf are healthy. The other number that is recorded at birth is the calving ease number.

Calving ease is just what it sounds like…how easily the calf was born. It’s a 1-5 scale, with 1 = no assistance, 2 = minor difficulty, some assistance (Boss Man may have to assist by using the obstetrical chains and pulling some, but just using his own strength, no mechanical assistance.), 3 = major difficulty, usually mechanical assistance (such as a calving jack), 4 = caesarean section (surgical removal of calf), and 5 = abnormal presentation (such as backwards calf, or feeling a tail, not a head).

In the fall of the year, the calves are weighed and weaned (adjusted to 205 days). We keep track of their weight, so that we can figure out what their gain was from weaning to sale time. That way we can make adjustments to feed, weaning date, etc., for the next season (if numbers aren’t where we like), or we can be assured that we’re doing what we need to do, producing the best results we can.

The next time we weigh the steers would be right before sale time. Not only will we know what their average rate of daily gain is (usually 3 pounds per day for our herd), but we can also sort our cattle into different groups, making it better for the buyer (uniformity is always a goal).

Once our cattle go through the sale barn, we have no data on them. We don’t retain any type or percentage of ownership, so there is no reason for whomever is finishing them to harvest weight to let us know how they did.

Now, I’ve mentioned before that our herd is a closed one, meaning that every cow here was born here. We can trace back any cow, calf, etc. that’s on our farm to her origins. It’s kinda cool.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about our heifer and cow records. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask! I love answering questions about our farm and our herd!

And now on to today’s Ag Book of the Day – Day 6:

“Plow! Plant! Grow!” yet another John Deere book (but yet again, one of EJ’s absolute favorites!). It’s a board book, so it’s easy for even George to handle. The pictures are bright and colorful, and it talks about many of the different farming activities that happen on the farm. We don’t use all the methods that they cover, but it’s neat to be able to bring other methods into our discussions. Love it!

Calving by the numbers – Ag Book of the Day 5

I promised yesterday a calving post, but the day got away from me…I know, real shocker, right?

Here is the 2011 calving data:

2/11/11 – Starting date of calving

5 – cows left to calve, as of this posting

75 – number of bull calves

95 – number of heifer calves

9 – most calves in one day, including two sets of twins

2/19/11 – most sets of twins in a 24 hr. period (5 sets)

48 lb. – smallest calf (a twin)

130 lb. – largest calf (not a twin…but born by c-section, only vet call for an assisted delivery this year. Knock on wood.)

18 – number of sets of twins for this year

This group of twin calves is enjoying a day in the sun!

8 – number of sets of twins that were heifer/bull sets (I’ll get into why that’s important to know in another blog, but if you follow Cows_Life on twitter, you’d already know that answer!)

12 – number of calves that have died

3/17/11 – first day that we did not have a calf since calving began

165 – number of cows on the farm right now

170 – number of calves on the farm right now

This calf is a twin...notice the "B" on it's tag? There's an "A" to match!


And now onto today’s Ag Book of the Day:

“Buttercup, the Clumsy Cow” by Julia Moffatt and Lisa Williams. It’s a really cute book, focusing on how to make the most out of any situation. Yes, it’s silly, but you need some humor on the farm too! Plus, it still gives plenty of places where you can talk about real-farm stuff, like the dangers of wildlife to livestock, etc. Mostly, my boys just love it!

Maximum multiples

It seems that farms and ranches that are having multiple births have been in the news as of late. There have been articles in local papers with herds that have three sets of twins, some on the same day, etc.

Well, not to toot our own horns (but why would I have a blog if I didn’t want to share our story?)…but we’ve had 18 sets of twins this year. Yep, 18.

Now, not all of the twins made it, but as of this morning, six cows are still raising both calves. That means that our calving season has produced more calves than we have cows. Which is pretty cool.

Want to hear something more impressive? My brother-in-laws farm in South Dakota has produced 22 sets of twins this year. Now, genetically these herds are linked. They both come from the original herd started here on the farm. But they do follow different breeding protocols, so although similar, the herds are markedly different.

Twins are the norm around here…I’m just glad it’s stuck to only the cattle! 🙂

Fresh on the Farm

This is my first Wordless Wednesday post – ENJOY!