As the Dickinson Research Extension Center winds up May calving, the year has been good.
May calving involves pastures, grass and space. Because feed is not delivered in a bunk, the cow decides where she wants to be in the pasture and sets in motion a series of thoughts that anchor that designated space.
As the cow lolls around this self-defined area, she eats as she wishes and gets a drink once in a while but always comes back to the same spot.
Eventually she calves and plants the calf. Planting seems to be something our agronomy friends speak of, but planting for the cow is very serious and certainly should be respected.
If in doubt, think twice before walking through the calving pasture. Following calving, the cow will expand her territory to keep eating, but she knows where her calf is. As you walk the pasture, watch the cows. You can tell immediately if you inadvertently cross the line between the cow and her calf. In fact, that can be a very dangerous thing to do.
In the cow’s eye, you become a predator. If she is very protective, she may try to remove you. The point is that cows are on high alert after calving, so this planting behavior impacts how and when groups of cattle can be moved or at least easily moved.
In our human ways, we assume we can do anything, so we simply do it. Perhaps when confining livestock, we may forget that it could overpower some natural instincts. These are the instincts meant for survival. Although the survival instincts were not needed while the cattle were confined, they are still there and become fully functional when needed.
Reflecting on nature, this process is very evident. How often does one actually see newborn deer, antelope or kittens? Rabbits can run all over the place, but you won’t find the nest easily. The same is true about ducks, pheasants, grouse or the many upland game birds.
It also is difficult to find the nest of the pesky hen that keeps getting out of the chicken coop. One knows she has a nest, but where?
Our domestic livestock are no different. If given the opportunity, sows build elaborate nests for farrowing, and catching a mare foaling is a rare opportunity. These mothers are responding to their deeply embedded instincts to protect their young at all costs.
In my own upbringing, I can distinctly remember the day Dad decided to go get the lost baby pig. Dad allowed the sows to nest in the pasture. For some reason, one piglet was misplaced, so Dad decided he should go get it. Those who know sows realize that they take motherhood very seriously. Once Dad grabbed that lone pig, one squeal later, the race was on and a dozen or so sows had Dad in their sights. He made it to the fence, but those sows were serious because they were mothers, and mothers always mean business.