After the last blast of snow, the snowbanks were starting to thaw when I noticed a small baby rabbit. The rabbit, fresh from the nest, was nibbling on the available grass and doing fine.
While watching the baby rabbit, I was involved with a phone interview asking me how many baby calves had perished in the same snow storm that this little cottontail rabbit had survived.
The contrast was stark, but there was a beautiful point. Life survives. In the world of beef production, baby calves need to survive inclement weather with minimal intervention. The desire to survive, seek that first drink and dry place to bed down, and to bond quickly with mother are desires that come from genes that kick in at birth.
Like the baby cottontail, calves will survive. That is not to say, depending on the management and type of beef operation, that adequate protection and assistance is not required. Beef producers must provide the labor and facilities to meet the demands of the production scenario they have chosen.
Regardless of the beef system, the point is that calves should have genes engrained that stress a strong desire to survive. Those calves will work with the producer to make life easier. Those long hours of trying to get a limp, non-caring calve to nurse are very frustrating, especially knowing that one has gone to extremes to help.
Having brought in the cow and calf to comfortable quarters only to have the calf lie down and do nothing is frustrating. Trying to get a calf to want to nurse by trying every trick in the book also is frustrating. Any situation that involves calves that lack vigor or desire will add to the stress of calving. What’s the solution?
The first thing not to do is blame the weather. The producer evaluates the weather and the probability of bad weather events while planning the cow-calf operation.
The Dickinson Research Extension Center spent many hours evaluating the switch to May calving. The cattle have nothing to do with the fact that today, early in the fourth week of April, snow is falling in southwestern North Dakota. The cows are scheduled to start moving at the end of the week and into the first week of May to calving pastures that still are covered with snow.
The infamous third leaf on the local cool-season grasses may be hard to find and the total mass of grass sufficient to sustain cattle growth is not available. A few extra days of feeding will suffice.
However, spring is coming, even with delays in pasture turnout. Those initial rays of sunshine will transform the cold, barren lands quickly. Like popping popcorn, there is more to come. Pasture grass, just like the baby rabbit or newborn calf, is very resilient if managed properly.