Change is good. Three things have happened at the Dickinson Research Extension Center besides a good rain. The work environment is more relaxed, cows and calves are doing well and costs seem to be going down.
What changed? The center delayed bull turnout to Aug. 1 for a May 10 calving start date. This is not a new statement, but the impact keeps coming up, as do more thoughts.
The ranch discussion focuses on the occasional problems. Problems always will crop up, but when work, time off and sleep are balanced, people make better decisions. Those improved decisions make for fewer complications and better outcomes, so there is a better work environment.
The cows and calves are doing great. Calving actually started on April 28 with a heifer calving. Three more heifers calved by the time the first mature cow calved on May 3. Actually, three mature cows calved on May 3. If one uses the third mature cow as the official start date for the calving season, the center will say calving officially started on May 3, even though May 10 was the projected start based on a 283-day gestation.
As is typical of pregnancy calculations, not all pregnancies are the same length and calving earlier is very common. The Aug. 1 bull turnout date was selected to try to eliminate any cows calving before turnout to cool-season grass and maximize the number of calves born before native grass turnout the first week of June. Mission accomplished, although we still have more than a week to go in May.
The heifers were turned out the last full week of April and the cows started going out the following week. All the cows calved on pasture, with none in the winter lots. The lots, as many will recall, were inundated with the late April snow and slush, so they would not have been very suitable as maternity pens.
As of May 22, 142 calves came out of 138 cows and more are coming every day. The center overwintered 226 pregnant cows and heifers. So far, more than 60 percent have calved with very few issues. Last week’s 3 1/2 inches of rain did not seem to slow anyone up. No calves flooded out and the cows did what they were supposed to do.
A month ago, that would have equated to 3 feet of snow, so one comes to appreciate even more the point of calving in May. If one is going to switch to a better calving season, try to get out of the seasonal transition zones that are so unpredictable.
One day it can be spring, one day winter and one day summer. It all can happen during what was supposed to be a better and simpler calving season. However, the cows and calves are doing great. To be honest, the center did lose five calves. A set of twins was separated from its mother, one was born on the wrong side of the fence and could not get back, one was killed by an overaggressive heifer and one was found dead.