Calving Time on the Ranch

Calving time on the ranch starts the end of March for us here in northeast Montana. We have been waiting 9 months for these babies to come and they are our “cash crop”. “Cash crop” meaning that we will go to market with them this fall and the money made from the sale of these calves will be a huge portion of our income for the year. We will calve out approximately 70 head of beef stock cows and hope to market 50 calves in the fall. We will need to keep replacements for the old cows so will hold back the best heifer calves. And there is death loss, most statistics figure 10 percent death loss. We always try to do better than that and most years are quite successful.

I will try to give you some insight into calving time on the ranch. The heifers (2 year old cows that have never had a calf) are most likely to have birthing difficulty so they are brought into a pen very near the house about 10 days prior to actual calving time. The older more experienced cows are in a 15-20 acre pasture north of the house. About a week before we are supposed to start calving we start walking through the heifers 2 to 3 times a day. You also check the older cows 2-3 times daily but you are just getting geared up for the real thing. You begin to get your calving equipment and supplies ready. You round up OB chains, OB handles, bottles, nipples, packaged colostrums, scour boluses, syringes, needles, antibiotics and blankets. Most of the time, and not just during calving time, you are your own vet. We are going to be midwives to 70 head of cows besides delivering twins or malpresented calves, tubing weak or sick calves but we also treat pinkeye, foot rot, scours, injured penis on the herd bulls, pregnancy test the cows, tube weak foals, give new foals enemas, pull porcupine quills from many different animals and have even been known to start IV’s on sick barn cats.

The first few calves come slowly but then it picks up in intensity. Now we are checking cows every 3 hours, 24 hours a day. You still hike through the heifers on foot but with the older cows in the pasture there are several options, the best one in my opinion is by horseback. The cows are much more tolerant of a man on horseback than in a pick-up or on a 4-wheeler. These are expecting mothers, the less stress the better. Slow and quiet are the best and after a few times the cows hardly take notice of you and your mount anymore. Inevitably there will be a hitch, you ride out and notice one cow just beginning her labor. She has a bag of water showing, she is nervous and uncomfortable. You look at your watch and note the time; you will need to come back in 1 hour to see if she has delivered. In one hour you are back, the cow has not delivered even though the bag of water has broken and you can see both feet of the calf but the souls of it’s little feet are looking at the sky. The calf is coming backwards and time is of the essence. You hurry your horse back to the corral to set up the gates and calving barn so you can bring the cow in. You let your partner know what’s going on so they can get the provisions together and meet you in the calving barn. You step back up into the saddle and head for the pasture, spot your cow and start pushing her little by little towards the barn. You don’t want to work up the laboring mother or the rest of the herd so you and your horse just keep slowly hazing her towards the barn. Once there, you get the expectant momma in the stanchion (a piece of finger-biting equipment that holds the cow by the head) and wrap the OB chains above the first joint above the calf’s hind feet, attach the chains to the calf puller and start pumping the handle on the puller. It takes up all the slack in the chains and slowly the calf begins to move toward you and then with a “pop” the hips are delivered and you crank like crazy until the whole calf is delivered. When the calf is coming backwards once the belly comes through the pelvic girdle more than likely the umbilical cord is broken and the calf will start trying to breathe but with it’s head still inside there is no hope of a breath so you have to get its head out quickly. Luckily, on this day things go just the way you hope and a gasping, wet & wiggly bull calf lies at your feet. You take a few moments to dry off the calf and to thank the good Lord for allowing you to live this life. Then you pick up your equipment, turn the momma out of the stanchion and leave them to bond. Outside the barn your horse is standing with his hip cocked taking a well earned but short rest. Once again you swing up into the saddle and start for the pasture, it is already time to check again. This time you see a 1-week-old calf looking miserable, droopy ears and a wet, messy back end. You need to treat him for scours, after checking the rest of the calves you note that this is the only calf that appears to have the problem. Rather than taking the whole herd into the corral you opt to just rope this one calf and treat it in the pasture. You successfully get a rope on the calf and dismount with the balling gun and a sulfa bolus in hand. The good news is that this momma, though protective is respectful. She seems to know you are trying to help her baby and allows you to treat her calf without great concern for yours or your horses’ safety. With the task of treating the sick calf accomplished you begin the task of moving the healthy cow/calf pairs to the next pasture. One pair at a time you slowly move the pair towards the open gait. If you move them to fast the calves lag behind or become confused and head back toward the herd, momma becomes very concerned for her lost baby and starts running after it bellowing as she comes. One panicked bellow from a worried momma and the whole herd is on red alert. At this point it is better to go shut your gate and let them all settle down before attempting this again.

You have a couple of hours before the next check and there are plenty of other chores to do. The mares are getting close to foaling and you need to get the foaling stalls ready. Last years foals need a refresher on their basic training, worming and vaccinations are needed for the whole herd. You don’t really have a schedule or get to plan ahead in ranching, your “schedule” and your “plans” are really dependant on the animals you care for. During calving and foaling on the ranch we just say we’re “on call” 24-hours a day, seven days a week. You “schedule” your trips to town when you go to the pasture and nothing is going on. You have 3 hours until the next check. You do some quick figuring in your head, 35 minutes into town and 35 minutes back. The bank, grocery store, feed store, yup, if I don’t dawdle around I just have time to get it done.


Mark and Shellie Pacovsky
Bainville, MT
PH. 406-769-2971
Cell 406-769-7971
Phone Problems?  click HERE

Click HERE to send email to Slush Creek Walkers
~~~ Copyright Notice ~~~
         <==Click here for Currency Exchange Rates
  Site designed/maintained by:
Hosted on:
Last Updated: August 06, 2014