Shaming ranchers who calve in the winter has been on my mind for a long time- literally years. And I am not talking about the public here. Let's get this straight- I am calling out RANCHERS who are ragging on their FELLOW RANCHERS, peers and friends for exercising their right to pick a breeding season. Yes, you may very well be one of them. And if you are, keep reading and stop rolling your eyes (...please!).
"The only natural way to calve a cow is on grass. Like God intended."
"Calving in the winter is just making work for yourself."
"My cows don't need intervention because they calve on grass.
Your winter calvers need babying and that's why you pull so many calves."
"I can wean the same number of pounds if not more than you and I calve on grass."
What is a 'natural' breeding season for a cow?
The point I am trying to make is, even if you believe that calving on grass in June is the best time for YOUR operation, it may NOT be the best time for other operations and it certainly cannot be generalized as 'normal' or 'natural'. So PLEASE, I am begging you, STOP SAYING THAT!!
So why WOULD you want to calve in the winter?
By the very definition of winter, it encompasses December, January and February. Now most ranchers would agree winter in Alberta lasts much longer than that, so lets even lump March in there, as the March calvers get just as much flack (or more!) than the January guys. And I am sad to say that I am one of the producers catching the snide comments.
There is an infinite list of reasons why you may choose (because remember, it is YOUR choice) to calve in these 4 coldest months, just as their is an infinite list for calving in the other 8 months of the year. But here is why WE choose to calve in 'winter' and are in fact moving our calving date even deeper into winter next year. I can only speak for myself, so that is exactly what I am doing...
1. The number one reason we want to calve in March (the end of March this year, hopefully the beginning of March next year) is for convenience. Yes, I said it- convenience. While this is usually what I hear from the spring calvers, it is truly a convenient time of year for us. Why? Because March is a quiet time of year- there is no seeding that needs to get done, no fence fixing and no camping trips or family reunions planned. It is also the last quiet month before my schedule explodes with my off farm job as an Ag Fieldman and my hub's water well drilling company can really get going.
And yes, I realize this is completely serving our own needs. But I don't have cattle to make them feel fluffy and happy (although it's a bonus if I do!). I own cattle to earn a living. Plain and simple, they are a business. The animal welfare that goes along with owning cattle is part of the job- a responsibility that we take seriously- but not the reason we own them.
3. We are set up for it. And that is because we chose to be. We built a barn that is designed to house pairs if there is a cold night or blizzard and is equipped with a maternity pen when we need to assist a cow with a calf she couldn't deliver on her own. Yes this all came at a cost, but if you tell me that just because your herd calves in the summer months it means you'll never need to pull a calf, I'll call you an out right liar. In my opninion, the cost of a barn and maternity pen is peanuts to the number of calves we can save if we didn't have the facilities and the pounds we can put on our calves before fall sale. Not to mention that our barn is multi-purpose as it isn't only used at calving time.
We don't pull a lot of calves. In fact, it is rare. But that has nothing to do with our breeding season, like some ranchers prefer to think. It has everything to do with our sire and dam selection and nutritional program. Of course, there is and always will be those instances you couldn't select out of- like a heifer whose hips just simply cannot deliver a calf on her own. Or a first time mother who doesn't claim her calf. There are always time when ranchers need to intervene, regardless of the breeding season. Even an angus cow bred to a small birth weight bull can have complications- regardless of the time of year. And I would argue strongly that our system allows us to catch those moments early and more often than a summer calver. I would also like to add that it brings my husband and I great joy and a sense of accomplishment when we aid a mother cow with a successful delivery that she couldn't have done healthily on her own. It is our opinion, that as animal caretakers, it is our responsibility to give our animals the best care we can.
We have installed calving cameras in our calving pasture and corrals that allow us to see 360 degrees and has extensive zooming capabilities. They also stream live to our computers, cell phones and tablets. This allows us to always have a set of eyes (or in our case, usually a minimum of 3 sets of eyes, up to 10!) on our cows that are near their due date. We are then able to identify problems early, monitor progess and know when to intervene (although it is rare that we have to). And the cost? Recovered in the first year we installed the system. It cost us $3500- which was the price of just over 2 calves this fall. And I can promise you it saved more than 2 calves.
You cannot tell me that a summer calver who allows his cows to graze on a section of land checks his entire herd in person a minimum of every 3 hours with addition digital supervision almost 24/7. I would then argue that we have a better probability of calving success when problems occur (and they ALWAYS will, no matter what breed, what sire or what time of year you calve).
Those summer calvers that claim they never have to pull a calf- I call BULLSHIT! There are probably instances where you should have intervened, but didn't because you didn't even know there was a problem. Maybe the cow delivered that calf, but she then had a longer recovery period, less or poorer quality colostrum, and that calf may have been weaker, had a lower immune system or may have been slower developmentally. That all costs you pounds in the fall and dollars out of your pocket. Heaven forbid you did lose a cow or a calf that could have potentially been saved by intervention- say good bye to more dollars.
We need to stick together
The point is, we are all cattle producers and we need to stop pointing the finger at eachother and instead, help each other out. With social licence, animal activitists and interested consumers we have more than enough to deal with these days, without having to worry about the harsh criticisms of our neighbours and friends. Instead of telling that winter calver how stupid he is for calving in -30, why don't you offer to help? Who knows, maybe he will offer to let you use his facilities to perform a c-section on a cow of yours in the summer? Or maybe he'll help out at branding time. We are all in this crazy business and lifestyle together- so let's act like it!