It always amazes me how quickly we forget the lessons which can be garnered from our past, and in this case it’s really a case of the very recent past.
A headline on the website of a well-known Canadian farm publication is what caught my eye and set me on this particular train of thought. The headline stated ‘Pasture calving makes work easier’.
Now I suppose all journalists, myself included, will at times go with the obvious, but this one stood out as a story which really did cover something I would have thought any cattle producer would have long understood.
The idea here is pretty straight forward, the labour element associated with calving goes down when you leave it to the cows to do it on their own.
It’s a system many farmers used to employ simply because it fit with how nature itself operates.
You do not see deer and moose, bison and elk, giving birth when there is three feet of snow on the ground, and temperatures are well below freezing.
Instead the natural biological system of such wild animals have them giving birth in the spring when the grass is fresh, lush and full of nutrients. It assures a food source for the mother animals, and that allows them to produce milk to give newborns the best start they can to grow into the next generation.
Cattle will work the same way given a chance.
They will gladly calf in May, and use green grass to their advantage.
In the process producers do not have to have the females brought into corrals and watched closely to prevent newborns from perishing in the the cold and snow.
Now there are reasons producers moved to calving in the cold of winter. In many cases producers at one point were mixed farmers, meaning they ran livestock and raised grains and oilseeds. With the dual nature of farm operations the workload had to be spread out.
Farmers obviously thought moving calving into the snow months opened the spring season for them to concentrate of grain farming, and that would on the surface appear to be a logical way of looking at the situation.
But it may be a case of increasing the overall labour needs of the farm since winter calving needs closer observation.
It likely adds a cost to things as well as cows will need a higher quality winter feed to produce milk, something green grass offers in the spring.
It’s also a case where producers who manage genetics well to ensure easy-calving cows being matched with easy-calving bulls, the spring labour needs can be low enough to meld with grain operation needs for those still in a mixed farm situation.
Cows have managed to calf without assistance for hundreds of years, and given reasonable genetic management still will.
As for the specialized cattle producers, the move back to a more natural calving system stand to gain the ability to work with larger numbers of cows without huge corral, and staff costs, and without having to draw on the best feed to winter their cows with calves at side.
The idea of spring calving is not new, in fact it is simply doing things the way animals do them naturally in these parts. That producers moved away from such a system may have had some merit, but there is still very good reasons to let the cow do what it does naturally, while producers take on more of a low-cost spectator role.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.