Day Writing by Heather Hamilton-Maude: Calving Experiments
March 15, 2019
Here's something that I have been pondering considerably this calving season. Perhaps you will have an answer, or it will provide you some food for thought as you wait for the night heifer check.
We develop a few heifers for people, which often includes AI'ing them. Last year we had four bunches of heifers we bred. As in, four different owners. Three out of four were in the same location, on the same ration, in the same pen with each other in the weeks leading up to breeding. AI protocols used were the same across the board. Different bulls were used, but all were low birthweight Angus, SimAngus or Simmental. Following AI, they all went to summer pasture; three of the bunches went together. I'm guessing they were wintered on similar rations, too: Hay, grass and maybe some cake.
Fast forward to this spring. Our own heifers were one of the four bunches. Five days before everyone's due date, we had around 20 calves on the ground. Meanwhile, the other three bunches looked like this: one owner had zero calves, one owner had one calf, and one owner had two calves.
I find cattle genetics fascinating, and realize there are a vast number of contributing factors leading to our scenario. However, I still think it's pretty cool to see so much difference between four bunches of heifers that by and large were managed exactly the same way for the last nine to 12 months.
Everyone talks about the impact a bull can make on a ranch, good or bad, and that's true. But, the impact of what is selected for on the female side obviously has just as much, and perhaps more, of an impact on certain traits across an entire herd. At least that is the conclusion I've derived after pondering our "experiment."
Another area we purposely experiment in is calving tools/products. For instance, we now use large and extra-large heavy-duty dog coats for calf coats. We have them in multiple colors, and in addition to using them for the obvious, we also occasionally throw them on one, or two, calves to verify who their mother is. If we need to tag, or have a rather simple heifer, we may throw a coat or two on and denote that the calf in such and such color coat goes with such and such heifer.
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Maybe we are the only ones who leave the ear tags in the other pickup, or who have "special" heifers, but having a dog coat handy has made our lives easier more than once while calving. And, at about half the price of most calf coats, they're easier on the budget, too.
On a similar note, my husband just had me order an ice fishing sled to try as a calf sled. At $60, it's also considerably cheaper than a lot of livestock options, and designed to be drug across the ground and ice. The side walls are 10 inches high, and time will tell if that's tall enough.
The kids are happy to hear their sled is about to be retired from calf hauling duty. They won't be thrilled to hear a calf stepped in it and broke the bottom on out on one of the recent sub-zero nights. Maybe I should have ordered two ice sleds…
Beyond that, our thoughts and prayers are with the numerous producers getting pounded with bad weather. We have thus far missed the worst of it, and even then it hasn't been pleasant.