Tools for transformation | TSLN.com

Tools for transformation

Loretta Sorensen

Photo by Loretta SorensenPat Guptill says he and his wife, Mary Lou, have successfully moved their calving time to April/May and as much as possible have adopted a hands-off approach to assisting cows during the calving process. The result has been healthier calves and less stress for the Guptills.

South Dakota ranchers Pat and Mary Lou Guptill have gone through a transformation over the last six years. Longtime Quinn residents, the Guptills have transformed their grain-fed black Angus beef production to a grass fed and nearly organic operation.

As they work out the final steps to be certified organic, the couple say they are pleased with the changes they’ve made on their ranch, and one thing they don’t miss is the nightly routine of checking cows every few hours during calving season.

“We switched our calving time to April and May,” Pat says. “That works better for us because our grasses have a lot of energy at that time and we’re not battling the weather like we did when we calved earlier in the year. It works better for the cows, too. They can be out in the pasture, don’t have to be in a barn unless they have real trouble. And we’ve found out that it’s better for that cow and calf if we don’t go near them for the first 24 hours after that calf is born.”

Dr. Lynn Locatelli, (DVM), who is part of CATTLEXPRESSIONS, an organization devoted to promoting the health and well-being of livestock, says a hands on approach isn’t always the best calving practice.

“The maternal bond between a cow and calf is crucial and the cow calf instinctively know that,” Dr. Locatelli says. “Cows do require assistance during a difficult birth and if the cow has confidence in the handler before that intervention takes place, it will prevent future handling problems with that cowherd and the calves.”

Guptill says their work with cows does begin well before the calving season. Since they began utilizing the grasses that are native to their ranch, they have more time to interact with the cows to help improve their handling techniques.

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“It’s an ongoing process,” Pat says. “We still don’t feel we spend enough time with our cattle, but we’ve just started mob grazing the yearlings so we’re moving them every day and that helps. They get used to seeing us pretty quickly and they know we’re not going to hurt them.”

The Guptills have also selected cattle for their herd that are more docile in nature, which has helped lessen their tendency to “spook and run over the hill.”

Among the reasons that the cow/calf bond is so important is the colostrum that Dr. Locatelli calls a “magic bullet” for the calves. Giving calves a chance to ingest the colostrum as soon as possible after birth is important. What handlers may not realize is that a stressed calf may not sufficiently absorb the nutrients in the colostrum, which means a weak immune system will plague the animal throughout its lifetime.

“Colostrum is so important to the calf’s immune system that any problem with absorption or quality will show immediately to weaning and into the post-weaning period,” Dr. Locatelli says. “But the place to start enhancing that cow-calf bond and having a positive impact on the calf’s health is well before that calf is ever born. A cow that’s handled roughly isn’t going to be confident when her owner approaches her. The way that she responds to you when she isn’t calving is going to be the same way she responds to you under any circumstance. So, proper handling practices are important every time you interact with your cows.”

The Guptills usually see their cows on a daily basis once calving season begins. When they notice a cow that looks like she’s beginning the birth process, they keep their distance unless she seems to be in distress.

“We don’t go near her until that calving process is over,” Pat says. “We want the calf to be licked off and get their first suck before we ever show up. This isn’t something we came up with. I learned it from a Bud Williams video. The cow is much more likely to bond 100 percent with that calf if they’re left alone. Now, there’s always the small percentage that will walk away from their calf anyway, but the chances of them establishing a secure bond are a lot better if you leave them alone those first few hours.”

If weather conditions aren’t favorable, the Guptills may have to alter their approach to get calves tagged before they get too far past the 24-hour mark.

“Once they get past a day or two old, they’re pretty hard to catch,” Pat says. “But we don’t find it difficult to tag them. I was laid up with broken ribs during calving this year and Mary Lou tagged all the calves. We have some kids that can run pretty fast too, if they have to. But since the cows are used to us, we can usually get up to those calves during the day when they’re sunning themselves and get ’em tagged pretty easily.”

One of the benefits the Guptills have noticed from their hands off approach is better cow/calf pairing when they move the cattle.

“They’re usually paired up by the time we get where we’re going,” Pat says. “If they’re not, we just leave them alone for a few minutes and pretty soon they’re all paired up just fine.”

Dr. Locatelli says regularly working with cattle throughout the year is important because they won’t feel threatened by the presence of handlers, whose hovering behaviors at calving time mimic a predator’s actions. Chasing cattle or yelling at them also mimics predator behavior. While aggressive techniques aren’t effective for handling cattle, interacting with them in too low key a manner is also detrimental.

“Low stress handling involves mutual communication,” she says. “Use a driving technique, sometimes called a sweeping Z, moving back and forth to pressure the cattle to respond. If you don’t ask your cattle to respond to you when you’re around them, they’re going to ignore you when you need a response from them. You don’t want to develop that habit either.”

Because reducing stress is so critical to the health of cattle at any stage, patience is always a very important element of cow/calf management.

“Understanding cattle behavior is also at least as important as patience, maybe more,” Dr. Locatelli says. “When it’s used properly, low stress handling becomes a very important tool in managing cattle. You don’t want to get your cows excited. If you rush in and grab a calf or jump on it, you’re mimicking the behavior of a predator and the cow will be excited. A better approach would be to use a calf hook, hang the calf up so the cow can come and touch the calf. A very simple procedure that, again, reduces the stress for everyone involved.”

South Dakota ranchers Pat and Mary Lou Guptill have gone through a transformation over the last six years. Longtime Quinn residents, the Guptills have transformed their grain-fed black Angus beef production to a grass fed and nearly organic operation.

As they work out the final steps to be certified organic, the couple say they are pleased with the changes they’ve made on their ranch, and one thing they don’t miss is the nightly routine of checking cows every few hours during calving season.

“We switched our calving time to April and May,” Pat says. “That works better for us because our grasses have a lot of energy at that time and we’re not battling the weather like we did when we calved earlier in the year. It works better for the cows, too. They can be out in the pasture, don’t have to be in a barn unless they have real trouble. And we’ve found out that it’s better for that cow and calf if we don’t go near them for the first 24 hours after that calf is born.”

Dr. Lynn Locatelli, (DVM), who is part of CATTLEXPRESSIONS, an organization devoted to promoting the health and well-being of livestock, says a hands on approach isn’t always the best calving practice.

“The maternal bond between a cow and calf is crucial and the cow calf instinctively know that,” Dr. Locatelli says. “Cows do require assistance during a difficult birth and if the cow has confidence in the handler before that intervention takes place, it will prevent future handling problems with that cowherd and the calves.”

Guptill says their work with cows does begin well before the calving season. Since they began utilizing the grasses that are native to their ranch, they have more time to interact with the cows to help improve their handling techniques.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Pat says. “We still don’t feel we spend enough time with our cattle, but we’ve just started mob grazing the yearlings so we’re moving them every day and that helps. They get used to seeing us pretty quickly and they know we’re not going to hurt them.”

The Guptills have also selected cattle for their herd that are more docile in nature, which has helped lessen their tendency to “spook and run over the hill.”

Among the reasons that the cow/calf bond is so important is the colostrum that Dr. Locatelli calls a “magic bullet” for the calves. Giving calves a chance to ingest the colostrum as soon as possible after birth is important. What handlers may not realize is that a stressed calf may not sufficiently absorb the nutrients in the colostrum, which means a weak immune system will plague the animal throughout its lifetime.

“Colostrum is so important to the calf’s immune system that any problem with absorption or quality will show immediately to weaning and into the post-weaning period,” Dr. Locatelli says. “But the place to start enhancing that cow-calf bond and having a positive impact on the calf’s health is well before that calf is ever born. A cow that’s handled roughly isn’t going to be confident when her owner approaches her. The way that she responds to you when she isn’t calving is going to be the same way she responds to you under any circumstance. So, proper handling practices are important every time you interact with your cows.”

The Guptills usually see their cows on a daily basis once calving season begins. When they notice a cow that looks like she’s beginning the birth process, they keep their distance unless she seems to be in distress.

“We don’t go near her until that calving process is over,” Pat says. “We want the calf to be licked off and get their first suck before we ever show up. This isn’t something we came up with. I learned it from a Bud Williams video. The cow is much more likely to bond 100 percent with that calf if they’re left alone. Now, there’s always the small percentage that will walk away from their calf anyway, but the chances of them establishing a secure bond are a lot better if you leave them alone those first few hours.”

If weather conditions aren’t favorable, the Guptills may have to alter their approach to get calves tagged before they get too far past the 24-hour mark.

“Once they get past a day or two old, they’re pretty hard to catch,” Pat says. “But we don’t find it difficult to tag them. I was laid up with broken ribs during calving this year and Mary Lou tagged all the calves. We have some kids that can run pretty fast too, if they have to. But since the cows are used to us, we can usually get up to those calves during the day when they’re sunning themselves and get ’em tagged pretty easily.”

One of the benefits the Guptills have noticed from their hands off approach is better cow/calf pairing when they move the cattle.

“They’re usually paired up by the time we get where we’re going,” Pat says. “If they’re not, we just leave them alone for a few minutes and pretty soon they’re all paired up just fine.”

Dr. Locatelli says regularly working with cattle throughout the year is important because they won’t feel threatened by the presence of handlers, whose hovering behaviors at calving time mimic a predator’s actions. Chasing cattle or yelling at them also mimics predator behavior. While aggressive techniques aren’t effective for handling cattle, interacting with them in too low key a manner is also detrimental.

“Low stress handling involves mutual communication,” she says. “Use a driving technique, sometimes called a sweeping Z, moving back and forth to pressure the cattle to respond. If you don’t ask your cattle to respond to you when you’re around them, they’re going to ignore you when you need a response from them. You don’t want to develop that habit either.”

Because reducing stress is so critical to the health of cattle at any stage, patience is always a very important element of cow/calf management.

“Understanding cattle behavior is also at least as important as patience, maybe more,” Dr. Locatelli says. “When it’s used properly, low stress handling becomes a very important tool in managing cattle. You don’t want to get your cows excited. If you rush in and grab a calf or jump on it, you’re mimicking the behavior of a predator and the cow will be excited. A better approach would be to use a calf hook, hang the calf up so the cow can come and touch the calf. A very simple procedure that, again, reduces the stress for everyone involved.”

South Dakota ranchers Pat and Mary Lou Guptill have gone through a transformation over the last six years. Longtime Quinn residents, the Guptills have transformed their grain-fed black Angus beef production to a grass fed and nearly organic operation.

As they work out the final steps to be certified organic, the couple say they are pleased with the changes they’ve made on their ranch, and one thing they don’t miss is the nightly routine of checking cows every few hours during calving season.

“We switched our calving time to April and May,” Pat says. “That works better for us because our grasses have a lot of energy at that time and we’re not battling the weather like we did when we calved earlier in the year. It works better for the cows, too. They can be out in the pasture, don’t have to be in a barn unless they have real trouble. And we’ve found out that it’s better for that cow and calf if we don’t go near them for the first 24 hours after that calf is born.”

Dr. Lynn Locatelli, (DVM), who is part of CATTLEXPRESSIONS, an organization devoted to promoting the health and well-being of livestock, says a hands on approach isn’t always the best calving practice.

“The maternal bond between a cow and calf is crucial and the cow calf instinctively know that,” Dr. Locatelli says. “Cows do require assistance during a difficult birth and if the cow has confidence in the handler before that intervention takes place, it will prevent future handling problems with that cowherd and the calves.”

Guptill says their work with cows does begin well before the calving season. Since they began utilizing the grasses that are native to their ranch, they have more time to interact with the cows to help improve their handling techniques.

“It’s an ongoing process,” Pat says. “We still don’t feel we spend enough time with our cattle, but we’ve just started mob grazing the yearlings so we’re moving them every day and that helps. They get used to seeing us pretty quickly and they know we’re not going to hurt them.”

The Guptills have also selected cattle for their herd that are more docile in nature, which has helped lessen their tendency to “spook and run over the hill.”

Among the reasons that the cow/calf bond is so important is the colostrum that Dr. Locatelli calls a “magic bullet” for the calves. Giving calves a chance to ingest the colostrum as soon as possible after birth is important. What handlers may not realize is that a stressed calf may not sufficiently absorb the nutrients in the colostrum, which means a weak immune system will plague the animal throughout its lifetime.

“Colostrum is so important to the calf’s immune system that any problem with absorption or quality will show immediately to weaning and into the post-weaning period,” Dr. Locatelli says. “But the place to start enhancing that cow-calf bond and having a positive impact on the calf’s health is well before that calf is ever born. A cow that’s handled roughly isn’t going to be confident when her owner approaches her. The way that she responds to you when she isn’t calving is going to be the same way she responds to you under any circumstance. So, proper handling practices are important every time you interact with your cows.”

The Guptills usually see their cows on a daily basis once calving season begins. When they notice a cow that looks like she’s beginning the birth process, they keep their distance unless she seems to be in distress.

“We don’t go near her until that calving process is over,” Pat says. “We want the calf to be licked off and get their first suck before we ever show up. This isn’t something we came up with. I learned it from a Bud Williams video. The cow is much more likely to bond 100 percent with that calf if they’re left alone. Now, there’s always the small percentage that will walk away from their calf anyway, but the chances of them establishing a secure bond are a lot better if you leave them alone those first few hours.”

If weather conditions aren’t favorable, the Guptills may have to alter their approach to get calves tagged before they get too far past the 24-hour mark.

“Once they get past a day or two old, they’re pretty hard to catch,” Pat says. “But we don’t find it difficult to tag them. I was laid up with broken ribs during calving this year and Mary Lou tagged all the calves. We have some kids that can run pretty fast too, if they have to. But since the cows are used to us, we can usually get up to those calves during the day when they’re sunning themselves and get ’em tagged pretty easily.”

One of the benefits the Guptills have noticed from their hands off approach is better cow/calf pairing when they move the cattle.

“They’re usually paired up by the time we get where we’re going,” Pat says. “If they’re not, we just leave them alone for a few minutes and pretty soon they’re all paired up just fine.”

Dr. Locatelli says regularly working with cattle throughout the year is important because they won’t feel threatened by the presence of handlers, whose hovering behaviors at calving time mimic a predator’s actions. Chasing cattle or yelling at them also mimics predator behavior. While aggressive techniques aren’t effective for handling cattle, interacting with them in too low key a manner is also detrimental.

“Low stress handling involves mutual communication,” she says. “Use a driving technique, sometimes called a sweeping Z, moving back and forth to pressure the cattle to respond. If you don’t ask your cattle to respond to you when you’re around them, they’re going to ignore you when you need a response from them. You don’t want to develop that habit either.”

Because reducing stress is so critical to the health of cattle at any stage, patience is always a very important element of cow/calf management.

“Understanding cattle behavior is also at least as important as patience, maybe more,” Dr. Locatelli says. “When it’s used properly, low stress handling becomes a very important tool in managing cattle. You don’t want to get your cows excited. If you rush in and grab a calf or jump on it, you’re mimicking the behavior of a predator and the cow will be excited. A better approach would be to use a calf hook, hang the calf up so the cow can come and touch the calf. A very simple procedure that, again, reduces the stress for everyone involved.”