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A heifer and her newborn calf enjoy the warm straw and barn on a cold, snowy day. (Tierny Hamlin / Forum News Service)

What to expect during calving season

Calving season is said to be one of the most critical times for cow-calf operations in North Dakota and it is approaching, if not started already.

"The biggest issue this year is going to be feed. So from a cow/calf perspective it's important to make sure we have the feed, even though there is a feed shortage, said Kris Ringwall, director of the Dickinson Research and Extension Center.

Calving season varies for every operation, starting from mid-January to mid-April. Depending on the year, snow, wind and extreme cold, calving can come at anytime. Therefore, weather is an important factor.

"There is much preparation that goes into the calving season. Supplies and equipment are important because when calving season hits, it hits hard," according to the North Dakota Stockmen's Association. Depending on the operation size, the amount of calves entering the world every day varies from one to 20 and in some instances more.

NDSA added that taking a day to be prepared will be a lot more enjoyable than being in need of something on a dark, cold, wintry night.

One of the most critical supplies is said to be a calving book, in which information about each calf, such as weight, ear tag number, gender and date born, are entered.

On most operations, cattle are brought in close to buildings to prepare for calving. A new calf dives into the world head first with front feet extended and usually on cold snow or sloppy mud. During the process of the calf exiting the womb, if anything else instead of the feet comes first, there will most likely be complications.

People should have someone to call, such as a neighbor or local veterinarian, if complications do occur during calving season.

While calving cattle, the cows should be checked every two hours and watched for labor complications. A cow in labor will be restless, may get up and lie down and walk with her tail outstretched behind her. As long as the labor is normal, leaving the cow alone is the best scenario. If there are complications, the cow is usually brought into a building or close quarters and assisted in birthing the calf.

Pulling a calf due to complications can go wrong but many ranchers are very experienced and will do this process on their own. The vet is usually called for more serious complications due to operations not having the correct equipment.

Calves usually weigh between 60-100 pounds and live off their mother's milk. In just a few months after birth, they will start grazing on grass.

Calving season is the time to see how genetic tests played out and how all the preparation has helped.

Calving season goes from generation to generation and there are many techniques and skills that producers accumulate through the years from their families.

Year-round preparation makes for a successful calving season. Feed is made to make sure to get through the winter and calving season when the grass doesn't exist. Producers study bulls and genetics to be able to produce the best calves possible and cattle are vaccinated throughout the year to make sure they are healthy for the upcoming calving season.

"The best recommendation is making sure the cattle are full when you come into calving time. And you want to make sure that they are getting the supplementation they need," Ringwall said.

In most operations producers calve first calf heifers, which is a young female cow who has not born a calf before and also cows who have likely had a calf before. In most instances, heifers are watched most closely as the more experienced cows usually don't need as much assistance.

Removing snow is important so that the yards hopefully won't get too sloppy when the snow melts. Where the snow is removed, straw is layed down for bedding. The calves will lie in it and try to maintain a healthy newborn body temperature of 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit. Calves and cattle can also be protected by shelters and are typically brought into barns.