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Bottle calves at Dean and Twyla Stroh's ranch south of Tappen, N.D., snuggle into the straw on March 19, while a cow with a newborn calf rest in the pen behind them. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

Wet, muddy conditions likely as calving season picks up

TAPPEN, N.D. — Dean and Twyla Stroh are winning a battle with cold, snow, mud and slop.

The Strohs' calving season began on Feb. 8. Since then, they've calved out their embryo-transplant cows, their artificially inseminated cows and about 100 bull-bred cows. They had a touch over 300 calves on the ground on March 19, putting them a little more than half done in a calving season that will stretch into April.

Central North Dakota has seen colder, snowier conditions in recent months than is typical.The Strohs raise Simmental-Angus cross cattle about five miles south of Interstate 94 near Tappen. Tappen is between Bismarck and Jamestown, both of which recorded abnormally cold and snowy conditions in February. February was the fifth coldest and sixth snowiest February on record in Bismarck and the third coldest and second snowiest in Jamestown.

Despite those conditions, Twyla said things have gone well at their place this season. They haven't had any frozen ears or tails, and they haven't lost many calves.

Pairs are kept in individual pens in the days after they are born at the Strohs' place near Tappen, N.D."We've lived with them," she said.

While the Strohs are in the thick of calving, most cattle producers in the central North Dakota area covered by the Steele Veterinary Clinic are just getting going, veterinarian Joseph Hochhalter said. March 15 is a normal start date for many ranches.

"The guys that have been calving early — it's been going pretty well. Been dealing with a lot of snow and a lot of frozen ears and that sort of stuff, but overall it hasn't been too bad for the first part," Hochhalter said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service, the bulk of calving in North Dakota happened in April in 2018. Calving progress went from 33 percent complete at the end of March 2018 to 75 percent complete at the end of April. No statistics have been released yet on calving in 2019. Hochhater said calving dates have been creeping later in recent years as producers try to get it out of the coldest months.

The Strohs have found ways to combat the cold and keep their animals healthy. The cows were ultrasounded for calving dates, so the Strohs and their employees move the closest ones in to a large, open barn at night. The barn is equipped with a camera system, which allows them to watch the cows from home and go out when a cow calves.

An in-barn camera system helps the Strohs keep track of their cows nearing calving at night."I don't know that I'd go back now, without a camera system," Twyla said.

Cows and new calves are moved to a heated barn. During the coldest conditions, the calves would stay inside the heated area for days before moving to an insulated area and eventually to outside when they were strong enough, Twyla explained. As the temperatures improve, the system of getting calves out speeds up.

For the comfort of the humans on the place, a cupboard in one of the calving barns is stocked with snacks and a nearby mini-fridge with beverages. As calving wears on, the stockpile helps keep everyone going.

A pair of March blizzards blanketed much of central North Dakota in heavy, wet snow. The oldest of the Strohs' calves are about 6 weeks old and ready to move to a pasture area. However, the move has been delayed because of the depth of the snow, Twyla said.

Now that temperatures have started to rise, mud and wetness will become big problems for young calves. Hochhalter said things like scours and navel infections become prevalent.

Wet conditions make bedding essential to calf health."Do your best to get those calves bedded down," he said. "Keep them clean and dry as much as possible, which will be hard with all of this moisture we're going to get."

Hochhalter advised ranchers to work with their veterinarians on supplements and medications for scours and to "dip" calf navels in disinfectant to stave off infections.

The Strohs clean and bed down in the barns every day and every other day outside. March 18 was a bedding day. The melting snow combined with a heavy fog to make the straw in most pens dingy and wet. But before new straw could be put down, the Strohs and their employees had to handle feeding cows and treating sick calves.

The Strohs have not lost many calves this season, despite the cold and snowy conditions.On March 18, there were a few to treat for pneumonia and a few to treat for scours. But overall, the calves have been healthy, Twyla said.

Twyla explained that there are six people working at the ranch, some full time and some part time. The men on the operation handle feeding while the women handle treating sick calves.

"We all know our spots," she said.

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