Calving season winds down
TUTTLE, N.D. -- As calving season winds down, Adam Sathre of Tuttle, N.D., is starting to get a little time to reflect on the whirlwind of the past six months.
TUTTLE, N.D. - As calving season winds down, Adam Sathre of Tuttle, N.D., is starting to get a little time to reflect on the whirlwind of the past six months.
Calving seasons across North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana are nearing their ends. According to May 1 U.S. Department of Agriculture Crop Progress and Condition reports for the three states, calving conditions generally have been good with average death loss. Calving progress was at 79 percent in North Dakota, 83 percent in South Dakota and 88 percent in Montana.
Sathre, with his parents Hal and Lori, raises cattle and crops in Kidder County. He figures he's 85 to 90 percent complete with calving. Already he's making plans to get in the field and transition to farm work. But it's been a bit of a struggle to get through the winter.
The winter in central North Dakota got off to a tough start shortly after Thanksgiving, with several blizzards that buried roads and made feeding cows almost impossible. Add to it that Sathre's father was recovering from major health issues, and it made for a rough couple of months.
"Every day, there was a lot of added time simply moving the snow," Sathre says, explaining that it would take two to three hours to get to the hay and the cattle, and several more to feed. If the wind blew at all during the night, he had to start cleaning all over again. "It went like that for quite some time. There were days where there were stretches when I went to get the mail with the payloader more often than with the pickup."
The snow stopped toward the end of January, and conditions overall improved. Sathre's cows were supposed to start calving April 1, but a few "ambitious" heifers got calving season started around mid March, he says.
"For the first two to three weeks of April, weather-wise we really couldn't complain," Sathre says.
That's what he had hoped for when he moved his calving season back in recent years. He used to calve out earlier but decided to push it back to avoid the worst of the transition from winter to spring. And until the last two weeks in April, he was having a pretty pleasant calving season.
Then, things changed suddenly. Colder weather and bitter winds, along with combinations of snow, sleet and rain, gave Sathre some rough days and nights. The wind, in particular, chilled the calves, especially in the pasture where his mature cows calve, and the breeze blows even colder off a lake.
"That was harder on the cattle than the moisture itself seemed to be," he says.
He tripled the number of pairs he could put in the barn.
"The barn was maxed out," Sathre says. "Before you could bring more in, you had to decide who was ready to go out, and sometimes they had to go out before they were ready. You can only get them so crowded in there."
While every calving season brings a stretch or two of bad weather and full barns, Sathre says this was the longest stretch he remembers in recent years.
On top of the cold stretch, Sathre says there have been other challenges this season.
"It always seems worse when you're in the middle of it," he says. "But this year, it just feels like we have a few more calves not being able to figure things out, and a few more cows doing dumb things. Some days you just kind of shake your head and wonder what the heck is going to happen next."
For instance, Sathre this spring has saved a calf that had gotten itself two-thirds of the way down a badger hole and another that got its head stuck in a panel. And any cows that he needed to take to the Steele Veterinary Clinic seemed to wait until after hours to have problems.
The biggest thing Sathre hopes for, is that people learn what goes into getting a steak on the grill.
"After a tougher-than-average year of calving, a guy always hopes people really appreciate the beef they're eating in the end," he says. "There's a lot that goes into it."