Traditionally, spring is thought to be the time when baby animals are born. Spring is a season of new life, but on many Iowa farms calving season begins in the winter. So why do some farmers plan to expand their herd when the weather is still cold?
Farmers take several things into consideration when deciding when to breed their cows. The gestation for cattle is 283 days, so calving will begin about 9 months after cows are bred. Most cattle farmers today use artificial insemination to breed their cows. Among the many benefits, artificial insemination allows them to better plan when calves are born.
Farmers choose to breed their herd to calve at different times, depending on what is best for their operation. The two main things they consider are time and weather, and these two factors go hand in hand.
Many farms, especially those in the southern half of the state try to plan calving in February and March. This enables calving to end before spring planting begins, and gives them more time to dedicate to it. Farmers’ first priority is the health and safety of their animals. They check on expecting cows and new calves often, sometimes hourly. They check to see if cows are going into labor, if new calves are born, and that moms and babies are doing well. Most cows are able to give birth on their own, but farmers are ready to assist if the cow or calf’s health is at risk. Occasionally farmers or veterinarians must pull calves that are stuck in the birth canal.
Some farmers move expecting cows to a pen or small paddock so they can closely monitor them as their due date approaches. It is common for farmers to move the cows into a barn or protected area of the pasture just before or when they go into labor. Some farmers have equipped their barns with Wi-Fi cameras, so they can keep an even closer eye on the cows in labor.
Weather is another key factor that farmers consider. Although it may seem odd to plan to have baby calves arrive when temperatures are low, the cold weather can be advantage. Generally speaking, diseases don’t spread as quickly in cold weather. Frozen ground can also be an advantage. Muddy ground in the spring is difficult for young calves to walk in. They can even get stuck in the mud.
Although there are benefits of cold weather, extremely cold conditions are not good either. Farmers in northern Iowa, where it is common for temperatures to drop below zero regularly in January and February, generally breed cows so that calving begins in March when conditions are a bit warmer. This makes for a very busy spring for farmers who also raise corn and soybeans, since spring tillage and fertilizer application often begin in March. But with proper planning and management, farmers are able to balance both.
Be sure to check out Chrissy’s recent blog, Vo-COW-bulary to learn more about cattle.