Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where's the semen tank?

I have some memories of cows freshening during the winter when I was growing up, but for most of my formative years the cows were bred to calve seasonally. From Christmas to early March, the herd was dried up. Then, in March, calving began. At times it felt like we had calves coming out of our ears. When Glen and I started farming, the cows were still seasonal; that first April we had a new calf a day for a month. The logistics of housing and feeding that many calves required creativity at times, but once the big rush was over we had a nice group of calves of relatively uniform size and age. Then our breeding window opened and the cycle started all over again. The system worked well for several reasons: the cows were in milk when the grass was green, the pasture was our calving pen, and we never had to worry about cold-weather calving issues like frozen calves and frozen teats.

Under our management, however, the cows are slowly returning to a year-round calving schedule. We still have mini-rushes every now and then from the cows who have maintained their seasonality, but for the most part calving is divided pretty equally amongst the twelve months of the year. Which means we have cows and heifers calving right now. Actually, we've had quite a few new calves in the past month, including two sets of twins (not heifers). Between monitoring close-up cows ("What's Jackie doing? Do you think she's going to calve tonight? Should we bring her in?") and trying to find room for all the newborns until they're ready for the hutches, I'm about ready to be done with winter calving. I'd much rather have the cows freshen out on pasture (it seems like we don't have to be nearly as involved) and deal with new calves in attire other than my Carharts (and the basketball I have strapped around my middle). Plus, it's a lot easier to arrange temporary housing for calves when the weather is more temperate than arctic.

So I circled some dates on the calendar for Glen and told him he should refrain from breeding any cows between those two dates so we wouldn't have to repeat this again next year. He told me he couldn't let a good heat pass for the sake of a calving schedule; I'd have to hide the semen tank. My breeding moratorium will be here before I know it, so if you have any ideas about where I can hide the semen tank, let me know.

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