Surviving the snow.

Holy buckets of snow.

This weekend was kind of a doozy.  Our area got hit with a big snowstorm & single digit temperatures this weekend.  Not exactly the most ideal weather conditions for calving. I realize that many parts of the country calve in conditions like this every year, but around here we usually have one or the other.  (And usually it's cold temperatures....big snowfalls like we had this weekend aren't normal for our area.)  A lot of friends we talked to all said the same thing - that we just aren't prepared to calve in this kind of weather.  And it's true.

So what did ranchers do to keep calves alive?

They worked their tails off.

Everyone flat out hustled, no one got much sleep, and everyone worked as hard as they could to save every calf that hit the ground.  I know I checked the weather constantly....hoping for less snow and warmer temperatures. 

So what did we do for the past three days?

1. We checked calving cows.
A lot.  At least every two hours someone was driving through groups, and one night Clint never went to sleep because he was up going through a set of mature cows and bringing in their newborn calves to get warm. 

2. We brought everything in.
 Where the ranch calves the heifers & young cows, we have a barn that lets us stall quite a few pairs under cover.  Any heifer that calved was brought in.  We'd warm the calves up in the office under a heater or in a hot box, and if needed we put the heifer in the stanchion and milked her out to feed the new calf so that we knew it had gotten colostrum.  The pair would spend a day inside the barn, and then get rotated to outside pens (above) before they were kicked out back into the pair pasture.

Young cows that calved on the north side of the road, away from the barn were also brought in.  The ranch has old calving sheds that provided shelter (though no heat), so if the calf looked pretty healthy we sledded the calf in with the cow following along, and let them spend the day in the shed before getting tagged & turned out.  We could have gotten those cows to the calving barn, but it involves crossing the road so we tried not to unless it was absolutely needed.  Luckily for us, the sheds worked out just fine this weekend.

On the south side of the freeway, where the mature cows are calved the facilities weren't as ideal.  There are only a few pens under an open sided barn, but there is a little building with a heater & running water.  The guys would drive around and pick up the newborn calves out of the field, bring them in to get warmed up & towel dried off and then would take the newborn calf back out an hour or two later so it could suck from the cow.  I think at one point they had brought in 7 calves and floor space was at a premium.   And that was before one of the calves kicked a PVC water line and broke it.

The flooding didn't help our cause, but they got it fixed and we kept bringing in and taking out calves.

3. We fed & bedded.
The guys didn't skimp on the feedings, since cattle needed more energy to fight the cold, snow and wind.  They get this energy from fat stores (having cattle in good condition helped here) and also from making sure that they were fed enough, or even a little extra.  They also flaked wheat straw into big mounds in the pastures.  We don't have a lot of protection where we calve, so the wheat straw gave the cows a chance to get up off of the snow and lay in something warm.  Also, if one did calve at night, they usually calved on the straw, which gave the calf more of a chance until we could get there and get it inside.


What we did at Double M wasn't anything out of the ordinary.  Every rancher we knew was hustling to create the best environment possible for cows that were calving.  But everyone has different facilities, different access points to get cows in, and different levels of infrastructure.  The cows at Double M have less natural protection from weather (think trees, hillsides, etc.) so we brought more cows in than other ranches may have.  I saw lots of pictures on Facebook of calves warming up in the backseats of pickups, in laundry rooms, and in front of woodstoves in offices because it's what they had. 
Everyone made the best of the environment they operated in. 

Was every ranch able to bring in a newborn calf?  Unfortunately, no.  Some operations aren't designed with a lot of inside barn space because in a normal year they don't need it.  When they got in a jam and needed warm areas, they improvised.  Clint was telling me how if we'd been in that situation, without a barn, we would have bedded a stock trailer with straw, hung heat lamps in it run off of a portable generator, and parked it in a central location so we could have brought calves to it to get them warm. 

In short - you get creative.

And we all just kept working, wishing the weather would go away. 

Sometimes it felt like it just wouldn't end.  You cussed a cow who wouldn't follow her calf to the barn.  Spouses who needed sleep said unkind words to each other.    Washing machines tumbled with barn towels, bottles & tubers got put to work, and many of us grasped to encouragement found on social media.

It helped to know that you weren't alone.
That you weren't crazy for continuing to push.
That you weren't the only one that needed a nap.

So as the days turn warmer, and the ground begins to thaw ranchers will look towards the next days when calves will still need us.  Temperature swings will bring sick calves, there will still be cows calving, and the work will still be there every morning.
And we'll go.
We'll pull on the Muck boots, throw on the overcoat and slide on the gloves.
We'll work and work and work somemore.
Because success is reason enough.


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