Deciding on the best time to calve is tricky. A lot of Midwestern ranchers determine their calving start-date by the kinds of conditions they want to be dealing with baby calves in: blowing snow, freezing cold wind, or below zero temperatures. Most cattlemen and cattlewomen would gladly take muddy conditions over the other choices any day.
With the exception of taking a hiatus for the drought the last couple of years, late spring snowstorms—the kind with lots of heavy, sticky, wet snow, gusty winds, and sometimes downed power lines—have been a long-standing tradition in our region.
Stockmen know their area’s climate characteristics pretty well and weather is one of the deciding factors for many in picking their calving time. Around here, winter and spring oftentimes mean the same thing weather-wise. Determining when to deal with calving issues regarding weather conditions is usually based on the hopes that keeping baby calves alive might be less work if the weather is good most of the season.
Some years the weather is better for calving in than others, and for my husband and me this year has treated us pretty well, but when we get hit with a lot of snow, sometimes doubt can pay us a visit about our decision to start calving at the end of February.
Murphy’s Law has proven that we wouldn’t be immune to late-spring wintery weather if we bumped our calving time up to a later date. In the last two weeks we’ve received most of our winter season’s snowfall, but anytime neighboring ranches miss bad cold spells or a snowstorm because they started calving before or after us, it tends to make our wondering worse. The only thing we know for certain about messing with our start-date is that we’d likely regret it because a freak snowstorm or an abnormal cold snap would show up anyway.
Weather-related calving season stresses always cause my husband and me to dredge up the same question for more re-hashing: should we change the date when we start calving? We don’t have as much flexibility as other ranches do in moving our calving season to a later date. We feel our calves do better if they’re at least a month old before the herd gets turned out June 1st on the vast Forest Service summer range we lease.
Basically, ranchers in our region can either deal with calving season winter weather when they’re used to it or change their calving date and deal with it when they’re not used to it. Many cattlemen pick their calving start-dates in hopes of missing a good majority of the harshest weather, but Mother Nature usually has other ideas and has proven time and again that she’s in charge. If we stick with our normal calving start-date, at least we have a good idea when Mother Nature is most likely to stir things up during our calving season.
All we really know for sure is that there’s no way around it: sunshine or snow, warm or cold, calving is still going to be a lot of work. The only thing we’ve changed this year regarding how we feel about our calving season is that all the moisture-dense snow is a welcome sight.