Calving…ET Style

10 Jan

January marks the start to a pretty busy time of the year for many farmers and ranchers across the country. Why you might ask? Well, the answer is simple, it’s time for those cows we bred last spring to start calving. Although the answer is simple, the process may not be.
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Many chose to avoid calving during this time of the year because of the chance of cold and inclement weather. We don’t have that luxury because most of our customers desire a spring born calf. Luckily, weather here in Southwest Missouri has been pretty mild compared to past years. But as many from around here know, that couldn’t easily change tomorrow.
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Because all of our cows are synchronized, they should all calve between about a two week interval. This isn’t an exact science and sometimes mother nature takes over and cows calve early or later than their expected due date. Just like in humans. Our group of calving cows are checked at least three times a day. Once in the morning, once before dark and then again at about 3am. How do you synchronize these pregnancies? The cows are implanted with a CIDR for one week. It projects a hormone making them come into heat at the same time and therefore bred at the same time.  Once the CIDR is removed the cow will come into heat seven days later.

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You might be wondering why this black, cross-bred cow has a white, Charolais baby calf. Our operation is a little different than normal. We run an embryo transfer (ET) herd. Those in the purebred cattle business want more offspring from their best cows. That’s where we come in. These breeders send us their superior mama cows (we call them donor cows) and we give them hormones that enables them to produce more than one egg during a cycle. While still in the cow those eggs are artificially fertilized. Then before they have time to grow inside the cow they are flushed out. This process is very similar to IVF in humans, but the embryos are either frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored in tanks or immediately implanted into recipient (recip) cows. These cows are similar to what people would call a surrogate mom. The recip cow carries the calf until birth and nurses it until it is weaned. Once it is time for weaning, the ET babies are then sold back to the purebred breeder and our recip cows are once again synchronized for their next breeding.

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Babies of different breeds, owned by different people are born each day on our farm. Because of this, records are extremely important. Each breeder is assigned a different color ear tag that each calf is given. The information on the tag includes: date of birth, sire, dam and the recip cows tag number. This information is also recorded in a notebook kept in the feed truck and is later entered into our computer database program.

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Calves are tagged right after they are born to eliminate any confusion later. This time is also the easiest time to actually catch the calf. They haven’t quite adjusted to life on Earth and don’t know how to exactly use their feet yet. But it is always a good idea to keep an eye on mama cow. She is typically very irritated by this process. Wouldn’t it be easier if they could understand that we are just trying to help?

For us here at Utopia Genetics, we will be calving out spring babies through March. We get a short break during the summer months and then fall calving kicks off in early September.

Does anyone have any memorable calving stories or tricks of the trade that help make this time of the year easier on both farmer and bovine?

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4 Responses to “Calving…ET Style”

  1. Lauren Lyssy January 10, 2013 at 11:42 PM #

    We do the same at our ranch. We are always looking for weaned calf operations. Great blog!

    • My Life in 'The Hills' January 11, 2013 at 8:54 AM #

      Lauren, Do you know Dr. Tommy Perkins? He is currently Executive VP of Beefmaster Breeders United. He was my animal science professor at Missouri State, as well as a good friend. If you see him around tell him and his family I said hello from Missouri.

  2. Crystal Cattle January 11, 2013 at 8:44 AM #

    Good luck on calving. A couple years ago we got custom tags from the Angus Association that had our web address on them. It was nice to have those, especially in the calves that we sold. (We have Herefords, and still bought tags through them). We are waiting on our first calf to come any day and then we’ll be on a break until March.
    crystalcattle.com

    • My Life in 'The Hills' January 11, 2013 at 8:50 AM #

      Thanks for sharing Crystal. A web address would be a great added bonus on an ear tag. We have our farm name printed on the tags for our recip cows, but don’t spend the extra pennies to have it added to the ET babies, since we only have them for a short time.

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