Life and death are things you learn about an early age growing up on a farm or ranch. Over the weekend, I was reminded of the importance of those lessons.
On Friday, during my trip home as I rounded the curves of the gravel road near the Bechtel Ranch cow pasture, I stopped. I stopped not just to watch the sunset and take pictures of my “girls,” but also to be sure that no calves were on the ground yet.
Much to my surprise, I found a calf nursing one of our cows about a quarter of a mile into the pasture. It only looked like a small black blob in my digital camera, but I knew it was the first calf of the year.
Saturday morning, I made my routine ride through the cows and to tag the new baby. No luck finding the calf. The mother, #1007, must have had the newborn hidden in the grass, so I just had to come back before sunset.
I made my way back to pasture and there was the new baby standing with #1007. After a little tango with the cow and the calf-hook, I was able to tag our newest addition, a black bull calf weighing around 65 pounds.
Sunday morning wasn’t so joyous. Upon arriving to the pasture, I found two cows standing together away from the herd. One was #1007 with no sight of her calf, the other was #1001. I wasn’t too worried about #1007’s calf as I believed she had it hidden, so I moved on to examining #1001.
She just had a calf; unfortunately, it was dead before my arrival. There was nothing I could do at this point but remove the lifeless bull calf from the pasture and perhaps do a necropsy. I felt terrible thinking of what possibly could have gone wrong.
Could I have been out there sooner checking the cows and possibly caught the problem? Did I use bulls with not enough calving ease or too high of birth weight EPDs? Did I cause a genetic defect to occur in our herd by using similar genetics?
All of these scenarios and more ran through my head as I drove back to the house with the lifeless calf. To say the least, it was a bumpy ride not just through the pasture, but emotionally. I had my father, who is a veterinarian, look the calf over and we came to the conclusion that #1001 just took too long having the calf. We weighed the calf because he was a bit larger than #1007’s and he came in at 75 lbs., an average weight. I’ll have to come to a decision this October before we turn out our bulls if I want to keep #1001 around, but for now I’ve got 75 other cows to worry about.
A lost life
Animal-rights activists believe I only view that dead calf as lost dollars, but it is more than that. The calf is a lost life. He is lost potential nourishment for many people. He is also a reflection of some kind of failure on my part as a producer.
That Sunday evening, after raking hay and before heading back to Kansas City, I made sure to find #1007’s bull calf. Luckily, he was with his mother nursing as I rounded the gravel curves. That was one bright spot I could reflect on as I made my drive back for work. I, like many producers, care for my animals a great deal and death is never easy to deal with, especially when it comes to the loss of newborn animals. No matter how hard producers try, we can’t save every animal’s life. However, we’ll try our hardest to prevent every unnecessary death that we can, and in the process raise a safe and healthy product for consumers.