With calving around the corner, memories of April blizzards keep coming back
"With the warmer temperatures and the steady melting, one would think that we'd be breathing a sigh of relief that all will be well by the time that first calf arrives. But — especially after spring 2022, to say nothing of other years passed — we all know better."
The snow has been melting here in central North Dakota. Oh, the ground is still nearly fully white from the intense blizzards that came in November and December . But there are slow signs of spring warm up on the horizon.
These were the signs I lived for as a child. The melting snow meant softball season was near. It meant I could ditch my heavy coat. It meant green grass and an easier time for calving, so long as the puddles and mud didn't get too bad.
Of course, where I grew up in eastern Montana, the melting could happen multiple times in a winter. Plus, my dad started — and still starts — calving in January. Here at the ranch in North Dakota, the snow is far more enduring, and our calving doesn't start until March.
With the warmer temperatures and the steady melting, one would think that we'd be breathing a sigh of relief that all will be well by the time that first calf arrives. But — especially after spring 2022 , to say nothing of other years passed — we all know better.
The bred cow and bred heifer markets have been pretty soft around here since fall. While it's just a hypothesis, it seems pretty likely that folks who may have wanted to restock or expand their herds got through those early blizzards and decided to conserve their feed — and possibly their sanity — and either hold off for this year or wait until they can buy healthy pairs before grass time instead.
For those who experienced them, those April blizzards feel very, very recent, and it's hard not to feel a little dramatic when we think of this calving season.
The first time I walked out of the house to dripping off the roof of the garage and a puddle of what had been snow just earlier that day, I shuddered a little. Those puddles will be in the corrals, too, I thought, remembering the calls to come help my husband chase a cow to the barn as he dragged the calf out of the slop. And there's no way ALL of this snow can melt and dry up by the middle of March.
Then I started thinking of the storms likely still to come. Oh, we've been in a lull in 2023, but that just makes it feel very likely that we'll get hit again soon. When will the storms come? Before calving or after? And does it matter — either way, we'd have a mess to deal with at a time when we don't need a mess.
I was thinking of where we could put new pairs in need of warmth. Would we have to move my daughter's 4-H calves out of the little barn where they've spent the winter to make more space for newborns? How many pens can we set up in the big barn? Do we have enough back-up heaters ready for the calf warmer? Should I pick up some extra bags of milk replacer and colostrum ? If it gets bad again, can we save most of them?
That last thought is the most agonizing, of course. Lost calves are tough to take mentally and emotionally, to say nothing of financially. Livestock producers don't have anything equivalent to crop insurance, and losses have to get pretty deep before the little assistance available kicks in.
A little hope I've had is that airing these fears will make them less likely to come true. So, now that I've done that, let's all say a little prayer for a dry, moderately warm spring and a lot of healthy calves and ranchers.
Jenny Schlecht is Agweek's editor. She lives on a farm and ranch in Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-595-0425.