From our April 2017 edition, here are some great tips for keeping cows and calves together even with daily moves.
When the spring flush of grass kicks off with pastures exploding in growth, it can be difficult to keep up with new growth. Then you add in calving in the mob with frequent spring moves and things can get out of hand in a hurry. The last thing you want to do for the grass that is growing gangbusters towards maturity is to take off any grazing pressure.
This is the most challenging time of the year to keep up with the grass before it all goes mature and loses its palatability. For calving ease it would be nice to just set stock the cows in a section of pasture and leave them there until they were all finished calving. Sounds good in theory, but you just lost your whole farm of palatable grass which is now turned into woody non-palatable forage. So what other option do we have for calving in the mob?
We have been mob grazing now for ten years and have tried several different methods of calving in the mob with different levels of success. I want to share some of our mistakes and recent successes with calving in the mob while continuing to move the mob in the spring flush. We have our work cut out for us with calving in the spring flush with 3-5 moves a day and rotating through 16 farms that cover five miles. There are road cattle drives in between these farms as well, which adds an extra challenge to making sure all the calves are accounted for.
There are several things right off the top that I want to cover that really make things tough with calving in the mob. First and foremost is that we never tag a new calf until it is at least eight hours old. The reason for this is that the new mother needs time alone with the newly born calf to bond and get comfortable with her calf. There is a real danger with first calf heifers walking off from their calf when you casually walk down to tag the calf.
Leave them alone, let things settle down with them. You must get a tag in the new calf within two days or you may not catch them. Our method of tagging these two day old calves is to work them into the mob and then you can easily sneak up and catch the calf. Keep an iodine bottle in your ATV or truck for dipping the ear tag pin portion in before applying the tag into the calf’s ear. This really eliminates any issue with having the wound get infected from the punched hole that the tag made. By having a positive ear tag ID of each new calf that tracks back to the cow this greatly improves traceability.
The next big mistake that you want to avoid with calving in a mob is that you never walk into the paddock and move the mob first. You walk the entire paddock that they are on first. During this walk through your mob you need to be 100% focused on anything unusual. A cow standing at the corner of the paddock by herself. Look for new baby calves that do not have an ear tag in them. Is there anything that is having trouble calving? This is the time to deal with it, not after you move the mob onto a new paddock.
If we have to get something up to a handling facility, it is so easy with a geared poly-braid reel and another person to hold the other end of the wire. We make an angle using the poly-braid reel and gather up the cow against the gate to the paddock. Before we open the gate we gather a volunteer cow to take with her to the corral. Never take a cow by themselves to the corral. You are putting stress on that animal that is not needed at all at this time. They are herd animals and the get very agitated when you isolate them from their herd. Once you have another cow with them their world is good again.
When you are walking through the paddock looking for new calves walk slowly and be alert. If you walk up on a baby calf that has just been born, there is a 95% chance that the new mother is very close and must be identified before you move the mob. Never move the mob until every new cow/calf pair is matched up. Just make sure that you have the right cow tag number to the new calf. When you open that gate to the new fresh paddock, some cows that have just calved will move with the mob. Their new calf is left where she calved at.
This is why it is so extremely important to never get in a habit of moving the mob immediately then checking for new calves afterwards. You are just setting yourself up for a mess to sort out later. It is so much easier to check animals that are standing still rather than moving across a new paddock grazing at lightning speed on the freshly exposed forage. When you walk into the mob before moving them, they are just so much easier to observe. Your odds are much better at making sure everyone is accounted for before opening the gate to the new paddock.
The next trick we have developed is when we actually do move the mob, we make sure every animal has gotten up. Nothing is laying down. The whole mob needs a little bit of time to get comfortable with the commotion of everybody being urged to stand up and move around. The cows will start looking for their calf. It still amazes me how a cow can remember right where she left her calf hours ago.
The outside perimeter of the paddock where the cattle have not grazed yet is where a lot of the baby calves will be sleeping. You really have to be on your toes to not walk by them. Any bush or tall clump of grass will easily hide a baby calf and those are the spots that they pick out to hide. It is their instinct to hide in tall spots of forage to be safe from predators. Boy are they good at it.
The next trick is to have someone stand at the gate when you move them into the new paddock. This person will pinch them down into single file with the gate opening by allowing only a few cows at a time to come through into the new paddock. You can actually do this with your body position if your gate opening is not too large. The only thing that I am focused on is writing down every baby calf tag number that comes through the gate with the paddock move. If I have a calf tag number missing after the whole mob is moved through the gate, I know exactly which cow left her calf behind.
This has been the biggest breakthrough in preventing abandoned calves being left behind. It just does not happen anymore. The cow that leaves her calf is gathered up with poly-braid from the new paddock and put back in the old paddock with her hidden calf. If she does this consistently with each move, she is culled. Life is too enjoyable to deal with stupid cows that will not keep up with their calves. The worse part of keeping this cow is that her calf will spread the same behavior to their off spring when they start reproducing.
We use this same process before we take off on a cattle drive down the public gravel road to the next farm. Every cow has got to have her calf or we sort her out with a poly-braid geared reel and leave her in the paddock where the calf is hiding. She is not allowed to join the mob of cows until she gathers her calf. She knows exactly where it is at, you can walk your legs off and never find it. Some cows will walk right to their calf once that they are satisfied that you are not following them. Any time that you make a move to the next paddock, never close the gate to the paddock that they just came from. If they left their calf, they will go gather the calf as soon as they fill up on the newly exposed forage.
Once the new calves get 3 weeks old they become a non-issue with moving the mob. They are very mobile and seem to keep up with the cow very well. One thing to watch out for when making long cattle drives from one farm to the next is to be extremely vigilant in keeping the baby calves caught up with some older cows at the tail end of the cattle drive. If you are not paying attention and let the whole group of baby calves get trailing a fair distance behind the main mob of cows, you are in trouble.
You may have a real wreck coming right at you and it is 100% your fault. That group of baby calves which have fallen behind the cattle drive are now very upset with not having mama in sight or an older cow to follow. There is only one direction that they are interested in going and it is not forward. The last place Junior saw his mama was in the paddock at the farm where you just moved them from.
Guess where Junior and his buddies are going? Yep, back to the previously grazed farm. If you think you can stop twenty frightened baby calves running right at you, think again. Let them go and follow at a distance to make sure they make it back onto the farm where you took them from. Now you just made two cattle drives out of one because you were not paying attention to the baby calves. You now have to walk the new mother cows back to gather their calves from the grazed farm.
You will never ever catch all those baby calves, always walk the cows back to the calves. When you are making the cattle drive to another farm, you should not be talking, but 100% focused on keeping the baby calves caught up with mob move. It is always the calves that have just been born or up to 15 days old that give you the biggest trouble. You can always visit after the cattle drive is completed.
There are challenges to calving in a mob, but with these techniques that I have covered we have made it much easier to do. I am not going to let our grass turn to wood in the spring flush while we set stock and calve in one pasture. Your future grass supply for the whole growing season is dependent on how you manage your spring flush. The grass waits on no one. Your mob is your only economical method that you have at your disposal to control this flush of grass in the spring. There is a ton of weight gain out there in your spring palatable grass pastures to capture with your animals, go for it!
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