In less than a week, Rainy River District farmer Kim Jo Bliss will be welcoming about 40 calves. This is less than what Bliss usually gets in a year because she had to get rid of cows due to drought.
Bliss expects the first calf to arrive Feb. 15.
“Right now, my cows are out in the bush, they are not at home. I will clear out some snow in the yard and move windbreaks and then just get the barn set up just so that cows can come in and out to calve,” Bliss said. “I’ll probably bring my cows home next weekend so they get used to being in the yard and around the barn. They’re used to the routine.”
Bliss said the most important thing to do is check on her cows regularly, especially if the weather is too cold. Usually, that means Bliss checks on the cows every couple of hours if it is a normal winter day. However, if it is -40, she checks on them every hour.
“It’s not that you’re expecting a problem with calves, it’s that you want to make sure they are not frozen and that they are getting up,” Bliss said. “It’s really important for them to have a good suck of milk very quickly. You want to make sure that happens.”
Bliss explained that it is very important for the calves to get the first drink of milk from their mother within the first 12 hours after birth.
“It’s pretty critical for them to get up and nurse from their mom because the milk is full of colostrum at that point so it’s really dense with lots of nutrients,” Bliss said. “That actually sets the tone for that calf for the rest of its life, so it’s very crucial for it to get that. If you don’t see that they are up and nursing, you want to get them to that udder, especially with a heifer and a first time mama.”
Heifers usually calve when they are two years old which means they could be nervous, Bliss said, adding that if the calf is not aggressive and does not want to stand, she has to intervene.
“Generally speaking, it’s a pretty natural process,” Bliss said. “But still, at this time of the year, it’s cold and you want to make sure they have a nice warm belly. That first milk drink plays a role for the rest of their lives. You do not want to be a pain because you want to let them naturally bond, but you still have to keep an eye on them.”
There are other chores that come with calving, Bliss said, the first is making sure the calves are well-fed. Bliss has eight cameras at her barn that allow her to watch her cows without disturbing them. Bliss added that the barn is too small for all her cows, so she still has to check on the ones outside.
“You then want to let her bond with her baby so you can actually not disturb them. You can watch from your phone or TV to make sure that they are nursing,” Bliss said. ‘It’s a huge tool because you’re not disturbing them. It sounds lazy not to walk out there, but if you’re up all day and all night you do get tired by the end of it.”
Bliss said not all cow owners calve at this time of year, especially if they have a big herd of 300 cows that they have to monitor. She said it is pretty impossible to have a facility that would house all cows and keep them safe inside.
“People calve in the winter for different reasons,” Bliss said. “I calve in the middle of February because when I’m done calving it will be time for me to go back to the research station. I appreciate being home making sure that everybody’s safe. Then when I get back to work, the part of the process that could go wrong on me is taken care of, then I’m away from the home for the good part of the day.”