(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)
Cattle producers deal with cold, snowy weather for calving season…
Chances are if you have some cattle-owning friends in Stevens County, there is a time of year where they can’t meet you for an event in town or even leave the house.
Why? Calving season.
For many cattle producers, it’s the Super Bowl-time of the year for them. Instead of big plays, however, it’s helping their cattle deliver a new set of calves.
For most cattlemen in Washington, calving begins in January, February and March depending on the climate in their respective areas. These calving periods last about 60 to 90 days.
For Chewelah-based Hagen Cattle and Hay, they start their calving fairy early in January and the farm develops a siege-like atmosphere with family members taking shifts throughout the night, watching closely over their cattle.
“Most outfits calve at latter dates because the weather is warmer,” Lorren Hagen said. “Our reason is late February and March have too much cold rain and mud here. This chills calves and causes pneumonia and scours.”
Since the Hagens produce Angus and Polled Hereford bulls, they need to be large and mature enough to breed a year later when the breeding season begins in May. But since they start early, it creates a whole new bevy of challenges.
“The cold weather takes tremendous energy out of a wet, newborn calf,” Hagen said. “If they use up the energy reserve they are born with, they will suffer hypothermia and die.”
It’s up to the Hagens to make sure their calves are up, dry and nursing with their mothers within 15 to 30 minutes after being born. The Hagens have facilities, including an iconic big red barn, that can protect their calves from storms, wind and very cold weather. Bedding like sawdust and straw also help the calves maintain core temperatures.
“It requires a lot of constant cow watching and daily cleaning of pens,” Hagen said. “Excellent feed and proper vaccinations are also required to maintain body condition and health in cows.”
Some people might be wondering why cattlemen set up their calving during months that can be cold in NE Washington, according to Washington Cattlemen’s Association Vice President Sarah Ryan.
“Calving in this season best utilizes the seasonal forages that are available for cattle to graze throughout the year,” Ryan said.
While things usually begin to warm up, this February and March have been snowy, cold and challenging for all livestock producers, not only with their mature herds but also for calves and even lambs. Ryan said that this year has been exceptionally bad in terms of weather for producers and it has resulted in stress on animals and humans that was greater than expected.
“When a cow is calving, which is typical this time of year, cattlemen have to provide extra feed and warm places for cows to calve,” Ryan said. “If it is bitter cold or there is wind, the cattlemen will check any cows that appear close to calving regularly – every hour or two, even through the night.”
For the Hagens, they say that healthy cows produce strong, healthy calves with vigor and resistance to elements. It’s the result of a 283-day gestation period for Angus and 288 days for Herefords.
“This means we start breeding Herefords about March 25 and Angus cows about April 1,” Hagen said.