At the end of January and into February, two of the coldest months of the year, a process more suited to warmer weather unfolds in ranch country. It often requires a midwife who wears boots and spurs, and who can go sleep deprived for a few months. It is called calving season.
Calving in the cold keeps ranchers like 25 year old Tyler Pieper and his wife, Heidi, very, very busy.
“When it’s cold we continually check every hour to hour and a half to monitor the cows,” said Pieper, who ranches near Farnam in southwest Nebraska and is a member of the Frontier County Farm Bureau.
Pieper and his wife look over about 275 first calf heifers and 150 cows as they give birth to their babies in sometimes below freezing temperatures. We do what we can to keep them out of extremely cold conditions, and keep them comfortable, he said.
“When it’s cold and we see them start to deliver, we get them in the barn to make sure their calves are born out of the elements. If the weather is nice, we let them have their babies outside,” said Pieper. Of the 275 first calf heifers and 150 cows who are giving birth this season about 115 to 120 of them have gone through the barn at one stage or another because of the cold.
Cattle Come First
Everything the Pieper’s do on the ranch revolves around the cattle. Cattle come first, Pieper said.
“As a rancher, I am responsible for those cows and their calves. Sometimes there is a fine line between life and death. They depend on humans to take care of them, so it is my responsibility to check on them when they are born outside and take them to the warming room in our calving shed and make sure they get dried off. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2:00 in the morning or 2:00 in the afternoon. This is not an eight to five job. There isn’t such a thing in agriculture,” he said.
A lot is done to prevent the calves from getting too cold. It’s normal for ranchers to check a calf’s temperature. A good temperature is around 99 to 100 degrees. Anything lower and it’s into the barn for the calf. It’s important to get their temp up to normal so that they are strong enough to get their mother’s first milk, Pieper said.
The first milk is essential, it contains colostrum which supplies the calf with anti-bodies needed for a healthy immune system. It also allows the bond between calf and mother to begin.
“We both grew up around cattle. I would work livestock with my dad, Dr. Kent Pieper, who is the veterinarian in Farnam. My wife, Heidi, grew up in Dunlap, Iowa, and helped her folks run both of their livestock markets, a physical place where farmers and ranchers go to buy and sell cattle. We both have the same passion for agriculture and feel blessed to do what we love,” Pieper said.