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'Perfect calving weather' in Dickinson area

Press Photo by Dain Sullivan John Decker checks on a newborn calf at his farm in eastern Dickinson on Thursday.

Cattle experts say now is a prime time for calving.

The past couple of winters may have been harsh, but warmer temperatures should give area cattle producers reason to wipe the sweat from their brow, said Lee Tisor, research specialist for the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center in Dickinson.

"This would be perfect calving weather," Tisor said Thursday. "It's dry. That's big."

Tisor added that the past two winters have been hard on area calves, many of which are prone to losing ears and tails to the bitter cold.

Also, cows are keeping up their strength this year, he said. When mothers are healthy, their calves have a better shot at survival.

"It's been a good year, so the cows should be in good shape," he said. "The calves should be strong when they're dropped. Hopefully the cow takes care of them right away."

Even though Tisor thinks many area cows are doing well health-wise, he insists that farmers do everything they can this year to make sure calves get enough attention.

If temperatures suddenly drop, farmers should consider moving vulnerable calves into barns, or some other form of shelter, he said. He added that laying down straw can keep calves warm.

Tisor said it is worth it to go to these extra lengths when caring for newborns, mostly because farmers don't want them to suffer and there is a lot of money on the line.

"That's almost a thousand dollar bill, when that calf hits the ground," he said. "(Farmers) are putting in a lot of time, a lot of hours...trying to keep them all healthy and alive."

If a calf becomes ill from a lack of proper care after birth, farmers could also have to pay for medicine, he said.

Proper care for calves begins in the second and third trimester, said Kurt Froelich, extension agent for NDSU Extension Service in Stark County. He also said a calf's health depends largely on the nutrition its mother receives "during the gestation process."

"If she's suffering nutritionally, she's not going to nurse and raise her calf very well," Froelich said.

Jerry Wagner, of South Heart, and Loren Bock, of Belfield, pushed calving further back in their calendars this year, for fear freezing conditions could return.

Temperatures have been higher than in previous years, but Bock believes it is better to be safe than sorry.

"The weather's pretty unpredictable," Bock said. "We don't start (calving) until about March 15."

Wagner said, "I used to start Feb. 1, but I backed it way off."

Unlike Wagner and Bock, John Decker, of Dickinson, maintains that calving should be done earlier, rather than later.

"It's always good to calve in January and February versus March and April," Decker said.

No matter what the weather is like, Decker said calves' well-being depends on the necessities provided by a farmer who is always present.

"A real cowboy is with his cattle 24-7," he said. "You're out there, regardless."

Decker added that he does not like calving when there is mud, so he usually plans for the process to occur in January, when the ground is more solid. To make up for the cold weather, he puts his calves in a warm drying mechanism to keep them from freezing.

Decker, who has a "one-man operation" farm east of Dickinson, said he has not had to do too much to protect his calves this year.

"It's been one of the easiest January-February calvings I've ever had," he said.

Klint Sickler, who raises cattle on a family farm 8 miles east of Manning, agrees with Decker in that the weather has been great for calving. There were approximately 17 calves on his farm Thursday.

"We can't complain one bit," Sickler said. "Especially without having a lot of snow on the ground, you're not having to worry about those calves freezing when they come out."

While there are many precautions farmers can take to increase their calves' chance of being healthy, the environment often has the final say, Tisor said.

"You're just hoping Mother Nature helps you," he said.