With an unusually warm spring, calving season for southwest North Dakota beef ranchers has been supreme. At JC Farms in Adams County, spunky yet sweet newborn black Angus calves have already begun to fill the fields.

“It’s been so warm we haven’t hardly used our barns at all this year. Usually, we (will) put them in every night and the calving happens in the barn. But now it’s been so nice,” Jacki Christman of JC Farms said.

Christman and her husband Jordan have been farming for more than 10 years, and this year’s calving season has been quite successful with only having to pull four calves during birth out of approximately 250 head of cows.

“This is my favorite season. I love seeing cows have good, healthy calves (when) they get up and go sucking and everything just works out perfect, and you don’t even have to mess with them that much,” Christman said.

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Just before the cows are about to give birth, the Christmans will round up the cows into a corral near a few calving barns, so they can be monitored closely. Calving season at JC Farms began March 15 and will wrap up toward the end of April. Ideally, Christman said they try to finalize calving before seeding the fields.

A newborn calf pokes its head out of a gate inside a calving barn at JC Farms April 1, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
A newborn calf pokes its head out of a gate inside a calving barn at JC Farms April 1, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

Breeding: An inside scope

When breeding a herd of black Angus cows, Christman will select bulls that match each group of cows’ based on genetics, calving ease and other characteristics. Over the years, Christman said that she and her husband have learned to pull a bull from the herd of cows sooner from the typical 60-day breeding period to now, a 45-day cycle. The month and a half strategy works better, Christman noted, adding that it gives plenty of time to clean up the barns and by October, the calves will be relatively the same size when they are weaned off of the mothers for fall.

Another reason for the 45-day breeding period is because the pastures in Adams County need to be grazed by May. So because JC Farms will graze its cows in six different directions over the summer, Christman said she doesn’t want to bring pregnant cows out in case there are any issues during and after birthing.

For replacement heifers — or the best female heifers from the previous calf crop — will only have a 30-day breeding cycle with the bulls, because it’s their first time freshening and they will sometimes have more troubles than a seasoned cow, Christman noted.

From pregnancy to calving

During the last trimester of a cow’s pregnancy, Christman will make sure each cow is attaining enough nutrients, but also quality food, she said, adding, the diet can’t just be “old grass hay.” Each pregnant cow will receive a daily supplement of millet and good quality alfalfa grass, as well as having access to mineral and salt.

Every other day, pregnant cows will get 3 pounds of cow cake, which is a cube packed full of protein. Pregnant cows need protein, Christman said, explaining that especially after they freshen and are nursing, the grass is not green enough yet for the cows to sustain their milk production.

As calving season rolls around, Christman and her husband will check the pens for any newborn calves throughout the day beginning at 5:30 a.m. In the afternoon, Christman will ear tag the calves right before she brings in the next bunch of cows who are due to calve.

Right before Christman will release the mother and calf out into one of the fields, she administers all the calves with shots, to help prevent pneumonia, overeating and bloating.

A newborn black Angus calf stands close to its mother in a field at JC Farms in Hettinger April 1, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
A newborn black Angus calf stands close to its mother in a field at JC Farms in Hettinger April 1, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

Sometimes JC Farms does have some issues with coyotes, but they have only lost two calves over the past 10 years or so. Christman noted it’s vitally important that a mother cow will be its calf’s safeguard out in a pasture.

“You want them a little bit protective of the calves so a coyote won’t get them but not to the point where they’re going to kill somebody either,” Christman said. “... (With) cows, you kind of know how they’re going to be and they change a little. They have different personalities but you got to respect them because they’re still a large animal that can take you out if they wanted to.”

As Christman drove in her side-by-side utility vehicle through each field, all of the mother cows and their calves calmly watched her, revealing the care JC Farms puts into its animals.

“People in this state, for the most part do understand. I think other people don’t understand that even though the end result is beef for most of these (cattle), we do take really good care of them. We have to — this is our livelihood,” Christman said. “Plus, it’s just when you grow up in this lifestyle you respect an animal because there are so many different ways to raise cattle and we just do it one certain way. But the end result is that everybody cares for their livestock. It’s not something that we take for granted; it’s something we care to make sure that we have healthy calves and live calves because in the end, we have to sell them for beef. But we still care very much about how they’re taken care of because if you don’t take care of them, they don’t take care of you. Plus, you just have such nice animals if you do a good job with them — not wild, crazy animals.

“If you take care of them, they’re just nice to be around and it’s the best lifestyle I can imagine. It’s kind of what I always wanted to do and it’s pretty great I get to do it.”

Growing up in a ranching/farming environment, the Christmans and their three young children continue to carry on the old western tradition. For Christman, it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.

Jacki Christman of JC Farms stands with one of her mares. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
Jacki Christman of JC Farms stands with one of her mares. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

“I love the newborn calves; they’re just so much fun to see and to watch them learn and become adults. This year, it’s been just so super nice weather-wise. Even when it’s storming and cold and I have to get up four times a night to check cows, I still love it. It’s still one of those things that makes me happy. I just love having cattle. The cattle are just really easy to be around, better than people most days, I think,” she said, with a chuckle.

For more of an inside look at JC Farms, check out Christman's JC Farms Facebook page.