Calving Season Amidst the Cold Weather
It’s that time of the year when our ranchers are blessed with lots of baby hooves hitting the ground. When you pass by, you can usually catch a glimpse of a newborn calf standing beside its mother. In typical cow-calf operations, desirable cows produce one calf per year. Bulls are put into the pen in the spring to impregnate cows and the gestation period is 283 days. Ideally, cows are bred over the same time frame to promote a concise calving schedule. If all the calves are relatively the same age, it is much easier to manage them and implement common management practices such as tagging, immunizations, castration, and implants. It also promotes a comfortable, welcoming environment for the calves since lots of other playmates are present. At first glance, It resembles a collective community nursery where the whole herd is involved in rearing the calves. But after peering a bit deeper, it is evident that mama is in charge of her own calf. If she instructs her calf to stay by the palmetto bush until she finishes her meal, then the calf strictly adheres.
Chuck Cowart and Brian Anderson, both active members of the Flagler County Cattlemen’s Association, took some time to share their newborns with me. Chuck Cowart owns approximately 3200 acres of ranch land that was well established by his grandfather Charles Hiram Cowart (affectionately known as Papa H). Chuck is currently applying for an Agricultural Land Conservation Easement through FDACS Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Our-Forests/Land-Planning-and-Administration-Section/Rural-and-Family-Lands-Protection-Program2) so future generations can continue farming this land forever. Chuck currently has approximately 550 head of cattle and his first calf hit the ground on December 17th, 2017. They have fared well through the cold snaps, but it certainly helps when mama has an extra layer of fat to produce enough energy to keep them both warm during these hard freezes. Temperatures are expected to drop below 32°F for several hours tonight so make sure to send some warm thoughts to the newborns.
Brian Anderson served a term as the State Director for the Flagler County Cattlemen’s Association and has been instrumental in promoting Best Management Practices (BMPs) within the beef cattle industry in Flagler County. Brian’s herd consists primarily of a Brangus cross, which is a cross between Brahman and Angus. The Brangus cattle are known for their high fertility rates and Brian’s average breeding rate over the past two years is above 85%. Brian just recently finished his term as State Director and Jacob Boyd was appointed as the new State Director on January 8, 2018.
Brian and his wife Jody have ranches at three different locations, but their community nursery with over 70 expecting mothers is currently based at the Lake Disston Road Ranch. The first calf was born on December 7th, 2017 and as of my visit on January 10, 2018, a total of 37 healthy calves were on the ground. The key to a healthy breeding program is providing proper nutrition to pregnant cows so they can provide the appropriate nutrients to their calves. Colostrum is a special antibody-rich milk that cows provide to their calves immediately following birth to strengthen their immune system. A newborn that was only 1-day old, who still had a wet umbilical cord, was having its first bowel movement which consisted of yellowish mush resembling colostrum.
These farm visits were truly unique and enjoyable experiences. Although I’ve spent the last several years of my career designing and operating systems that convert cow manure and other types of organic matter into methane gas as a renewable energy source, I am thoroughly enjoying my recent exposure to cow/calf operations. In closing, I should mention that the FDACS BMP Manual for Cow/Calf Operations is currently under revision and the new manual will be called “Cattle Operations” and will include BMPs for stocker cattle.. The new BMP manual should be available in the next few months on the FDACS website (http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Business-Services/Water/Agricultural-Best-Management-Practices).