March was cold and windy with several snowstorms, but the wind dried things out as quickly as we received the moisture. We vaccinated cows and branded and vaccinated the calves the second week in March, and felt lucky to have two days without stormy weather.
In mid-March we sorted the cows into breeding groups and dispersed most of them to larger fields.
We turned the bulls out April 3, which will make the official start of next calving season Jan. 10. We put several bulls with the bigger groups, since those cows are spread over large areas. It might be difficult for one bull to cover it all. The bulls in those groups are half-brothers or brothers, so we have a good idea of the genetics of the calves being sired.
In the smaller groups, we depend on just one bull, so we always watch those closely to make sure the cows are being bred.
We've already had a problem in one group. The bull we bought last fall to provide us with a new bloodline only bred four cows (the first two days of breeding season), then became lame with foot rot.
We brought his group in from the field to sort, so we could take that bull out and put in another. We hope the lame bull recovers before the end of the breeding season.
We have a very short breeding and calving season, leaving the bulls with the cows only 32 to 35 days. We observe them closely to make sure bulls are getting every cow bred. Checking them morning and evening at feeding time is a good opportunity to monitor the breeding groups, get breeding dates on the cows and monitor for problems.
Construction Projects Last week, we hired a Cat to work over several ditches. Lynn has been cleaning them every spring with tractor and blade, but it's been more than 20 years since we've done any major ditch work.
Some are overgrown with willows and some have eroded deeply on our steeper fields, creating chasms that are difficult for getting the water out. They're also dangerous for the cattle when they graze the hay fields in late fall. It was time to fill in those ditches, clear the willows and start over.
While we have the Cat here, we are also leveling and smoothing a place by Michael and Carolyn's house for a calving barn on our upper place. Beginning next year, they'll calve their cows separate from ours and have a facility close to their house.
We don't want to continue to concentrate all the cattle here on the lower place during winter, especially if Michael and Carolyn expand their cow herd in the future. It puts too many cattle in a small area - which makes for more sickness and more impact on the barns, pens and water system, as well as the land and creek.
The spot we've chosen to build the barn and pens near their house is up a draw, a little out of the wind and well away from the fields and creek. There will never be any runoff from the pens and holding areas into the creek.
A lot of people perceive cattle as a problem with stream pollution, but this is highly debatable and can depend upon circumstances. This may be an issue many of us will face in the future. We think it's wise to plan ahead, so that we won't be forced to make changes when we are ill-prepared to do so.
We already have many of our winter-spring pastures fenced off from the creek. We did that 32 years ago, not as a means to protect the riparian area but as a safety measure for our baby calves. We didn't want calves falling through the ice, being drowned in high water or eating dirt and gravel along the creek banks.
The only thing that might now be perceived as a problem would be the high numbers of cattle concentrated in this small area during calving season. But with a separate calving facility on the upper place for our son and daughter-in-law's herd, this will never be a problem.