March 25, 2014


I’m not the brightest bulb in the closet. Or I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Or maybe my elevator stops halfway to the top. I’ve been told all those things. And every night and morning in the spring, I really believe these things to be true. Because I am going out and checking cows when the temperature is around zero. Every year. And really, like I tell Shirley, it isn’t my fault. I try to keep the bulls in longer. But I ran out of feed. Or the neighbors bulls got out before we turned ours out. And every year we start calving in March, 30 days before ideal weather.
May flowers. Yeah, right. When you live north of the Red River, that’s the Red River of Texas, April showers bring snow.
I guess we just planned on calving in a spring snowstorm. We keep pushing our calving date back, and Mother Nature just keeps pushing her storms back a little later too. I got to looking back at old columns from past springs. Every March and April, I write about wet calves in the tub. Bum calves in the barn. Scoured calves in the pickup. Sick calves, dead calves, twin calves, and prolapsed cows.
I heard last night that the United States is losing 500 farms and ranches a week. People going broke or retiring. Big operations getting bigger. That’s a lot of neighbors to lose. Most of the problems are caused by low commodity prices and April blizzards.
And that is easy to understand. Cause this is the time of year when you have to be lining up your financing to get a crop put in. So, I’ve been working on this formula to show my banker.
The formula is quite lengthy and kind of complicated. You begin by the number or cows that are exposed for breeding (CB). You take that number times a normal rate of .95. That is what a good operator expects. Then you subtract four calves for pinochle and 25 for the bad bull that only cost you .39 cents at the local auction. You figure that half the calves that are born will be steers. Half heifers. Ninety percent of the ones that die will be steers, cause they are worth more. You then can add one calf for the cow that had twins. There is a 93 percent chance that the cow that has twins has a bad bag and no milk.
Timing can greatly effect the number of calves weaned per cow exposed. Cows have a timing mechanism somewhere in the place where their brain is supposed to be. This timing mechanism causes them to calf late at night in a blizzard. Close to a washout or a creek. And heifers know they should start five minutes after you shine a flashlight on them. Those that do not calf at night during a blizzard have a sixth sense. They will begin calving when you are cleaned up to go to Easter dinner or some other important gathering that is important to everyone in the family. If you are preparing a huge dinner for ranching relatives in April, subtract 13 people from the expected turnout list.
Another factor affecting the final number is the SDS factor. That is the sun don’t shine multiplier. We have calves that are three months old and haven’t seen their shadow. Lucky they are not groundhogs.
There are other factors that enter into the equation. The first heifer to calf will lose hers. Cause you haven’t started checking them yet. And the last one will die. Cause you quit checking them after four months. That good cow that Shirley will not sell will not calf again this year. But she winters good. You will have to spend $5,000 on feed, one month after your budget said you would have green grass.
It goes on and on and on.
But you know what. One of these mornings you’re going to walk outside just before daylight. You will hear a turkey gobbling on the creek. You will feel a warm breeze from the south on your cheek. You will grain your saddle horse and sit down for a smoke, or a chew, while he munches on his grain. That orphan calf in the back of the barn will start nursing on his foster mother and she won’t kick him. That wild heifer you been worried about will have a big bull calf without any help. You will take your overshoes off and ride into the Badlands. If you listen real close you can hear the grass growing and the side- hills will be covered with crocuses. And you’re going to forget the storm and go to the sale and buy more cows. You must be a rancher!