Calving begins in the Northwest

Winter time calving in the Northwest is underway. While most ranchers prefer to hold back calving season until March or even later, some battle the frigid temperatures to gain a financial edge when they opt to sell. Meadow Lake area rancher Gerry Ogilvie said, while the practice has its challenges, he enjoys the options it provides. Here, Ogilvie feeds a bottle of colostrum to a one-day-old calf who was born via caesarean section.

Winter time calving in the Northwest is underway. While most ranchers prefer to hold back calving season until March or even later, some battle the frigid temperatures to gain a financial edge when they opt to sell. Meadow Lake area rancher Gerry Ogilvie said, while the practice has its challenges, he enjoys the options it provides. Here, Ogilvie feeds a bottle of colostrum to a one-day-old calf who was born via caesarean section.

by Derek Cornet

Wintertime calving may have its difficulties, but Northwest ranchers still find themselves up to the challenge.

Since the first calf was born on the Ogilvie ranch – about 10 kilometres east of Meadow Lake – on Feb. 12, 15 others have joined the herd. This year, Gerry and Carmen Ogilvie have 145 pregnant cows, but Gerry noted they never have a problem keeping the animals warm when the time comes to deliver.

“Even if one wants to come early, we try to be ready for it,” Ogilvie said. “You can tell when they’re getting close to calving and we always bring our cows in five or six days before their due date.”

In order to provide some relief from the seemingly endless stream of deliveries, Ogilvie locks away the cows’ feed during the day and gives them access to it only at night. By utilizing this schedule, the majority of the births will occur between 6 a.m. and midnight and the Ogilvies can get more sleep.

It also makes life easier considering Ogilvie knows the due dates of his cows. He let his bulls loose last year on May 6 and, after a gestation period of nine months and nine days, a new calf is born. But, even with his knowledge and the precautions in place, Ogilvie will still check on his cows in the middle of the night when the temperature is unusually cold.

“If it’s really cold, someone will get up at 3 a.m. to take a look because we’d hate to lose one from the cold,” he said.

As for the reason why he continues wintertime calving, he said he benefits from it when he takes his cows to the stockyards. Since the calves are given more time to mature, they tend to weigh more, which gives Ogilvie better options when he sells them.

“It takes a little more work because, when it’s cold, everything goes through the barn,” he said. “It’s much more hands-on when compared to grass-calving.”

As for hungry predators, it has been a quiet year so far. In the past, Ogilvie said wolves would run near the corrals and spook the cows and, at other times, he’s found coyotes in the barn. It’s important for Ogilvie to protect his investment and he aims for 100 per cent – one calf for each pregnant cow – each year. With a set of twins already on the ground, he’s currently exceeding expectations.

“We’re one ahead right now and hopefully it stays this way,” he said. “Last year, when we went to grass, we were two ahead, but by the end of the summer we were down one. That’s just under 100 per cent, which was awesome because we usually don’t get that.”

With current beef prices 40 per cent higher than in 2012, it’s important to stay on top of the market. According to Brent Brooks of the Meadow Lake Stockyards, those who breed earlier in the year could fetch better prices later on.

“It gives more options because the rancher could be able to move more calves of adequate weight in the fall,” Brooks said.

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