Calve in May, they say… It’ll be warm, they say… Which is true, except when it’s not.
Imagine going for a swim fully clothed in jeans and a sweater, and then instead of drying off as you ordinarily would after a swim, you are forced to take a long, cold shower. And to top it all off, the air-conditioner is on and there is a huge fan turned to high blowing directly on you. You’re cold, right? The jeans and the sweater that would normally stave off the chill of the air-conditioner/fan-on-high combination are working against you because of their perpetual wetness and you just can’t keep warm. That is what I envision it felt like to be a calf born in weather like we experienced over the weekend.
On Saturday, temperatures were in the 40s, we had rain (often in a downpour) and a howling north wind. By nightfall the wind was still howling, the rain had turned to snow, and temperatures had fallen to below freezing. Needless to say, the foolproof protection of the pasture (see My Husband is Nesting) was rendered useless and, despite their best efforts, the heifers found the task of drying off their newborn calves impossible.
To prepare for this storm, Tom, and the two interns we have helping us this spring, moved all of the heavy heifers away from the pairs and into a separate pasture. They fed both groups (the heavies and the pairs) hay within the protection of the hills. Then they worked tirelessly on Saturday helping the heifers that needed it and making sure each newborn calf was up and nursing soon after birth, getting their mother’s first milk (colostrum) that forms their immune system.
As the temperature began to plummet that evening, they started bringing the newborns to the barn to spend some time in our warming room – or sauna, as I like to call it. Once in the sauna, I worked to get them dried off using some of my bath towels because, well, they were WAY more effective at getting the calves dried off than the old jeans Tom was using. I also fed the calves a colostrum substitute to help get them back on their feet and aid in the prevention of potential future illness. After a short stay in the sauna, the calves were reunited with their mothers. We rotated calves through the warming room the rest of Saturday night and on into Sunday afternoon when the sun finally came out again.
In general, calving in May is much warmer than calving earlier in the year. But because of the wind accompanied moisture, a May cold snap has the potential to be more harmful than the drier chill typical of February and March. A dry coat can keep newborn calves comfortable protecting them from frigid weather, but a wet coat that never has a chance to dry out is an extremely dangerous thing – think, wet jeans and sweater from the analogy above.
This storm provided us with the second white Mother’s Day in as many years and was yet another friendly reminder that we are not in control. But after two stressful days, one long night, a lot of hard work, and countless prayers, the sun and warmth have returned. Soon the the hills will be covered in lush green grass, a reminder that God will see us through the storm and He will always provide. And for that, we are thankful.