Calving in the valley

Photo by Elane Dickenson A trio of spring calves near Joseph find a bed of hay after an April Fools morning snowfall this week.

Calving season, about half through in the Wallowa Valley, is going anywhere from "pretty good" to 'excellent" depending on who one is talking to. About everyone spoken to attributes the good results to a mild winter.

Jeff D. Parker of Alder Slope's Highview Ranch sums up his 300 calf calving season as "excellent" thus far. Shooting for a 60 day calving window from March 10 to May 10, Parker says he and father Dave Parker are already half way through the anticipated births and are having a commendable 98 percent success rate. He attributes much of the success to the fact that the ground thawed in January this year and participation coming down during calving season is able to soak through the surface.

Muddy conditions can be as much of a problem as cold weather.

Charlie Warnock from the warmer climates of Imnaha says that his calving season is going as good as it has ever been. He says the same is true for his brother Joe Warnock. Weather, again, is a major factor. While scours, a bacteria caused ailment which gives young calves diarrhea, was a major problem one year ago, it has hardly been a problem in 2003. Charlie Warnock attributes part of that to the milder weather and part to a more aggressive scours vaccination program. Because of the warmer temperatures in Imnaha, Warnock began calving in January and is pretty much through the cycle.

Charlie Warnock had some 200 calves delivered this winter and only had to pull six. He agrees with Parker that selective breeding of appropriately sized bulls for heifers and for mature cows makes the process much smoother than it was in years past.

Veterinarian Randy Greenshields of the Double Arrow Veterinary Clinic in Enterprise also uses the term "excellent" to describe how well calving season is going in Wallowa County this year. He says that the milder temperatures have left the bred cows in better shape for delivery purposes. He says that in colder weather the cows have to work harder just to maintain body heat.

Greenshields estimates that calving season is about half completed in the Wallowa Valley, that most producers arrange the cattle's nine month gestation period to come due in March and April.

"This is a relatively light year for calving problems," said Greenshields. He said that the Double Arrow has only had to perform 20 C-sections thus far, compared to a high of 60 to 70 at this point in time in other years. About 90 percent of all calving problems handled by the clinic take place at the Double Arrow where it is cleaner and the lighting is better. Only cows who are unable to get up are treated in the field.

Greenshields said that scours is the most common cause of calf deaths and that the incidence of scours this year is low. He said the scours bacteria spreads in muddy conditions.

Extension Agent John Williams, who said that calving "is going pretty well", says that increased calf survival ratios, in addition to the mild winter, is due to "better management" by beef producers. While in bad times a rancher might have to pull one out of every 10 calves, that number has shrunk to four or five for every 100 cows, he says.

In stark contrast to the good results this year, Jeff D. Parker quoted his father as saying that there was a stretch of two weeks last winter when things had gone as bad as he had seen in his 40-plus years of ranching in the valley. He said that the conditions, though they did not have a significant scours problem, were sloppy and slushy with snow in the nighttime and a lack of runoff in the warmer days.

Ranchers work long hours during calving season to make sure that newborn calves get up on their feet as soon as possible after birth. This is especially crucial in colder weather.

"When we are calving heavily I check them every three to four hours, sometimes more than that," says Charlie Warnock. He is always watching for birth problems such as a calf born backwards or even a calf that does not stand up.

Charlie Warnock lost six of 200 calves born this winter on his Imnaha ranch. At 97 percent that is not bad, "but not what I'd like it to be," says Warnock. The ratio was higher than one year ago when scours took its to.

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