Enduring the grind of calving season

The rolling hills of Bryan Reed’s farm near Albia provided a serene backdrop as cows and calves basked in the spring sun on Friday.

Reed navigated his utility vehicle through the pastures checking the health of calves that were born just days earlier. With the sun shining you could see a spring in Reed’s step as he finished his daily chores. That hasn’t been the case for the majority of his calving season though.

A pasture next to Reed's farm is speckled with cattle during calving season.

A pasture next to Reed's farm is speckled with cattle during calving season.

The calendar says spring but Mother Nature refuses to close the door on winter. Snow, ice and rain have made this calving season especially tricky.

“My coat still shows signs of the challenges earlier this week. I had days where I was rotating coats every few hours while trying to stay dry and warm,” Reed said while looking at a pasture speckled with new calves and their mothers. “The sun makes a difference when you are checking calves and doing chores.”

Reed says that every calving season is different. 

Reed says that every calving season is different. 

Calving season starts in mid-February at Reed's farm and goes through late May. It isn't a surprise that winter is a difficult time to care for livestock, but some winters are more comfortable than others.

"It happens regardless of the weather. It's going to be going on 24/7 whether the weather is cooperating or not. Whether you are sick or not," Reed said.

Reed recalled several years ago when a fight with the flu came during a rush of calves. 

"My wife drove me to the emergency room because I got run down," he said. "They gave me IV fluids and I was back home working with the heifers later that night. You have one chance to keep that calf alive and that is my paycheck for the year."

During a typical spring calving season, Reed expects about 240 calves and another 60 during the fall. But over the years he has discovered that there is nothing ordinary about calving season. 

"Everyday is different and has different issues to deal with," he said. "Some days you are an OB/GYN assisting with difficulties in delivery. Other days you are a vet trying to figure out what's wrong with a calf to help it."

Reed also added nutritionist to the list of his job responsibilities during calving season to make sure that the mothers are getting the nutrients needed to give birth and take care of their calves.

"Sometimes you even have to be a rodeo clown dodging a protective mother while helping a calf," Reed said as he scanned the pasture filled with mothers and babies.

Even though the grind of calving season means work around the clock through challenging weather conditions he wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's what I do and I don't know anything different. When you turn the cows and calves out into the pasture for the summer, you can see how good they are doing. It makes all the challenges of getting them started worthwhile," he said. "To know I'm feeding someone else and that person doesn't have to fight these battles gets me through it. I'll be cold and muddy and worn out if that means someone else can have safe affordable food."

Story and photos by Joseph L. Murphy

Moving Day

By Joseph L. Murphy

Tim Kaldenburg feeds cattle from the back of his truck during his morning chores. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Tim Kaldenburg feeds cattle from the back of his truck during his morning chores. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Moving day. If you are like me, a slight chill just made its way up your back just thinking about the word moving. There aren’t too many things in life that are more traumatic. You have to pack all of your possessions, leave a comfortable place and then lug everything to a new space that holds new challenges. I’ve been thinking about moving a lot lately. Two years ago, we packed up our home and moved the family 27.8 miles (I know the exact distance because it didn’t qualify for an IRS tax deduction) to a new home and town. I’m also preparing to help move my mom from my childhood home in Forest City to a new place in central Iowa. In both cases, moving brings with it planning and hard work.

It was no different when I visited a friend last week while he happened to be moving. I didn’t know that’s what he was doing at the time or I would’ve conveniently been “busy” during the move.

You know how it is. Getting drafted into helping a buddy move to a new place somewhere. It seemed like the years surrounding college, I was always helping to move friends across campus. It always seemed like it was up three stories and the elevator didn’t work. Back in those days, the only reward for moving was several cold beverages, a backache and maybe some funny stories.

This move was not typical for me by any means. Not just because my friend has to do it annually, but because it holds an importance every time he does it.

For Tim Kaldenberg, an Iowa Soybean Association member and farmer from Albia, moving day means ushering his herd of 19 heifers and 40 cows through snow-covered pastures back to his farm. This move, like many traditional moves, has plenty of logistical challenges that can only be solved through hard work.

With good weather in the forecast and me in the copilot chair, we set out in his farm truck several miles down a blacktop. While we traveled, we talked about our families and plans for warm escapes from Iowa’s icy plains. When we arrived at the pasture, Kaldenberg stepped out of the truck, opened the gate and jumped back in. It was go time for the move and, with a fluid motion of his arm, he shifted the truck into four-wheel drive while plowing through a snow drift.

“Here cow, hey cow!” Kaldenberg yelled with his head out the window.

His secret weapon for this move was a payload of fresh, wet corn gluten feed. He leaned towards me, almost like he was about to tell me a secret, and said it was like candy to the cattle so he was sure they would follow.

As the truck sped up, Kaldenberg confidently kept breaking through small drifts and deep snow while a chain of cattle followed at a gallop. It was an amazing sight to see with the powdered snow forming a white trail behind them.

After crossing every pasture, we had to get out of the truck and open gates and assess the progress. That gave the cattle the opportunity to grab a snack before the truck sped away again. I found myself just as nervous as Tim was at times. He was nervous about the cattle following and I was nervous about getting stuck in a pasture miles away from a hard-surfaced road.

Tim Kaldenberg opens a gate to prepare for the move. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Tim Kaldenberg opens a gate to prepare for the move. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

After close to two miles of drift busting and prayers that the cattle wouldn’t stray from the move we finally made it to the last gate.

“I woke up and knew today would be a good day to do this,” Kaldenberg said. “Sometimes you get a feeling that it’s a good time to work with them.”

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The move was over and we both looked at each other and smiled as the gate was closed. The heifers were in place to begin calving season. I went on my way back to Des Moines knowing that I was involved with an important part of Kaldenberg’s farm. I also knew that once calving season begins for him, it will be several months of working around the clock to make sure the heifers, cows and their calves are healthy regardless of the weather conditions.

That was a move for the ages and one that I would gladly sign up for again.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news