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Farm Bureau Provides Tips for Tackling Springtime Ag Challenges

in News/Agriculture
2819

By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Spring is fraught with dangers for Wyoming’s agriculture producers, but networking and planning can help farmers and ranchers mitigate the worst mother nature has to offer, a Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation spokesperson said.

“The biggest challenge come spring is the weather,” said Brett Moline, the Farm Bureau public affairs director. “You have to be prepared for anything, because you’ll just never know what you’ll have year to year.”

As a reminder for old hands and a guide for the new ranchers, Moline provided a list of Wyoming ag producers biggest springtime hurdles and tips on how to clear them.

Problem: Calving in a Storm

For many ranchers, Moline said spring is a time of new life and the frailty it presents.

“Spring is the typical birthing season,” he explained. “But big storms and high winds can be a pretty big problem.”

Upon exiting the womb, newborns can struggle to keep their body temperatures up if the animals don’t have proper wind breaks and shelter.

“When they get wet, they can’t get dried off and warmed up,” Moline said. “They come out of something that’s 95 to 100 degrees to something that’s 10 degrees — that’s pretty shocking, and many don’t recover.”

Solution: Break the wind

Out on the range, shelter can come in several sizes and shapes from dense shrubbery to sizable structures.

“Most ranchers will run their first calf heifers through a barn,” Moline said. “It may not be heated, but it’s out of the wind and that’s half the battle sometimes.”

In areas with dense shrubbery and tree coverage, ranchers can use the landscape to protect the young, but not all pastures are created equal.  

“On the high plains around Laramie County, ranchers don’t have a lot of natural shelter,” Moline explained. “People will build wind breaks to make sure the calves have the best chance.”

Alternatively, some producers push their calving season back until around July to avoid the snow season altogether, he said.

Problem: Predators

Coyotes and wolves looking for a meal after a long winter can pose a significant threat to shepherds with lambing sheep, and in some cases, cattle as well.

“Predation will always be a problem,” Moline said. “I don’t think there is a solution that eliminates predation, but that’s not the goal. Ranchers just want to keep their predation loss down enough to allow them to still be economically sustainable.”

Coyotes cause real problems for sheep herds, especially during the lambing season. Cattle, on the other hand, present more of a problem to themselves when predators are on the prowl.

“I had a rancher tell me he didn’t think he’d ever lost a calf to a coyote,” Moline said. “But, he lost several to their mothers stepping on them when trying to defend against coyotes.”

Solution: Work with Local and State Agencies

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, and county predator boards are excellent resources for dealing with predation, Moline said.

“Some county predator boards will locate the coyotes’ territory, fly over and take out some coyotes before birthing season,” he said. “For sheepmen, guard dogs are a good measure.”

Sheep dogs raised with the herd can reduce attrition caused by predation.

For cattle, the window of vulnerability is relatively small.

“Once a calf gets a few days old, a coyote isn’t going to be too much of a problem,” Moline said. “The trick is making sure they are safe those first few days.”ttps://wyagric

Problem: Balancing the Water Supply

Spring is planting season, and too much precipitation can be just as harmful as too little, Moline explained.

“It’s got to be dry enough to get a tractor in there, but you don’t want it too dry — it’s all about that balance,” he said. “If your planting is delayed, your harvest is going to be delayed, then you start worrying about snow again.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture determined too much precipitation was the cause of a recent irrigation tunnel collapse in Goshen County, which cut water off to hundreds of farmers on thousands of acres in Wyoming and Nebraska.

Solution: Preparation and Networking

Keeping an eye on the snowpack report can help producers predict how much irrigation they’ll need, Moline said.

“Listening to the weather report is big for ag producers,” he said. “They need to figure out what works best for them. But I think that’s what makes producers such a unique community. Ranchers and farmers always look at a problem and figure out how to adapt.”

For too much water, Moline said the best a farmer can do is wait it out and hope for the sun to shine.

For too little, planning ahead and adjusting crops to suit the availability of irrigation could prevent a lot of heartache, he said.

“Work with your neighbors — networking is key,” Moline said. “Together, you can make a plan to address each situation as it comes.”

King Ranch’s Eisele ‘proud and lucky’ to be involved in calving season

in News/Agriculture
1188

By Becky Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Mark Eisele smiled as he watched the calves gather close to their mothers.

Although the newborns in the open pen were just one or two days old, they already had formed a bond with their mothers and their mothers with them.  Some contented calves nursed, others napped and a few explored the pen on wobbly, unsteady legs. Their mothers kept their eyes on them, nudged them lovingly or licked their offspring’s shiny coats.

“They recognize their babies by sound and smell,” he said. “They can pick them out of a herd with a cry.”

It’s calving season at King Ranch, Eisele’s family-owned cattle operation five miles west of Cheyenne. The annual season of birth that unfolds here is happening or soon will occur at ranches across Wyoming. 

“I’m proud and lucky I get to do this,” Eisele, 62, said of his lifelong career.

He helped out at his first calving when he was 14 and has been integrally involved for more than 40 years. And yet, he never tires of it. 

“The miracle of life and how that has developed through nature is a spectacle that people should witness and appreciate,” he said. “The frailty of life is so in your face. It is very powerful. When that calf shakes his head and looks up at you and he’s breathing, it’s a wonderful feeling. Every one of them is special to me.”

Eisele and his family own the historic ranch, which was started in 1904 as a sheep operation and became a cattle ranch in 1968. Eisele’s immediate family includes his wife Trudy, daughters Kendall Roberts (who basically is second in command) and Kaycee Eisele; son, Colton Eisele; Kendall’s husband James and Colton’s wife Miranda. All help out with the calving duties.

The calving season at King Ranch starts around Feb. 20 and lasts for 75 days. It is the most intense time for ranchers who must keep in close and constant watch on their cows and calves. There are many sleepless nights for ranchers with 2 a.m. checks and around-the-clock monitoring.

“I literally live at the barn for two months,” he said, adding the barn is about 400 yards from the main house. “I have a trailer down there and eat and sleep down there. You get tired; you get a little worn out. But when you have a calf hit the ground and he’s alive and you saved him, you get the support to hit the ground running and go save another one.” 

When calving season rolls around, everything else in a rancher’s life – from birthday parties to family commitments – are put on hold. 

“The calves come first. And everybody understands that,” he said.

Eisele and his immediate family raise about 400 black Angus and red Angus cows on the main ranch and another 600 to 800 yearlings and pasture cattle at the west ranch. His parents raise 150 cows on their ranch nearby.

So far, about 350 calves have been born this season at the ranch with about 50 cows still to give birth.

“Things are winding down,” Eisele said.

Across Wyoming, up to 900,000 calves will be born during the calving season at the state’s 2,500 to 3,000 commercial cow operations, according to Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

At King Ranch, most calves are born in the barn where they are tagged and numbered and get a shot to protect them. They spend at least 12 hours bonding with their mothers in the pen. Cow and calf then move to an open pen, which has a wood side for protection from the elements, fresh hay and an automatic heated water supply.  After a few days, they move to the main pasture.  The calves in the pasture are full of energy and jump across the land. Eisele keeps a small notebook in his shirt pocket that contains hand-written records of all the calves. 

“As the calves are born, we write down the cow’s number, the calf’s number, the date, the sex, the weight, how easy the birth was and if they nursed,” he said.

They then transfer the information to their cell phones and create electronic records.

A circle drawn beside the number of a calf in the book means the calf died. Typically, calves are born without problems, but about 2 percent to 3 percent die despite the best efforts of Eisele and his family.

“We will struggle to keep everything alive,” he said, adding that “it’s heartbreaking for me” when a calf dies.

Some calves die after being accidentally stepped on by other cows. The animals also can contract pneumonia. 

“Cattle are really an interesting critter. They are tougher than all get out,” Eisele said. “They can survive so many things. But a simple thing like the change between day and night and the temperature swings will trigger pneumonia – respiratory distress – and it will kill them.”

Cows also are quite social. For example, they frequently take turns babysitting several calves so their mothers can graze, he said.

Ranchers wear many hats and the job of calving means they need to wear almost every one at the same time. They need to be medics, business men, weather men, and bit of a psychologist to better read and understand the cows, he said.

Eisele and his family help in the birthing process, including pulling a calf’s legs to get it through the birth canal. He tries to be at every birth he can, but can’t make all of them. 

“I need to see if the cow had problems or if the calf was sluggish,” he said.

He said he also needs to know if the cow can give birth or if the calf is so large that a veterinarian is needed to perform a Caesarean section.

“There is a lot of animal husbandry that goes on. We use stethoscopes, thermometers and we do a lot of stuff to analyze these calves,” he said.

The knowledge doesn’t happen overnight. 

“It’s an acquired education,” he said, one where he said he is still learning every day.

Eisele is at ease with his herd and loves to watch the cows go after the cow cakes made from grains that he dumps from back of his truck.

He recognizes cows in the pasture and pets many as he chats with them. He too, has formed a bond.

“One of the saddest things I have to do is put calves on a truck and ship them away to the feeders knowing that is the last I’ll see of them. That is hard to do. I understand that is the way things work, but I revel in the births,” he said.

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