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Area farmer says baby calves need protection

Fri, May 17th, 2013
Posted in All Agriculture

Calves are comfortable, dry, and protected in this simple shelter. Mud and slop is just outside of the structure, but the calves remain high, dry and healthy. This picture was taken after 12 inches of wet May snow. Photo by Dan Serfling

By Karen Reisner

Mother Nature was rough on everything this last couple of months with her cold, rainy, and windy weather tantrums topped off by a heavy, wet May snow. Many beef cow-calf operations have suffered unusually heavy calf losses driven in large part by that weather.

Dan Serfling, Carimona Township, has his prescription for preventing calf losses like this in the future. He believes shelters built to protect calves from the elements would have saved calves. Loosing the calf is like loosing your crop. He says you can’t afford to keep the cow another year without a calf.

Serfling farms about 320 acres and has 60 beef cows. He saved twenty heifers from last year for breeding with the intention of increasing the herd size. He has also raised hogs, but has sold the last of them and is out of that business. His farm site is dotted with hoop sheds.

His cows started calving the first part of April. He insists cows can handle bad weather, but baby calves can’t.

Serfling has shed space to put his cows in when they have their calf. He keeps them in a cemented cow yard a day or two making sure the calf is nursing and has a good start before kicking them out. During that time calves can use what he calls port-a-huts (metal huts for sows) for shelter. They are big enough for three to four calves per hut. He maintains that you have to keep an eye on the herd so you don’t loose calves. Calves can’t be left in the mud or wet snow. He insists that calves left out in the open in weather like we have had this spring will “die.” Serfling made it clear that he didn’t believe that you can just turn your beef cows out in a pasture and forget about them.

After a few days the cow with her calf is turned into a small pasture where the calves can use shelters. Serfling sells hoop sheds which he uses and adapts for all kinds of purposes on his farm including hay and machinery storage.

He suggests the shelters be 9 foot by 28 foot, adding you don’t want them any bigger. The calves can get in, but not the cows. Calves can stay nice and dry. One end and one side of the shelter are solid, the other end has a gate and the one side has boards across about half way up to allow the calves access, but not the cows.

The shelters are bedded with corn stalks and he suggests it is best to put straw on top of the stalks. The gate allows for easy bedding and cleaning. The shelter is covered with the fabric used in hoop sheds.

Serfling says the hoop barns are a lot cheaper than conventional sheds, adding that he has never had one come down with a snow load. He said it doesn’t cost much to provide shelters to save these calves.

Cattle Numbers

It was reported in the February issue of Beef Magazine that cattle numbers have been decreasing, according to the USDA Cattle Inventory released earlier in 2013.

John Keating, president of Cargill Beef, explained the “U.S. cattle herd is at its lowest level since 1952. Increased feed costs resulting from prolonged drought, combined with herd liquidations by cattle ranchers, are severely and adversely contributing to the challenging conditions we face as an industry.”

The reductions in the cattle herd were heavily contributed to by the wide spread drought especially in the south central portion of the country. A large portion of this area is still in drought.

Southeast Minnesota is no longer even considered dry after a very wet late winter and spring. This is a good thing, but the wet conditions have taken an additional toll on cattle numbers. Adverse conditions over winter combined with the drought stress of last fall have contributed to an extraordinary winter kill for alfalfa in parts of southeast Minnesota, guaranteeing a continuation of high hay prices.

All things considered, don’t expect any relief in the price of beef any time soon.

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