And so it was, on that first full day of spring. Our embryo transfer veterinarian arrived about 9AM and unpacked the ultrasound machine that would show us all the babies inside of the cows that had been gathered up for the final day of this particular ranch work. It’s always an exciting time for me, as the fruits of my labor (the artificial inseminating of these bovine beauties back in mid December) is laid out for success or failure. After 38 years of AIing, I have come to know that Mother Nature is ultimately in charge, and she will only allow so much manipulation before she steps in. She has granted me much success over all the years in my trade, and for that I am grateful. Our ET vet, Dr. Gray, has been an integral part of our genetic progress since he collected our first Simmental cow back in May 1991. She was a smaller framed (compared to the giant Simmental cows of that era), red and white spotted lady, sweet disposition, big red goggles around her brown eyes that were set deep in her white face. I don’t recall her number, but I can picture her like that first collection was yesterday. It was an abysmal failure. Three unfertilized ovum were all that the lab tech found at the bottom of the petri dish. Any normal cattleman would have given up…but then, we weren’t normal. We were going to make ET work, and we have.
Back to Friday morning. Dr. Gray’s left arm and hand should be insured for millions. From 40-95 days of pregnancy, he can tell how old a baby calf is by the distance between its eyes, (to within 5 days) once he has their little body in his grasp. He has palpated nearly a million cows during his years. These little creations were made from mid-December through early February. I got one chance in mid-December; clean up bulls finished the breeding project from late December through February 13, which was the day they were pulled away from their cow groups…😊 A 95-day baby calf in utero is about the size of large rat, for your imagining pleasure. He uses the ultrasound machine, but he really doesn’t need it. It is a joy to see those little ones bouncing around inside…we find out who’s carrying bull calves and who’s carrying heifer calves. It’s quite a deal. And I love it when the grandkids get to see the process. Ranch life has to be the best possible environment for teaching young minds about conception, birth, life, maturity and death. It’s all part of a natural process here in our world.
Some of the open (not pregnant) cows were no surprise…some were 10 and 11 years old and tired and they have big ole’ calves nursing on them. Some of them had been difficult to AI, as I noted on my December breeding sheets-lots of uterine adhesions, abnormal ovary palpation, cervical issues, whatever the case might be. As we never see any births, (unless they calve while we are tagging new babies in the fall) we don’t know what kind of difficulty they might have. Difficult birthing processes affect subsequent pregnancy rates, that is a fact. And for some, there is no rhyme or reason that we can find for this cow or that cow to be open. They are in good rig, calved early in the season last fall…some things are not for us to ever really know. Again, Mother Nature has the final call. We defer to her for everything. For whatever the reasons, we ran 8% open this year. Not bad. On another positive note…the bull we bought out of Canada last spring did a fine job settling the cows he was charged with breeding. We affectionately named him “Panda.” Close your eyes and imagine what he looks like, except one hint, only his face and legs are white, none of his body…there, you got it. He’ll have 25 sons and daughters hit the ground in late August/early September. We are excited to see how his genomic merit will improve our herd. Marbling…those little white flecks of fat in the steaks you buy that make them juicy and delicious when grilled, is his genetic forte, and since ultimately putting a superior protein source on your table is what we’re all about, that’s why we bought him-to help us, with that. Our cows use resources humans can’t, (grass) to truly make the most delicious and nutritious food in all the world. Of course, I might be a bit biased, but the filet Harry grilled for me the evening of my birthday last Tuesday, was the best steak I have ever eaten…right here in our own dining room.
With cows checked and their year’s production preconditioned, we’ll wean calves in April. There will be a couple of days of incessant bawling, then the lots will be silent once again, as the calves figure out the feed bunk. As their milk supply dries up, the cows forgive and forget, and soon they’ll be out on spring grass, regaining body condition that might have been lost due to nursing those 500 to 800 pound “babies.” It takes a lot out of a cow to do her job. Most do it in stride.
This post started out with memories of my dad, and all those times I was tucked in beside him on that feeding tractor, and the sweet smell of the silage pile. It ends on the diagnostics of determining pregnancy status in our herd, and the mention of steaks. My dad. Moser Ranch cows. My life. I am lucky indeed.