Calving season near Silt
SILT – Just after 8 a.m. in mid-March, Dale McPherson drives his new Dodge 2500 truck through one of his pastures in Divide Creek. In the distance atop a hill silhouetted by the morning sky, stands a new calf experiencing its first morning next to its mother.Dale and one of his sons, Dan, who does most of the work now, have about 120 head of cattle on this particular slice of land, which lies nestled in the rolling hills, 15 miles southwest of Silt.Dale paid more for his new truck than he did for his first ranch nearly 40 years ago, just down the road from where they are today. That first ranch was about 160 acres with a house and stables, with a permit for about 80 head of cattle.Times were more relaxed back then.”Boy I’ll tell ya,” he said as the truck bounced around through the field like the steel ball in a pin-ball machine. “The world has changed a lot in that time.”‘Born last night’Today the McPhersons own about 2,300 acres altogether. Ranching is all Dale’s known for his 75 years. The only time he’s been away from ranching was four years he served in the Navy after high school.
As he was watched his cows, making sure none of them were having any trouble giving birth, the day was quiet on that slow county road. The only sounds other than his voice was the occasional tractor in the distance, or a random “moo” from one of the cows.Everything was relaxed.March through May is the calving season when the year’s crop of calves are born. There may be a few stragglers going into June but, Dale said, this is the time of year when things pick up for ranchers.Since the beginning of the month, nearly half of the McPherson’s cows have given birth. “If the navel is still shiny and bloody,” he said pointing to a small black calf. “He was born last night, that’s how you can tell.”Dale doesn’t do much with the expecting cows. They handle the births on their own.”Most of the time they will find a place away from the herd,” he said. “They’ll lay down and it may take a couple of hours, or it may take half a day. It just depends.”
He and Dan monitor the cows throughout the day to ensure that nothing has gone wrong. Just a couple weeks earlier, Dan had to help out one cow that was having trouble birthing. Dale said the calf had turned around in the womb and that Dan had to take the cow to the stables and assist with a “calf puller” to extract the new calf.”You lose one once in a while,” Dale said. “Sometimes you can’t help it. If you can save 95 percent of them you’re doing pretty well.”Growing more quicklyRanching has changed along with the rest of the world during Dale’s lifetime. Although calving season hasn’t changed all that much.As Dan spread hay throughout the pasture from the forks of a John Deere tractor, Dale explained how he used to do the same chore as a young man in Divide Creek with a horse-drawn wagon and pitch fork.”The work used to be a lot more labor intensive,” Dale said. “It’s gotten very difficult over the years for someone starting with nothing to get into ranching.”Dale said it’s still possible to make a living doing it, but the price of equipment and land make it hard for people to start.
“If you’re lucky enough to be born into it and inherit the land or you have the money to buy the land and equipment – sure, you can make a living out of it,” he said.Even the calves have changed with time, Dale said. He talked of his teenage years on a ranch when he would raise calves for two summers, until they were 112 years old, before selling them to the slaughterhouses.”They call it a packing plant now,” he said. “But it’s still a slaughterhouse to me.”Calves used to weigh around 75-80 pounds at birth and Dale said now they come into the world weighing up to 150 pounds. And the calves are able to put on between 500 and 600 pounds during the first year alone and will be ready for sale the following spring.”They just grow much quicker now days with all the feed and growth hormones,” he said.’Wouldn’t trade it’
As the day grew close to noon, Dan had some other chores to attend to. The only traffic that’s passed by in 20 minutes was another John Deere tractor. So much has changed, and yet so much remains the same.Things were relaxed.”Who knows what the future holds,” Dale said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”Dale closed the pasture gate and climbed into the big truck. With a wave he took off down the road, stirring up dust.Calm and relaxed.Just the “moos” from the cows and the dirt road going in two directions.==========================================Big babies• Calving season runs from March through May and can run as late as mid-June.• Gestation period for a cow is around 281 days, or just over nine months.• Calves can weigh as much as 150 pounds at birth and can grow to between 600 and 700 pounds by the time they are one year old.==========================================