A couple South Dakota farm families I visited on April 27 were busy finishing up a tough stretch of calving in wet, cool, muddy conditions.
Mark and Joel Erickson, Langford, S.D.; Brian, Darren and Kurt Zuehlke, of Z-Co Farms, Britton, S.D., have spent much of April working round the clock. Both families have 350-450 cows to calve out.
“It’s gone pretty well,” says Mark Erickson. “We haven’t lost many calves.”
The story’s the same at the Zuehlkes.
The good results are probably due to the families’ hard work more than anything else. The Ericksons and Zuehlkes have been checking calves every couple hours to make sure newborn calves are getting up and nursing.
During my visits, each had to bring a cow and calf into a shed or barn and help the calf get started nursing.
Some cattlemen in the Dakotas have pushed calving back into May in hopes of hitting warmer and drier weather. But the Ericksons and Zuehlkes figure they are calving about as late as possible. Both have feedlots, too, and calves born in April are ready to market out of the feedlot the following April or May. In the past, fat cattle prices have usually hit seasonal highs in April and May.
Also, both families also raise most of the feed for their feedlots and need to finish calving before they start planting wheat and corn.
Calving in April works best for them, too, because the cow-calf pairs can be turned out on to pastures soon after calving.
“We can have pretty good weather in April," Brian Zuehlke says. “This year, it’s just been harder.”