March 9 2023 10:21 AM

This can be a tense time of year, but it’s worth it.

Ah, March: that one month that starts out cold, chilly, snowy, and mostly miserable, but typically turns sunny, windy, and bearable. The month that gets the “itch” going as we start chomping at the bit to get into the fields. The month that starts it all. As the weather begins to turn, we not only start looking at field work and machinery, but we look closer at the heifers as their newly developed udders begin to fill as their pregnancies come to an end. Yes, as the days get warmer, you get excited, but you also look at a calendar and realize that one of the most important seasons is upon you, and it doesn’t involve machinery. Friends, welcome to heifer calving season.

About three years ago, you probably sat down with your vet or your A.I. sales rep or even just the pedigrees and a piece of paper and decided to “correct” and integrate some new genetics into your herd. It is now the third year, and these heifers are the direct product of your “creation.” You’re giddy and excited to see how well these young girls do compared to your older girls. As the time approaches, the excitement turns to worry. The worry of, “Will she be able to calve alright?,” “What if I’m not there when it happens and she has complications that’ll affect her and the calf?,” “What if I lose her and/or the calf?,” and the list goes on. The time and money you’ve put into her along with the overwhelming fear of losing her hangs on your shoulders, so this is when you decide to heifer watch.

Nowadays, heifer watch is a little more advanced than it once was. Now we have technology to let us know when the heifer is actively calving. A simple text or call can have us up and moving to be there in case something happens. However, I’m not that advanced. At my place, we figure out which heifer is due next, start watching her closely the week before or as soon as we see her udder filling, then if we find her alone and in labor, we move her to the barn to be monitored every hour or so until delivery. Sometimes, this can mean night watch.

I moved out of my parents’ house a few years ago. My apartment is right past our maternity pasture, so now I’ve taken it upon myself to check the heifers that are in the barn. Some nights, I stop in and find a heifer staring at me and then a calf is there by morning. Some nights, a skunk meets me at the door, and I throw rocks at him until I can safely check on the young heifer in the barn. Either way, I get the job done.

Heifer calving season can be stressful, restless, and worrisome. However, it can also be some of the most rewarding moments on the farm. Watching a calf take its first steps and a young heifer suddenly become a mom is heartwarming and a gift we all too often forget. Watching these young heifers grow into amazing cows is a journey we are fortunate to partake in. Good luck to all those calving out this time of year! May the journey be well worth it!

Courtney Henderson

The author is a sixth-generation farmer and fifth-generation dairy producer in southwest Virginia, where she and her family own and operate a 145-head Holstein dairy. Courtney is involved in agriculture organizations throughout her community and is a graduate of Virginia Tech.