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KIRK: Second-guessing season

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KIRK: Second-guessing season
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

It’s still March, and calving time, which means we are currently in the season of second guessing. March definitely lives up to its reputation around here as being erratic, between my husband’s last minute mind-changing and my constant second guessing what he wants me to do.

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During these transition months known as “spring-winter,” we begin each day with a little self-doubt, starting with where we feed cows. An analysis is always done late afternoon or evening to review the most up-to-date weather forecast for the night and next day, a hay/alfalfa consumption evaluation, a determination of whether a cow-sort is needed for the barn, and which cows should go in the barn based on the next day’s forecast. Anytime the forecast acts like it wants to be winter posing potential life-threatening weather conditions for a newborn calf, a cow-sort is done to put springers (cows showing signs that they’re likely to calve soon) in the barn for the night.

This seasonal self-doubting quandary affects our decision on which springers we chose to put in the barn, especially the next morning if we discover that a cow outside calved instead of one in the barn. Second guessing carries over into barn checking. When there’s a new calf in the barn sometimes our presence can mess with a cow’s nurturing, bringing out the protective meanness in her, and can occasionally turn a cow’s threatening behavior into a perpetual issue instead of a temporary one.

Regardless, plans for the next day are set accordingly; action is taken if necessary and nothing is second-guessed until morning. If it suddenly gets windy, the wind changes direction, the sky looks like it might rain, snow or rain and snow, then the original feeding location is second guessed and sometimes changed without notice.

Determining our cows’ hay-alfalfa ratio is based on what they didn’t eat the previous day. To avoid wasting hay, we feed only what we think they’ll clean up, especially if it’s not as cold or there’s a lot of pasture-picking available. When shoots of green grass start popping up, there’s second guessing whether it was wise to turn the cows out of the calving pasture when we did, because if they ingest too much fresh green grass they can acquire grass tetany -- a potentially fatal metabolic disorder resulting from a deficiency in magnesium -- so we have to provide the mineral.

Turning cows out of the calving pasture (a pasture that’s easier to check and closer for getting cows and calves to the barn if necessary) creates new opportunities for second guessing, because cows have more places to hide for calving. We also second guess how much time we need to give a pair before getting involved to help them with the bonding process.

Choosing which cows go to the barn, how long to keep them in the barn, if intervention with a new pair is necessary and if our help is the cause of a cow getting mean are all second-guessed actions. This stems from temperature and forecast second guessing. Once we’ve over-prepared for an anticipated unpleasant forecast and nothing happens, future forecasts and what’s considered too cold for a calf become frequently second guessed, also.

Despite all the questioning, we’ve had ideal calving weather and minimal problems this calving season and are feeling optimistic about the remainder of it, but so as not to jinx things, I am highly second guessing that expectation.

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