March came in like a lamb for cattle farmers across Iowa with temperatures reaching into the 70s and even higher in the middle of the month, and pastures mostly dry. That was a nice reprieve for families like the Benshoofs of Madison County, who have dealt with lots of cold and wet weather over the years.
For Ted Benshoof, 65, calving is a job the entire family participates in at Benshoof Farms in eastern Madison County.
"We have 370 crossbred Angus ready to calve," said Benshoof. "So the more help, the better." Benshoof’s sons, Alan, 42, and Bob, 36, are involved in the day-to-day work on the farm, and Steve, 41, helps when things get really busy.
"We’re a little early this year," said Alan. "Usually we try to breed the first part of February."
Alan Benshoof said they had 126 calves by the second week of March. "Mother Nature makes a big difference on the calving season," said Benshoof. "Cold rain and mud is worse than just plain cold." No matter what the weather, the Benshoof’s check on the cows and calves every couple of hours.
Calving in warmer weather has advantages. "The primary advantage is the reduction in cold stress for the newborn calf, resulting in less frost bite," said cow-calf specialist Patrick Gunn of Iowa State University. "However, warm weather calving does have some drawbacks, such as potential mud which could lead to increased calf scours if an area cannot be provided for the cow and calf that is clean and dry," said Gunn.
Gunn said farmers can never be too prepared for calving season and recommends having calf processing and calving assistance equipment ready to go at least two weeks in advance. "Also, make sure you have colostrum replacer and/or colostrum supplement on hand," added Gunn. "Colostrum ingestion within the first 12 hours is imperative to long term health."
Ted Benshoof’s grandchildren are also involved in cattle production. Alan’s children, Jonnie, 15, Nick, 13, and Ryan, 10, are raising their own herd of 20 cows and calves and show at the Madison County Fair.
"They love 4-H, so we bought them each a heifer to start out," said Alan. The boys plan to attend a fitting clinic to improve their showmanship and grooming.
"They’re great kids and a big help on the farm," said their grandfather, beaming a smile.