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A tough season for calving

H&N photo by Lee Juillerat
Refugio Hernandez and Ventura Cobian weigh calf No. 798 at the Pope Ranch. Newborn calves at the ranch average 80 pounds.

Weather a concern
for area ranchers

By Lee Juillerat, Herald and News 2/9/08
MERRILL — Mom watched intently as Lynn Pope, Ventura Cobian and Refugio Hernandez weighed and inoculated her newborn, then gave it a tattoo and an ear tag identifying him as No. 798.

“Shooo,” said Pope when the worried Mom, a black Angus cow, crept too close to the bed of the pickup truck where the three were working.

Minutes later, when her day-old calf was released, she licked her baby, who stood up, shook himself and sidled next to her.

For some cattle ranchers, it’s calving season, and ranchers like Pope are keeping close watch on newborn calves, especially in a season made difficult by snow, subfreezing temperatures and frequently chilling winds.

“They get chilled real quick before they have a chance to get up and nurse. If you don’t get them soon enough, they freeze and die,” explained the 62-year-old Pope. “It’s a combination of the wind and cold and snow. The snow on the ground is the reason they chill so quickly.”

Pope, a fourth-generation rancher, says this year rates among the toughest for calving since 1992-93, a winter of record snowfall, and 1989, when bitter cold resulted in a high number of deaths.

Calving at Pope’s ranch, located midway between Merrill and Malin, began about three weeks ago. By the time calving ends in late March he expects to see 300 new calves.

In an average year, mortality is generally under 5 percent, but this year’s turbulent winter threatens to push the number of deaths above normal.

“We’ve had to bring some in and warm them up and then take them back to their cows,” Pope said. “This year it’s been hard to watch them close enough. You pretty much need to be there hour-by-hour.”

Geri Byrne, who operates the Robert A. Byrne Co. with her husband, Dan, and his brother Mike, near Newell, agreed with Pope.

“It was pretty tough in that cold. We just couldn’t do enough to keep some of them alive,” she said.

“Coming out of that warm incubator into the cold is pretty hard,” she said.

“We’ve brought a couple of calves here into the house so they can warm up,” said Lori Humphrey, whose husband, Ron, and their sons are calving in three fields near Malin and Merrill.

“We’ve had a bad time getting them in and feeding,” Humphrey said. Although her husband or sons check every three hours, “We’ve lost a few because of the cold.”

In the Butte Valley area, Roger and Harold Porterfield said their calving wouldn’t begin until next month while other Klamath Basin ranchers said their seasons would start in coming weeks.

Varies by ranch

Calving intentionally varies among individual ranchers depending on a variety of factors.

Pope, for example, prefers to start early because it “works better for our artificial insemination, and the calves we sell as bulls have a little more age for our customers. It’s good as long as you’re not having too many problems.”

The Byrnes also start early, so calves are about 60 days old when they’re turned out to public lease lands in April. “You can’t tell from year-to-year,” Byrnes said of the weather.

Most ranchers are hoping for sunny days. As Pope noted, “They get in the sun and they get warmed up and get to feeling better.”

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