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Cattleman blog: The struggle and success of A.I. calving

Kim Brackett Published on 24 February 2011
Cows and calves

Calving season means different things to different cattle producers. Some producers bring every heifer and cow to a calving shed. Others only bring in their heifers. Our ranch has enough winter ground that we are able to calve our cows outside. This has allowed calving to be relatively low-stress for us. We pasture breed our first-calf heifers to low birth weight bulls and check them periodically throughout the day during calving season. It works beautifully.

Well, it did work beautifully until one day last winter. My husband strolled into the kitchen, tossed several bull sire directories on the table and announced, “I’ve found a great bull for our A.I. breeding program.” The only problem was we didn’t actually have an A.I. breeding program.

Recently, we have been focusing on improving the genetics of our main herd of cows and one of our frequent conversations has been about the possibility of artificially inseminating our heifers. Last winter, we decided the time was right; we were ready to see how it would work for our outfit. We began working out the details of our Grand A.I. Plan.

Understanding that the calving season would be intense and require all of our cowboys’ daily (and nightly) attendance, we chose to start calving the end of February. This would allow us time to finishing calving out our heifers before the arrival of the busy spring days. We set about the business of synchronization, selecting bulls and finally mass breeding all of our replacement heifers.

A calf

Soon we were caught up in the day-to-day work on the ranch, the flurry of A.I. activity behind us. As the seasons passed, we were excited to see what our next calf crop would bring. Before we knew it, it was a month before the scheduled calving start date.

We brought the heifers to a field close to ranch headquarters. The next day, Sunday, my family and I started down the road on our way to church. As we drove past the heifers, we noticed two of them standing apart from the rest of the herd.

Each heifer had a newborn calf at her feet.

A shivering calf because it was the first day of February.

Temperatures were in the single digits, the wind was howling and the snow was flying. The Grand A.I. Plan didn’t seem quite so grand.

Suddenly, we were calving fast and furious. Over the next three weeks, we were consumed with ear tags, marking pens, a few calf bottles, calving chains, gallons of coffee and a single call to the vet. At one point, we had forty-seven calves in a 24-hour period. Whew!

Calves in the pasture

My husband and I didn’t have much time for lengthy conversations during those three weeks. However, like most married couples, we can communicate quite effectively with a minimum of words. Through snippets of conversation and a few well-chosen facial expressions I managed to get across the most important thought that was on my mind: “What were YOU thinking?”

Then one day it was over. The calving pens were empty. Across the road was a field full of good-looking calves. Calves that were thriving under the care of their new mamas. Miraculously, we still had a full crew of cowboys, too.

Yesterday, I came across a stack of bull sire directories on the kitchen counter. Each one marked with a rainbow of sticky notes jutting out from the edges. After 15 years of marriage, I think I understand my husband’s form of non-verbal communication.

Come the middle of May, the A.I. crew will return. end_mark

Kim Brackett is a family rancher who lives near Three Creek, Idaho, and a member of the Cattleman’s Beef Board. Read more of her blog entries and photos at

PHOTOS by Kim Brackett