Winter is a busy time for many rural Washington County residents who own livestock. For farmers like Buck Hoier and Gary Gieselmann, who raise livestock, this time of the year is full of new life.
Hoier raises cattle and Gieselmann raises both cattle and lambs, and both men are in their birthing seasons during the winter months.
Hoier has a family operation and breeds 375 head of cattle on his family's operation just outside of Herman.
“Cattle have been in the family for as long as I can remember,” Hoier said. “I remember my grandpa Melvin always had cattle and then my dad and Nick took over and grew the herd buying Simmental cattle from J&C Simmentals and other breeders in the area.”
For Hoier, calving season typically runs from the first week of February to the last week in April.
Hoier keeps about 15 bulls in his herd for breeding purposes, but he also does artificial insemination (AI) to grow his herd annually.
“I AI all of my first and second calf heifers each year, and then I usually AI 50-100 more head on top of that, which comes out to about 300 head that don’t get bull bred,” Hoier said.
Beef cattle have a gestation period ranging from 279-287 days. During gestation, a cow will eat about 3 percent of its body weight per day, meaning that a cow weighing 1,400 pounds will eat about 42 pounds of dry food a day.
At birth, a cow will typically have a calf that weighs 85-90 pounds, but for a first-time mother their weight is closer to 75 pounds.
“I try to keep that first calf’s birth weight low for a heifer so it isn’t so hard on their body,” Hoier said.
Another thing that is a challenge during calving season is battling the elements.
“Winter is horrible for newborn calves,” Hoier said. “The aftermath for babies is hard. Keeping them dry for the first 24 hours can be difficult, especially for farmers who don’t have the facilities to keep the babies inside and out of the rain and snow.”
The most calves that Hoier has had per day has been 25 head in a 24-hour period.
“It can be a little challenging to keep up with that, especially once we really start getting into the groove of things and see multiple cows calving at the same time,” Hoier said.
Not too far down the road, Gieselmann is experiencing calving and lambing simultaneously.
Gieselmann currently has 50 head of ewe lambs.
The gestation period for a lamb ranges from 142-152 days, and lambs typically weigh between 8 and 10 pounds when they’re born.
“I keep my lambs on the ewes for about 60 days, then I wean them and feed them out,” Gieselmann said.
Gieselmann has about six families in the area that purchase lambs from him for 4-H projects, and he feeds out the other lambs he keeps in his herd.
“Your typical market weight is between 120 to 130 pounds,” said Gieselmann. “Lambs typically gain just under a pound a day and we generally take lambs to market in June. The market fluctuates and is usually high in January and then drops off again in September.”
Gieselmann’s ewes generally eat about four pounds of hay per day and two pounds of corn when they have lambs.
“When lambs are about 4 to 6 years old, they’re generally hitting the prime of their life,” Gieselmann said. “This is when they usually have the best lambs and are in their best health. Towards seven or eight years old, they start to have some typical health issues like not lactating as well and they just aren’t able to take care of their babies as well.”
Ewes give birth to one to three lambs at each birthing event, which can be challenging for a mother depending on how much milk she can produce.
“Sometimes we take a lamb off of the mother and bottle feed it so that the mother can support the other two lambs a little better,” Gieselmann said.