Fair Range: Breeding season sets the mood

Editor’s Note: Caraballo is a fifth-generation rancher and farmer who manages Glasoe Angus near Wildrose. Her Fair Range column appears regularly in The Journal and The Tioga Tribune.

This season is synonymous with the birds and the bees, planting seeds and cattle breeding for me, but I doubt there is a lot of human romance taking place on the farm right now. If so, hats (and boots) off to you.

My observation may be presumptuous, but when I catch a glimpse of neighboring farm men and women driving past each other from one field, pasture and prairie trail to the next while managing a wave and maybe an impromptu minute roadside chat . . . we all seem rather bleary-eyed, wind-burned and a bit sun-scorched as the summer solstice arrives.

So each year I schedule our breeding season – cattle not marital – with Kevin and his schedule in mind so we can spend some quality work time together. He normally begins seeding the first part of May and is near the tail end of acres to plant by Memorial Day. Dutiful, dedicated and wise to my happiness, my husband and business partner usually parks the drills at the tail end of spring to help me on the days we need to herd, sort and work our heifers and cows for our various breeding programs. Not so this year.

We received nearly 13 inches of moisture in April, May and June. The blessing is green pastures and full ponds and disappearing drought; the challenge is ground too wet to seed. Kevin began planting a month later than he normally does; I therefore lost a critical member of my workforce for bovine breeding season.

I could have just turned out our dams and selected bulls for natural service – breeding the old-fashioned way. But synchronized artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer (ET) allow us to utilize sires nationwide and the best genetics from donor dams within our cowherd. It also means nearly every day we (our hired help, children and me) are herding cattle back and forth from the pasture up to two miles away and sorting out those animals that need work from the ones who don’t each time. While Kevin spends sunup until sundown in his Case IH 535 Quadtrac, I spend my time in our breeding barn.

The first sign that breeding season is here is when UPS delivers canisters filled with semen and liquid nitrogen. ET supplies also arrive in the mail, and we purchase our AI supplies at Northwest Vet Services in Powers Lake.

We AI heifers first, followed by embryo retrieval from the donors and then transfer into recipient dams, followed by AI of our remaining herd. We give fertility medication to our foster dams to simulate ovulation, conception and a pregnancy so their hormones and corpus luteum will continue to support the pregnancy once the embryo is implanted. Our AI breeding protocol involves less handling and time, but we synchronize our heifers and cows to all ovulate at the same time for group AI. Synchronized breeding is three rounds in the chute per female. Day one an intravaginal progesterone device, which resembles a giant wishbone, is inserted into the vaginal canal and a shot of gonadorelin given. One week later the device is removed, and a shot of prostaglandin is given. Then approximately two to three days later, the female is given another shot of gonadorelin and artificially inseminated with selected semen.

I used to AI, but haven’t for nearly a decade. Gloved up and shoulder deep in the anal cavity of the cow, her muscles contracting like a vice on my arm, I would try to gently, yet blindly grope through the canal of poop to find the cervix that floated somewhere below and supposedly felt like a turkey gizzard. Once the evasive cervix was in my left hand, my right hand inserted a long, slender needle containing a straw with 40 million sperm through and past vaginal folds into the tiny hole of the cervix to effectively guide the insemination gun through the cervix until it touched my left index finger at the far end into the uterine body to eject semen. I belatedly realized that hiring an expert technician saved me, my patience and sore arm a lot of time.

Time. There’s never enough of it. Luckily, while Kevin is unavailable, our children get ample time with me. I remind them our time together is a privilege when our day starts at 6:30 a.m. to vaccinate calves of embryo recipient dams, sort pairs and haul them to pasture. Other chores done, by 8 p.m. we are bringing in AI-selected dams and their calves from the pasture to our breeding barn.

A promise of steaks at midnight, Riley Jo runs the head gate while Wyatt gives each cow a shot of prostaglandin and Lane pours Dectomax, which kills parasites, across the cow’s back after I apply a breeding patch.

We leave the barn tired but smiling at 11 p.m. when Kevin, who just finished seeding for the day, drives up in his Dodge pickup to see if we still need help. If I weren’t so tuckered out, I could just kiss this good man for his offer.


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