TOWNSEND — Late January through mid-March is a critical time for Montana ranches.
It’s the beginning of the calving season, where families and ranch hands battle against winter temperatures while helping deliver the newest members of the herd.
At Thompson Ranch, east of Canyon Ferry Lake, Vince and Denise Thompson are working the land and pastures as fifth-generation ranchers. Like many ranching families in Montana, the winter months are used for calving. From what the Thompsons say, it’s basically a 24/7 job.
“Yeah, there's basically somebody down here pretty much all the time. You can, I mean, you can tell the cows, a lot of the cows will give you about an hour, I mean, if you see they're going to calve, you know, a lot of them, you can, you've been around them enough you can know. And yeah, basically there's somebody down here all the time,” said Vince Thompson.
The Thompsons run over 400 head of cattle. They have to be constantly monitoring and ready at a moment’s notice to help bring in cows from the pasture who are ready to give birth. If a cow gives birth out in the pasture in cold enough temperatures it can lead to dire consequences for the calf quickly.
Unlike many ranches in Montana that start in February, the Thompson’s start calving the first month of the year. Typically, many ranchers calve outside, allowing the cattle to give birth in the pasture. But because the Thompsons have barns and pens, they are able to start earlier in the season and keep more calves out of the elements.
No rancher wants to lose a calf if they can help it. Death also means down the road there is one less animal to take to market, which can be a loss of hundreds to thousands of dollars for the ranch per death depending on the gender and breed of the animal.
Calves born in January to March are typically ready to be shipped off by October.