The old black beef cow was as gentle as she could be — until she wasn’t! And she wasn’t as soon as she delivered a calf. It was like someone flipped a switch.
Many cattle producers can understand this situation. There is nothing like motherhood to send a cow into a frenzy, and some breeds tend to exhibit this trait more vehemently than others.
Jon Roberts found a solution 10 years ago that allowed him to continue to process calves as he always had, but with less fear about dealing with a mad momma cow. Roberts, with wife Betty Jo, their son Matt and Matt’s family, operates a 50-cow beef herd near North Webster, Ind. The herd is Angus-based today. They typically feed out most of the calves they produce.
“I found this set of mobile pens which attaches to the ATV,” Roberts says. “It’s easy to move and designed for this very purpose.”
It’s called a “calf-catcher,” he says. He bought it as a commercial product. “When I know there is a new calf to process, I simply drive out and alongside the calf,” he explains. “I open a gate and get the calf inside. Then I slip into the pen and do what I need to do. The mother cow is outside looking in, and is no longer a threat to come after me while I’m working on the calf.”
The tools Roberts keeps close to the movable corral include a scale and weigh sling. He lifts the calf into the sling to get its birth weight for recordkeeping purposes. It’s much easier to do, he notes, when you’re not worried about where the mother cow is or what she might be ready to do.
Once he’s finished processing the calf, he simply releases it and reunites it with its mom. He can ride off safe and sound, taking all the information he needs with him.
Originally, Roberts used the mobile pen with a smaller ATV. He upgraded to a larger model with four-wheel-drive, and it handles it much better, he says.
The Roberts family operates a no-till crop operation and uses cover crops. They practice intensive grazing, using some of their more erodible land for pastures and hay. Roberts is also active with the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District, where he has been a supervisor for more than two decades. He was named the 2018 Supervisor of the Year by the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Indiana Prairie Farmer sponsors the award.