Twinning 7 out of 22 heifers
MIDLAND, S.D. — The Steve Daly family missed the big snow at the farm and ranch west of Midland, S.D., on March 5.
Heavy, wet snow this time of year is "good for everything but the baby calves," says Daly, 41. "The wind was awful."
Daly farms and ranches with his wife, Julie, and sons Carson, 14, and Dane, 12. They raise winter wheat, spring wheat, milo, safflower and other specialty crops on about 3,000 acres near Midland, about 70 miles west of Pierre, S.D.
Their calving season is just getting started the first week in March, working through 400 black Angus beef cows. About 22 heifers had given birth by March 6, and calving season will likely extend to mid-April.
"We're always done by the first part of May," Daly says.
Unlike last year, when calving was dry and easy, this year, it's been colder than normal with a layer of 8 to 10 inches of snow that came in mid-February. Another few inches arrived on March 5, but the main effect was wind gusting to 50 mph or more.
As of March 6, the Dalys had a surprisingly high seven sets of twins with only about 22 head calved out. Keeping twins is no easy trick, especially in bad weather.
"We saved a few of them, lost a few of them," Daly says. "It's always a challenge, to keep all of them alive."
It's always a worse situation with mothers that are heifers, or first-time mothers.
"They have more problems yet when they have twins," he says. "It's never 100 percent guarantee, that you'll have a live calf."
The barns are fitted with special cameras, allowing the Dalys to be in visual contact whether in their house or in town for errands or school events. They can be on the scene in minutes while staying in contact on the smartphone. When calving is imminent, Daly can watch everything from a special room with a bed in the calving barn.
Steve grew up here and has been full-time in farming since about 1996. Steve and Julie are in partnership with Steve's mother, Judy Daly. Steve also does some farming for his father Mickey Daly, who lives at a nearby ranch.
Drier at the start
The Dalys are more concerned about getting moisture this season than they were last season in part because they aren't going into spring with strong feed stockpiles, and there's no soil moisture.
"We've drove post holes and you've got to dump snow down them if you're drilling in the snow and if you don't have snow, you've got to find a bucket of water to throw down them to get the dirt out because the ground is so dry," Daly says.
Last year, they hayed most of the winter wheat and combined some it.
"It was good quality, high-protein, but just didn't have the yield," Daly says. "What we hayed, we got pretty good tonnage off of it, so that was well-worth it."
Their regular pasture and hay ground — an alfalfa-grass mix — produced about a third of normal yields.
"It was pretty thin," Daly says.
They also hayed some milo that was too drought-stricken before it got the rain.
"It made good quality feed and we combined the rest," Daly says. "It was half to two-thirds normal for yield."
Pastures were in tough shape much of the summer.
"We tried to keep on a rotation, tried to keep them from getting over-grazed," Daly says. "Those rains helped a little. We tried to supplement it with some creep (feed) to make the pastures go a little further. We actually got some decent rains in most places toward the end in August. We came out pretty decent with late-season crops."
Last year, the Dalys sold off more of their replacement heifers than normal. Also they'll sell their oldest cows, which are 10-year-olds.
"We're selling all of those as pairs this spring," Daly says. "We're hoping that it's wet enough that somebody's going to want some pairs."
On March 2 the Dalys were just a couple of weeks into calving with their heifers. Their cows were just starting.
"Everything is just starting," Daly says. "There's never a boring moment."
As in dry times in the past, ranching youth still seem to enjoy the carefree farming/ranching life.
Carson says he helps with branding and working the cattle. He's looking forward to summer "when you can run the machinery." Dane says a four-day school week allows him to be at home helping out as needed, feeding cows and tending to a flock of 26 laying hens.
Neither of the boys have decided on a farming career, but Dane brightens when he's asked the question: "Maybe," he responds. And then he smiles a broad, Daly smile.