DAYTON – Nothing says spring on the farm like a newborn calf.
At Troy and Lori Ferrari’s farm near Dayton, there are more than a hundred ways to say spring as the birthing season brings abundant new life to the neighborhood.
Growing up in the Stratford and Pilot Mound area, Troy Ferrari says working with a cow/calf operation has become second nature to him.
“It’s in your blood.” Ferrari said. “I was born into it. My dad had cows. I grew up with them.”
Nestled in the highlands of the confluence of the Boone and Des Moines rivers, Ferrari’s farm is an ideal area for blending traditional crop rotation with a cow/calf operation.
“We live in an area with good pastures, and to take advantage of those pastures, the cows do better,” Ferrari said.
The cow/calf area of the farm stretches across open pastures, woods, trees, and streams. Corn and soybeans dominate the rest of the farm, along with areas suitable for hay to feed the cows.
Long before a wheel is turned in the field each New Year, Ferrari is busy in the sheds as the birthing season begins in earnest in February. Calves—the most time-consuming—start first, while cows—more independent when it comes to calving—usually give birth in the pasture as soon as spring arrives.
“This year we will have 65 first calves and 70 cows,” he said. Ferrari said. “We try to keep about the same number over the years, but we’ve done more calves in the last few years because I had sold some cows and it was about time.”
While in the past he kept bulls, and did his own artificial insemination (AI), he has recently purchased a number of bred calves.
“We used to have AI on all our calves, sometimes 50 to 150, but I kind of gave up on that because of the time and space it took,” he says. He said. “For genetic consistency, it’s easier for me to buy them.”
Ferrari has been very happy with the calves he’s been buying from a farm in Nebraska for the past few years.
“They were bred to a bull named Patriarch,” Ferrari said. “I think he’s one of the best bulls I’ve ever seen. He’s a registered Angus.”
A walk through the barn at Ferrari Farm illustrates the easy-going, easy-going nature Ferrari exudes in these calves-turned-new mothers. It’s remarkably quiet. The animals are at ease and seem unfazed by a new visitor in their home. Two-day-old calves relax in beds of dry corn stalks, while others get up on their feet to nurse.
For a cow/calf producer, there is nothing better than seeing those little calves standing strong at their mother’s side, and knowing where to find their dinner. This isn’t always the case, but Ferrari has had a very strong success rate with their first set of calves this season, losing just one set of twins out of 40 newborns.
“it went well,” Ferrari said. “We had 40 cows raised in one day, February 23rd, and those 40 cows started on February 10th and finished by February 21st. We had 40 calves in 10 days.”
This makes for a very busy agenda, especially in the depths of winter. Over the years, most of the family members have helped in one way or another. Daughter Tori is now a student in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University in Ames. Josie works as a lab tech at the McFarland Clinic in Webster City. Jaynie is a radiology student at Iowa Central Community College. Son Rylie is also a student at Iowa Central and plans to transfer to Iowa State to major in finance.
Rylie Ferrari helps out when he can, but for the offseason, Troy Ferrari is on call almost non-stop.
“When we’re making calves, we have to look at them every two hours on the clock, and it’s just the two of us. We had 40 calves in 10 days, and it was very cold during that time, single digits.”
Hard work does not discourage Riley Ferrari, who plans to return and farm with his father. He chose to major in finance as a way to expand the knowledge base already on the family farm.
“He’s educated in the operations side of it,” said Troy Ferrari. “He wants to know more about the financial side of things.”
Rylie Ferrari agrees that all bases need to be covered, from cleaning a calf to working on a spreadsheet.
“Farming is more of a business,” said the smaller Ferrari. “Things go really well together.”
Over the years, this diversified corn, soybean, and hay farm has been active in most areas of the cattle market.
“In the past, we fed fat calves and did a little bit of everything,” he says. Ferrari said. “We’ve done some breeding, fed our own slaughter cows, and now we’re just giving birth.”
Specialization works well, especially given the labor-intensive nature of cows, in particular.
“Calves work 10 times more,” Ferrari said.
The 40 new calves that arrived in February each started their lives with about 30 minutes of drying before being returned to their mothers, warm and dry to help them on their way.
The Nebraska-bred calves were a welcome addition to the farm, according to Ferrari.
“They are usually very calm, very good mothers,” He said. “They have good udders, very uniform, and a lot of consistency in them.”
Another batch of calves have been busy giving birth in early March, cows will come later.. While moisture may be needed for croplands, Ferrari likes to see dry areas and dry pastures as cows begin to grow outside.
‘cows are tough’ Ferrari said. “A mature cow, if she’s in her twenties but she’s dry, those calves will be fine. Ideally, I’d like to see her in her fifties.”
The cows will calve primarily on pasture, with Ferrari checking on them on four wheels at least four times a day, and more if necessary.
“Cows and calves are a lot of work, but they’ve always been good to me,” Ferrari said. “You have to be firm, work for nothing, and go through hard times.”