Life is always interesting at the Stampede Ranch, but springtime is something special.
“It’s my favourite time of the year,” says Calgary Stampede ranch manager Tyler Kraft. “After a long winter, spring comes and the grass starts to turn green. But the best part is the babies.”
The little ones started to make their arrivals on the Stampede’s 22,000 acre property near Hanna, Alberta mid-April. Still in full baby-mode, Kraft and ranch hand Charlie McKinnon are busy watching over the new moms and pregnant mares, which have been brought up close to the ranch buildings for the season. While hands-on with the mares if they need to be, the men know the horses would sooner just be left alone to give birth. And it’s never long before the foals are up, active and – hopefully – hungry.
“The most crucial thing early on is making sure they are up on their feet and getting the essential first nutrients from their mother’s milk,” says Kraft, adding “they’ll stay with their mothers for about eight months before they are weaned.”
With bucking in their blood, these wobbly-legged foals hold the promise of one day becoming powerful rodeo competitors. Part of the Born to Buck program, they will eventually be introduced into the herd of more than 600 horses at the Stampede Ranch.
Nearly two dozen babies have been born so far, with dramatic weather swings adding a unique twist to the already busy time. Temperatures in the high twenties one week turned into three straight days of snow the next. But despite a foot and a half of snow, Kraft says the temperatures didn’t drop enough to cause problems. In fact, the snow was welcomed.
“It’s much needed moisture. With the warm weather, this spring has been very dry. This snow will give the grass a good start.”
At the Calgary Stampede’s historic OH Ranch, just down the road from Longview, Alberta, the weather is also proving beneficial. The mild spring is making things much easier for ranch manager Ken Pigeon and his team during calving season this year.
“It’s been great. It’s a lot easier to check on them and we aren’t finding them shaking and shivering right after being born.” says Pigeon, adding “we also haven’t had to bring any of them indoors to warm them up.”
Right now Pigeon is constantly on the go. Every three to four hours he heads out to check on the more than two hundred cows and the calves that have already been born. The heifers – first time moms – are watched even more closely. A much smaller group of 17, they are in a pasture close to the ranch buildings to make sure they get help quickly if they need it.
All that care and attention is paying off. More than 150 little ones have now been born, with a few extra surprises along the way.
“We have two sets of twins,” says Pigeon, with a smile. “They’re doing great!” Under the ranch manager’s watchful eye, those twins and all of the newborn calves will continue to flourish and grow on land that has supported cattle for generations and will continue to do so for years to come.