Across the prairies, a curious thing is happening. You can hear it in the pastures and in the barns. You can see it in the roadside fields, and, if you’re lucky enough, you can touch it: Calving season.
My personal favourite time of year has arrived and is well under way at home, with 17 new baby calves currently bouncing around the pasture on varying degrees of wobbly legs. Mom sends me updates and pictures of the new arrivals every few days, since the first calf arrived on February 15. While it pains me to be so far away from the excitement at home, I do enjoy the uptick in human female attention that comes along with baby pictures. Soon that will pass and I’ll have to wait another year for them to remember I exist. But that is neither here nor there.
Animals are truly amazing things. Compared to humans, they reproduce amazingly quickly and with exceptional fortitude. One cow will have her first calf just before her second birthday, and will hopefully have a calf every 365 days from that point onward, until she ages and is culled from the herd (this can be as many as 17 years). Even more astounding are animals like pigs. One sow averages 2.5 litters per year, with an average gestation of 114 days and an average litter size now over ten piglets! Compared to animals, even wild animals, it is a miracle humans are as smart as they are, because we definitely would have lost the game in reproductive efficiency. While the married men in my life have given me the sage advice to never compare a woman to a cow (or any other livestock or animal species, for that matter), since I have no wife to keep happy, I think I am safe for now. Human reproduction is incredibly labour intensive and slow- most women today are over 20 years old before their first child is born, humans will have somewhere between 0 children and 8 children on average, and we live for more than 75 years in many western nations. How on Earth did we ever manage to make it to over 7 billion people on the planet? On top of this slow and extremely low birthrate, children need to be nurtured and taught and cared for biologically for 11-14 years (assuming puberty) and we keep them around for at least 18 in most cases- as opposed to the beef calves we have now, who will be totally capable of handling themselves at a ripe old 205 days.
The differences between livestock and people are amazing, and they are at once seemingly totally different, yet almost exactly the same. At the end of the day, all mammals follow the same basic methods of reproduction:fertilization, gestation, parturition, and lactation. All mammals have the same basic organs (differing in morphology but keeping true to function) and the same basic hormones which control the whole process.
At the end of the day, farms all across Canada are becoming nurseries for the next generation of beef cattle. Most will make their way, over the next 18-24 months, into the food chain and supply safe, wholesome, tasty beef for families. Some others will be retained as breeding stock to replenish the older cows and bulls in the national herd. And in the meantime, we get to enjoy such adorable little creatures as these two young ladies for a little while, which is how we know that spring has sprung: