In the wide open fields of Pratt County, Chris Drake and family are keeping watch over newborn calves as they are born in the cold weather.
For many farmers and ranchers in Pratt County, calves being born in February is not uncommon. But several calves born in the past few days at Chris Drake's Farms northeast of Pratt were just a bit unexpected.
"The bulk of our cow herd will start calving at the end of February," Chris Drake said on Wednesday. "But I bought a couple of bred heifers at the sale and wasn't quite sure when they would start calving. There are three calves on the ground out here already from them."
Chris and Jodi Drake, and their daughters, Madeline and Caroline, have been life-long farmers and all are used to the extra care they need to provide for their cow-calf herd, especially when the weather turns bad.
"We definitely have to get out here and check on them more often," said Jodi Drake. "We haul water to them every day, but when calves are coming we check every few hours to make sure the mothers are taking care of them."
When the weather is below freezing, family members, including Chris's dad, Randy Drake, break ice in the water tank to make sure the cows get enough water.
"I was so lucky to get calf-watch last weekend, when the weather was nice and sunny," Jodi Drake said. "I even had Madeline go out on her horse several hours to look for a calf we thought might have been born but couldn't find. It was a perfect day for a ride."
The Drake Farms’ 60-head cow herd is currently out on several acres of mile stubble, foraging the field for stalks. It's good feed, but there isn't a lot of protection from the elements on the flat land. Most of the cows are hardy Angus or Angus-crosses, able to withstand the up-and-down temperatures of late, Chris Drake said. But it is the young and old ones he worries about.
"A few days ago we had a calf go under the hot-wire and walk down the road about dark," he said. "Our area road grader found him across the road and in the ditch, and it was a good thing he was able to get him back where he belonged. I guess he was just looking for a warm spot out of the wind."
The calves raised at Drake Farms will be market beef by next fall, with several going straight to the locker at T&W Meats in Cunningham. So the extra care taken now, at calving time, is well worth the effort to keep them alive and thriving through cold weather.
Drake said the majority of their farm income still comes through crop production of winter wheat, milo or sorghum, dry-land corn and dry-land beans, but he enjoys running cattle and continues to build up his herd.
"We all have to have off-the-farm incomes to make ends meet," he said. "But I've been farming in Pratt County since graduating from juco 28 years ago, and running cattle. I can't imagine doing anything else."
Chris Drake leads ag production classes across the state through extension services. He also serves as a USD 382 board of education member. Jodi Drake is the Pratt County Research and Extension Agent, and an avid runner.
"I shared a picture of me running among the cows with my Facebook running group the other day," she said. "If I'm going to be out here checking calves, I might as well be getting my running in too."
The cows don't seem to mind, as long as someone brings them water every day and a few range cubes as a treat.
"It will be easier when we get them moved up to the farmyard," Chris Drake said. "Then they will have access to hay and we can put calves into the barn if the weather is too cold."
Until then, family members vigilantly keep taking their turns at calf-watch, rain or shine, snow, sleet or high wind. It's likely there will be more calves on the ground by morning.