Western Illinois Farmer Creates ‘Maternity Ward’ for Cows
Every two hours of every night from January to April, someone wakes to check expectant mother cows on Jim Kane’s Western Illinois farm.
Even at the wee hour of 2 a.m., Kane or one of his helpers will walk the farm’s three barns. They check cattle for any behavior that indicates an impending birth. An uneventful barn allows Kane or his helper to go back to bed within 15 minutes. An imminent birth keeps them awake to monitor a mother through calving, the name given to the process of cattle giving birth. (Related: Baby Calf Facts)
“We have the amenities to stay the night up there,” Kane says, noting his barn includes an office, bunkhouse, kitchenette and laundry area. “We’re literally sleeping with the animals, it seems like.”
Essentially, Kane has created a maternity ward for cattle. The lifelong farmer – Kane owned his first cow in first grade – developed a niche business for other farmers. Called Kane Custom Calving, it offers 24-hour care in a safe, warm and dry indoor environment. The business, near Smithshire, takes in expectant cows to monitor through calving. He then returns a healthy mom and baby to their owners.
“It’s nice seeing a guy bring in a load of cattle and two weeks later he takes twice as many home because we had a successful calving,” Kane says.
Open for Business 24/7
Extreme cold, wetness and mud all have supported Kane’s business. He started in 2003 with room for up to 25 cows at a time. Today, Kane’s farm has capacity for 160 expectant mothers simultaneously in three facilities. Those include a circa 1910 barn and two new large hoop buildings. Between 350 and 550 cows give birth on Kane’s farm each calving season.
Kane’s business reduces risks related to the elements, such as weather. These risks can lead to troublesome calving. Kane’s two helpers – his son, John, and local farmer friend, Steve Jack – help provide the care.
It was that care that made Brent Lowderman, owner of Carthage Livestock Inc., one of Kane’s loyal clients. Lowderman buys expectant first-calf heifers (female cattle that will birth for the first time). After Kane monitors them through calving, Lowderman sells the healthy mother-calf pairs to farmers.
“When you’re dealing with first-calf heifers, they take a lot of watching,” Lowderman says. “I couldn’t watch them 24 hours a day like they do up there.”
After the baby’s arrival, Kane and his crew ensure the mother can clean her calf. They also make sure the calf ingests its critical first milk, called colostrum. They mark the calf with an identification tag, or earring, and administer vaccinations. The healthy pair heads home within three days.
“There is pride involved,” Kane says. “I’m happy to do it.”