A fair proportion of the Scottish beef herd calves in the spring of the year as that reduces the need for expensive concentrate feed during the winter.

Calves born in late February and March have grown big enough by the end of April to benefit from the flush of milk their mothers produce when they are turned out to nutritious spring grass. The end result of such a strategy is that the calves are well-grown by weaning time in October.

Calving indoors requires a lot of shed space for cows to calve in comfort on straw and then individually-penned with their calves. There can be occasions at peak calving time, when all the individual calving pens become occupied. That leads to a juggling act, involving moving those with the oldest calves on to the next stage, where they are penned in batches, to make way for the next freshly-calved cows and their calves.

To avoid such complications, others prefer to delay calving their cows until April and May. That allows them to turn their cows out to grass fields shortly after calving.

You would be amazed at the long hours that are put in tending to calving cows and their new-born offspring in on-farm, bovine maternity wards. Quite a lot of the action occurs during the night - simply because cows seem to prefer to give birth when the farmer is trying to sleep. To overcome that problem, I was advised to feed my cows their silage in the evening as that would encourage them to calve during the day. I can reveal that experiment failed miserably

My bedroom was about 30 metres away from the cattle sheds, so I slept with the bedroom window slightly open to allow me to hear the distinctive moaning sounds of a cow going into labour. Then it was a case of getting up and checking that everything was progressing as it should.

I can tell you that there is no more gut-wrenching sight than a large pair of hooves protruding from the back-end of a cow, indicating a big calve needing assistance is on the way. Acting as midwife to a beef cow can be physically demanding, although a live calf at the end makes it all worthwhile.

Small cows with a large pelvis will often have an easier time at calving than a big cow with a relatively small pelvis. Then again, a modest sized calf with thick shoulders or a beefy, double muscled backside may not slip out as easily as a large, narrow calf.

There may also be difficulties caused by the calf coming backwards, or in a breach presentation, or with one or both of its front legs pointing backwards in the birth canal - to name but a few of the problems that can occur.

To lessen the chances of difficulties at calving, some use breeds of bulls that have a reputation for leaving small calves. That solution has the drawback that such crosses invariably grow out to be smaller cattle that are worth less. As a result, the use of such breeds is often restricted to heifers calving for the first time.

Once the calf is born, you then have to ensure that it suckles enough of that all-important first milk, or colostrum, within the first few hours of birth. Colostrum is a thick, yellow-coloured milk that imparts immunity to the calf of diseases that the mother has encountered on the farm, as well as getting its digestive system working properly.

Dairy farmers aren't allowed to sell colostrum with their regular milk, and either feed it to calves or discard it. I used to get such colostrum and store it in the freezer for use in cases where one of my cows or heifers couldn't produce enough for its calf.

Other beef cows may have an abundance of milk that swells their teats or distends the udders so the swollen teats almost touch the ground, making it almost impossible for the calf to suckle. Then there are big, stupid calves that prefer to lie down than try to suckle. That can often be the result of a slow, difficult calving.

Training an awkward calf, weighing around 50kgs, to suckle while its mother fidgets and probably tries to kick you for interfering with her can be a bruising, time-consuming, frustrating chore.

Still, despite the long hours and frustrations, it always gave me great personal satisfaction to see young calves thriving, particularly after a difficult calving, or some other intervention that started them off on the road to a healthy life.