This weekend we weaned and shipped from the Rocky Point Grazing Association in northern Wyoming. We usually ship everything home, then wean. But this year we left the cows and just shipped the calves home. Weaning can be interesting, because the cows and calves don't want to be separated, and it takes a few days before they are over it. Leaving the cows up there should make it pretty easy.
P.S. This is one of those long posts with lots of pictures, FYI
We started by gathering the pasture my uncle and dad's pairs are in. The pasture is approximately 3 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. There were 6 Hamiltons plus the guy who manages the grazing association and his wife, so we had a lot of help. This is my cousin Tucker, kicking a few pairs down to the creek.
It was a cool, rainy day, which is much preferred to hot, dry and/or windy days. Blowing dust can cause a lot of health problems in freshly weaned calves, and we were concerned about that prior to this rain, which settled the dust.
There go some I gathered down to the creek, which runs through the middle of the pasture and is where we get everything together in a bunch, then we take the entire bunch to the corrals to be worked.
We go over a big, steep will with the entire bunch. The winding creek is difficult to cross and causes some issues at times, but we've been in this pasture long enough to have it pretty well figured out.
On top of the hill is a gate we go through. My dad is pictured here keeping everyone headed in the right direction.
We go through the gate...
And down the other side of the big hill to the corrals, which you can see on the left. About now is when we would start hurrying the back end to catch them up to the front, so we don't lose the front end. But like any job, when everyone knows their part it usually goes pretty well, and we have been through this before, and so have many of these cows.
Once we get everything in the corral we get off our horses. Some people do their corral work on horseback, but we don't. This is faster and more efficient for us.
We sorted three ways. My uncles calves went in the gate on the left that my cousin was running. My dads calves went in the gate I was running, and everyone's cows went by and out the alley since they were staying at the association for a few extra days.
Cows entered the alley from behind the metal building on the right.
We bring a few at a time, then my uncle, shown here, and the association manager sorted off cows, or calves by owner, and brought them down the alley. My brother is standing at the end of the alley, behind the bunch of cows. He helps as needed and brings more cows into the alley every time we run out.
Here are some of my uncles calves going in their pen.
Cows go by. It can get to moving pretty quick sometimes, and you don't want to miss a calf that goes in your gate. If you mess up it takes longer and irritates people. But doing this work together as a family is something we all love and have been doing forever, so we enjoy it and it usually goes well if the cattle cooperate. They were cooperating this day.
I turned 180 degrees to show the other end of the alley, where the cows are let out. My dad is guarding the gate in case my cousin or I miss any calves. He can shut that gate before they get to him and we can re-sort them. He would also keep a couple cows in the alley as bait for the next bunch at the other end. Cows know what's going on and will usually move right along, but the calves have no idea, and seeing a cow will draw them down the alley sometimes.
Here are some of my dad's calves, going into the pen I was in charge of. Knowing when to move and when to stand still is also important. My cousin is holding still so he doesn't spook the calves. But if the second calf belonged in his pen, he could move and get his gate open before it went by. We try to be calm and efficient. We want to get done as fast as possible, but we don't want to stir the cattle up and make them nervous either. You can also see Kyle at the far end of the alley, opening his gate to get more cattle loaded. My other cousin and the manager's wife are just out of sight, bringing cattle to Kyle's opening gate.
It's kind of like an assembly line.
After sorting all the calves off the cows, we loaded the calves on the trucks to haul them home. Semi's pull trailers we call cattle pots, with several pens or compartments inside that a specific number of cows, calves or sheep will fit in.
We counted a specific number of calves to go in each compartment of the cattle pot. The cattle are penned to keep them from moving around, hurting each other, to make it easy to separate cows and calves when both are being hauled, and to distribute weight more effectively over the entire trailer.
Here they come, you want to keep calves moving forward so they don't stop and turn around. Having momentum makes it much easier to get them to keep going up the loading ramp and onto the truck. Much like sorting, cows usually know what's going on and are easier to load than calves...usually. Sometimes they use their knowledge against you, and make it difficult.
Kyle knows what to do, he keeps them moving right up the ramp and into the truck. Again, they are moving right along, but none of them are overly scared or nervous.
Here they go on the truck into their compartment. Note the clean floors. A clean truck is important, because a dirty truck will get your cattle dirty, which is really bad if you're hauling to a sale barn. It's like choosing between a clean shirt or a stained one, you don't want the dirty one, and neither do cattle buyers.
The muck can also have disease and bugs in it, and get your cattle sick. My dad and uncle have made truckers go clean their trucks out before they would load them in the past.
After the whole truck is loaded the calves were hauled home, and the cows were left. Upon reaching home ours are put in the corral on hay and water treated with a low-grade antibiotic. My uncle will give his a series of shots in hopes of preventing several common weaning-related ailments, prior to putting them in his corral. There are lots of different things ranchers do to keep their calves healthy at weaning.