Monday, January 31, 2011

Bull sale season

The season of bull buying is upon us in Wyoming. Starting around the first of the year it gears up, peaks in February and March, then tapers off in April. It's a great time of year, spent marking stacks of catalogs, looking through pens of bulls, and potentially buying one or more in the auction.
Purchasing bulls is how we introduce new genetics into our herds. Bulls need to be replaced every few years (4 in our case) to prevent inbreeding in a herd. They're how we make genetic improvement, and are my big area of responsibility within our operation.
A lot of information and technology is involved in buying bulls today. Different bulls are bred different ways on purpose. Some are bred to produce outstanding female calves, others are bred to produce steer calves that will grow faster than average calves will. Some bulls are really big, others are smaller. Some will have calves that are born weighing 100 or more pounds, and others will produce calves that weight 60 pounds at birth. It's all about selecting what works for your operation, and buying bulls that will take you in the direction you want to go.
It is my belief that you can buy bulls that will do everything you want them to in your herd. With all the advances in technology and breeding today, I don't think you have to sacrifice in one area to excel in another with cattle. We take this approach when selecting bulls for our herd, and are only interested if they meet our standards in a number of specific areas.

Commercial producers also utilize Artificial Insemination (AI) to breed cows, but bulls are used more often where I'm from.
Seedstock producers raise registered cattle, which means they record their pedigree information, work with a breed association, and keep specific data on individual animals among other things. These producers use AI a lot in their herds to gain access to the most current and progressive genetics, and for a number of other reasons. They typically offer their bulls for sale in an auction each spring, and some sell heifers and/or cows in the fall. Bulls are typically between one and two years old when they're sold. They list each bull, his pedigree, and performance information in a catalog, which they mail out to potential customers.
There are well known sires that have specific traits of merit that are popular each year. Pedigrees are one important area, and you want to make sure you select animals with pedigrees you like, and avoid those with ancestors you don't like, or have used a lot in recent years.
There are also Expected Progeny Differences (EPD's) calculated on each bull. These are a series of numbers that explain how a bulls offspring are expected to perform in comparison with other bull's progeny. They predict how much a bull's calves will weigh at birth and weaning and yearling ages, how much milk their daughters will produce, and how calves will exhibit carcass traits as compared to other bull's calves. They are the most widely used form of predicting calf performance out of a specific bull today. It's important to understand and be familiar with the EPD's, and their implications.
There are also ratios, which show how a bull performed compared to other bulls within the herd he was raised in. A ratio of 100 is average, so if a bull is over 100 in a given trait, he is above average in the herd.
Actual measurements are also taken on individual bulls. These include things like scrotal circumference, which has a direct impact on fertility and the age a bull's daughters will reach maturity. A number of carcass and feeding traits can also be measured, and supplied to help customers decide which bulls to bid on.
Here is one sire that you might buy sons out of at a bull sale this year. Here is another, if you want to compare. Every number you see has a specific meaning that is related to a performance, carcass or maternal trait, like growth, milk production, or marbling. Each of these numbers also has an accuracy number associated with it, and as bulls sire more progeny, their accuracy goes up.
Breed associations and producers work together to compile all the information necessary to calculate these EPD's, and keep track of pedigrees.
At the bottom the page you can see their pedigrees. The names all have a meaning, and typically go back to old, well known and respected bloodlines of cattle. The individual letters, or first word in the name, represent who bred that particular individual. Some seedstock breeders are famous nation, or worldwide, and their cattle will all have their initials, or their last name, in front of each animal's name.
We take a three-prong approach to buying bulls - we look at all the performance data, the actual animals, and the price.
For our operation I go through each catalog, and select bulls that meet our strict requirements based on their EPD's, ratios, performance data, and any other information presented. I mark these, and if a sale has enough bulls the meet our criteria in this area, we will go.
When we go to a sale either myself, my dad, or both of us attend. We look at all the bulls, and make notes about them. We look for things like structural correctness, balance, width, depth length, eye appeal, and a number of other, more specific things.
This is the fun part, and its also interesting because my dad and I like different things in cattle. He likes really long, smooth and well balanced bulls. I like massive, wide, expressive bulls. It keeps us on our toes trying to find individuals that we both like.
If a bull meets our standards based on his looks, and he was checked in the catalog for his EPD's and performance information, then he is one we will potentially buy. We also rank bulls after we've looked at them, and select our top one, two or three to buy based on everything in combination.
Then the auction starts, and each animal is sold one at a time in a live bidding situation. We have a strict budget of how much we can spend, and if we're both in attendance we will discuss our limit on our top few bulls. We bid on the bulls that have passed our visual and performance inspection, and if they're within our price range we might buy them.
I find it a fun challenge to keep on top of all the pedigree and EPD information, and find bulls that combine everything we want, for a price we can afford. It's a a great time of year!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Finally Friday!

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Work camera

I recently decided that rather than constantly pack around thousands of dollars of my personal photo equipment for work, I should just use my work camera. That's what it's for, and I need my personal equipment to be in working order when I use it for weddings, seniors, etc.. I also recently scratched a lens I use a lot while at the NWSS for work, and I can't afford to replace it until I book another photography job, so I sat myself down (figuratively) and told myself that I have a work camera for a reason, and to use it.
I was hesitant. My work camera is a Canon Rebel (of which I have owned one, and really liked it), but this one was purchased at Walmart, and has been sent back to Canon once to be re-furbished since I've been with the Roundup.
Prior to this weekend's trial run, I have used it exactly once, and was so unimpressed I stuck it in my old camera bag and left it there. I did use one of my personal, "ranch work" Sigma lenses this weekend, and just used it as I would my 40D (which will now be upgraded after the above mentioned lens, hopefully).

I had lots of blurry photos, which I'm not including in this run. I'm not sure if that was user error, or the camera. Another issue was that a lot of the backgrounds were completely blown out.

Like this one. But, it is in focus.

I'm going to dig up the manual, and see about re-adjusting the white balance, and whatever else it recommends for some of the things I noticed.

Out of just over 200 pictures, these were the only ones I even thought about Photoshoping. Again, maybe it was just adjusting to the camera, and I will be doing more shooting with it for work in the future to see.

This is one that I was really excited about, and really disappointed in. I'm not one of those photographers who likes to spend 20 minutes editing a picture in Photoshop to make it look "right." I'm more of a quick levels, curves, color balance, and unsharp mask as needed, then on to the next one. So when the cattle are properly exposed and the hay is really blown out, I almost always pass on it, unless I have an afternoon without much to do.
I did Photoshop all of these pictures, just as I would those taken with my personal camera. But nothing was done to any of them beyond what's mentioned in the above paragraph.

We will see how the next trial goes. I should have some comparisons between the work and personal equipment to show you in the future. Hopefully with a little tweaking and time I will be more impressed with the overall quality. Either way, this puppy is in the game for work related photography from now on.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cows of Note: Astoundingly Athletic

Here is another "cow of note" for you. Number 4 over 18 (We will have to cover ear tags, soon), may look like just another black cow amongst the bunch.

That's her in the middle.Watching me.
But, Number 18, as we refer to her, is definitely a cow of note. She is a nervous sort. The cow you will see with her head stuck up, always watching you. The one you've taken your rope down for as you watch her nervously move through the bunch, but one you don't have to rope, at least not now that she's a little older.
This doesn't mean we haven't had our issues. When she was a three-year old, I had to move her and the other cows her age from one end of the ranch to the other. Every chance she got she would take off at a dead run, attempting to get away. Now, on our operation you don't let a cow get away. This results in them knowing they can get away, and practicing the art every chance they get, and we don't put up with that.
Also, if I could rope well, I definitely would have stretched her out on this particular day.
But, I was alone, and had 40 other cows to move along with her, and potentially losing everyone else while attempting to rope one didn't sound like the best idea. So, every time she would do this little stunt, I would get a little more mad as I loped out and gathered her back up.
I finally decided that I would just air her out, and every time she so much as stuck her nose out of the bunch I would take her on a big, fast circle down across draws or up over rocky hills. She never faltered, or slowed down. I've never had a cow keep trying, at that speed, for that long.
By the time we reached the pasture, my horse, myself, and all the other pairs were aired out. The only thing not sucking major air was Number 18. She was feeling it, but not compared to everyone else involved in the situation.

Dang, she's athletic I thought. Fast too...
The next time we moved cows, my brother pulled up on his motorcycle toward the end of the move and commented, "Man, have you ever seen Number 18, she's fast. I had to air her out a couple times."
However, these lessons (and quite possibly another one, involving a rope, that I didn't hear about) did prevent this "run off" issue in the future. She isn't dumb, but she maintained her nervous disposition, and is almost always in the lead when we're moving cows. She just goes the right way pretty much without issue these days.
She also gets a little tense when you're in the alley with her, and you don't want to put some idiot in there who will poke her a lot. Like I said at the beginning, she's the cow with her head up, watching you, making you think she's going to break for it, and keeping you on your toes.

She's never had a bad experience beyond my one spring morning of cardio, that I'm aware of. Just like people, cattle have different dispositions, and her's isn't a mellow one.
Another thing about our operation is that if cows are a little nervous, (and by this I don't mean the fence crawling, run your over variety, I just mean they aren't milk cow tame) we are willing to put up with them if they're good mothers, which is often the case.
We calve on the range, and our cows are expected to have a healthy calf without any help. Number 18 does this, and on that spring morning when I was making an example of her, she never lost her great big heifer calf for split second.
She's another one almost everyone can pick out almost immediately.

Be like the coffee bean

Heard this last fall and have re-iterated it to myself several times since. This is my interpretation, as I can't remember the lady's exact words. Plus, it's another reason to like coffee :)

A young lady was struggling with a lot of life's pressures, and went to her mom for advice. She explained how overwhelming everything was, and how frustrated she was with so many aspects of her current situation.

Her mother listened, then got up and began filling three pots with water. The daughter watched as her mother placed carrots in one pot, eggs in another, and coffee beans in the third. She placed all three pots on burners, and brought them to a boil.

The daughter asked what her mother was doing, and she replied to just wait, and she would explain.

After about 15 minutes, she removed the lids of each pot and turned off the stove. She told her daughter that when life is like a boiling pot of water, people react in three ways.

The first way they react is like the carrot. The boiling water turned it from a strong, crisp vegetable to a weak, limp and mushy version of its former self.

The eggs reacted by maintaining their tough outer shell, but they were changed on the inside. They lost their flexibility and became hard internally too, explained the mother. She added they can also crack easily, as she demonstrated and peeled back the shell.

Then the mother poured both her and her daughter a cup of coffee from the third pot. She explained that rather than the boiling water changing the coffee beans, they changed the water. The beans converted it from simply water into something that smells and tastes good, and is enjoyed by many. They improved the boiling water, as opposed to changing in reaction to it.

Be like the coffee bean, said the mother as they drank from their cups.

Friday, January 21, 2011

10 Random Questions

Saw this on another blog today and thought it would be a quick way to tell you a little more about myself, if you don't know me. Have a great weekend!

1. What is your biggest pet peeve?
Oh I have lots...people procrastinating until the very last minute and it negatively impacting me is a big one, as are lazy people. Letting the windshield wipers go when it isn't raining and they make that squeaking noise, and incessantly barking dogs are another couple examples.

2. What is your favorite dessert?
My grandma's cherry or apple pie, or her cherry dessert. I also love just about anything chocolate...just having dessert will probably make me happy.

3. What is the first thing you notice about people?
Looks, and how they present themselves

4. Are you usually early, late or right on time?
I like to be right on time...but that leads to being a few minutes early a lot, or a few minutes late every once in a while

5. Have you ever fired a gun?
Yes, I own two rifles, and would like to add a handgun to the list.

6. Are you right or left handed?
Right all the way, I can barely do anything with my left...I'm not ambidextrous

7. Which do you prefer, coke or pepsi?
I prefer coke with my whiskey, otherwise pepsi

8. Do you dance crazy when no one is looking?
No, not unless you count the moves in my workout DVD I do during the winter months

9. What's your favorite movie snack?
popcorn or Junior mints

10. Do you scream on roller coasters?

Meet the Parents

I recently realized I had never properly introduced my parents. It's not like I just turned out this way...nope, these two are largely responsible. They may look a little bleary eyed in this early morning Christmas photo, but you get a couple cups of coffee in them and most people my age would have trouble keeping up.
My mom was born and raised in Colorado. Her family had a number of family owned businesses, including an excavating business and a trailer court. Her dad grew up on a farm, but she wasn't raised on a farm or ranch. She was an Olympic qualifying skier as a teenager, and is the oldest of three kids. She has an accounting degree from UW, and is one of very few women I've ever met who actually thrives as a ranch wife when she wasn't raised on a ranch.
She's what you would call energetic, and gets abnormally excited about things like the weather.
My dad was raised on a ranch in Northeast Wyoming, and is the fifth generation of Hamilton's to ranch in either North Dakota or Wyoming. He went to college in Casper, then transferred to UW, where he obtained his bachelors in Ag Economics. While in school he worked on a large-scale yearling operation on the Laramie plains.
He's served on just about every board in the county and state that pertains to agriculture, and has always enjoyed politics.
They're both extremely driven, smart people. Neither one has a lot of patience, but it shows up differently in each of them. They each have a great sense of humor, and they have both mellowed considerably in recent years.
My parents met in college, and were friends for a few years before they started dating. They got married, and moved back to the family ranch in Northeast Wyoming. Eleven months later they were blessed with me, then my brother showed up about 2 1/2 years later. Holly arrived ten years after I did.
They have been through everything that can happen on an ranch operation, including expanding the operation, adding sheep, ten years of drought, grasshoppers, blizzards, injuries, death and breakdowns. They kept it together through having a special needs child that spent the first three months of her life in a hospital three hours from our house, and have almost constantly maintained one to three jobs or businesses off the ranch. They've also raised three kids (not that that is difficult...), survived a few other notable medical issues, and moved built a house together (you always here that's the make or break it for a couple)
And, by "kept it together" I mean they are like that annoyingly sappy middle school couple, who are constantly holding hands, whispering to each other, and pining over each other when they can't be together. It's pretty great to have parents like that, especially as I meet more and more couples their age who haven't had a relationship that's flourished over the years. They are definitely still in love, and make an exceptional example of what a marriage should be like.
Back to the raising kids part. One thing I am incredibly thankful to them for are the things they taught us as we grew up. When you grow up on a ranch, and there isn't enough help, or money, you learn things young. By the time I was in school I could drive both pickups and machinery, ride a horse that was anything but a "kids horse," fence, lay pipeline and perform a number of other useful skills. I also had a firm grasp on God, and the power of prayer.
Another great thing about my parents is my dad did not take the "she's a girl" approach with me, and my mom was fine with that (for the most part). As you've heard on here previously, I flourished under that approach. I was oldest kid on both sides of the family, and like I said, they needed help. It didn't matter if I was a girl or a boy, I was right in the middle of it all from day one.
Dad also had the thought process that if he excepted us to do things, we needed the right equipment. So we rode good horses, drove machinery that was old but worked, and knew that we had better get the job done right, because the excuse was definitely not the horse, tractor, etc... He expected us to be hard working, fair and honest, and he taught us those things by example. If he showed us something once, we were expected to be able to do the next time, period. He challenged us, and expected us to rise to the challenge, and that has a lot to do with my brother and I's success today.
The other thing he expected us to be was tough. While my mom is also tough, she definitely saved a few limbs and nerve endings in this area. If we got bucked off, trampled, kicked or anything else, the response had better be, "I'm fine," as we continued on. Now, my mother isn't simple, and there have been a few incidents where she drug her husband or child all the way to the emergency room in Newcastle as we muttered, "I'm fine!"
My mom was also our biggest advocate in school. Having a special needs child takes a lot of time, especially when dealing with lazy, incompetent teachers, which our district has abundance of, unfortunately. There are teachers out there who quake at the mere mention of my mom's name. She was right there every single time one of them tried to let my sister slip between the cracks, or when they blamed her for something that wasn't quite right. She ran for, and was elected to school board during part of my sister's stint in public school. She did countless things, big and small, to make sure each of her kids made it through school.
Another neat thing is that my sister was exposed to the same principles listed above, and as a result of being expected to do as much as she could, she surpassed her doctors expectations of how well she would function as an adult at 8 years old.
Together my parents encouraged each of us kids interests, held us accountable, and taught us a abundance of immeasurable traits. They expected us to do our best at whatever task was at hand. We grew up a long way from town, and did all our ranch work together as a family. When you add three kids to a couple like my parents, a lot can get done.
Today, we're one of those families that scatters in five directions each morning, and come dragging back in each evening. We love to tell stories and laugh at recollections. Our work is our play, and not a lot of people understand that. It's hard to explain that your favorite pastime is sorting pairs or trailing cows with your family. We can count on each other no matter what, and it's great to be a part of a family like that. My parents did a good job.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shirley Basin Sunset

I drove to Laramie and back yesterday to conduct two interviews for the Roundup. My trip home coincided perfectly with the beautiful Wyoming sunset.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Out of Everything

Out of everything I do today, and have done in the past, my favorite is still cattle. They are just about the only thing that has held my interest consistently from the time I was a little kid. From about 9 years old, when I got past being the next big country music star, I have been focused on cattle. From that age on I would tell you in no uncertain terms that I was going to be involved in cattle genetics in some way when I grew up.

I was told by numerous teachers, friends, and adults that kids always change their minds, and that when I did it would be okay. But, I was one of the outliers that knew what I loved from a young age, and I never did change my mind.

Fast forward, and today I select and buy all my family's bulls, and spend a lot of time researching genetics and seedstock producers. I love cattle genetics, and the ability to utilize all the technology-based information available today in conjunction with the historic practice of selecting cattle based on their look to buy bulls and select heifers that better our herd. I also love feeding cattle, and betting on those genetics you've implemented in your herd.

I find it exciting, challenging and rewarding beyond anything I've ever experienced. Nothing beats time spent looking over a herd of cattle you have raised for generations, and seeing the improvements you've made over the years, then deciding what you're going to do with them next. It's a rush.

There have been countless conversations held in feed pickups in locations like this one. In depth discussions on how the calves look, how they compare to last years, what we like better, what we like less, which ones are outstanding, which ones will never be outstanding, and the reasons behind those two distinctions.

We talk about the condition they're in, what we will do with them the next spring. We get antsy if we've seen them every day, because that makes it harder to see that they're growing. If one of us hasn't been home in a while, someone will almost always suggest, first thing, that we get down and look at the calves to see if we think they're growing, in good condition, etc... We pay constant attention to every little detail, myself on a more individual basis, and the rest of my family on a more group-wide basis. These calves are the most current representation of the genetic selections we've made, and they set the bar for the years to come.

Then there our yearling heifers. You think we spend a lot of time looking at and analyzing our calves, you should see us with our yearling heifers. These girls represent the most current genetics in our breeding herd, and we work really hard to make them the best they can be genetically and physically. People tend to select items they find eye appealing, and cattle are no different. These heifers represent decades of selecting for very specific female traits, and it shows. We like them, and that's a good thing, because they will hopefully be in production in our herd for the next decade.

However, one interesting thing on our operation is that my dad and brother have a different "eye" for cattle than I do. They like, long, extended females that are smooth, elevated and distinctly feminine. I like those too, but I tend to prefer stout, thick females over really long, smooth ones. In my opinion this difference in preference helps us select better cattle, because we all choose our replacements together, and they have to pass inspection by all three individuals.

One result of this strict selection criteria is our heifers are much thicker today (my influence) than they used to be, but they have also maintained their length and femininity (my dad and brother's influence) for the most part. This has all been done without compromising things like low birth weights, fertility, fleshing ability, and other important traits to our operation.
I believe you can have cattle that do it all, and we select cattle based on that principle. My opinion is that you can produce a moderate, feminine, fancy cow out of a terminal sire, who will raise low birth weight, high growth, good looking steer calves, or moderate framed, adequate milking, easy fleshing, fertile and fancy heifer calves. This is what I expect out of our cows...

..who are looked at based on their calves performance more than anything. As I've mentioned, there are my "cows of note," but we try not to judge a cow on her cover, and rather on how her offspring perform. She was selected on her personal looks as a calf or yearling, and from that point on it's about her calves. We expect our cows to work for us, and if she doesn't pull her weight, she's in trouble, especially on years without a lot of excess grass.

It's a constantly changing picture, and as I mentioned before a unique and challenging job and lifestyle choice that involves so many variables it's hard to explain. It's a job that knows no vacations, down time or room for error. To do it successfully you have to know about economics, technology, biology, chemistry, nutrition, livestock production, genetics, marketing, reproduction and animal health and welfare. Along with all that, you still have to understand cattle and have the ability to look at them and know any number of things. You have to know about soils, water, plants and weather patterns.
It's fascinating and difficult and it keeps my mind occupied and challenged, and I love every minute of it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Hog Science 101

I don't know the first thing about hogs...well actually, I do know the first thing...but as for the following second, third and fourth things, I fall a little short.
My co-worker Christy, however, knows all sorts of things about raising hogs. She's from Iowa, and her parents raise feeder to finish pigs.
It's a pretty neat thing, the modern day practices involved in hog production. Christy recently wrote a really cool post on raising hogs in Iowa, and you should go check it out here.

So, there I was...

If you can rattle off the rest of that saying, as told at LCCC in the mid 2000's, at least I gave you a chuckle on your Monday morning.
But, I was actually going to say there I was, at the bar, in the Renaissance Hotel, eating dinner and having a couple rounds during my stay in Denver for the ILC and Stock Show. I don't care for eating alone in restaurants all the time, so I often take in meals at hotel bars.
I'm also pretty shy if I don't know you. I'm still opinionated, but it's hard for me to just waltz into a room and leave with a whole new group of friends...just not that girl.
Anyway, that being said, the bartender made idle small talk with me as I ordered, sipped my drink and ate my Flat Iron Steak. He fancied himself a writer too, and between comments on how very, extremely, seemingly painfully young I looked (I got it after the first statement he said when looking my ID....really I did) he explained his fascination with the written word.
I was bored out of my mind - sentence structure and verb placement conversation will do that to me - and consuming my steak at record breaking pace for a leisurely dinner, to be followed by an evening of doing nothing.
Then a middle-aged business man sat down next to me. He asked what I did, and I gave my standard response of working for a state-wide weekly ag newspaper in Wyoming, running my own photography business, and that I have cattle. God bless him for skipping over the writing part almost entirely, and zoning in on the cattle/ranching aspect.
He asked questions, and I answered - for almost two hours. He was proud that his family had farming background, a couple generations removed. He asked about feeding cattle, breeds, sizes, male vs female, etc...
I was in my element, and explained away. Like I said, I'm shy, but you get me rolling on cattle and I can be your new friend...just stay away from adjectives and Charolais and we'll get along fine.
We covered everything from the always popular, "do you ride horses?" question, to more detailed ones regarding why his steak isn't always good when he goes out to eat, and use of implants in cattle.
Two hours later I jumped off my bar stool...staggered a little as the drinks were a little stiffer than I had realized...and headed to my room.
Before leaving, the man enthusiastically stated that our conversation was the most interesting bar conversation he'd ever had.
Did he believe every word I, he told me so a couple times. But he listened to my reasoning, and I listened to his, and we both learned a few things. He really wanted to know about agriculture, and when I was able to explain things, and back them with real life experiences, science and statistics, common sense, or a combination of all three, he got it for the most part.
You just never know when the opportunity is going to rise to tell your story.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Time Apart

Emmie and Pearl are spending some time with my family due to my busy schedule these past couple weeks. I haven't seen them since January 2nd, and am ready to have them back.

From what I hear, my parents are ready to send them back. Look at those two faces, there's no way they would ever cause any mischief...

Except when Pearl realizes that there is a BALL attached to Kyle's hat on Christmas morning.

Or when there is a bird to be chased, never mind that turkey outweighs Pearl by about 20 pounds.

This is Emmie during most of Pearl's wild romps. She is the kind one, who strives to stay out of trouble. Pearl, on the other hand, searches for trouble.

It troubles Emmie.

They have no doubt been kept busy feeding. Although without my camera bag I'm not sure what Pearl will find to stand on.

and doing all sorts of other things, similar to what can be seen in these pictures.

They will also have the company of Shorty and Mister, my parents dogs. Technically Shorty is my mom's, and Mister belongs to Holly, but they're really everyone's dogs.

This was only done for the photo op. As can be seen by their faces, it was a huge success...


In my last post I commented on the topic of livestock owners being kind and compassionate to their animals. I received some feedback arguing the point that killing animals is actually cruel and in-humane.
I personally separate the raising and death aspects of agriculture into two different areas, but have realized not everyone does.
So, I'm back today to cover the death/killing part. Yes, it happens. Cattle, sheep and other livestock species are raised to be harvested for food. Any meat you eat did come from an animal. They don't "make" meat at the grocery store.
I believe we as humans are charged with caring for animals, and that we also have dominion over them. This is stated in the bible, starting in Genesis, Chapter One, continued in Leviticus, and repeated again in other chapters and versus.
For example:
Leviticus 11:1-3
1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: 3 You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud
From the New International Version.
That's where my perspective is based. That's why I believe it's okay to raise animals and harvest them for meat. That's why I don't believe in vegetarianism, or veganism, or any other -ism that doesn't believe in meat consumption.
As for the actual part in the process where animals are killed. A vast amount of time, energy and resources have been invested to to ensure the practices used cause the least amount of stress and pain possible for the animal. You may have heard of Temple Grandin, who is one of the most well-known people involved in improving harvesting methods. This is something we're constantly working on and improving. We don't want them to suffer any more than is absolutely necessary.
But, the ultimately, in order to get meat, death occurs.
What would happen if it didn't? What if we let all animals live to a ripe old age, and die of natural causes? This seems to be the most common alternative presented to how animals are managed today.
First, there isn't enough land, grass, hay or grain to feed animals if that situation was allowed to perpetuate. They would starve to death. Even if every person in America tore down their house and moved into high rise apartments and reduced their land footprint significantly, there wouldn't be enough to feed the animals. Personally, I believe that starving to death is a much more gruesome, and in-humane way to die than a quick, almost painless death.
Second, as a species becomes overpopulated, the instance of disease becomes much more prevalent, as do disease carrying bugs, parasites, viruses and bacterias. Again, while the idea of letting everything just live without any management sounds "nice," the reality is that all livestock species would become much more susceptible to disease. This is another thing that doesn't sound very appealing to me when it comes to a way to die. Some diseases can take years to die from, and have serious and painful side effects. Some of these diseases could also be spread to humans much easier, and faster, without the management methods farmers and ranchers keep in place.
If this sounds a little far fetched, consider the parts of the world that overpopulated with humans. Think about the people that starve without food, and the diseases we've haven't in seen America for decades that are still serious threats.
Third, while the idea of not eating meat, or using any animal by-products may also sound "nice," to some, there is more to it than that. There isn't enough plant-based material in the world to feed the human race for one thing.
Some present the argument that people could eat the plants that animals do. That's incorrect, as most of the plant-based materials animals eat, and convert to meat, are indigestible to humans. We lack the ability that animals with a ruminant stomach do at converting them to energy. A cow can eat grass that you or I couldn't get any nutritional value out of, and she can convert it to pounds of meat, which we can eat, and meet our nutritional needs with.
The other side of that statement is that if we are eating all the plant-based materials, what are all the animals we are no longer raising for meat eating?
Fourth is the cost of almost everything you use daily. Did you know animal by-products are in everything from tires to glue to toothpaste to makeup? Adding animal by-products to some plastics help them bio-degrade faster. If animal by-products weren't used, these and countless other everyday items could go up in price, some significantly.
98 percent of an animal is used, and of that percentage between 55 and 60 percent is usually meat. So half of each harvested animal goes into products that aren't meat.
I don't like the thought of animals dying, but I realize it is a necessary part of life. Myself, and other ranchers do everything in our power to keep our animals happy and healthy during their lives, and we also do everything possible to make their death as quick and painless as possible. The alternative to modern agriculture practices are much more painful, harmful and hurtful to all livestock species in the long run than those we currently use to provide our consumers with the safest and most nutritious meat product in the world.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It must be so...

If you're a person who doesn't know about animal agriculture, you may search the Internet for information. That search may lead to places like the Humane Society of the United States, PETA, or other "pro-animal" (I use the term very loosely), a.k.a. anti-agriculture sites.
One of their most effective promotional tools are videos they post that show the alleged mistreatment of animals by farmers and ranchers. Well, I'm here to tell you those videos hit so far away from reality, you can't even see reality from them.
I've seen them. I couldn't finish a couple of them.
Let me put this in perspective for you.
Thinking that all farmers and ranchers treat their animals the way some videos portray things is like me searching for videos of dog owners, and coming across a vicious video of dog fighting, then assuming all dog owners must treat their "pets" in such a fashion. I mean, I saw the video, and this website told me that's what all dog owners in such and such location do. It must be true, right?
Does that make sense?
Those videos, and other information presented by those sites, is way off base, and represents such a small percentage of people with animals it would never show up statistically. If anyone in agriculture that I know saw treatment similar to that seen in those videos, they would put a stop to it on the spot.
I've also noticed in the ones I've watched that they're usually very old, and I have no idea where they got the footage, but it wasn't in America any time in recent history.
Whats more, those of us in production agriculture are possibly even more angered, upset, and hurt by those videos than people who don't own animals. We have animals ourselves, and we work hard every single day to prevent them from suffering any harm. The acts portrayed in those pieces of footage make us out to be something we're not, and that's a big concern to us.
Most dog owners are caring, compassionate people toward their pets. The same is true for people in agriculture. We also have to make a living off our animals, and that combined with our genuine care for them results in treatment that would never purposely cause harm or discomfort. Instead, we care for them in a way designed to make them happy, because happy animals perform better, and happy, high performing animals make for happy producers.

If you want to know more about animal agriculture, feel free to comment or email me at
You can also check out a few accurate websites, including:

Real Ranchers

National Institute for Animal Agriculture

Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch

Agriculture Proud

Extension Services

NWSS Pictures

As previously mentioned, I've been in Denver at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS), covering meetings and working on a feature story for the paper.
I learned a lot, and have a lot of topics to share with you on here. The ILC is a great conference, and does an excellent job of informing attendees on national and international issues facing agriculture today. My head is still swimming with quotes, comments, names and ideas I picked up at the one-day event.

I also had my camera along (as always) and grabbed a few photos of the stock show to share. First is this photo, which shows the catwalk over the "yards" at the NWSS. The event is held at the old railroad stockyards, which is how this area of the NWSS got its name. Catwalks were, and still are in some places, a common sight at livestock auctions, railroads, and other places large numbers of livestock were, or are, held. They allow spectators, potential buyers, and owners the opportunity to look at cattle with ease.
Today, this catwalk offers a great view of the NWSS yards, and is a photographer's dream come true for getting a different angle.
As you can see this is a big event. There are thousands of cattle of every breed in attendance from all over the country, and some from other countries as well.

People show cattle at stock shows. This is a different aspect of the industry than my family is involved in. We are commercial cattlemen, or ranchers, and we sell beef. These people are showmen and registered breeders, and their cattle are registered and/or prospect cattle. They're bred to excel at shows, or to sold to registered or commercial cattlemen.
They bring their cattle to these shows to compete against each other. Cattle are separated into "classes" to be judged based on sex, age, breed and a number of other, more detailed reasons.

At shows, judges rank them based on a number of things, including how they look, how well they can walk and their pedigree. That may sound pretty broad and straightforward, but it's actually a very in depth thing that takes into account a lot of different things in each animal. It's a matter of the judge weighing the pros and cons of each animal, then ranking them. The judge's opinion on what pros outweigh others is what makes or breaks it for any animal on any given day.

It's a big deal, and highly competitive. There are also shows for sheep, hogs, goats and other livestock species at stock shows. A trade show, art show, number of sales, and other events and forms of entertainment make them a lot of fun for both the public and the people competing.

Lots of cattle are also put "on display" for the public at stock shows. This allows people to see popular sires they may not have the chance to otherwise. It's a great opportunity to see a bull you may want to use in your herd through Artificial Insemination (A.I.), or to look at cattle from a producer you buy bulls from.
At the top left of this photo, you can see another building. That's where the trade show is located, and more cattle are housed, and shown, in a lower level. That area is called, "The Hill." People will refer to locations based on whether it's on The Hill, or in The Yards.

You can also buy bulls, heifers, cows, calves, shows steers, and about anything else cattle wise at the stock show. There are a number of breed and prospect (young show animal) sales.

This backdrop is actually bright blue and yellow in real life. Pictures taken in front of it are seen throughout the year in major breed catalogs, sale catalogs and other livestock related publications.

A prospect heifer. One thing about show cattle is they are bred, fed, groomed and cared for specifically to win at these shows. Their hair is also cut, which the industry refers to as clipped, in specific ways to enhance the animals appearance. You can see this heifer's head and neck have been clipped.
People also groom these cattle regularly, and have big blowers that work like a hair dryer. They train the animal's hair to lay in certain ways that will also enhance the animals appearance. Before a show they use a lot of hair spray type products to keep hair in a specific place. Then it's all washed out afterward.
Like I mentioned previously, this a is a big deal to these people, and while it's very different than what my family does, they also spend a tremendous amount of time, energy and money on their cattle, usually in an effort to make them the best they can be.

I've always had a soft spot for Herefords. When I showed cattle I had both black and Hereford cattle. I never showed at the level of the NWSS, and have found other areas of cattle production to be more my taste, but I did love it, and the Hereford breed is still a favorite of mine.

People bring what are called "strings" of cattle to these shows. This terms refers to the entire bunch they brought, which can be several dozen in some cases. They will bring bulls, heifers, cows, or a combination of all three.
Some also bring steers, and the most prestigious show to win at a stock show is usually the steer show.

It's a unique world, and fun one to visit, especially when a major show is so close. Other major stock shows are held throughout the year across the U.S., including the NAILE (pronounced Nile) in Louisville, KY, the American Royal in Kansas City, and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, to name a few.