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.

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