Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hitting the road

I'm off to conduct Spring Planting edition interviews in the Manderson, Worland area this afternoon, and won't be back to Casper until tomorrow evening. I always enjoy it when my trips include a little extra, and this time that little extra is getting to spend the night with some of my extended family. It will be fun to see them!

Have a good Wednesday!

Sassy's calf

Here is another cow of note for you. You can read about why I do these posts highlighting specific cows here.
This particular cow of mine makes the list for multiple reasons.

I only kept this cow as a replacement heifer because she is out of my first cow/show heifer, Sassy (I will have to find a picture of Sassy and get it on here for you guys), and ended up being the last heifer calf Sassy had. While not the best looking cow, and a little lighter, narrower and ganglier than her counterparts, being out of Sassy was enough to tip the scale in her favor when selecting my replacement heifers.
What a great decision that turned out to be! She grew up to be a gangly, long, lighter weight cow than our average. She isn't a show stopper on looks by any means. But, this lightweight cow weaned the second heaviest calf in our herd last year (I did a happy dance when I this happened).
She also produces heifer calves that are more of the type, looks wise, that I prefer. All in all she has been a great asset to my cowherd.
Now, this shouldn't surprise me, as her mother was also a small cow, weighing in at about 950 pounds. To give you a comparison, our average cow probably weighed about 1,100 pounds during the time Sassy was young.
Before EPD's, and some of the other newer selection tools, one thing that ranchers weighed a cow's production on was the weight of the calf she weaned. If she wasn't weaning half her body weight each year, she wasn't doing a good enough job. Some people still go by this measurement of production.
Well, little 950 pound Sassy would consistently wean 550 pound calves, and they would continue to grow and gain to mature sizes far exceeding her small stature. This cow represents the last of my herd directly derived from Sassy, and she also posts impressive production records.
So, she is a cow of note because of her pedigree, and the outstanding calves she produces!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


This week the Pioneer Woman's photo contest is, "Horses."
Oh yeah, this I can do! Here are a few pictures I gathered up, and may enter. To go along with them are a few words of horse related wisdom I've been taught over the years.

Never ride a horse that's the honest excuse for not being able to get a job done.

Only grain them in the mornings, before the ride.

In today's world, there's no reason to have to deal with a horse that bucks. There are enough good ones that have had the buck bred out of them.

Miles make a good horse.

If your on him, he isn't eating.

Don't be afraid to lay into him when he does something wrong.

Give praise when it's deserved.

Practice if you expect to be good

If you're going to train on him, do it when he's tired and paying attention

If you like him and can get the job done, that's the most important thing

Feeding over east

Holly and I fed in the pasture called the School Section, so named because part of the pasture is a School Section, on Saturday. This general part of our ranch is called "over east," because you drive through the Over East pasture to get to the School Section pasture.
Perhaps a post on pasture names will be in the near future to better explain this.

As we drove along, loaded with two very heavy, second cutting alfalfa hay bales, we hit the siren a couple times to alert the cows of our arrival. The county road parallels the pasture for a couple miles, so it works great for gathering as you drive to the feed ground.
This windmill is also where our house water comes from, although we use a solar pump these days. It's located just to the left of the picture, and pumps water out of a natural spring and into a large storage tank. Then it's gravity fed down 3 miles of pipeline we put in ourselves to our house. We're very blessed to have a spring, as there is very very little water suitable for human consumption in this part of the world!

Back to feeding. We arrive at the feed ground, and much to both Holly and I's delight, a few cows decided to bring their calves.
These cows very good mothers, and very suspicious. You typically won't see their calves until they're about a week old.
Range calving cows are a lot different than those calved in around the house, and we learned that after we moved to our present location from the black hills. The only evidence a cow has a calf, that's alive, is if she's sucked out. She will bed him down somewhere, come to feed, then go back and gather him up after she eaten. After he's been around for several days, she will bring him in to the feed ground, maybe.

Emmie and Pearl love to go feed too. There is just so much to explore, plunder, attack, eat and sniff out.
But, it's also important to be cautious at their weight and speed, as these cows are a whole different animal than the relatively naive and mellow heifers back at the house. They both learned this lesson the hard way, and it stuck, so they wait for the go-ahead before bailing out of the pickup...well Emmie waits for the go-ahead, Pearl is long gone by now.

Then you wait, and wait. Some cows won't come this time of year, especially if they've just calved. Some also prefer to "chase" the first tasty bits of green grass poking through.
But, for the most part, they come trailing in from all over the pasture, leaving a few black dots on hillsides, where you can bet a cow has a new calf is laying amongst the sagebrush.
These cows will also forgo a meal for a couple days after calving. They stay with their calf during that time-like I said, they're good mothers, and that's critical on our operation.

While you wait you have to guard the hay bales against a few select cows that will march right up and tear into it. You will meet a couple of these in a upcoming cows of note post. You become a cow of note if you make us stand out in the wind and cold, instead of waiting in our warm pickup, blaring Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift (Holly's favorites), or, in reality, whatever one of the two radio stations we get are playing.

You wait some more. The dogs rip and roar across the country-side. They see it as great fun, I see it as the expelling of energy, and a resulting quiet drive back to Casper...
As soon as they exited the pickup, those two cows that had their calves immediately turned around and left. They bedded their calves down just over a hill, then came back.
I love feeding. The waiting is a time to look over your cattle, discuss issues if someone is with you, or think if you're alone. I also take pictures (no kidding), and Holly and I do love being able to play our music nice and loud.

Finally, the last cow you've decided to wait for (that's her in the back, out of focus) comes trailing in. That's also a cow of note, Number 18, there in the front.

We all load back into the pickup, get the radio turned back up, and feed our bales of hay.

Then head home to continue with our day, leaving our cows with a nice meal to meet their nutritional, and milking requirements.

Monday, March 28, 2011


This guy was delivered, with a lot of help, Friday afternoon. He is a big boy, weighing in at an approximated 110 pounds. To give you a a comparison, our average calf weight out of heifers is about 70 pounds.
The first clue as to the size of a calf at birth are his feet, which stick out first during delivery. It's hard to tell by the picture, but this guys feet are massive, and upon seeing them my dad immediately got the heifer in and proceeded to help deliver the calf, which saved his life. Without assistance, this calf, and most likely his mother, would have both died. This is another example of management practices ranchers put in place for the health and well being of their cattle. We didn't try to breed her so she would have a calf this size, but sometimes accidents happen, and thanks to my dad being on call 24-7, and knowing what to do, everyone is alive and healthy.

We also manage our heifers to be fairly close to their mature body weight at the time they have their first calf, which greatly increased the chances of success in this instance. Ranchers can feed their replacement heifers different rations that will result in them being closer or further from their mature body weight at the time they have their first calf.
If that heifer had been 300 pounds lighter, it's very unlikely she would have survived the birth.

Here are a couple other heifers, and their calves, to show you how big most calves are in comparison to their moms.

He is much bigger. It is a bull calf, and had it been a heifer, her tag number would have been noted, and she would not be kept as a replacement due to being so large at birth. We don't like to have calves this big - it's hard on the mom, results in more calving problems and calves that die, and is unnecessary, as smaller birth weight calves will grow and gain as much as large birth weight calves today.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Brand Spankin New!

I have been trying to take pictures of a heifer calving all spring, and low and behold one finally calved while I was home, and I missed it.
This was due largely to the fact that she calved in about 15 minutes. But, I was there immediately after, and took several pictures of the brand new baby, from a distance.

This is as newborn as it gets. You don't want to interfere during this time, and I took all these pictures with a 300mm lens.

In under 10 minutes, the little guy was trying to get up and suck. This is a natural advantage with Angus cattle, they don't just lay there. The sooner a calf gets up and sucks, the better his chances for success, and Angus are some of the best at getting up right after birth.

At first there is a lot of falling down, trying to get back up, and falling down again. But, the little guy was determined, which is great!

Finally on all four feet. But the first couple steps are also pretty tricky,

and results in more falling, and repeating.

Throughout all this, the mother is licking the little guy. This drys him off and increases blood flow, which is really critical if it's cold outside.

After multiple attempts, the calf gets his sea legs under him, and its next natural instinct is to suck.

He wobble precariously as he works his way toward his moms bag.

Some heifers just stand there from the start, like here. Others are very concerned about their new child, and circle and lick and carry on a while before they settle down and let him drink.

It may be natural instinct, but that doesn't mean it makes perfect sense the first time.

But, his other natural instinct is to persist, and he keeps at it.

and finally latches on and gets that first, all important drink of milk. This first milk is called colostrum, which is jam packed with nutrients, and antibodies that provide natural protection to the calf. The cow naturally produces it prior to birth, and she quits producing it after birth, and goes to producing straight milk.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Shop activities

My dad and brother spend a lot of time in their shop during the winter months, working on any number of ranch, and personal, projects.
Some ranchers are very mechanical, and some aren't. These two are both super mechanical, and have built everything from most of our house to several engines to a loader.

I always get the eye for taking pictures.

While maintaining my supervisory position (staying out of the way, with my feet propped up, in a comfy chair in front of the space heater). The dogs enjoy the warmer temps found in the shop too, and are typically sacked out all over the place.

There is a lot of serious discussion that occurs. They talk about angles, diameters, materials, and all sorts of other technical math and design stuff that bores me to a near sleeping state.
The machine you see above is a lathe, and is used to fabricate all sorts of great parts and tools and pieces to build things. Kyle has his machining degree, and has wanted one of these ever since college.

While discussing they look over their projects, consider options, take measurements and make decisions.
They are also perpetual "modifiers." By this I mean they will modify just above everything they buy, nothing is fine as purchased - oh no, there is always the need for a different handle, additional power, more strength reinforcement, etc...

And they measure a lot. By this time I am wondering if I can use my dad's distracted state to get an increase in my bull budget by next year, and from there my mind wanders off to contemplate genetic combinations, EPD's, and other cattle stuff.
I am not the mechanical child of the family, in case you weren't catching the drift.

You will also see any number of current projects in the shop. This "bathtub" water tank is being repaired. Apparently my dad had the idea of fixing it, partially burying it, and doing all sorts of other things that will increase insulation and prevent it from freezing in the winter.
I didn't pay attention long enough to get the whole story....but I am confident it will work, whatever the plan is. I have complete faith in the abilities of the mechanics in the family.

Another project. As a machinist, Kyle is a perfectionist. If a gun isn't perfect, or needs a little grinding a specific spot, or if the manufacturer did a "crappy job" on something, he will fix it.
Like I said, practically anything imaginable can be found in the shop, as a project, at some point.

Here are a couple more examples of shop projects. They turned this old chute to a hydraulic chute, and made that loader from scratch. The entire loader is run on hydraulics too, including how you steer it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring has sprung

A couple weeks ago, it looked like this in eastern Wyoming.

Then the temperatures warmed up enough to melt the snow, but not take the frost out of the soil, and all that wonderful early spring moisture ran off.

Usually this creek is bone-dry this time of year.

We're all quite incensed about it. After dealing with the mud that covered a slick layer of ice for weeks, we were hopeful the frost would go and at least some of the moisture would sink in. But that's just something you live with and manage around in agriculture, and the upcoming weeks look favorable for more spring moisture, now that the frost is officially out...for the time being.