While on my interview trip, I spent the night with some of my relatives. Everything didn't come together as planned with the interviews, and I didn't have to leave their place early, so I got to go along and help tag and sort a few calves out of the cows.
I am always up for a change in schedule that allows for a little unexpected spring ranch work!
It was a cool, rainy, wet morning, and some of my pictures suffered from the dark skies and rain drops. I apologize for the blurriness in some of them.
This ranch is near Hyattville, Wyoming, and a whole different world than where I'm from. Because of the differences in geography, weather, soil, and other factors, they operate differently, and I made sure to grab my camera, so I could share some of the things I helped (read, sat on 4-wheeler and opened a couple gates) during morning chores.
One difference is they calve their cows on an irrigated circle, as opposed to out in big pastures. That's the center pivot in the back of the above picture, which is what applies the water to the crop (alfalfa and grass in this case). Irrigating makes land much more productive, and is something I know very little about, as there is no irrigation where I'm from.
As cow's calve, they sort out the pairs and put them in another pasture. They also give a shot to help prevent scours (diarrhea), tag, and band any bull calves at this time. Moving these new calves out of this area is also done to help prevent scours, and to keep everyone from mothering the newborns.
On a side note, scours is one of, and in some places the biggest, calving related problem ranchers deal with in many parts of the west. Being able to calve in big, open pastures, that are very dry compared to some parts of the state, is one huge advantage to calving where I grew up.
There are always unique advantages and disadvantages to ranching in a particular location, and that location dictates many of the operation's management practices, and is also the reason why there are often so many effective ways to do the same thing on different ranches.
Anyway, at this place a cane is used to grab calves, then maneuver them into this sled. This is much easier when calves are younger and less coordinated, just like tagging is where I'm from.
A chain is secured around the calf's neck, much like a dog collar. This prevents the little guy from trying to jump out, and potentially hurting himself or getting away.
Then you pull the sled with a 4-wheeler to the pair pasture. Ideally the cow follows along, like here. (I had to use pictures from a few different trips to get the whole process, hence there being both red and black cows)
Upon arrival, the calves are tagged, banded, and given their shot. Just like where I'm from, tag, gender, and mother information is recorded in a book for future reference. Ranchers actually keep an incredible amount of data on their livestock, crops and daily activities.
This isn't always a job for the faint of heart, and since calves are handled so much more than where I'm from, (we don't touch a cow's calf until branding, when he's a couple months old) cow disposition is a really big deal for this operation. This guy doesn't want to get run over every time he leans over the sled to tag a calf.
But, it's a fine line in many ways, because he still wants his cows to be good mothers. Most of them stay very close and keep a good eye on the proceedings. This cow also bellowed and blew a little snot a couple times.
After everything is done, the calf is released from the sled. He bands bull calves at this time because he's already handling them, and it will make branding day go faster, as there won't be any bull calves to castrate. It's always about maximizing efficiency in whatever ways possible.
You always want to keep one eye on the mother cow, who is right in the middle of the whole process.
If he couldn't get it banded while in the sled, he finishes that up, then the calf is released.
Except for a miffed mother, no one is the worse for wear, and this calf's chances of getting scours is greatly reduced through these management practices.
The pair joins other newborn calves, and we go back for another one after everything is recorded in the book.
By the way, this post is linked up over at Verde Farm's Farm Friendly Friday too, which is a fun place to check out a lot of great blogs!