Thursday, September 27, 2012

Scenes of Fall

 It is finally cooling off around here. The trees are chaning, wildlife moving, and cattle work is picking up. Here are a few images from the last week, taken everywhere from central South Dakota to eastern Wyoming.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Winding Straps

 Among Holly's jobs around here are rolling straps as often as possible when the guys bring a load of hay to our place. She enjoys the task, and generally is happy to go along with about anything trucking related. Here she is headed down the stack corral with my brother this evening.

 Here she is a few days ago, with another load. As dad or Kyle unhooks the straps on one side, Holly begins pulling them out on the opposite side.

 She has her technique down.

 And works down the entire length of the load.

 Once all the straps are on the ground, out comes the "strap winder." This homemade piece of equipment is part of the charm for Holly.

 She drags each strap out like this, making sure they are kink free.

 The she gathers up the end,

 and gets it started on the winder.

 Sometimes she has to work out a kink or two while winding.

 She continues rolling and making sure the strap is straight.

 Until it's all wound up, like this.

Then she slide it off the winder,

 and stows it in one of the places they ride until the next load of hay is loaded and strapped down.

Then she goes on to the next strap. Usually the trucker is busy unloading the bales at this point, but he was waiting for his driver (aka, the photographer) to run him home to get the tractor.
By the time he has the hay off, Holly will have all his straps wound up and ready for the next trip.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Preg Testing Heifers

 In years past I've explained how we use ultrasound technology when pregnancy checking our heifers. I've also posted about preg checking my uncle's cows. Since that's all been covered, I wanted a new angle this year. Since I'm constantly mentioning how producers do things differently based on their unique situation, what better example than comparing the preg checking of my dad and uncle's yearling heifers this fall?

My dad used a younger, female vet from Edgemont, SD, who ultrasounds. We gathered the heifers and trailed them into our corrals to preg.

My uncle used a male vet who has been preg checking for the family for decades, and who arms (reaches in and uses his hand to physically feel for the calf) instead of ultrasounding. He and my aunt set up a temporary corral in a hay yard, and the vet brought his own hydraulic chute.
Here is the vet's table at my uncles, complete with paint for marking opens, lube, a syringe since he was giving one shot and his hotshot to provide encouragement as needed.
 Here is what took up most of the vets table at my dads preg checking. This is her computer she looks at to read her ultrasound image.

 Every pregnant heifer at my dads received a number brand for the year she was born - this year a 1 to depict she was born in 2011 in case she ever loses her tag. My uncle did not year brand this year.

At my uncles, the open heifers were given a big, "O" in the middle of their back with white paint that will not come off of anything....anything!
 Looks like this.

 At my dads, the vet drew a bright yellow "O" on each side of the heifers rump with a paintstick if she was open. This will come off most things.

Both days each bred heifer was poured to guard her against common parasites and flies, both internal and external.
 And all pregnant heifers at both locations were also given a shot to protect their pregnancy.

 My uncle also gave a second shot, and I took a picture of the wrong bottle. I will have to ask what the second shot was.

 When finished, each heifer was let out.

The opens were loaded up and sold, and the bred heifers were turned back out to pasture following preg checking at both places.

A Thank You!

In the last couple day's I've received what can best be described as a flood of positive feedback in response to an article I wrote about my family dealing with the drought for BEEF Magazine. You can check out the article here if you would like to.
Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to email, Facebook, leave messages, etc... and tell the BEEF staff, myself, and/or my family what you thought of the article. The fact that people are taking the time to contact us means a lot to my entire family, and we appreciate them all. What a great industry we are a part of, full of exceptional people.
We felt very humbled to be asked to write about our operation and management practices, and that feeling has certainly continued as the publication chose to put us on their cover, and as we've heard people's responses.  We consider this opportunity quite an honor, and are very thankful to the BEEF staff for the chance to write about what so many producers are dealing with this year.
I have a "behind the scenes" post of writing the article planned to share with you. But for now just wanted to relay how grateful we are to everyone involved for making this such a wonderful experience.
From the whole Hamilton family : )

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Early Weaning

Weaning our heifer's calves early had me fairly nervous. It was 102 degrees the day following weaning, and 103 degrees the day after that. I was sweating from more than just the heat as our light calves kicked up dust and bawled around the corral. But, although the dust never settled, the cattle did. So far, this has been one of the easiest weanings I can remember. Not one calf has been treated for sickness, they're eating and gaining like crazy, and are calm and relaxed.
These calves were taken off their mothers over a month earlier than we normally would due to the drought this year. Weaning early will allow their mothers to switch from using energy to make milk to using energy to put on condition before winter sets in, and in maintaining their new pregnancy. My dad said he can't remember ever weaning in the middle of August before.
Weaning is one of those ranch practices that is very unique on each operation. What works for one guy may not for the next due to differences in environment, weather, cattle, facilities, disease history and the number of people available to help. Here's what we did this year.

First, we do not precondition, or give any weaning shots. All these calves will be given is a 7-way booster a couple weeks after they're weaned to prevent them from contracting Blackleg. This is a pretty unique management practice, and we are able to do it successfully in part because disease is rare in our area and our cattle are not co-mingled with anyone elses. We do have a complete health program for them, and that is covered further on in this post.
When we wean, it occurs at a corral located a few miles from our house. We sort and load the calves onto our cattle pot, haul them home, and unload them. This means the cows are bawling at a set of corrals far enough away they can't be heard by the calves, and vice versa. Instead of looking for mom, we've found the calves settle down and go to eating faster than when we had the cows right outside the corral.

Keeping the calves full is among our top priorities. They are locked in a smaller pen, shown in the top photo, for the first couple days to prevent them from walking. Walking is when the calves get to walking (as if that wasn't self explanatory) around the corral. Pretty soon they're all worked up, and possibly running, instead of settling down and eating. Walking is bad, and can result in the corral being torn down, increased sickness, reduced feed intake and gain, and higher anxiety levels in the calves. These are all the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish as we wean.
After they're over the initial surprise of being weaned, and we deem they're ready based on extensive observation, we open up the corral and they're given access to a much larger area. Within this area are two bottomless feed bunks we keep full of ground grass hay. They also have access to two round bale feeders from their smaller pen, also full of grass hay. If calves are eating, they aren't thinking about mom as much, and when calves are eating they're going to be gaining. We want to get them gaining as much and as fast as possible; as ranchers we always sell pounds. Plus, full calves are happy calves, and we want them to be happy.

 Every morning we fill the bottomless bunks. Just this week we had to start filling them twice a day because the calves are starting to eat a lot more. As you can see they like to eat and aren't bothered by the loud tractor and hay buster. Feeding time is also when we walk through and observe the calves for any potential problems, concerns or issues. Diligent observation can convert a potentially major issue into a minor concern a lot of the time.

 We also feed lick tubs with our hay. These in the blue plastic containers are supposed to be a special weaning tub, but somehow the order was messed up and we got calving tubs instead (????)

 Here's the ingredient list. Different tub varieties will have different ingredients, and levels of protein, fat, fiber. etc... All tubs provide a lot of vital nutrients and energy, and these (as in, the ones they were supposed to be) are added to the calve's ration to compliment the hay they're also consuming. We are currently switching from these to another, regular calf tub that comes in a cardboard, completely biodegradable tub. If I had the right two labels to compare, I would tell/show you the differences between the two.

 Then there is the water, which is always a critical factor of any ration. Lots of readily available, clean water is essential at all times on our operation, and weaning is no different. The foam is the result of a treatment we put in the water, shown below.

 We add powdered tetracycline, and Corid, to our calves water for health reasons. The tetracycline is a bright yellow powder, and the Corid is a liquid.

 Here is the tetracycline label. We add this to a cistern for a set number of days to prevent respiratory problems (pneumonia) in our freshly weaned calves. In some ways, this combats the same issues that a weaning vaccination program would. In case you missed it, each tub of this costs about $85, and we have to add multiple tubs to the several thousand gallons of water the calves will drink during their time on this. It's not cheap.

 Here's the Corid label. This is used in an attempt to prevent coccidiosis, which can be a very serious and fatal problem in our area. We are doing the 21-day treatment this year. These bottles cost between $95 and $110 each, and so far we've gone through over a half dozen of them. Again, not cheap, but worth it to keep the calves healthy.
We add both of these to a 7,000 gallon cistern, which we've calculated out to gallons per foot. We've also calculated how much of each additive we need to add per foot of water. This way we can turn on the cistern, add the proper amount of Corid and tetracycline, let it fill up a foot, or two or three, then turn it off and have everything mixed and ready to go. A "story pole" is how we measure the depth of the cistern. I know, almost to the minute, how long it takes the well to pump a foot of water into the cistern.

As I mentioned before, so far this year our system is working like a champ. The calves are happy, full and healthy. Nothing better than seeing a corral full of calves lounging around chewing their cuds!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cow vs. Porcupine

Livestock and wildlife co-exist on all operations. For the most part this co-existence works great for both species because ranchers manage their operations in a way that continuously enhances and improves the land, which means they also improve wildlife habitat. Ranchers also manage nuisance animals that demolish the landscape, encroach upon other wildlife or livestock species, or who are predatory to the point they have a negative impact on other wildlife and/or livestock. 
The porcupine falls into the nuisance category. This animal lives on the bark of trees, and trees are scarce around here. Trees also aid in erosion control, are an important component of our ecosystem  and provide shade, to name a few benefits. Once a porcupine eats a trees bark, the tree dies, so as you may imagine they aren't overly welcome, and are eliminated when located. 
Then there are their quills, which many an animal has found painfully lodged in themselves when attempting to tangle with a porcupine. In severe cases these quills can lodge in the tongue and throat, causing extreme pain and possibly death.
The curious will also get stabbed with quills, usually in the nose as they walk along sniffing the porcupine, who will eventually get mad and whack them with his tail. When we weaned last week we spotted this cow of my brothers, who most likely got her quills as a result of being curious.
We hauled her home so that we could remove the quills. In this location, the quills would eventually get broken and/or worn off. They aren't life threatening, and more of a discomfort to her than anything. But, we didn't want her to have to suffer, so we readily took the time to remove this poky problem from her face.

Once caught, the guys went to work, using their leathermans to pull each quill, all while trying to keep the cow as calm as possible.

Ouch! But, not nearly as painful as dealing with the quills for several weeks or months. These aren't very deep, and I've seen cows and dogs with almost the entire quill stuck in them before.

 And so it goes, until they're all removed, and the cow is thoroughly checked to make sure none were missed.

Then she was turned back out. While not particularly happy or interested in dealing with a human for a few days, she was otherwise none the worse for wear. Now she will be able to eat, lick, move her nose, etc... without the painful quills constantly poking her.