Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Weekend!

Here are some other pictures from last weekend at my uncles. This week I traveled just over 1,000 miles (I added it all up). Because of this I am attempting to stick with a strict no traveling rule for the weekend. We will see how successful I am.

My cousin loading cows.

Cattle just south of my uncle's place. Those far trees are his bull pasture.

My uncles brand in the end of the stove used to heat branding irons.

Duke, who has suffered two broken front legs in his lifetime.

Turk (left) and Butthead (yep, that's his name) in front of the barn at my grandma's

Patiently waiting

Some the last fall leaves in the black hills

My brother Kyle. The red beard is for his halloween costume. He is going as Luigi...I think.
If he looks like he's in pain, it's because he is. A couple weeks ago he almost broke his foot when a bunch of calves pinned him under a gate in our cattle pot. After knocking the heavy gate on top of him, about 6 of the 500+ plus pound calves ran over the gate...and him. He's missing a little skin and has some good bumps on his head to go with the sore foot.
Now, this foot probably wouldn't still be hurting, except that in true guy (especially ranch guy) form he didn't listen to the doctor tell him to keep off it, ice it etc...and has been going full tilt since about 2 days after it happened. (Insert a sisterly tsk tsk here)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In this spot

Right there where my camera bag sits is the location of arguably my earliest memory. I couldn't have been over 2 at the oldest, and have no idea why I remember this, but I do.
I was sitting there, too young to be much help. I can't remember if I was a proficient walker or not yet. I do remember that I was all decked out in my pink coveralls, mittens and hat. It was winter, and as I recall a nice, snow-covered day. I was sitting facing away from the alleyway.
I assume I was sitting there so I would be safe, out of the way, and in a location where everyone could keep an eye on me. I was also probably helping my grandpa close the alleyway gate by running the cable attached to those cement blocks.
I remember a commotion, and I looked up to see a gray cow jump right over the top of me. I remember it in slow motion for some reason. I got a very clear view of her bottom half. She completely cleared me, landed out in the middle of the pen and proceeded with her tyrant on the the next fence.
My entire family freaked out. (I was the oldest child, grandchild, niece on both sides of the family) and the entire operation came to a lurching halt while everyone counted my limbs and checked for a bump on my head.
The result of this experience is that top board on the alleyway. It wasn't there at the time.
I still have no idea why we had a gray must have been because I wasn't old enough to speak my opinion yet : )

Preg Checking

We pregnancy checked (pregged, preg checked) one bunch of my uncles cows last weekend. Pregnant cows are "bred," and non-pregnant cows are "open."
First they gathered the cows and calves, and sorted. This was also weaning day for this bunch. The calves can be seen in the far pen, and will stay there until they no longer miss their mothers.

We preg check to eliminate any cows that aren't pregnant in our herds each year. There are several reasons to get rid of cows who aren't going to calve the following spring. Economics is a big one. It costs money to feed, vaccinate, transport and care for a cow and her calf year-round. An open cow can be replaced with one who will raise a calf for you, and calves are how you pay for the expenses.
Where I'm from the rule of thumb is it takes 7 years to pay for a cow, then everything she produces for you after you've had her in production 7 years is profit. Everything up until that point pays for the costs you incurred getting her grown up, bred and those annual expenses I mentioned. If you have to sell her much before she is 7, you will lose money. If you sell her when she over 7, whatever she brings is profit. Cows typically make it 10 years where I'm from, so the margin of income isn't really high...we want our cows to be bred!
Another reason to get rid of open cows is that if she doesn't have a calf for a year some people (myself included) believe she loses a lot of her mothering ability.
So if you keep her another year and she has a calf, you have double the money in her to get that calf, and she may not like it because she hasn't been a mother for so long. This could result in the calf dying, or being scrawny.
There are also sexually transmitted diseases in cattle, and one of the main symptoms for these diseases are cows who abort their calves early (which you wouldn't notice, except she wouldn't be pregnant in the fall) or cows who simply don't breed.
Getting rid of any open cows significantly reduces the risk of these sexually transmitted diseases infecting your herd, and pretty much eliminates the chance of some of them occurring.
There are other reasons for preg-checking, and they vary from operation to operation, but those are the two biggest ones- Economics and a means of preventing disease in your herd.
I personally feel it's an important management decision and I disagree with those people who don't get rid of their open cows, either through preg-checking and selling them in the fall, or selling them the following spring when they don't have a calf, and before the bulls are turned in.

Here's what we did. First we maneuvered the vet's hydraulic chute into place. Using a hydraulic chute makes it easier to handle the animals and isn't as hard on the people running the chute.

Here is the setup. Please note the camera bag. I put it there for a specific story I will tell in another post. My job was moving cattle up this alleyway to the chute to be pregged.
Those cement blocks hanging there are for the gate at the end of the alley that can be seen in the above and below pictures. The gate is weighted, and you can just barely pull on it and it will go up or down.
When I was very little my job was to close this gate when the cows went in the alley. My grandpa was in the back in those days, and I took my job very seriously and enjoy the memory now.

Here's the other side of the alleyway in the previous picture. Cows come down a large alley, around a 90-degree corner, and into a single-file alleyway. My cousin was in the back and can be seen loading the alleyway I was in charge of. I mentioned being "in the back," and that refers to the the position he has. He's in back of the alley for the day.

The gate...This gate prevents cows in front of it from back up the alley and either getting out or smashing the cows behind them. It is almost perfectly balanced, and the cows know to bump it, which will cause it to swing up like the photo below.

Then they walk forward, and ideally the gate hangs like it is here. If she backs up it is low enough that her tailhead will catch it and cause it to swing down, preventing her from getting out. This gate is the key to this alley, and keeps everything moving efficiently.

It's also scary. I've seen my dad get his head caught between the wooden poles and the top horizontal pipe when a cow backed up. My uncle jerked it down and drug my dad out. You want to watch how you handle it and keep your neck, fingers and everything out of the path between the top horizontal pipe and the wooden pole.

Here's the alleyway full, and the gate partially up as a cow goes under it.

Then they enter the chute, and the vet "Doc" performs the rectal pregnancy check. He will loudly yell "PREGNANT" or "OPEN" after he checks each cow. He wear's a plastic sleeve on his arm and washes after every cow. If a cow is open, he dunks a big "O" (for open) in his bucket of bright white paint, and puts an "O" on either side of the cow's back so she is easily identifiable. He also has a big "P" and can put that on cows too.
We sort off any cows that are over a certain age and sell them because as they age they wear their teeth out and have a harder time staying in good condition through the colder months. The old cows all get an O or a P to help sort them at the salebarn. The cows we are keeping that are pregnant don't get any mark.

Cows also get poured with a pesticide that will kill any bugs, like lice or worms, that they may have. This is called a spray gun, and it's attached to a plastic bottle filled with the pesticide. The gun measures a set amount of the liquid, then someone sprays it down the back of each cow. She absorbs it through her skin and it kills a variety of pests if any are in her.

Cows are also given a shot to prevent them from getting any respiratory diseases over the winter. Pregging is a chance to do a variety of other health-related things to cows in the fall. It's all about efficiency, and we try to run the cows down the alleyway and through the chute as little as possible. This is because it takes time, and why not do it all at once while the cows, vet and working crew are all present.

After all that the cow exits the chute and heads back up the corral. You can see the vet's plastic sleeve in this picture. He also wears full-body coveralls, and they can get messy.
After all the cows had been run through we either haul or trail them to their winter pasture.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Snapshots and Ramblings

Here are a few photos from the last couple weeks for you to enjoy.

Welcome to my home, in the fall, after a rain. Look at all the grass is what I think every time I see this!

This weekend we are preg checking at my uncles. I am also attending a party Saturday night. The guest list includes my second boyfriend (as in, from middle school), my junior prom date, and a variety of other people I've known for years. Sounds awkward, but we're all buddies and I can't wait!

I edited this one multiple ways...and am still not sure I have it just right.

Tomorrow I am heading to the eastern side of the state to interview a guy with a pheasant farm for the Roundup's annual hunting edition. Then, if I have time, I am swinging by a friends to look at a bunch of yearling heifers he just purchased.

If he isn't there I will still probably swing by to check out his cattle : )

These are our yearling heifers for this year, and I just love looking through them, and taking pictures of them.

Did I mention I have nothing to wear to the above-mentioned party...

These guys are the sheep left on our place, and they will be leaving soon as well. It seems surreal to not have sheep anymore.

While home last weekend I took a few photos of one of my best friends and her husband. It was my wedding present to them. Also in their pictures were their two dogs. Pictured here is Bailey, a big, bad, tough Mini Aussie who entertained us with her antics.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The meaning of it all

My life is shifting into high gear for the next couple months. I thought I was already there, but after checking out my calender I have realized the fun has only just begun.
My calender is booked, my car is seeing some serious miles, and my mind is whirling with everything going on.
But, most of it is some pretty fun and interesting stuff. While I am about to self combust on the days I have to sit at my desk, the weekends and other days away from it ensure my mental sanity..I think.
If you've read any of the recent posts you will know my family is right in the middle of fall work. If you aren't directly involved in ag, this may not sound like much more than the shuffling of cows and moving of sheep I am always chattering away about on here.
But, this fall work is all done for the health of our livestock, the betterment of our marketable product (beef) and the continued successful management of our natural resources.
We are busy giving our calves shots this time of year, much like students get certain immunizations before entering certain grades. We are watching our freshly weaned calves diligently, and providing immediate assistance if any single animal becomes sick. We are feeding, watering and providing shelter for them at all times. We are literally at their disposal 24/7 to ensure they stay happy and healthy.
We are moving cows to different pastures to allow the grass to rest and re-grow in already grazed pastures. We are grazing new pastures because we need the grass for our cattle, and to improve the forage quality. It's proven that properly grazed forages maintain landscapes that are healthier, with more desirable plant species than ungrazed landscapes.
A lot of thought and planning goes into the when, why and how each pasture is grazed, and it's all done to maximize the health of the grasses on the entire ranch.
This benefits our cattle, as they have access to higher quality forages when proper grass management is utilized and will perform better. But, these benefits also extend to any wildlife in the area and improves water quality, soil quality, and forage species quality when done for extended periods of time.
We are also doing all these things to improve our product, which is meat in the end. I have the mindset that if I'm going to do anything, be it sweeping dirt or designing a rocket, I will do my very best at it. I have this same philosophy toward raising cattle, and so do a lot of other people. Not everyone is like this in any area/group/culture, but a high percentage of farmers and ranchers are.
I will do whatever I can within my available means to make the very best beef you will ever eat. That means taking care of the cattle I raise, the grass they eat, the environment they live in, and anything else that impacts their performance and quality.
So, when I'm showing you pictures and explaining what we're doing on a given day, that's only the tip of the iceberg. Those actions depicted in my pictures and descriptions can literally extend all the way to your dinner tonight, and there are thousands of people just like me that are working hard every single day to make sure your dinner is safe, nutritious and healthy.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Weaning, Round 2

We weaned at my parents place last weekend. There were four of us horseback and my mom and sister were on a 4-wheeler to help gather the pasture.
The pairs were in a pasture that's about 1 mile wide by over 2 miles long, and we each take a section. I had the east side, and the below photo are some cows going by the well we get our drinking water at our house from.

The weather was beautiful, and we all really love our work. It was a great weekend!

We get everything bunched and head over this little rise and down to the pen. My dad and Kyle and can be seen on the right.

There's the pen. This set of corrals is a work in progress, and currently serves primarily as a stack corral to store hay in. But we are in the process of adding a set of cattle working pens on the far side, and have an alley and loading pen done. The pickups and horse trailers are parked in their locations on purpose, to prevent the cows from pushing on the wire fence.

My mom also snapped a few photos, including this series of a cow trying to get away and chase the dog. My horse and I look kind of funny here, but we are coming up out of a low spot to stop that cow.

My horse suffered a bad foot injury about five years, and was completely sound for the first time this fall. It was nice to ride a horse that wasn't lame!

You do not want to let a cow get past you at our outfit. If you do, you better go get her. Losing one cow could result in losing the whole bunch, which makes them that much harder to get in the next time. It also makes for a much longer day, because you have to re-gather and re-pen everyone, and like I mentioned, it's a lot harder the second time you try it.
If you do lose one cow, a single person will fall out and get her stopped and headed in the right direction again. After the rest of the bunch has been penned, everyone else will help and you'll put her in.

Down they go! Our cows aren't used to this set-up, and it's not always the easiest gate to hit with a bunch of cows, but we had plenty of help to make sure there weren't any problems.

Once they were penned, we would take a cut of the whole bunch and put them in the alley. You can see one cow in the back of the photo, and she's standing in the alley we put them in.

From that alley we sort the cows off and they go out a gate, into another pasture. You don't want to let a calf by, because if he gets out the gate, you're in charge of going to get him. It also makes everything take longer when you have to stop to gather one calf.

After sorting the cows off each bunch, we would load the calves in the waiting semi that you could see in early pictures. Since our corrals aren't compete we just load calves as we sort. If we had more corrals, we would just put the calves in another pen and load the truck when we were all done sorting. If we don't have enough calves sorted off for a specific pen in the cattle pot they just wait in the loading pen. It worked really well this year.

Holly made sure the cows didn't push on the panels at the end of the alley opposite from where we were sorting. You can see some of the sorted cows in the pasture beyond the semi the calves were loaded on. That is my brother's truck.

When we had enough calves to fill a compartment, we loaded them on the semi.

And when we were done we hauled the calves about 7 miles down the road to our house. It's about 2 miles cross-country. This works really well to wean because the cows aren't bawling around the house and the calves can't hear them bawling, so they just go to eating.

Here are the cows, who will hang around the corrals bawling for a couple days prior to forgetting about their baby and moving on.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


In case you missed the last few posts, I am introducing you to our horses, which we use extensively in the fall for cattle work.
Royal, a.k.a. Roy-D, is my horse. He is a 13 year old gelding my parents gave to me for Christmas as a yearling. He is out of the same stud as Otis, and was purchased from a local horse breeder.
It was love at first sight and he's still the best Christmas present I've ever received. His breeding includes Hancock, Three Bars and some Quarter Horse racing bloodlines I can't recall right now. I showed him in 4-H for two years, and he was the Reserve Champion Quarter Horse Gelding at the Wyoming State Fair as a yearling. I think he's kind of a big deal...

Partially because Royal is BIG, stout and strong. We joke about Royal having about 2.5 horse power. He steps out well and lives for the chance to run down escaping cattle. He stumbles over imaginary items regularly, but handles himself very well in intense situations. When cutting a cow he doesn't move like a big horse. He's quick, smart, and easily bored. He is pretty much bomb proof, but when bored finds certain rock formations "scary."
He whinnies non-stop, and I have tried every trick in the book to get him to stop with no success. He also believes he is near starvation at all times, and constantly tries to sneak bites of grass, (or thistles, his personal favorite) which I don't allow while I'm riding him.
His most redeeming quality is he has a huge heart. Some people say they prefer mares because they have more heart and try, but I've never seen a horse with more of those traits than Royal. When it comes to work, Royal will give you every ounce of himself without a thought. He will be exhausted, stumbling home, and jump right out and stop a cow if she turns back. Now, if you're just riding along and nothing exciting is happening it's a little different story, but when it counts he's all in.
He won't back out of a trailer due to a little incident when he was young, but will be standing there, ready to go, every time you open the door. He hates it when I roll my spurs along his side to get his attention, gets lonely easily, and absolutely loves to hate cows.
We have chased sheep and cattle all over the eastern half of Wyoming together. I've roped a couple bulls off him, ran a few cows through some fences, and rolled down a hill with him when he was two.
About six years ago he stepped on a nail and had to have everything inside his hoof removed all the way up to a bone in his ankle. There was a 50 percent chance he was done and would never be ridden again. Today he is 100 percent sound after several years of limping along. I am so thankful he recovered!

Meet Pedro

Pedro is my dad's horse. He's a 20 year old gelding out of Dixie, the same mare Otis is out of. Pedro was the result of a stud getting in with Dixie when she was only two. The stud was later sold as an amateur bucking horse, and Pedro got his outlook on life from him. He's mellowed considerably in his old age, and so has my dad.
He was born in the winter, which is why the tip of his ear is frozen off.
When he was younger, Pedro was mean, and had a healthy dislike for humans. This clashed nicely with my dad's extremely limited patience with animals. I have seen Pedro almost kill my dad, and I've seen my dad almost kill him. I was scared to death of him until I was in my teens. He's very hard to catch, and never the horse that's happy to see you, but he's also a horse you can put in any situation imaginable and he'll come through for you. He just smart and knows what to do, and is grumpy enough that he doesn't want to mess around and have to do anything twice. If you were brave enough to get on him, there was no doubt you had enough horse to get any job done.

Pedro was and still is the best cow horse a person could ask for if you can handle him. He can put all his angry aggression into his work, and I've seen him and my dad do some things that aren't in the book, and walk away.
To ride him is like sitting in a comfy rocking chair all day, and he's another all-day type of horse. He is easy to handle and has a soft mouth. Now that he's older he and my dad just cruise along, but when they were younger they did it all. He will never give up, and I've seen my dad, a good dog, Pedro and one mean Hereford cow all overheat in one memorable struggle.

Like I said, today they just cruise around, but those loose reins weren't always like that. He and my dad are the reason for a lot of worn ropes, polite cows, broken fences and good stories at our place, and my dad will have a hard time replacing him in a few years.