Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sorting and Weighing

Today was a brisk 19 degrees, with 40 percent humidity and a stiff breeze out of the east. We eastern Wyomingite's aren't used to humidity above about 5 percent, and a cold humidity combined with wind will take our breathe away, literally!
Regardless of the weather, we had cattle work to accomplish prior to the start of calving season. We gathered and worked our calves today. The goal was to get our steers weighed and our heifers sorted into replacement (those we will keep and breed, and who will hopefully become future cows in our herd) and non-replacement (those we will not keep and breed) groups.
We like to have this work done prior to calving heifers because when heifers are calving they're in the lot and corral, and it's hard to shuffle them out of the way to work a bunch of calves. Second is you have to have your replacement heifers bangs vaccinated by one year of age in Wyoming. So, we make sure they're sorted and vaccinated prior to that date. A vet has to perform this vaccination, and ours is scheduled for Monday, after which I will have a post explaining the process and what I'm talking about when I say bangs vaccinating.
Here is what happened today...

First we gathered, and as I mentioned it was cold, damp and foggy. Mom was in the cake pickup, because the calves will follow her. Kyle and Holly were on one 4-wheeler, and I was on another. We use both 4-wheelers and horses on our operation, and I'm sure we'll cover that topic at some point.
This is what the pasture looked like.

We finally found the calves, and in the fog these missed the cake pickup.

So, we gathered them up and trailed them home, where mom was with the others already. We put everything in the corral in preparation for the rest of the day.
At our place we try to keep everything as stress free as possible. We don't charge after them on the 4-wheelers or horses, and give them adequate space so they remain as calm as possible. We also expect our cattle to respect our authority, and they don't get away with running off, tearing down fences, or running us up fences. It's a matter of maintaining a balance of mutual respect and efficiency, and this system works best for us.

Once everything was in the corral, we had to set up the chute. We have a very old chute that my dad and brother have rebuilt and converted to hydraulics. They also mounted a set of scales under it for the purpose of weighing our steers today. This loader is also homemade, and my dad and brother built it from a number of parts and pieces off other items.
That propane bottle was moved after I took this. We maneuvered the chute into position on the smoothed gravel, and attempted to keep things level until we get a permanent platform put into place. Today was the maiden voyage of having the scales under the chute, without a permanent platform. It didn't work at all, and we won't do it again until we've put a platform under it.

But, we didn't know it wasn't going to work at first, and spent time leveling the temporary gravel platform. The chute is raised here, and we move a little dirt to get it in the correct position.
We weigh our steers multiple times as they grow to measure how fast they're gaining weight. This is one of those areas of efficiency, and the faster your cattle gain the more efficient they are, and more efficient cattle are more profitable. We gather this information, and use it make production and genetic related decisions, and to make sure our cattle are responding to the feed and health plans we have in place. We are constantly doing things to improve our cattle, and this is one way to measure our success in certain areas.

After getting everything leveled, we set it down, got the loader out of the way, and hooked up the hydraulics (black hoses) and the scale head (blue wiring). This pickup is what we hook the hydraulics to, hence it being parked there. The flatbed also works well for setting all your stuff on that is needed for the day's cattle work.

Then we sorted the steer calves from the heifers calves. We have a specific way we do this every time, using the same pens within our corrals. After a few times, animals know what to expect and sort easily. These young calves aren't some of those animals, so sometimes it takes a little longer to get them split into male and female groups, which is how we were sorting on this particular day.
We often sort cows from their baby calves when we're working them, like branding, or when we're shipping (moving them on trucks) to prevent the cows from inadvertently hurting their babies during the trip. Our cows sort out of this pen very efficiently.

These guys are pretty clueless, but worked very well. Again, working cattle in a calm and efficient manner, and teaching them to respect you while also respecting their space and zones of movement helps with this. But, as with all things involving livestock, it's never going to work great all the time.
As we would sort them, we take them to the lower end of this pen...

Where Kyle and Holly were running the gates. Holly was running the steer gate, and they were put in the alley so we could just run them on through the chute and weigh them. The heifers were put out Kyle's gate. I was helping my dad bring them down - one, two, or several at a time, depending on how many of one sex we could sort at once.

Here are some of the steers, looking down the alley from the opposite end.

Turn 180 degrees and you see this. I'm sorry for the blurry picture here, but it shows everything the best. You take the cattle, 5 or 6 at a time works best in this situation, down past the first red gate on the right and shut it behind you, as seen in the previous picture. The panel/gate just past the end of the tin (the tin is leftover from the sheep days, and hopefully something that will be removed soon) swings over, and encloses the calves in that half-circle pen, which is called a tub.

Like this. This is me, and my job is typically bringing cattle down the alley, following them into the tub, and moving them up the smaller, single-file alley that leads to the chute. As you can see, the gate swings through the entire tub, but I typically prefer to stop it about where it's at now and not crowd the cattle too much.

From there they enter the single-file alley. These steers are waiting for the cattle ahead of them to move through the chute, so space becomes available for them in the smaller alley.

This gate is one of our least favorite aspects of our tub and alley setup. It's heavy, loud, and scares the cattle. It's high on the list of the list of things to replaces in the near future. For now, whoever is in charge of moving cattle up the smaller alley (my dad today) holds it up as often as possible so cattle can move freely under it, then lowers it behind them. They can also walk under it, because it swings up and forward, but that's where the being heavy and loud part often makes cattle resist.
The purpose of this gate is to prevent cattle from backing out of the single-file alley. If they do that it makes the process take much longer, and teaches the cattle bad habits.

From there the calves move into the chute to be weighed. My dad has a short-handled hotshot, and uses it sparingly. One of the things that makes me maddest is when people overuse hotshots. But, I also feel they're a useful tool when used appropriately on livestock. We take the, "less is more approach" with them and in most instances only use it like we would a stick, to tap livestock on the back to encourage them to move forward into the chute. That's usually all it takes.

Kyle catches them using the hydraulic controls. Setting the scales under the chute raised it up several inches, so he had to use a "stool" today. When the permanent platform is put it,it will be set lower than it is now.
We like a hydraulic chute because it's much easier on the person running it, and we've found we can run cattle through it faster. Running them through faster, and being able to stop them from thrashing around keeps them calmer also.
My mom, on the right, was recording tag numbers and weights for each steer.

Here's her setup. She was writing down each steers tag number and weight as he went through the chute. She would zero out the scales, as she's doing here, after every few head to make sure the weight stayed accurate. Unfortunately, the temporary gravel platform caused the the wooden frame the scales were setting on to bow, and give us inaccurate readings.

After they're released from the chute, they stayed in the corral until everyone else was done.

Then the steers were trailed back to their pasture, and fed. You always care for your livestock first on our operation - be it your cattle, sheep or horses. We didn't take a coffee break or go warm up after we finished our work and prior to feeding everything - the animals were cared for first.
We typically get up early and work our livestock straight through without anything beyond a a quick coffee break mid-morning All to get them back out to pasture as fast as possible, with as little stress as possible. There are lots of days where we've worked cattle and not had lunch until after 3:00pm. That's just how it is, and we do it by choice for the good of our livestock.

The heifers were left in our lot, to wait for the vet's arrival Monday morning. They were also fed.

This is one of my heifers. After everything was fed and watered, we gathered inside the house to defrost around mugs of hot tea and cocoa.

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