Monday, April 30, 2012

Sepia Tones

 For some reason my editing has veered heavily into the land of sepia tones over the last couple weeks. This could be due to the fact that although it is spring, the ground really isn't much greener than it is in these photos and I think the effects look nicer than the dry, grim reality.
Here are a few samples for you on your Monday.
P.S. I have no idea why my text is surrounded by white in my last post....that was not intentional.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

DOL Child Labor Law Withdrawn!

Today the Obama Administration and the Department of Labor withdrew their proposed child labor law, which would have significantly limited what farm and ranch work a person under 16 years of age could participate in. This is a HUGE win for agriculture and rural communities across the country!!

The Labor Department's statement:
“The Obama Administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations. The Obama Administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations. As a result, the Department of Labor is announcing today the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations. The decision to withdraw this rule – including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ – was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama Administration. Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders – such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H – to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.”

How much of this is genuine concern over the nation's reaction to the proposed rule, and how much is election year hype, is a little questionable. But, at least it happened. I was thrilled to hear it, and sincerely hope they meant what was said about not ever pursuing it again during the Obama Administration. 
Yay for good news on the political front! Hasn't been a whole lot of that recently. Also a huge thank you to all the people who wrote comments, contacted their elected officials, worked on the political front lobbying against it, worked on it through their careers, or helped in any other way!
I'm so glad I won't be breaking the law when I make my kids work someday.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BSE Buzz

If you haven't heard, there was a dairy cow who tested positive for BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), also called "Mad Cow Disease" (whoever called it that must have been mad themselves) in California this Tuesday.
A few things to keep in mind about this:
1. This cow was found during targeted testing and surveillance, which ultimately means our system is working! She was never anywhere near our food supply, and there is no risk to human health. USDA was on top of things, and their surveillance and testing system worked as designed.
2. BSE is not contagious through milk or beef. It's a neurological disease. I'm still eating meat and drinking milk and am not concerned. At all.
3. This is an atypical form of BSE, which is another positive because it means the cow didn't contract the disease through her feed source.
4. Our industry is on top of responding to this issue in a positive and informative light, which helps get the accurate and factual information out there for everyone who may not know about BSE, and who may have concerns after hearing the news of the infected cow.

The video below is one such example. USDA's Chief Veterinarian answers questions regarding the BSE case, the safety to consumers, livestock and our country's trade position

Here are a few additional resources you can check out to learn more accurate information about BSE.

BEEF Magazines BSE information compilation page

BSE Information website

The Last Little While

 Over the last little while a lot has happened around here. We are down to four heifers to calve! Our cows are pretty much done too. It is very dry here, to the point of being concerning about our entire year. But, we are supposed to get some rain later this week, and are all holding our breathe that it actually comes through. We also got scours in our calves last weekend, which is practically unheard of here. After catching us very off guard, we got on the ball and I have been doctoring and monitoring this week.
My parents, brother and I have purchased a swanky trailer house for my brother and I to live in. I didn't know I could be so excited about a single wide trailer, but I am! The idea of my own bathroom and dedicated office space is something I am very grateful to have in my near future (we all really wish we could just move my Casper home out here). My brother and dad are staying plenty busy getting the water and sewer put in, before the gravel arrives that will elevate the trailer a few inches. We get serious flash floods around here (it's pretty much feast or famine in the rain department), and plan to attempt to divert water around our new home. We aren't looking to be floating down Dogie Creek the next time it does actually rain around here. New house, yes! New house boat, no!

I've been doing some traveling, and the sage grouse, turkeys and various other birds are in full strutting swing! It's like rush hour traffic on some gravel roads around here, and I've been at a complete stop more than once. I'll take this type of early morning traffic any day.

 One trip was to pick up two new Hereford bulls! We will be having a few more cute baldy calves next spring, and are very happy with how the bulls look in general too.

 Not so happy about the "genetic drift" seen in our calf crop this year. We should only have black calves, but have a few red ones that have been showing up. They may be the result of a neighbors bull, or one of our new "Registered Black Angus" bulls not quite being what he seems. I am investigating. Red I can deal with, but that grey one causes my blood pressure to rise. He just came to the feed ground for the first time yesterday, and I was less than impressed to see that one of our cows had managed to find a Charolais bull. Reds will fit on, but that guy is going to stick out that bad his entire life, and will most likely be unwanted by the buyer when we sell these guys in a year and a half.

On a happier note, here is a photo I found of my dad and I in my earlier days. I am using it in an upcoming Farm Bureau presentation, which is another project that has been coming together the last few days. It's always fun to look through old pictures and reminisce (not that I have a great memory of this time in my life).
Other than those few things, in the last month I've sent articles and photos to two new publications, and am working on multiple potential weddings to photograph this summer. Looking forward to meeting with some of the couples during a trip to Laramie for meetings later this week!
Hope all is well in all of your lives!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Did You Know: How much milk a dairy cow produces?

If you do, kudos to you! I was asked how much milk a dairy cow produces each day during my classroom visits last week. Not to leave them with my immediate answer of, "Um...well...a lot..." I did some research so I could send them a more definite answer.
Here's some of what I learned through Purdue's website, and Ag Mags for Kids (which I now cannot find online)

The average dairy cow produces around 6.5 gallons of milk a day. A gallon of milk weights 8.6 pounds, so that's 55.9 pounds of milk each day. Holy cow!

The record holding cow produced an astounding 52, 298 pounds (almost 7,000 gallons) of milk in one year. Holy cow again!

The most popular dairy breed in American is the Holstein.

It takes about 350 squirts to get a gallon of milk from a cow, and most cows are milked twice a day.

It takes 3 gallons of milk to make 1 gallon of ice cream, and 30 cups of milk to make one pound of butter.

All this massive production doesn't come without some serious feed being provided for these dairy cows. The average dairy cow weighs 1,400 lbs according to Purdue, and they are fed between 50 and 90 pounds of grain and hay each day. This is some high quality stuff too, nothing but the best for these girls.

Another fun fact from the website: 1967 is the year plastic milk jugs were introduced in the U.S.

I was asked this question after we got it cleared up that the cattle kids would see in Eastern Wyoming, along highways and in pastures, were not the kind used to produce the milk they drank. In case you were wondering (I was), the best range of milk production for beef breeds in western states that I found was 1-3.5 gallons.

Obviously there is a lot of variation in beef cow's milk production based on her genetics, the diet she is consuming, weather, and various other factors. But, that range does give us an idea that we're looking at less than half the production of dairy cattle in our beef breeds, which makes sense because of the different purposes of dairy and beef cattle.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

National Ag Day

Last week I was able to spend two days reading and conducting activities with elementary students in two Wyoming towns. This was through the Wyoming Farm Bureau Ag Books for Kids program, and National Ag Day (last Wednesday) seemed like a perfect time to meet with them.
This year's Wyoming Ag Book for Kids is, "Seed, Soil, Sun," and the books explains how seeds grow, and what the end crops are used for. The activity we did was "planting" seeds in clear plastic cups in such a way that the kids will be able to see the first stages of germination and growth. In some classrooms I also handed out seeds, then everyone guessed what type of seed they were. Then we would discuss what part of the plant that resulted from that seed we as humans would consume, and if livestock also consumed any part of the plant.
I have to say, the kids I met with were science gurus, and very fun to work with! They were also pretty knowledgeable about where their food came from, which made me a happy presenter.
It was so fun explaining ranching, answering questions about the difference between beef and dairy cows and various seed related topics, and hearing all the kid's stories, comments and ideas as I went through my two days of presenting.
If you know of a classroom in Wyoming, or anywhere for that matter, that would enjoy such a presentation, please let me know! This was one of the best things I've been able to do since joining the Wyoming YF&R Committee, and I would love to meet with more schools, or help you get in contact with your local YF&R Committee member.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Rough Start

It's been busy around here lately, and I just haven't had any time to keep things updated on here. I apologize for my lack of posts over the last week. Today I am sharing one of the events that combined with numerous others to keep me so busy.
Last Saturday night my parents were up from 1:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m., waiting on a heifer to calve. She finally did, without help, and they headed back to bed. On their way, Parent A told Parent B (names withheld for my protection, lol) to just leave the gate open between the calving lot and our yard area.
Later, Sunday morning, my dad left to feed, and found a heifer laying behind our horse trailers, were no one would see her or think to look, in the yard area. She had been trying to calve for several hours based on how things looked, which wasn't good. He and I immediately pulled the calf right there, and were thankful to find him alive.
We went on about our feeding and left mother and baby alone to do their thing. When we returned a while later, the cow still hadn't gotten up, and wouldn't. This was due to a nerve being pinched during birth - my dad compared it to a human getting a spinal tap. We managed to get her up, and my dad helped her balance by pulling on her tail, but she just staggered around the yard and went down again.
A cow will also be unable to get up if a calf gets hip locked during birth, but fortunately that is not what happened in our case.
The cow needed to get up to get blood flowing back into her rear legs to help her regain control of her back half. The calf also needed to eat, and a calf's first meal of colostrum is especially important in life. Here is what we did to help the cow and her calf on Sunday:

We fabricated a strap in the shop from old hay straps and chains.

Then we got the tractor, and prepared to pick her up and help her stand until she got blood flowing and regained control of her rear end. There was no guarantee our efforts would work, but this is a case where you do everything you can to give the animal the best chance of recovery possible. Sometimes, you have to do this over and over for several days until the cow regains enough strength and coordination to stand by herself. Sometimes they don't ever regain that strength.

Thank goodness she was a nice, gentle heifer, and we worked slow and gently around her so she wouldn't get excited. My dad eased the chain and strap partway under her.
My mother thought she might like a drink, which is why the water is there. My mother was also kind enough to take these photos, so I could share this with you. As you can see, photo taking wasn't very high on my list when this was going on.

Then he pulled her hips over and I grabbed the chain and pulled the strap the rest of the way under her.

We positioned the strap under her flank. We used a strap because it is wide, and less likely to hurt the cow when supporting her compared to a narrow chain or rope.

Then we hooked the chains on the tractor...

and began to slowly lift her back end up.

We worked with the heifer until she was standing..sort of.

We tried to get her back legs positioned so she could, and would, stand on them.

When it became apparent that she wasn't going to be able to stand on her own right then, and we would have to continue working with her, we milked her as much as we could so we could feed her calf the colostrum she produced.

Then we gently laid her back down on the ground when her back legs gave out, and unhooked the chains from the tractor. We just left the strap under her for the next time we lifted her.

Meanwhile, we had moved her calf into our calving shed, because naturally this event occurred on a cold and very windy day. He was never dried off properly and we didn't want him to get chilled. I fed him the colostrum we had milked from his mother, which is far superior to any milk replacer product we had on hand and could have mixed up for him.

Then, since he was still wet and it was so cold and windy, we put one of our calf coats (dog coats) on the big guy...

And packed him back outside to this mother so they could be together and not forget about each other.

Which wasn't a problem. This is how they stayed most of the day. He was worn out from being born, and one of those big and slower moving calves anyway. But, as the day progressed she kept trying to get up, which was encouraging to us.

That evening I took a bottle of milk replacer out to feed her calf. We had decided to let her rest until the following morning, then lift her up again. About halfway through feeding him, she got up! Though very wobbly, she managed to stay up. Here she is in a photo I grabbed from the house. Her calf is laying behind that pile of hay we fed her.
I am happy to report that after another couple days in the corral, where we could feed her and ensure she didn't have to travel a lot for food or water, she and her calf were turned out, and are doing great! That's the kind of ending we always hope for and work toward when situations like this occur.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

My First Cow

 My first cow's granddaughter just calved a few minutes ago. This big boy represents the fourth generation of my cowherd, and that makes me happy! Aside from being too big, mother and baby are doing great.

People get started in the cattle business in a variety of ways. For me it was through my family and the 4-H program. When I was eight years old I purchased my first heifer from the family ranch to show in 4-H, and as they say, the rest is history.
I've told this story before, but in case you missed it, there was quite the discussion over which heifer to choose. My dad, uncle and I narrowed it down to two choices. One was an exceptional individual that would have excelled in the show ring. She was big, fancy and an all around great heifer. The second was a small heifer with a big head, kind eyes and not a whole lot going for her from the show heifer angle. She was never going to be exceptional, physically.
My dad and uncle obviously wanted me to have a good start, both in the show ring and with my cowherd. But, my heart was dead set on the little gal, and despite some serious persuasion from my dad and uncle (I can still remember my uncle explaining the lower quarter of the great heifer, and how desirable that trait was, and how they both consented that it was my choice), I made the decision to purchase Sassy.

 Meet Sassy, who made up for any physical traits she was lacking in with her disposition. We bonded, and I loved her and fell in love with showing cattle and having my own cows before the 4-H year was out. Following my first year with her, I went on to show more than 15 heifers and steers in 4-H.

After her stint as my first 4-H project, Sassy went on to be an exceptional cow. Weighing in at maybe 1,000 lbs, she raised over 10 calves for me. Her steers weighed 1,300 lbs. as fats, and I kept almost every heifer calf she produced. She was one of those cows who produced calves that were better than she was.
She survived a nasty March blizzard one spring, where a quarter of her bag was soured. But, God bless her, she wasn't one of the cows that kicked her calf off. As she aged, the thought of selling her was difficult. For a few of her later years we housed her with our calves, who she taught how to eat cake, and which allowed her to eat a higher quality ration.

(Sassy in her later years with my sister riding her. We caught her in the pasture that day for a group of third graders who visited our ranch to learn about ranching. Everyone was thrilled to get to pet a cow.)

Eventually, at about 13 or 14 years old (that is ancient for a cow here), I made the tough decision to sell my first cow. All her teeth were gone, so she couldn't consume enough to stay in optimal condition. Her calves got smaller too, and she was just old. So, after more than a decade, my first cow was sold for slaughter. It wouldn't have been right to keep her out of love for her and let her waste away on our place. I cared too much for her to let her die a slow death like that.
Today her influence is still evident in my herd, as you saw in that first photo. She also helped pay for my college education, first vehicle, and numerous other expenses. I would still argue that I made the right choice that brisk winter day in front my grandparents barn, when the great debate was waged over which way to go for my first cow purchase.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Do you know, about Wyoming agriculture?

Welcome to the Cowboy State, where I was born and raised. As our current governor likes to say, tourism and the energy industry may compete with agriculture for the top three industries in our state, but, without agriculture playing a supporting role, the other two wouldn't even be in the running. 
The cattle industry is the largest component of Wyoming agriculture in terms of value, bringing in $599 million dollars in 2008. 
3,124,299 pounds of wool were produced in 2007, and Wyoming was ranked 4th in the country for number of sheep and lambs with an inventory of 411,952 head.
On the crop side, Wyoming ranks 8th in the nation in barley production, 20th in hay production and 23rd in wheat production. 
Want to learn about Wyoming, or agriculture in your home state? Swing over to the Ag in the Classroom website and click on any state in the country for some great ag facts relevant to your area.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Our calving routine

Calving heifers is one of those tasks where if you ask 10 people how to do it, you'll probably get 11.5 answers. The best way to go about it varies dramatically depending on location, environment, facilities, how much help there is, the quality of the help, the livestock, the weather, and numerous other variables.
Some people keep everything in a corral at night, and in a larger lot during the day. Others sort their heavies (the heifers they think are closest to calving) off at night and put them in the corral, and everyone else stays out in the lot. Some people stay up with them all night, others just check them periodically, and a few say they're on their own if they calve after 10:00 p.m. Some people have lots of problems calving heifers, others don't.
Here's what we do. We put our heifers in a 20 acre lot, and have them water out of our corrals. This gets them comfortable with going into the corral, where our shed and calving pen also happen to be located. If a heifer is comfortable going somewhere, it makes your job a whole lot easier to get her back there when she needs help calving. They stay in this lot, and have access to the corral, 24-7. Most calve on their own in the lot.
We check our heifers every three hours, around the clock. We all arrange our schedules so that someone is always here during the day to make sure all is well in the calving department. My brother, dad, mom and myself each take a night/morning shift (10:00p.m., 1:00p.m., 4:00a.m., and 7:00a.m.), and are responsible for that three hour shift if anyone is calving.
To be a little more specific, we cruise out to the lot on a 4-wheeler with our flashlight that is closer to being a stadium light in hand at night, slowly drive through all the girls, checking every one for signs of labor. If all is well, you can go back to bed or on with your day. But, if a heifer is in labor, you're on duty to make sure she has a healthy, live calf for the next three hours. Depending on how far along she is, this may mean checking her in 15 minutes or in two hours, and can make for some long nights at times. It's also not uncommon for more than one to be calving at once, and you're on duty for all of them. Everyone's schedule gets all messed up during calving.
You check, without fail, come blizzard, howling winds, exhaustion, and anything else you can imagine. Our heifers come first this time of year, period, amen.

When you're done with your shift, you report any new births, why someone is locked in the corral, etc... (wildlife sightings are not required) on this dry erase board, located on our porch. This lets the next person know how many new calves should be in the lot, if the calving pen is full, not to tag the skunk, and just helps with communication between tired people.

During the day, we are generally driving by the lot often enough that we don't keep a strict three hour regiment for checking them. Everyone just pays attention and keeps an eye on things. We are also out tagging any new calves, sorting out pairs, and shuffling the odds and ends that always result from calving heifers. So far this year our odds and ends consist of one heifer that doesn't like her calf. We have to put her in a small pen three times a day, then sit there and watch while her calf sucks. It's tedious, and irritating, but so far better than bottle feeding the little guy.
Every evening we feed the bunch their daily ration of hay. While not proven (especially not this year so far), we've found that feeding in the evening reduces the number of calves we have at night. This may be due to the heifer's filling up, laying down and relaxing. Highly scientific, I know, but it does seem to work for us most of the time, and you will try a lot of things to reduce how many nights you have to stay up waiting for a calf to be born!
It is pretty much a full time job calving heifers. When your future cowherd is on the line, it's worth a lot of time and effort to keep them alive and healthy. It's also just the right thing to do in caring properly for them, and calving season is one time of the year when I become especially irritated at those who say ranchers don't care for their animals, and are cruel to them. I've often wished I had one of those individuals with me on a particularly busy, cold, blustery night when you work tirelessly to save calves, keep them warm, healthy, and paired up. When a couple are on your porch, another in the bath tub, and there is enough milk replacer spilled in your house that it would be mistaken for a crack house if the authorities showed up. When, no matter how cold, wet and physically exhausted you get, you don't stop because of how much you do care for the cattle. Oh yeah, then I would want them to stay for the few days following such a night as you continue on.
Anyway, off my soapbox. We are just finishing up our second week of calving, and are just over half done. It has gone exceptionally well, especially with all of us home this year, which hasn't been the case for the last several years. Hope if you calve, your routine is going great too!