Monday, November 12, 2012

Finishing Fall Cattle Work

We are finally finished with our fall cattle work as of Nov. 8. This run of weaning, shipping, preg-checking and hauling off drys usually takes 3-4 weeks. It took three months this year. Above is a photo from August 27 - the day we weaned our first calf heifers. Also the earliest my father ever remembers weaning April born calves.
Why is it all so spread out this year? The response typically starts with, "this is an odd year," and I'm sure people who don't understand ag, and even some who do, are sick and tired of hearing farmers and ranchers say that around here.
Perhaps a better way to say it is the unusual weather resulted in altered management practices in an effort to do what was best for our livestock and land longterm.
For example, we did not wean in August, when it was over 100 degrees, just for kicks and giggles. We did that because we had very little grass for the cows to consume, and with the increased energy they use to produce milk for their calf, we thought it may be most effective to wean the calves and feed them a high quality diet, rather than expect the cow to feed him on a limited, poor quality diet. This was also thinking ahead because if the cow doesn't have enough nutrition, she will absorb her new pregnancy before she stops producing milk for her current calf, and we didn't want to reach that point and have a bunch of our young cows come up open (not pregnant) which means they're sold on our outfit.
We also started supplementing the cows in August, which is also incredbibly early, to help them get as much as they could out of the available grass. By "we" I mean my mother and I. The other half of the "we's" around here were already booked solid hauling hay over twice as far per load as last year, trying to get as much accomplished as possible before winter set it. That is also unusual, and a direct result of the weather. All ranchers are concerned about winter, and want to make sure they are in a position to care for their livestock regardless of what happens in the next several months.
Then, as September rolled along, we were feeding the weaned calves every day. As soon as possible after pulling the bulls out their mothers were preg-checked, and any that were open were immediately sold to conserve as much grass as possible for those that were bred. Our yearling heifers were also pregged as early as possible, via ultrasound, and turned out with the other young cows. The guys literally took those days off, then climbed back in their trucks - either to haul hay or have repairs made.
From there we dove into the older cows, who spent the summer on far better grass 200 miles north of our home place at a grazing association. This always involves a day of gathering, weaning and shipping calves home, followed a few days later with gathering and shipping the cows home. This is all done for two separate bunches of cows - my father's and my uncles, so you can take that list and double it.
The calves were all shipped to the feedlot, in two separate bunches because some were at home and some went straight from the grazing association. Hay was also hauled to the feedlot. The last two yeras we haven't gone to a feedlot, and that switch took extra days to vaccinate the calves based on the feeder's health program and to load them out. Prior to that our management resulted in the calves all being together, which meant one day of shipping, not two.
Then, I called the vet, and scheduled our last pregging based on his next available date, which was three weeks out at the time. So, from the time the cows were hauled home from the grazing association until last week they were fed every bite they ate. This was because it was a toss up which was more efficient - feeding them near the house where there was no feed, or trailing them to the far end of the place, then gathering and trailing them back a week later. We chose to feed them, and on a nice morning with lots of help, we finished up the last cow, shipped off the last drys, counted out the last bunch, and trailed them to their winter home.
One thing I've noticed this fall is that for taking so long, I don't know how it could have gone any better. I don't remember ever having better weather for every single day. With a couple exceptions it was sweatshirt weather. Just last year I was hobbling around on my first, and very well done sprained ankle, on days with freezing rain and dust all at the same time. Plus, I have doctored a significantly smaller percentage of calves than in recent years, which always makes me happy.
Did all our plans to do what was best for our land and livestock work perfectly - no. The early weaned calves looked tough when they headed to the feedlot and we came to the conclusion that we would rather feed the cow with the calf on her than wean early and feed the calf. However, for the most part we consider the extra time and effort well spent. Things look rough around here, and there aren't any fat cows on this place this year. But, there aren't very many overly thin cows either, and those that are thin are picking up fast. Plus, we have managed to stretch what we have to the point that we're going to make it work for this winter, much like our friends and neighbors.

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