Ox are real!

Being new to ranching, I am always learning something. Like not every calf is a boy just because they have something hanging down under their belly.  New calves all have something and it is their umbilicus.  I was no help that first year tagging calves.

Some things you learn as a child, and that belief stays with you. As a child I watched Sesame Street. The show helped me learn many things. How to sing my A,B,C’s, count in other languages (still can to 10 in Spanish), and all about different animals.  Besides the animals you see in zoo’s and on t.v there was Big Bird, Mr. Snuffleupagus, Ox, and the Yak.  I knew I would never see the first two, they didn’t leave Sesame Street and the last two I thought were “old fashioned” like dinosaurs.  My reasoning was that I have never encountered an ox or a yak in any of the wildlife parks or zoos that I have been to.

So I was very amazed to find out that I actually own an ox!  How crazy is that!

The only reason I found this out is because I happen to see a package of meat in a store labelled “Oxtail”.  First thing out of my mouth was “Is that really part of a tail?” to hubby, who said “Yes”  Well then my mind went to … is that all they use from an ox is the tail …. what about the rest of the animal …. where do they get the ox from … I thought they were extinct…    At some point I think I verbalised this to hubby who then explained what exactly an ox is and that we could potentially have one.

Well I was shocked!  So for those of you who, like me, grew up in the city watching Sesame Street and think ox are no more I am here to tell you they are still around. Kind of….

An ox or oxen for more than one, are actually cattle that are tamed, trained and used for labour. They were used to plow the fields, pull wagons and carts and for whatever else required lots of muscle. Most of the time they used castrated males (steers) for this job because they were easier to handle then bulls. The females were used for milk or they were either pregnant or nursing a calf and you wouldn’t want to use them for hard labour.

So in a way I guess they are extinct or endangered, at least in Canada. I don’t think many people use cattle that way anymore.  Maybe we should go back to using oxen. Just think, it would cut down on C02 emissions from the trucks and tractors involved in farming and there would be an increase in employment because you would need people to work with the animals. Just a thought…

As for our potential oxen, they are quite handsome boys but not exactly tame and very far from trained. What could I get them to do, hmm… well if I could just pet them that would be awesome!  How did we end up with them?  Well that is a very interesting story and I am glad you asked.

Our black boy “M04C” was born January 3, 2015 and was a surprise baby. His mother had been hit on the road and her leg was broken. Hubby brought her into the yard and we put her in a corral where she could be close to food and water and heal up. She couldn’t keep up with the rest of the herd and we didn’t want to just dispose of her so we kept her to fatten and then slaughter for our own use.  She was not out with the bulls so we did not think she was pregnant.  A few weeks before we were scheduled to take her in, out popped baby boy. Surprise!  Someone snuck out of the pen. 20150106_114351.jpg

When it came time to sell the calves, M04 was head and shoulders bigger than the rest of them that were born in late April and May. You would think that would be good, we would get more money for him or something. NO  That is not how it works. No one would buy him. He did not fit in with the rest.  So we kept him. I even tried to sell him as a yearling but because he is just one, again no one wanted him and if we just took him to auction we would get half of what he should be worth because he is alone.  It doesn’t make sense to me so I can’t explain it. One day I will have to pick someone’s brain as to what goes on after I sell the calves and then maybe I will understand.

Our red boy was born in 2013 and he spent that summer at our ranch away from the home ranch. He did not make it back to us with his mother in the fall. Then a few weeks ago we received a call from the auction market in the area of our other ranch saying they had a steer of ours. He just “showed up” at someone’s field.  Hmmm…

So now we have two big boys. Anyone wanting some oxen or really good beef?DSC_0469.JPGDSC_0468.JPG

Oh, and I looked up Yak…. you have to go to the Himalaya region of Asia to see them and they are also a bovine. Still very much in existence. Maybe one day I will see one.




No Bad Days Here

The past few days around here have been a little off. Friday our big tractor we had been using here at home showed signs that the wheel bearing was worn out. That meant we had to go get our other one which was about an hour away. We were using it to load the straw bales we still have to haul home. While I was going through town I stopped and picked up the mail. Good thing it was after hours and parking was available.


Saturday we woke up to no heat in the house (10C or 50F). The dog (Lexi) was happy but we were not.  So with the repair man on his way (2 hour drive to us) we headed out to feed the cattle. At least it would be warm in the tractors.

So our daily routine is that hubby drives the tractor with the wagon and I drive the other tractor with the bucket. We load the wagon with chopped straw, grain, and silage and then he takes the load to feed a group of cattle while I take bales out to the older cows. Then we meet up again and repeat 4 more times.

I jump into the tractor I brought home and it had a blown hose so I couldn’t pick up anything. Good thing the we were able to take one from the disabled tractor and get going.

One of the water bowls had frozen up again, so off to the house to get hot water. The plastic fitting where the float is (just like in a toilet) freezes up sometimes in this one bowl. It is on the list to be replaced if I have any say in the matter.

On one of our rendezvous in the stack yard, hubby said we had to find water for our big bulls.  The creek froze over and usually I can just drive on the ice and break the hole open but not this time.  I don’t know why they can’t keep it open, the cows keep theirs open… must be a boy thing.

So while I was doing my thing, Hubby was having problems with the wagon because one of the gears are worn and that meant the auger wouldn’t turn because the chain slips.  That will be fun to change (not really). So after he was done he found me trying to get water for the bulls and we noticed the hydraulic ram that lifts the loader had broken. Back to the shop with the tractor.

As hubby welded that up, I grabbed the axe and off I went to chop a hole for the bulls. It wasn’t as big as I would have liked but chopping ice is hard work!

Finally around 4 pm we were back in the house, a warm house, and called it a day. What a day!  It’s a good thing we love what we do or that might have seemed like a bad day. 🙂

The little things.

I have been trying to learn as much as I can about the cattle business and part of this process led me to Medicine Hat’s Beef Pen Show in December for my second time. The event grew by about 100 animals this year and it was quite amazing to see all the cattle. I really enjoy seeing the 4H calves and it is really hard for me to not go up and pet or hug them. Hubby told me the first year that it is not something people do and besides I would wreck their hair-do.  They are just so cute!

The first year I took 2 pens of bred heifers and this year I took one pen of breds and 2 pens of heifer calves.  A pen consists of 3 animals. There are purebred and commercial cattle classes and my girls were in the commercial cattle class.  I do not get to pet, hug, wash or brush my girls, they are ranch cattle and after watching the 4H people, I am ok with this. I will love them from a distance, it is far less work.

The first year we purchased small bales of hay to take for feed and bagged up some silage. Then hubby brought out his buckets and tubs (I think they are just big bowls) from his days of showing cattle and loaded me up. He helped me set up and then I was on my own because he had to come home to feed everyone else.  I swore that year I would bring big tubs for water the next time.  Between the amount of water the cows drank and all the cattle being washed, all I did all day was stand in line for a hose and carry buckets back and forth.

So this year we got out the buckets and tubs and bagged the silage but we didn’t buy the small bales of hay. Hubby said we will just cut one of our bales open and re-bale a couple flakes by hand. Well let me tell you that I don’t care how much small bales are, I am buying them next year. It is very awkward, tough, and itchy to wrangle a flake from a 4′ x 4′ bale and tie it up again.  I did however take big tubs for their water. Hubby filled them when we arrived so I only had to keep them topped up.

I was very lucky the second morning because I was close enough to the building to be able to take the hose outside and fill one of the tubs.  Well it turned out that one of my girls thought this was very interesting and came over to see what I was doing. She stuck her nose under the water first, then her forehead, and then she figured out what it was and out came her big grey tongue. She started lapping at the water falling from the hose. I don’t know why I found it so intriguing, but it made me smile watching this big creature. I tried to get a picture but it was a little difficult with one hand. 20151219_105821.jpg

During the down time when hubby came back after feeding the rest of the herd, we wandered around the exhibits. There are some very talented people around.  One such person is my cousin and her husband who had a booth there. Deb has always done work with leather and wood but her latest is silk scarves. Her husband Bob also works with leather and makes saddles.

While we were chatting and I was showing some of my many pictures of the ranch, I happened to come upon the picture I took of a porcupine sitting in a bush. That was very exciting for me and my enthusiasm came out while I was telling the story of  how I came to take the picture. Apparently I was the only one who thought seeing a porcupine up close and personal for the very first time was  exciting.  When Deb and Bob looked at me with weird grins, Hubby said “I know. It’s like working with a 4 year old every day. Everything is exciting and new to her.”

Well I do try to take pleasure out of the small things in life every single day. Life is too short and amazing not to.



Dealing with Mothers


Every Spring, when the calves are being born, it gets very busy around here. Hubby and I are the only ones here and with about 600 babies expected we are run off our feet.

Along with the normal day’s work of feeding and bedding and checking on everyone we also have to tend to the babies.  We usually split up so that while he is feeding, I check on the new babies. If we are able to get to them right after they are born we are very happy because they are much easier to catch and handle. It is quite amazing how at only minutes old they are able to get up and run, and very fast. Everyone is tagged and their number, mom’s number, date, and sex is recorded in a book.  Sounds easy enough. So I thought.

My first time out Hubby told me to be careful, keep my head up, watch the mamma, and be ready to run. What!?

Our cows are ranch cattle which means we do not have a lot of hands on interaction with them.  We can walk amongst them but don’t expect to be able to pet them or catch them (unfortunately, because I would love to be able to pet and hug them all!).



Just like human mothers, there are many different kinds. Some moms will back off and just stand and bawl (moo) at us or walk away and continue eating. Others will actually run away like they are on fire or something and we have to either chase her back to her baby or load it up and take it to her. There are also the “Babysitters” as I call them. They are the other moms who come running at any calf’s cry or the one lone cow left with 4, 5 or even 10 calves. We even have delinquent mothers and it seems they don’t care where their calf is or if it cries and sometimes they will actually loose them. We usually sell those ones. Then there is the one who tries to kill you.

Hubby knows who some of these are and their babies never get tagged, which is ok because I pitty the one who tries to take her baby.  The bad thing though is that I am not that familliar with the herd yet, so sometimes I encounter these moms.  On one such occasion I pulled the quad up to a calf, got the rope on it’s hind leg so that stayed put for me and then I started writing on the tag and in the book. Suddenly there is a cow bellering and charging at me. I jumped over the quad to the other side and she came around, I jumped over again and here she comes again. This time she head buts the side of the quad and it rocks up on two wheels. I untied the rope from the quad, threw everything into the bin and managed to get out of there.

Hubby has had a situation like that, but unfortunately he didn’t get away like I did.  He was rammed into the side of the quad by the cow while bent over tagging her baby. His warnings come from experience and I try very hard to listen and remember.

Although very scary, I can’t help but admire these moms. I would like to think I would do the same if someone was after my kids.

“Why?” My favorite question.

As I have been learning more about the cattle industry and living the life of a cow-calf producer, I have been asking “Why?” a lot.  Apart from not knowing anything and having to ask that question, I am always looking for a way to do more with less.  Knowing why people do things a certain way helps me figure out how to improve on things.  One thing I thought I may be able to help with was bringing in more money.  I thought about marketing the cattle in a new way.

So I asked “If we are raising Black Angus cattle, and everyone knows that you pay more for a “Certified Black Angus” steak in a restaurant, why are we not selling them that way?”

Hubby said “Yes we can do that.”

What Hubby didn’t tell me was that he had already been there, done that. So I was able to learn first hand that it costs money. You pay more money for the Angus RFID tag and more commission and fees when you sell at an Angus auction.  After years of being in the business, Hubby already knew all these things. What Hubby did was sell direct to the order buyers from home. So we didn’t have to truck them to auction, pay any commission or fees and he received a better price than what we received at the auction.

Then I asked about implanting cattle with hormones and why people do it. The more your cattle gain, the more money you make since you are paid by weight.   But!  I said… If people want beef without hormones, would we not get a premium for our beef since it is hormone free?

Hubby said “We can try.”

So I searched the internet for companies, feed lots, anybody that wanted natural beef and sent out some emails and made some calls. No responses back.  When we registered for the auction I made sure to list that the calves were implant and antibiotic free.  One buyer had us sign a guarantee before the auction. I was so excited, I thought for sure this would be great.  It turns out that a regular buyer bid the most and the natural guy didn’t even come close to the highest bid.

So I have come to realise that I will stick to what I know and let Hubby do what he knows, and that is cattle. I will say that I appreciate him more because he let me learn by doing. He could have just said he had done it before, but he didn’t.  Thanks Honey!


Cute, but deadly.

So a couple of weeks ago we had planned to wean some calves, move yearlings, finish breaking some land and then get that tractor ready for moving bales.  We started off the week doing the calves. We separated the calves from their moms and then ran them through the chute to be recorded and given their vaccinations. This year we didn’t get all the calves tagged, branded or banded so we had to tag and band as well.  Our chute has a palp cage (for non cattle people that is an area at the back with a man door so that when you catch the animal’s head, you can go in behind them for examination) so it is longer than normal and when the calves are quick we sometimes get two or three trying to squish in. Sometimes this is ok if we don’t need to tag or no one needs to be banded but usually we back them up and close the door on them until it is their turn. Of course that doesn’t always work so we process the rear calf and then open the man door to let it out. Then in theory, they should run out and forward to where the other calves are waiting.


Well one little guy (550lbs worth) chose to go to the rear of the pen and around the corner to where our scale is.  I walked back there and went around in front of him, he turned and trotted off back around the corner and headed to the front of the pen, then I started to follow. BAM!! He came back around, lowered his head and ran straight for me!  He rammed into more of my side (because I was turning to run) knocked me to the ground and stepped on me as he tried to scale the fence panel. When my brain started to work again, the only thing it seem to know to do was scream, and not for help or hubby or anything in particular but just a scream. Hubby came around the corner and yelled at me to get up and get out of the way, he couldn’t come to help me or it would push the calf towards me again. I managed to get up and out of the way.

When everything settled down again, I was then reminded again how “No cow is worth getting killed over. Don’t do that again, leave them alone.” Sorry honey….(like I did it on purpose !?)  So we finished the calves, because there was no way I was going to say I wasn’t ok. Then when I got to the house this is what I saw on my side.

wpid-20151029_091823.jpgWell that put an end to our plans that week.  There was no way I could ride my horse or bump around in the tractor over breaking so I was banished to the house and paperwork. 😦  Two weeks later my side still hurts when I breathe deep, sneeze, or lay on it.


A blessing and curse all rolled into one.  Before living at the ranch, rain was just something that made it a little difficult to navigate the parking lot in my open toed shoes or maybe we couldn’t eat dinner on the deck. It was never something that changed the course of my life or impacted my income.

Right now it is keeping us from combining the rest of our durum wheat. That would usually be ok, we could use a day or two to do other things, but at this time in the growing cycle the rain hurts the grain.  I am not a specialist by any means, and I am not claiming to know anything, but in my opinion it is washing the life out of the kernel.  Only a few weeks ago we were able to take plump golden wheat rated a #1 to be sold. Then before all of it was dry enough, or cured enough to cut, the rain came.  Now my beautiful wheat is a paler yellow and is rated #3.   What does this mean? Well it means to me that I don’t get paid as much.

It really makes me think back to when I found out that farmers spray their crops to desiccate them and how I thought that was horrible. Why would they spray chemical on the crop just to kill the plant and make the grain cure faster? Well I think I know the answer to that now that I have walked in the farmer shoes a little bit.  Without getting into the dollar figures, a little bit of rain at the wrong time can literally mean making a living or going broke if the quality of your crop goes down. Maybe that is why they do it.  It must be the reason.

Then my husband pointed out that there is crop insurance for this reason.  So why spray then?  I guess my walk in those shoes wasn’t long enough to understand all of this.  Thankfully for us, if the grain quality goes down too much, we just feed it to the cows.  They don’t care what the colour is. 🙂