Teetering on the vegetarian fence.

I must say that when my family heard I was dating a cattle rancher and was coming to Saskatchewan to help him, they were worried.  Why?   It’s because if there was ever a person who could be vegetarian or even a vegan, it was me and I was dating a man who raised cattle.

When I was little we had some chickens. They scare me. Well at least they did back then. I am taller now so maybe a flapping, pecking, squawking bird wouldn’t be as frightening at knee level as it was at face height.  We had them for eggs, or so I thought.

I arrived home after school and got off the bus. I heard voices in the back yard and went around the house. There in the back yard was a makeshift slaughter house. Dead chickens, blood, feathers, and my mom, grandmother, and aunt.  I went into the house and stayed there.  I hated the chickens but they didn’t need to kill them!  I was sickened. My dad told me when he was little he would have to go out in the morning and put a chicken under a pot for the day, so his mom could ring it’s neck that night for supper. It is just how it is.

From then on, I did not eat chicken if it came wrapped in brown paper.  Once our supply ran out and mom bought it from the store I was all over it. Something about the pink foam tray and grocery store sticker made it ok. It doesn’t seem logical, but in my mind it wasn’t a bird that had lived here, it was just meat.  The same thing happened when I came home and saw a deer hanging from the clothes line pole. Nothing wrapped in brown paper for me, Thank you!  That was the last time my dad ever hunted.

I even stopped eating KFC after finding veins in the legs too many times. The first time I had to stuff a turkey for a family dinner I wouldn’t eat it. Apparently it was very good and moist, but I just couldn’t do it. That was probably because I saw my grandmother in her house dress and rubber boots, wielding an axe, chasing after a headless turkey and then hanging it from my swing-set. If something made me feel too close to being a carnivore (animal) I didn’t like it.

So, as you can see, they did not know how I would ever handle being around the cattle.  I will confess that I did grill hubby about exactly what happens to the animals he sells. Did he actually send the animals to slaughter? Would I see anything like that?  Thankfully he said no.  He runs a cow/calf operation and he sells the calf after it is weaned to other people. That is all I needed to know. I didn’t want to hear anything after that point.

What I found at the ranch was not at all what you would expect if you listened to all the very vocal opinions of the animal rights groups.

I did not see animals stuffed so tightly into pens they could not move.

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The cattle in the distance are in one of the “pens”

I did see during the winter and spring, the cows in pens to keep them separate based on their feeding needs. They had enough room that all could lay out on fresh bedding, plus room to roam around, and a feed bunk big enough to all eat at the same time.  Was there manure in the pen?  Well of course.  Did the cows stand in it?  Yes, and they even poop on each other and poop while laying down. I think it keeps their butts warm in the winter.  Just my opinion.  Is all that gross?  Yes, until you realise that that is how it is even when they have acres to roam.  In the summer they are roaming thousands of acres of native prairie grass, trees, and streams along with the deer and moose.

I did not see animals suffering or malnourished.

I did see during calving season, a man wake every 4 hours after working all day, to jump on a quad no matter what the weather, travel about 1/2 km to check on his heifers. These first time moms need help sometimes or they will loose their babies and sometimes they will die.  No matter what needed to be done, how little sleep he had, or what the weather was like, hubby was there for that mama and calf.

I did see during bad weather when the rest of us would be curled up on the couch for the weekend, he was outside spreading straw and setting up shelters. Lunch time would pass and sometimes even dinner because the animals always come first.

I did see a man who in snow storms would bring new calves into the house to be wrapped and warmed so they would not freeze. A man who could tell you the history of his cows and could tell them apart.  A man who has cried when a calf has died and felt guilty because if only he had…

I did see  a man who vaccinates his cattle so they don’t fall ill. A man who uses antibiotics to treat his animals so that they do not suffer with an infection and recover instead of just killing them.

I did see that although these animals were being bred and their offspring were raised to be consumed, they were very well taken care of and loved.

Even now, raising the cattle myself, I still do not like being a carnivore sometimes, but I realise that it is life.  I know times are different now, but we started out eating meat and I believe that is something that is going to continue.  Wildlife could not sustain the population growth so we had to start raising our own meat, the same as we could not rely on mother nature to grow our wild fruits and greens and farming began.  I think of the stories of people who where lost and how they say they survived and it wasn’t from gathering. It was from hunting and eating meat from what ever they could catch.

I will say that I still do not think at this time in my life I could be the one to kill and process the animal, but thankfully there are other people who are able to do that.  When I do take an animal to the abattoir, I am thankful for the nourishment it will give me in exchange for the nourishment I gave it.  It is the circle of life.

I do understand those who do not want to eat meat. What I don’t understand is those that bash, condemn, ridicule, spread lies and try to undermine those that do.  Everyone has a choice and that should be enough.  Let your opinion or choice be known, but do not try and force or scare others into believing lies.

I am proud of our ranch. I see a place where the animals are raised with care, respect, and love to provide the best nourishment they can for people.  The land we use is also respected, loved and cared for. Without our animals or land, we would have nothing. So why would you believe we would do anything to harm either one?

 

Splint on Angus calf.

Mom stepped on her leg. 6 weeks of a splint and helping her stand to eat a few times per day, a year later she is out with the rest of our girls.

 

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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.

 

 

Perception, not always the truth.

I received a message from my sister the other day, it was a link to a video claiming to be a real heartwarming story about a cow rescued from the meat industry. My first thought was “Oh my gosh, what happened? That is awful!”  Any animal having to be rescued brings me to tears. So I watched this video prepared to cry and be outraged at the awful human that could do something bad to an animal.  Well I was outraged, at the people who produced the video!  What a bunch of crap!!

If you were to take the audio and written speech off, then the video is of a cow who does not look injured or malnourished and when approached by the camera man “moos”. Then it shows her standing in a pen with a full udder “mooing”. A trailer pulls up and they have a calf on a harness and try to lead it to the pen. It flops to the ground, they pull it up and get it through the gate where it flops again. The final shot is of the calf drinking from the cow.

So without all the audio and speech, and with first hand knowledge of how a cow reacts when she has lost her calf, and I mean lost like she can’t find it,  my impression of this video is that they have moved this cow and are just bringing the calf to her. No big deal. The mom doesn’t look stressed like she is missing the baby, she is not pacing the fence like an anxious mom would. She doesn’t have that “look” in her eye like the look even a human mother gets when she can’t find her child. The calf looks healthy and when it flops on the ground, I kind of chuckle because it is being like a typical…well anything, that doesn’t want to go where they are being made to go. My daughters cat will throw herself on the ground repeatedly when she has her harness on like we are shooting her or something.  It is actually quite funny and dramatic looking.

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Ky, the drama queen when wearing a harness.

My point is that once they add the sad music, the commentary is that this cow’s baby was taken from her, how she cries for it and how sad that is, how starving the calf is and it collapses from stress and exhaustion, they completely lead people astray from the truth.

Yes, cows do bawl (moo) for their calves, all the time. Even when they are right in front of them. They also bawl when they see the feed wagon coming, or just because that is how cows communicate.

In Canada we have an ad on tv for the visually impaired and why there is descriptive tv. It shows us a blurry picture and we hear the sounds of what is happening. Based on those sounds we develop a perception of what we believe to be happening. This is based on our experiences in life which means that each of us could come to a different conclusion about what we are seeing. Then as the picture becomes clearer, we see what is actually happening and it turns out that it does not match what we had assumed.  That is the exact premise that these people putting the video out are counting on, that we will assume things based on what they choose to show and tell us. They don’t give us the whole picture.

I am seeing this more all the time and it is very frustrating.  For instance, A&W saying that their chicken is raised without hormones. That wording makes you assume that other chicken is raised with hormones right?  Well fact is, no chicken contains hormones. That is the law in Canada. How do I know? I researched it. I was led to assume what they wanted me to, but I wanted to know the truth so I looked it up.

With this amazing connection to everything in the world, do yourself a favor and educate yourself before you assume things. Pass on the “truths”, don’t be so quick to hit “share” unless you know it is true because then you are just helping spread the lies. Everyone is free to have “opinions” but that is different than expressing a false fact that people will then believe.

Has anyone else came across something that made them say “That is just so NOT true!” Educate us, please. 🙂

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.

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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.

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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!).

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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!