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!

 

Plan to not plan.

I am finally taking some time for myself today.  Hubby has gone for a load of feed and groceries which is something I am always amazed by.  The reason for my amazement is that he is in the semi, pulling a tri-axle grain trailer. I have a hard enough time parking a long box crew-cab truck at the grocery store. Not only that, because we are two hours from town the amount we purchase is usually quite a bit and he will have to hoist everything up into the cab, and stuff the tool boxes full. That is above and beyond in my books. I can hardly figure out how to fit everything into the truck, especially with Lexi.

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Lexi when the back seat and floor are full of groceries.

So while he is gone I had planned to write a bit, vacuum, do some laundry, make some granola bars, and do a bit of book work.  So he has been gone for two hours now and I did mange to make the granola bars. I have also eaten a very large piece, well two pieces, put some clothes in the wash and flipped through some catalogs.

It has started to snow and Hubby just called and doesn’t think he will be able to get home in the truck because of the snow.  I am now going to meet him and we will have to leave the truck somewhere until the weather is better. Not what I had planned but I didn’t really want to do any book work.

I find that my life just runs like that though. It does keep things interesting though. So my motto is “I only plan to never plan.”

**Update:  We ended up bring the truck home while the road was hard. If we would have waited till during the day, the dirt road would soften up and if the snow melted he would just get stuck. It was very slow going because it was hard to see at times with the wind blowing but we made it home. I drove one hour to meet him and it took us 3 hours to get home.

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.

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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.

Years of stuff…

Well after many hours of sorting, cleaning, collecting, and recycling we are finally able to put two trucks in the shop.  You would know that this is quite the amazing thing if you had seen the shop before. As soon as I started making a big dent in the piles I wished I had taken pictures.  Hubby said that most of the stuff has been in there for over 30 years.  We took a truck full of old tire tubes and a couple of loads of scrap metal to be recycled. Plus a couple of tractor buckets full to the dump.

The smell was probably the worst part. The raccoons had been in the shop, and if you haven’t smelled this odour before just imagine really strong cat pee. They tried to get back in this past week, but now there is no place to hide so we were able to chase them out. They are such pests!

It took a while of working a few hours here and there to get it all sorted out but the bulk of it is done.  The next thing to do is the work bench and shelves. It would be nice to have it sorted and organized by equipment. Then we will know what we have and not buy things we don’t need or assume we have something and we don’t.  We have wasted so much time searching for things so this will make life much easier.

The coolest thing about this whole venture was that we also found a few very old tools, an old Electrolux vacuum which actually worked when I plugged it in, an old wash tub, and a milk can.

I can’t wait to have this all done. I promised myself that I wouldn’t start ripping apart the old farm-house until this was done and I really want to start on that. 🙂

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Rain

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. 🙂

What is that large mound covered in plastic and tires?

Before I met my husband I had seen these big weird-looking mounds and had no idea what they were except for ugly. Covered in old tires and usually partly surrounded by an old wood slab fence, it was another pile of stuff in a farm-yard.

Now I look at that mound with awe and sometimes envy depending on the size. I have my own pile now, and this year will be even bigger than last.

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Field of barley.

What is this thing I speak of? It is called silage and it is amazing.  When you get close to a silage pile it is the smell that you will notice first. It is a sweet earthy smell that makes me think of wine, but made from a crop. When you grab a handful of it or dig into it you will feel the warmth from the heat it produces as it ferments.

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Swaths of barley crop.

What is silage made of?  It is made from chopping up a green crop, which means it is not ripe and there is still moisture content, and then piling, compacting it, and covering it to reduce the amount of oxygen it receives. This will cause it to ferment.

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Forage harvester

How do we do this?  I drive the swather and cut the crop down.  The machine lays the crop in a row called a swath, and then a crew we hire comes along with the forage harvester and a truck to pick it up.  The forage harvester picks up the crop and chops it into small pieces then blows it into a trailer. When it is full, they dump it into a pile where we drive over it with our largest tractor, repeatedly, to compress it.  as more gets added

Why do we do this?  Well because cattle love it and it provides them with more nutrients and energy then just dry forage in the winter.

We silaged barley this year, along with whatever weeds grew with it.  We did not use a herbicide this year as the barley grew well enough to choke out most of the weeds. Some years we have had to spray or the crop would not have been able to compete with the weeds even though we tilled the land.

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The silage pile waiting to be covered.

It was a week full of long days but well worth the effort. The cows will love it!

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One end of the final product.