July 29, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

Ears are starting to grow!!  1 step closer to Harvest!

Got one of the windmill fixed, back to multiple water sources at this pasture!!
Heifer calf investigating the 4-wheeler!

July 26, 2011

Does History Really have to Repeat Itself???

Well last week I wrote about the fence getting broken and having half of the cows at that particular pasture getting mixed in with the neighbors.  Well Happy Monday AGAIN...  I had to pinch myself because I thought I was having a bad dream and re-living last week.  I was sitting at work and my phone rings yesterday afternoon.  The neighbor called to let me know that the fence was knocked down.  From what he described it sounded like we had a bunch of his heifers in our pasture.  Not a good thing, because 1 of the bulls we have in that pasture has a tendency to produce calves that are a little bigger at birth.  OK for our mature cows, not so good with heifers.  Different pasture than last week, but still the same problem, broken fence needing fixed and cattle to sort apart and put back where they belong.  We just finished cleaning up last weeks mess on Sunday.  The pasture is on my way home so I went to scope things out. 

What I found...  Not so pretty....
I find our cows hanging out in the pond.  I count cows and calves a dozen times and seem to be coming up with the right number of animals.  I found 1 of the 2 bulls that were suppose to be there.  So I go check the neighbors pasture,  I can't find a single cow or calf that is ours on his side. 
I called Mark, gave him a list of fencing supplies we were going to need and had him bring an extra 4-wheeler and my horse.  So I watched the cows hang out in the water for a little over an hour while thinking about all the things I could be getting done at that moment.  Got the bull sorted out, and headed the right direction but only after he had to test the swift cat like reflexes of my horse.  He quickly decided that Coal was much faster than he was and he was fighting a loosing battle and gave up.  Got the bull back with our cows, fixed the fence, and was loading my horse to go home right at sun down.  So much for getting the laundry and actually cooking diner tonight.  Maybe next Monday will be better.....   

July 22, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

Swimming Hole for the cows

Taking advantage of every little bit of shade when it is 100+ degrees! 

Irrigation Wells have been started

Corn is just Starting to Tassle and Silks are starting to appear.  Pollination is soon to follow!!

July 21, 2011

One Angry Momma!!

Usually when we use the phrase "one angry momma" at our place we are referring to 1 of a small hand full of cows that don't deal with the natural hormone changes and imbalances of giving birth very well.  They tend to let their hormones to take over their brain and they make a honest attempt to make cow poop out of us.  This usually only lasts for a few days.  But this angry momma was not of the 4 legged, black hided, tail swishing, snot blowing variety.  She was about 6-8 inches tall, with a 8-10 inch wing span and holy cow did I make her mad.  I was raking hay last night and I watch this momma bird (I am not real sure what kind of bird she was) walk out of the corn field with her 3 young chicks.  The chicks were really tiny and were have'n a hard time keeping up with momma in the field.  So me being me decided that I could catch 1 of the babies.  I had no intention on hurting or scaring the baby bird.  I just wanted to hold it long enough to get a couple of pictures.  Needless to say when I picked up the baby momma was pissed!!!  She squawked and flew around, pretended to be wounded 15 feet away and I think she may have even dive bombed me a few times.  She was throwing out every trick in her book to get me to let baby go.  So I quickly snapped a couple of pics with my phone and set the baby back in the field away from where I was raking so that he didn't get hurt or run over.

  The drive of a mother to protect their young always amazes me, here a bird that weighs maybe a pound was willing to take me on and I out weigh her..... well I am not very big but I am a lot bigger than she is!  In all fairness the bird did get some revenge as he did poop on me before I could turn him loose again!!

July 20, 2011

Just another day! Which happened to be Monday......

Like most typical Monday's this Monday was 1 for the books!  At the day job office it was invoicing day.  We invoice our feed customers twice a month and it tends to be a job that can be mass chaos.  I decided to go into the office early to get a lot of the things ready so when the accounting department showed up at 8 we could get it done.  I had a meeting near noon-ish with our cattle rep so I needed things to get done quickly.  Well I get to the office a little after 6 am and as I am pulling into the parking lot I realize that I brought Mark's pickup to work (mine was hooked up to the trailer with the 4-wheelers in it for later in the day) and my key to the front door is on MY key ring.  So much for getting lots of stuff done before 8.  Luckly there another early riser was there a little before 7 so I was still able to have everything ready to invoice before 8!  My few less hours of sleep were not totally wasted.  I played a couple of rounds of Angry Birds while I passed the time.  For some reason shooting fake birds out of a sling shot at some pigs, glass and boards can release tension caused by not thinking clearly at 5 am.  Got the invoicing done just in time to hurry back home.  I don't just live accross the street from work, it is a 38 mile drive 1 way so it take a good 45 minutes. 
We sell our steer calves direct to a local (45 miles away) feedyard through an age/source verification program.  We also manage our calves vaccination and mineral programs to fit a process verification program as well.  The rep came out to look at the calves, take some pictures, get verification on vaccine given so far and fill out the paperwork needed to get an offer and contract on the calves.  Last years calfs were harvested the 1st week of July so we are waiting for the data to get back from the harvest facility.  Hopefully it will get in within the next day or 2 and then we can make a "deal" on a set price for them.  We won't deliver them until the middle of December, but we are able to know what we will get paid.
Then it was back to the office, another 38 mile trip to town.  Worked for a few more hours.  Then I checked cows at 1 pasture on my way home.  Got home, loaded the 4-wheeler in the pickup and headed to yet another pasture to check cows.  The weather has been too hot and heat stress is a big concern so we are checking things a little more often to make sure the cattle have plenty of water and are surviving the heat.  This is where my day started going down hill FAST!  The owner of the pasture had a few cows and calves out so on my way by I called them and left a message.  I got to the pasture and as I am pulling up to the gate.  I notice I didn't need a gate to get in.  The fence was tore down for 50 yards right next to the gate.  When I say tore down, I don't mean 1 broken wire.  There was originally 5 wires and there was not 1 that was still good.  I went to find our cows, and can only find 1/2 of the herd.  I am assuming the other 50% are in the neighbors cows.  I go back to the gate and start fixing fence.  Only to find the only tools I have are some pleirs and extra wire.  So I "kind-a-sort-a" fixed the fence.  And hoped what I did would fool the few cows we have left in the pasture that the fence is un-breakable!  I then head back home.  But not before I stopped at the landlords and put their cows and calves back in.  I had not heard back from them and didn't want their cows on the road after dark.  Not sure I put them back in the right place, but they were in.  By the time I got home is was near 10 pm.  I still had to feed the horses and a few calves we have in the yard.  By the time I got inside it was almost mid-night so it was a bowl of cereal, hot shower and off to bed. 
I know this sounds like I was doing all the work yesterday and Mark was no where to be found....  He went to work till about 2 then he spend the afternoon and evening, working on finishing laying out the irrigation pipe, cut some more hay, started the wells to irrigate the corn, worked on the pivot, and I am not sure what else.  He was still outside when I went to bed. 
Happy Monday....  I am ready for Tuesday......no I think I am ready for Friday    

July 15, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

The storm that produced Large Hail, Damaging Wind and several Tornados!!  Mother Nature took her anger out on Rural Nebraska that afternoon and well into the evening.

This was a corn field before the 4 inches of rain and Hail beat it down to nothing!  In 10 minutes the field was a total loss for the year.  The corn was about 5 feet tall, it is now less than 12 inches in most places.

In the top left corner there is a White Spider!  He was only the size of a water droplet!

My view while riding pastures checking cows and fence. 

July 14, 2011

Stand off Old West Style

Last night we had a stand off in one of our pastures.  The parties included were Me and my horse Coal, my husband Mark and the 4-wheeler pitted against G18 (small 1200 lb black cow tag number G18) and her calf (very small 350 lb black calf).  There is a saying that "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors".  In the ag world this saying is SOOOO true.  The bad part even when there are good fences dividing property boundaries cattle still seem to find them self on the other side of the fence.  They say the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side.  But from what I could tell it look the same to me.  The months of June and July always seem to be more problematic to keep cattle in the correct pastures.  Mostly because it is the breeding season and bulls (male cattle used for breeding) tend to let their natural instint to find cows that are in Estrus and pass on their genetic DNA interfere with their ability to remember that they are not suppose to go through the fence to find the neighbors cows or fight with the neighbors bull and break down the fences!  Too much testosterone at 1 time can be a bad thing!!!  Well this year has been no exception we have had problems with the neighbors bull wanting to hang out with our cows instead of his own (I think ours must be more attractive) and in the process has chased our bull to another neighbors, broke down fence and we ended up with a cow (tag number G18) and her calf in yet another's neighbors pasture.  We have gotten all the bulls back where they belong and the fences fixed but have not had a good opportunity to gather our cow and calf and put them back in our pasture. 
     Moving cattle is an art.  Moving cattle easily, with minimal stress to the handler and the cattle is an art that can only be found in an expensive art gallery somewhere in New York City.  It takes practice, patients, a good knowledge of the surroundings and landscape, a keen sense of being able to think like a cow (a prey animal) not a human (a predator by nature), patients, a little luck, the right weather, patients, having all handlers on the same page in the same book, and oh did I mention patients.  Because cattle are prey animals to move them and handle them effectively we have to be able to think like a prey animal.  They have 2 responses to my presence flight o fight (both of which we worked through last night).  We use a technique called "pressure and release".  Cattle have an imaginary circle or bubble around them and when I get to close to that line they will move away from me, as soon as I am no longer in their bubble they will stop moving away from me.  Kind of like standing in line at the grocery check out, there is always the person behind you that has to stand inside my comfort zone and I want to get through the line and away from the pressure FAST!  The speed and amount of pressure that I put on the bubble will dictate how fast or slow they will move away from me.  The bubble for each animal is different.  Some cows I have to get within a few feet before they respond to the pressure (they do not see me as a threat and are comfortable with me being close) others if I am 30 feet from them that is too close.  So a handler has to be able to read the cows mind and they don't tell ya what they are thinking.  Cattle also have a balance point, this is another imaginary line that runs through both their shoulders and out to the side of them.  If I position myself in front of their shoulder they will back away from me, if I move to behind the shoulder they will move forward.  So I can move a cow forwards, backwards , left and right just by where I position myself or in last nights case Me and Coal or Mark and the 4-Wheeler.  Our goal is to always handle the cattle as calmly and smoothly as possible my applying light pressure to their bubble and then immediately releasing the pressure when they move the way we want them to.  It is like rewarding a child for being good at the grocery store with a piece of candy at the check out, but not allowing them any reward if they did not behave properly. 
Excellent Diagram of the Flight/Fight Zone and Point of Balance!!

We went late in the evening, when it was cooler.  Cattle don't like to move when it is hot, and they could over heat and get really stressed or sick.  So we head out to the neighbors and find the cows within 1/2 mile of our gate!  Excited about that because they could have been over a mile away!!  Found the cow and calf and start to sort them out of the neighbors herd and push them toward our fence.  The calf wanted to stay and play with his new friends and it took several attempts but we finally got the family headed the right direction.  We got within 2 feet of the gate and the calf decided that he wanted to go right and momma wanted to go left.  So we spent some more time getting them back together.  Cattle are herd animals and do not like be alone so we wanted to take them together.  Also we wanted to make sure that mom and baby knew where each other was and didn't go through more fence to find each other.  The 2nd attempt at the gate they stoped just a foot from going through.  Here is where the stand off began and patients and luck were going to be the only thing to help us now.  Mark blocked 1 escape route while I had the other.  And we stood still and waited.  The calf is standing with his head in the gate way looking at our cows on the other side.  Momma is standing with her butt to the gate way staring me and Coal down.  I kind a felt like I was in a gun fight in the old west just without the old dirt street, and a colt 45 on my hip!!!  We watched each other waiting for the other to draw (or move).  The cow is now hot and angry from being moved and her flight instint has kicked in over her flight instint.  Applying pressure now would only blow things up and result in an unsuccessful evening.  I think 1 of the most important lessons I have ever learned is to pick your battles wisely and only pick a fight you know that you can win with 100% certanty.  So we squared off for at least 20 minutes it could have been longer.  We waited for her to catch her breath, calm down, and realize that we were not going to chase her.  Once she calmed down we moved toward her a few inches or a foot at a time and releasing the pressure as soon as she moved toward the gate.  She eventually had backed up far enough that she and baby were in our pasture.  So I turned my horse sideways to block more of the gate way and finished pushing her away enough we could shut the gate.  Patients and good cattle handling techique (and probably a little luck) paid off and the family walked calmly down the hill and joined back up with their other herdmates.  Sorry I didn't take any pictures while we were in the stand off at the corner of Gate Street and Pasture Ave.  But I drew you a couple pictures and there is a reason I did not go to Art School!
I Know Stick Figures!!  But here we are in the stand off, guns locked and loaded!!  haha

Coal and I are blocking the Gate like Professionals!!!  Mark was getting the gate.... that is the next caption after he got off the 4-Wheeler!!  Haha

July 12, 2011

Skinny Cow or Fat Cow

 I seem to get my inspiration of topics for the blog from posting on facebook or other blogs from non-ag people questioning what we do.  I find that it is not their fault for not understanding what we do as farmers and rancher to put safe food on their table and give our livestock the care and respect they deserve.  I feel that it is my job as a farmer/rancher to educate those who have been so far removed from agriculture and help them understand that what is black and white to them may be pink and blue to me and that there is a purpose behind it.  Today I was reading some posts on a Humane Watch post about how Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and several local Animal Shelters have publicly announced that they are against what HSUS (Humane Society of America) is about and their agendas.  There was a video shown on the news cast of some cows and calves in a corral having a good time with all the out of normal attention they were getting with the film crew.  One of the comments stated that they couldn't believe that those cows were so skinny and starved looking.  I looked at the cows again and based on my research oriented mind set and first hand experience raising beef cattle thought that the cattle were to be in really good condition and extremely healthy.  I wrote back and gave my professional opinion as a daily care giver to a herd of cattle, explained the Body Condition Score System and the importance of not OVER or UNDER Feeding cattle.  There is a fine line between a cow that is too thin and a cow that is too fat.  A cow that is either too fat or to thin will have many problems from the begining of the life cycle (having normal estrus cycles to become pregnant) all the way to giving birth to a live healthy calf safely for both the cow and newborn calf.  We expect our cows to give birth to a calve every 12 months.  In order for them to be able to do this they have to give birth, heal up from the birthing process, and become able to conceive another calf approximately 3 months after giving birth.  All the while she is also producing milk for the calf at her side.  This requires a me to provide my cows detailed and good nutrient management plan including the right amount of protein, energy, vitamins, minerals and water at each stage of her production cycle.  Thin cows will have a harder time calving do to the lack of energy, their calves tend to be slow to get up and nurse, the cows colostrum (first milk that provides the calf with his first shot of immunization and quick energy and protein) is of lower quality, and these cows struggle to get themselves back into shape to be able to physiologically conceive another calf 3 months later.  The only way to help these cows is to feed them a lot of protein and energy after they have calved to increase their body weight to a productively stable weight.  If we feed them too much protein and energy before the calve in the 3rd trimester, the cows body will give the extra nutrients to her unborn calf and the calf can become too large for a safe birth.  Cows that are too fat also have the same problems of difficult births due to both fat build up in the pelvic area and calves that tend to be extremely larger than desired, the larger calves are often lethargic and do not thrive well with out extra care.  These cows also have a hard time being able to breed back with in 3 months, may be more do to the hormone imbalances that are created from the extra fat (fat tissue releases hormones that can interfere with reproductive hormones) and the extra fat around the reproductive system doesn't help matters. 
This picture shows the areas of the cow where we look for condition.  Condition is a subjective measurement of how much tissue (fat and muscle) cover the skeletal system.   Along with distinguishing if the cover is fat or muscle.
    Through science and research, scientist have come up with a Body Condition Score System which ranges from 1 to 9 with 1 being a cow that is so thin she is nearly deceased and a 9 being fatter than a steer ready for harvest.  Research has show that the most reproductively efficient cows are in a body score between 5 and 6 at the time that they give birth.  Some ranchers (including myself) prefer their first calf heifers (cows that have not had a calf yet) to be closer to the 6 at birth.  These younger heifers are still growing themselves and they respond better if they have more condition.  Research has shown accurately that maintaining your cow herd at a 5 to 6 body score the cows will have a higher probability of having less difficulty giving birth safely (both for the cow and calf), have better quality colostrum, produce more milk for the nursing calf, and re-breed timely to calve 365 days after the last calf.  Here come the pictures!

Body Score of 2.  Notice the thin nature of the cow, you can see her hip bones, ribs, back bone and front shoulder.  There is very little muscle tone in her hind legs, and along her back.  Her hair is also not clean and shiney looking either.

Body Score 5.  Cows in ideal condition will have a smooth look to them, you can not see individual rib or back bones, she doesn't have a lot of fat under her neck or brisket area.  She also has good muscle tone in her back legs, shoulders and back.
Body Score 6.  She looks smooth like the 5 but there is some fat deposit around her tail, under her neck and in her flank area.  Still an ideal condition.
Body Score 7. Starting to loose the smooth appreance and is starting to have a "bubbly" appearance.  The "bubbly" parts are fat deposits and are noticable around her tail and neck/brisket area.

Body Score 9.  The bubbly appearance gets worse!  You can see she has started to show fat deposits in her belly, shoulder, and hip areas along with the tail and neck areas.  It also takes a lot of $$ in feed to keep cows this heavy and is not economically efficient.
 At our farm/ranch we body condition score our cattle 3 times a year.  We look at each cow and give her a score and them and average them together to get our herd average.  We average the mature cows (3 yrs old and older) as 1 group and the first calf heifers (2 yrs old) as a separate group.  We score them right before they calve (Late February), again at weaning (5-6 months later, Sept), and when check the cows for pregnancy (Late Nov/Dec).  This tells us if we are doing a good job with our nutrition program.  Our goals are to have the mature herd average 5.25-5.5 before calving, 5 at weaning and 5.5 at pregnancy diagnosis.  The heifers we expect to see a 6 before calving, 5.25 at weaning, and back to a 5.5-6 at pregnancy diagnosis.  We want the cows to put some weight back on late fall after the calves have been weaned so that they can successfully make it through our cold snowy winters while minimizing the amount of extra feed needed to keep them looking good!!

July 1, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

Trying to stay cool on a 100+ degree day

Baby Porcupine thought he could hide!!  But I got his picture!!