September 30, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

I think this calf took the biggest mouth full of hay possible!

I was headed to check the bulls, Tekan ran ahead of me to the shop.  This is where I found her...  I think she was excited about the 4-wheeler ride.
3 of the 6 bulls grazing as the sun was setting.

I stopped at the house for a jacket, Tekan refused to get off the 4-wheeler...  She was telling me she was not going to get left behind!! 

September 29, 2011

Weaning Part IV - And the process Continues

We have had some really pretty music around our place for the past week and it was getting quiet at the end of last week, but we weaned some more calves again this weekend.  The calves we weaned last weekend have been moved into the pen outside the shed and are adjusting well to their new feed and life without their moms.  The new group in the shed, are not so quiet, yet.  We have been watching the calves pretty close several times each day to make sure nobody is getting sick and that everybody is eating.  One of the most important components to help calves fight the stress of weaning is feed.  If you can get the calves to the bunk and keep feed going in they will have a better chance of handling the stress without getting sick.  

Supper Time!

We are teaching them that food is now found it the bunk and not under the cow or on the pasture ground.  I don't just put the distillers in the bunk and head back to the house.  The first few days I will put the distillers in the bunk and then walk behind all of the calves in the pen and nudge them in the direction of the bunk.  Letting their herd instinct and curiosity get them the rest of the way to the bunk to see what their more eager friends have already figured out.  With in a day or 2 they all have it figured out and impatiently meet me at the bunk ready to eat.  A few nights ago we let the last bunch of calves out with the rest so all of them are getting reacquainted again it has been a few months since they might have seen a friend that went to a different pasture.  We will move them to the big pen over the weekend or first part of next week and then get them switched to a different feed ration.  They will stay as 1 group for a few more weeks until we re-vaccinate them again.  After we give them their 2nd round of weaning shots we will sort them by size into 2 groups.  They will stay in these groups till the replacement heifers are chosen and the big steers are shipped to the feedlot in December.

Couple of calves eating on the mineral tubs. 
 Weaning the group on Saturday didn't go as smooth as we had planned.  Cow #510 is now on my you know what list permanently and she will not be going back to that pasture again!!!  That pasture is really rough with what we in Nebraska call Cedar Canyons which are steep hills with lots of Western Red Cedar Trees growing on the sides.  Lets just say that 510 tested mine and my horses "cowboy" ability several times and lost.  She put up a good fight making me pull out some "Man from Snowy River" (If you haven't seen the move, you need to watch it) type leaps of faith off steep drop offs and Coal had to climb 1 hill that I am sure mountain goat would be at home on.  But at the end of the day she made it to the catch pen, her calf is now at the house, and Coal got a little bit of special care (he got to sleep in the barn and an extra scoop of grain).  Sorry no Pictures of that, I didn't think that was the best time to pull out the camera phone for group Foto!  I may have to look into a video camera for my horses headstall!!  I am not sure I am looking forward to gathering her in about 45 days when we start moving cows off summer pasture to the corn stalk fields.  Maybe she will have learned her lesson by then.
Sunday when much smoother with the last group.  There are few old cows in that group that still haven't figured out the my horse has cat like reflexes and they can not get by him.  Even if the did get by him, his secret weapon is the ACME rockets that he isn't afraid of using.  But weaning went smooth and with in 3 hrs we were gathered, sorted, and had all the calves and 2 bulls loaded.  Weaning is now over and we are onto the next big task of harvesting corn and getting things ready for winter.  The best part is our calves averaged 48 lbs heavier than a year ago!!!

The last 3 loads of calves, bulls, and horses headed for home!!

September 23, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

View of the top of the hill from the bottom of the hill.  Coal and I were following the final few cows to the catch pen

Sorting out the last few calves from the cows.

Cow and calves in the catch pen, already loaded some of the calves.
Calves waiting to get vaccinated and wormed.

September 22, 2011

Weaning Part III - Weaning has begun...

Saturday we officially began weaning our calves.  Our plan for the weekend was messed up by the weather.  I have learned 1 thing with farming/ranching the weather will mess everything up all the time and there is NOTHING I or anybody else can do about it.  So we called a time out, huddled around the QB and came up with a new play.  I do live in the land that bleeds Husker Red and Saturday was game day.....  Original plan meet my sister at the pasture at 8 am, with horses saddled and ready to go, wean and work those calves then Sunday wean another pasture.  Woke up Sat morning to thick fog, and I don't mean the fog that just makes it a little hazy I mean the fog that you can't see 10 feet in front of you!!  So we decided that to wait for the fog to lift.  At 9 am gave up on fog leaving and saddled horses anyway. 

Coal - waiting to get in the trailer
We got the cows and calves gathered in the catch pen and sorted off all the calves and loaded them onto the trailers. 
Gathering in the Fog. 

We haul the calves to a near by dairy that has a ground scale and we weigh each trailer load of calves.  We want to know what our calves weigh in order to make feed and other management decisions.  We also sorted off the 2 bulls and brought them back home.  They have been with their ladies for 90 days now it is time to go back to the "bachelor" pasture for the next 9 months.  Must be nice to only have to work 3 months out of the year.  After the calves and bulls were loaded we turned the cows back out to the pasture.  Once we weigh the calves we take them to my husbands boss' place to work the calves.  Unfortunately we do not have good enough facilities (our work in progress) to make this task as stress free as possible and his boss' facilities are really nice. 

Once all the calves are unloaded, Mark and I ran them through the chute and gave them their first weaning vaccine and wormed them.  We use a chute to hold the calves because it is safer for the calves and us and it allows us to give the vaccine correctly. 
The boss' nice hydraulic chute.  We are able to
adjust it so that it fits the calves to safely
restrain the calves.

They are only in the chute for about 10 seconds and before they are released to rejoin their friends.  The wormer is a topical that we spray on their backs (gets rid of both internal and external parasites).  Once the calves are worked we loaded them back on the trailers and they traveled the final 5 miles of the day back to our place.  We are fortunate enough to have a big open front shed to put the calves in.  Once they were unloaded a fresh bale of grass hay and a tank full of fresh clean water was waiting for them in the shed.  They will spend a couple of days in the shed before we give them access to the pen in front of the shed.  They will get to spend a week or so in the pen and shed before we move them to the bigger pens.  We want to make sure they are adjusted to their new environment before we put them in a bigger area.   After we finished on Saturday with this group of calves we had to huddle up again and re-do the plan for Sunday.  We even got done soon enough to watch the 2nd half of the husker game on the TV instead of listening to it on the radio!!  The pasture we were going to wean on Sunday is on a minimum maintenance road which means when it rains you can only get down the road by 4-wheeler, horse or your own 2 feet.  So we will have to get them next Saturday.
This steer was in the chute a little longer so I could get his picture.  The chute has a neck extender on it to prevent the calf from throwing his head around and risking injury to himself or me (remember the picture from a few weeks ago, my cheek bone still hurts).  It also gives us good access to his neck to give the vaccine (or other medications) properly. 

September 19, 2011

Weaning Part II - Preparation

We didn't just starting thinking about weaning yesterday.  We have beening thinking about it since we pregnancy checked our cows last December (5 months before the calves we wean this week were even born).  But the last couple of weeks we have been getting prepared for having calves back at the yard and getting back into the feeding chores everday again.  Some things that we have been working on to make sure we are ready to start taking care of the calves include:
1 - Vaccine and Health supplies - Just like calving time there are medical supplies you hope to never need to use but always glad you have it when you need it.  In my last post I talked about the vaccination protocol we use at weaning time.  We have consulted our veterinarian, the veterinarian the feedlot we sell our calves to uses, internet research, and other tools to put together what we feel is the best combination of vaccines and wormers to achieve our goals.  Goal number 1 is alway Prevent as much illness and disease as possible.  Goal number 2 is use the right antibiotic properly (according to BQA guidelines, FDA regulations, and recommendations of our Vet) to get the best and fastest recovery if a calf gets sick. 
2 - Fixing Fence - We have an on going project to replace our exhisting facilities with new, better, stronger, safer fences and handling facilities.  This is a project that will probably never be over after 1 stretch of fence is rebuilt there will always be another spot that needs help.  We have started with some of the worse fence that is located in the areas that tend to get used the most.  Fence is expensive so we only put up as much as we can afford at a time. 

Newly hung gate and section of continous fence!!
 3 - Feed - We have been working all summer to bale enough hay to feed the cattle all winter.  We have taken extra care to make sure that we have some really good grass hay to wean the calves on.  We are transitioning them from grazing pastures and nursing their mothers to eating hay and distillers.  The grass hay is similar to what the calves have been eating on pasture it is just cut and in a easy to access package.  We also feed distillers grain (a product from producing ethanol from corn) which is a great source of protein, energy, and minerals.  We get our distiller delivered from the ethanol plant that I work for prior to getting calves moved to the yard.  We also use a mineral tub that contains high levels of vitamin/minerals that boost immune function and help the calf stay healthy during the stressful part of weaning.
Mineral Tub used at weaning
4 - Feed Rations - We are lucky in the fact that I have my degree in cattle nutrition so instead of hiring a nutrition consultant to make sure our cattle diets are balance to provide everything the animals need as cost effectively as possible we save a little money and I do all of the nutrition work myself.  I balance the diets the calves will be fed prior to weaning.  Once we are done with weaning they may be changed a little bit based on what the calves weighed at weaning.  Feed sheets and ration mixes are already on the clip board in the tractor for Mark.  He keeps track of what we feed and how much we feed to each group of cattle everyday.

We weaned the first bunch on Saturday.  Next post will have pictures and Part III of weaning! 

September 16, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

1 new continous fence panel and gate installed!!

Here are a couple of signs Fall is here.  Part of land management is also wildlife management.  Wildlife if allowed to overpopulate can cause harm to the land they live on.  We manage the wildlife that lives on our farm through removing a few of them each year and putting their meat in our freezer feed us throughout the year.  The buck in the first picture is eating some mineral that we provide the deer.  Bucks shed their velvet in the fall.  Bow hunting season opened this week so I had to share a couple of the mature bucks we have living on our land.

September 13, 2011

Weaning Part 1

With the changing of seasons from summer to fall we will begin our fall routines sooner than we wanted.  It seems that we just sold the last of the calves and moved all of the cows and their calves to summer pasture.  Feeding chores were pretty much done with the exceptions of a few orphan calves and the horses.  Now we are preparing to start feeding all over again.  Weaning time is only a couple of weeks away (2 to be exact).  So we have 2 weeks to finish getting the pens cleaned, fences double and triple checked and pick up all of the supplies we will need to keep the calves healthy and as stress free as possible.  We wean our calves between 5-6 months of age.  For our area of the country we wean a little earlier than a lot people especially when you factor in we calve just a little later.  We have to do what works for our situation, resources, and available labor not just in the fall but throughout the whole year.  We wean early for several reasons.

She is no longer small enough to sleep in the bunk, but will soon be using them for their real purpose... eating!
 Reason 1 - Cow health and condition - The cows nutrient requirement is the highest when she is nursing a calf.  By late Sept our cows are nursing a calf that is 5-6 months old while at the same time she is in the first trimester of gestation and some cows will be entering the 2nd trimester.  Pregnancy also increases the cows nutrient requirements.  By removing the calf that can survive on his/her own (with out mothers milk) we greatly reduce the amount of nutrients the cow needs.  At this time of the year our grass has matured and is beginning to go dormant for the winter and consequently it provides less protein and energy than it did in the earlier summer months.  We try to match our cows needs to the feed that is available at different times of the year and at this time the grass does not meet all of her needs.  If we remove the nursing calf, the grass now is able to meet the cows needs.  In fact it will be more than the cow needs and she will be able to put a little extra weight on over the next month or 2.  We want to allow our cows to put on a little extra weight going into the winter as we can have some extreme cold temps and lots of snow.
2 - LABOR - As I have mentioned before we both work off the farm.  During particular times of the year Mark will put in 10-12 hrs a day at his boss's place and then come home to take care of our stuff.  The fall is 1 of those times, crops are being harvested and with harvest comes many long days.  Mark's boss "farms" Mark out with a semi and grain trailer to another local farmer who does a lot of custom harvesting.  I only know that he is still alive because there will be dirty dishes in the sink and a new pile of filthy cloths by the washing machine in the morning.  Weaning our calves before this happens insures that I have help to get them wean, vaccinated, and hauled home.  It also gives us a few weeks to get the calves adjusted and acclimated to their new pens, feed, and friends.  Once harvest starts the calves will be in the big pens and set up that I can care for them relatively easily by myself.
3 - Feed resources - I have talked about putting up hay for winter use.  If we left the calves on the cows longer we would most likely have to feed our cows more in the winter as they would not be prepared to graze the cornfields (after harvest) with out the use of supplemental protein and energy.  This would require us to purchase additional hay which is expensive.  The calves eat a lot less feed a day and because of their youth are much more efficient at converting that feed to pounds of calf than a mature cow.  A cow will consume as much as 30-35 lbs of hay each day where our calves will eat about 10-12 lbs a day.
4 - Buyers Preference - Any time you change anything in an animals life it will create some stress.  We strive to minimize the stress that our cattle have to deal with.  We choose management practices that work both economically and induce the least amount of stress as possible.  Some stress such as weather we can't control we can only minimize the effects it has on our livestock.  Weaning is stressful and we can minimize this stress by weaning the calves at our farm instead of shipping them direct to the feedlot at weaning.  Traditionally calves were removed from the cow, hauled to the sale barn in town, sorted, sold, co-mingled with calves from other ranch, then hauled to the feedlot fed a feed they are not use to and processed (vaccinated and wormed).  We remove all of the last sentence except for the removing the calves from their mothers, vaccination/worming, and a short haul to the yard.  The more stress we minimize the less risk for illness and injury.  By the time our calves are moved to the feedlot or heifer development program, they are ready to enter that stage of their life, they have all the vaccine needed to help protect them and they have been slowly adapted to succeed once they enter the feedlot.  By investing the time, extra feed, extra vaccine and care our buyers pay us more for our calves to cover these extra expenses.  They want calves that have been given all the tools to succeed in the feedlot (or heifer development program) and that have been care for with the least amount of stress in their life.
5 - Range Pasture Management - We want to raise cattle and corn with little to no impact on the environment we use to do so.  By removing the calves we reduce the amount of grass that is removed from the pasture.  This helps to prevent over grazing.  Over grazing leads to increase of weed species in our pastures, soil erosion, decreased water holding capacity of the soil, and lower quality diets for our cattle that graze them. 

Had some good practice eating out of a bunk a few months ago!!
These are only the top 5 reasons for weaning when we do and using the weaning strategies that we do.  There are many other factors that also effect our decision but that is for another day as well as other weaning strategies that could work some day down the road.  Be sure to check back as Part 2 (Weaning Preparation) will be posted soon.

September 9, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

Bred Heifers Checking me out and showing off their shiney new Tags!!

More of the Bred Heifers exploring the new pasture we just moved them into!

Sub-irrigated Meadow in the Nebraska Sandhills.  Late Aug and the hills are still pretty and green!! 

September 2, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

No matter how tame and calm our cattle are, we have to remember they are bigger and stronger.

Sorry for the fuzziness I was try'n to stand on my toes to get the pic.  But our vet is ultrasounding 1 of the heifers.

For some reason I am able to get lots of pictures of calves smelling the 4-wheeler.  They are now taller than the racks on teh 4-wheelers now.

September 1, 2011

Big day for our Heifers

Tuesday was a "big" day for our replacement heifers (the heifers we chose to keep back to replace the older cows in the herd).  In fact I look at it as a Mile Stone in their life, one that could be compared to a teenager going off to college and becoming who they will be as an adult.  Tuesday was the day that we pregnancy checked our heifers.  Those who were lucky enough to be pregnant shed there calf tag they have been wearing for the past 15-16 months and were given their "big" girl tags.  I look at this day as a mile stone in their life because the results of the day's test will dictate what this heifers life holds for her.  She will either be kept at the farm and eventually transitioned into the main cow herd where her life (the next 10 yrs or so) will be hanging out on the pastures and corn fields and raising the next generation of calves or she will be sold to the feedlot where she will help feed the world. 
328 wearing her calf tag.  She is on pasture in this picture last summer.  4-5 months old
Development of our heifers didn't just start Tuesday.  Careful planning, nutrition, health program protocols, genetics, and many other factors that get us to yesterday started before the heifer was even conceived.  Here is a quick time line of the heifer in the above picture 328.  She was born April 27, of last year.  At birth she was given a calf tag (smaller than the cow tags) which has the exact same number as her mother.  This tag even though it only has 3 number on it tells us important information.  Probably the most important of that info is who her mommy is this insures we move matched pairs (cow and calf) to pasture together and don't get them mixed up.  She is tagged in her left ear which tells us at a glace she is a she and not a he.  It also tells me her mother was born in 2003.  328 lived with her mom out on pasture till late Sept when she was weaned and hauled back to our yard.  She recieved her 1st round of vaccine (to help protect her from many viral and bacterial diseases) in May before she was moved to summer pasture.  In Sept/Oct she was then vaccinated twice (3 weeks apart), she was also wormed to get rid of any external or internal bugs that could be using her as a host to their life.  She was sorted into 1 of 2 pens (based on size) and fed a complete diet of hay, distillers grain, and mineral.  In December she along with 16 of her herd mates were chosen to be the heifers to be bred for replacement.  They were then put into a pen together and fed the same feed ingrediets to target 1.5 to 2 lbs/day weight gain.  It is important to grow the heifer big enough to give her every oportunity to become pregnant but not too big or fat because obese heifers have lower fertility.  In April 328 was turned out into our creek bottom to graze some new green grass that was starting to grow and some left over grass from last year.  May 30th we moved the heifers to a different pasture and turned the bull in with them.  5 days later we gathered them and gave them a shot of prostaglandin (hormone used to sycronize estrus) in order to "group" up the 17 heifers' heat cycles.  We want the heifers to concieve as close together as possible.  This allows them to calve in a relatively short period of time giving us a little more sleep at night.  We breed our heifers to start calving about 15 days prior to the mature cows.  This allows us to have most of the extreme babysitting done by the time the cows really get started.  On July 17 (45 days later) we moved the heifers to a new pasture and left the bull behind.  Don't worry he wasn't lonely he had a few cows to hang out with still.  We waited another 45 days which brings us to Tuesday, preg checking day.  
Sorry I didn't get any good pics of the vet ultrasounding the heifers.  But this is what the machine looks like.

With the use of an ultra sound machine our vet is capable of not only detecting if the heifer is pregnant or not but how far along in the pregnancy she is.  The machine is very similar to the ones used for humans.  The use of ultra sound allows us to evaluate if our breeding program is working like we expect and gives us some marketing options on any of the open (not pregnant) heifers.  The heifers are also sprayed with fly spray to help them stay more comfortable as we are getting to the time of year where flys are relentless and given their first scour guard vaccine.  We use this vaccine to aid in preventing scours (diarrhea) in our baby calves and we are able to vaccinate the cow and that immunity is passed from mother to baby inside the uterus.  We have to give the vaccine twice to cows or heifers who have never received the vaccine before and then they will get a booster every spring before they start calving.  These heifers will get their 2nd shot when we vaccinate the cows next spring.  We removed the calf tags that the heifers were given 15 months ago at birth and replace them with 2 (1 in each ear) cow tags (larger than the calf tag) which is their new permanent identification number.  This 3 digit new number will belong to each heifer as long as she stays in our herd.  We put 2 tags in because they tend to loose them sometimes and it gives us a back up tag to make sure we always know who is who.  The first digit of the number is the last number in the year the heifer was born.  328 was born in 2010 so her new number is 034.  Now the heifers will hang out on another pasture until we get ready to move the main cow herd to cornstalk fields for winter grazing. 
Our conception rate goal is 90-95%.  This year we had 100% pregnant heifers so they all get to stay on the farm for now.  WOOHOO !!!
001 formerly know as baby 455 is patiently wait to rejoin her friends.