December 23, 2011

Shipping Calves

Shipping calves to the feedlot seems like such an easy task.  Shipping our calves to the feedlot is a little more complex than loading them on the trailer, driving to the feedlot, unloading them, getting our check and driving to the bank.  The whole process of delivering our steers actually started in August when we contracted them to the feedlot.  The cattle buyer/feedlot rep came out looked at the calves in July when they were still with their moms and grazing the green pastures.  We sat at the kitchen table and went through the vaccination, mineral, and feed the calves would have recieved by the time they enter the feedlot in December.  We provide the feeder with all the informantion of the calf from the time they are born till the time they walk off the trailer including birth dates, vaccination/wormer and dates given, breed of the calves, what they will weigh in Dec (estimate), and brand or other identification of the calf.  We sign the contract saying that we are providing correct and accurate information and that we can be held accountable if we did not do what we said we did with out notification to the buyer.  We will negotiate a price for the calves based on the info provided and keep up our end of the bargain till we deliver the calves.  When we set up our delivery date in August we designated a 10 day window when we can deliver the calves.  When we get close to the window the cattle rep calls and we decide on a date based on our needs and the feedlot needs.  This allows us to avoid shipping during blizzards and gives the feedlot time to plan on having a pen ready for our calves. 
The day we ship we MUST have the calves brand inspected by a state brand inspector.  He verifies that this group of calves is in fact our calves, they have our brand on them in a desigated area on the calf and that they are not stollen and gives the new owner proof that they now own the calves.  We pay for this inspection to be done along with the beef check off.  The beef check off is a producer run program that charges beef producers $1 for every bovine sold.  This money goes to fund research, marketing of beef (you've heard the commercials with Sam Elliots voice or now Mathew McConaughey) and other programs that support the beef industry.  Once the inspector gives us the brand release that signifies that we provided proof of ownership of the calves and we give him a couple of checks the calves are loaded and transported to the feedlot.  We are lucky in that we live on the boarder of 2 counties that are in the top 10 in Nebraska in feedlot capacity and numbers.  Our calves don't spend long hours traveling to their destination.  In fact they will be on the trailer for about 1 hour only about 40 miles.  They get weighed, unloaded, and moved to pen for processing.  Even though they have 3 rounds of vaccine before leaving the ranch it common practice to give them another booster to help their immunity as they are acclimated to eating a diet high in corn and corn bi-product (distillers), mixed with other calves from different ranches, and moved to a new home.  Because we have already done a lot of the work at the ranch our calves have a lower risk of getting sick and do a better job of handling the stress of moving to a new home.  It is kind of like the first day of school, you mix a whole bunch of kids that have been in their own environment for the summer together and week into the new school year 75% of the students have a cold or the flu.  Our goal is to prevent this through building the calves immune system from birth to harvest.  The stress of this move will be minimal as we have already acclimated the calves to alot of the things they will experience in the feedlot. They know that feed now comes from a truck or wagon and it is all mixed together.  They know how to drink from automatic water tanks and are use to living in a pen and know that when the weather turns bad and pens get wet the manure pile is the dry place to sleep.  We will turn in all the paper work with the feedlot collect our check and head home.  We don't just forget about them once we drive away.  We will get data back on the calves in the summer after they have been harvested and that data helps us make better management decisions for future calves. 
The last trailer load standing in the barn waiting
to get their turn. 

Yesterday morning we woke up to a skiff of snow but under that snow was a sheet of ice.  This always makes travel difficult and more stressful, but add a trailer and 13000 lbs of calves and it becomes even more stressful.  By the 2nd trip the sun was out, the county and state had been out and salted the really bad spots.  This year we were blessed with the effects of the feed and management changes we have made in the last 18 months being positive and also great weather.  We blew our target weight out of the water by 72 lbs!!  As we continue to improve the performance and production of the herd we will continue to learn and get better at predicting "normal".  I think we were all excited to see the calves perform up to the standard that we are holding them to.  They should perform well in the feedlot and we definately look forward to getting the data back and know exactly how they did.   

Unloaded and ready to be moved to their new pen.

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