June 15, 2012

Headed to Greener Pastures

There is no doubt that spring time is my favorite time of the year and I love having the baby calves around the yard so I can watch them play in the evenings.  I have determined that the sight of baby calves playing will ALWAYS put a smile on your face.  No matter how tough the day or how tired I am I will always find myself smiling while watching them race, buck, butt heads together or fight with the dirt!!  Not sure who wins at dirt fighting but it is always great watching them rub their heads in the dirt and beller at it like they are going to stomp a hole in it.  Their playful antics is a sign that they are happy and healthy and that in itself is something to smile about not to mention they are soooo darn cute running with their tails in the air or dirt all over their faces.  As much as I am happy to have them close to the yard I am ready for them to leave and head to their summer vacation homes. 

During the winter and early spring we provide the cows with all the nutrients that they need.  It is kind of like a buffet in Las Vegas, the feed line is not very far away and it is almost all you can eat.  For some reason the good stuff on the buffet doesn't last long!!!  During the winter and spring our grasses are dormant (not actively growing) and do not provide enough nutrients to sustain a cow in late stages gestation or early lactation.  We spend a few hours every evening mixing hay and distillers grain together and checking the mineral feeders and water tanks to make sure that they have all the feed and nutrients they need to maintain their body weight during this time of high requirements and provide for their new calves.  So after a couple months of hauling feed out to them I am ready for them to use the tools (4 strong legs, a mouth full of teeth, and a rumen to digest all the forage) given to them to harvest their own feed.  We have 3 pastures between 10 and 45 miles away from the house.  We will sort the cows and calves to each pasture by several criteria (age of cow, quality of cow which also determines which bull goes where, age of calf, and disposition of the cow).  We have 1 pasture that has a lake in the middle and a fresh water canal, we put the older cows (don't have to travel far for water) there and the cows that we tend to not keep replacement heifers from.  The bulls that go to that pasture generally are better at making calves suited for the feedlot.  Another pasture is really hilly with rough cedar canyons and we put the younger more athletic cows there and the cows that have a very calm disposition.  Wild cows are not allowed to go there under no circumstance because getting them gathered back up in the fall is a night mare.  The 3rd pasture is closest to the yard and is a really good pasture so the majority of the cows that go there are high contenders to pick replacement heifers from.  They are also the calmer disposition ones as well, this is by default because attitude is a quality we look for in replacement heifers.  The bulls we put there are geared more toward producing breeding stock but still have good feeding qualities as well. 
This weekend we started hauling the pairs out to grass.  Here is where having a clear tagging system (see last weeks post) makes things go better.  We want to make sure that we take matched pairs to the pasture.  If we messed up and didn't take 1 cow's calf or took a calf but not it's mother we would have a huge mess and we would have to go back and gather them up and correct the mistake.  This is stressful for both cattle and the care givers maybe more for me as I know I probably would panic if this happened.  This is where having only 1 number for each pair of animals really comes in handy.  Sorting the pairs out is kind of like the game of memory where you have a bunch of cards with different pictures and you have to match the 2 that look alike but with a twist.  When you pick 2 cards that don't match you flip them over and leave them in the same spot.  When standing in a group of 100 cows and 100 calves going in 200 different directions finding the matches takes some patients and skill!!!!  After we sort off the pairs we double check the matches as they go into the barn, then I triple check the matches as they are loaded on the trailers.  

The calves are ready to be loaded in the front of the trailer and
these 2 cows will be in the back compartment. 

 We usually haul out with 2 pickups hooked to 2 stock trailers.  1 trailer gets loaded with all cows and the other gets calves loaded in the front half and cows in the back half.  We keep them separate on the drive to prevent any cows from accidentally stepping on a calf and either injuring or killing it.  It is all about the safety!!!  When at the pasture we unload both trailers and hold them together for a few minutes to makes sure that they "pair up" (mothers find babies and babies find mothers).  Once they are paired up and everybody is aware that their other half made the trip we open the gates and summer vacation begins!  They will stay on these pastures till fall when we wean the calves and move the cows back to the corn fields.

We work hard all winter to take good care of them and all they can do is turn their
back side to us when we give them green grass!!! 

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