July 26, 2012

Fire Pictures Part 3

If you don't have a horse a pick up works too!

These heifers have probably never seen fire fighters or any human in head to toe yellow suits... but they look to be cooperating and the firemen look to be keeping the girls nice a calm as they work their way out of harms way.

Pretty sure there has been many 4-wheelers used to help gather and move cattle.  They work great when you need to be able to cover a lot of country fast to find cattle.  Don't get me wrong a horse is a great tool but you don't have to worry about filling a 4-wheelers lungs with smoke and they don't get tired and need rest either...

You can see the burned area in the far background as this herd is moved away from the fire line.

You can see how dry the road is as the cattle kick up lots of dust.

Not only has the grass the cattle graze been burned so has many stacks of hay that was stored to feed the cattle when the snow covers the ground this winter.

Big thanks to the Orphan Grain Train for their support

If you are looking for a place to donate, The American Red Cross is a great place to start!!!!

July 25, 2012

Fire Pictures Part 2

I bet near the fire it is hard to breathe from the smoke and the lack of oxygen which the fire is consuming.

To a wore out fire fighter or soldier these probably look as good as a suite at the Hilton!

4-wheelers with water tanks and sprayer wands are great to get in the places the big trucks and equipment can't get to!!  Big or small all help matters...

1 of the many donated pick-up loads of water for the workers!!!

Fire line right up to the back door

Refilling 1 of the many fire fighting rigs on site!

I could not imagine coming home to see this.  Everything scorched except the house... Someone did one heck of a job saving this home!!!!

July 24, 2012

Pictures from the Fire near Nordon, Ne

I know 2 posts in 1 day are not normal for me but this is too good not to share.  Thanks to a high school friend of mine who married into a family ranch near the Nordon area I was able to get a hold of some really great pictures (taken by an area resident) of the fire that started Friday night and has destroyed over 90,000 acres of ranch country in Nebraska.  My heart sank and our prayers and thought go thoughts to my friend's family and the many other families of that community that have lost so much.  My friends family was lucky as everyone is safe, the cattle were moved to safety thanks to some friends and neighbors, and their ranch buildings and home was spared.  Stay tuned all week as I was able to get lots of great pictures and will be sharing them the rest of this week.  It is a great testament to the ranchers, volunteers, and firefighters that are working hard to not only stop the fire but keep everyone and the livestock safe.

Tankers are hauling water from town to the fire line so that the fire fighters can keep doing what they do.

Many pieces of farm machinery have been used to tear up the dry grass in front of the flames as a strategy to get the fire contained

Ranchers hurry to move cattle out of harms way.

Nebraska National guard are on site.  Soldiers are constantly fighting battles both over seas and here at home!!  Thank the soldiers for their sacrifice!!

1 of the 3 choppers that are hauling water to the fire.  Looks like the fire is way too close to this families ranch and home.

When Disaster Strikes Small Towns Pull Together

Fire fighters are lighting a back burn next to a path that the vegetation has been dozed out in an effort to contain the flames.

Even farm equipment (far left) is used to tear up the dry grass to contain the fire.  The tractor is pulling a large disk which chops up the grass and turns in in with the soil.

Fire fighters working to keeping the flames from jumping a state highway.

Little did the communities of North Central Nebraska realize that on Friday night history was about to be made.  A lighting strike north of Johnstown Nebraska started a wildfire.  Since that time reports are saying over 90,000 acres of rural prairie and river beds have been burnt to a black crisp.  It is being said that this may be the biggest wild fire Nebraska has ever seen.  Not a record you really want to break.  Firefighters from over 200 miles away in other small rural communities have hurried in to help control the blaze.  They are working through record temperatures (well over 100 degrees), very strong winds and rough terrain.  The Nebraska National Guard and Red Cross are also on the scene to help fight the fire and provide food and water to the hot and exhausted fire fighters, local ranchers, and anyone else on scene to help put the flames out and work tirelessly to help move livestock to safety and save homes and farm structures.  I was in the Dr.'s office yesterday morning and the nurse said her parents filled the back of their pickup with bottled water and the back seat with food and took it up be distributed to the crews working the fire.  Food and drinks are being donated for communities 100+ miles away from fire not because they have to but because the people want to.
Even in the middle of this disaster, ranchers are still work long hard hours to move their cattle to safety and out of the fires path.  They still care deeply for their livestock and work to assure they get to safety and have feed and water remain a top priority even when the temperatures are reaching well over 100 degrees and the smoke filled air makes it difficult to breathe.  Cattlemen and volunteers have moved many of the livestock ahead of the fires path to a safe pastures and catch pens where they have access to both feed and water or can be evacuated to safety.  Many ranchers have mixed their herds together as they cut fences and leave gates open.  At the end of all of this these ranchers will have to sort those cattle back apart and bring them home.  Here is another great example of when branding cattle will be worth it's weight in gold.  When you ride into a herd of several 1000 cows, calves, and bulls belonging many different ranchers finding your own is going to be a challenge.  The chance of several ranchers having the same tag color is highly likely.  The branded cattle will easily and quickly be claimed by the right full rancher.  Those who are not branded will take a lot of time, patients, and cooperation between the ranchers to determine which cattle belong where and the chances of some cattle not being returned to the right home is very high. 
Even in this disaster, there have been minimal injuries, no human deaths reported, and very minimal loss of farm structures and homes. 

July 17, 2012

Cattle Ranchers Working with Authorities Pays Off

In a post on "Why We Brand our Cattle" (posted July 10) I talked about the importance of protecting our livestock against cattle thieves and the critical role that branding played in keeping our livestock on our property and not in the trailer of a criminal.  Just this last week a cattle thief was caught hiding in Mexico and was extradited back to the US where he faces cattle theft charges (and probably several other charges) and will be held accountable for his wrong doings.  Thanks to the hard work and collaboration of local farmers/ranchers and law enforcement (local, state and federal) in several US States, justice will be served.  The use of social media helped to spread the word around the cattle industry to be on the look out for Ronald Shepard and who to contact if you had any information that may be useful locating him.


Here is a perfect example how well branding works to bring cattle home to those who care about them and helps to prosecute the criminal who steal them.  Had those cattle not had the brand of the real owners on them this man would have not been caught and brought to justice.


July 13, 2012

Farm Foto Friday

Sooooo Sleeeepy!!!!!  It is hard to stay awake when it is 105 degrees outside.

We have had to haul water to a couple of pastures because the windmills are not keeping up with the cows needs and the stock dams are empty.  The neighbor was trying to be helpful and start the water in our tank but forgot to shut the valve..... So when I got home to what I was expecting a full tank was sooo not the case...  Good news is my lawn got a little extra water.

July 10, 2012

Why we Brand our Cattle

The number 1 reason that we brand our cattle is to have permanent proof of who the rightful owner of them is.  I know when you here about cattle rustling you immediately think about cowboys riding horses across the prairie wearing bandannas, colt 45's and shooting any farmer or rancher who stood in their way of their thieving ways.  I find myself thinking that cattle rustling is a thing of the past but is is not.  Cattle rustling still happens especially when cattle prices are high and the reward vs. risk makes it very tempting to steal cattle.   But just like everything in life things don't really change that much, cattle rustling still happens it has just taken on a different image and the thieves have evolved to still try to evade the law.  Here are a few recent articles I think paints a pretty clear picture that the farmers of today are still faced with the same problem of cattle rustling as the farmers of the early 1900's. 




As cattle farmers we worry about our cattle getting in the hands of the wrong people and it is not just the economic loss of that animal but it is the fact that I work hard to keep them safe and meet all of their needs and would feel as though we failed them by not keeping them out of the hands of criminals.  Pretty sure a person with no respect of the owner of the livestock will have little to no respect for the animal as well.  We use tags to help ID our cattle as our own but a thief can run the cow through a chute, remove my tag and replace it with a different color, number, or style of tag and I would never know they had my cow unless there was some permanent mark on the animal.  Cattle theft is not just taking of the cattle and reselling them for the money.  It also includes "borrowing" the neighbors cow for a few years selling or keeping her calves and then returning her after she is past her prime productive years.  That is why it is so important to be able to know the difference between my cows and all of my neighbors cows.  Between all of our pastures and the main home location we have 14 + neighbors with cows bordering our fence lines.  All of them have primarily black cows (a couple of them may have a couple reds or Charolais cross cows) but for the most part the vast majority of them look very similar to our herd.  The only distinct difference is the tags in their ears (which can and do fall out) and the brands on their hips. 

Our OO7 cow was branded when she was a calf with our brand 2 years ago.  At 15 feet away you can clearly read the "Spear Y" brand on her right hip. 
  We live in the part of Nebraska that is a brand inspection area.  When ever I sell cattle directly off my farm, I am required to call our local brand inspector to come inspect the cattle BEFORE they are loaded on the truck.  He will look at each animal to be sold, give me shipping documents verifying the head count is correct and they all belong to us based on the proof of ownership (brands on the animals, calving records, and bill of sales and brand papers I received if that animal was purchased) he will also collect a fee for his work.  If I sell cattle at the sale barn there is a brand inspector on sight on sale day and every animal is looked at and ownership is verified.  If we sell an animal that was purchased we have to show the original brand inspection document I received at the time of purchase.  Cattle that have someone else's brand on them with out proof of ownership transfer will not be sold and the owner of the brand on that animal will be called to confirm that they sold that animal to the person attempting to sell it.  If that animal is was not sold then the original owner has to option of picking up their animal or selling it.  I had a good friend of mine who got a call from a brand inspector stating that they had a couple of cows with their brand on them at the local sale barn and the person attempting to sell them could not prove that they belonged to him.  She said that they had not sold the cows and would come get them.  They lost out on a few years worth of calves from those cows but they were able to get them back eventually.  So the system does work and cattle do get returned if the animal is wearing proof of who they belong to.
Brands themselves are numbers, letters, characters, or combinations of the 3 that are arranged together in a specific order.  They are read from top to bottom (like ours), left to right, or if circular outside to inside.  Usually farmers pick their brand to have some significant meaning about the family or ranch, their innitials, the abreviation of ranch name, spouces innitials, etc.  Our brand doesn't have any significant meaning.  When we where looking for a brand we picked 1 off the list of brands for sale through the Nebraska Brand Committe.  We chose it because we could put it on the same side as the brand that belongs to the guy we lease our cows from, it looked like it would not smear or "blotch" (be easy to apply and read later), and it looked "neat".  We have a brand registered with the State Brand Committee and have a specific place on the animal our brand can be place for that brand to represent us.  We can put our brand on the right side of the animal on the shoulder, rib or hip. Nobody else in the state has the same brand that can be located in the same locations on the animal. 

The Bull in the middle is the new bull we picked up a few weeks ago.  From about 60 feet away you can read the previous owners band ("reverse F H Quarter Circle") in the middle of his hip.  Our brand was placed directly above it about 1 hour before I took the picture.  The bull on the left has our brand on his hip that can also been seen from this distance.  The shave spots in the new bull's hair is from when the breeder ultra sounded him to measure how much fat he had and how big is rib-eye is.  (He scanned a 14.9 inch rib-eye - that is a plate full of beef)!!
  A perfect example of the importance of a permanent identification that can be easily read in a large pasture situation is the mystery bull we found in a pasture a few years ago.  It was the first year we rented the pasture, there are 6 other cattle owners that boarder this pasture and we had not gotten to know who they were yet.  I went out to check cows and discovered I had a bull that didn't belong to us.  He was not very nice and wouldn't let me get to close in fact he was down right pissed off.  I was able to take pictures of the brand on him.  When I got back to the house a quick search on the states brand website told me who he belonged to and the town the gentleman was from.  Another quick search on google and I had the guy's phone number.  Within not much time I could ID who the bull belonged to, get his contact info, and let him know I had his bull.  If that bull had no identification on him I would not have know which of the 6 pastures he needed to be returned to and chances are would have put him in the wrong pasture.

This heifer calf was branded about 2 weeks before the picture was taken.  From about 30 feet even on small calves our brand "Spear Y" is clearly readable!  She doesn't even notice it is there any more.
 We don't brand our cattle because we want to be cruel to our cattle.  We brand because we want to make sure they stay safe and out of the hands of the wrong people.  We use the smallest branding iron allowed by our state and place our brands (when possible) in locations that reduce the amount of discount on the sale of the hide that may happen due to excessive scaring.  We also do the majority of our branding in the early spring to minimize the impact of flys and reduce the risk of infection or sores. 

July 6, 2012

Farm Foto Friday

Step 1 - Drink lots of momma milk

Step 2 - Show off how much milk you can get on your face instead of in your belly!!!

Marks favorite calf this spring is growing into a pretty nice steer calf. 

Brand new back rub - We hang these in the pastures to help with fly control.  They are a foam filled cotton sock that we soak with a mixture of mineral oil and fly spray.  The cows and calves walk under it and the oil/spray mix gets on their back and helps keep the flys off.  The dangly things are cotton strips that will help apply the fly spray on their faces.  Flys spread disease and decrease weight gain do to blood loss and extra energy spent swish tails and stomping feet.  This helps keep our cows and calves comfortable.

July 5, 2012

Learning is an On Going Process

As we finished up calving a couple of weeks ago our steer calves from last year have been harvested.  Our 90 day calving window has come to a close and with that the last 2 cows that have been holding out finally let their calves come out to join the rest of the herd.  I was looking at the calendar the other morning and realized that that was the week that our steers that we delivered to the feedlot in December where scheduled to be harvested.  The fruits of our labor (the first 8-9 months of their lives) and the feedlots (the last 6 months) will be realized and the amount of information and knowledge that we will be learning is large.  We have lots of goals set for our farm and livestock.  These include producing a pen of feeder steers that will gain over 3.5 lbs a day in the feedlot, grade 80% choice or better, decreasing our calf weight into the feedlot, 95% or better conception rate on our heifers and cows, and shrinking up our calving interval (the number of day between the 1st calf born and the last).  The only way we know if we are reaching our goals is by keeping and analyzing the data.

1 day old - 85 lbs
 Through the program that we sell our steers we can and do choose to pay the data fee ($2/head).  By paying the fee we will get all of the individual feedlot performance and carcass data back on each individual animal that we sold.  We will know how much weight each steer gained, what he weighed when he arrived at the feedlot and when he left, if any got sick or died, how much meat (dressing percent) was harvested from him, quality grade (a measure of eating quality), and a whole lot of other very important data as well.  It is basically our final report card for the year (or last year).  With all of that data we will be able to see if our made any improvements from the cattle we sold the previous year and how they compare to the other cattle that the feedlot finished from other ranches.  More importantly we will learn where we still need to improve.  I would like to say our report card will bare all A+'s but I would be a big liar.  The best part about the data is that I will link it back to the mother of each calf and over time we will use that data to pick out better replacement heifers for the herd.  We will also know if there are any cows not making the grade and be able to cull them and replace her with a cow that does make the grade.  There is always room for improvement and learning which areas we need to work on is a learning process that is necessary if we want to be sustainable.  I am excited to see if the management decisions that we made had a positive impact on the quality of the cattle that we raise. 
Weaning Day - 500 lbs
When we sell our steers we always have the end product in mind and that end product is not just a 1300 lb steer, it is the hamburger that is being grilled at a families BBQ, the T-bone steak on a plate at a fancy high end restaurant, or the blood serum used to make flu vaccine to keep our elderly and young people healthy.  I have to admit that I am a little nervous about getting the data back, not that I expect a bad report card but, the waiting and anticipation for the last 6 months is getting to a point of reality.  When we loaded our steers on that cold and icy December morning there was NO doubt in our mind that we were shipping a pen of steers that we could be proud to put our name and brand on.  We felt that compared the the previous year they were better, we had made some changes that were showing signs that we were moving in the direction of meeting our goals.  But with holding ourselves to such high standards the thoughts of not making the progress we expected makes me a little nervous and anxious. 

Shipping Day - 700 lbs
One of the major issues that make progress a little slow in the beef industry is the time it takes to see the final results especially when you follow your cattle all the way to the final destination (a delicious and nutrient packed meal).  Many of the changes that keep us moving toward our goals happen before last years steers are harvested and we know the final report.  For this years calves, the genetics are already chosen, the winter feed and nutrition for the cow is long over and applied, and spring vaccine and health protocols are already working.  Not to mention the genetics have already been chosen for next years (to be born next spring 2013) calves as well.  These things I can not go back and change, I have to believe that the science and advise from our vet, and the bull breeders are the right thing to do and that they will work.  At this point in time the only things that I can change to continue to improve this years calves is the health program from now till delivery, when we wean the calves, weaning strategy and post weaning nutrition.  Between now and December mother nature will continue to present us with challenges and based on what she does will determine what steps need to be taken and when to ensure that we continue to learn from our results and continue to raise our cattle with the best care possible and provide the best beef we can to the consumer.