What is the first thing you thought of when you saw that title? My guess is any number of thoughts may pop into different people’s minds; maybe seasoning, lighting a grill, a special cut of steak, or even what to have with it.
Today, I want to help you understand how a rancher or cattle feeder makes steak; what does it take to accomplish that delicious, protein packed meal we all love to enjoy? Grab your boots and gloves – we have to step out of the kitchen for a whole lotta this process!
First of all, of course, we have to start with a herd of cows.
Next, there has to be a bull to put with those cows. Ranchers study bull pedigrees for weeks and even months, deciding which ones would work best for their situation. They study things such as carcass traits, growth tendancies, maternal traits (in case they want to keep heifers out of him), and of course, structural soundness. One mature bull can cover approximately 30 to 40 cows, depending on the environment. In areas where it takes significantly more acres to sustain a cow, more bulls may be needed to make sure all cows are bred in a timely manner. Many ranchers strive for a 45 day “calving window.” We like to have as many calves born as close together as possible, so we have a nice uniform group to market later.
Cows and bulls get to hang out together for 45 to 60 days during the summer. I am timing all of this for a spring calving time. Some people prefer to have their cows calve in the fall – which is good for you consumers because that means there is great beef available all through the year!
During the summer while cows are on the grass, we have to make sure they always have salt and mineral available. They must have access to water for drinking. We also have to make sure fences are in good condition and thistles do not get out of control. Thistles can be sprayed or dug. I definitely prefer spraying if I am the one doing the work!
During the summer we also have to check the cattle regularly to be sure their feet and eyes are not injured. Cattle tend to like to stand in ponds, which can soften their hooves and allow injury to happen more easily, potentially causing a condition called footrot. They can also get pinkeye from flies. Either of those conditions must be treated immediately so the animal does not suffer.
In the very late summer to early fall, the calves are weaned from the cows. The calves receive vaccination boosters and are put on a very nutrient dense diet. They may either be kept at our place to be “backgrounded” (introduced to feed from a bunk) or they may be sold and go directly to a feedyard. At this point, they are no longer small and cute. They are very much growing animals that want to be fed well, lay around, and grow.
In the fall, in our area, we move the entire herd of cows, calves no longer with them, to a stalk field after the crops have been harvested. The cows love it, and it is feed we can offer them that is low cost.
If we get significant snows during the winter grazing months, we may have to take hay to where the cows are, or if it is bad enough, we may have to bring them in to the lots and calving pastures early and start feeding them hay and supplement. While on the stalks, we have to run water everyday, make sure they have plenty of salt and mineral, and provide a protein supplement. Again, they get checked regularly to make sure they are o.k. Often, deer will run through the fence (which is a temporary electric fence that has to be put up before taking the cows there and removed once they leave) and it has to be repaired.
Are you still with me here? I promise – we really are making steak in this whole process!
Now, when calving time is getting close, the cows are brought to an area to be watched more closely and fed hay and distillers grains (or whatever a producer has and buys to make a nutritionally ballanced ration) daily. Some areas of the country are very fortunate to have winter range and the cows can graze for much of their nutrients. We are not so blessed and we get to deliver feed to them every afternoon.
Once it is time for calves to start arriving, someone checks the cattle every 2 to 3 hours. Even through the night. And yes – when one member of a couple has been out in the cold to check and all is well so they get to crawl back into bed, their body is cold and now both members of the couple are awake! Another reason 45 days is long enough…sleepless nights!
Finally, green grass arrives and we are turning cows and calves out to pasture for the summer. Ideally, with enough moisture, and warm weather, this can happen in very early May.
Before we turn them out, however, calves are vaccinated, the bull calves are castrated, and we mend fence all the way around the pastures. And once again – we are timing our “turn out” date to put bulls with cows.
Another spring time event - the afore-mentioned weaned calves are ready to send to the packing plant. The way the particular ones shown below were managed and fed, they were harvested at approximately 14 months of age. I do know that the beef that came from them was very high quality, as we received the carcass data on each one individually. They graded 97% USDA Choice or better – that is amazing!
So, as you can see, there is a significant amount of time, work, and dedication into making steak. As one group or calf crop is going to harvest, the next has just been born and and we are getting ready to breed the cows again for the next one.
Whew! – that took a bit longer to explain than I thought! Of course, there were many daily details that got left out as I wrote this, but I really wanted you to get the jist of what goes on around our outfit…
Please – enjoy beef often, it is good for you and it tastes amazing! And also – our family and many others like ours really and truly love our life of being ranchers and beef producers. Thank you for enjoying what we raise!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged A-FAN, animal welfare, beef, Beef It's What's For Dinner, calving time, CommonGround, cow herd, family farm, farmers and ranchers, feeding cattle, ranch life, Red Angus, steak | 3 Comments »
For the ladies out there reading this…(guys – don’t be afraid to read on, too!) Don’t you love those times when you get to watch your husband work really hard at something that matters, a lot?! If not, oh gosh, I can’t even imagine; I am just very sad for you! Seeing Matt work hard is absolutely one of the top reasons I love spending the day with him. Oh, he is also very clever and fun to be around, but I can’t say too many good things about him all in one blog post. What if he reads it?!
I don’t know that he loves running a chain saw, but he does look good doing it! On the day this picture was taken, in early January, we were really struggling to find water for the cows. That is a pond he is standing on, but even in the winter, it is shrinking and we kept hitting mud rather than water. We are so thankful for any moisture that comes our way to hopefully help fill it for the summer!
Part of our daily winter chores include breaking ice. We do have electric waterers in part of the pens and keep a tank heater in other places. But alas, Matt’s great ice breaking/cutting/removing skills are a much needed asset on our farm. The group of cows pictured above have access to a large field of sorghum stalks as well as the pasture you can see. The pond is their source of fresh water.
I don’t have giant feet, but they are far from tiny! The ice was about 7 inches thick – at least. It did make for a good workout getting a drinking hole made!
Thankfully, we got a few warmer days since then and saw some melting. So, when we don’t have to cut ice, I try to enjoy other jobs with Matt. On any average day, we check cows, put out mineral, fill water tanks, and truly enjoy one another’s company. I am very blessed to be the wife of a cattleman and farmer.
As I start this post, I am watching the Ravens and Patriots battle it out for a spot in the Super Bowl. In years prior, I probably would have been cheering loudly (from our living room, of course) for the Patriots. However, I am quietly hoping the Ravens pull this one out. Truly, deep down, I won’t be disappointed whichever team wins – my disappointment happened throughout the season; most recently when the Broncos lost to the Ravens – hence…Ravens better win! (and since I am just now getting this posted – they did!) Honestly, I am struggling to really be a Bronco fan, but I do like Manning – so, since he is now a Bronco… Regardless, the Colts have room for improvement next year & when next year comes around, I will hope they do better than they did this year. There must be some kind of luck in having “Luck” as your quarterback, right?
While we were in Denver for the National Western Stock Show, we get to spend time with some fellow Red Angus breeders from the Northeast. They are most certainly Baltimore fans! We were lucky enough to watch the Denver/Baltimore game in the Cowboy Bar right there in the cattle barn where all of our cattle were stalled. I have to say, I think the FEW Baltimore fans that were there were every bit as loud as the plethora of Denver fans!
Cattle shows are a bit like athletics. Everyone pretty much gets along – many become good friends, even – OUTSIDE the showring. Once in the ring, it’s no different from any sport. Each exhibitor wants the win! Also no different from sports – the most respected exhibitors are humble winners and gracious losers. One difference in a show as opposed to sports – ranches want their genetics to win. So, even if they don’t show the winning critter, as long as it is offspring from their genetics – that’s considered a win.
For all of my foodie friends and followers out there – this does apply to you. How, you ask? Well, the cattle that go to shows like this are competing to be the major genetic influence in many herds throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico and beyond. Even though we were in Denver, there were exhibitors there from Canada, and some people from Mexico spent quite a large amount of money at the Red Angus auction! The world becomes a pretty small place when you consider that beef is raised fairly similarly throughout the hemisphere and fellow cattle breeders are no more than an e-mail or phone call away. Everyone in the beef community has the common goal of a great eating experience for everyone who takes the opportunity to include beef as part of a healthy diet.
Finally – an update on how the kids did in the show. I have to say, not bad for their first time at a show that big! They placed 2nd and 4th in class in the National Red Angus Junior show and they each placed 7th in class in the much larger open show. They were each showing a heifer they had raised – not one purchased from a large, well-known ranch. In addition, we all had a great time getting to know other Red Angus breeders we had not yet met and spending time with long-time friends. They both tell me they want to go back next year, so I would say it was a success!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged Andrew Luck, animal rights, competition, Denver, Denver Broncos, Emmet, family, FFA, healthy eating, Indianapolis Colts, Kaydee, NAJRAE, NFL, NWSS, Red Angus, Showcation, showing cattle, stockshow | Leave a Comment »
There’s ALWAYS a first time for everything! Just thinking about that brings back some super fun memories! Of course, there are all of the standards – first steps, first words, first day of school, and on and on. For farm and ranch kids – there are some other really cool first time events! The first time of ever seeing a newborn calf come into the world; the first time selling a favorite 4-H steer; the first time you are allowed to drive a tractor or the 4-wheeler; Kaydee’s favorite first thing she can remember is winning a rosette at her first show and Emmet tells me his favorite first time event is showing a calf. Well, that is a GREAT lead into the rest of this story!
As I write this, Matt, the two spawn, and I are in Denver at the National Western Stock Show. Now, all four of us have been to the Stock Show previously, but never to show. Yes – FIRST TIME!!! If there is any one livestock event that has a load of history, it would be this one! My Grandpa George, who is into his 80′s now, participated in the Catch-A-Calf contest here when he was a youngster. Kaydee and Emmet are showing in this, the 107th National Western. Gramps is awaiting a phone call from us to see how it is all going.
First time…not so fun!!!
Our arrival in Denver last night was one of sheer chaos! We finally, after more than one or two times driving around the area, found the spot we should be to show health papers on the heifers and get our exhibitor numbers and souvenir badges. The next step was to get stall assignments, tie heifers out for the night and get the stall set up. Weeellll, not so much. We did find a tie-out (a place where the cattle can be outside overnight for fresh air and rest from the barn) so the heifers could get off the trailer, eat, and rest. Whew! Cattle comfort is first priority! Stalls for the inside – well, we would just have to come back this morning and see if they had any….really? We paid a significant amount of money for quite a few stalls! But, so did a LOT of other people – who apparently didn’t have to wait for kids to get out of school.
Oh well, heifers were settled. We could just head to the hotel and get some supper and get some rest ourselves. UUmmm, yeah – who really rests well the first night in a hotel? Anyone? Certainly not me!
Today is a new day – and a pretty good one at that. As it turns out, we got stalls, we have dear friends stalled on either side of us & the kids are starting a vicious game of spoons as I finish writing. Good times, wonderful memories, and time for me to go get some hot chocolate!
A couple of pictures from today…here are Kaydee and Emmet each getting their heifers checked in. Remember that post I did ages ago about tattoos? Well – here they are, checking tattoos…
I can only imagine the fun stories the next few days will throw my way…
Finally…Thank you so much to the Montgomery family for their help when we were getting our stall situated this morning!
This weekend was a first for our family. Matt and I went away overnight on a date (no, that isn’t the first, but I will admit, it doesn’t happen often!). The “first” I am referring to is Kaydee and Emmet going to a cattle show all by themselves. Oh – they weren’t totally on their own. We had a very nice neighbor that was kind enough to let our heifers hitch a ride to the show in their trailer. And, another family who lives just down the road was there, too. Not to mention all of the wonderful families we get to visit with only at shows…yes, it takes a community to raise a child and the cattle show community was there for us this weekend. Oh – it took a tremendous amount of TRUST on our part to let our kids go 3 hours away on their own, stay in a hotel on their own, get up in the morning and take care of the heifers on their own; get the heifers show ready and be in the ring on time on their own; and on and on and on. But, they did it! They joined some wonderful friends for a Thanksgiving feast on Thursday night after they got the cattle washed, fed and settled. They got all checked in for the show and into the hotel. The didn’t wreck! Wow! Maybe we have done a few things right getting them to this stage, LOL! I just can’t believe they did all of that, and did well, without me there doing my motherly duty of nagging!
The kids had a great “Showcation” over Thanksgiving weekend, while Matt and I spent a day celebrating the life of a very good friend who got to spend his Thanksgiving in heaven and then we left for a couple of days in the city – First for us…attending an NFL game. FUN TIME!!!! Back to the kids… What is a “Showcation” you might ask? It is time off work that is spent at a cattle show or in a cattle show environment. Showcation often financially replaces a traditional vacation. (for many years). But it is SSSOOO fun!!!
Trust…it has to be earned. It can take years to earn one’s trust and then it can be diminished in one quick wrong choice. Yes – I said choice. Every decision we make is a choice. For those of us growing food for many others besides ourselves, we make the choice every day to treat our animals well. Our family chooses to raise cattle that will become beef, which we hope many, many others enjoy as part of healthy meals. Our choice to keep our cattle healthy and comfortable will result in a great eating experience for someone else down the road. We want customers to trust that the beef they are buying is tasty, tender, and healthy and that the cattle were treated well along the way.
Life is full of choices and opportunities to earn trust. The kids passed a BIG trust test this weekend. We certainly aren’t ready to let them drive that far on their own with the pickup and trailer! However, we might let them go places on their own more often. And – that means more dates for Matt and I! Plus, I figure that if the kids are hanging out together, they will look out for each other and we don’t have to worry about them being out on dates – at least for now!