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Posts Tagged ‘animal welfare’

More than a few people have asked me lately, “Do you put your cows inside when it gets really cold out?” Oh, goodness…we don’t have the biggest herd in the world, but it would still take quite a structure to keep them all in!

There is no doubt, this winter has been an interesting one. We have had long stretches of temps below zero at night and only in the single digits during the day. And then, and NOT disappointing to my cold-intolerant body, we have had some grill outdoors, play-in-the-yard, wear-short-sleeves kind of days! As much as I love those warm days for me, they are actually too warm for the cows who have their “winter coats” on.

Mama and Baby

Mama and Baby

As you can tell from the picture, the cows don’t get to be indoors when it is cold out. We will bring in one who is ready to calve, let the baby get good and dry and nurse, and then turn them out.  God made animals, cattle in particular, very hardy! We certainly do our best to keep them comfortable by having shelter from wind, putting down bedding (straw), and always making sure they have hay to eat and fresh water.  They have a layer of fat, thik skin, and plenty of hair to keep them comfortable.  While I am layering on the amazingly sexy layers of long johns, sweatshirts, coveralls, and coats, those mama’s are doing just fine in their God-given body armor.

So, as we go through these last weeks (I so dearly hope…last…) of winter, enjoy some delicious stew or meatloaf, or whatever you consider comfort food. Before you know it, the grass will begin turning green and it will be time to grill for every meal!

Even when it’s cold, we get to enjoy views like this…

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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.

T-Bones grilled by Emmet

T-Bones grilled by Emmet

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.

Note our special "herd marker" cow, i.e. the Longhorn, taking up all kinds of space!

Note our special “herd marker” cow, i.e. the Longhorn, taking up all kinds of space!

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.

bull8x

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!

Pasture Rainbow

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.

Cow Swimming Party

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.

Cattle on stalks.

Cattle on stalks.

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.

Emmet driving the tractor and feedwagon to deliver the cows their daily ration.

Emmet driving the tractor and feedwagon to deliver the cows their daily ration.

 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!

This is what we are looking for! This heifer is about to give birth to a calf. The water sack is out, the hooves are presented correctly, she just needs to lay down and have it.

This is what we are looking for! This heifer is about to give birth to a calf. The water sack is out, the hooves are presented correctly, she just needs to lay down and have it.

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.

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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!

 Market cattle nearly ready to be harvested for beef.

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!

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I saw a picture on a friend’s Facebook wall recently that says it all. Here it is:

Oh, there are plenty of loud disagreements and long days and sometimes longer nights when you have cattle, but all of it is worth it. Why? There are so many reasons. One, we get to eat delicious, healthy beef & offer that product to customers from all around the world. But there is something more, much more…

It really goes deeper than doing the daily chores and work it takes to be considered a rancher or farmer or seedstock producer or whatever term is most appropriate on a given day. We have just returned home from yet another cattle show. This time, the SUPER FUN Iowa State Fair, where yes, I was reminded again, by my tired body, of how young I am not! Regardless, I was really proud that more than one time other moms observed what close friends Kaydee and Emmet have become. I know that if they were both so involved in separate sports and other activities that they were never on the same team, this would not be the case. However, as it is, they are a team, with their cattle and in our family. And yes, they do team up on Matt & I, more often me than him, darn it! But I do try to keep a smile on…

  



Of course, the friends made at cattle shows are treasured & memories are priceless, but at an event like a State Fair, we have to remember that the cattle barn is also a giant classroom for all sorts of people who do not live on a farm. Many of them have never been to a farm & have certainly never touched beef cattle. So, yes, Kaydee’s heifer, Smalls, who got the privilege of being in the end stall right next to the big aisle where all of the people walk through made her way into literally dozens of pictures. I can’t guess how many times she got petted and thankfully, she was a good sport about it the entire time! On Saturday, Kaydee tried her entrepreneurial skills out, but to no avail! Really, she just wanted people to have to talk to her before they touched her cow. Haha!

Well, another show is done & the awards at this one were not numerous for Kaydee & Emmet, but we all had a really good time. I read recently that people who travel/vacation every now and then live longer because they have good memories to think about. Well, a cattle barn is not very tropical and it certainly doesn’t smell like the ocean, but the memories are abundant. So, yes, for our family, the tradition will continue – I am the sixth generation of my family to have cattle; Kaydee and Emmet are the seventh. We are always for trying out new ideas, but having cattle is one tradition that will stay in our family for a long, long time.

And the tired troops head home until next week – and then it’s off to another show…

 

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First and foremost, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you mama’s out there! That goes for those of you who are wonderful influences on kids even if they are not your own, too! I love hearing my kids and their friends refer to different moms…Mama Shawna, Mama Caldwell, Mama Linda, and on and on. We all know, it takes a community to raise a child, right? That is especially true in farming and ranching communities. We all know and look out for one another.

A good mama cow nursing the embryo transfer calf she is raising.

Hopefully all mom’s out there get treated to either going out to eat or having their family cook for them. And hopefully, they appreciate the wonderful food grown by America’s farmers as they enjoy their special day. I know that my kids, my husband, and myself will spend a portion of Mother’s Day in some good, quality, cattle working, family time, which I LOVE! We will also take supper to my Mom’s to enjoy with my brothers and their families. My sis is a new mom for the third time, so she is going to enjoy her Mother’s Day at her own place with her 3 little ones…if she is really lucky, her husband will take the kids out for a few hours and she will get treated to a MUCH needed nap!

Me & my kids.

Kaydee recently worked with a gal at CommonGround to put together a Mother’s Day letter to me. I have nothing funny to say here. In fact, after she did this, she immediately called me and told me the things she said were sure to make me cry…darn her!  She was very kind to me and I am so thankful to have been raised by an amazing Mom who was the best example I could have ever asked for in how to be a strong and gracious woman & how to be a good mama. And, it appears, at least as of now, Kaydee thinks I am an o.k. mama, too…coming from a teenage girl, all I can say is, “WHEW!”

 

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Animal care is the number 1 priority on nearly all farms and ranches around the country.  It sickens and saddens me that I had to use the word, “nearly” in that sentence.  Once again, there is an animal owner and their employees who do not uphold the same animal welfare standards as everyone I know personally; and, has made their way to the limelight casting a negative image for dairy calf farms all around the country.

In one article I read this morning, the calf ranch owner was quoted as taking full responsibility for the actions of the employees and had terminated those employees.  That is great, but, where was the oversight and direction for these employees prior to and during the undercover investigation?  We all have to take responsibility to make sure proper practices are being followed on our own farms and ranches at all times.

My family has been following Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) practices for as long as the program has been around.  If we have a neighbor helping work with the cattle, and they seem to have a different idea as to how things should be done, we quickly and thoroughly teach them the way we want them to proceed.  That “correct way” may apply to giving injections, coaxing animals in a given direction, putting in ear tags, giving pills, and so on. 

The farmers and ranchers I know truly care about the health and well-being of the animals they raise.  Yes, it is true, healthier animals are more productive animals.  And yes, it is true, we are in it to earn a living.  However, there comes a point, sometimes, when it isn’t about money or even science, but it’s about just doing the right thing.  Whether it’s putting down an animal that is suffering so horribly it isn’t going to survive or nursing one back to health or transporting animals to be harvested, it all is done with the utmost respect and appreciation for the animal and it’s life.

If you are a fellow producer reading this, I urge you to be proactive in making sure your farm and all those you know are using the best possible practices for handling animals.  If you are not a livestock owner, please be assured that there are hundreds of thousands of livestock owners who take very good care of their animals and they are just as frustrated as me when they find out there is a “bad one” out there.

Now, with that off of my chest….I will certainly try to write something much more fun tonight.  Thanks for reading and have a good afternoon.

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