Saturday, June 18, 2011

working cattle

As I mentioned in my last post, we've spent a lot of time lately with our cattle.  It's just that time of year.  A couple of weeks ago, we had to do what's referred to as "working" our herd, and I thought I'd share with ya'll exactly what that means.

Working cattle can mean different things, depending on the time of year, and also what type of producer you are (cow/calf, vs. backgrounder).  We are primarily a cow/calf operation, which means we breed cows to have babies, and then either sell those babies when they are weaned, or starting last year, we keep the babies that are suitable for us to raise to maturity for grass fed beef.  When we work our cattle in the spring, it generally means we deworm them, vaccinate them, castrate any bull calves, replace ear tags on mamas and place ear tags on babies, and sort out any cattle that need to be sold for any reason.

First, we have to gather all the cattle into a large pen.  We usually do this on horseback, as it is the most efficient and stress-free method for us to gather cattle.  We feed them in this pen, so they usually walk in pretty well.
I don't have a shot of Daddy Bird gathering these cattle, but here's Pedro after the job was finished:

Pedro is just hanging out in case we need him again.  Good job Pedro.

Once the cattle are gathered in the large pen, we must sort out and temporarily separate the mamas from the babies.  This is because we run the cows through what is called a chute and head gate and the calves are a little to small to go through properly.
The sorting process is usually accomplished on foot.   Here are Daddy Bird and the father-in-law sorting out the mamas.  If there were audio to these photos, you'd hear a lot of arguing going on.  Somehow I managed to stay out of this whole proccess this time!!  That's a first.

They are saying things like, "get that one, not that one!" and "Dad, I told you stand there!" (Daddy Bird), followed by "If I knew where there was, I'd be standing in it!" (father-in-law)
It's usually pretty entertaining.

Once the mamas are sorted out into a smaller pen, we push them in small groups into  a chute where they are caught in a headgate, like this:

The father-in-law isn't crazy about this mama swinging her head around!
We catch them in the head gate to hold them still so we can replace any lost ear tags (kind of like getting their ears pierced with a numbered tag), deworm them, and check to make sure they are pregnant.  That's the Daddy Bird's job.  It involves a long plastic sleeve:

Ah, the work of a veterinarian.  You should see the laundry.

After all the mamas are finished and let back out into the pasture, it's the babies' turn.  I don't have photos of this because I actually had to get out from behind the camera and help with this part.  It's pretty much a rodeo though, and it involves roping the bull (male) calves, vaccinating and castrating them and placing ear tags, and then roping the heifers (females) and vaccinating and tagging them.  It also involves a lot of grunting, swearing, lifting, poop and mud.  I'll get some photos next time.
Then the babies are released to go find their mamas:

It always amazes me how they just go right back to whatever they were doing, just like nothing happened, while we are covered in mud, poop and blood, and sore for days from the work!
Another word about working cattle.  We try to work our cattle in the least stressful way possible for them.  We try to move quietly around them and get them to stay as calm as possible.  We generally don't use electric cattle prods either.  All this keeps things as stress-free as possible for them and for us.  When cattle are stressed it keeps them from gaining weight as efficiently, and when they run around unnecessarily, it produces tougher meat.
Plus, we believe in using humane practices in handling our animals.
There's your lesson in working cattle.
Happy Saturday!

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