We finally got these heifers branded yesterday with another round of shots, vaccinations, dewormer and multi-min, before they meet the Wagyu bulls in 45 days. As you may remember, we took their counterparts to town as bulls last spring when we weaned, unable to brand and vaccinate them because of last winter’s wet conditions. The girls were polite, familiar with processing since their first round of shots and vaccinations for Brucellosis at the end of June.
Building a fire to heat the irons this time of year is problematic with fire danger still high. Our propane pot is an inefficient and noisy alternative we’d like to avoid if possible. Electric irons have been around for years, though I’ve never considered using one as electricity to our corrals is a recent convenience. And consistent with the ‘cowboy way’, my underlying prejudices against such citified methods of marking cattle, an electric iron has never been part of our operation—until yesterday.
With the tangle of extension cords, etc., they will never replace hot irons in the branding pen, but they have their place. Furthermore, the brand goes on quicker and cleaner with consistent heat and quick recovery. All going to prove that old dogs can learn new tricks.
We feed our future,
as it approaches, plenty
of alfalfa hay.
Last Friday evening while congratulating ourselves with a cocktail, having finished gathering, weaning, shipping our calves and processing our replacement heifers, Robbin tactfully reminded me that one of the primary purposes of this blog is to keep track of what we do on this ranch–hence this Ranch Journal entry for July 2015.
Looking back to July 2014, we had no replacement heifers to process with so little feed, so we have to go back to July 20, 2013 to see if we are ahead or behind schedule. Less calves and replacement heifers to process after a dry spring this year combined with the late spring rains in 2013 probably account for the difference. But reading the entry for 2013, little else has changed with the drought. We’re now in maintenance mode: irrigating, light feeding, and regularly checking our dwindling stock water at the higher elevations.
Though all received a second round of vaccinations, including Bangs vaccine for Brucellosis, not all of the 75 heifers will make the team. We will cull 5-10 head before turning the Wagyu bulls out in mid-December, depending on how they look. We have moved our calving date back two weeks aiming for mid-September calves, hoping for a little cooler weather. Currently, our 7-weight steers bring the same money as 600 pounders, but with weak demand to turn out on mid-West grass. A later calving date would make them a little lighter and more attractive when we sell them. And we may wait until the 1st of January 2017 to turn our bulls out, as that would also allow our cows an extra month off without a calf, as we would still wean at the end of May. Time will tell, but that’s what we’re thinking now.
So it’s out early in the morning, shade up during the day when we can.
Selected to stay,
to be bred and have babies,
we must give them names.
With an eye towards weaning our calves, last week’s tour of the Greasy watershed to check cattle and feed conditions was a pleasant surprise. Typically we begin weaning in mid-May when the grass turns. With less than 0.75” of rain in the last forty-five days, my expectations were minimal. But our upper country above 1,500 feet has fared substantially better than our lower foothills where only patches of green remain high on the north slopes.
Having reduced our cow numbers by 40% due to the ongoing drought, we have found a temporary equilibrium between grass and cattle without having to feed much hay last winter. But due to feed limitations, we were unable to keep any calves last season for replacement heifers. Assuming a return to more normal weather conditions, we will need to replace our older cows while also trying to add numbers to our cowherd. However many heifer calves we’re able to keep, won’t produce a calf to wean for two more years. Rebuilding a cowherd is a slow process. Certainly the three girls above will be candidates, but how many we’re able to keep remains to be seen.
Since she was a calf in 2012, I’ve had high hopes for the all-red cow (2092), now babysitting our first Vintage Angus calves on the irrigated pasture. A spitting image of her mother, she is demonstrating the same strong, maternal traits as her mother.
Separated from her first calf, a Wagyu X in 2010, by a series of events I can only imagine that had to include a high-speed ATV chase when she strayed onto the neighbors to be run through two barbed wire fences, 440 was finally reunited with her calf after we picked her up at another neighbor’s corrals at the behest of the brand inspector ten days later.
Drying up, she had obviously had a calf, but local details were skimpy. All we could do was bring her home and put her back into the same hillside pasture she had come from, hoping the two might get back together, though we hadn’t seen her calf. We were fairly certain that if she found it alive, the best she could offer was companionship. Three days later, I saw the two together, and unbelievably, she had come back into her milk. 440 is a legend on this ranch, epitomizing the strong hormones and maternal instincts we choose to develop instead of just beefy carcasses. After all, we’re in the business of raising cows that can raise a baby.
I’ve already checked, her week-old, red calf in the grass is a bull. But we’re hoping for at least 20 replacement heifers from last year’s Vintage bulls and this bunch of second-calf heifers.
These girls, bred to Wagyu bulls from Snake River Farms in Idaho, will be two years old this fall and are, on average, 60-90 days away from having their first calf. Feeling full, they have retired to the shade by early morning. No longer big calves, they are becoming cows, aware of something inside them, and will continue to be slightly restless and uncomfortable until the calf is born. Each first-calf heifer handles this new state of being a little differently as instinct overcomes confusion to varying degrees.
Because of the drought, they have access to the irrigated pasture where we normally run our weaned heifer calves, but we kept no replacement heifer calves this year due our shortage of feed and the time required—nine month gestation and another nine before a calf is weaned—to generate any income. We are looking forward to these girls becoming exceptional mothers.
WPC (3) — “Contrasts”