Friday, November 19, 2010

Eyes on the prize

In Wednesday’s blog I mentioned I would talk about culling cows and buying cows and how that works on this ranch and how we try and make it fit into a total business plan. I will touch on some of that today. I missed a post yesterday because I did some traveling to a meeting. The meeting was in Dayton which is about 90 miles from here and I needed to be there by 8:30 a.m. It was a really great early morning traveling to the east and seeing a awesome sunrise over the channeled scablands of eastern Washington. Many people who live here think much of this area is desolate and lacking in scenery but I love it. Miles of open “big” country, sagebrush, cheatgrass, bunchgrass, basalt rock, lots of Hereford and Hereford cross cows and the water of the Palouse and Snake rivers. The drive is a two lane often winding and elevation changing trek but enjoyable from a nature lover’s standpoint. The early morning provided sights of many mule deer close to and crossing the highway.

The meeting was about weeds and how to control them in range and pasture type settings. I want to thank the Southeast Washington Cooperative weed management association for the excellent meeting. Vic Reeves is the leader of this group and a member of my local Franklin County weed board and has been a great help to me and had prepared an excellent meeting. Lots of information on noxious weeds, the latest controls etc. Often these meetings put on by governmental type agencies are somewhat lame but this was great information, presented in a nice format and I really am glad I attended. Now about culling cows….

Parting with any cow is usually difficult for any stockman. After all, at some point you purchased her or kept her as a replacement and felt she would be productive and profitable. When you cull a cow for reasons other than age it almost seems as you are giving your decision making skills a bad grade. In reality if you want to stay in this business you can’t let personal feelings get in the way of logical culling decisions. This can be tough giving the emotional attachment and time spent with some cows. I am going to talk about 3 cull cows that left last week and why I made the decision.

3065w was a black cow that in my mind I bought two years ago. If you go to the records for confirmation she was purchased 6 years ago and was 11 years old then. She was one of those cows that come through the auction barn and usually at 11 years old are headed for a second life as ground beef. Sometimes the owners of these cows either do not know if they are pregnant or if they are how far along they are. 3065w was sold as a “butcher” cow in December of 2004. She was a bit thin but I was pretty confident she had a growing calf inside her. I took a chance and in early March of that year she had a calf and had actually gained some weight and condition on corn stalks. She was pretty average in her production of calves but I also had a very low investment in her. In fact on Thursday I am sure she returned more than I purchased her for mainly because of demand change in the market. That helps to offset the loss she gave me in 2008 (high feed costs) and the likely breakeven small calf she raised this year. The lady just got too old to take care of herself nutritionally let alone a calf. With this years higher prices her calf is good enough to not lose any money but it was time for 3065w to leave. She was pregnant but was on the late end and was looking at a late April calf so with all the factors she was not that hard to cull.

7106b was another cow not so tough to cull. This cow had been pretty good and raised good calves but had come up empty for some reason this fall. She should have calved between mid August to mid October but had not. I preg checked her and she has a calf coming this spring but waiting 6 months on a cow that had no good reason not to breed on time is something I wont do unless the cow is super special. She is 13 anyway, still in good flesh and someone will think they got a great deal on an older spring calving cow not knowing she is 6 months late. Besides, this cow is not particularly mean or wild but she is hell on Festus, she absolutely hates him and possibly all dogs. His first real beat down by a cow was by the head of 7106b.

7285w was a bit difficult to sell. This cow was quite possibly the ugliest bovine to ever walk the planet. You know those novelty glasses with big, bulbous bloodshot eyes that are on springs and fall out of the glasses? This is how this cow looked. It was like 98.6% of her eyeball was outside the socket. If Steve Buscemi ( ) knocked up Helen Thomas ( ) this cow is what their daughter would look like, maybe even a son for that matter. To add to this ugliness she was short, solid red with a tuft of unruly hair on the top of her head (the poll) and she was fat. I don’t mean a little extra padding; I mean the kind of cow that would be a midget sumo wrestler in human terms, the kind of cow that would not be able to get her body completely in the shadow of Rosie O’Donnell on a summer day. This ugly, short, fat, bug-eyed monstrosity was a cow I bought for Dad as kind of a joke. She was a pregnant 734 pound long yearling (15 to 20 months) the day I bought her for a whopping $350. For those outside the business a typical cow is 1200 pounds and a heifer has her first calf at 2 years of age and around 1000 pounds. My dad was ecstatic with this heifer when she arrived. “Oh wow, look at her body depth, she will be a great momma.” He said as she waddled off the truck and I raised my eyebrows thinking even he would cuss this potential huge workload.

7285w had her first calf on her own in the spring of 1999 (she was born in fall 1997) she continued to calve every year and would have had a calf in February or March of this coming year. Her calves were never great but always were average in weaning size and weight. As a ratio of calf weight weaned vs. mother cow weight she was stellar over the years. She was so ugly she became a standard of ugliness in our family. “How ugly was she, uglier than 7285w?” Dakota and I would say. I do not have the paperwork from the sale on Thursday yet so I do not know exactly what she returned. I am quite confident it was over $350. Sometimes you just have to pull the trigger and be logical, even if that cow is the prettiest, ugly thing you have ever witnessed.

Today’s real environmentalist species found on the ranch is perennial pepperweed aka Lepidium latifolium.

Today’s picture is cow 4158w with her steer calf on February 18th 2010 and on November 16th 2010.