Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kickstart my Heart for weaning time

Although I do not get to this blog as often as I would like to, when I do it is like seeing an old friend that you have not had a chance to BS with in awhile....exciting! I have found that the more I open myself to social media including Facebook and Twitter there are some positives and negatives to my blog. The positives are much more traffic and new contacts when I do make a blog post, negative in that as you gain "friends" and "followers" you become more interactive that in turn gives you less time for blog posts. In the end I am still just really amazed at what the internet and social media offers us in terms of access to information and entertainment.

One reason I am here today is because today was a really great day. I had made plans that this week was going to be focused on securing winter feed and making weaning and marketing decisions for the spring calving cows. The week had not gone badly by any means, but it was not having a whole lot of things fall in to the "tangible" category. Now cattlemen are some of the most independent homo sapiens on the planet. We could work together for the benefit of all parties but then our egos would miss out on that satisfaction that comes from going it alone. As I have spent the last 23 months as the President of the Washington Cattlemens Association I have both admired and cursed this condition numerous times.

Today I got a call from a friend and former employee about some corn stalks he wanted to graze off. This was as timely as could be and I traveled down to Eltopia to check it out. What I found really made me smile. 102 acres of corn stalks that had been harvested at high moisture. This was exactly what I had been looking for and will be a great place to send "dry" cows after they have been weaned from their calves.
 I could not believe my good fortune as last year I had things like this lined up and then for a variety of reasons( high spud rent mostly) things fell apart and I ended up feeding more hay than I wanted to during October and November of 2011. Weaning conditions have improved if not perfected this week. I really hate to wean calves when there are 40 plus degree temperature changes and even more so when conditions are dusty and dry. If you want to make a weaned calf sick just give him or her some dust to breathe and some wide temperature swings no matter what your vaccination program is.

Next week we will wean calves but do it much differently than we did just a few years ago. We used to bring the cows and calves into the corrals, let the mommas back into the grass and put the calves "on feed" in a dry dusty lot. Now days we will bring them in, let the calves back out onto the grass they have grown up on and are used to eating and keep the cows in the corral. The cows will cry for their kids for a few nights especially in the evening as their udders get full. The calves will make a few trips to the fence line daily each day looking for milk but will get over the separation long before the mothers do. This method of visual and nose to nose contact without ability to nurse has greatly reduced our incidence of calves with respiratory issues and weight loss from stress.

After 4-6 days the cows will be hauled away to graze cornstalks. This crop aftermath will provide "dry" cows with plenty of nutrition as they enter their last term of pregnancy.If managed correctly dry cows will even gain a bit of weight and body condition leading up to calving time. Sure there will be some costs involved with fencing and transport but these cows will graze for around 50 cents a day compared to close to $3 a day if they were fed exclusively hay. Weather can be a factor but considering that here in the desert of eastern Washington we rarely get much snow and especially snow that stays around for very long it works out well. Cows will amazingly find the grain first, then the husks, then the leaves and lastly will eat the cobs and stalks. I try and estimate how many acres are needed for 2-3 weeks of grazing and then give the cows a new section of pasture. This way they always have some access to enough grain and husks to meet their nutritional needs. I have some older cows that actually can walk 100's of feet and then find a corn nugget like the one left behind shown in the picture. The grain has much more nutritional value than the husks or leaves. When the cows are down to cobs and stalks it is time to move to a new section.

It is always bittersweet at weaning time as you watch the separation of mothers and children.On the negative side you get to see just how strong a mother bovines love is for her offspring. The plus side is you get to see the fruits of another year of working your ass off to keep these kids alive. There is also the joy of knowing that many of the heifer calves will eventually become mothers in their own right and the steer calves will eventually leave, be fed out and provide wholesome, nutritious and safe protein for hungry humans all around the globe! Here is an example of the amazing growth these calves see in the few months they are here on the ranch. Here is cow #1054w with her newborn bull calf 2154W weighing about 70 pounds in early February 2012, and with her well raised steer calf weighing about 550 pounds in late August 2012. When you spend your days watching the wonder of Mother Nature as I do you have a innate respect and appreciation for life and the circle of life! Remember all pictures can be viewed in larger size by clicking on them!

Today's Youtube Cowman music selection is Motley Crue singing "Kickstart my Heart" I know this kind of music is not embraced by all my cowman friends but as a rocker kid from the 80's this never fails to put me in the same great mood that I am in tonight! Just try and not shake your booty!