Saturday, April 3, 2010

Branding day

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Keep the fire hot it is time for branding!

We ran a small crew this year for branding but the smaller group worked out quite well in my opinion. We did not have a ton of calves to run through today – only 23 went through the chute since we missed a few during the roundup.

Cutting and sorting the cows from the calves went pretty well. Rick’s knee was so stoved up this morning he was hobbling around but chasing all those calves around this morning (and a double dose of Advil) seemed to fix him up just fine. Who knew working cattle could be such a wonder cure? Most of my experiences tend to lean the other way.

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Yes, I am taking photos but think of it more like I am preserving memories
for years to come and less like I am not working...

Once we got everyone sorted, the calves in the alleyway and the fire hot, it was everyone to their stations. First the calves met up with Chuck and A. who singled one out and pushed it towards the squeeze. A. did such a great job today. This can be one of the more dangerous jobs of the day since you are wading through the group of calves and even though they are less than two months old, they step on your feet, kick, poop and otherwise express their displeasure at the situation and A. didn’t miss a beat. Under Chuck’s mentorship, by the end of the day she was an old pro at pushing them towards the squeeze, getting them to step into the headgate, roping the feet and pushing them out of the chute when their appointment was up. She came away with her share of bumps and bruises but didn’t complain and we are very proud of her. Chuck even joked that in a year or so, he could retire from that job.

Once Chuck or A. push the calf towards the chute, Lloyd catches the calf’s head in the headgate and tilts up the calf table so we can work on it. First we call out the sex and color/markings to the recorder; this year A’s friend J tallied all the calves as they went by the chute. Knowing the sex distribution helps us to start planning for next year; if the group is skewed towards heifers, we have a greater selection for picking out replacement heifers. Lots of little bull calves gives us more options for saving back steers for beef. This year of the 23 we branded (we have 3 more on the ground, plus any late calves), 13 were bulls and 10 heifers. Last year of the 25 calves, we had 14 heifers and 11 bulls.

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The mamas wait patiently at the gate

Once we record the sex and markings, Nathan vaccinates the calf and marks the ears. The earmark is registered to our ranch with the brand and can be used for identification purposes. Later in the season when we round up the late calves, we will most likely skip the branding and just vaccinate and earmark.

Next, in the case of a bull, the calf has a date with “The Elastrator” which applies a rubber ring around the scrotum and eventually the whole package drops off. This method is bloodless but sometimes the poor little guys walk funny for a few days. A castrated bull is known as a steer and an older steer of three or more years is known as an ox which is use for draft purposes. No oxen around here though, our beef steers are processed before 24 months of age. There are three main advantages to castrating: all the energy is now devoted to growth so steers reach market weight sooner, they are more docile and safer to work with and it ensures that only the herd bulls sire calves.

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Occasionally, the bull calves are leery of The Elastrator’s motives and – to put it delicately – suck a nut up inside their body cavity. If left up there, the steer will continue to produce sex hormones and develop bullish characteristics; this is known as a stag or a staggy steer. One of our three beef steers we kept back last year for direct to market beef ended up a bit staggy. He was impossible to put fat on, was a nuisance to the heifers, fought with the bulls and ended up very lean and tough in the freezer (though the flavor is good, just needs long, slow cooking).

OK back to branding…

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The final part is the brand itself. The brand is mainly an identification of ownership so if our cattle get across the fence or the neighbor’s come onto our property, it is easy to sort out the strays. It is not a requirement to brand your cattle and on a smaller parcel of property it may be more work than it is worth, but out here it seems to work for us. The brand design (the “flying M”) and placement on the body (left rib) are registered to Lloyd and the ranch. When we sell or process cattle, a brand inspector checks the brand against the records to verify ownership.

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Overall, it is a pretty efficient process and since we run a small herd, just about the time the crew gets tired of it, the job is done and we are off to lunch.


Jarom said...

Wish we could have been there to help...

Katia said...

No worries, there is always next year, or the year after that, on and on for decades. I'm sure you'll make it at least once :)

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