Tag Archives: Brown Ranch
The drought we are currently suffering through is showing no signs of improving. Despite our positive attitudes and all the thoughts and prayers for water that we can muster, things continue to get worse. All agriculture related conversations inevitably circle around to water. When will it rain? Will it be a wet year? El Nino? Do you know anyone with extra feed? How are we going to survive? Needless to say, our whole family, actually the whole community, is suffering from a great deal of anxiety.
Let me tell you, the worst thing you can say to someone in agriculture right now is anything along the lines of “it’s not going to rain” or “it’s going to be another dry year”. It’s almost like a slap in the face. Staying focused on the now, making it day to day, convincing ourselves it’s going to be okay, are the only things keeping most of us motivated. This is very real to us.
Every rancher I know is making every effort to conserve water, to become more efficient and, well, survive. Some ranchers are buying and making all the hay they can. They need feed for their cattle and know that is the only way to get it right now. Other ranchers are culling their herds. We are doing both.
In addition to selling our calf crop, where we earn the majority of our income, about two months early, we made the decision to cull or sell, more cattle than we normally would. Selling your mother cows is almost like selling your future and past. These are cows whose genetics were planned years before they were ever born. We watched their births, we watched them grow up, we cared for them their whole lives, we watched them, in turn, give birth. Now we must sell them.
Granted, culling cows is a necessity for a healthy herd. Removing genetics that are not efficient makes your herd more sustainable. And, ranching is a business. If a cow is not making you money, she is costing you money. Most of us operate within such tight margins, we simply can’t afford to have the deadweight, even in a good year.
It’s different when you are forced to cull cows before they are ready. The drought has forced such action. Cows that had calves that weren’t “perfect”, older cows, cows that simply looked at us the wrong way at the wrong time, all were sold. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to some of these good cows.
This is our reality. If we want to continue to ranch despite this drought, tough choices need to be made. Having healthy cattle and ground is our only option and that means doing whatever we must to sustain those things. Running less cattle on our dry ground will cause less stress to everything, therefore when it does rain again (and it will!!), we will be able to bounce back faster and better.
As most of you know, the West is in the middle of a major drought. Until recently there was no rain. The grass was dead, the ranch was brown and withered.
Thankfully, it rained. It rained enough to get the creeks flowing and the green grass growing. In fact, it’s getting ready to rain right now!
We were so thrilled with the rain and the green grass, my Mom wanted to put some good karma out there and do a giveaway! We recently discovered this wonderful tool, called the chop and stir. It makes hamburger into nice, little, even crumbles. I love my hamburger like that, especially in tacos.
Unfortunately, I can only give the meat to a local person, because I am too afraid to ship. But if you aren’t local, you still get the chop and stir. All you have to do is leave me a comment below and I will use random.org to select a winner next Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014.
I thought this would be a nice time to share a “mess-up” we had on the ranch. This particular cow and her calf have been a “mess-up” for the better part of 8 months. It’s important to share that, just like everyone else, we screw up.
Since I quit my full-time, town job last spring my Parents have been generous with giving me cattle to sell. They do this so I have an income, and I appreciate it greatly. Right now I am finishing some steers to sell as beef, and in the past I’ve sold shares in “hamburger cows“. A ‘hamburger cow’ is a healthy cow that for some reason did not get bred and/or have a calf, so she is “open“. Since she is open, she isn’t doing her “job” for us, therefore she us costing us money. Most people don’t realize, but it takes years for a cow to become profitable for a ranch. If enough cattle don’t do their ‘job’ and raise a calf, it could potentially cost a ranch a lot of money. As a cattleperson, it is one of your many jobs to make sure you don’t have many ‘open’ cows.
Most cattlepeople will just “cull” a cow that is open. Depending on the year, it doesn’t make economical sense to keep a cow a whole year when she isn’t producing and she isn’t guaranteed to have a calf the next year. When we have open cows, I like to turn them into a hamburger cows if I can. It breaks my heart to see a big, healthy cow that we’ve had for a couple years go to the sale yard, even if she isn’t doing her job.
Since I have many, many friends that are on the paleo diet right now, they want lean, grass-finished hamburger. Hamburger cows are exactly that – healthy, lean beef that has had nothing but grass and meadow hay to eat her whole life. By turning our cull cows into hamburger cows, everyone wins. My cow gets a quality death at home, my local paleo eaters get wonderful beef, and I get a paycheck.
This brings me to my story…..
Last summer, my Parents gave me a hamburger cow in celebration of me quitting my job. I was excited about it because in my head I was thinking that I would use the money to buy myself a shinny new horse! This particular cow was fat, and she was open, we were sure of it! When we moved the other cows up to the mountains,we cut her back and she lived in a field next to the house for a few weeks, until I called and made THE APPOINTMENT. In the meantime, I’d found a group of people that wanted to buy her for a hamburger share. They were excited about having great burgers to grill all summer and I was already imagining that new horse smell.
Right before I made the appointment, we noticed something one morning. A calf. My open, sold, cull cow had a bull calf! It was a problem on levels! I had to go back and explain to my hamburger cow buyers that I did not, in fact, have a cow for them. Then we had to worry about having a pair on the winter ranch, during the summer – the heat, stickers and predators are deadly. We figured we would need a replacement calf at some point during the summer, and we could use him (a replacement calf is when a cow needs a baby because for whatever reason her calf didn’t survive). Oddly enough this year ended up being the ‘year of twins’, he stayed with his Mom all summer.
Fast forward to now. This bull calf spent the past 6 months with little to no human interaction, he’s had no vaccinations, no brand, he still is ‘intact’ and he is wild! We felt especially tough last week and decided it was time to get this little bull calf in and in the words of my father “change his mind from @ss to grass” or castrate him. Since it was the year of the twins, we also had a house herd of bottle calves that needed to be vaccinated and branded. Last week was the perfect opportunity to tie up all of out loose ends, and “work” (work means to castrate, brand and vaccinate) these calves.
We were able to work the bottle calves with no problem. They received their vaccinations and were de-wormed. They also got an earmark and a brand so if they got lost or stolen, we could identify them and bring them home. Next up, the Hamburger Cow’s bull calf. Since this calf has had no human interaction, he was scary to be around. If I would have given him the chance, he would have gladly jumped on top of me and done a little dance on my head. Don’t worry, I didn’t give him that chance!
We dislike castrating calves when they are this old. We feel that the earlier it is done, the less stress is causes the calf. Unfortunately, because of the mess-ups we had with this cow and calf, we were left no choice. Luckily, he is a nice, healthy calf and he handled it well and is fine.
There are several ways to work cattle. Some producers will use horses and rope their calves to work them, and some will use chutes. We feel like using a chute is less stressful for both our animals and us, so that is why we choose to use a chute and a corral systems instead of horses and ropes.
Our calf table catches and squeezes the calves to keep them calm. For the bull calves, we flip the chute/table on it’s side to preform the castration. The chute is built for this exact purpose, and it works well. HOWEVER, since our particular bull calf was a complete and udder mess-up, this didn’t work like it was supposed to. After our calf had been castrated and we tried to flip him back on his feet, but he just kept going. The calf table tipped the wrong way, WITH THE CALF STILL IN IT. I’d never seen that happen before, in all my years on the ranch.
Thankfully, the calf got out fine. He was let back out into the field with is Mom and has since recovered from his ordeal. I sincerely hope we are done with mess-ups with this pair!
This has been our epic mess-up. Despite our best plans, sometimes nothing works out the way we planned. In animal agriculture I re-learn that lesson everyday. Animals always make life interesting!
EDIT: January 15, 2014
We’ve had no rain since my original post. We are basically out of hay and grass. We’ve purchased more supplement’s. Today was the first day my Dad mentioned selling some cattle. I want to cry. California Cattlepeople need help. Hay is sky high, if you can find it, the grass is gone and the weather forecast is not good. This is really scary and sad.
2013 was a rough year for many cattlepeople, and we here the Brown Ranch are no different. While our ranch did not have it as bad as the ranchers in South Dakota, we struggled with a pasteurella outbreak in the spring, pink eye over the summer and finally our year is ending with extreme drought, which means, no grass to feed our cattle.
My family has taught me that in order to be good at what what we do, we need to have a contingency plan for everything that could go wrong. Life in agriculture is never boring, it’s never easy and Lord knows, it is anything but simple. Since my family has had generations and generations to learn this lesson, our ranch will survive.
Even though we had no idea that this year would be so severe in terms of rain and feed, we planned for it, because we must. As I explained before, our cattle spend half the year on Table Mountain Ranch and the other half on The Mound Ranch. If you want to know more details about why we do that please read this. When we shipped our cattle to The Mound Ranch this past spring, we made sure to leave lots of grass or “feed” for the cattle to come back to. Again, this “feed” is not guaranteed to even be here when we ship our cattle back in the fall because often, we have fires here in the summer.
In addition to leaving feed on the winter ranch to come back to, another thing we do, as a contingency (what if we have a fire??), is make hay. In a good feed year, we can sell any extra hay for income. In a bad feed year, like this year, we use the hay to supplement our cattle. Since the grass has not grown, our girls must eat the dry grass from last year. But that dry grass can only last so long, and it doesn’t have the same nutrients as fresh, green grass.
By supplementing our cattle’s diet with hay, they will continue to be happy and healthy. Our number one goal on this ranch is the health and comfort of our animals. We do not want them to feel any type of stress, by making sure they don’t realize we are having a poor feed year, we prevent a whole list of health problems; from aborted calves to illnesses and death.
Yet another tool we use to ensure the health and happiness of our cattle are supplements. Our cattle always have access to mineral salt, it is necessary for their survival. However, during lean years when there is not new grass growth, they also get a protein supplement. When cattle eat dried out grass, with no new green grass, they must have a protein supplement to maintain their health (in our opinion). I know this is a horrible thing for me to admit to, but, I love these supplements because I up-cycle the blue tubs, they are the perfect size to plant dwarf trees in!!!
There are many, many, many, different supplements on the market for cattle. In the past we’ve used Crystalyx, and other local companies. Right now we are using a generic 24% protein supplement, since we are feeding hay as well.
I know those of us in agriculture are famous for never being happy with the weather. It’s always too wet, too dry, too cloudy, too sunny. But this is serious, cattlepeople in the west are facing some very tough times right now. Hay is expensive, if you can find it, extra rangeland is impossible to find, and the weather refuses to compromise. I am afraid for many of my neighbors and friends. Hope for rain my friends.