Tag Archives: calf
The shit my Dad has been giving me lately, about not having kids, is reaching rather remarkable proportions. Why, you ask. Because our new neighbors have one of the cutest little boys, ever. Wyatt is 3, soon to be 4. His Parents, Megan and Jared, moved next door to our summer ranch in the mountains and I just got to meet them this spring.
I was already a fan of these neighbors before I even met them because they wanted pigs. They had some of my heritage pork last summer and knew they need to raise their own. This just tickled me because, as you all know, promoting heritage pork is one of my pet projects. The first time I met them in real life was when I delivered 5 pigs to their house. Since then our pig plans have grown, but that’s for another post.
They’ve been a huge help around the ranch, we tend to get really excited about that. My Dad and I both have really enjoyed getting to know them, and hanging out with Wyatt, which has lead to my Dad’s grandpa fever. I’ll even admit, Wyatt is starting to even make me think about dating again (DO NOT TELL MY DAD I SAID THAT!).
As I mentioned before, Wyatt has a birthday coming up, so it was decided that he needed something special. Something that he could grow with, teach him stuff and maybe eventually make some money from (you know, for school). Obviously, the answer was a little heifer bottle calf.
We always end up with a few bottle babies every year, some we sell to neighbors that need to graft a calf and sometimes I keep them to sell as a beef. We started looking for just the right calf for Wyatt, one that would make a good cow in a few years. She also needed to have a nice attitude. We had a poor old cow die during birth, it does happen once in a while. The little heifer that was born, that now had no mama, was sweet and calm, perfect for the birthday boy. Wyatt named his calf, Sally.
It’s important to my family that we expose kids to production agriculture. We know we live a unique existence and we want to share that with people that have an interest in what we do. We’re also being terribly selfish because in just a few short years, Wyatt is going to be amazing help on the ranch!
Wyatt is going to feed this baby all summer. When we move down to the valley she is going to come down with the rest of the cows and enjoy a mild winter with lots of grass. Next year when it’s time for Sally to have a bullfriend, we’ll make sure that happens so Wyatt can expand his herd.
We’re excited to watch Wyatt and Sally grow up together. We can already see it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship and hopefully a long line of black angus cows and delicious meat!
WARNING! This might be considered by some to be gross, inappropriate, or tragic, but I think it is extremely important to share the how’s, what’s and why’s of our food. If you have any questions about anything you see please ask – I love to share about the ranch.
Every single cattle person I interact with loves their cattle. Our lives revolve around them and their needs. Their needs are met before our own. Their well-being is our first priority, always. When we have an animal in distress, we are in distress as well, and we do everything we possibly can to fix the situation.
I was reminded of this fact recently. It’s calving season in Northern California. Calving season is the best and worst time of our year. On one hand we are witnessing the birth of our future, new life and all the promise that brings. On the other hand, this is the time when things are most likely to go wrong.
Just like when humans give birth, it is an event. Bodies change, hormones rage and things can go wrong. 98 percent of the time everything is fine, everyone is healthy. But sometimes, we do have problems. Often heifers, whom are giving birth for the first time, will need some assistance. Sometimes a cow will have a set of twins or a calf will be born backwards. In this case, both happened. In this video you will see our neighbor and family friend “pulling” a backward, twin, calf.
Unfortunately the calf you saw being pulled was not alive at birth and could not be resuscitated. However, her twin was alive and well!
When calves are born and are not breathing, there are certain methods we will use to resuscitate them. I’ve seen my father perform mouth to mouth on calves before and they lived! My Mom jokes that she decided to marry my Dad after watching him save a newborn calf. You can see Brian feeling and rubbing the chest, to double check that she was gone. This calf was already gone, so she felt no pain.
However when we do have a calf that is born dead, and without a twin for the cow to raise, we have methods to lessen the grief of the cow. Again we want our cattle to be happy, to do their jobs, and earn us an income so we can continue to ranch.
Cattle people work very hard to prevent pulling calves. I mean, honestly, is reaching your arms into the reproductive organs of a cow, something that you would WANT to do? No. This is why we use technology to improve what we do and hopefully prevent this from happening as much as we can.
We use our knowledge of genetics and our understanding of EPDs (expected progeny differences) to manipulate our cattle herd. This means, calves are born with smaller birth weights (making birth easier on everyone, little babies are easier to push out!), but higher weaning weights. This makes us efficient. We are using technology to do more with less. I’ve been especially lucky in my lifetime to see these changes first hand. When I was a child, I remember watching my Dad pull way more calves than he does now. Our calves were also weaned at 500 pounds versus almost a 1000 now, all because we have access to better technology.
By adapting this technology into our herds we have improved the quality of our cattle’s lives, the quality of our lives and have become more efficient and sustainable. Yes, we still have death and loss, but, as I’ve just explained here, we constantly are seeking out ways to mitigate that.
Mama cow and her baby (from the above video) are currently grazing in a lush, green field in Northern California.
Our friend Pete Neer came over for dinner, but ended up being put to work! We’ve had a really aggressive strain of pink eye hit our cattle. We’ve been very pro-active, treating them for flies (that helps prevent the spread), giving them minerals (healthy cows are happy cows!), and staying on top of the sick ones.
Despite our best effort to prevent illness in our cattle, we’ve had to treat some.
We used antibiotics on this calf because if we wouldn’t have the calf would have been in a lot of pain, and lost his eye. He’ll be sold separate from the rest if our herd, but that will be next year. By that time, no residue will be left. I use AB’s as a last ditch effort, very carefully, and very respectfully.
When we use antibiotics it costs us a lot of money. Not something that a ranch wants to do. It’s costs us to treat the calf and after it is treated, it’s not worth as much money because we can’t sell it as ‘natural’. That is why we work so hard to keep our cattle healthy. Quite simply, our consumers demand it, and we want them happy.
That is me screaming because my Dad wasn’t paying attention when that cow was in front of us! I thought he was going to hit her!
The calf is now fine. He can see, he feels good, he is healthy. It’s really amazing how one little shot can save a life.
Ranching is not always nice. It’s not always pretty or kind. Bad things do happen, but as cattlepeople our job is to attempt to mitigate those bad things to the best of our ability. I covered bottle calves a few posts ago, in this post we are going to talk about what happens when you need one of those bottle calves as a replacement calf.
Calves die. Sometimes they will get sick, sometimes they will get hurt, sometimes they will fall into a ditch and drown. It never gets easier seeing a dead calf. But thankfully it doesn’t happen that often and when it does, we have methods that soothe the grieving momma cow, and gives a bottle calf a new lease of life – grafting.
Once the calf is skinned, you place his hide on the bottle calf that will be taking his place. This is done because the dead calf’s hide smells like the cow. The cow will think it’s her baby because it smells like him, making the graft much easier.
The calf is placed with its new mom. We put the pair in a dark room in the barn, we like the cow to really be able to smell the calf and not see it as much for the first few hours. We think it helps with the graft.
The “jacket” will be removed from the calf in about two days. In the meantime the calf will be licked and loved by his new Mom, and he will be drinking her milk. This will make the baby really smell like her’s even when the “jacket” is removed.
Calf grafting is one of my first memories of working on the Ranch. I remember being a very little kid and my Dad teaching me how to graft one of the bottle calves I was taking care of, to one of our old Hereford cows. My Dad claimed to learn his particular method of grafting from an old cowboy, but I can’t remember who. It’s always felt like a pretty big deal to me, giving a calf a new mom and mom and new baby to love.
I noticed in all my research on the Internets there is no comprehensive pasture to plate photo essay for consumers to see. Explorebeef.org paints a very pretty picture but it definitely has some holes in the process. I give you Brown Ranch – Pasture to Plate:
Birth – Usually in June/July.
They hang out with Mama and the herd until they are processed.
Calves are processed at around 1 and a half months of age.
They come home to the winter Ranch around 5 months old.
They graze all winter and are weaned in the spring at about 10 months old.
At about twenty two months old, the cattle we kept back from the commercial herd get custom exempt slaughtered here on the Ranch. The commercial cattle are sold when they are around a year old and weigh 900 pounds. The commercial cattle will become the meat that consumers can buy from Whole Foods, Costco, Raley’s – for example. Those cattle will be processed in a facility very much like Cargill’s.
Mr. Dewey is amazing to watch.
A hot carcass.
It will be taken to his meat locker where it will dry age for 18-21 days.
After it’s aged the meat cutters will break it down into the cuts most consumers are familiar with.
This is an art, as far as I’m concerned.
Steaks, glorious steaks.
The equipment used to cut and package the meat is amazing.
Jerky in the dehydrator.
This is the cow my Parents gave me for my 30th birthday. I made it into jerky and ground beef (and a couple of special Megan steaks).
It says my name!
BBQ is my favorite steak cooking method.
Brown Ranch grass finished beef.
We made the transition from herefords to black angus in the early 1990’s. The black calves simply brought more money at auction and they seem to have fewer health problems, like cancer eye. We have one or two old black baldy cows left, but, for the most part all that’s left of our hereford herd are old pictures like the one below. I enjoy looking at old pictures of livestock to see how breeding trends have changed. This guy below reminds me of a buffalo!
Breeding trends are especially interesting in reference to sustainability. My Dad often shares how he remembered selling calves that were two years old and 800 lbs., now we sell our 12/13 month old steers at a base weight of 850 lbs. (in a good feed year). How did we do this? Genetics, an awesome vaccination program, good nutrition, using modern technology that was available to us. In addition to improving our herd, we also improved our land. I mentioned before we laser leveled our fields to improve production. We also leave each ranch empty for 6 months out of the year. We practice rotational grazing and attempt to mimic a natural cycle.
I’ve been told that it takes 19% less feed, 12% less water, 33% less land per unit of beef produced today as compared to 1977. By looking at old pictures it really helps me to “see” the comparative advantage. It seems like animal ag has made some pretty big advance in the past 30 years. It’s exciting to see what the next 30 will bring!