Reality Ranching August 2013
I am reminded daily by the chorus of cicadas and the gathering flocks of blackbirds and swallows that summer is slipping away. What a difference a year can make as our weatherman reported that the average temperature for July this summer was 11 degrees cooler than last summer and several degrees cooler than the “norm” for July.
From June to mid-July it appeared we were again going into a drought as crops began to yellow from the lack of moisture. Paul and I left Kansas on July 19 to rendezvous with his sisters on the East Coast. The day after we departed the state an inch of rain fell on our parched corner of Wabaunsee County. I believe we heard the sigh of relief from farmers and ranchers all the way to Cape Cod. The cloudy, cool, wet weather persisted in our county until the 10th of August. This is very unusual for late July and August as it is typically our hottest and driest part of summer. Although many areas around us received heavy rains that filled up receding ponds and brought creek levels high enough to take water gaps out that wasn’t the case for our corner of the county. Nevertheless, we look as green and lush as if it were early spring!
When Paul and I return from our foray out East it is time to round-up the steer calves, sell them and collect the ranch paycheck for the year. We have 40 steers to gather from various small pastures this last day of July. Randall pens three bunches of cows on the south end of the ranch while Paul and I pen two groups on the north end. Despite the fact that we must sort and load calves from five different places everything runs quite smoothly. I don’t mean to brag, but gosh these calves look good. When you consider the majority of them are out of first calf heifers it is especially pleasing.
Once we load the calves into the three stock trailers it is time to “load” Dalton, Jake and Cousin Seth in the old, extended cab, Chevy. Paul leads our caravan of trucks and trailers, I am in the middle and Randall and the boys bring up the rear. We drive the 45 miles to the sale barn without incidence. At the sale barn there is only one trailer in front of us so we are able to unload the bewildered calves in good time. Now all we have to do is wait a couple of hours for the start of the cattle auction.
When the sale starts we patiently wait and watch as other people’s cattle are paraded around the sale ring and auctioned off to the highest bidder. The boys, including three-year old Jake, are engrossed in the ritual of the auction. I am sitting by Dalton and we discuss the total weight of the groups and what the average weight is of the cattle in the group. We also talk about why, at times, the ring men sort this or that animal out of a bunch of cattle. We decide the men usually take a critter out because the animal is not black in color or because the calf is smaller than the other calves in the group.
Dalton spies our calves immediately, due to their yellow ear tags, as they run through the open gate into the sale ring. The sale barn owners have sorted our calves by size and the first group of 23 calves weigh an average of 747 pounds. The steers look fantastic plus they are very calm about the whole process considering that a human being is chanting into a microphone while two strangers are herding them around the ring so the buyers can appraise them. The gavel comes down and the young auctioneer declares the steers sold at a price per hundred weight of 152.60.
The sale workers bring in our 16 smaller calves which look good and behave well. These calves weigh an average of 644 pounds and fetch 163.25 per hundred weight. The owners of the sale barn concluded one of our calves, a twin, was too small to fit with any of our other calves so he sells last and alone. We are pleased with the price both groups of calves brought. After watching the sale a few minutes longer we make our way to the office, pick up the check for the calves and return to the ranch.
The following morning Randall, Paul and I head out with the three rigs to a pasture we rent west of Alma. We carry portable panels in one trailer as we need to build a temporary corral in order to pen the cattle that are in the pasture. Upon arrival at the pasture, Paul and Randall begin building the pen. I soon take Randall’s place and he leaves on the 4 wheeler in the quest of finding the cows. Once we have all the panels set up, Paul pounds steel posts in at pressure points to give strength to the structure.
It is a beautiful morning without a breath of wind so sound carries from a great distance over the prairie. I listen to the raucous call of a blue jay and am delighted when the crisp “bobwhite” of a quail reaches my ear as I so rarely hear them anymore. A red-tail hawk screams in the distance while a phoebe repeats its name over and over. Randall adds his voice to the chorus with “come co o o ws” or “come on gi r r rls” and is answered with moos and bawls from the cows and calves. I can gauge Randall’s progress to the pen as his voice becomes louder and now I can hear the rattle of the cubes in the bucket. Soon the idling motor of the 4 wheeler is apparent interspersed with the crunching sound from the hooves of 44 head of cattle as they cross the gravelly creek.
Randall drives the 4 wheeler right into the make shift corral and most of the greedy critters follow him without hesitation, gobbling up the grain cubes he sprinkles on the ground. A few calves and cows stop at the mineral feeder but Randall continues to call and soon all but one cow have unwittingly marched into the steel circle. We don’t care about the cow anyway as we are just after their beautiful heifer calves.
Separating the calves from the cows goes as well as can be expected when you are sorting cows back into the pasture while keeping the calves in the pen. The heifer calves don’t understand why they aren’t allowed to follow mom back into the pasture. Once we have accomplished splitting the cows from the calves, we load one large trailer with heifers and put the remaining calves in the front compartment of the other aluminum trailer. The 4 wheeler is loaded in the back compartment. We tear down the pen placing the panels back into the small cattle trailer. Wow, I can’t believe how well that went and how fast we accomplished all this. As I am getting ready to crawl into the Ford, Paul is doing a tire check on the trailer of his rig. Blast, he has stopped by the right front tire and I can tell by his demeanor that our luck has run out.
The guys gather the jack, tire iron, spare tire and a tire ramp and get to work. Paul backs the trailer up and runs the rear inflated tire on the ramp. This lifts the flat tire high enough off the ground making it possible to get the hydraulic jack underneath the trailer. The lug nuts screech in protest but somehow Randall manages to loosen and remove the stubborn things. The guys, well mostly Randall, have the tire changed in 20 minutes. We head for home and unload the heifers in the lane south of our house where we will listen to them bawl for mama for three to five days.
This afternoon I get to visit the dentist which just thrills me. Randall and Paul will be calling cows into various lots as we are shipping the 65 steer calves we sold on Superior video auction in early July, to Minnesota tomorrow morning. When I get home Paul reports that things went so well getting the cows into the smaller lots it was scary. It makes us wonder with all our cattle activities going so smoothly thus far if everything that can go wrong will happen tomorrow!
Paul and I are out the door literally at the crack of dawn where we are greeted with a barrage of bawling heifer calves, calling for their mothers. We take care of this group of calves who come readily to eat the pellets that Paul pours into the metal bunks. These calves were fed the same pellets through the winter so they know what is happening when Paul appears with buckets in hand. Weaning calves is so much easier if they already know how to eat grain out of a bunk.
Paul and I go to the Schwanke farm and using the old bucket and pellet trick call the cows from the large lot into the calf creep pen. We leave them munching on cubes and drive back to Milton’s place where the cattle are already penned in the large calf creep area. Paul again plays pied piper with his magic bucket and I follow the herd of cattle as they trot in anticipation into the next pen. Randall, who has been corralling the cows at his house, arrives and helps us move the cows into the load out pen.
We sort the cows off the big steer calves without making a mistake. That means no calf managed to run by us and escape into the bigger pen with the cows. Our three cattle trailers are then loaded with these big boys and we haul them a mile down the road to a neighbor’s roomy loading pens. We use these pens because it is easier for a big semi to maneuver while backing the huge trailer up to the loading chute plus the pens are right next to the highway.
We go to Randall and Erin’s next where we sort and load 15 hefty steers and deposit them with the 39 steers that are walking the perimeter of the pen. One group left to get and the sky is beginning to look rainy. We head south to Schwankes and drive the herd into the small sorting area. There are 16 calves here and once we have them sorted off these calves join the rest of the Minnesota bound steers. As we leave the yard it begins to sprinkle and in the east a vivid rainbow appears. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera because of the dreary weather and hurried pace of our morning.
We have penned, sorted, loaded then hauled seventy steer calves to the neighbor’s pens in less than two hours. I’m impressed with our efficiency. The truck is due to arrive at eight thirty and we have the calves in place by 8:15. The beautiful rainbow has now become a double rainbow. How can you beat that!!
I study the group of 70 steers and have the satisfaction of thinking it will be tough for Barrett to sort off 5 head to meet our contract of 65 steer calves. I see one steer from the Schwanke calves that I don’t care for so I stop him from joining the other calves, holding him in the small pen where the calves come out of the trailer. When Barrett arrives he walks through the calves casting his professional eye over the milling steers. He picks out two calves that are on the smaller side but still good calves and we sort them into an adjacent pen. Barrett walks through the 67 remaining steers, shakes his head and returns to the three of us. He tells us he is going to see if the truck driver, who works for the feed yard where the steer calves are going, will take the extra calves. The driver says there is room for two more so that is settled. The driver gives us the number of steers he wants for each compartment of the truck and we count them off, sorting them into the load out pen. The large, healthy calves give little resistance when Randall, Paul and Barrett herd them down the chute and into the truck so we are finished in short order.
Randall and Paul load the three rejected calves into one of our trailers where Randall and the boys will haul them to the sale at Manhattan. First, we all follow the semi to Alta Vista Coop where we weigh the calves on the truck and collect our paycheck. We contracted our calves at a weight of 750 pounds but they surpass that number and weigh in at 778 pounds. That weight is after the 2 % shrink that is also in the contract so that means the calves actual weight was close to 800 pounds. WOW. This also means that the price we received during the auction will be less as the buyer was bidding on 750 pounders not 780 pounders. That’s o.k. as more pounds to sell are always a good thing. Barrett writes a note to the new owner of the calves suggesting that he place our calves in his corner pen next to the road so all his neighbors can see them as they drive by:). I guess that tells us that Barrett is quite pleased with the black steers himself.
So our yearly payday (an oxymoron I guess) is over. I always tell the worried mama cows when we wean the calves ( knowing full well they have no clue what I’m saying), “don’t worry you will have a new baby to care for in a couple of months and you should be relieved to get rid of those big rascals you are caring for now”. That of course means we too will be starting this cycle all over again in a couple of months and I can’t wait to see baby calves kicking their heels up in impromptu races on a frosty morning. Later, Nancy