Monday, June 15, 2015

Getting Ready for the Cattle Auction

Mark heading off with a load of calves for auction

We sold some of our weanling calves last week.  It is always a big deal to bring in all the cattle and sort them and then haul the 7 to 9 month calves away from their mamas.  It is traumatic for me.  Apparently a bit traumatic for them too as many cows and calves  moo.  There is always that one calf or cow, that hard as we try, we just can't seem to catch.... at first.  We are  pretty tenacious about these things and usually eventually get them in and the mooing subsides. 

We aren't cowboys or really even cattlemen, although we have cattle and take good care of them, so I guess it makes us such by default.  We don't push our cows anywhere on horses or with dogs.  We've got them trained to come to our truck's horn honk and my voice hollering, "Come on cows".  I say it kind of like a cow moo, with an emphasis on, ON.  I sit in the back of the truck on a load of the sweetest smelling alfalfa hay we can find in the local feed stores and I hand out little bites to the cows that begin streaming out of the woods.  We are sort of like the ice-cream truck on the ranch, minus the ice-cream and the really creepy music. 

We have two herds, cliques really, of cows.  They don't like to mingle.  They really get ugly when they are forced to mingle, so we don't mix them much.  We first bring in the cows from the back and top of the ranch to our middle barn and corrals.  Then the next day we bring in the front and main house herd to our arena by our house. We probably could bring them all in one day, but that might be pushing the work load.   When we first started managing the herd about 10 years ago, it would take us a week of hard work and we would have to set up portable catch pens and haul a lot of the cattle in.  They were stubborn and we couldn't coax or push them with horses to the corrals.  Now it is easy peazy all it takes is a holler and a honk. 

Once they are in the corrals we have to keep them fed and watered, of course.  Each pen goes through multiple 600 lb. bales of hay and we have to haul water to our arena.  The middle barn corrals have a water trough that is spring fed, but we have to keep an eye on it as it has a tendency to stop running. 

Sale day we sort the mama cows from the calves, sometimes we will do one pen the day before.  I really don't like this part.  Besides the mooing cows and calves, we sort on foot and at our middle corrals, which are aging , it can be a bit dangerous.  This year Mark beefed up the rotting wood with extra boards and wire and he fixed the gates the best he could with cables.  He also added an extra pipe corral gate and a couple panels.  This helped a lot, but I still didn't help at the middle corrals. I'm a weenie.   Mark enlisted the help of our son  Eric and his wife Jo.  They are 10 times the help I am in sorting.  I did help sort at our arena corrals at the front of the ranch.  Mark designed them and they are simple and safe and new.  It is all pipe corrals, so it should stay good for a long, long, time. 

Once the calves are sorted from the cows we look at the  calves and decide which ones we will sell and which ones we will keep one more year for our freezer beef program and for replacement heifers.  We release those animals.  Then we begin loading the calves that are left and Mark hauls them to the auction yard about an hour and a half away.   Mark makes multiple trips. With the last load we stay in town, do a little shopping and go to the auction.  I always get worried that the calves won't get a good price, but they always seem to.   After the sale we collect our check, put it in the bank and go home. 

The next morning we sort out the cows  from the bulls and the big steers saved from last year that will soon be someone's beef and we haul the cows from the middle barn to our arena corrals. Here they mingle with the front cows and the dirt flies for a while.   It is a cow brawl.   Later that day, the pregnancy check guy ( I wonder what the proper term is?) arrives and we run the cows through the chute and he tells us if they are pregnant or not.   The cows that are open get a big O on their hip with some kind of colored chalk or marker and they get put into a different pen.   The old cows will go to the auction next week to be sold.    Around here, you need to get pregnant.  This is always hard for me too.  This year, our oldest cow at age 24 years came up open.  She is the queen bee of cows and has  been excellent at having a calf year after year after year.  I am really sad to see her go, but it was bound to happen sooner or later. Providentially, she had a heifer this year and we will keep her and the queen bee's family line will live on.

Loading cattle from the middle barn corrals

FYI:  Right before the cattle round up  we went on another big hike  and the details are on our hiking blog: