Thursday, January 31, 2013
Each year we check our cows to see if they are pregnant or not. I would love to say that all we do is have them tinkle on a stick…but that is so not the case. Yes, my friends it is ANOTHER process. We are in the business of growing beef so if a cow is not pregnant she is not working. When we check them and they are not pregnant for the first time they will get another chance to re-breed. We will put a yellow tag in her left ear so we know what year she was open (not pregnant) and we put an initial on the tag to let us know which herd she is from. She will then go with the other open cows to another pen and we will put a bull with these cows to see if we can get the desired result.
If the cow is checked, is not pregnant and already has a yellow tag we have to decide if she is young enough to get one more chance (three strikes and you are out) or in bad health, she is not given another chance. We have seen cows come through who are up to 18 years old and always had a calf every year of her life. Cannot ask more of her than that. They do not always reproduce for that long but we have had our fair share. Our rule is…if she is still healthy herself and having healthy calves…she gets to stay. We don’t cull a cow just because of her age…if she is doing her job and doing it well, she stays. We take really good care of our cows and that is why they reproduce even in their "golden years".
Adam runs the squeeze chute. It is a hydraulic system. These long hoses run from the chute to the back of a tractor. That is where we get the power. The oil in these hoses is what runs the chute and makes the doors and sides open and close. Adam has the hard task of catching the cow just right so her head is caught in the opening of the front doors all the while closing the back doors soon enough to keep the next cow from coming in the chute too soon. He is really good at it…you have to be a patient person…he does an awesome job. And Remi is always there to give his moral support. :)
We try to park the tractor far off to the side to cut down on the noise. These hoses have to be rolled back up after each use and put back on the trailer to go to the next field. They are heavy, bulky, and not easy to roll up…not a fun job. Another not-fun job is when the hose gets a split in it. Hydraulic oil starts shooting everywhere. We have to shut everything down and fix the hose before we can work the chute again. It is also haard to work the chute on really cold days because the oil gets really cold and turns thick. Takes a while to get it heated up and flowing right.
Van is our "medicine man". He gets the oral and topical parasite control meds, the injectable meds, the tags, guns, needles, syringes, table, note pad, pen, gloves, …the list goes on and on. I still don’t know how he remembers everything!!!! He gives the oral parasite control meds with this gun and hose. This medicine is for worms and flukes that can get in the cows stomach. The long silver tube actually goes in the cows mouth and shoots the medicine right into the back of the throat. They don’t seem to mind too much. But like me, Van is appalled by cow slobber. Not sure why it is but I can tolerate blood, poop, and even pee-pee better than slobber. He usually gets a face or shirt full of slobber before the day is done. He also has to remember to bring paper towels.
Van is really good at coming up with great ideas to make our job easier. He fixed this “holster” for the syringe gun to give the shots to the cows. Sometimes we just don’t have any room to put stuff and have it still be easy to get to. He is great at getting us a quick remedy for these situations. The cows get one vaccination with this kind of gun syringe. It is a 5-way viral with Leptospirosis and Vibrio vaccine. Sometimes I give it and sometimes Van does it. Just depends on the room we have to put all our stuff.
Van also does the ear tagging. We use yellow tags in the left ears to signify if a cow has been open before and the year she was open and orange tags in the right ear to give the cow an ID number. Sometimes the ID tags either fall out or get so faded we cannot read them. They are supposed to be able to be seen from a pretty good distance in case we have to locate a certain cow in a herd. So many times we have to replace the orange tag. We have also been known to have a bucket of soapy water and a sponge to clean the dirty tags to make them readable from a distance.
It is my job to load the tagging guns, keep the tags in order, mix the vaccine, document the cows info and number & initial the yellow tags. I am kind of like Van’s assistant. I pretty much do whatever he asks me to do. I do believe we could perform a very delicate surgery with very accurate precision if we are ever needed to. Van is VERY patient therefore we work very well together. And I am very thankful for his patience, he has taught me everything I know about this part of “cow work”. And I am still learning. My whole “old dog…no new tricks” attitude…does not apply here. (as long as Van is the one teaching). :)
This is Adams’s station…he runs the chute and puts the topical parasite meds on the cows back. This medicine is to get rid of flies and lice. The flies can be really bad in the summer and this stuff is a must. The cows get a squirt. We try to time it just right so if I am giving the shots we synchronize our squirts and pokes so I don’t get a squirt on the arm or in the face. It has only happened a few times but who doesn’t need a good de-licing every now and then :)
This is my work station. I write down the cows I.D. number which is on the orange tag in her right ear. I keep them in order and number the page so we know our pregnancy rate when we are finished with each herd and then it gives us a total percentage at the end of the preg. checking season. I also write P for pregnant and O for open. If the cow is open and not getting another try we cut out all tags so we know she will be sold at the market. She gets a line through her number and I write SELL by it.
I have another very important job. No, I do not have to preg. check the cow but I do get a glove. I get to hold the tail for the Doc. I hold it out of the way so his job is easier. But even more important than that I hold that “poop slinger” still so Doc doesn’t get a face full of poop or pee pee. He tells us that he doesn’t get this kind of special treatment at all the farms he goes to. He really appreciates it and that is enough for me. Never been afraid of poop…but as I have said before slobber is a whole ‘nuther story. I would like to think Doc is just happy to see me because of my sparkling personality but it is really just because of my tail holding ability. If this job falls through I can always be a snake wrangler because that is what it feels like sometimes when I am trying to grab ahold of that swinging tail.
Here is a front view of the squeeze chute inside the portable pens. You may or may not know… or even want to know exactly how the Doc checks the cows. But I am going to tell you anyway. You can imagine where he has to stick his arm. Lots of poop. It really doesn’t seem to hurt the cow but I am sure it is uncomfortable just a bit. It is actually called palpating the cow. He is feeling for 1 of 3 things. 1. He sometimes can feel the calf itself. 2. He feels for a large artery that when the cow is pregnant he can actually feel a “whooshing” motion going on in the artery (blood flow). 3. There are these knobby things called cotyledons that show up when the mama is 4 months pregnant. These knobs get bigger each month and help gage exactly what stage of pregnancy the cow is in. Now don't I sound like I know what I am talking about. I got my info from our Doc and hopefully I got it right. :)
Now I don’t mean to brag…but I will !! We have a great Doc who is really quick and efficient. Now his being quick is not all on him. We as a crew are quite awesome at our jobs. So much so that if there is ever a contest or a competition where a cow crew is timed in the palpating and processing of a cow…we are in it AND we will win it. We are just that AWESOME. Just ask anyone…our reputation precedes us.
When we can’t put up the portable pens because of space issues we have to keep backing up the trailer and loading up the open and sell cows. It is very time consuming and we just sometimes don’t have those extra minutes we need in a day. The preg. cows just get let out and back into the herd but the open and sell cows have to be loaded up and hauled off. And of course sometimes it is open, preg, open, preg, sell, preg. Yes, that means back up, load, pull up, back up, load, pull up. We don’t even have enough time to go into the fact that when we are loading cows on a trailer that already has cows on it…we have to keep them from coming back off. It is a process… methodical and tedious at times. That is why the portable pens are so important and beneficial.
Here is another example of space issues. We got a trailer full of cows. The other truck and trailer is too long to get turned around in the pen to back up to the chute to load the last of the cows. So what do we do…we take cows from the shorter trailer and put them on the long trailer leaving us the shorter trailer to use and be able to get turned around in the pen and back up to the chute. Okay it is not brain science or rocket surgery but it dang sure works for us and gets the job done with a few minutes to spare. We have a great group of drivers who can get all these fancy “back-up” jobs done. I am NOT among those drivers. My talents lie elsewhere like “poopy” tail wranglerin’.
Right now we have about 1400 cows. This can be quite a chore. Our smallest herd has about 60 cows. That kind of a day goes by fast and we will usually do two small herds in a day anywhere between 60 and 125 cows. Our biggest herd has around 375 cows. That is a full days work. Each and every cow has to be brought up to the chute, get palpated, vaccinated, wormed, parasite controlled, tagged, and documented. That makes for a very long day. But when you see all those numbers on those pages you can really tell you have done something. And when you see pages filled with P's it makes even the roughest of days worth the effort.
It is hard work. It is sometimes unrewarded. But it is our job just the same. We are so fortunate to get to work God’s beautiful land and His animals. Lots of times we find our only reward in the beautiful morning moons, sun rises and sunsets of each day.
A hard days work in these places is still way better than any other job I can think of. The beauty of this land is breathtaking. I am both blessed and humbled by it.
Who, as a child, did not want to be a cowboy/cowgirl when they "growed up". I know I did because I grew up watching John Wayne with my Dad. My questions before we watched the movies were always "Daddy, are there any cowgirls in this movie, do any of the horses get hurt, and does the dog die????? He was always honest with me...and I still watched with him no matter what the answers were. I am living that dream. I am one lucky girl.
I am so happy to be able to do what I do… and do it with the absolute great people I get to do it with. I do a lot of questionable jobs for and with this crew. I cannot think of any other people I would do this for or with. These guys are awesome. It is work and it is sometimes just a bit on the rough side but I would have it no other way. I LOVE farmers... especially mine !!!!
at 7:39 PM
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
I am asked quite often what does it mean when you say you have to “work cows”? That is a good question with a long answer. Anything that has to do with cows falls under this category. Everything from spraying, tagging, pregnancy checking, vaccinating, parasite control, putting bulls in, taking bulls out, moving cows from one place to another, calf processing, feeding… the list goes on and on.
If you had asked Kelsey when she was young what in means she would just say it is when we “chase cows”. She had to get up early before school to help and that is all we did… “chase” the cows to the cow pen and then she went to school not knowing we did anything else. Believe me, she now knows exactly what it means to “work cows”.
It all starts really early. I am quite spoiled and my horse is usually saddled when I get to work at 6:45 a.m. (But they don’t complain too much because I am the one who usually brings the donuts or little debbie snack cakes and drinks for breakfast.) Which means they start way before 6:45 to get the horses into the pen and then saddled. For the record I DO know how to saddle my horse and I usually always unsaddle my own horse and have been known to unsaddle for others. (I’m just sayin’). The moon was really pretty the morning this picture was taken. This picture does not do it justice. This is the men talking “business”… I stay out of that conversation.
The first thing we do is round up the cows. That is where we go out with the horses, the dog, and trucks to push the cows to a certain pen or pasture to get them to the chute.
Like I said we do start really early. Sometimes before the sun is up and it is very foggy. This is where we have to walk through some pine trees. Luckily I have never had a horse that was scared of the woods, but we have been spooked by darting deer many times. The crew mows between the trees so we have a nice path to walk down but there was a time when it was not mowed and was quite grown up and hard to walk through. I just remember doing the horse and rider limbo thing when going under a huge spider web. Only thing worse than hitting the web was hitting the web and NOT seeing the spider. :(
We have professional riders/cowboys who can definitely get the job done. We travel over all kinds of terrain. Mostly pasture but there are lots of ditches and ponds in some of the places we have to gather cows.
This particular field is where we had peanuts last year, has been plowed and is some deep soft dirt. Not fun to walk in at all. Sassy was giving me the old stink eye meaning she was not going to walk there. I was happy to do as she “asked” and we watched the other riders walk on without us.
Speaking of Sassy, this was one of our last rides together. She is now retired. She has been put out to pasture to eat bon bons and watch soap operas for the rest of her life. She was a great horse and I will miss her but she has earned and deserves her rest.
This is my new ride. He is a Red Roan. His butt looks kind of like it has been sprinkled with white powder. It is a really cool color. He is a great horse and I think we will be happy together.
When I got him I was told he was being called “Roanie”. I liked the name but the cow crew made fun of me saying they had never seen a red roan that was NOT named Roanie. So Mickey said he always wanted to name a red roan, Ron. Ron the roan. So that is it. When it is all business it will be “Mr. Ron” and when it is just me and him it will be “Ronnie”. So far so good. He does not stumble and likes to walk fast. And when he needs to get up and go… I hang on. I think we will make a great team.
Here is one herd going into the pens. We have already gathered them up from the prairie and put them into this pen to go to the squeeze chute.
This is Remi the wonder cow dog doing his job. He has gotten very good at it. He has learned how to keep the cows in a group. He will get out around any that try to break from the herd. He is also good at helping us push them. He finally learned that his position is "behind". For a while he wanted to get ahead of them and it just confused the cows. He has come a long way and is doing great.
Another important part of cow work is setting up portable pens. We only need these when we are separating cows to keep from the cows to sell. This is mainly when we are pregnancy checking cows. Some of the pens are not set up to separate and hold two sets of cows going to different places. For example when we preg. check cows we keep the preg. cows, open cows, and sell cows separate because they need to go to three different places. The portable pens give us another way to cut the cows and load them directly onto the trailer.
Putting them together is no small task. They are brought in on a large trailer pulled by a tractor. And then assembled by hand.
Adam is our expert forklift operator. He is a “smooth operator”. This is him getting the squeeze chute. It is way harder than it looks. He makes it look so simple. Not a job I will have any time soon. You know what they say about women drivers.
This is another helpful piece of equipment. It is a holding chute to hold the cows in right before they go into the squeeze chute. Saves time and we are all about the correct use of time around here. The cows are sometimes hard to get to come through the squeeze chute, this holding chute allows either one or two cows to be waiting to come in. A real time saver. Time is money and sometimes minutes can make a difference.
Each and every time the portable pens have to be put up and taken down the same day because sometimes we may use them multiple times in a day at different places.
This is what is looks like finished.
This herd and set of cow pens is called Sand Pond. One of my favorites because of all the beautiful oak trees. But the pens have seen better days and are in need of some major overhauling.
The “cow whisperer” at work. Pug does A LOT of the “bringing up” of the cows. There is a right way and a wrong way. He wants it done right, every time.
We are lucky to have a good set of horses. They are hard to come by because nobody wants to get rid of a good horse. All cowboys don’t ride horses. Van and Greg drive the trucks. They can cover more ground and check the far back corners of the fields and get to gates and gaps quicker than the horses can. Sometimes just making sure the right gates are either opened or closed can make or break a “cow work” day.
Sometimes it is so foggy that it is hard to see exactly what we are doing. This is a picture of the crew pushing some cows. You can barely see the truck, horses & riders, and the cows in the distance.
Remi finds him a hiding place in the bushes so he can jump out and bark at the cows without getting his head kicked in. He is learning all the tricks. But these lessons learned sometimes come with some harsh consequences. This “Nie-Nie” sometimes has a hard time watching him learn things the “hard way”. I have to remind myself that he is part of the “cow work “ crew too and not just my grand-dog. :)
You can see the remnants of our breakfast of champions. A morning without diet coke is a morning that this cowgirl does not want to work. The crew always makes sure I get one first so they don’t risk having to work with me…without one :)
I actually got a picture of Remi siting still…does not happen often and this was after about 10 tries. He is always moving. He did stop long enough to cool off in a puddle and I got him again. But these moments are few and far between.
Remi was showing the buffalo who the boss is on this farm.
“Cow work” does cover a lot. There are no unimportant jobs. The guys in the back pushing up the cows are just as important as the guys up front working the chutes and processing the cows. They have to deal with these sometimes stubborn and angry (we don’t use the term, MAD) cows. Some are easy going and just saunter into to chute…get their business done and are off to enjoy their good life on this farm. Then there are those cows who want to see just how many cowboys they can put on or through the fence. It is just yet another process. It all boils down to having good people to watch your back and of course to laugh their butts off at you if you get put on or through the fence…as long as you are not hurt. I still don’t see the funny in that part of it. Maybe it is just the mama in me. But I do see the honesty and loyalty in a good crew. I LOVE farmers!!! Especially the ones who grow cows!
at 9:19 PM