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A Cowherd’s Ultimate Test

Last week was filled with political talk and lots of debate, and while that’s greatly encouraged on this blog, I figured it was high time to get back to the basics of production agriculture.

Like a lot of young people, I’m a weekend ranch kid. I work and attend classes on weekdays, but once Friday rolls around, I’m headed home to help out. This weekend was no different as I made the hour and a half drive home to help wean calves.

After moving the rest of the cows home on Friday afternoon, Dad and I fixed fences and prepared for the big weaning day. Saturday morning came too early. We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out to the pasture to round up all the cows and begin to separate the mama cows from their calves.

Just like taking a test to pass a class, weaning calves is the cowherd’s ultimate performance measuring tool. After the calves are weaned, we work the entire group—weighing them, dehorning and castrating when necessary, deworming and updating their vaccinations. At the end of the day, we punch all of the data into spreadsheets and calculate their adjusted 205 weights to put all the calves on the same scale. Not only do we see who will make the cut, but we also get to see which cows are getting the job done. This data greatly helps our decisions when selecting replacement heifers, bulls to include in our private treaty sales and cows that may need culling.

Like a lot of ranching families, several generations are involved in the operation. Likewise, many operations suffer from the same challenges—tradition verses progressive change, old habits verses new ideas and the passing of the operation from one generation to another. For example, I have yet to convince my dad and grandpa that fence line weaning is the way to go. And my parents and I have yet to sit down and discuss how the ranch will be passed on to my sisters and I.

Does your operation have these challenges? If so, how have you dealt with these issues? What have you done to ensure the success of your operation in the future?