Late summer is a busy time for us. Between shipping calves and pasture maintenance, there's not much time for rest.
Shipping calves takes about six weeks, averaging two truckloads of 500- to 550-lb. calves/day. We don't wean or precondition. They go directly off the cows to a backgrounder.
Shipping started earlier this year than ever before. Last year, we shortened the time our cows were exposed to the bulls and moved our calving season up one month. These adjustments have helped add more uniformity to calf size and weight.
The earlier selling date also decreases the chance of problems with mosquitoes and flooding. Standing water saps the nutritional value of grass and is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. This stressful combination can take a toll on cattle body condition.
We hired an extra cowhand to help with shipping, a neighbor boy (17), who's on break and wants to learn the cattle business. To make sure we met the child labor rules, I called our state labor office. The lady had no earthly idea what it meant to “work cattle.” I tried to explain it to her but with no luck.
She kept insisting that all requirements could be met if he worked in our office. To her surprise, I said the boy didn't want a desk job — he preferred manual labor!
Eventually, she finally told me that if he didn't handle poisonous materials, drive anything over 20 hp or work with bulls or stallions, and took a 30-minute break every four hours, it would be fine.
I asked if it was all right if he rode a horse. She said: “As long as the horse is not over 20 horsepower.” It was a real lesson on just how foreign our industry is to the average American.
Fighting Exotic Plants
Pasture maintenance adds to our hectic summer pace. While our grass is abundant, we must contend with exotic weed species that cost us grass, time and money. Brazilian peppertrees and tropical soda apple are extremely difficult to kill. All the control methods are expensive, and cattle won't eat either one.
Without pasture management, however, they will mangle fences and take over pastures, turning unmanaged land into jungles. If they continue to spread as rapidly as they have been, state program assistance may be needed for control.
As always, there's plenty to keep us busy. The cycle never ends, but for some crazy reason that is why I love this job.
Mary Anne Cruse, her brother Wes, parents and grandparents operate RuMar Inc., a large commercial cow/calf operation in South Florida. Contact her by e-mail at [email protected].