Opinion; By Bruce Derksen
When the relative peace and quiet of the summer months come to an end, cattlemen’s thoughts turn to weaning the calf crops. The meticulous planning of the spring vaccinations, branding, tagging, castrating, and dehorning the calves before they were sent to pasture is far in the rear view mirror. The late spring and warm summer months have added pounds, maturity and size to the calves and conditioning and health to the cowherd.
During these months, the organizational focus of many progressive ranches and feedlots has been switched to the proper upkeep and completion of new building projects, and the readiness of the weaning facilities. Usually, with the help of a veterinarian’s program, all the vaccinations, parasite controls and other health considerations are in place for both the mothers and the calves.
For, after all, these aren’t the 1980s anymore and these aren’t your daddy’s calf crops. Nor should they be. The days of haphazard lack of planning are long gone. Margins are much too tight in this day and age. Cost aside, the modern cattleman has finally reached the conclusion that a cow and calf need to be taken care of properly, for our own conscience and for the sake of appearance to the consumer. It’s just the right way to do things, all around.
Now even though us old cranky pen checkers hate coming down off our four-legged mounts and using our own two spindly legs, chances are we likely were recruited somewhere along the summer to pitch in with the many projects and repair jobs that precede the weaning process. We grudgingly swung a hammer and ran a chain saw to repair or rebuild feedlot fences, replace old barb wire with new and pound in some new posts.
I’ve always found it hard to dismount from old Sonny at these times, but once we get in the swing of things it becomes like riding a bike, as they say. The camaraderie and practical jokes shared by co-workers and friends can make the job a lot easier to take for these old bones. A staple of the agricultural life is the philosophy of teamwork and duty—everyone pitching in even when it’s not always our favorite job.
I have always been a fairly organized, mildly obsessive-compulsive person, thanks to my parents drilling into me the importance of being a productive, hardworking citizen at a young age and later having a significant other in my life who won’t let me off the hook if I ever have thoughts of straying from that path.
I’ve seen these qualities in good owners that I have had the privilege of working for and with, and in my opinion they lend themselves well to the challenge of preparing the calf crop for the trip home from the summer pastures. Good owners are not necessarily followers, but are open to new ideas. They work together with veterinarians on a plan to give the newly-weaned calf crop the best chance to be healthy, efficient, productive animals in the feedlot.
So when all the repairs have been made, the projects completed and the health program is firmly in place, we can hang up the chain saw, the hammers and carpenter’s aprons and re-acquaint ourselves with our four legged mounts to resume the pen checker’s more desired routine.
And when the day would come that the cow-calf herds are to be brought back to the ranch site, I looked forward to the butterflies in my stomach as they would turn from the pasture fences and string out down the roadway. Sonny would show off a bit more that day, snorting and throwing his head like a youngster.
Soon you would recognize the leaders that had travelled these roads before, striding on ahead with purpose. There are still the stragglers, the cows and heifers with the younger calves and the generally slower pairs, but if you’ve done your best taking care of their health throughout the summer, that’s all you can ask.
As they turn into the feedlot yards, you can be proud that even though one chapter of the year is done, it’s time to begin the next in these animal’s lives. We can be proud to say that these ain’t your daddy’s calf crops anymore.