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These aren’t your daddy’s cow herds

No more kick ’em out and forget ’em for progressive producers

Long before the time when the grass comes in thick and green and the summer winds start to blow, progressive cattlemen begin to prepare their cow-calf herds for the grazing and breeding seasons ahead. The days of rounding up the herd just before you send them to pasture, slapping on a few ear tags, chasing them down the road or loading them into trucks with merely a wave goodbye and a “best of luck” thrown out, should be long gone. Margins are much too tight to make that way of thinking a common practice anymore.

And this is no longer the 1980s, even though we may want them back at times. Your daddy’s bell-bottoms, muscle cars and mullets had their place, but these aren’t their cow herds anymore. Nor should they be. Cost aside, the modern cattleman has come to grips with the conclusion that a cow and calf need to be taken care of to a higher standard than ever before. It’s not just for our own conscience, but also for the sake of appearance to the consumer.

I have always been a fairly organized, mildly obsessive-compulsive person, thanks to my parents drilling into me, at a young age, the importance of being a productive, hard-working citizen. And later, having a significant other in my life also reinforced the need to being open minded and disciplined. I’ve seen these qualities in good owners, co-workers or neighbours I’ve 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 to the summer pastures.

Open to ideas

Good owners are not necessarily followers, but are open to new ideas. They work together with veterinarians on a plan to send out a calf herd that has the best chance to be healthy, efficient, productive animals. So many things need to be planned for and accomplished before this can happen, including purchasing proper vaccinations, castration, branding and dehorning supplies, tags, implants and louse control plus the repair and cleaning of tools and equipment. Don’t be caught short on supplies the morning you want to process the calves. Good organization cannot be underestimated.

Now it usually takes quite a bit to get us old cowboys and pen checkers down from our mounts, but the morning of this undertaking was one where I didn’t mind giving old Sonny the day off and offering my services at ground level. Hopefully a dry, preferably grassy area had been chosen for the processing job, keeping in mind infections need to be avoided as much as possible. Remember the organization part?

Those were special days were filled with the laughter, pranks and camaraderie of workers, neighbours and friends working hard for a common cause, getting down and dirty with nary a worry. But one change I have seen through the years is more attention being paid to the bigger picture. Remember why you’re there and what it’s all about. Remember the health of the calves. In the past, with some outfits, the goal had been to get it done and over with, no matter the cost. The animal’s well-being was often an afterthought. But these aren’t your daddy’s cow herds anymore. Do your best not to overly stress the cattle with unnecessary repetition of work processes. Take care of the investment and do things right.

When all is ready and the cows and calves are processed and healthy and the grass is sufficiently green and thick, the morning comes when the herd will be moved to pasture. This was always another special day when old Sonny and I would get a chance to escape the confines of planks and wind-boards. With butterflies in our stomachs we’d follow behind as the herd would turn from the corral and string out down the roadway. Soon we would recognize the leaders who had done this before striding on ahead with purpose. And even though we’ve all done our best, there are still the stragglers, the cows and heifers with the younger calves and the generally slower pairs, but that’s all right, because once the last pair crosses through the pasture gates, it’s out of your hands — at least for today.

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