Getting to know the purpose-driven herd
Hey fellow seekers–
When I started writing a monthly column for Certified Angus Beef LLC (CAB) in 1999, the first one was about establishing an ID system for the herd. I may have been thinking about the parade of unknown, salebarn cows that had been through the revolving-door gates to my pastures since I had abandoned my seedstock Simmental goals a dozen years earlier. I decided that unknown cows were the enemy of progress, hence that first title, “Know Thy Cows.” Most of mine were crossbreds in the late 1990s and about half were black, but ID was tenuous at best. I really could tell many of them by some unique coloration or remnant twist of horn; it did not take a tag to know Curly, Clown, Silver, Twister, Frosty, Splitz and Zebu.
But their calves were not so instantly known—nor were they consistent—partly because the grade black bulls I was using were no better than the average cow. So, I decided to get uniform ear-tags in all the cows,but I knew that was only a first step,and not worth doing without bigger plans. Mine centered around gaining some uniformity, breeding up to a higher-percentage of known Angus genetics through the use of artificial insemination (AI) and registered bulls, and keeping records.
Now it is 2011. After getting home from Mary Reed’s on “the Lake,” where we always go for New Year’s, I went over to feed a bale of native prairie hay to the main herd of 80 head. They’re on a half-section of stockpiled native that had not been grazed all year till the mid-October turnout after preg check. I will be bringing them home in mid-January and prepping for the calves that will start arriving in late Feb. Thirty candidates for AI will stay closest to home and the other 50 will go to the north place. Half of them need freeze branding, but I’m not sure if we are going to improve on that this year—depends on available help.
The first cow I always see is 303. She was born in 2001 from a first-calf heifer, and had her first calf in 2003, which ended up a low-Choice steer. Top 1% for docility, but average on most everything else, 303 gets to stay because her daughters are usually above average, and just as tame. Makes me think about her momma, 87. She was in that first class to get uniform ID, but I used up all available two-digit numbers on the 1999-born, and then got into the 100s. She’s a black-whiteface with goggles, half Hereford from a rented bull, and a she makes a good case for F1 females, but that’s just her. I would know her and 303 without their tags or freeze brands.
Didn’t click a pic of them, but in this shot from last August where I’m giving some heifers a pep talk…….
I saw ol’ 109 today, too. She stands out because no other cow has horns. Same age as 87 but out of a registered Angus and the unknown, long-faced cow I once called Zebu, she is no pet. In fact, she has a black mark for acquiring too much wisdom and sharing intel with others to hang back when it is time to lead in for sorting or weaning. So far, I tolerate that because her calves are almost always the heaviest and they have hit the Certified Angus Beef® brand target. I have not tried to AI her in several years, but we will try out a heifer this year.
Back in that first column, I suggested retaining ownership on some calves or finding other ways to learn what your calves do after weaning. I said, “Over time, you will learn more about the bulls and cows that produce your calves, and that can help you decide which ones to cull and which cow families to build.”
That’s the school I’ve been attending ever since, but decisions have not been as “black and white” as I expected. That’s why I still have 87 and 109, but only 87 can hold a family reunion.
Until next time… let’s aim for profit, target the brand and build tomorrow together.