Fall Shearing

September was spent gathering, shearing, & sorting goats. Nannies, kids, muttons, & yearling billies were sheared this go round.

After shearing, we separated the billy kids off of the nannies & nanny kids. We put the billy kids on fields {away from the nannies & nanny kids} in hopes that none of them would get in with the nannies. As the days get shorter & nights get cooler, all the billies prepare for breeding. One billy in a pasture full of nannies at the wrong time can create quite a problem. It’s important that all nannies kid at the same time so they can be sheared again in February/March & placed in kidding pastures before kidding in April.

After shearing the nannies, we sorted through them. We decided to cut back a little on numbers. We sorted off older nannies & sold them to another rancher.

Nanny kids ran with the nannies for a couple of weeks so the nannies could show the kids how to seek shelter in wet or cold conditions. We then gathered the nannies & nanny kids, treated them for chewing lice, & separated the nannies & nanny kids. Nannies tend to breed back quicker & easier if they do not have a nursing kid at their side.

Before the yearling billies were sheared, we sorted through them & selected keeper billies & sale billies. All others became ‘muttons’ {male goat that has been castrated}. We castrate with a burdizzo {device with large clamp designed to break the blood vessels leading to the testicles}. Once the blood supply to the testicles is lost, the testicles shrink, soften, & eventually deteriorate completely. We then treated them for chewing lice & tipped their horns. Tipped horns provide a quick, visual distinction between them & billies.

Muttons are beneficial for several reasons. Since they are big & strong, they are not as
susceptible to predators. Coyotes are opportunistic & prefer young lambs & kids rather than a stout mutton who is ready to fight. Muttons do not reproduce so they can run with nannies at any given time. And since they don’t reproduce, their nutrition maintenance requirements are less. Consequently, they are able to grow more mohair per year because all of their nutrition goes into growing hair instead of reproduction efforts. Since their nutrition requirement is less, you are able to run more in a pasture at a given time which means greater Ashe Juniper {cedar} control.

Working Cattle

Cows began calving in late February. Most had calved by the beginning of April. At about four months of age, it is important that calves are ‘worked’. This includes vaccinating, ear tagging, treating for internal &  external parasites, & castrating most bull calves. Cows & bulls also receive a round of vaccinations at this time. We spent July & the first part of August working the herds of cattle.

To have a proper vaccination program, calves must be vaccinated several times. Vaccinating calves at an appropriate age is important to build a healthy immune system to fight diseases they could encounter when being weaned from their mothers.

Cows & bulls receive vaccinations for reproductive diseases & as annual boosters to vaccinations they received as calves.

It is important that each calf has an ear tag in order to provide proof of ownership & to be able to associate the calf with its herd. Herds are based on which pasture a group of cattle is in. This is important because each herd has its own bull. The ear tag numbers are recorded, which allows us to identify the calf with its dam {mother} & sire {father}.

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Cows, bulls, & calves are all treated for internal & external parasites with a pour-on solution. This solution is squirted across their back. It is then absorbed through the skin & distributed internally to the areas of the body affected by parasites.

Some bull calves are selected to be kept as bulls for our own breeding purposes or to be sold, while others are castrated. Since the calves are so young & there are no records other than dam & sire, eye appeal & temperament are the greatest factors that go into selecting ‘keeper’ bulls. There are several benefits to castrating bull calves that
are not going to be used in a breeding program. Castration reduces aggressiveness & sexual activity by lowering testosterone levels. It also creates a higher quality carcass-more consistent, marbled, & tender beef. Steers are much easier to handle. Bulls tear up
facilities & injure each other fighting, which is why keeping bull numbers at a minimum is important.

Herds of cattle will once again be gathered in October when it is time to wean the calves.

 

Selling, Sustainability, & Recognition

At the beginning of August, we sorted through the ram lambs that had been in the feedlot since weaning {June}. These lambs were fed a prepared ration in order to gain weight at a quicker rate.

We selected 19 keeper rams & decided to sell the remaining 175. On August 6th, we sold those ram lambs at the Gillespie Livestock Auction. This was a key sale since it was just before Eid-Ul-Adha, the Muslim Festival of Sacrifice.

This festival remembers the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son when God ordered him to in a dream. As Ibrahim prepared to kill his son, God stopped him & gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead. During this festival, Muslims sacrifice domestic animals {usually sheep} as a symbol of Ibrahim’s sacrifice.
source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/holydays/eiduladha.shtml 

All ewe lambs {182} are still in the feedlot. Some will be kept for ourselves, while the remainder will be marketed to other ranchers for their sheep operations.

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The 104th annual convention of the Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers Association {TSGRA} was held in Kerrville in mid-July.

Presentations, demonstrations, & discussions about issues relevant to the sheep & goat industry were a big part of the conference. Grant served on the ‘Sustainability’ panel. This panel discussed the importance of meeting consumers’ needs in regards to food & fiber.

The goal of sustainable agriculture is meeting those needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Consumers, more than ever, want to know where their food is coming from & be assured that it’s being grown in an environmentally friendly way. It’s important for farmers & ranchers to share their story & reassure consumers that their practices are humane & environmentally friendly.

Sustainable agriculture is more than a collection of practices. It is also a process of negotiation: a push & pull between the sometimes competing interests of an individual farmer or of people in a community as they work to solve complex problems about how we grow our food & fiber.

source: https://asi.ucdavis.edu/programs/ucsarep/about/what-is-sustainable-agriculture 

Congratulations to Grant for being selected as the 2019 recipient of the TSGRA Young Ranchers Award! Grant was selected for this award in appreciation for his outstanding efforts to promote the sheep & goat industry of Texas.

Events like this provide a great opportunity to visit, catch up, & learn from others in the agriculture industry.

Spring Babies, Showers…& Worms

This spring has been filled with lambing, kidding, rain showers, & {unfortunately} stomach worms.

Ewes & nannies began lambing & kidding in March. Fields & pastures have been filled with lambs & kids. We have also received numerous rain showers. Unfortunately, these rains bring stomach worms for sheep & goats.

Most flocks/herds have dormant parasites in them, but may never show symptoms until ideal conditions occur {rainy, wet, warm}. Worm survival conditions improve during warm, wet weather or when a ewe or nanny’s ability to resist parasites declines {i.e. during lambing or kidding}. At this time, the worms liven back up. Spring arrives & stomach worms begin to lay eggs {as many as 10,000 a day} spreading them across pastures through the animal’s manure. The eggs then hatch into larvae. Wet weather helps move them from the manure to plant leaves where other animals eat them. This allows them to complete their life cycle.

Internal parasite management is a key concern for sheep & goat producers. Stomach worms are ravenous bloodsuckers & will destroy the lining of the stomach to access the bloodstream. The destruction of the lining of the stomach can cause colic {abdominal pain}, diarrhea, anemia, weight loss, & possibly death due to the animal’s inability to digest feed completely. A wormy nanny will sometimes ‘kick off’ or quit nursing her kid due to her poor health. Ewes are less likely to abandon their lambs.

sources: Texas A&M AgriLife, Oregon State Extension

Ewes & nannies were drenched {treated} for stomach worms at shearing time earlier this year. However, with the recent wet, warm weather some still became ‘wormy’. We have been steadily gathering & drenching. The wormiest nannies kidded & were grazing on planted fields, which is an optimal setting for stomach worms. After being drenched, these nannies & kids were moved to other pastures.

 

Touring Hillingdon

On April 26th, Bennett Land Trust Stewardship Conference attendees toured Hillingdon Ranch.

The Bennett Trust is an endowment provided by Eskel & Ruth Bennett to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The trust provides an endowment to continue their tradition of conservation education & preservation of the Edwards Plateau. The Bennett Land Stewardship Program uses conferences tailored specifically for land management in the Edwards Plateau, covering issues such as brush control, prescribed burning, estate planning, water management, & livestock stocking rates.

source: https://agrilife.org/bennetttrust/

The 6th annual conference was held in Kerrville. It offered landowners the opportunity to learn best management practices, regardless of enterprise, size of the property, or knowledge level. Part of the conference was tours, with Hillingdon Ranch being one of the stops.

While here, participants learned about the land & our livestock. They also heard about the techniques we use in managing our operation in a way that continues to benefit the natural ecology.

The group went on a tour through the pastures to see examples of management practices & realistic approaches that balance the needs of people, livestock production goals, wildlife habitat, rainwater sequestration, soil conservation, ecological preservation, as well as predator management.

*************************************************************************************More & more people are wanting to know where their food comes & the story behind it. In response, the American Lamb Board {ALB} is hand picking consumer influencers to attend its ‘Ranch Retreats’.

On April 29th, ALB & Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service sponsored a Ranch Retreat here at Hillingdon Ranch. Attendees of this American Lamb Ranch Retreat included chefs, butchers, nutritionists, retailers, bloggers, food writers, & the national TV host of Cheap Eats {Ali Kahn}.

The group heard about the history of the ranch, then took a tour around parts of the ranch. They were able to see ewes & lambs out in the pasture, as well as up close during a gathering demonstration with the border collies.

They were then served a lamb lunch. Lamb & mutton were prepared three different ways for the attendees to sample. Thanks to the individuals that prepared some amazing meat! BBQ-Billy & Brad Roeder & David Mullen; Lamb balls-Rodney & Russell Kott; Lamb kabobs-Tacy Redden & Ragan Browder. Nolan Newsom with Newsom Vineyards poured samples of wine to pair with the lamb.

After lunch, Dr. Reid Redden {Associate Professor & Extension Sheep & Goat Specialist-Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service} gave a shearing demonstration. Paul & Dawn Brown {Independence Wool} spoke about wool processing.

Dr. Dan Hale {Professor & Extension Meat Specialist-Texas A&M University} then gave a lamb carcass demonstration & discussed the various lamb cuts.

Attendees of the American Lamb Ranch Retreat were so energetic & excited about lamb. The feedback was incredibly positive, which is very encouraging for us as producers! Several of the attendees went ‘live’ on social media while they were here at the ranch. We have received lots of kind emails, messages, & posts on social media about their experience while here at Hillingdon. We are grateful for the opportunity to host this kind of event.

Scanning & Shearing

On March 1st, Casey Worrell came out & ultra sounded our yearling bulls. These bulls have been on a gain test here in the feedlot since December 4th.

Casey scanned each of the 21 bulls. Results for each animal were sent to us, which included ribeye area {measured between 12th & 13th rib}, marbling, rump fat, & rib eye fat.

 

While each bull was in the chute to be scanned, we also weighed them & measured their hip height & scrotal circumference.

 

A combination of weight & hip height determine a ‘frame score’. A frame score is used to estimate the growth pattern & potential mature size of an animal. Frame scores are moderately heritable & can be used to influence the selection process before breeding.
A large frame size cow has a higher maintenance requirement than a smaller frame size cow.

The circumference of a scrotum can estimate the amount of sperm producing tissue in a bull. There is a high correlation in scrotal circumference & sperm output.

To be considered a good potential breeder, a yearling bull’s scrotal circumference must be greater than 30 cm, must have greater than 50% sperm mobility, & greater than 70% normal sperm. source: Society for Theriogenology

After looking over all of the bull data, decisions were made as to which bulls to keep & which ones to sell. We have steadily been selling the majority of these yearling bulls.

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Spring shearing season for goats started in early March & will soon wrap up. Days have been filled with gathering, hauling, sorting, shearing, culling, vaccinating, drenching, & treating.

Nannies are sheared in the Spring just before kidding starts. There is still a chance of cold weather at this time. If a cold &/or wet spell hits, a shorn nanny will be uncomfortable. She will then be more likely to seek shelter for her & her kid. If she was in mohair when a spell hit, she wouldn’t be uncomfortable & probably wouldn’t seek shelter. As you can see, shearing just before kidding increases the survival rate for newborn kids if cold &/or wet weather hits.

Nannies were vaccinated for overeating, drenched for stomach worms, & treated for chewing lice. Nannies were turned into nearby pastures & fields to kid. Confined grazing enhances stomach worms.

The stomach worms are receiving signals from their pregnant hosts to begin the active portion of their life cycle. Female stomach worms survive the winter by going into a dormant state waiting for spring & laying some 5,000 eggs daily. The eggs get a free boarding pass to the fecal pellet airliners that land. They then disperse by the billions as larvae suspended in dew droplets on grass, until they are eaten by another goat giving rise to the next generation.

 

 

Heifers & a Family Tradition

Heifer calves {born in 2018} received a preventative calf hood vaccination for Brucellosis at the end of January.

Brucellosis of cattle is caused by infection with the bacterium Brucella abortus & causes abortion or premature calving of recently infected cattle, typically between the fifth and eighth months of pregnancy. It is spread from vaginal discharge of an infected cow or from an aborted calf.

This vaccination must be administered by a veterinarian. After receiving the vaccination, they are tagged with a United States Department of Agriculture Official Calfhood Vaccination {OCV} ear tag. Many states require that breeding age females be OCV’d before crossing their borders. Thanks to Dr. Neal Eckert & Craig Lang from Fredericksburg Veterinary Clinic for coming out.

We then sorted the heifers into groups {keepers & ones to sell}. Our keeper heifers will spend the next several months grazing, will be bred, & go on to hopefully raise many calves.

On February 16th, family gathered at Hillingdon for the annual sausage making shindig.

Deer meat from the hunting season was combined with pork & the family’s spice recipes to make various kinds of sausage {cooking, pan, & hard}.

It was a full day of work, story telling, reminiscing, & laughing.

What’s in Ewe?

Dr. Reid Redden & Dr. Ronald Pope with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension came out in mid-January & ultra sounded 447 of our ewes. This is our third year to scan ewes for pregnancy status.

Results from this year’s scans are as follows…

Scanned Ewes

Our projected lamb crop was 136.6% for 2017 & 145.9% for 2018. Our initial projected lamb crop goal was 150%. Our projected lamb crop has increased each year since we have started scanning the ewes, & we are excited to see that this year’s projected lamb crop is over 150%!

267 of our ewes have been scanned three times now {2017, 2018, & 2019}. These ewes were carrying at least one lamb each time. 21% of those ewes have been carrying twins every scan {2,2,2}, while another 16% have been carry twins for two of the three scans {1,2,2}. It’s interesting to see trends since we now have three years of scan data on some ewes. Below is a pie chart that Dr. Redden created for those 267 ewes.

Ewes with 3 Scans

By identifying which ewes have twins, we can adjust our management in accordance with the resources we have. During lambing, we can spend more time on predator management in pastures that have ewes with twins {since they have a potentially higher lamb crop value than those with singles}. Ewes with singles don’t require as high of a nutritional level to maintain themselves & to lactate supporting one lamb.

We are gradually culling our ewes based on their pregnancy status each year. Obviously, we want to keep ewes that consistently have twins & cull the ones that consistently carry singles or any ewe that is open {not pregnant}.

Bulls & Aussies

We selected 22 keeper bulls from our 2018 calf crop. These 22 bull calves went into the feedlot here at the ranch & started consuming a prepared ration on December 4th.

We weighed each of them at the beginning of the gain test & will weigh them again at the end. These bulls will spend the next 85 days or so in the feedlot.

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This year’s ration consists of whole cottonseed {part carbohydrate/part protein, increases palatability, 90% TDN, 24% crude protein, 20% fat}, cottonseed meal {40% crude protein}, & cotton gin trash {roughage, less than half the cost of local hay, 8-9% crude protein}.

Total Digestible Nutrients {TDN} is the sum of the digestible fiber, protein, lipid, & carbohydrate components of a feedstuff or diet. TDN is directly related to digestible energy & is often calculated based on Acid Detergent Fiber {ADF}. TDN is useful for beef cow rations that are primarily forage. 

Cotton gin trash is a by-product of the cotton ginning industry. It is composed of stems, leaves, burrs, immature seeds, & sand from the cotton plant. Gin trash is similar to low-quality hay & can be used as a low-quality roughage source in ruminant animals. 

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During this time, we will be able to collect data on efficiency & production to be considered in genetic selection of future herd sires. This gain test allows us to measure feed conversion, which is the amount of feed an animal consumes as compared to the amount of body weight gained {expressed as a ratio}. Feed conversion ratios around 6:1 {6 pounds of feed per pound of gain} are common in most beef cattle operations. Cattle that gain more weight with less feed or forage are more efficient.

Having the bulls close by allows us to interact with them regularly. We can observe their disposition/temperament to ensure they are calm & handle well. A ‘snuffy’ or hot tempered bull can be very dangerous. When selling bulls to other producers, it’s important to us that the bull is docile.

On January 3rd, we had a visit from the 2019 Australian Meat Judging Team. One of their coaches, Nick van den Berg, first spent some time with us in 2014 when he was in Texas & the United States representing the 2014 Australian Meat Judging Team.

Nick now coaches the meat judging teams & has brought his teams here the past two years for a visit & tour.

We enjoyed showing them around & hearing about their homes/farms back in Australia.

This team will be competing at the National Western Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest in Colorado near the end of this month. We wish them the best as they compete!

 

Weaning & Shipping

The end of October & November were filled with weaning calves. Weaning is a vital time in the management of the cows & calves. The milk diet is being removed & is replaced with a forage diet. At the time of weaning, calves were about eight to nine months old.

At weaning, the calves were vaccinated with a booster shot, treated with a pour on solution for internal & external parasites, & some were branded. Branding is a useful & cost-effective way to identify cattle. A recognizable brand is instrumental in proving
ownership.

All steer calves & bull calves received an ‘HIL’ brand.  All bull calves received a number brand as well {their ear tag number}. Heifers that we plan to keep for ourselves received an ‘HIL’ brand & a number brand. These heifers were selected based on visual appeal, as well as their pedigree records. All other heifers that we plan to sell did not receive any brands.

At the time of weaning, the mother cows are about four to five months pregnant. It is important the cows have a break from nursing a calf in order to provide adequate
nutrition to the developing fetus inside of her.

On November 28th, we shipped 103 steers to the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, OK. The Noble Research Institute is an independent nonprofit institute dedicated to delivering solutions to great agricultural challenges.

Noble Research Institute

These steers will spend the next several months grazing different plant varieties that are being tested for grazing as well as bio-fuel potential. Once the grazing trial is complete, the decision will then be made whether to sell the steers at auction or to retain ownership through the feedlot stage. Factors that will effect that decision are available feed & pasture, feed costs, cattle prices, & projected profitability in the feedlot.

A big advantage to retaining ownership through the feedlot stage is that we receive carcass data on each animal. This is advantageous in evaluating sires {bulls} & dams {cows} & determining future breeding plans. In times that demand reducing our stocking rate, carcass data can also help us decide which animals to liquidate.