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!

 

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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.

 

Billies Become Muttons

We recently sorted through our yearling billies, chose ‘keepers’ for ourselves, & selected a group to sell to other ranchers. The remaining billies {about 200} became muttons.

Muttons are male goats that have been castrated. We castrate them with a burdizzo, which is a device that has a large clamp designed to break the blood vessels leading to the testicles. Once the blood supply to the testicles is lost, necrosis occurs & the testicles shrink, soften, & eventually deteriorate completely.

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Muttons are beneficial for several reasons. Since they are big & strong, they are not as susceptible to predators. Coyotes 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.

We also treated the muttons for chewing lice & tipped their horns. Tipped horns provide a quick, visual distinction between them & billies.

 

Shearing, Planting, & Raining

September has been a month of shearing, planting, spraying, & emptying the rain gauge.

Much time has been spent gathering nannies & kids, sorting, & shearing. Before shearing the nannies, we sorted through them. We pulled off older, less productive nannies. Nannies that were showing their age through ‘shelly’ horns, were slow moving, &/or light shearing went into the cull group. All keeper nannies were sheared, treated for chewing lice, then turned back into the pastures. Chewing or biting lice feed on hair & skin debris. Left untreated, chronic dermatitis can occur {constant irritation, rubbing, itching, & biting of the fleece or hair}. The cull nannies were sheared, then put on feed to gain weight before being sold.

Like last summer, we decided to wait a little longer to shear the kids. Kid hair is our most valuable hair, & a longer staple length is ideal. Waiting until the kids’ hair is a little longer, will hopefully prove to be more profitable.

Nanny & billy kids were separated & put on feed. Billy kids are close by so we can keep a closer eye on them. Keeping the billies away from the nannies is crucial. 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 in February/March & placed in kidding pastures before kidding in April. Nanny kids & the cull nannies are together in a different area on feed.

Last week, the fields were planted in order to provide convenient cool season grazing. We spread Triticale/Elbon Rye, then tilled it under. Tetraploid Ryegrass was then spread on top. The fields are beginning to show signs of green & are coming up nicely. These planted fields will be a very handy place to put young goat kids during the winter & kidding nannies in the spring. Now to keep the Armyworms away!

Armyworms are common after early fall rains. They have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, & adult. Eggs are very small, white, laid in clusters of 50 or more & are covered with grayish, fuzzy scales from the body of the female moth. The eggs are seldom seen in grasses & are usually laid at the base of host plants. Lush plant growth is preferred by the adults for egg laying. Larvae (caterpillars) are very small when they emerge from the egg. Larvae will feed for 2-3 weeks. The larvae have five instars {stages when molting occurs} & sometimes hide in debris on the soil surface in the middle of the day. When full grown, larvae enter the soil & form the pupal stage. Adult moths emerge from pupae. Moths mate & lay eggs, thus starting the life cycle over again.
https://citybugs.tamu.edu/factsheets/landscape/lawns/ent-1007/

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We have seen Armyworm moths & some worms. We have sprayed pesticide, & are hoping no real damage has been done to any of the fields. We aren’t in the clear yet, as there are Armyworm moths still around. Cool temperatures at night disrupt their life cycle, so we are hoping the cooler temperatures stick around.

We have received about 14″ of rain since September 3rd! We are so thankful for this rainfall, as things were looking rather sad before then. These 14″ came slowly for the most part & were just about perfect in our opinion. We had little to no runoff. The tanks are full, but not spilling over. And the creeks have some running water! This week calls for more chances of showers, which is great for our freshly planted fields. How different things look around the ranch from just a month ago!

Selling Stock

On August 13th, we sorted through the lambs in the feedlot. Since we are very dry right now, we decided not to keep any for ourselves.

We sorted off 100 ewe lambs that were twins. These will be sold to another rancher for his operation. Twin lambs were all together in a pasture & were discretely ear notched at weaning so we could identify which were twins. Marking twin lambs is important. Ewes with twins means a higher lamb crop & a better chance of those ewe lambs having twins themselves. This buyer specifically wanted twin ewe lambs. Since the twin lambs were marked, we were able to easily sort off twin ewe lambs for him.

The remaining 123 ewe lambs & 223 ram lambs were sold at the Gillespie Livestock Auction the next day. These lambs had been in the feedlot since weaning (June) & were fed a prepared ration in order to gain weight at a quicker rate. 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 

We also sold some cull nannies & yearling billies at this sale. These goats were sheared just before they were sold.

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Weaning Lambs & Working Cattle

During June, much time was spent gathering ewes & lambs. We drenched the ewes & lambs for stomach worms & vaccinated the lambs for enterotoxemia (overeating)  & tetanus. Overeating disease can occur when there are abrupt changes in feed {i.e. weaning nursing lambs from the ewe & placing them on a prepared ration}.

We turned the ewes back into the pastures & put the lambs in the feedlot. In the feedlot, they are fed a prepared ration.

Having the lambs on feed keeps them in an environment that breaks the life cycle of the stomach worms, out of coyote feeding grounds, & makes them readily available to sell for upcoming key Islamic holidays.

Much time over the past month has been spent with the cattle. Pasture by pasture, we have gathered & worked the cows, calves, & bulls.

Calves were about four months of age when they were ‘worked’ (vaccinating, ear tagging, treating for internal & external parasites, & castrating most bull calves). Cows & bulls also receive a round of vaccinations at this time.

Vaccinating calves at an appropriate age is important to build a healthy immune system to fight diseases. Cows & bulls receive vaccinations for reproductive diseases & as annual boosters to vaccinations they received as calves.

Ear tags provide proof of ownership & associate a calf to a specific herd.

Calves, cows, & bulls are all treated for internal & external parasites through a pour-on solution applied across their back.

Most bull calves are castrated, while some are kept as bulls (for our own breeding purposes or to be sold to other cattle producers). Since the calves are so young & there are no records other than dam & sire, eye appeal is the greatest factor that goes 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.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will finish up working the herds of cattle.

 

Samples & Scans

We recently took wool samples from each of the yearling ewes, yearling rams, & some older rams. This was done right before they were sheared. The older rams have had samples taken before. However, we sampled them again to make sure their wool has not become more coarse with age.

A small patch of wool was clipped from the sheep, then placed in a plastic bag & labeled with their ear tag number. These samples were then sent to The Bill Sims Wool & Mohair Research Laboratory {Texas A&M AgriLife Research} in San Angelo.

A laser scanner determines average fiber diameter of the wool. The smaller the diameter, measured in microns (1/10,000 centimeter), the finer the fleece of wool. Finer wool means higher quality & a softer feel. This data is then used as an aide in breeding selection. Having this individual data allows us to cull individuals from the herd that have undesirable fleeces.

It is important that our sheep not only produce a quality fleece, but also a quality carcass. Ultra sounding an animal allows us to put a score of muscling by weight, which would be difficult by visual observation alone.

Casey Worrell {certified by the Ultrasound Guidelines Council} came out & ultra sounded the yearling ewes & rams that we took the samples from. He then sent us the results, including loin eye area & rib fat thickness, for each ewe & ram. With this information, we can compare each animal with a ratio of square inches of loin eye muscle per 100 pounds of animal.

Both fiber & scan data are valuable tools in selecting ‘keeper’ ewes & rams. By evaluating both pieces of data for each animal, we can make educated decisions on which ones best suit our herd.

Bennett Land Trust & Texas Wool Handling School

On April 27th, we hosted a tour here at the ranch as part of the 5th Annual Bennett Land Trust Stewardship Conference.

The Bennett Trust was established through a posthumous endowment provided by Eskel & Ruth Bennett to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The endowment supports land stewardship education in the Edwards Plateau to help improve & protect the region’s valuable natural resources. source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

The 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. The conference covered issues such as brush control, prescribed burning, estate planning, water management, & livestock stocking rates. 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.

On May 4th & 5th, the Texas Wool Handling School was held here at the ranch. This was a wool education opportunity hosted by us, held in conjunction with sponsorship from the American Sheep Industry Association & the Texas Sheep & Goat Raisers Association.

The two day event was led by Dr. Lisa Surber, ASI Raw Wool Services Instructor. Paul & Dawn Brown (http://www.independencefarmsteadfibers.com/) helped organize the event.

Much needed rain kicked the two day event off, knocking out the power for five hours & sending the shearers back home to Rocksprings (unable to shear). We are so thankful for the 2+ inches of rain we received, as well as the positive attitude of the participants! Dr. Surber & the participants switched gears & carried on. They sat in the dark, listening to rain hit the barn’s tin roof & Dr. Surber talk about wool.

The next day was beautiful! Paco Ramirez, our head shearer from Rocksprings, came back & spoke to the group & demonstrated the art of shearing. Participants learned current wool handling practices & procedures & got to handle raw fleeces being shorn right off the rams.

Participants came from a range of backgrounds, from large & small producers to potential new producers to hand spinners. The group was very diverse & enthusiastic about the sheep industry. It was very refreshing to network with this group for two days! We learned so much about the hand spinning aspect of the fiber industry & realized how little we know in that realm!

 

 

Bull Business

In mid-March, we ultra sounded the yearling bulls that have been on the gain/performance test here in the feedlot.

Ultra sounding an animal allows us to put a score of muscling by weight, which would be difficult by visual observation alone. Casey Worrell (certified by the Ultrasound Guidelines Council) came out & ultra sounded the bulls.

As he scanned each animal, we were able to see a cross section between the 12th & 13th rib on his screen. The results were then sent to us which included rump fat, rib fat, rib eye area, & percent intramuscular fat for each animal. With this information, we can compare each animal with a ratio of square inches of rib eye muscle per 100 pounds of animal.

As the bulls were in the chute, we also weighed them & measured hip height. Individual disposition notes were recorded as well.

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.

An ideal hill country cow that has a calf every year & is able to do that on solar energy that caliche hills convert into grass. That is not the same type of animal that is considered ideal in the tall grass prairies of Montana, Nebraska, or the Dakotas. This is where the frame score becomes important. A large frame size cow has a higher maintenance requirement than a smaller frame size cow.

The next day, we took the bulls to Gillespie Vet Center for their Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE). A BSE includes three evaluations: 1) structural soundness assessment, 2) reproductive system evaluation, & 3) semen quality appraisal.

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The structural soundness assessment involves examining the overall condition of the animal, including flesh, feet, legs, eyes, & teeth.

The reproductive system evaluation includes examination of the scrotum, testicles, & penis, as well as a rectal palpation to determine any internal abnormalities. The circumference of each bull’s scrotum was measured. 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

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The final phase of a BSE consists of semen collection & an evaluation of the semen.

Having a BSE report on each bull tells our buyers that the bull they are purchasing is not sterile & is able to breed.

Each of these evaluations play a key role in selection of bulls. After reviewing all of the information about each bull, decisions were made as to which bulls to keep for our own breeding program & which ones to sell.

Hillingdon Ranch Bulls-Sale List

Sausage & Shearing

On February 17th, family gathered at Hillingdon for the annual sausage making shindig.

Deer meat from the hunting season was combined with pork & the family’s spice recipe to make pan, cooking, & hard sausage.

Many hands made light work. Laughs, story telling, & fellowship made for a memorable day!

Spring shearing season is in full swing! We had an exceptionally wet winter, so the start to shearing was delayed some.

Lots of time has gone into gathering pastures, shearing, grading mohair, skirting wool fleeces, baling, & sorting livestock .

Nanny & kid goats are sheared twice a year, while billy goats & sheep are
sheared only once a year. Annually, nannies produce about 8-10 lbs of mohair. Billies produce about 12 lbs of mohair annually. Ewes produce about 6-7 lbs of wool annually, while rams produce about 8-10 lbs of wool annually.

The spring mohair clip is always finer & of higher quality than the fall clip. Since the goats have less available green forage during the winter, protein intake is less. A decrease in protein intake results in lighter but finer fleeces during spring shearing.

Once the shearer has sheared the mohair off the goat, the picker puts the hair into a box & places it on the grading table. The hair is then graded based on handle & fiber diameter, which is measured in microns. Due to years of breeding, our adult goats grade yearling or kid hair. This is finer than most other adult goats. Our kids grade kid hair,  which is the finest mohair there is. A good rule of thumb is the finer the hair, the higher the value or price.

After the hair is graded, it is put into the appropriate wooden box based on its grade. Once the box is full, it is put into the packer to be baled. When the bag is full, it is fastened shut with staples. It is then marked with our brand, the grade of hair, & the date.

Once the wool is sheared off the sheep, the fleece is gathered up & flung onto the skirting table where it is ‘skirted’. Skirting is removing parts of the fleece that are extra dirty or full of manure or vegetable matter.

The cleaner wool is then placed in the wool packer, baled, & labeled. The skirts are processed the same way.

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