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 and 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.

 

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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.

 

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.