Evaluating|Shearing|Calving, Lambing, Kidding|Shipping

On March 3rd, Casey Worrell came out & ultra sounded our yearling bulls. These bulls have been on a gain test here in the feedlot since December 2nd.

Casey scanned each of the 35 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. 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.

Bulls were then taken 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.

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

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. Quite a few bulls have already been sold, while some are still available.

HIL Yearling Bull Sale List

Spring shearing season kicked off at the end of February with billy kids. Our shearing crew from Rocksprings spent eight full days here over several weeks shearing sheep & goats.

Nanny & kid goats are sheared twice a year, while billy goats & sheep are sheared only once a year. Nannies produce about 8-10 lbs of mohair annually, while 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.

During shearing season, many days are spent gathering, hauling, sorting, shearing, grading mohair, skirting wool fleeces, culling, vaccinating, drenching, & treating.

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.

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

Ewes & nannies were vaccinated for overeating {Enterotoxemia}, drenched for stomach worms, & treated for chewing lice.

Dry {not bred} nannies were separated off & put in a pasture together with yearling nannies. Dry ewes {a handful} were put in the feedlot to be sold. Bred nannies were split among fields & pastures. Ewes were sorted based on their pregnancy scan status from January {carrying a single or twins} They were then put in pastures. Our older ewes that are beginning to show signs of slowing down {some have carried twins for 4, 5, & 6 years} were put in the feedlot so we could keep a closer eye on them.

Cows began calving in February. Ewes & nannies began lambing & kidding in early April. This calving|lambing|kidding season has been a bit challenging for the cows, ewes, & nannies. Measurable rainfall has been nearly non existent for quite some time. {We did receive about 1.5″ on Monday, April 25th-yay!} Livestock are having to hustle in the pastures. Most of our kidding fields & pastures, as well as our twin lambing pasture, are dependent on feeders this year.

On April 22nd, we shipped 68 yearling steers from the ranch. The decision to sell these steers was not an easy one. With a lack of grass & space here at the ranch & nowhere North to send them to graze, we made the difficult decision to sell them to a stocker & feeder cattle operation. Retaining ownership of these steers through the feedlot stage was unfortunately not a feasible option this year.

Cattle|Sheep|Sausage

In mid-December, all heifer calves received a preventative calf hood vaccination for Brucellosis. Brucellosis is a contagious, infectious, & communicable disease that affects cattle & is caused by bacteria of the genus Brucella. Brucellosis causes loss of young through spontaneous abortion or birth of weak offspring, reduced milk production, & infertility. It can affect both animals & humans. Brucellosis is transmitted from animals by direct contact with infected blood, placentas, fetuses, uterine secretions, or through the consumption of infected & raw animal products {especially milk & milk products}. source: USDA APHIS

This vaccination must be administered by a veterinarian. The vaccine is a live product & works by producing an immune response that increases the animal’s resistance to the disease. As with any vaccine, it is not 100% effective in preventing brucellosis. For best results, females should be vaccinated when they are between 4 months & 1 year old. At the time of vaccination, a tattoo is applied in the ear which identifies the animal is an ‘official vaccinate’. The tattoo identifies the vaccine & year in which it was given. Many states require that breeding age females be OCV’d before crossing their borders.

Steer & heifer calves received boosters at this time for vaccinations they had received at weaning.

This year, we selected 35 calves to be kept in tact as bulls. These bull calves will either be kept for our own breeding purposes or sold to buyers. On December 2nd, these bulls went on feed to begin their gain/performance test.

We weighed each of them at the beginning of the gain test & will weigh them again & sonogram them at the end of the test. These bulls will spend the next 90 days or so in the feedlot consuming a prepared ration.

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 hot-tempered bull can be very dangerous. When selling bulls to other producers, it’s important to us that the bull is docile.

Dr. Reid Redden {along with his son & daughter} with the Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center came out in mid-January & ultra sounded 304 mature ewes & 142 ewe lambs. This is our sixth year to scan ewes for pregnancy status. Results from the scan show a projected 150% lamb crop among mature ewes.

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.

Our ‘Super Twinner’ herd consists of ewes that have consistently scanned as carrying twins for 4 or more years. These ewes tend to get to graze the greenest spots. We think carrying twins every year for 6 years {or even 5 or 4 years} is worthy of something a little extra special. ; )

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}.

We took wool samples from the ewe lambs the night before they were scanned. Wool data, pregnancy status, visual appeal, & structural soundness will all be factors in selecting our keeper ewes. Ram lambs were sorted at the beginning of December. Twenty keeper ram lambs were selected, while the majority of ‘culls’ were sold at the Gillespie Livestock Auction.

On February 12th, 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 {windy, cold} day of work, fun, & laughs.

More pictures from the last couple of months…

Fall @ HIL

Shearing season started back up at the end of August. Nannies, kids, billies, & muttons are all shorn in late summer/early fall. Our shearing crew from Rocksprings spent about eight days here at the ranch over the course of about six weeks getting all goats shorn.

Once shorn, nannies & kids were drenched for stomach worms. Kids were then separated into billies & nannies & weaned from their mothers. Nannies went back to pastures, while kids were put on separate fields {nanny vs billy}.

As the days get shorter & nights get cooler, all billies prepare for breeding. One billy in a pasture full of nannies at the wrong time can be quite a pain. 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.

Fields were worked & planted for winter grazing. Triticale, Elbon Rye, & Alfalfa were planted this year. Thankfully, the rain showers came & fields began greening up a couple of weeks after being planted.

Coyotes have shown up in full force, so many hours have been spent on predator control. No shortage of hogs either, & even a bobcat has recently shown up on a game camera. We’ve been able to reduce the coyote & hog population some, but we still hear coyotes at night. We have several guard dogs helping with predator control but could use more. There’s no way the four of them can cover the entire ranch. Our Livestock Guardian Dog Program is slowly growing as we learn more about how to utilize them most effectively.

At the beginning of October, we sorted ram lambs & ewe lambs. Ram lambs were put in the feedlot, while ewe lambs went back to a field. Like billy kids, rams start to prepare for breeding season as the days get shorter & nights get cooler. Separating them from the ewes is important for the same reasons as keeping billy kids separate from nannies.

In mid-October, we began weaning calves. Calves are about 8-9 months old at weaning. We vaccinated the calves with a booster shot, treated them with a pour on solution for internal & external parasites, & branded them.

All calves {bulls, heifers, steers} received an ‘HIL’ brand, while some heifers & all bulls received a number brand as well {corresponding to their ear tag}. Heifers that will most likely be retained for ownership received a number brand. These heifers were selected based on visual appeal, as well as pedigree records.

At weaning, cows are about 4-5 months bred. It is important that the cows have a break from nursing a calf in order to provide adequate nutrition to the growing fetus inside of her.

Rams & billies were gathered at the beginning of November in order to be put with ewes & nannies for breeding season. We sorted them based on conformation, structural soundness, & desirable wool & mohair characteristics. We then put them out in various pastures with our ewes & nannies. Ewes & nannies should begin lambing in April.

A wonderful Thanksgiving celebration wrapped up November. We spent several days enjoying the company of family & friends. 2021 has been a good year for Hillingdon Ranch, & we are thankful.

Wishing you & your family a very Merry Christmas & Happy 2022!

Summer @ HIL

On May 27th, Congressman Chip Roy visited Hillingdon. Other farmers & ranchers around the area also joined us. We appreciate Congressman Roy giving farmers & ranchers the opportunity to visit one on one with him about important issues affecting us.

The past couple of months at Hillingdon have been filled with working all three classes of our livestock.

Due to the plentiful rainfall we have received this year, this created an ideal environment for stomach worms in sheep & goats. A severe infection of stomach worms {Haemonchus contortus} causes anemia, reduced animal production, & possibly death.

At the end of May, we began gathering nannies & kids from the fields. We drenched & gave copper boluses {COWP}* to the nannies & kids, as well as vaccinated the kids with Clostridium perfringens types C&D & Clostridium tetani. Nannies were vaccinated with the same vaccine when they were pregnant, so the kids received it then as well.

*Due to the presence of anthelmintic, or dewormer {drench}, resistance, alternative methods of control are necessary.  Copper Oxide Wire Particles {COWP} have been shown to reduce infection of H. contortus. These tiny metal particles are a slow release from of copper that can be administered in a gel capsule. The capsule passes through the rumen & lodges in the abomasum {true stomach} where the H. contortus resides. COWP appears to cause damage to the adult worm, but does not affect immature larvae {which can also feed on blood from the animal}. source: https://www.wormx.info/cowp2014

Nannies & kids were then all turned into one pasture where they had more room to graze. We had them confined to fields close by so we could keep a closer eye on predators. The kids are now big enough to travel better & stay with their mothers in large, open areas. Our livestock guardian dogs had been moving around to the different fields checking on the nannies & kids, so they were moved into this same pasture.

Sheep were worked & lambs were weaned in June. Ewes were drenched & given copper boluses. Lambs were ear tagged, drenched, had a tissue sample taken from their ear {to determine parentage}, & were vaccinated with Clostridium perfringens types C&D & Clostridium tetani.

Lambs were then put in a field where they can graze, as well as learn to eat a prepared ration from a feeder. The majority of ewes went back into pastures. Our super twinner ewes {scanned as carrying twins for 3, 4 or 5 years} were put in the field with the lambs. Having some ewes with the lambs helps lambs to stay calmer & allows the lambs to learn from the ewes on how to eat a prepared ration.

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 June & the first half of July working herds of cattle.

A vaccination program is important in building a healthy immune system to fight diseases. Ear tags provide proof of ownership, as well as associate a specific calf to its dam. Treatment for internal & external parasites is done through a pour on solution across the back. Eye appeal & temperament are the biggest factors when deciding which bulls to keep & which to castrate. Castration reduces aggressiveness & sexual activity by lowering testosterone levels. It also creates a higher quality carcass-more consistent, marbled, & tender beef. Steers are typically much easier to handle.

The 106th Annual Convention of the Texas Sheep & Goat Raiser’s Association was held in mid-July in Kerrville. Educational presentation, speakers, & social time with other ranchers were a part of the event.

The highlight of this year’s convention was when Robin was awarded the Fred T Earwood Memorial Award. The Earwood Award is the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers’ Association’s most prestigious & coveted award. It was established by the family and friends of the late Fred Earwood of Sonora in 1969 to honor those whose loyalty and dedication to the sheep & goat industry exemplify land & livestock values.

The following bio was read at the awards luncheon…

Robin is a third-generation rancher from Kendall County. His family ranch has been in operation for 134 years. Robin raises Angora goats, Finewool sheep, & Angus cattle. The pressure that Robin puts on selecting his animals has allowed him to sell quality breeding stock from all three classes of livestock throughout his career.  

Robin has always exhibited optimism & enthusiasm for the ranching industry.  He has never hesitated to speak his mind when input is needed. Robin openly shares his own challenges, along with successes, in hopes that others can succeed in ranching. 

Coaching 4-H kids in range & wool & mohair has always been a passion of his, with over 35 years of volunteer service. 

Keeping his family’s ranch together for future generations has always been the forefront in all his efforts, while encouraging others to do the same.

We couldn’t be more proud of Robin & are very thankful he was recognized for his loyalty & dedication to the sheep & goat industry.

Bulls|Shearing|Kidding & Lambing

Spring at Hillingdon seemed to come & go in a flash. It’s hard to believe it’s already summer. A Spring recap follows…

Casey Worrell made his annual trip out to scan our yearling bulls on March 1st. These bulls were placed on their gain test in the feedlot back in November 2020. At scanning, they had been on feed for 104 days.

Casey scanned each of the 18 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.

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.

Bulls were then taken 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.

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

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.

*******************************************************************

Shearing season started a little later than normal due to the snow & ice we had in February. We were able to start shearing at the beginning of March. Our shearing crew from Rocksprings spent eight full days here over the course of about 6 weeks shearing sheep & goats.

#shearers #familytradition #2ndgenerationshearers #3rdgenerationshearers #4thgenerationshearer #unclesnephews #brothers #fatherson

Much time went 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.

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.

After shearing the nannies & ewes were vaccinated for overeating {Enterotoxemia}. They were also drenched for stomach worms & sprayed for lice. Dry {not bred} nannies & ewes were pulled off. Bred nannies were split among the fields. Ewes were sorted based on their pregnancy scan status from January {carrying a single or twins} They were then put in pastures. Our ‘super twinner’ ewe herd {scanned as carrying twins for 3, 4 or 5 years} were kept close so we could keep a closer eye on them.

Kidding & lambing started at the beginning of April.

To date {minus the snow}, we have received about 13″ of rain this year. Pastures are green, creeks are running, & tanks are full. We are thankful.

Historic Ice & Snow @ Hillingdon Ranch

It’s been since the early 1980’s that Hillingdon Ranch has seen the amount of ice & snow that we just experienced.

Ice started settling in on February 11th & by the evening of February 14th, it was snowing. It didn’t take long for the pastures to be covered in a white blanket.

Giles Ranch Road then lost power the evening of February 15th, got power back for 4 hours on the morning of February 17th, then it was back off until 2 PM on February 19th. We are thankful it was a short time without power in comparison to those not very far to the North & West of us!

With everything covered in ice & snow, it became necessary for us to go out & provide feed to the livestock. Calving season was in full swing when the ice & snow hit, & nannies & ewes were heavy bred.

For the first time in Grant’s life, we fed hay to livestock out in the pastures. Our cattle aren’t used to seeing hay, so they decided to use it as bedding rather than eat it. That didn’t last long however, since the freezing conditions continued for several days.

The cattle did pretty well throughout, & the calves didn’t seem phased being born in the freezing temperatures. The sheep also did well, but it was a bit tougher on some of our older nannies & billies. We also lost some kids that were born during the ice/snow storm. A neighbor’s Spanish billy got into one of our pastures & bred nannies before we had put our billies in for breeding season. This resulted in kids being born when this storm hit. Our ewes & nannies are bred to lamb & kid in early April for this very reason. By early April, the chance of cold weather has normally passed.

Thankfully, most of our livestock does not depend on a trough for their source of water. Springs, creeks, & tanks {ponds} are present in most of our pastures. There were only a couple of water troughs that had to be broken up daily. Some of our live water sources froze over, but luckily lack of water never became an issue for our livestock.

Hillingdon was covered in ice &/or snow for 8 full days. That is the longest stretch of ice & snow that this ranch has seen in at least the last 100 years. It’s been said in the news that this was a 100 year storm, & that is indeed accurate for Hillingdon!

We are thankful our losses were not devastating. Prayers for those that weren’t as fortunate!