Calves {working|weaning|shipping|gaining}

Much time at the end of October & November was spent weaning calves. Weaning is a vital time in the management of the cows & calves. The milk diet 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, & branded. Branding is a useful & cost-effective way to identify cattle. A recognizable brand is instrumental in proving

All calves received an ‘HIL’ brand. All keeper heifer calves & bull calves received a number brand as well {their ear tag number}. These heifers were selected based on visual appeal, as well as their pedigree records.

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.

Once the calves were weaned, the heifers & steers spent a couple of weeks here at the ranch before being shipped.


A few days before being shipped, all heifer calves received a preventative calf hood vaccination for Brucellosis. 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 & 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 were tagged with a United States Department of Agriculture EID {electronic identification} ear tag. Many states require that breeding age females be OCV’d before crossing their borders.

On December 21st, we shipped 194 heifers & steers to a grow yard in Conlen, TX. We kept 18 ‘keeper’ heifers here at the ranch.

A grow yard is an operation that grows or backgrounds cattle for a period of time before they enter the feedlot for finishing. When they arrived at the grow yard, they were placed on a high roughage prepared ration. They ate out of feed bunks & learned to respect a single hot wire fence.

It’s crucial that the calves respect the single hot wire fence. If they aren’t used to hot wire fencing {like our cattle}, a disaster could happen quickly. Cattle could easily run right over it, allowing the entire herd to escape from the enclosure. The first calf to run through the wire would likely be the only one to get shocked. In turn, the others would not learn that it will shock them.

Once they were trained to respect the hot wire fence, they were moved out on wheat grazing. They will spend the next several months {until April/May} on wheat.

Once they are done grazing on wheat, we will then have to make decisions on where the heifers will go next. Market conditions & whether we have interested replacement heifer buyers lined up will determine if we ship some or all the heifers back to the ranch, sell them, or send them on to the feedlot. Decisions on the steers will have to be made as well {sell them at auction or retain ownership through the feedlot stage}. Factors that will affect these decisions 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.

Thirty-one bull calves went on gain test in the feedlot here at the ranch on December 5th.

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 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 ‘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.