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.

 

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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.

 

 

A Hillingdon Ranch Tour

The American Sheep Industry Association held its annual convention in San Antonio at the end of January/beginning of February. As part of the convention, we hosted a tour here at Hillingdon.

 

ASI is the national organization representing the interests of more than 88,000 sheep producers located throughout the United States. From East to West, pasture-based flocks to range operations, ASI works to represent the interests of all producers.

The year was 1865. Abraham Lincoln was president, the Civil War was ending, and neither the automobile nor the telephone had been invented. This was the year the National Wool Growers Association was formed, making it the first national livestock association in the United States. It was this association that provided the roots for today’s national industry organization: the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI).

source: sheepusa.org

About 100 convention participants took part in the tour here at the ranch. Participants were from all over the US, as well as Canada & Australia.

While here, participants learned about the land, livestock, & what techniques we use in managing our operation. They were able to see our sheep {& goats & cattle} up close. Dr. Redden & Dr. Pope (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension) ultra sounded some ewes & allowed participants to try their hand at it as well. Participants were able to look around the shearing barn, as well as observe how our sheep/goat handler works.

They were served a lamb lunch & listened to a brief presentation by Emilee Trlica (Texas Farm Bureau). Thanks to Kendall County Farm Bureau for their help with the day’s work!

We always enjoying hosting tours for others in our industry. There is so much to share & learn among other producers.

 

We appreciate the articles written about the tour/ranch by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension & the San Antonio Express News…

https://today.agrilife.org/2018/02/02/hillingdon-ranch-tour-shows-visitors-texas-style-sheep-raising/

http://digital.olivesoftware.com/Olive/ODN/SanAntonioExpressNews/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=SAEN%2F2018%2F02%2F11&entity=Ar05902&sk=81CA91CB&mode=text

Bulls & Babies

This year, we selected 36 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 18th, these bulls went on feed to begin their gain/performance test.

Each bull was weighed before going on feed and will again be weighed and sonogrammed at the end of the performance test. The bulls will be on the gain test for about 100 days.

This feeding period allows us to collect data on efficiency & production to be considered in genetic selection of future herd sires. The test also 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.

On January 19th, Dr. Reid Redden & Dr. Ronald Pope with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension came out & ultra sounded 390 ewes as part of the American Sheep Industry Association’s Let’s Grow initiative.

After ultra sounding the 390 ewes, we determined that 183 are carrying singles, 193 are carrying twins, and 14 are open (not bred). That makes a projected lamb crop of 145.9%. Last year’s projected lamb crop was 136.6% after the ewes were ultra sounded. We are getting closer to our goal of 150%.

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 and to lactate supporting one lamb.

Shippin’ & Snowin’

On November 17th, we shipped 83 steers to the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Oklahoma.

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 have to 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 and pasture, feed costs, cattle prices, and 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.

On December 7th, it snowed! We don’t receive much snow here at the ranch, so anytime we do it is a bit exciting. We are thankful for the 2″ of rain/moisture that we received last week.

Merry Christmas from Hillingdon Ranch!

Calves, Rams, & Billies

Over the past several weeks, things have been a bit noisy around the ranch. Calves have been weaned from their mothers, so they’re sure to let us know how they feel about it. Cows & calves ball for each other, but it doesn’t take them long to figure out that they can survive just fine without each other.

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, and branded them.

All calves 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.

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November meant time to gather rams & billies in order to be put with ewes & nannies for breeding season. Once gathered, 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.

One family; 130 years of stewardship

On October 7th, we celebrated 130 years of Hillingdon Ranch. Judge Darrel Lux {Kendall County Judge} even proclaimed October 7th as HILLINGDON RANCH DAY in Kendall County!

130th Proclamation

The day’s festivities were kicked off with a welcome by Robin Giles & a prayer by Laura Giles Mullen.

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Family & friends enjoyed a BBQ & lamb meal, followed by lots of visiting & reminiscing, viewing the 50’+ family tree, walking around the barns & working pens, & viewing a slideshow of pictures…

We’re thankful to be a part of something so unique! As Robin said at the celebration…

‘Grandpa had to have instilled something in his children that they instilled in us, & we are attempting to instill in our children & grandchildren.’

‘Since Grandpa divided his land with his brother-in-law in 1917, the Giles heirs have not sold a single piece of Hillingdon Ranch in 130 years…’

‘We have an extreme appreciation of each other & the fact that if any of us did sell, it would be so detrimental to the rest of the family. We have such an appreciation of each other that I think that’s the reason it’s stayed together.’ 

Thanks to everyone for being a part of such a special day!

Thanks to Kyle Porter, Walter Royse, & Marla Sonsel for the photos.