Thursday, September 17, 2009


Late summer, after the grain is in the bin and before the tractors and drills are tuned up to start planting winter wheat, it's time for a few days of cattle work. Each fall we gather the three bunches of cows for two purposes: to sort the calves by sex, and to give them their shots prior to weaning and shipping. Each fall we sell the steer calves to a feeder and retain the heifer calves to wean, feed and eventually use as replacement heifers for our herd.

This year, we gathered the first bunch on Tuesday morning and corralled them with only two attempted escapees. One cow and one calf, not necessarily a pair, decided they weren't in the mood to be worked and so they ran around the gate and after a bit of a chase by the hired hand and Alli and I in the Ranger, everyone was sealed up in the corrals.

Then the work began. Actually some of the work began the night before in Excel as Scott and I took the previously entered cow tag numbers and added their calf's birthday and sex. Then we sorted those into two lists, steers and heifers. Then after some cutting and pasting, we ended up with the list of cows who had heifer calves in numerical order.

The first job we do in the corral is to sort off the calves from the cows and separate them by gender--known around here as sex-sorting. Scott really makes that pretty easy as when the calves are born in the spring, we tag them with a tag that corresponds with their mama's tag, with all the steers receiving blue tags and the heifers receiving pink tags. Maybe a little "cute", but helpful come fall sorting! Occasionally there's a mix-up, say if we run out of pink tags in the process of going around the pasture, or if there's a particularly mean mama cow who makes you do your tagging job in a bit of a rush. So sometimes a guy actually has to get their head upside down to check on what's really going on.

As usual, Scott's the man with the most pressure as he has to stand in the middle of the alley with nothing but a sorting paddle to funnel the cows down the alley into their pen. Then we send the calves down the alley with the steers going "in" the gate to their pen and the heifers going "by" the gate to their pen. I usually run the gates into the pens, so I mostly have to just listen to what Scott tells me. Occasionally a cow or calf gets by and I have to try to do a little jumping around, waving of arms, and swinging of gate, not necessarily in that order, to try to get everyone in the right place. Occasionally it works, but usually it doesn't and we have to go into the pen and fish the wrong animal out and resort.

The last part of the sorting, and the hardest part, is to try to get the cows separated by the gender of their calves. Remember that list? Well Scott stands in the alley this round, with only a clipboard in his hand while Ryan or Alex brings him one cow at a time (hopefully), in the process hollering out the tag number so Scott can see if it is on the list and go "in" (steer mamas), or "by" (heifer mamas). Again it usually goes pretty smoothly, unless two or three cows get through and Scott has to make a determination on the fly. Sometimes I can get distracted by my own thoughts and forget which way is which and end up doing a quick switch at the end, which makes Scott a little edgy. Can't say as I blame him. Usually my distraction has something to do with one of the kids who are camped out in the back of the Suburban in the next pen, and instead of focusing on cows, I'm focused on which kid has smeared doughnut frosting all over the window or his sister, depending on the day. I'm sure I'll get much better at my job when my mommy brain isn't working over-time.

Once everything is in the right pen, we send the steer calves up the through the chute for new tags, fly pour-on and vaccines. Most buyers request the owners "pre-condition" the calves before shipping so that the calves are healthier when they arrive in their new digs with a new feed ration, environment and climate, which can create a lot of stress on the animal and a little sickness in the process. It's a relatively new requirement that has been met with a little resistance on the part of the seller due to the cost, time, and hassle. But I guess that's just how the business goes.

It's busy couple of days and it's a good chance for me to see what full-time working moms deal with... trying to get to the bus on time, figuring out what to make for supper, rifling through the stack of dirty clothes trying to find something that's mostly clean to wear during an especially busy week. I really enjoy getting to be outside and in the corral with the "guys" plus it's where I feel most comfortable when we're working outside since my family raises cattle too. It also gives us a chance to look at our animals close-up and check their soundness and get a feel for how the calves are doing before they go down the road.

As for the title of the post: well, just imagine a hundred or so cows all mooing for their calves, and the calves all mooing for their mamas. It's enough to give a girl a headache!

Gathering the pasture

Stopping for a drink

Windmill and water tank

Gathering the trap

Down the Alley

Heading for the gate

She's In

Waiting for a new bunch

Time for a meeting of the minds

Steer Calves

Hard to see, but the near pen is full of steers (blue tag)
and the far pen is full of heifers (pink tags)


The Farmer said...

That's some nice calves you got there. Oh, and your legs are nice too.(see farmers wife sidebar)

Kathy said...

Great documentation, Traci. Bethany and Daniel enjoyed their time with Grandpa and Grandma last October doing a little bit of corral work of their own.

The Farmer's Wife said...

It's fun to have pictures of the process, isn't it? Someday, I should come over and take pictures of you, on the gate, as well as the rest of the drama, and you could come to Lang's Fork Inc and do the same. Scott is looking remarkably calm, considering the task and the fact that he's in the corral with his wife....

And I love the Montana sky, in the pictures.

scott said...

Calm I'm not, as Traci well knows. It's the time when she wonders why did I agree to sort cows with my husband. Good pic's dear. Love you.