Every year, after the winter wheat is in the ground and the weather starts to cool off, the time comes to ship the calves. We usually contract the sale sometime in the summer, and it's usually anyone's guess whether June, July, August, or September will be the top of the market or the bottom. Most people in the general population don't understand the commodities markets that determine the prices for things like beef, wheat, and corn. But unfortunately, a rancher doesn't get to put his top dollar on his cattle and wait for the buyer to come to him. Many times, a rancher will have built a relationship with a buyer over a period of time and can usually count on the buyer to find a good price, but occasionally the buyer can't find any interested feeders and the rancher has to resort to other means to market his product.
We contracted our cattle in July, preconditioned and sex-sorted in September, so all that was left was to gather and trail the steers and their moms to the house, and then gather and trail the heifers and their moms to the "on-deck" pasture.
Last Saturday, we bundled up all the kids (after quite a few protests and insistence that pants and underarmour with a long-sleeved shirt was plenty warm enough in 20 degree weather) and headed up to the pasture on 4-wheelers, in the ranger, and in the feed pick-up. It was a COLD ride up there for everyone but Mom and Alli, who got to be in the pick-up with the heater. Once we arrived, the kids jumped in the pick-up to warm up, so I got on Haley's four-wheeler and helped with some of the gathering. Let me just say that riding a 4-wheeler in the snow is pretty fun, and man can a person spin a cookie with ease!! I think Adam was a little surprised when he arrived and saw me doing a 360 degree turn, just for fun. We got about 3/4 of the herd gathered with little effort as they were all clustered together in the bottom of the creek to ward of the cold wind, so the kids and I trailed them to the next pasture while Scott and Alex scoured the corners for the remaining cows. Once the kids were just trailing along the cows, they warmed up and seemed to enjoy the day.
Morning came pretty early on Shipping Day, Monday. We were up at 4:45 in time to get some coffee brewing, the cinnamon rolls into the oven and the kitchen ready for Karen to make her famous biscuits and gravy (at least famous in Scott's eyes). We added some eggs and juice and had a great-tasting hearty breakfast after the crew arrived between 6 and 6:30. They were out gathering by a little after 7 and had the cows sorted from the calves and everything weighed and loaded by 10:30. The calves were all settled in the cattle pods for a trip out to a feeder in a town near Green Bay, Wisconsin. Talk about a long road trip!
Everyone enjoyed coffee and cinnamon rolls before they jumped back on the four-wheelers to gather and trail the heifer calves to the house to sort and wean. We were completely finished by 2 p.m. and finished the day with lasagna, salad, garlic bread, and peach pie. All in all a good day. The calves weighed up pretty well, the crew worked together seamlessly and we didn't have any major wrecks. Now we just have to wait another day or two for the cows to stop their complaining (although, I can see why they get a little irritated since their calves have just been weaned and their bags are getting pretty tight!) Nothing like the soothing sound of a couple hundred cows to lull a person to sleep.