This week I am bruised, dirty and tired from vaccinating cattle and moving them from winter pasture to lush green summer pasture. You know what? It is one of the best weeks of the year. It is hard to explain the feeling but at the end of the day you are caked with mud and "other things", bone tired and really sore. However, when you open the gate and watch the cows and their calves spread out and start grazing, it is very gratifying.
Each morning we start by gathering up one of our herds of cows and calves. We keep each herd to a maximum of 40 cows. This is because it is more manageable for us, safer for the calves and generally causes less stress to cows and humans alike.
Next we sort the cows and calves into separate pens. We sort the cattle as slowly and quietly as possible. University research has proven that cattle (and all prey animals) are very sensitive to loud or sudden movements and we again want to minimize the stress. We sort them because the cows receive a different regimen of vaccinations than the calves and it is safer for the calves if they are in their own group.
Vaccinations are the next round of business. Calves receive their first round of vaccinations against common cattle diseases such as red nose, black leg, pink eye and other diseases that often are fatal if the calves catch them. Really this is no different than the vaccinations our kids get before kindergarten. The cows receive booster shots for the same diseases and are given de-wormers to help with internal parasites and external parasites, like ticks. We also take this time to inspect each cow's physical condition and give her a new identification ear tag if she needs it.
When the vaccinations are finished we again sort the cows and calves according to the summer pasture they are going to. In the fall, cows are sorted by age and body type. This helps insure that they receive the proper nutrition. However, when we sort in the spring the sorting is done according to the bull that will be in each pasture. Choosing the matings has become more and more precise due to the advances in tracking of growth and carcass traits in cattle. A lot of planning and thought went into the beef you eat.
Finally the cattle are herded into the trailers for the ride to the summer pasture. We put the calves in a separate trailer to make sure they are safe and can't be jostled by the bigger cows. The last part is my favorite, opening the gate and letting them out on new, green grass. Often we are very busy, but I always find myself lingering and watching the cows and calves. That makes all the dirt, bruising and exhaustion worth it and reaffirms why I ranch.