Spring tune-up

Every spring, we bring the whole herd to the front field so the cows can be worked through the alleyway and squeeze chute in the corral. Each cow receives a multi-purpose vaccination, fly spray, a deworming pour-on and an eye check for pink eye. Everything proceeds a lot smoother when the process is well planned because the cows usually create some type of chaos on their own. This spring, in addition to the 17 cows, we had to deal with Shane the bull and 7 calves.

The day began around 6:30am, mostly because of the hot, humid weather and looming rain clouds, although I generally believe that cattle move easier in the mornings. The first task is to complete setting up the corral by moving 6 panels in place, creating a crowding pen on one side of the head gate and a release area on the other. We greased the levers, sliding door and gathered the vaccinations, pour-on, gloves, disinfectant, cattle prods, ear tags, and buckets of sweet feed. Bella heard us and knew something was happening, so soon the whole herd was standing by the gate, moo’ing in anticipation. I opened the gate from the front field to the corral, and led the cows in with a bucket of feed. All of the cows and calves came running, except for three cows and Shane. Gilley and the 2 Braunvieh heifers balked at the gate, turned and ran back to the field. Shane, who never runs anywhere, meandered with his slow, deliberate pace into the corral. We tried a couple of times to get three stragglers to follow without any luck, finally deciding to proceed without them. Inside the corral, I used another bucket of feed and a cow stick to gently guide Shane back the the front field so he would be out of the way. Nothing is worse than working cows with a bull hanging around just getting in the way.

Waiting their turn in the crowding half of the corral.

Bev, my friend and neighbor, agreed to lend a hand this morning. A few seasons ago, I created a spreadsheet to track the tasks and details of the working sessions. Bev’s job was to make sure everything was done for each particular cow in the chute, and then to check off each item on the chart. She would also be very helpful in sorting the cows, calves and managing gates. I told her we would just need her help for about an hour.

My cow working sheet, with tasks to-do highlighted for each bovine.

I made sure the vaccinations, sprays, disinfectant, pens, gloves and checklist were all setup on a table next to the head gate and the reviewed through the pre-job planning one last time. Before working cows, I always remind myself of a piece of advice told to me by a good friend who helped us with our first cattle, “If you want to work cows fast, work them slow”. Already annoyed that two cows and a calf were left in the Mountain field, and 1 old cow and two heifers were hanging out in the Front field, I took a breath and focused on being in the moment.

Separating out 2-3 at a time, I moved cows and calves from the crowding pen into the bud box, down the alleyway and into the head gate. All of the adult cows have been through this many times and know the drill, some a little too well. Bella in particular, is much too opinionated with the whole procedure. Being part Charolais and as tame as a dog, she is nearly impossible to move through until she decides to go. At least three time, Bella pushed me with her head, with enough intent to get me scrambling up the wall just in case she was serious. When most of the other cows were done, Bella finally agreed to get moving and went into the head gate.

Bella daring me to make her move.
Bella in the head gate getting her immunization and pour-on.

The calves are a whole other experience all together. This group of babies ranged in age from 4 weeks to 5 days old, and this was their first time through the process. I adjusted the alleyway so no one could turn around and run back into the bud box. To keep a calf moving, I stuck close behind them with my hands on their back and their back legs touching to me as I guided them through the alleyway. Being close prevents any kicking from hurting me too much. This group did well, everyone stayed fairly orderly and calm. When the time came to work on Annie, Pippies’ 5 day old heifer, Bill and I just went into the bud box and held her against the boards. She was much too little to go through the head gate.

This month old little bull voiced his displeasure with the whole process. Funny, but he does not realize that his next trip through the head gate will not be so pleasant. We will make steers out of these little bulls later this summer.

Two of the spring calves missed getting their respiratory immunization within a day or so of birth so I gave each their dose. This is an easy one, just a little liquid in each nostril.

Bill took a course where he learned and practiced giving injections to cattle and has been certified under the Beef Quality Assurance program. Taking the course is on my to-do list, but for now there is no rush. Bill gives all of our cows and calves their injections, and is very good at it.

As much as I would love to keep everything single cow (except Crazy Heidi), our herd has a maximum size based on the amount of pastures on the farm, and choices have to be made. I was fortunate to find a neighboring family who was starting their own cattle herd and sold them Patty, Josie and their calves. I bought Patty as a year old heifer and Josie was my first calf born at TurkeyCrest. I will miss these ladies but they will live on a great farm and will be well cared for by these folks.

As we sorted the cattle this morning, I kept Patty, Josie and their two calves in the crowding pen so they could hang out in the corral after going through the chute. Later in the day, we loaded them into the trailer and they were off to join their new herd.

Patty and her little bull in the crowding pen.

After all of the other cows were finished, we opened the gate and let the herd return to the Front Field. The three hold outs and Shane were happy to see them again. Of course, Bella and her heifer, Pearl were last to leave. Those Charolais cows are so opinionated.

My one hour estimate that I gave to Bev was a bit optimistic. We finally finished a solid three hours after first bring the herd into the corral. And poor Bev had cow manure splatter all over her, the same as me and Bill. Good thing she is a cowgirl at heart.

Taking Bev’s hand-written sheet from the morning’s work, I filled in the boxes for each cow and calf. Except those cows with the X’s in their row, the spring working day went well. No one was injured, all of the cooperating cattle have refresh immunization and the 2019 calves have their first calf-sized ear tags. Job well done.

Moving the cows

In preparation for working the cows, which is somewhat comparable to a semi-annual inspection and tune-up, this past Sunday we enlisted the help of two friends to move our herd from the Mountain field to the South field. The preparation began with an hour of setting up a temporary alley between the two fields using step-in posts and polywire. Then I hooked up the feed trough to the hitch on the Kawasaki Mule, to entice Shane and the ladies with sweet feed. All was proceeding smoothly until I realized that Patty and her 5 day old calf were not with the herd gathering at the gate. Setting out on foot to search the 20 acre field, I finally found them in the shade of a group of trees at the complete other end of the pasture, ugh. The calf jumped up and decided to have a meal. When he finished nursing, I started the slow walk back to the gate with Patty and her little bundle of joy leading the way.

By the time I reached the rest of the herd near the gate, Crazy Heidi and her side kick Billie, were growing antsy and wary. Sure enough, as soon as the gate was opened to start the procession to the South Field, Heidi took off in the opposite direction with Billie and Billie’s calf in tow. There was nothing to do except continue moving the majority of the herd through the alley way. After getting 17 cows, 6 calves and one bull safely to the South Field, we returned to the Mountain Field to try and convince Crazy Heidi and Billie and the calf to follow the herd.

Fast forward 2.5 hours. Four adult humans were completely exhausted and three cows were (again) running down the length of the field. The weather was hot and humid and after so much chasing, I worried the calf was being pushed too hard. To the relief of everyone involved, we decided to throw in the flag. These three bovines were going to stay in the Mountain Field until being reunited with the herd in a few days.

The herd, minus 3 bovines, in the South Field.

Originally, the plan was to work the herd in about a week. But my quarter horse Sundance was coming back to the farm over the weekend. Sundance’s run-in is located at one end of the corral where the cattle working area is as well. I wanted to get the cattle out of his corral and returned to the Dixon Fields as soon as possible. So yesterday, we continued toward the goal of working the cattle by again moving the herd, this time to the Front Field, which borders the corral.. As with the all of our pasture moves, step one is to set up temporary posts and polywire to connect the two fields.

Temporary alley way between the fields.

The cows hear the click, click, squeal of the polywire being unrolled and gather excitedly by the gate, waiting to move to greener pastures. The flies are just tormenting poor Patty and Gilley, our black angus cows. One primary reason we work the cows this time of year is to administer a pour-on wormer, wipe their faces and spray them with fly repellent. I tried fly ear tags a number of years ago and was not a fan of them. Besides not keeping down the number of flies, the cows are always batting their eyes with their ears, and those medicated tags would hit their eyes. I haven’t used them since.

I opened the gate, pulled the trough through the alleyway and the whole herd followed, cows and calves and Shane the bull.

Starting the procession.

Halfway across the alleyway, Josie realizes that she has lost track of her calf. She stops, looks around for her, lets out a “follow me” moo, then continues to the new field.

And along comes Josie’s little white-faced heifer.

Josie’s white faced heifer.

New field, fresh grass, and everyone celebrates!