G&B Ranch Docility Program

Murphy is Monday and Rocky's bull calf.  He has been extraordinarily friendly.  This past week, he decided following us around the pasture letting out frustrated moo calls was a good way to get our attention.  He is hard to get a side picture of because he is always following or coming towards me.  Murphy loves to have his brisket rubbed. It seems hypnotic to him.  We imprint on our calves it is okay to be near us and even take comfort in our presence, but we also teach respect.  He got me thinking about our docility program here at G&B Ranch.

There are rules the cattle need to follow.  These include things like we scratch them, they do not scratch on us.  We never play head butt or scratch the front of their head.  As cute as it is to have a two day old calf pushing on your leg, it will not be cute when they outweigh us.  It makes me giggle when a calf jumps around me like a jumping bean asking me to play.  That being said, I do not condone it and let the calf know I am not a playmate by walking off.  

The one time I break the playmate rule is with bottle calves.  While I still never let them butt me, I will play tag with them.  Usually the bottle calves are on their own in our backyard or maybe with one other calf, so they need socialization and happiness.  A few years ago we had Vodka, a little red bull (get it?), who loved to run in giant loops with me around the yard.  As he grew, it transformed to giant loops in the pasture.  He never disrespected me and he even would lay his head in my lap wanting to be petted.  

Once the calves are twice my size, I begin teaching them about my personal space.  They need to be invited in and if I pay attention, I can usually spot their quiet request and reward it.  Just like horses, we teach them about energy.  They need to know to move or just chill and let us casually walk through.  They pick up pretty quickly on our energy and what we are trying to do.  The herd also comes when called.  They also get super excited when they see a stock trailer and usually come running.  This means a few things to them.  They get attention from us (usually good), they get to see the mule (who doesn't like to see royalty), there is a new herd mate being delivered (someone to gossip about), they are going to a better pasture (hooray), or a someone is leaving (thanks, that thing was sucking the life out of me).  I will say it is anti-climactic to expect a nice, long ride gathering cows only to be met at the trailer and have to hustle to get the panels set up to collect them!

I have read many articles recommending to not have your calves, especially your bull calves, too friendly.   I agree with some of that way of thinking.  Once the bulls are about 60 days past weaning, I do not touch them much, if at all.   The heifers are a different story.  Itouch them as much as possible with regular lessons about my respecting my bubble.  We need to be able to walk through them any time of day, assist them with calving and nursing and perform soundness checks.  If they get themselves into a pickle, they know we are trying to help them.  Obviously, cattle are big and powerful animals with minds of their own and this is always in the back of my mind as I enter their space.

When it comes to buying a new animal or retaining an animal in our herd, we have a pretty set guideline of what we are seeking.  The best bred cow or bull is not going to remain as a breeder if they are ornery.  While everyone is entitled to a bad day, nothing turns me off more quickly than an animal who flees from me for no reason.  For new purchases, chances are this animal is not enjoying its normal routine if we are coming to possibly purchase them, but I still grade them pretty hard.  Our safety depends on it.  My husband knows the drill.  He stands off a ways and distracts the owners while I make angle gently towards the animal.  I have a grading system:

A - They approach me without malice, remain still, smell an outstretched hand

B - They let me approach and smell an outstretched hand

C - They walk off, but stop when I stop and turn only their head to look at me

D - They walk off as far as the pen allows to turn their body and look at me

F - They run off or back away, not showing their backside

Obviously, it also matters what they do if they smell me.  A bluff shake of their head could mean trouble while a timid cow may get startled by finding out I am not familiar.  I do little follow up approaches to get a better read on their personality.

We strive to use the squeeze chute as little as possible by training our cattle not only to respect and trust us, but the respect and trust is a two way street.  It is absolutely super being able to get close to an animal to evaluate and even touch them to triage the issue.   Look on the herd sire page for a story about Notch and a watery eye I was able to evaluate in the field.  I attribute his docility to his breeder, the folks at Midland, his breeding, and our respectful treatment of him.

Lastly, we feel we are doing something right when our bull buyers relay their stories of our quiet bulls and the docile calves they produce.   

Time for my evening calf-checking rounds.  Cheers.

 

Benchmarks

This year has already been full of firsts here at G&B Ranch.

The double digit below zero temps meant we had to bring newly born calves into our calf warming area in the basement.  We have always had this area ready to go every calving season, but never have had to use it.  Four calves ended up rotating inside to get warmed while their fur dried.

A cow calved breach.  We are thankful for low birth weights on that one.  She managed to have him with only a gentle hand pull assistance from me.  His hair is still all facing the wrong way, but seems no worse for the way he entered into the world.

An awesome item we just installed is a calving barn camera.  It even has sound so we can talk back and forth.  I don't mean the husband and I, I mean the cows can talk to me and I can encourage them.  I am watching Stash with Stitch right now peacefully napping.  Charlotte is up next and pacing in and out of one of the stalls trying to decide whether she should eat or have a baby.

The next item to check off our list is embryo transplants.  This is a dream of mine since assisting with ET in junior high.  Callie did great.  It is nice to hear from the vet your cows are always welcome at his place because they are so easy to handle.   Ester is being flushed this weekend.  We have plenty of fertile commercial mommas waiting to take on their embryos.  Exciting to think about having a bunch of Callie and Ester calves running about in 2018!

We are also blessed with a few heifers so far this calving season which will extend our GB lines several dams deep.  It is great to feel like we are building our own style into a great set of cows.

Another first for this calving season was losing a calf.  We knew it was inevitable, but hoped we could hold it off another year.  Wilma was on my radar, but I missed checking her.  I came out to feed and saw she had a stillborn calf just before my arrival on scene.  Wilma, being a heifer, did not really know what had happened.  It took her about 10 days to sort it out.  She even went through a time where she was clearly depressed.  Fortunately, she has returned to her normal self.  Unfortunately, she has plenty of spare time to think of stuff to do, most of which is not constructive.  Idle hooves...

Speaking of idle time, I have very little these days!   Be sure to check in on our Midland Bull Test bulls tag numbers 608 and 609.   Cheers

Happy Holidays

I am so thankful the temperatures have moderated from the below zero, whisker-freezing, not calf- friendly December we were having so far.  I hate to jinx anything, but our geo-thermal waterers have been acting as advertised!  Unfortunately, we outgrew our covered hay storage this year so that means dealing with frozen and snowy tarps.  Who needs P90X when you have a haystack for a nemesis?

Some of the early calving ladies are looking pretty miserable as they creep around on the frozen ground between the straw, the water and the food.  I can see and feel their babies rippling around their sides, which is one of my favorite things in the world.  Soon I will get the all the Christmas presents I have been waiting 9 months for!  Callie is off making some pre-made babies for us and Ester will get her turn next.

It is great to hear all the cows and bulls we have sold are doing well and making us proud. Our pen of weanling heifers is something we are truly excited about and I can hardly wait to AI them this Spring.  Oh and we did end up picking a different AI sire for them (see post below).

Merry Christmas to everyone.  We sure have a lot to be thankful for here at G&B Ranch.  The very first thing on the list is our family and friends who have been there every step of the way to support,  give us guidance, and offer us great opportunities.  Thank You!

Cheers

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Everyone is finally home.

It is that super fun time of year where we have everyone home.  If we are not out feeding at daybreak, the alarm clocks start going off.  Wilma and Amanda will be first up and they are getting ready to go.  Wilma is getting cankles already and we are wondering if she will make it to her January 1st due date or surprise us with a Christmas calf.  I can already feel it on her side and she does not seem to mind extra scratching. 

This year we were able to purchase some elite cows and add another bull to our lineup.  At least two cows will be going into our donor program.  In true ironic fashion, one of the AI sires I picked just had a son sell for $235,000 yesterday.  I am sure his semen will be getting difficult to find very soon.

We sent Ragnar and Cap to Midland in October.  So far, so good.  We are looking forward to seeing their growth through the winter.

Alright, back to work...

Yes, everyone is named!

To those who ask why, I ask why not?  It is a lot easier for us to remember an animal if we name them.  For the cows, we have related names for daughters.  For example, our Chiquita cow has a heifer named Banana and Sunday has a heifer named Monday.  These cows will live a very long time with us.  The name association enables us to more easily remember their lineage without having to look at their papers.  The bull calves get more random names since they will not stay around as long.  For my husband's sake, I try to keep it simple; Patches since he has patches on his eyes or Notch because his ear is notched.  We also use familial names for loved ones who are watching our herd from heaven.  :-) 

A sleeping Banana.   It is not very often you can catch a calf dozing!

A sleeping Banana.   It is not very often you can catch a calf dozing!