Friday, August 30, 2013

Ball Like a Baby

Baby calves.. cute little buggers aren't they?!
I mean, who doesn't like a fuzzy little baby animal, big ole eyes, wobbly little legs...
Sure, they are cute for the first few days... then they become more cow-like than baby-like and lose their cuteness... especially when their little faces are covered in their mothers breakfast (one of the downfalls of drinking from an udder i suppose...)
A calf weighing over 450 lbs isnt really cute anymore, and its a good thing too because thats when they get the boot!

Cute little Norman from City Slickers

Today we weaned the calves at the ranch we work on.
For a rancher, weaning is a pretty stressful time of year.
The calves are physically separated from the cows so that they can be sold or shipped to another pasture, which is pretty hard on the little guys (450lb little guys...)
No mooooving away party, no last sip of warm milk, no goodbye lick... just a run through the chute, a few vaccines, a quick visit to the scales, and a bumpy trailer trip to the corrals down the road.
The stress comes because these big babies are very valuable little things!
The cowboys have been working all year to keep these calves healthy. If the calves get run down because of the stress they go through at weaning, they could get sick (costing the rancher $$), they could lose weight (more $$) or they could die (a lotta $$)
Plus, no one wants a sick baby!

So, weaning needs to be done a certain way so that the babies remain happy and healthy
(ok, so maybe not happy... who would be happy to be taken away from an all you can eat buffet!!)

First off, the pairs need to be gathered as quietly as possible and taken to the corrals.  If you run the pairs too much, they'll get stressed and they'll also run the weight you worked so hard to put on them the last 4 months.

Gathering the pairs for weaning - I'm on the far left, Matt on the far right

Once the pairs are all in the corrals they will be sorted off one another.
The cows will be let back into the pasture near the corrals, and the calves will be sorted into holding pens.

The pairs are held in the arena on the back of the corrals until it is their turn to be sorted

Matt and Tic sorting a cow off the herd 
(he hates this picture because Tic is swinging his head... it happens...)

I usually alternate between riding rodear and sorting
Here I'm letting the cows pass in the alley to go to pasture and turning the calves back to be penned

Once the calves are sorted off the cows, they are "worked"
This entails running each calf through the chute, giving vaccinations, and sorting again.
Today, we gave the usual calf vaccinations, sorted our heifer calves from our steer calves, and then weighed the calves in groups to get an estimate of their weight. 

Calves are worked! 

After the calves are weighed, they are taken by trailer load to some corrals about 5 miles down the road to "ball".
The calves, even though they are huge, are still babies.  They've never been apart from their mothers, and they are not excited about it.  They will cry for about 3 or 4 days before accepting their eminent fate. So will the mommas.  

Here the calves are all worked and ready to be trailered to the corrals down the way
Many of the cows are waiting at the gate balling for their calves
(and others have decided eating grass is more worth their time... they'll all eventually figure that out)

Some ranchers choose to wean through a fence, called fence-line weaning
This is where the calves and the cows are in different fields/corrals separated by a fence.
Our cows will always find a way through the fence, so we choose not to wean this way.
Our mommas will even go looking for their calves even when they cannot see or hear them.
Last year when Matt's folks were visiting, we heard some pretty clear moo's coming from the cows.
Hearing some cries is expected, as i mentioned above they will cry for a few days...
However, these moos sounded like they were right outside the window of our house.. and thats because they were!  They were standing in our driveway!  They had torn down a 5 strand barbed wire fence looking for their babies.  We closed the gates around the ranch and Lisa, Matt and I gathered them in the morning.

Matt riding through the stubble field last year after bringing home the wandering cows

Other ranchers choose to use nose-flaps or spiked-nose-rings.
This is where the calves are run through a chute so that the rancher can install the rings.
The rings or flaps are put through the nostrils of the calf and make nursing very uncomfortable for the mother, so uncomfortable that the cow will kick the calf off of her and not let it nurse. 
Ive never actually seen this done, but i can imagine its a lot of work to put them in just to take them out 2 weeks later when the cows milk has dried up.  
We are lucky to have enough different locations to keep our calves and cows separate, so the rings are not necessary for us.  

Here is one such nose ring (calf is not ours)

After the 3 or 4 days of balling is over, the calves go onto greener pastures (literally, they go into a nice irrigated grassy field) and the mommas go back to packing on the pounds to get ready for their new baby who is already growing inside them.

And the part i love about weaning?
Being outside, on a hot little mare, riding in the hills and sorting in the alleyway.
Working in town part of the week, i don't get to be horseback as often as i like to, so im more than happy to help out when i can!
Even if im dog tired and now smell like a cow :)


  1. Lindsay, I am enjoying theife of a cowboy/gal education. I don't know about this stuff, its fun to learn and read. Love your photos too and you

  2. Glad you like it Diane! It sure is a hard working kind of life, but so fun!! And so happy to share!