May on the ranch is such a busy time! Just when calving season has ended and we think we can catch our breath, we get a whole other kind of busy! May is filled with branding cattle, moving cattle to summer pasture, preparing for breeding season, and AI'ing (artificially inseminating a portion of our herd).
At each branding we round up the cattle on horseback and separate the cows from the calves. All of our cattle work is done on horseback, even in the corrals. Our corrals are set up specifically for horses, and we have found that this facilitates a very low stress environment for the cattle. They work through the corrals swiftly and efficiently. It is also so much easier and more fun for us, as we don't have to trudge through the mud all day- the horses do the work for us. My daughter who is five, is starting to become quite the hand, and it is so fun for us to watch her grow as a little cowgirl!
First, we give all of the mother cows their booster vaccines. Every ranch has different immunization protocol based on what diseases are prevalent in their area, and what has worked for their herd. There are 3 separate vaccines we give to the cattle that protect against respiratory, gastrointestinal, and reproductive diseases.
Next, we brand the calves on a branding table. This is different than what you will see at a lot of other Montana brandings where they rope and drag to get the calves branded. We choose to use the table for a few reasons.
Foremost, we are able to have a little more quality control, and make sure each calf is getting all of their shots administered correctly and all numbers are recorded. Each calf is written down and notes are taken on any that do not seem to be performing (growing) the way we would like. This allows us to take a look at the cow, evaluate what the problem is, and then decide if she will be culled from the herd in the fall. Any cow that is raising a dink calf (what we call underweight calves) causes a financial loss for the ranch, and therefore, she must be sold. There are usually underlying conditions that will cause every calf she raises to be small. An example would be an udder that doesn't produce milk- stunting the calf's growth.
Second, we are able to get a bit better look at the calf on the table to assess for sickness. The calves are on the table for about 60 seconds, and in that time, are given a full health check.
Finally, we are not the best ropers in the world, but don't tell anyone! haha
When the calves are on the branding table they are given three vaccines for respiratory and gastrointestinal disease, one of which is an intranasal spray that helps protect against summer pneumonia. Bulls are castrated with a band, making them a steer. Every calf is branded, and we do an ear snap in their left ear. The ear snap takes a small triangular snip of the top corner of the ear, and it is for identification. When looking at cattle from a distance, especially when at pasture, it is very difficult to see a brand. However, it is very easy to see the ear snap. Not many folks use the ear snap around our area- so it has helped us immensely when trying to identify our cattle at pasture.
I will be honest, while the ear snip is quite painless (think like getting your ears pierced), the brand does hurt the calf a bit. It is short lived, and they are back to 100% within a couple of days. We get some people that are quite concerned about the cruelty of it. The fact of the matter is- it is 100% necessary, and Montana law. Any time an animal is sold, it is required the animals receive a brand inspection- by a state certified brand inspector. This helps prevent cattle being stolen. We have had instances where a brand inspector way across the state has given us a call and said, "Hey! I found a couple of your cows way over here- do you know how they got here?" A few of those times we had absolutely no idea!
The third week of May, we started preparing for breeding season. The best of our mother cows was selected to be artificially inseminated (AI'd). We then gave them a GNRH shot, a naturally occurring hormone, that helps synch the cows to be on the same cycle. Then, one week later the cows started coming into heat. At this point we get them in to AI. I will send out another update with in-depth detail on this topic, but long story short- this allows us to genetically select the best bulls for our ranch program. Between the how's and why's it's something I could bore you to death on!
We also have some beef specials running now through Father's Day! An awesome Father's Day box, 15% off ground beef, and 10% off our specialty ground beef products will be available for a limited time. If you want to receive any of these specials for Father's Day make sure you order by June 13th. If you have any questions on these, or would like to do a custom order, please don't hesitate to reach out to me!
Have a wonderful Father's Day, and don't forget to spoil the greatest men in your life!