To have “good animal handling,” you should quit assuming you’re good at it.
Over the past 10 months, I’ve presented strategies to make most ranches more profitable. Among them are: planned, time-controlled grazing; utilizing heterosis with composite or hybrid bulls to simplify mating plans and facilitate grazing management; calving in sync with nature, which most likely will differ from one location to another; increasing grazing days and minimizing or eliminating feeding days; using strategic or selective supplementation to just take the roughest edges off the natural environment; and selecting cows to fit your environment.
Three tactical areas
As you adopt and begin to implement strategies, three tactical areas will require almost daily attention in one way or another:
• Graze right
• Cull the right cow
• Good animal handling
To “graze right,” you plan, begin to implement the plan, monitor what is happening in relationship to your plan, make necessary changes quickly, and then replan. Good grazing management combined with calving in sync with nature are powerful tools for reducing hay feeding, supplementation, equipment needs and thus costs, as well as increasing productivity of range, pastureland and cattle.
Remember, the tools of stock density, in conjunction with the control of time and timing of your grazing, can make wonderful progress in the productivity of your land.
To “cull the right cow” you must decide which cows you don’t like or want. Cull the cows causing your ranch to make less money. Here is a list of considerations, but remember the economic importance can vary between ranches:
• Dry cows. These are the worst. You thought they were going to produce a calf, but they won’t wean a calf for another 1½ years.
If I’m raising replacement heifers, I want these cows out of my herd. However, if I’m terminal crossing all my cows and buying replacements, I may keep and rebreed a dry cow if that’s less costly than buying a replacement cow.
In like manner, when terminal crossing, I would be willing to purchase rebred dry cows as replacement cows if there was a price incentive to do so. If the dry cow is young, the probability of her being dry again in the next few years is small.
• Open cows. If she’s open at preg checking, it will be two years before she brings a paycheck, unless you sell her. I want to sell this animal, and here is a market opportunity.
I’ve talked of a long breeding season combined with a short calving season. If the cow would have been open in a 45- to 60-day breeding season, I might leave the bulls in significantly longer and sell the late bred cows to someone who calves in a later season.
• Cows requiring calving assistance.More and more ranches are turning their cows out to calve with little attention from the owner. This makes culling of the difficult calvers very important. In any event, it takes time to assist calving.
• Cows that needed doctoring(not routine herd health practices). I might put up with this if I am terminal crossing. However, treating sick animals is costly and time consuming. To be humane and make the best out of a bad situation, I will treat them; but as soon as they’re better, have cleared drug withdrawal and it’s convenient, they will be sold.
• Wild cows.I just can’t stand “wild” cattle. They can inherit it, they can learn it from each other, and they can learn it from their handlers. If you cull for it and use good handling techniques, it doesn’t take long to get a quiet herd.
• Lame, bad eyes, bad udders, other structural defects.
• Poor mother.This is a cow that just doesn’t seem to want her calf very much.
• Late-calving cows.Selling this cow can shorten your calving season and provide a good market opportunity.
• Cows that wean a poor calf.
I’ve argued with better geneticists than I about the heritability (tendency of the cow to pass the problem to her offspring) of the above-mentioned traits. I’ve also wondered about the repeatability (tendency of the same cow to have the same problem again) of these traits. I do know that when you cull them, the herd has fewer problems each succeeding year until you have very few problem cows.
Sometimes, I think the bulls we buy can add to the problems as fast as we can cull against them. I get very concerned when I read a number of articles each year telling us how to feed bulls so they will be ready to breed cows.
My bull management has sort of been “out of sight, out of mind.” Put the bulls somewhere out of the way that has grazing available and provide just enough protein to enable them to digest the feed they graze. If I have to do much more than that, I ask myself, “Do I want the daughters of those bulls to be my replacement heifers and future cows?”
Let’s face it. A bull never has to gestate or lactate. He should be a pretty tough critter and able to take care of himself in most situations – winter included. If you’re raising your own replacement heifers, you should buy bulls that will produce functional, problem-free cows. You don’t have time to tend cows.
Animal handling is a mindset
To have “good animal handling,” you should quit assuming you’re good at it. I grew up with a grandfather, father and uncle who were good cattle people and handled cattle quite well. I thought I, too, had become pretty good until I watched a few people who were really good. Too often, we think that slow, quiet and easy makes us good. There’s much more to it than that. I wish I could teach it in this column, but I can’t. It takes too much space and I’m not good enough. Find the gurus and learn from them.
I recall that in my first conversation with handling expert Bud Williams over 20 years ago, I started to ask him a number of questions. He quite willingly responded until he became aware that I was looking for similarities in our methods. He stopped me and asked if I really wanted to learn what he knew.
I assured him I did. He then told me that I needed to change my approach. He said I was looking for things I did similarly to him, of which there would be some; and, as soon as I found three or four, I would assume that I was a good as he. He said, “But you’re not.”
He then gave me advice that I’ve applied in every self-directed learning activity in my life since. He asked that I only identify and think about the things that he does differently than I and then ask why.
If you can implement the tactics of grazing better, identifying and culling the right animals, and handling animals in a better, low-stress way, you will make the implementation of selected strategies much easier and more effective. In addition to that, all three can be very fulfilling and enjoyable.
Burke Teichert, consultant on strategic planning for ranches, is retired as vice president and general manager of Deseret. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.