Today was shipping day – the big paycheck for the year.
Ours is a cow/calf operation: We run a herd of cows year-round, feed the dry cows through the winter, calve in the spring, and sell the calves in the fall. From here they go to a feedlot in Iowa to be fattened for slaughter.
As I reported in my last post, our week began on Monday with gathering the herd from the summer range on top of the mountain. On Tuesday we ran the herd into smaller lot from where we cut out the yearling heifers. On Wednesday we cut out the replacement heifer pairs.
These cattle we cut out on Wednesday were the better half of the heifer calves, along with their mothers. These heifers will be kept over and grown out to replace older cows as they leave the herd. Since they won’t be shipped off the ranch, we cut them out of the herd early, and move them to a different field so we don’t have to deal with them on shipping day.
I ordered a truck for 10:00. Ted and I – and of course the dogs - headed out ahorseback at 8:00 to gather the main herd from the 360-acre pasture and into the corrals. The next task was to sort off the cows, leaving only the calves.
As useful as my dog is in gathering the cows, he is even more useful in the corral. He stays close behind my horse as I cut off a group of cows, than comes out to take my cut on down the alley and out the gate, giving the cows some real incentive to keep moving, saving my horse and I a lot of steps. When the truck arrives, Max works the outside of the chute, reaching through the slats to grab at the ribs of any calf that hesitates to go into the trailer.
The first truck takes the calves into the shipping corrals in Big Timber. There they are sorted and weighed, inspected for brands and health, then loaded into long-haul trucks for the trip to Iowa.
The shipping corrals in town are a beehive of activity during the fall. At any given time there may be a dozen each of semis with their pot-bellied stock trailers, pickups with their goose-neck stock trailers, and various other vehicles transporting buyers, brand inspectors, veterinarians, and ranchers. There may be 1000 calves being unloaded, sorted through the various pens and alleys, inspected, and reloaded for the trip to their new homes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars changes hands on any given day.
The price for calves is up from last year’s $1.20 per pound to $1.35 and as much as $1.50 per pound. But weights are light. While grass quantity was good this year, quality was low are calves are down 10% from last year. And we are still short some calves.
There is evidence of wolf activity having scattered cattle all through our foothills. We retrieved one yearling from a neighbor 5 miles away, and he reports being short 25 pairs yet. We both hope that our missing cattle will turn up when another neighbor gathers the timbered ridges between us.
We still have cattle to work, and plenty of all fall projects to complete, but our year’s harvest is finished and the check is in the bank.