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Posts Tagged ‘Devon cattle’

Early March feeding hay still

Now that I don’t work at a “real” job and don’t have to show up to work at a prescribed time, these pesky seasonal time changes are not as much bother as they used to be.  The livestock wake up when the sky lightens and settle down for the night when dusk falls, no matter what time my wristwatch says it is.  Same goes for their eating habits, they are accustomed to a regular schedule and there’s no reason to shift it an hour one way or another just because the clocks changed.

But the clocks have changed.  Which throws me off a little in my daily routine.  Instead of heading up the hill at 6:30 am this morning, for example, we went up at 7:30, according to the clocks.  Mid-day rounds usually happen at 1 pm, that’ll be 2 pm now.  Until I get used to the new time, I have to do a little clock math throughout the day just to keep on schedule.  So I leave my wristwatch on what I call “Cow Time” or, more accurately, Eastern Standard Cow Time, which gives me that nice solid reference for when the important stuff, like tossing hay to cows and horses, needs to happen around here.

In a week or so my brain will have adjusted, this little trick just gets me through until it does.

 

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Scotty's back

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.

It definitely takes a bull to make calves.  Whether you use his services on the hoof or from a straw, there’s no getting around the requirement to manage the breeding back of cows, or any livestock for that matter.

Raising Devon beef cattle to sell as gourmet grass-fed beef, I wanted a Devon bull, at least to begin with.   Cross-bred beeves would be just fine, there are many advantages and I may go that route in the future, but in the interests of laying the groundwork for producing a consistent product I felt it best to stick with the Devon genetics to reduce variability.  There’s enough variability within a breed and amongst a group of animals, I don’t need any more just yet.

But there aren’t any Devon cattle in my area – this is Angus, Hereford and Charolais country.  No one’s even heard of Devon cattle here, so finding a bull nearby wasn’t an option and I knew it wouldn’t be from the beginning.  I used AI for the herd’s first breeding back in Fall 2013, a lot of work and fuss and effort for not much return, which I also knew it would be, so I kept a bull calf out of the first crop, from my most feminine cow, to use as a home-grown bull.

As a long yearling left in with the herd, Scotty did a great job cleaning up all the open cows left from the AI experiment, although I left him in far too long – over the winter – and so their conception dates were as far-flung as the stars above on a clear night.  The results:  this past season we had two calves in July, five in September/October, and one finally showed up on December 11.  All over the place.  Not ideal for raising grass-fed beeves and finishing them right at 30 months.  They’re all beautiful calves though, born without any help, I only had to tag them and retrieve a couple wanderers the first few days, they tend to head for the long grass or woods to hide as newborns and the cows can’t follow them out of the paddock.

Ideally, I would like my calves born after the cows have been grazing good late-Spring/early-Summer grass for a few weeks;  from late May through June would be optimum for this farm, it’s climate and pastures and that sort of thing.  That means I need them bred in August/September.  Ideally, I would separate the yearlings (so the heifers don’t get knocked up), borrow a neighbor’s nice bull for 6 weeks, put him into service the Big Gals, then send him home when he’s done.  Well, even if I were to use a neighbor’s Angus bull, no one around here manages theirs that way, they are not trained to load or haul to a visiting farm, you put your cows in with their bull and their herd or you get nothing.

So the plan with Scotty was, THE PLAN WAS, to find a home for him off-farm, someone with cows they needed to keep bred, and use him just the 6 weeks of the year I needed him.  I had a plan in place that included the discounted sale of a couple Devon heifers in exchange for Scotty’s permanent room-and-board, but that plan did not work as expected.  Another story for another day; the point is, he had to come back for good after only being gone the summer, not just for a few week’s visit.  And I was not in any way, shape or form, set up for that.  And he came back late, because of the late Fall calving.

Better late than never though.  Gotta have calves.  They may not all finish at 30 months, or some may go over and be processed as boneless, we’ll cross that bridge when it comes, down the road.

I’m still setting up what I hope will work as a winter paddock for Scotty the bull, down with the horses, along the woods edge at the bottom of their hillside paddock area.  His service period is nearly complete and as much as I had hoped to be able to treat-train him to hop back up in the livestock trailer, it appears the cows get in there before he does, so I’ll probably have to lane the whole herd back to the corral here in a week or so, separate him out, load him for the short drive to his new digs, then let the herd back out to where they left off with winter rotation.

Spring will bring another bridge to cross:  what to do with him during the summer grazing season.  For now, I’m just focusing on what needs done to get everyone settled before winter finally sets in.   And I’m thankful the cows will be bred.

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The Girls eating hay in December

My little cow herd is doing pretty well, all things considered.  They are all purebred Devons, bought in one group along with a registered Devon bull, a younger unregistered bull, three heifers, and a handful of steer calves.  The bulls are gone now, sold after failing their fertility test, and the two horned yearlings went to a friend and neighbor to fill their freezer next fall.

I’ll tell the whole story of how they all came to the Farm some other time.  It’s a long story and I don’t feel like putting it all together today.  I have work to do outside before it rains, and Christmas cards to write and address, and receipts to file, and then afternoon rounds up on the pasture.  But I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the progress we’ve made in just four months with these cows.

To begin with, here are a few shots of what they looked like back in late July and early August:

Skinny Cow 1

Skinny Cow 2

Skinny Cow 3

this is a skinny cow

Pretty skinny, huh?  [Edited to add:  Actually, these photos are more than a little disturbing to me.  I forgot how emaciated these cows were.]  What is important to note is the lack of fat on the spine, on the hip bones, on the tail head, and in the brisket.  Animals can lose muscle but when their fat reserves disappear, they are on the road to starvation.  These cows were being starved – you can see the pasture they were in was nothing but chewed-down stubble and rank, unclipped weeds.  Their body condition scores were very low 4’s and one of them at least, was a 3, by my estimation.

I took a great big risk on them.  I had them hauled back to the farm and put them on my stockpiled pastures, and let them eat, and eat, and eat.  I knew there might be health issues, and there were:  pinkeye, most significantly.  The little weakling male calf came down with it first during an extended rainy period in early September, then just about all the others showed symptoms within a few days and the job of treatment began.  Their eyes cleared up, then one of them would get a runny eye again, and the conjunctivitis would be back.  It was a tough couple of months.   I joke a little about earning my “Junior Vet Badge” but believe me, it was tough, and I’d rather not repeat it.

I don’t feel we are quite out of the woods yet, either, as I will occasionally see a runny eye here and there.  So I watch them like a hawk and take great care to ensure their nutritional plane remains high and steady.  They all get a generous helping of kelp meal each day, and the younger crowd, isolated from the older cows, are eating supplemental clover hay as well.

I’m pleased to see them come back in to condition like they have.  Those photos just say it all.  Now, as we move into winter, I am focusing on maintaining that good condition, and building health.

Whitey

Hefty

Pepsi Girl

So much better!

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