Wednesday, July 8, 2009
On a cattle ranch in Kansas, June and July are very busy times. The cattle are in the pastures, but they still need frequent care. The cow is an amazing animal that can consume things that we can't and convert that into meat that we can consume. I have often heard cattle ranching referred to by another name: "grass farming." I suppose that is what we do, as one of the most important parts of raising beef is taking care of the grass.
This time of year, we are cutting the fields of brome grass to store as hay to feed the cattle in the winter. Our whole family gets involved in this job--from my daughter who runs the swather that cuts the grass, to my sons who drive the tractor to pull the rake to turn the grass as it dries, and from me who drives the tractor to bale the hay into large round bales for storage, to my sons who load the bales onto large trailers and haul it to the storage site. My husband also is very involved as every morning he must grease, sharpen, fix, weld, or generally prepare the machinery that the kids and I use each day.
Also during this time of year, we routinely check each pasture of cattle for sick or injured cattle, and put out mineral in special feeders for maximum health of the cattle. Remember, if the cattle get sick, they lose weight, and we lose money! At the same time that we are driving through the pasture to see the cattle, we are also looking for the dreaded Musk Thistle. This thistle is a Prohibited Noxious weed in Kansas that, by law, we must eradicate. It is not edible to cattle and if left to grow unchecked, will quickly take over a pasture so that no cattle can use the grass! We use good old manual labor to eradicate the thistle. When the thistle is small, you can use a hoe or shovel to dig it out of the ground. But this time of year, the bright purple blossoms are numerous and quickly dry out to release millions of seeds. So we must pull off the blossom head, and chop the plant out of the ground. The heads filled with the seeds must be burned at the end of the day so that no seed can be released into the pasture. My kids are very involved in the hunt for the Musk Thistle, and two of them are in the pasture today armed with leather gloves, hoes, and sacks for the seed heads.
Usually we do this in the cooler part of the day, early in the morning or late in the evening for a few hours, but today is unusually cool for Kansas and the kids are able to work in the heat of the day. I will be joining them in a few minutes!
The only other thing we have on our calendar for today is working with the kids' show cattle. We raise Angus cattle and the kids are all in 4-H. We also show Angus heifers and steers across the nation through the National Junior Angus Association. Our next show is in Perry, Georgia. That is a 16-hour drive from Kansas, so we will not be taking our heifers, but will attend the show to compete in the other contests, like photography, beef cook-off, and quiz bowl. But the kids will show their cattle at our county fair the end of the month. They are looking good, but need to be worked with often so they will lead and stand easily in the show ring.
After that, I have promised the family a meal of spaghetti--the boys' favorite!