How do we train new cowhands?

This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. I received compensation, but all opinions are my own. 


Kids...Cows...and Grass...I didn’t choose that name by accident. Those are three of the things I am most passionate about, and in my life, they are all very intertwined! It is not a surprise that our main source of labor on the ranch is our family—mostly our kids. These days our kids are also adding significant others to the mix, and since working with family is important to us, it is also important that we encourage them to help us care for the cattle if they are interested. Working on the ranch is a great family activity—as well as a way to get the work done.

 

My son Trent started dating his wife Brier when she was a freshman in high school and a few of their early “dates” included helping on the ranch. Brier had not been around lots of cows, so when she started helping on the ranch, she needed to learn not only how to stay safe while working among the cattle, but also how to do the best job possible. So, we sent her to school! Yes, seriously, there is a school of sorts for handling and managing cattle. It is called the Beef Quality AssuranceProgram (BQA) and it is a series of online, or in-person modules that teach things like how to give various vaccinations, how to move around cattle to keep them calm and doing what you need them to do, and even how to tell if cattle are sick. There are so many useful topics that I cannot list them here without taking up too much space.


Before someone new is able to help us, we need to teach them how to handle cattle correctly and how to do certain tasks to ensure that cattle are well cared for. Naturally, cattle are prey animals, so they see unfamiliar people as predators and are afraid of them.  In addition, fear increases stress and stressed cattle don’t eat well, may not rest easily, and they get sick more often. Calm, unafraid, cattle are easier to work with, but they are also healthier, and easier to tell if they are hurt or sick. We raise our cattle from newborns to not be afraid of us and to be calm and quiet when we are with them; so when Brier started working with us, we taught her how cows think, and where to stand to make them move in the direction she wants. We don’t yell or wave our arms to frighten them, but instead give them space to go the way we need them to go, and step closer to them from the side to encourage them to move that way. It really is a learned skill!

Throughout the year we sometimes need extra help, particularly when we are vaccinating the young calves before they go to the pasture with their mamas in the spring. In the pasture, they will have lots of grass and water and room to run all summer, but it is more difficult to treat one if they get sick. We coordinate with our veterinarian to plan the vaccinations they need and before we take them to the pasture, we gather them all and give them those vaccinations. Brier has been given the job of giving each calf a vaccination. Before she started working with our cattle, she learned how to properly give vaccinations. There are two main ways we give a vaccine: subcutaneous (under the skin) and intramuscular (in the muscle). For the most part, we give vaccinations under the skin of nearly all ages of cattle, it is extremely important that we all understand how to do that safely.


Brier has helped vaccinate cattle for many years now and she has also helped with other tasks. When they were dating, she helped freeze brand bulls and as they worked, Trent knelt down to reach the area on the bull’s shoulder.... he didn’t realize then that he would be getting on one knee eight years later to ask her to become Mrs. Blythe! They have been married for more than three years now and she is still helping us with cattle, and she is a full-time kindergarten teacher!


We have recently added a new Mrs. Blythe to the family—Cece has taken the BQA classes and has her certification and has started helping us on the ranch! It really is all about the cattle and making sure we are not only keeping them healthy, but also calm and content—because stressed cattle get sick. It is important that each of us working with cattle knows the best way to handle them and that helps us all!

Our veterinarian is a vital ranch team member

 This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. I received compensation, but all opinions are my own.

Sustainability is such a complex idea! Everyone around seems to be talking about sustainability. Ranchers and farmers are focused on being sustainable—and that means taking care of the land, cattle, and people, and it also means being profitable. Right now, on the ranch, our focus is taking care of the cattle. There are so many jobs that need to be accomplished, but the most important is to focus on animal care.

Most ranches in America are family owned and operated, so the animal care team is often the husband and wife who own the ranch, their kids and possibly their parents or siblings.  Another key member of the team is the local veterinarian. On our ranch, it is vital that the local veterinarian, Dr. Kathryn Miller, is familiar with our cowherd. She comes out to the ranch when we are vaccinating cattle, checking for pregnancy, or just needing a bit of advice on a cow’s health! But most importantly, Dr. Miller helps us plan our herd health program.

“What’s a herd health program?”


A herd health program is a very precise plan coordinated to keep our cattle feeling good and not sick! With Dr. Miller's help, we decide exactly what our cattle need at exactly what time of the year. This includes what dates to plan to be calving, when to vaccinate the calves and cows as well as what vaccines they need, and even when and how to wean the calves for the lowest amount of stress on them. Then we get the veterinarian scheduled on our calendar to have her help us assess them throughout the year.

Today, we are checking the cows for pregnancy and Dr. Miller brings her portable ultrasound machine—she can tell if the cow is pregnant, project when it will be born, look for twins and if we take extra time, she could tell the calf’s gender! We usually are just happy with knowing the cow is healthy and pregnant and the calf’s due date! When you have 285 heifers (those are young cows who are pregnant with their first calf) to check, we focus only on the cattle to get the job done quickly and efficiently!

 

The first job when we want to check the cows is to gather them up into a pen so we can walk them through an alleyway one at a time and catch each one so the veterinarian can use the ultrasound machine to check them each. Our cattle are calm and trust us, because we have always worked calmly with them, not raising our voices or waving our arms to scare them. They know that we are not to be afraid of, so they are safer to walk around and pose no danger to us or to each other. This is called “Low Stress Cattle Handling” and cattle ranchers actually can attend a training to learn about low stress tactics.


This year, we had great luck with our pregnancy exams, despite hot weather. Dr. Miller said we should be expecting 266 calves from these heifers starting in January! That means the rest of our team (a.k.a. the family) can start preparing for calving season when we will have hundreds of baby calves running around on the ranch! Looks like it will be a busy spring!

Supermarket beef is raised by farm families!

I have talked to people in grocery stores in Manhattan, Kansas and Manhattan, New York and they all have the same concerns--is supermarket beef safe and good for me? I actually love getting this question. I usually tell them that we own a ranch in the Tallgrass Prairie of Kansas. We are in the middle of cow-country with more grass than crops. We are focused on taking care of the environment, and frankly, the reason the grasslands still exist is because the ranchers figured out more than a century ago that this grass is highly nutritious for cattle and they fought to protect the native grassland.  Today, I work beside my husband and my kids to care for our cattle in good weather, and in bad weather. Every day we work to give our cattle and land the best care we can.  And...I love cattle!

What is upcycling?

This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. I received compensation, but all opinions are my own.
That big belly is not because she is pregnant,
but instead it is her 4-part stomach filling up with grass
and helping her make delicious Beef! Upcycling!

Recycling, upcycling, composting, using less and doing more.....those words and ideas are all part of the sustainability picture and the bigger picture of climate change. We all need to do our part and identify ways that we can really make a difference for the environment--and that means cows too! Cows have a really cool ability called "upcycling" and it has already been helping the environment! So what is "upcycling?"

Merriam-Webster dictionary site defines UPCYCLING as "to recycle (something) in such a way that the resulting product is of a higher value than the original item; to create an object of greater value from (a discarded object of lesser value)."

Grow what you love!



I love, love, LOVE fresh garden produce! But I really don't have time to grow a large garden. That confession is really difficult for me. You see, my grandma was a committed gardener. My mom is an excellent gardener and I'm pretty mediocre! The previous two generations relied on garden produce to feed their families, but I have a really good supermarket just a short drive away. (well, my grocery store is 30 miles away, but realistically, that is a half hour drive and that is no big deal!)

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