Last week, I mentioned that the kids show Angus heifers throughout the year. That is an excellent lesson in commitment, animal nutrition, animal welfare as well as personal responsibility! What a perfect opportunity for kids to learn about, and fall in love with, cattle!
As a kid, I showed heifers and steers as well, and I learned much about what kind of work it takes to be a cattle rancher, as well as made contacts with people from across the nation who are also involved with cattle. And...I learned what it is like to befriend an individual cow! Okay, I know that sounds goofy...but cows have personalities just like dogs, horses and any other animal. They can't talk, but they can show you their appreciation and interest in you. Show cattle are very pampered--much more so than "regular" cattle--but in order to attend the shows and look their best, they must have special attention.
First of all, the selection of a calf to show is important. The competition is based upon physical appearance of the calf, so my kids spend a lot of time sorting through all our calves born in a year to pick the best ones. We have around 200 Angus calves born in one year, so that is a lot of calves to look at in order to pick the best 5! The next thing is to feed them well. We have an animal nutritionist who we are in close contact with as our cattle grow and age, and their nutritional needs change. Yes, cows are ruminants, who are capable of consuming roughage (grass) and converting it to muscle. But fed alone, grass does not meet their entire mineral and vitamin needs. In order to have a healthy calf, a rancher must supplement their grass intake. At the same time, a calf needs a number of vaccinations. There are numerous diseases that will kill cattle that are preventable. We must vaccinate for these diseases at the appropriate time in a calf's life.
Once a show calf is selected, and started on a well-balanced diet, the kids begin to teach it to lead and stand for a show. There is a specific way that they are expected to stand...with their feet firmly placed under them in a comfortable way, with their head held proud. Much like a dog is taught to sit, cattle are taught to lead and stand. They are not nearly as smart as a dog, but they can be taught through a system of rewards. If you watch a cattle show, you will see the showman use a long stick to touch the calf's feet and scratch their belly. Show cattle love this and I have often seen a calf nearly go to sleep during the show while their belly is being scratched!
In Kansas, summer daytime temperatures can easily reach 100 degrees, so we keep our show cattle in the barn to guard against heat stroke. Cattle that are in the pastures on grass are provided with ponds to swim in and trees for shade to keep them cool, but show cattle must be kept close to be worked with and are not able to be kept in a pasture. So we bathe them and use fans to keep them cool. The kids are responsible for feeding, grooming and taking general care of their own show calves.
Another responsibility of showing cattle is to tell the good news about ranching to anyone who asks questions! At the county fair, people walk through the barn where the cattle are stalled and often ask to pet a cow. My kids love this! They love to show off the animals that they have raised and worked with....and they love to answer questions about how to take care of their cattle. I encourage everyone to find a fair or a livestock show in their city or town and go see the beautiful, healthy animals on display! The kids have worked hard with their livestock to be able to bring them to the show and they enjoy answering questions about them.
You know, show cattle are pampered little pets, but as a rancher, I do my best to take good care of ALL the cows and calves that I own. I don't want any of them to get sick or die, and not only does it break my heart to have sick cattle, but it hurts my wallet! We do our best to keep cattle healthy year round and that includes vaccinations, antibiotic treatments and sometimes a trip to the veterinarian. We spend many thousands of dollars a year on medical expenses for our cattle. All cattle will be exposed to viruses, stress, and even lethal diseases. As a rancher, it is my responsibility to do everything I can to protect my animals.
There is nothing better than going to the pasture in the morning, with a hot cup of coffee to enjoy while watching the mama cows and baby calves walk through the dew-wet grass as they make their way to the pond or across the pasture to another grazing spot. That means they are healthy and I am doing my job! That gives me a lot of pleasure--it makes me smile to just think about it! And I look forward to this year's county fair when we will take 10 head of cattle to display and my kids will have an opportunity to spread the good work about ranching and raising beef for America!
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!
I suppose I should begin my blog with some background as to why I am interested in sharing my life with the world. I am not a celebrity, nor am I anyone special. I am only one of thousands of cattle ranchers who work every day on the land and with their cattle. We do it because it is a way of life that we love, and we do it to make a living.
My 18-year old daughter wrote an essay detailing the gap that exists between people who produce the food and people who consume the food. Beef does not come from a store, it comes from the land. As cattle producers, or more appropriately, BEEF producers, it is difficult to take the time to tell city folk about my life. I am busy living it! But I realize that if individual ranchers don't take the time to write a blog, post a video, or give a speech about their lives, most consumers will not have the opportunity to know about life on a cattle ranch.
I do not judge anyone for their choice of living arrangements. Duane and I chose to live near a town of less than 500 population, on a piece of ground that my nearest neighbor is my mother-in-law about a half a mile away. We chose to send our children to a small school where there are less than 30 kids in a graduating class. We chose manual labor over video games for our family. I am not judging people who chose to live in a city. If more of them chose to live in rural Kansas, there would not be a "rural Kansas!" I just want to share a bit of my life with them so they can feel secure in the knowledge that when they buy beef at the grocery store, it is a safe, environmentally friendly, nutritious product.
Last week, over the Independence Day holiday, we had relatives visit for three days. They live near Denver, Colorado and have not lived on a ranch in their entire lives. We are very lucky, though, that they are part owners in some of the land that we manage and are interested in the environment and the lifestyle of our family. They asked many questions about the wholesomeness and safety of the beef they buy in the store. They shared with me that many of their friends are not buying beef due to concerns about global warming and the wholesomeness of it! I was thrilled for the opportunity to tell them the good news about how beef is produced and the safety of our product. But those questions spurred me to create this blog to share that information with more people.
So.....I am a mom, a wife, a cattle rancher, an environmentalist, and ultimately a beef producer. Please read my blog as a way to share my life in rural Kansas with you. Thanks for taking the time to find me.