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Working Ranch Blog

Brett Haas
5 Gallon Cattle by Brett Haas
Feb. 1 2011, 6:26 PM

We have a bred heifer program here at Tailgate.  We buy short yearling heifer calves in the Fall, breed them in the Spring, and sell them as bred heifers the following winter.  This year we sold out by Christmas time.  It was a good year.  I guess because of good prices forecasted for the cattle business, lots of folks are looking to grow their herd.  Some years are like that.  There have been other years where we had to keep 'em and calve 'em out ourselves, but then we just sold them as pairs and still made money on the deal.  I have to admit I kind of liked those years.  You can call me crazy, but I kinda like helping those first time mothers and babies get a start in life.

When I first came to Tailgate in 2004, the ranch was buying the heifers out of North & South Dakota.  They were mostly straight Angus(meaning black).  One of the first things we noticed was how stressed the cattle were at the sight of a man afoot.  You'd go out horseback and they were fine.  We didn't mind because we work horseback a lot.  The problem was we eventually we had to deal with 'em from the ground.  Our horses just couldn't fit through that squeeze chute.

Well, other than switching to ponies, we knew we had to get those cattle used to us.  I don't know how he got the idea, but Kirk started feeding cubes to 'em in the winter out of a bag instead of a cake box from his truck.  I think he just happened on to this on account of running out of the bulk cubes.  Anyway, after feeding them out of a bag, those heifers didn't mind the sight of us afoot anymore.  They were still a little jumpy, but at least better than what they were.

If you were to ever come out in the Spring and help us tag calves, one of the first things you'd learn is to watch for the N.  What I mean by that is that if a cow has an N in her tag, denoting the year she was born, she can get a little snaky when you want to tag and weigh her calf.  You might have to work the calf up on the back of your truck.  Kirk started to notice this problem with the N tags a few years back.  Chances were if one came after you when you tagged the calf, she had an N.  He got to thinking back and realized that for whatever reason, he didn't spend any time a foot feeding those N's when they were yearlings out of a bag.  From then on is when we made sure that we spent a little extra time teaching those heifers that we were nothing to fear, but at the same time, something to respect.

When fuel prices started to soar, we decided to look for some heifers to buy closer to home.  Kirk learned that Pelton Angus, one of our seedstock producers whom we buy bulls from, had an annual production sale in the Fall.  He allowed his bull customers to bring in cattle with similar genetics to sell.  A lot of outfits sell their heifers each year as opposed to retaining them.  Most of these heifers were Red Angus, which the boss prefers, so we bought a couple potloads.

The first thing we noticed was their easy going nature.  When you walked in them they would be curious and follow as opposed to bunching up in a corner at the opposite end of the pen from you.  The problem we had with 'em though, was that when you went to move 'em from horseback, they just didn't care that much.  They wanted to follow you and it'd take quite a bit of pressure from us to get them moving forward and away from us.  "Farmer cattle", we would say.

I remember though, when we were showing them to a potential customer, he commented on how easy going they were.  That got me to thinking on how they compared to those Dakota cattle we used to buy.  These were mainly farmer cattle.  What I mean by that is they were used to seeing and coming to people.  Most farmers I know call their cattle in with a bucket of feed as opposed to going out and pushing them in horseback or with an ATV.  That's how my dad did it.  He had a call.  He'd just holler "suc heifer".  Now, I haven't a clue as to what that means or even stands for, but our cows did.  They'd come a running and follow my dad anywhere, 'cause nine times out of ten that meant they were getting groceries.

My dad developed cancer when I was a sophomore in high school.  We always ran a small herd compared to most, but it was up to 120 head.  Dad was going to liquidate the herd due to his illness.  I talked him into keeping 20 head for me to take care of.  I did all through High School and grew the herd back up to 60 head of so.  Then, after college, I moved away, so Dad decided to sell the herd completely.

The buyers came in with their horses and dogs.  Now, I don't know if it was because these fellas weren't good hands or if it was the cattle or both, but all they could do was chase those critters around our little 20 acre pasture.  They might as well been wild dogs as far as those bovines were concerned.  They weren't going in the barn.

Well, Dad wasn't feeling real well, but he'd had about enough of Wild Bill Hickok and his wild, wild, west show.  He got out of bed, donned some coveralls and proceeded up to the barn.  He grabbed a bucket, and begun to simply "suc heifer" those beevs in, and did they ever come a runnnin'.

 

Cattle are curious, so learn to take advantage of that.  Figure out a way to make seeing and being by you a good thing.  If the only view you get of your beeves is their baskside when your working them, you might want to rethink your cattle whispering techniques.
My point is if the only time your cattle see you is when you come a whoopin' and a hollerin' wanted to push 'em this way or that, to tag their calf, or round 'em up to throw 'em on a truck, they're gonna learn to associate your presence with stress.  Hop out of the feed truck once in a while and give 'em some cubes from your hand.  Make up a call other than your horn when you want to move 'em and get 'em to come to you.  (And for goodness sakes, when they start to come, quit honking.)  If you got some in a pen by the house, move the feed bunk out to the middle, so you can walk in among them and they can learn that they like when you show up.

Often as cowboys we make fun of those farmer cattle, but I think they're onto something we can learn from.  Maybe every once in awhile we ought to trade in our hot shots and sorting sticks for that 5 gallon training tool.


How do you train your cattle?  Tell me your secrets at thekansascowboy36@gmail.com, or look me up on Facebook or Twitter.


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