My favorite part about the cattle industry is that no two ranching operations are the same; yet we all still manage to produce a safe, wholesome, and delicious product. Since we’re all so different, I’ve decided to give you all a quick little synopsis of how our ranch works!
We start calving towards the end of January, and the bulk of our cows are done by the middle/end of March. We calve our first-calf heifers out at home, while the rest of our cows calve out on our desert ground. Ideally, we like to brand our first set of first-calf heifer calves at home, around the middle of March—but then wait until the end of the month to brand our cow-calf pairs. We run our cows throughout the winter in two different allotments, so we host a branding for each set. Anything that hasn’t calved by then usually gets left in their original field, while the rest of the girls get turned out with their babes on April 1st.
We have no natural water sources on our desert allotments, so all of our cattle water via wells, and miles upon miles of pipelines. Checking to make sure each tank and pond has an adequate amount of water is our biggest job from April through November. Because our cattle run in such large allotments, rarely do we spend time moving them from field, to field. Instead, we move them to different water sources, that way they’re not heavily grazing in one single area.
Our biggest summer issue is that of fires. We do all that we can to prevent them, such as building firebreaks around our corrals or mowing the centers of our two-track roads; but in the end, Mother Nature is the boss. Luckily our ranch is a member of our local Rangeland Fire Protection Association (RFPA), so we’re allowed to assist on any fires within our boundaries. It’s definitely not something we enjoy doing, but it’s our only choice.
Our cattle start coming off the desert at the end of October, until the middle of November. If we’re lucky we can get through the gathering, weaning, processing and pregnancy-testing phase in about three (very long) weeks. After we’ve worked everything, we kick our calves out onto our hay/triticale fields and send our cows back out to the desert. We like to keep our calves out for as long as possible (usually until the middle of December) before we bring them into our feedlot, where we feed them twice a day until they’re sold. If we’re lucky we’ll sell them by the middle of February… right when our cycle begins again.
This side-by-side comparison is of the same calf, No. 298. The first picture was taken during a branding in March, the second taken in December, during 298’s time in our feedlot. Shots like these remind me that even though I might not see progress instantly, it’s still taking place.
This time of year is my favorite because our two cycles of life are colliding. In theory, each newborn calf on our place has an older sibling in the feedlot. For our ranch, this is the only time of year where you can look at the beginning (a newborn calf), and the end result (a 700lb calf).