Sunday, August 30, 2020

Learning about cattle

I was raised on a farm, but dad retired when I was thirteen. He'd had a heart attack and he was 65. Good enough reasons to pull the plug on all the headaches and misery that go with a dairy operation.
After he retired, I earned money by helping neighbors, at least until I got my driver's license and could get a construction job. That happened when I was fifteen. The neighbors I worked for had beef operations though and those are quite a different show from a dairy herd.
Dad's herd was small. He only had 90 acres, and part of it was lost to a gravel pit. The fields close to the pit were poor soil. whether corn, hay, or pasture, the pickings were sparse on that part of the farm, unless you wanted rocks. Plenty of rocks. small, large, yuge, free for the picking, and I picked plenty of em.
what I remember of the farm growing up was mostly pumping water by hand, cutting corn stalks for forage, and tossing hay. One of my brothers bought a milking machine in 1968, and dad did not in any way trust me to run the thing. It fell to me to hand milk a few of the cows who hated the milker.
I've lived on an acreage for almost fourteen years now. One of the things I planned to do when I moved out here was get some cattle. That finally happened a few weeks ago. I got a five month old heifer. She is a Jersey Holstein cross. She should make a good family milker once she is old enough and been bred.
The cattle I grew up with were Guernsey and Hereford cross. A mix, a few of the cows were purebreds. Dad had a Guernsey bull many years before I came along. I'm told he was a mean character. My oldest brother was the only one who could ever handle that bull. Guess whose the bully in the family?
At some point though dad decided that having the bull was too costly and he went away. dad then made arrangements with a neighbor and boarded his bull. The neighbor wanted his calves born early spring. he didn't want mid to late winter calves, so we always had mid to late winter calves.
Most dairy's today keep the cows only  a few years. One of dad's cows was twelve years older than me. She was also a good milker, an easy calver, and a gentle beast.
My thoughts on getting a cow are this, I want to have at least two cows, and probably three. A bull though is going to be an issue. Dairy bulls tend to be mean. VERY mean. Our neighbor when I was a kid had a Holstein bull. One day that bull walked up to the line fence, sniffed at it, then vaulted it like it was a joke. He then proceeded to chase the Hereford bull around our pasture and beat the hell out of him. He also chased me since I was in the pasture trying to bring the cows home for evening milking. we got four Holstein cross bull calves the next year. They were meaner than their daddy.
The neighbor's bull paid another visit. The second time I was in the pasture pumping water. The well casing was a two foot diameter concrete pipe that stuck up out of the ground about three feet and had dirt piled up against it.  The pump was perched on a couple of wood planks set on top that provided a place to stand, but little else for room. I saw the bull coming through the rock piles by the old gravel pit. When he saw me, he began to run. As he got closer, I moved to the opposite side of the pump. When he hit the well casing, I almost fell off. He circled the well, and charged several times. when he got tired of that, there was a big gap between the dirt and the casing. He then headed on toward where the cows were at in an adjoining pasture. As soon as he was well into that pasture, I hopped down and ran like hell through the corn fields to the house. I would have been ten or eleven at the time. By the time I was twelve, I was carrying a rifle with me
Given that experience with bulls, I wanted to learn more about bulls before I got one. What did I learn? There are no good dairy bulls. My options would be to go with AI, or the riskier method of raising a bull every year. Since part of the goal with cattle is to keep them in cycle, calving at the same time every year, there is a way to do it. Each year you select a bull calf. At a year he will be starting to act like a bull. by fourteen months, he will be ready to perform, and you should have a two month old bull calf on hand. at fifteen months you let him in with the cows. Once you are certain he has got them pregnant, you castrate him. Give him a month on good grass with a little corn and he is ready to butcher.
I've been told that the meat from Jersey steers is better than Angus. In normal times I would opt for the AI route. These are not normal times. I'm sort of a lone wolf right now. My wife is back home until the covid BS is over, and my kids are grown. My youngest lives close, but he works evening shift, so we don't get to spend a lot of time together. I have plenty of friends, I get several meals out with one or another of them every week, in fact, I just threw away a package of steaks I' picked up because I ate out too much last week, and didn't get to cook them. I'm not responsible for feeding my friends though am I? I have one neighbor who is sort of a prepper, but he has not stocked any food yet. Another neighbor has chickens, and another a few cows. Both of them seem oblivious to the storm brewing as the action arm of the donk party is burning communities across the nation.
My hope is I will have time to get a small barn built for the cattle, and the other animals I want purchased before things go over the edge in rural Kansas. Hope in one hand, spit in the other. See which gets full first.
It's time to take the learning out of the class room and into the field.

1 comment:

MattB said...

Here in Texas I always heard it as wish in one hand, piss in the other, see which one gets full first!!