This question came from my oldest daughter when she was learning her colors as a young child. I was talking to someone on the phone about a group of cattle that had just arrived at the feed yard, and commenting that the cattle were “pretty green”.
We all know that cattle are not the color green—so what was I talking about? A “green” steer or heifer is one that is not carrying a lot of flesh. “Green” is a term used by cattlemen to describe an animal that is relatively thin. If I were a bovine, I could be described as “green”…
When I think back to my daughter’s comment, I think of all of the terms that I now use without thinking but would not have had any idea what they meant before I moved to Nebraska. As we trace calf #718, I am likely to use some of these terms, so I thought it best that I take a few moments and define a few of them for you…
- Calf- any bovine animal that is less than 1 year old.
- Yearling-any bovine animal that is 1-2 years old.
- Branding- the time that a young calf is “worked” for the first time. The calf is vaccinated and branded with a hot iron brand for identification purposes (hence the name “branding”). I live in a “brand area” in Nebraska which means that cattle are branded for identification purposes and the brands on the cattle must be “inspected” by a State Brand Inspector prior to being shipped from one farm to another to verify ownership. This prevents “cattle theft” or “cattle rustling”.
- Working cattle- the act of handling cattle (at the feed yard we use a constraint system called a “working chute” which holds the calf still while he is vaccinated, wormed and ear tagged). When the calf is little (at the ranch level at branding time) the calf is usually roped and constrained by a cowboy or group of cowboys instead of a “working chute”. It is important that the calf stay reasonably still while being “worked” for both safety reasons and the efficacy of the vaccine.
- Preconditioning-the process of revaccinating the calf and preparing him for “weaning” time. Preconditioning can mean many different things, but most often it refers to vaccination which stimulates the immune system and allows the calf to stay healthy and fight off disease. To be most effective, preconditioning vaccinations should occur approximately 3 weeks prior to weaning.
- Bunk Broke- an animal that is “bunk broke” knows how to eat out of a feed bunk, and realizes that his feed is there. (This is as opposed to eating grass or some other feed directly off of the ground—Yes, cattle truly need to be ‘taught’ to eat out of a feedbunk and to drink out of a water tank).
- Weaning- the time when the animal is no longer allowed to nurse his mama’s milk. This time typically occurs at approximately 8-10 months of age.
- Steer- a castrated male bovine.
- Worming- administering an FDA approved product that will kill the internal and external worms that a bovine might have in his system. When cattle are grazing grass, they naturally pick up internal parasites from the grass. These parasites compromise the health of the digestive tract, so we administer “de-worming” products to kill the parasites.
- PCT- Program Compliant Tag-this is an ear tag that tracks the identity of the calf from birth to harvest. It is “iso-compliant” which means that the number is unique to that animal and complies with global standards of identification.
- Age and Source Verified- A calf that is Age and Source Verified can be traced across it’s entire life (from the ranch of origin to harvest) and also back to a birthdate.
- Organic- Organic beef must come from an animal that has only be fed organically grown feed, and can not have received “de-worming” products, antibiotics, or growth promotants.
- Natural- The USDA defines “all natural” as any beef product that has been “minimally processed”. This means that any bovine/calf is “natural”.
I am sure that there are more terms out there that I use without even noticing! Hopefully, you all will remind me when I need to do a better job defining the words that I use!
In the mean-time, I will share with you that my daughter’s favorite color is purple. As a three year old, she wanted to know why I called cattle ‘green’ but never ‘purple’…To this day, she still does not think it is right to call a calf ‘green’—she is a rule follower at heart and sees no logic in the term—perhaps I can persuade her to write a poem about it…