Last week my cowboy was on vacation and my foreman was having back problems, so there were only two of us working at the
feedyard. With about 2400 cattle to care for, that meant long and hard days. I started each day “reading bunks” and looking at cattle feed intake patterns at 6:00am. Steve was in the feedtruck delivering the cattle’s “breakfast” by 7:00, and I was on horseback checking cattle health.
We “ride pens” every day at the feedyard which means that we ride on horseback through each one of the cattle pens assessing calf health. We look at each animal in each pen, and it takes about four hours. Normally this is my cowboy’s responsibility. However, two weeks a year, my cowboy is on vacation and I am in charge of “riding pens”.
Riding pens is hard and intense work. It requires physical stamina in addition to a tremendous amount of focus to ensure that each calf is assessed. What do I look for when I assess the health of a calf?
- Normal vs Abnormal: I look at my animals every day so I have a good idea of what “normal” looks like for them. So, when I ride pens, I look for anything “abnormal”.
- Exuberant vs Depressed: Does the calf exhibit normal play and resting behavior, or is he depressed? Often, depression is the first sign of sickness. Is the “carriage” or body position of the calf normal or is his head hanging low? Is the calf standing alone in the pen or is he interacting with herd mates?
- Does the calf exhibit normal respiration patterns or does it look like he is “breathing hard”?
- Does the calf have any nasal discharge?
- Does the calf have any signs of limping or lameness?
- Does the calf have any signs of digestive upset?
These are just a few of the things that I look for when I check cattle health each day. So, how did my week go?
“Studly” and I checked our 2400 cattle each day. Throughout the week, I pulled (took the calf out of the home pen for an individual treatment) six animals. That is approximately 0.25% of our animals. Four were pulled for respiratory illness, one for a foot infection, and one digestive upset. For each of the four respiratory illnesses and the foot infection, I carefully selected an antibiotic that would work most effectively for the particular illness. I work closely with my veterinarian to choose the best antibiotics, and I always use them according to FDA label instructions and in accordance with Beef Quality Assurance Protocols. The calf with the digestive upset needed a simple procedure to alleviate excess gas and some special feed for a few days.
The remainder of each day was taken up exercising and acclimating new calves, doing paperwork, shipping cattle to harvest, and vaccinating newly arrived cattle. Oh, and coaching swimming and t-ball figured into the days as well…It may just be me, but it seems as though there is never enough daylight to get everything done–Even this time of year when it gets light at 5:30am and does not get dark until almost 10:00pm!