Putting the Big Ones On the Bus…

As spring is in full bloom and transitions into summer, many of the cattle that arrived at the feed yard in the late fall and winter go to harvest.  My cowboy and I spend one afternoon a week putting the big ones on the bus.

I feel very small when I stand next to him...

I do not remember when I first started calling the semi-trucks that we load the cattle on “buses”.   And, I often refer to my cattle as “boys” if they are steers, and “girls” if they are heifers—I suppose that is just a personal quirk of mine.  I spend several months teaching and caring for the animals, and that just seems to propel me into a bit of a teacher mind-frame.

As we bring the cattle up to load on the truck, I can often be found muttering to myself “ok big boys, it’s time to get on the bus”.  It is useless language since my animals obviously cannot understand me, and my cowboy is hard of hearing.  But, this habit of quietly talking to myself, seems to surface as we load cattle for harvest.

What is the process of loading cattle to go to harvest?

  • When the trucks arrive, they are weighed on our semi-truck scale to get the empty weight of the truck.  All of the cattle that I am shipping right now are Age and Source Verified so the truck drivers must sign shipping papers verifying the identity of the cattle.  This paperwork will accompany the cattle to the harvest facility.

    One of the cattle semi-trucks weighing before my cowboy and I loaded it with cattle.

  • Once I have weighed the trucks, my cowboy and I go to the home pen of the cattle to bring them down to the corral.  The cattle are used to this because of the acclimating and exercising process that we have at the feed yard.

    Trailing the cattle down the alley to the main corral where we will put them on the trucks...

  • The semi-trucks have different compartments in which to put the cattle, and the truck drivers tell me how many cattle to bring to put in each compartment.  Approximately 35-40 cattle are divided up and placed in four different compartments on each of the trucks.

    This is what the inside of a cattle semi-trailer looks like. The trucker is holding one of the gates that divides the truck into compartments.

  • When the truck is backed up to the cattle chute and ready to load— I sort off the correct number of animals for each compartment, and my cowboy and I bring them up to the truck.  As I sort the cattle, I must verify that each animal has the appropriate Age and Source Verified ear tag which uniquely identifies the animal.  We try to keep steady forward movement in the group of animals as we bring them up, so that they file onto the truck in an orderly fashion.  Depending on the weather and the attitude of the cattle, sometimes this is easy and sometimes this is challenging.

    The yellow tag in this steer's right ear is the Age and Source verified tag and traces this animal from birth all of the way to harvest.

  • Once all of the animals are loaded on the trucks, I weigh the trucks again to get an accurate weight of the cattle (the weight of the full truck minus the weight of the empty truck = the weight of the cattle).   We use this cattle weight to benchmark the growth performance of the cattle at the feed yard.  After the truck is weighed, the animals leave my farm and are transported (with all of their shipping papers) to the harvest facility.

    Some of the cattle going up onto the truck...

  • About a week after the animals ship to harvest, I receive carcass performance information on the cattle so that I know the quality of beef that each animal has made.  I take that information and share it with the rancher that cared for the animals before me so that together we can continue to improve the quality of the beef that our animals make.

    The goal is nutritious and great tasting beef. The quality of my cattle and the quality of care that I offer to them allows them to make beef that I am proud to feed to my family and to yours.

Shipping cattle to harvest is one of the most physically and mentally demanding jobs that I have at the feed yard.  As my cattle go to harvest, they weigh 13X as much as I do—I have to be smart and I have to be tenacious.  The safety of myself, my cowboy, and my animals are contingent on how good a job I do in preparing my animals to be loaded and shipped.   Putting the big ones on the bus reminds me how important it is that I teach my girls to think well on their feet and always finish the job!


Filed under Foodie Work!, General

14 responses to “Putting the Big Ones On the Bus…

  1. Nancy

    Shipping our calves always brings a flood of emotions. After nurturing them for eight months we have invested a huge amount of time and energy. It is wonderful to see how they have grown and matured. So it is with pride and sadness that we send them to their destination.

  2. Dawn

    Exactly Nancy. And on our little farm, we only have a couple animals at time going. They are tame and halterbroke and more like pets. Tough times.

    • I try to delineate between “pet” and “food animal” to make it easier to put them on the bus. I would imagine on a smaller farm likes yours, Dawn, that would be more difficult to do. I can imagine how hard that would be–it certainly makes you appreciate the food that is on your dinner table.

      Thanks for sharing,

      • Dawn

        Yes, as the boys were growing up they each had heifers, and ewe lambs, and a sow, “the keepers” we called them. their market animals were referred to as the “the eaters” to distinquish. We started this when they were 3 as they got their first lambs to teach them the different purposes of the two.

  3. We say “everybody on the bus” too! I think it is kind of funny.

    J’s Dad did some trucking as a young man. I think he hauled Holstein steers. No matter what we are sorting, cows, calves or yearlings he says “Come on you Holsteins.” Very fitting for our commercial Angus cattle, lol!

    • Glad to hear that I am not the only one that talks about putting the big ones on the bus! I am also laughing at the thought of calling a black angus animal a holstein…It is amazing the habits that we get into!



  4. Tammie Stifflemire

    I think this is fantastic. My husband hauls cattle and I am in the process of trying to get funding to start our own small feedlot here in central Texas. I love your site!

    • Thank you, Tammie! I hope that you will continue to read 🙂 Good luck to both you and your husband in starting your own feed yard. I wish you the best!


  5. Pingback: Winter Chores… | Feed Yard Foodie

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