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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!