“Mama always prays for a nice, pretty, brown Christmas”. These were the words of my middle daughter when she was about 4 years old. She was solemnly telling a friend that her Mama did not like it to snow on Christmas.
In Nebraska during the winter, there is a choice of two colors outdoors: brown and white. While the white can be very aesthetically pleasing, snow brings extra work. While the brown color is not as pretty, it makes chores a lot easier to do!
During my years in New Hampshire at Dartmouth College, I loved the snow. As a native Floridian, it fascinated me. When I moved to Nebraska, my perception changed. Snow no longer represented simple beauty, it’s presence brought added work!
Being the boss lady, it is my responsibility to ensure that our cattle receive good care every single day. In particular, the feed yard is busy during the fall and winter months when animals are moved off of grass pastures as the natural growing season comes to an end. As the days get shorter and the temperatures get colder, good animal care takes more work. Providing fresh feed and water, along with good living conditions for the cattle, is a priority for me.
Last week I was asked by a reader to talk about “winter chores”. Here is a quick run-down on what my crew and I do each day during the winter as we don our coveralls and layers of clothes in order to care for our cattle.
Reading bunks and feeding cattle: My foreman (Doug) and I both read bunks about 6:00am every morning in order to determine how many pounds of feed each animal will receive on our farm that day. Feed trucks are running by 6:30 and breakfast is delivered by 9:00am. My daughters call our afternoon feeding linner (a cross between lunch and dinner), and it is delivered between 2:00pm and 4:00pm.
Exercising calves: I exercise and acclimate newly arrived cattle at the feed yard for the first 4-7 days in order to help them become accustomed to living in a new setting. I do this in the morning before the cattle receive breakfast—during the winter it is usually dark outside! The following video shows the beginning of an exercising session where I ask the cattle to leave the home pen and enter the alleyway.
Processing/vaccinating newly arrived cattle: Newly arrived cattle are vaccinated, ear tagged, and sometimes given a growth promoting implant within the first few days of arrival at the feed yard. My crew and I do this in the middle of the day to try and take advantage of the “warmest hours”.
Scraping pens: At our feed yard, Jared is in charge of cleaning or scraping pens in order to keep the home pens clean and provide good living conditions for the cattle. The manure that is scraped off of the surfaced is used for fertilizer on our farm ground. During the winter months, each pen is scraped 1X per month or more frequently depending on weather conditions. With 24 pens, that means that he is scraping a pen almost every day.
Riding pens or checking cattle: My cowboy or I check the health of all of our animals every day. Depending on how cold it is, we either ride a horse or walk through the cattle on foot to check individual cattle health. If an animal is sick, it will be pulled out of the home pen for further evaluation and most likely treated with an antibiotic. Somewhere between 2- 5% of our cattle require antibiotic treatment for an illness. We have a consulting veterinarian who helps us to ensure good cattle health and responsible antibiotic use.
Shipping cattle: We ship cattle to the packing plant approximately once every two weeks. My crew and I load the cattle onto semi-trucks to travel to the packing plant.
Receiving cattle: We get new cattle into the feed yard periodically as other cattle are shipped to the packing plant. The new cattle come from neighboring ranches in Nebraska where they were born and spent the first 8-18 months of their lives. I am my own cattle buyer so I travel to the home ranch to help load the cattle onto stock trailers or semi-trucks to bring them to the feed yard.
My crew and I (there are four of us total) each spend an average of 50-60 hours a week during the winter providing care to our animals. We all love what we do and strive for excellence every day.