Tag Archives: Cattle Harvest

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


Coach Andersen (to the left of me), me, and Coach Kirk Peppas at the Junior National Championships my senior year in high school. I placed 4th and 6th in the backstroke events.

I was first introduced to the concept of “focus” by my USA Swimming coach when I was in 8th grade.  Coach Andersen believed in holistic fitness for his athletes, and was determined to teach us all mental toughness and focus in addition to making our bodies strong.  Coach was my earliest mentor, and had a tremendous lasting influence on the person that I have become.  He made me tough, gave me a tremendous work ethic, and challenged me to always strive for greatness.

That being said, my teammates and I thought that he had lost his mind when he had us all lie down on the floor to practice relaxation and focus techniques….Amidst a room of quiet snickers, I found a tremendous life skill.

I called on this life skill ten years later as I began to study cattle and horses and learned to interact with them.

Focus means attention to detail: receiving feedback from my animals and responding accordingly...

I remember vividly the first time that I shipped cattle to harvest.

The feeling that I have today when I ship cattle to harvest is much different…

Moving amidst a large number of animals that are 13X bigger than you are can be intimidating.  That first day, I was shaking with fright as Archie and I counted off cattle to be moved up to the waiting semi-trucks.  In spite of my fear, (thanks to Coach Andersen) I was able regain my focus and concentrate on the task at hand.  I lacked confidence that first day, but I realized that it was imperative that I stay in control.

So what exactly is focus?

Webster defines focus as a point of concentration.  When you are handling prey animals, this focus has an added element that Natural Horseman Bill Dorrance describes as “feel”.  In this instance, the concentration requires a detailed element of perception necessary to enable an effective two way communication system.  When you are handling animals that weigh 1350#, there is little room for error.  Effective communication is the difference between skillful cattle handling and safety, and chaotic and dangerous mayhem.

A group of 16 animals going up the alleyway to load on the semi-truck to be shipped to harvest...My cowboy and I are the "shipping crew".

When I first began at the feed yard, shipping cattle required four crew members and a lot of tension and pressure.  Today, my cowboy and I sort and ship cattle by ourselves and there is an element of effective communication that reduces the tension and makes it a more organized effort.

The difference?

A focus on feel, training and prey animal psychology that begins when cattle are received at the feed yard and continues throughout the feeding period.  When I acclimate cattle into the feed yard, I teach them to walk calmly past the handler and sort easily.  I also consistently rely on the “Ask, Tell, Promise” communication system that I described in an earlier post as I train my animals.  This not only allows them to feel more comfortable in their surroundings, but it also makes “shipment day” much easier.

Does “shipment day” always go as smoothly as I want it to?  No.  Animals (cattle) are unpredictable, and no two days are the same.  When we handle and ship cattle, we focus on Dr. Dee Griffin’s 4 S’s of Safety:

Safety of the animal handler

Safety of the animal

Safety of the food supply

Safety of everyone that comes in contact with the animal

In the fifteen years that I have been learning how cattle think and act, I have discovered that the single most important skill to have is perception of the surrounding environment and focus on the animal and the task at hand.  Communication is a two way street—even with an animal.  If you are not focused, then you will miss half the conversation.  If the conversation is with a 1350# animal, then missing half of the conversation may mean the difference between effectively loading the animal and literally being trampled to death.

Calf #718 and his herd mates are strong and powerful animals...

Calf #718 weighed 1394# when I loaded him on the truck and shipped him to harvest.  My measly 105# of body weight looks pretty scrawny next to a powerful animal of that size.  I must rely on my focus, feel, and communication to safely and effectively load him (and his herd mates) on the semi-truck destined for harvest…

A cattle semi-truck waiting to receive cattle to transport them to harvest...

That takes me back to the early days when Coach Andersen taught me that brawn was victorious only when it was combined with brains!

Feed Yard Foodie as a Senior in high school...Brains and Brawn were a great combination back then too!


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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General, Natural Horsemanship