I remember vividly when my children were born…I remember vividly when I weaned each of my girls…I remember vividly the “art” and “act” of potty training…I remember vividly the day that each of the girls went to preschool for the first time…I remember vividly the “big day” of Kindergarten…My oldest daughter will go to middle school in just a few weeks (oh, my goodness—how did I get that old?!).
All of these are “milestones” in development. When you look at a calf’s life, you can trace milestones of development as well. Each segment of a calf’s life is marked by important events. Let’s divide up these segments and look at them for Calf #718.
*Birth to “Branding”—Birth to approximately 3-4 months of age (March-May). #718 is very dependent on his mama, and the vast majority of his nutrition comes from “mama’s milk”. #718 and his mama are kept on pastures in close proximity to Al and his crew so that they can be watched carefully during this critical time.
*Branding time- It is at this time that #718 receives his first vaccinations, is castrated, and branded. To accomplish this, #718 is separated from his mother for a short period of time while Al and his crew “work” him. Calf-hood vaccinations are critically important, and allow for continued good immune system development. A castration procedure is done at this time as well. Young bull calves that are destined for harvest (will not be used in the breeding herd) are castrated at an early age so that they will have an improved “disposition” and will handle better. These calves also get along more easily with their herd-mates without the increasing levels of testosterone. In addition, I prefer the taste and tenderness of a castrated steer to an “intact bull”.
*Branding to Preconditioning—By early summer, #718 is becoming more independent and will separate himself from his mama for short times of play and rest. He has also learned to eat some grass and is starting to graze and gain some of his nutrition on his own. Following “branding”, #718 and his mama are moved to pastures further away from the ranch head-quarters because they are more self-sufficient. Al leases “forest ground” near Halsey, Nebraska and #718 and his mama spend the summer grazing on the “forest ground”.
*Preconditioning—In Mid-September, #718 is again “worked” and receives his preconditioning vaccinations. This is approximately 1 month prior to weaning, and a critical time to booster the calf’s immune system. Good nutrition and good immune system function allow the calf to enter the weaning phase of his life with good health.
*Weaning—In Mid-October, #718 is gathered on horseback and separated from his mama. He is then moved back to the ranch headquarters in a stock trailer. His mama will remain on the forest ground for a few more weeks until she is trailed back to the ranch headquarters. “Trailed” means that the herd is gathered and moved by cowboys on horseback.
Once he arrives back at the headquarters, #718 is placed in a pasture with his herd-mates. During this time, he “acclimates” to eating grass and being without his mama. His mama, in turn, is able to regain strength and prepare herself to have another calf.
*Post-weaning to feed yard shipment time—Calf #718 learns to eat out of a feed bunk (he is “bunk broke”). His feed consists of a “growing” ration of hay, distillers grains, and mineral supplement. A few weeks after “weaning”, #718 receives his “booster vaccinations” and is “de-wormed”. This completes the vaccination process that Al follows at the ranch level. The three sets of vaccinations (calf-hood, preconditioning, and boostering) gives the calf good immune system protection from disease.
A couple of important additional things to note: Calf #718 has access to an abundant supply of fresh water throughout his life span on the ranch. His mama taught him how to drink out of a water tank at an early age. Calf #718 also has constant access to “free choice minerals” on the ranch. Al puts out mineral tubs for his cattle and they have constant access to them. They are termed “free choice” because they are always available to the calf and his mama.
Stay tuned for the two milestones left in the life cycle as #718 makes the trip to my feed yard and then to harvest!