Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Cattle and RAIN!!

Over the past few days the Salatins have been buying weaned calves to replenish Polyface's stock.  We send about 7 to the slaughterhouse that is partially owned by the Salatins every two weeks.   Yesterday we received 25 calves and today we received 50.  We also had about one and a half inches of rain fall over the same two days.  

Moral of the story... If you need rain, plan on working cattle in the corral and the rain will come and make everything sloppy.

New Calf Protocol  (How do you prefer your tail pulled?)

I had always wondered what Polyface's protocol was for receiving new cattle and after the last two days I have a pretty good idea.  Both sets of cattle came from local cow/calf operations.  In fact the first 25 came from the neighbor bordering the south side of the home property.  The others came from about 30 minutes away in Stuarts Draft.  

(It was nice to get local calves since local is a huge word around here.  I heard somewhere that the average steak travels 1100 miles from birth-to-grill or womb-to-tomb, so its nice to think that some of the meat I will eat here on the farm walked everywhere but to the butcher.)

Anyway... Once the calves were sorted off their mothers and/or put into the corral, we had a series of tasks for each calf before turning them out onto fresh pasture.  Here at Polyface we run both steer and heifers.  (We have some cows that produce calves every year also, but to keep up with the beef demand they started buying calves and finishing them on grass.)  One task involves putting each calf on a set of scales to get there weight.  Then we run each calf into a head gate that holds them still so we can put in new Polyface ear-tags.  Both the bulls and heifers are pretty easy up until this point, the only difference being that we still need to castrate the bull calves into steers.  The heifers are turned loose to hang out in the coral, but the bulls are held a little longer by the head gate and a human (I had the lions share this week, but its wasn't to many).  Try and imagine this... I stood on the fence straddling the bull, both feet about belly high on the bull, facing toward his hind end.  This allowed me to pull on his tail and sit on his back while either Daniel or Joel did the castrating.  This worked pretty well under the circumstances and we only had a few that really fought what we were doing.  Once you get their tail pulled over there back, they calm down quite a bit.  In between bulls I would just climb up into the barn, over the chute and cattle to wait till the next calf.  This put me out of sight and allowed for easy access when I was needed to pull tail.

I keep saying calf but I think a different word needs to be used because some of these "calves" weighed in at over 600 lbs.  One in particular weighed 712 lbs.  Surprisingly enough, he didn't fight as much as he could have.  I guess you could say he stood there and took it like a man... or a lesser of a man now?  

This way of working new calves was a little new to me.  I'm used to having the calf either at the end of a rope pulled by a horse and cowboy, or in a head-gate with a squeeze chute.  This is how I've always castrated and tagged cattle growing up.  I can say that I prefer roping over all, and the squeeze chute is next followed by this new method.  With that said, I also respect the way Polyface does it.  All the infrastructure was low cost (home-made head gate with home-milled lumber and posts for the corral) and we got the job done right.  It's not worth doing unless you do it right.



Tracy said...

Hold on a minute now -- you SAT on the bull (pulling the tail) while they castrated? Doesn't that equal a rodeo ride?

Grady Phelan said...

Almost... but you must turn out the bull first. Then we're at a little Rodeo. It does make thing interesting though.

PS Sorry I haven't commented back sooner... I was away from my computer for a few days.