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Mating Rituals

August 10, 2013

It’s that time of year again, Samson, aka Big Daddy is here for 6 weeks which is long enough for him to cover each of the cows with time to spare.  I like this guy, because in addition to his manners, I like his kids, this cross is working good for me and I want as many heifers from him that I can get.  This will be his last year for me though because I am keeping a heifers from him, and next year would be the first year I would breed them, and while some folks do breed daughters to fathers, I am choosing not to do so.

Daddy's here!

Daddy’s here!

Besides the obvious mating that will occur, rituals for us the farmers include sorting out heifers too young to breed and making sure they are kept from the bull.  Another biggie is that I have to keep my guard up too.  Despite the fact that this bull has a proven disposition record with me and his owner, that is the single biggest reason for me to be diligent while working the stock.  I am always at risk each day with a 17 gauge non-electrified wire between me and the bull.  Basically no protection if he decides to go rogue for some reason.

Lockdown

Full lockdown – heifer correctional facility

We have found that it’s not usually the bull that is the problem it’s the young heifers.  To that end, we drylot them in our corral and that means daily feed and water chores in addition to the daily fence moves for the rest of the herd.

Every day of the year, I am making culling decisions, many times I change my mind, but I keep a mental note of each thing I see on heifers.  Temperament, growth, flies etc.  I also take into account how their mothers performed, during lactation, breeding back and weaning.

Also this is the time to sharpen the pencil and get rid of that fat cow that lost her calf and ate hay all winter.  No sense in paying for breeding and feeding her anymore.  Sharpening the pencil further we made a trip to the sale barn before the bull arrived.  Cash on the barrel head sometimes figures out ahead when you consider storing all that meat and metering it out in dribs and drabs to folks buying ground beef for their pets.  Keep your options open as far as sales go.  Wholesale farm products are not the end of the world for a direct marketing farm.

long yearling

long yearling

While the yearling heifers have been separated out, the steers and new babies get to stay with the herd and function with the mini-mob.

3 months

3 months

Even here at the water trough, I can observe the calves, and see who hangs back, who is precocious, and runs away.  Some of that is normal calf behavior that each calf will exhibit at one time or another, but for the most part their personalities start emerging fairly early.

off to see the wizard

off to see the wizard

The most important observations I need to make during breeding season is who is getting bred and when.  To that end I watch the cows and bull.  Who is he standing by?  That means a cow coming into season.  Who is walking funny?  That means I missed  the festivities.  Either way, I mark it down on my Plan-a-Year wall calendar, this helps me visualize the year in calving, which may sound odd, but digging in a book for this information each day just does not happen here.  I do transfer data like this to said book when the rainy season starts, but the go-to place for me to look is my big calendar.  I also keep a cow gestation calendar that I got from my AI (artificial insemination) tech, that tells me next heat day and calving date if the breeding took.  Valuable information for me so I know when to expect my calves next spring.  I want a close calving window and pulling the bull after two cycles helps me achieve that.

Next post – changing the cows calving season.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. August 10, 2013 4:58 pm

    Thank you once again! What perfect timing. So, you are renting your bull from a neighboring farm? Is it difficult to get the window you want? Would a slightly different span of 6 weeks be just as good for you?

    Also, I thought that at about 15 months a heifer was ok to be bred – it sounds like you are more comfortable waiting until they are 27 months old.

    How do you manage Jane – do you use AI or find a dairy bull?

    And thanks for the heads up on the heifers being the challenge – it’s been interesting to note our Garnet (dairy heifer born off-cycle, mom’s exposure to a bull not managed as well as you manage yours!) bellowing longingly for our bull for a day or so, every few weeks… No ma’am, you’re too young! and we hope to have a date with another breed, for you, when you are ready!

    • August 10, 2013 5:29 pm

      Marilyn, I rent him from a guy who just keeps a few cows and quite a few rental bulls. I am a long standing customer, so I can pretty much get the window I want, within reason… 15 months is fine, but I keep my cows a long time (just culled a 17 YO) and have found over the years that I gain that waiting year back on the other end. Of course, the powers that be, demand you breed for a calf at age two and become proficient at calf pulling and limping a sore toothed heifer along all winter…otherwise you’ll never get your money back. So to each, his own. I’m the boss here not some big cow guy crunching numbers. Nothing shoots a hole in the bottom line quicker than a dead calf, or dead heifer. Most do fine calving at age 2, it’s the ones that don’t that kick you in the gut and the pocketbook.

      I’ll talk more about Jane in the next post about moving a calving date with timed breeding.

  2. August 10, 2013 5:00 pm

    Um, ok, also – why a 17-guage *non-electrified* fence?

    • August 10, 2013 5:23 pm

      Marilyn, I turn off the fence while I am building the next paddock. Otherwise I would be getting shocked! And that happens enough as it is. 😛

  3. August 10, 2013 5:13 pm

    ahhhhh he’s a handsome boyo… and a limo by the looks of things? (we have had a LOT of limousin boys and girls over the years – most are placid sweet animals – but you really have to keep your wits about you dealing with large beasties eh….)

    • August 10, 2013 5:22 pm

      Ronnie, actually he’s half Simmental and half Hereford, but my cows are mutts anyway and this is making a nice stocky cross because some of my cows are part Guernsey. He is a sweetie though.

  4. August 10, 2013 6:22 pm

    What a lovely boy! Good luck with it! We keep a bull full-time, but still try to cluster the calving, which has just begun for us.

    • August 10, 2013 6:38 pm

      Helen, he is a sweetie. We used to keep a bull and then decided to cut our herd down, so it’s actually more economical this way for us than to keep a bull year round.

      Good luck with your calving season!

  5. August 11, 2013 3:10 am

    We’ve only done AI here, so I was intrigued by:

    ” Who is walking funny? That means I missed the festivities. ”

    What exactly do you see when you see this?

    • August 11, 2013 5:33 am

      Pam, he he, it’s pretty obvious when a cow has been bred, sometimes repeatedly. Tail off to the side or held out slightly, maybe a slightly humped up back on a first timer, those are usually the most noticeable from a distance. And you can tell by looking at the vulva (even if the other signs aren’t present) when you get up to the cow. Having free range cows for years made me develop my “40 acre stock eye.” I can see someone standing funny from a long ways off.

      On your AI for multiple cows do you synch them or just have the tech come out for each cow, or do you do the AI?

      • August 13, 2013 2:54 am

        We had the tech come out for each cow. They were pretty close together, and our AI guy was good about getting here. It was only 2 cows, so nothing arduous.

  6. Chris permalink
    August 11, 2013 7:55 am

    Can we get a facial photo of Big Daddy? He’s probably smiling now anyway! 🙂

  7. Carol permalink
    August 11, 2013 8:19 am

    My friend has her cow artificially “done” each year and it seems pretty economical compared to her having a dangerous bull. Would that work for you?

  8. August 11, 2013 11:38 am

    He is a fabulous looking bull.

  9. August 11, 2013 4:13 pm

    I like to put things on a wall planner too. i use a school year one, it makes more sense somehow. And I must say that bull is HUGE! You most certainly need to be on your guard. Gorgeous animal.. c

  10. August 11, 2013 6:41 pm

    Yup. Keep an eye on him. I’m always checking my surroundings around our borrowed bull…what can I hide behind, where is a tree I can climb…how much damage will he do to the truck? I’ve known some ornery bulls. Our loaner this year is doing great…so far.

    • August 12, 2013 5:17 am

      Yeah, even if you know them, they can surprise you. Most farmers killed by bulls turned their back for a second. The fence was down yesterday morning, and the cows were enjoying new paddocks on their own…guess who didn’t want to come back? He finally did, but I wasn’t looking forward to rounding him up if he didn’t want to come with the cows 😦

  11. Tara permalink
    August 14, 2013 6:29 am

    He’s a handsome fella’. We like to keep a bull. We find a big difference in the herd with the presence of a *good* bull. Our last one was a lovely, calming influence. When his time was up, there was a noticeable difference in the energy of the herd.

    Our newest bull, a young two year old, has brought that calm and stability back into the herd. We leave him with the cows and their calves and keep the heifers in a separate pasture. Next year, when the heifers are two, they will all join up for a grand partay! Until then, we’re moving three herds (milking cows). Pretty labour intensive. It would be so much easier to do it otherwise, but then, we would also be introducing health issues from other farms. No health issue concerns there? Every animal we’ve brought in has brought some sort of little gem with them. We’re trying to keep things as closed as possible. What do you do about that?

    • August 14, 2013 6:53 am

      Tara, I feed for optimum health and don’t worry about it. I think there is always two schools of thought and a lot of this reminds me of vaccinating children. Either you do or you don’t. We used to keep a bulls, (an ongoing practice on this farm for about 100 years) but with 7 or 8 cows it’s hardly worth it. So how long do you quarantine your new animals and where do you quarantine them so they aren’t on your place? Or do you raise every replacement and only use AI for new blood? I have a friend who swears by and markets his beef herd as closed, yet he brings in milk cows off of Craiglist and throws them right into his pasture…and he is keeping his bull for years, and breeding daughters and granddaughters. His herd is staying pretty static though, since a some of that reproduction ends up dead at birth or soon after. He can’t bear to get rid of his “baby” the bull.

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