This spring we ended up with 2 orphan calves. I was bottle feeding them twice a day something I don’t mind doing during calving season when thats our focus, but it is not something we have time to do all summer when we get busy with haying and moving cows on the range. In previous years we have given these orphan calves to neighbours who may need a calf, however this year we decided to do something different. Our neighbours’ family owns a dairy in Abbotsford, so we bought a milk cow from them who does not produce enough milk for their dairy. We named her Annabelle. We were a bit worried at first that she wouldn’t take her fuzzy beef calves, but after a few weeks she was in love with her two calves. We started by putting her in the shoot and feeding her grain and letting the calves suck that way. Then we progressed to putting a halter on her and holding onto the lead shank while she ate her grain out of the bucket and let the calves suck that way. Soon she got to the point where she loves her calves and will let them suck whenever they want just as if they were her own calves! These two poor little orphans have went from the scrubbiest looking beasts to really nice calves because Annabelle is a Holestein (the black and white dairy cows that are the most common in Canada), they are able to produce more milk and a better quality milk (higher percentage of butterfat) therefore, she is able to raise to calves unlike beef cows. Annabelle and her two calves will stay at home for the summer, they will not get turned out on the range, so we get to watch them grow all summer long! ~Erika Strande~
My last blog I explained how we have turned the bulls in with the cows and have turned all the mama cows and their calves onto grass. For the past 2 weeks we have been riding everyday to now move cows off grass that is close to home and up into the mountains, onto our crown range land. One day when dad and I were gathering cows a prime example of darn bulls and their testosterone happened and I had to share! It was just dad and I and we had gathered about 80 pairs (cows and their babies). We were holding them at the salt, so we could get ourselves sorted out and make a plan. There are always 30 different cows trails you have to try and block while moving cows and generally only two or three riders so it is always a challenge. In this instance we had to move the animals off this flat bench down a hill and up the other side to eventually get them to a gate and onto our trail to send them to the mountains. However, just as the hill drops down there is a trail into the thick willows that the cows take and if they do we cannot get them back because the willows are so thick you can only walk in. So we needed to block that trail as well as somebody needs to get in front of the herd to turn them out the gate and somebody needs to bring them as well. Math has never been my strong point, but even I know that is too many places to block for just dad and I, but somehow we made it work, my border collie working dog, Millie is a huge help because she is basically like another person and can bring the cattle forward, so I could watch the trail into the willows. However, Dad was just about to ride away to get ahead of the herd to turn them out the gate, which was about half a kilometer from where we had the cows. Just as he was leaving two bulls started fighting. We had to put our whole operation on hold and try and wait for them to stop fighting because we wanted to make sure we brought both bulls. So we had to stop moving the herd and hold them until the bulls finished their match. Once they finish it’s usually doesn’t make things any easier because now the bull who lost tries to leave the herd. It was one of those disastrous days, nothing went smoothly, but we got the job done! ~Erika Strande~
We call our ranch a ‘commercial cattle ranch’. There are two types of beef ranches: purebred and commercial. A purebred ranch raises pure cattle of one breed, mainly used to sell as breeding stock to other ranchers. Some of the most common breeds in BC are: Aberdeen (Black or Red) Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn, Charolais, Simmental, Limousin, Gelbvieh, Maine Anjou. A commercial herd is a combination of breeds mixed together to try and get the best animal possible to suit your environment and customers.
On our ranch, our herd is composed of Aberdeen Black Angus and Hereford. The basics behind cross-breeding is to pick traits of breeds that you want, and use them to your advantage. A good Black Angus cow is fertile and very protective of her baby. Her baby has good vigor when born (which means he jumps up and starts nursing). Angus are easy calvers with ample milk. Her frame size is small to moderate and are polled (naturally without horns). Her offspring fatten quickly and posses more marbling in the meat than any other cattle (they make good steaks!) The dark skin pigment provides some resistance against cancer eye and sunburned udders. So you ask, “This breed sounds great, why mix in something else?” We breed this Black cow to a Hereford bull for a few reasons. One is, Herefords are traditionally quieter and easier to handle. The Hereford is particularly noted for its ability to thrive and reproduce under range conditions. Its heavy hair coat adapt it to harsh winter weather and it is able to hold its condition well during extremes in climate and scarcity of feed.
When you cross two completely different breeds, whose genetics differ, a great thing happens! It is called ‘Hybrid Vigor’! The immediate results of crossbreeding are an increase in vigor, mothering ability and reproduction. The great thing about crossbreeding is: one of our black baldy calves will be better than its’ Hereford dad or Angus mom at just about everything, from calf survival, milk production and speed of growth. On our ranch we do not use a ‘high milking breed’ (Jersey or Holstein as an example) because in some cases high milking cows, on the range, while producing a large calf the 1st year, may not rebreed because they have depleted their reserves of body energy just for milk production.
Our herd has slowly developed since 1948 to match our ranch. We buy bulls from proven purebred breeders and we only keep calves from our best cows. Right now our herd is getting quite consistent and we are looking at the possibility of adding a 3rd breed, possibly Simmental, to increase our calf weight and add a bit more milk. We will be very careful with this plan as we do not want to bring this ‘milk’ in but in turn have cows come up open.
The neat thing about the cattle industry is that we get paid a premium for larger groups of uniform cattle. In most other industries, like Lumber for instance, they get paid less for bigger lots. Next time you are driving by a herd of cattle, take note. Do they look the same, same color? Are the bulls the same as the cows or different? I hope you have a new appreciation into some of the work that goes into building a great herd of cattle. Your cow herd is kind of like kids, you put a lifetime into them! ~Erika Fossen~
I want to first off apologize from disappearing off the face of the blog. Things have just been super crazy busy at our ranch! One of the things we have been busy doing is turning the bulls out with the cows and heifers. We as ranchers control our calving dates, depending on our climate, when our grass is ready in the spring and other difference factors that are unique to our ranches. We have chosen to start calving February 1. Therefore, we need to turn the bulls out with the cows on May 1 because cows, like humans, have a 9 month gestation period.
It is an exciting time of year because we are looking forward to next years calf crop already, not to mention the animals are excited as well. After spending all winter with only male company the bulls are excited to get in with the girls as well. This time of year the males are more aggressive and we usually see some bull fights as well. This is also exciting because it marks that time in the year when we can stop feeding our cows hay and let them forage on their own.