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Whatchamacallit? (A Cow Chips guide to cattle identification)

Earlier this week we moved our bulls, Bert and Ernie, to the pasture where the cows and calves are currently residing. It’s a fairly straightforward idea: let the bulls mooch on the land, eat all the grass they want, get bigger and bulkier and, when the time is right, invite them over to meet the ladies. Easy right?

Before I tell ya what happened, I should take a moment to let you in on a little secret.

Not all cows are cows. 

Andrea, you just confused the heck out of me. There’s different names for different life stages of cattle when you’re talking about age and gender. It’s why people in this area look funny at city folk when they point out “that really big cow” that’s actually a rodeo bull. I’ll do my best to explain as simply as possible. Let me warn you, this does not cover it all! There’s so much more I’m learning and I won’t present all the facts of ranching life. It’s a simple guide to help the city folk my dear friends who are unfamiliar with cattle identification.

First, we have the calf. A newborn baby. Super cute, playful, tends to like to find a way into our fenced 2 1/2 acres because the grass looks greener. I had one in my living room during the blizzard. They stay with their moms (cows) until they’re weaned and ready to be sold to a buyer and raised as heifers or beef cattle.

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Photo via cattlenetwork.com   

Next, we have bulls or steers on the male side. (I’m going to keep this as vague as possible because children might read this and I’d hate to steal away that awkward birds and bees talk from ya.) Basically, until this calf undergoes “surgery” it’s a bull. After surgery, it’s a steer. Just read between the lines if you can. Or Google it. The general difference is that a bull will be kept back with a few other bull buddies to become sires. They get to have girlfriends when the time is right. If they went through surgery, they are called a steer and don’t get to have girlfriends. They roam in herds and put on weight to be sold at a later date for beef. Steers also tend to like to find openings in fences and hang out on the county road. We do what we can to control their escape with cowboys and fencing but they’re some sneaky critters. More often than not, if you happen to find a herd of cattle out on the road (or a state highway like I did last weekend – eek!), they’re steers.

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This is the sire of our current bulls! PS – That’s NOT a belly button. Photo: PowerlineGenetics.com

 

On the female side we have the heifers and the cows. There’s more to it than this but if you’re city folk  just interested in the general terms, that’s all you need to know. Heifers are female cattle who are of age to become pregnant for the first time but have yet to have their first calf. A heifer is also what charged me after that blizzard. I still resent her for that, may she rest in cow peace. Once the heifer has its first calf, it’s automatically considered a cow. A cow can happily live for years on a ranch, producing calves that can be sold to either become beef or mothers on their own.

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A Manzano Angus Cow, very similar to our ladies! Photo: ManzanoAngus.com

HOWEVER….

You can’t just let the bulls and the heifers meet up all the time like a perpetual Saturday night at the club. The females need time with their calves and the bulls can interfere or injure calf and cow because they act like teenagers who just discovered the scrambled channels on cable TV. The rancher doesn’t want to have a 4 month calving period. We like it to be short and sweet, 60 days, where we can expect our calves to be born. That gives us time to plan on being home and prepare for any emergencies that might arise. So, we let the graze the land on a separate pasture while cows and calves grow and recuperate and basically moo to their heart’s delight in another pasture.

When we first got the cows in November, it was easy moving them from pasture to pasture. The hubby got in the feed truck, honked, and off we went! They were all still pregnant so we took it at a nice, steady fast walk to move them 2 miles. We were done in all of 30 minutes.

The bulls, though. Ugh.

No one told me how slow these guys are. If you’re wondering what I was doing (I know you are), well…I was on the 4-wheeler behind these slow pokes pushing them forward at a speedy 2mph whilst singing every operatic aria I knew as loudly as possible with a Country Twang. Seriously, it didn’t sound pretty, there was no technique involved besides yelling in tune in French, Italian, and English. I’m pretty sure the only reason the bulls kept moving forward is because they were trying to get away from the yelling opera singer behind them. Take a moment to let that picture sink in. Oh, and I was totally wearing my cowboy hat. Crazed lunatic.

They were just fine, ambling along, until they caught a whiff of our neighbor’s steers in the air about halfway to the home pasture. They were pawing at the ground, rubbing themselves on all the dirt and fence posts, trying to maintain their dominance by leaving their scent on everthing. I mean, really. What a ridiculous show! I am so glad I’m not single because, even in the human world, that was quite the show of hormones. I just rolled my eyes and sang louder. Anyway, an hour later we finally got them to the pasture with the cows. There was a moment of “Wait, who are you?” “Um, hi, my name is 1437” “Hey, good lookin'”.

The bulls wasted no time and have made some girlfriends now and all is right with the world. We are branding and “having surgery” this weekend. It’s the rancher’s job to feed all the helpers and I’m trying my best not to overdo the spread. Don’t be surprised if you see food pop up on my Facebook page. I’m in a cooking mood and finally have a giant group to test out some awesome recipes. More on that later!

(Cover photo from Living the Country Life. Great link here to learn about common cattle breeds.)

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