The days run into weeks and the weeks into months. This morning I read a meme that reminded us that this was our 10th Monday in quarantine. Where has the time gone? And I don’t say it in the dreamy, reminiscent tone. I say it in the ‘I can’t believe we are still doing this’ tone. Regardless, this is our new reality so best to figure out how to make the best of it.
I’ve learned a lot during this era of social distancing, but I think the most important thing I have found is that it’s not the things but the experiences that mean the most to our kids. My boys have spent hours and days in our semi hauling cattle to pasture and in the buddy seat of the tractor planting corn. They have been on trips to check on cattle and done work at the farm that they normally would have missed out on if they were in school all day. I’m definitely spending more time with them, and they are learning so much tagging along and being on the farm with their dad and grandpa.
Yesterday we made our second family trip to work cattle. This time we headed to Chase County, Kan., and worked 120 calves and momma calves. It was a chilly, windy day but the sun eventually came out and everyone enjoyed themselves. It was family time – not your typical dinner table family time – but it was wonderful and impactful and meaningful, none-the-less. (As a farm wife I have learned that you take family time any way you can get it!)
Our oldest, Evan, got to help and our youngest, Owen, served in his normal capacity of “supervisor”. Along the way, the boys received a lesson in anatomy, counting and team work.
I received a few questions from photos I posted on Instagram so I wanted to take a moment and describe what it means to “work” cattle and why we do what we do.
Branding: This is a livestock owner’s way of putting their “name” or brand on their cattle. It’s the only way to permanently ID the animals in the event they get out of their pasture, are stolen or are mixed in with someone else’s cattle. We use a heated branding iron to make a mark on the skin. Branding is uncomfortable for the calves but they all get up and walk away once it’s over.
Castrating: We don’t need all of our boy calves becoming full-grown bulls. That’s a whole lot of unnecessary testosterone and reproductive capabilities. When bull calves are born on our farm, we put a band around the testicles so that they lose circulation and eventually fall off – leaving them to be male calves that can’t reproduce. But for calves born on open pasture – like you find in the Flint Hills of Kansas – it’s harder to catch all of the baby calves at the time of birth. So those male calves are rounded up (like we did Sunday) and castrated around 3 months of age. This is a process of removing the testicles by hand. It’s unpleasant but it’s a simple process that requires one cut of the skin. Again, the calves get up and are able to walk away once we’re done.
Implants: Our male calves are given a small implant in their ear. This helps them more efficiently convert feed to pounds. That means it takes less grass, grain and water for them to gain the same amount of pounds. The implant goes in the fleshy part of the ear and eventually falls out.
Vaccines: The final piece of the “working” process is vaccinations for diseases commonly found in cattle. This stems from respiratory diseases (like COVID) to eye infections (like pink eye) that can often be avoided with a vaccine.
We make sure the momma cows are allowed to stay close by. Working calves put stress on them and allowing them to immediately return to their mothers ensures they will settle down quickly and not cause unnecessary sickness from the stress.
By the time we finished we were all tired, hungry and ready to head home. But the memories we made, and fun we had, will hopefully live on with my boys. We can’t always buy them the latest and greatest toys and clothing, or send them on fancy trips to far away places. But we can create opportunities for them to learn, grow and understand what it means to care for our land and animals.