Sunday, March 18, 2012

British White Bulls - A Little Fighting, a Lot of Working, and a Bunch of Bull . . .

J.West's Elvis, British White Bull, March 2012
The past couple of weeks have been full of a lot of 'bull'!  I've had my three eldest bulls penned and handy for a few weeks now - handy for me to pen them, but also handy for them to quarrel and trumpet at one another, make big bull head sized holes in the so-called 'bull' fencing, not to mention dig holes along the fence line that could serve as small ponds.  But only one actual bull fight as happened.

Unbelievably, I actually left a gate open!  Me!  The neurotic gate closer and double chain it back even if you're coming back in just a few . . . I actually screwed up in a big way on that rule.  Below is a video of the latter part of a fight between Elvis and Tom Sawyer.  I shot the video with my cell phone after giving up on breaking it up by my puny presence and a leather whip - all my efforts were just irritating to them - and I felt like I might just get swatted like an irritating fly on their behind. 
J.West's Tom Sawyer, British White Bull, March 2012

About the middle of the video you can see them both pause and look up at the faint sound of the chain on a gate in the background.  Then they go right back at it, and Mr. Brown drives right up on them with the alfalfa truck.  It distracts Elvis mostly and the next thing I know he's almost getting himself flipped over by Tom.  I decided to be that irritating fly on Tom's behind again and maybe try to make that whip sting more like a hornet - and as quickly as possible, my imagination in over drive at the prospect of old Elvis getting stomped once he was rolled.  I popped Tom hard twice, he jumped back (and I jumped back!) and took off at a gallop to one of the open pens - I could hardly believe my eyes.


While Tom is the younger bull, it looks like Elvis must surely be the old and wise bull.  When you watch the video you see Tom pushing Elvis over a lot of ground.  Elvis is resisting, rather than being on the offense, which would be a lot more tiring I'd imagine.  I took current weights on all three bulls last week, and even with Elvis being underweight right now - he still outweighs Tom considerably. 

J.West's El Presidente, British White Bull, March 2012
Here are the results of weight and hip height measure on each bull:

Tom Sawyer, Hip Height of 50.5 inches, Weight of 1565 lbs, Mature Frame Score 2 Bull
El Presidente, Hip Height of 51.5 inches, Weight of 1745 lbs, Mature Frame Score 2.5 Bull
Elvis, Hip Height of just under 52.5 inches, Weight of 1715 lbs, Mature Frame Score 3 Bull

And here is a short video of working the bulls in the squeeze chute on my vet's first visit. Tom and El Presidente have been real good about being moved in and out of the chute - while Elvis, normally such a laid back dude, seems intent on letting everyone know he is still a Rock Star!  Elvis was also the lucky bull this breeding season, he's been with a large number of cows - Tom and El Pres have been on their own - so maybe old Elvis is just full of a lot of bragging 'bull'........

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cattle Economic Forecasting - Some Prescient Words from the Noble Foundation

J.West's Stella and her Tom Sawyer sired Heifer

The following is a full reprint of a Noble Foundation article published in September of 2008.  It certainly is pertinent to today's cattle business environment, I'd say even more so today than in the fall of 2008 -- and without a doubt the livestock industry is " . . . about as interesting as most of us can stand."  Cattlemen following the advice of Mr. Wells back in 2008, would have weathered the past year and more of Texas drought with less hardship to their bank account and their cattle herd.

Interesting Times for Cattle Economics (Sept. 2008)

by Robert Wells

"There is an old Chinese curse that says, "May you live in interesting times." The current era in the livestock industry is about as interesting as most of us can stand. I believe we are in the midst of a paradigm shift. The cattle industry of tomorrow will almost certainly look different than it has in recent years. During 2008, many ranchers did not apply the same amount of fertilizer as they have in the past. Thus, in combination with low rainfall, forage quality and quantity this fall and winter may be lower than in the past. The price of feed has increased by 20-25 percent compared to fall 2007; therefore, feeding the current herd size though the winter may not be economically justifiable.
So what can a rancher do to stay economically viable given the high input costs? Ranchers need to look at several aspects of their cow herd: mature cow size, milking ability of the cow and stocking rate.

Mature Cow Size:
There have been many articles written to advise ranchers that they may need to moderate the mature size of their cow herd. We should always match the cow with the environment and the bull with the market. If you are in western Oklahoma or the Texas Panhandle, the optimum cow for your operation will typically be smaller than a cow on a ranch in the southeastern U.S. If your stocking rate (without fertilizer) is in the double digits of acres per animal unit, you might consider using a moderate-framed (smaller) cow (i.e., less than 1,000-1,100 pounds). Using a calving-ease, terminal-cross, and performance breed bull could yield calves that will be 50-60 percent of the cow's weight at weaning.
J.West's MsRae and her El Presidente Heifer Calf

Milking Ability of the Cow:
If you have a moderate-framed cow, but she is a heavy milker, then her requirements are higher than those of a low or moderate milking cow. Granted, a heavier milking cow may wean a heavier calf, but if you have to supplement that cow to a greater extent for her to recover flesh before the next calving season, are you really making more money? A heavier milking cow has a higher maintenance requirement even when she is not lactating. Thus, she requires more forage and feed to maintain her body condition score.

Stocking Rate:
Stocking rates will have to be adjusted if you have changed fertilizer rates from previous years. This reduction should take place in September before the flood of open and old cows goes to market in the fall. October and November are typically some of the lowest priced months to sell a cow. With the high cost of feed, it will be difficult to economically support feeding all the cows if the herd is at a maximum stocking rate. Many producers will get to the first frost and then realize that they will be short on pasture and hay this year. We need to get out of the mindset that a particular ranch needs to have a specific number of head to support itself. If your current number of head requires a lot of inputs, the ranch may be more economical at a lower number of cattle with fewer inputs.
As input costs continue to increase, we may need to look back to our grandparents' era to see how cattle were raised before we had easy access to fuel, feed and fertilizer. With every change in the industry, new opportunities abound. Those who dare to venture out of their comfort zone are those who will stay in the business for years to come.
 By becoming more efficient today, you will have a better chance of weathering the storm."

Monday, February 27, 2012

British White Calves - A Look at Their Color

Last week I said I'd take a look at the color of my new calves out of Target on this week's blog.  Trying to reason out the why's of color is sort of an excercise in futility!  That said, as calving has progressed this past week, there really hasn't been a lot of surprises like I anticipated after the first few calves were born.  Target most definitely likes to make bulls, so far I've had only one Target sired heifer born, so there'll be lots of grassfed beef for sale here in the Spring of 2014!   Here's a look at some of them . . .

J.West's Target, son of Morgan
J.West's Morgan, daughter of Marie

Halliburton Marie

Target is a mostly blue-skinned bull sired by El Presidente, also blue-skinned, out of dam, J.West's Morgan, who has light speckling on her sides; and his granddam, Halliburton Marie, a Popeye daughter, had light speckling as well, practically identical to her daughter, Morgan.

This is a first calf heifer sired by Carter, J.West's Molly, whose own dam, Doc's Gal, and granddam Ms. Rae, and great grandam, CRAE 215G are all standard marked.  I was quite surprised to see this little guy present himself with these large splashes of black. 

Molly and her Target sired Bull Calf

This is a first calf heifer sired by Carter, J.West's Miss Marie, whose own dam, Merry Marie, is marked almost identical to her in color pattern.  Her grandam is also Halliburton Marie, pictured above, so she's a 2nd cousin to Target, and if any one of these three calves could have been expected to be speckled or spotted, it would be this calf. 

Miss Marie and her Target sired Bull Calf
J.West's Maude Rae with Target sired Bull Calf
This is Maude Rae, a daughter of Huckleberry Finn and CRae 215G, and an aunt to Molly above.  As Huck Finn has lots of spots, I might have expected her to have a very spotted calf out of Target if Molly did.  Not so, but he does have lots of black about the face, more than I generally see in my calves.  

J.West's Brigit 07

This is Brigit, a daughter of King Cole, who was a blue-skinned bull with speckling; and Brigit herself is quite blue skinned and lightly speckled, having very nice pigment in all the vunerable areas.  Her dam and grandam both have mostly identical markings, with distinctive neck and shoulder spotting.  Brigit's dam and maternal sister are pictured below.  This Target sired calf is very much like his dam, Brigit, but with some black about the face.
J.West's Blossum and J.West's Bountiful Brigit
Brigit's Target sired Bull Calf

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

White Galloway Cattle and Color Patterns

Whisperings Jasper, A White Galloway Bull
Semen Available, Suncrest Stud, New Zealand
Last week I wrote about the Riggit Galloway, which generally is a line-backed bovine, having a white stripe from tail to nape and being color-sided - what we call linebacked.   The origins of the seedstock for the new Riggit Galloway breed came largely from White Galloway herds where the riggit marked calves were born that are of course not desirable in a White Galloway herd, just as they aren't desirable in a British White herd.  At the same time they are keen on retaining those color points, and at one web site we are told:

"It has been shown by years of breeding White Galloway bulls to White Galloway cows that the distinctive black colour points do disappear. However the use of a Black Galloway bull on a well marked or mismarked White Galloway cow does nearly always produce a well marked White Galloway calf. Over the years mating a Black Galloway bull to a White Galloway cow produces a 50:50 chance of a black or white calf." (Belted Galloway Cattle Society)
Lifestyle Danika, White Galloway Cow
Pinzridge Stud, New Zealand
There is a lengthy discussion entitled 'Inheritance of Colour in the Cattle Breed White Galloway' at the Suncrest Stud web site.  It seems they have taken the initiative to develop a project aimed at unravelling the various alleles which contribute to the variations in color that result from White Galloway breedings, with the goal of course to find the path to consistent breeding results as to White Galloway color and markings.

"Despite the fact that the mode of inheritance of colours and markings in White Galloways up to now is mostly unclear, it is attempted to fix rules, e.g. for registering animals in herdbooks, according to their colour. The basic rules of inheritance suggest that matings of animals with “perfect” colours and markings will yield the highest probability of obtaining offspring with the same colours. However, it is also quite clear that this strategy is not always successful and also it has to be decided what to do with animals with “perfect” colours and markings that are offspring from parents that not at all show these “perfect” characteristics. Hence, there is a specific demand for further research in the White Galloway breed." (Suncrest Stud News Page)

"Confusion exists whether the breed White Galloway indeed is a breed or just a phenotype. This may lead to even more confusion whether an animal with perfect colour and markings can be registered as a White Galloway even if its parents are not “perfect” or vice versa, i.e. the question of whether a White Galloway with offspring in different colour and markings can still be a registered White Galloway. The answers to all these questions are yet unknown. However, preliminary data points to assume that the White Galloway phenotype is indeed the result of a distinct genotype. The objective of the project is to scientifically solve the “WGA-mystery”, i.e. to unravel the mechanisms of colour inheritance in White Galloways."  (Suncrest Stud News Page)
Pinzridge Endevour with Hadley at Gore 2011
Pinzridge Stud, New Zealand

If you search for images of White Galloway and really give a good look, you'll notice that the breed is quite short legged and with very nice body depth and quite consistently meaty thick bovines.  The calf photos show youngsters that one might wonder if they were indeed of a miniature variation, they are so small and deeply built and just plain cute.  But of course they grow up to be very thick and stocky moderate framed beef animals that pack a lot of volume. 

Here is the often repeated description of the basic characteristics of the breed:

"Bulls weigh from 1,700 pounds (770kg) to 2,300 pounds (1045kg) with the average being 1,800 pounds (820kg). Cows weigh from 1,000 pounds (450kg) to 1,500 pounds (675kg) with the average being 1,250 pounds (565kg). Calves generally weight from 40 pounds to 60 pounds. Galloways are generally of a quiet temperament, but still maintain a strong maternal instinct and will protect a calf against perceived threats."
But at Pinzridge Stud we are told " . . .  Galloways are medium in size, with cows weighing about 1,000 pounds and bulls about 1,600 pounds."  For certain, many of the images you can find of White Galloways have them looking about 1000 to 1200 lbs, but it is always hard to judge a photo.  And what about all that hair in some of the images?  The Galloway puts on a second layer of longish hair in cold climates, yet will shed this layer and slick off in warm climates.  I was surprised to learn this, and long ago I had nixed them as a possibility in East Texas because of the thick coat of hair.

White Galloway Cow, Available for Purchase at Pinzridge Stud in New Zealand
Here's an old photo of two Elvis sired young calves in a cold winter.  The bull calf on the left put on quite a shaggy coat of hair.  I've noticed some do and some don't - just never stopped to consider the genetics of the reason.  I've had some freshly born with much longer hair than normal in the winter time as well, but again never took note, just thought they looked warm and cute!

Next week I'll post some photos of the newborns from this past week.  It has been interesting to see who got spots from whom this go around, and it has been down right disappointing to have had only one heifer born of these first five calves of the season,  The past couple of years I've been quite lucky in the rate of heifers born to bulls -- I'm afraid that luck has quite run out for spring 2012!

Friday, February 3, 2012

What's a Riggit? Meet the Riggit Galloway

A breed of cow unknown to me came to my attention a while ago; it is the Riggit Galloway.  Only very recently, in early 2007, has this type of Galloway cattle been rescued from obscurity and a breeding program established under the Riggit Galloway Cattle Society in the United Kingdom.  The Riggit has a long history in the British Isles, particularly Scotland.  'Riggit' has its basis in the word 'rig' which was the word for a back in old dialect, and a cow that had a white streak from tail to head was once variously referred to as a 'riggit' or 'rigget' or 'riggy' or 'rigged' animal.  Certainly that is much preferable to the derogatory term of 'skunk' to which they were regularly referred when I first became involved with the British White breed. 

"Clifton Hawthorn with her bull calf, Clifton Firethorn"
Source: Riggit Galloway Cattle Society
Apparently, the Riggit marked bovine was quite common on the British Isles, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone really.  For certain it is this very coloration that is often found in old cave paintings from prehistoric times.  That fact seems to mysteriously never be deserving of comment, much less retention in a herd, when puzzling over the births of 'Riggit' marked calves for a couple of hundred years in both the polled and horned white Park Cattle of old.  It is the very common purist attitude of the last hundred years and more that resulted in the relative obscurity of 'Riggit' marked cattle born in to Galloway herds until the establishment of the Riggit Galloway.
"They were well known and recognised prior to the specialisation of the current mainstream types, and were amongst the accepted types that eventually divided into the ‘Galloway’, and the ‘Angus’."  (Riggit Galloway Cattle Society)
Unlike the white Park Cattle of old, Galloways were Galloways were Galloways in the very early 19th century, despite the Riggit markings.  This is demonstrated by the painting entitled "A Fat Galloway Heifer" dated 1804 by the artist George Gerrard, as cited at the Riggit Galloway web site.  That painting is of a red 'Riggit' marked Galloway.  Certain quarters of horned white Park Cattle breeders  promote the notion that the 'riggit' markings occurring in the polled British White is due to outside blood introduction, and thus demonstrative of their 'impurity' as a breed.  The antiquity of the 'riggit' markings in the Galloway breed quite belies that notion. 

Certainly, you see the line-backed or 'riggit' markings oftentimes on a cross, but they are born as well to parents who are standard white with black points for some generations back.  If this were not the actual fact, then the appearance of 'riggit' marked calves in the ancient Chillingham herd, the horned White Park herds, and polled British White herds would have long since been completely eradicated as they were known to be ruthlessly culled.  Further, it is only recently that the Chillingham folks have stopped claiming to be the closest bovine in existence to the ancient aurochs of Britain.  Per the Riggit Galloway web site:  "Interestingly, German research indicates that the pre-domestication bovines, the Auroch, may have been carrying the same markings."  Certainly those markings have always seemed to me the best of both worlds, so to speak -- they have all that sun protective pigment to prevent skin cancers, yet they have the white along their back and head that provides for better heat tolerance. 
This young bull calf would be "baith brucket and rigget"
as he has a white line from nape to tail and his head his white. 
A Riggit marked cow is what most refer to as a line-backed cow these days, and in the polled British White breed there are oftentimes unexpected Riggit marked cows born to this day.  More often than not, at least in my herd, those Riggit marked cows or bulls are exceptional bovine specimens. 

It is primarily from the Riggit marked calves born in White Galloway herds that the genetics for the recovered Riggit breed was obtained over the years.  Riggit Galloways can be red or black in primary color, as is the case in Park cattle, polled or horned.

I did some digging, looking for use of the various old spellings of this 'Riggit' term in reference to cattle.  I didn't find a lot, but here are the old references and even definitions of Riggit cows I ran across, which of course quite confirm their regular occurrence in the herds of the British Isles of old:

"A cow in Scotland is called a riggie, if she have a stripe running along the back from the nape to the tail; she is then said to be riggit or rigged, from rig, the back, in Swedish rygg, or rijgg . . . Rig, which with us has now become ridge, was once an English as well as a Scottish word, in the sense of a back (a pake at his rigge, a pack at his back). In like manner the old English word brigg, brig, has become bridge."   (Source: Notes and Queries, Pg. 154, Oxford Journals, Aug. 22, 1857)

"RIGGY, sb. Sc. Also in form rigga Sh.I. [ri'gi.] A name given to a cow having a stripe along the back. . . "  (Source:  The English Dialect Dictionary, Being the Complete Vocabulary of All Dialect . . .edited by Joseph Wright, P. 109, 1904)

"Riggie, s. A cow with a white strip along the back. S. Riggit, Rigged, adj. Having a white strip, or white and brown streaks along the back ; applied to cattle. . . Riggie, S. A designation given to a cow having a strip of white along the back, S.O. and B.; obviously from Big, the back. . .  Riggit, Rigged, adj. Having a white stripe or white and brown streaks, running along the back; applied to cattle, ibid.  "When a stripe of white run [r. ran] along the ridge of her back, she got the name of a rigged cow."  (Source: Scottish Dictionary and Supplement, by John Jamieson, Various editions from 1841 and beyond.)

Early 19th Century Scottish Fairy Tale Excerpt:  "However, she employs Tom to go to a fair that was near by, and buy her another (cow); she gives him three pounds, which Tom accepts of very thankfully, and promises to buy her one as like the other as possibly he could get; then he takes a piece of chalk, and brays it as small as meal, and steeps it in a little water, and therewith rubs over the cow's face and back, which made her baith brucket and rigget.   
So Tom in the morning takes the cow to a public-house within a little of the fair, and left her till the fair was over, and then drives her home before him; and as soon as they came home, the cow began to rout as it used to do, which made the old woman to rejoice, thinking it was her own cow; but when she saw her white, sighed and said, "Alas! thou'll never be like the kindly brute my Black Lady, and ye rout as like her as ony ever I did hear." But says Tom to himself, "'Tis a mercy you know not what she says, or all would be wrong yet." 
So in two or three days the old woman put forth her bra' rigget cow in the morning with the rest of her neighbours' cattle, but it came on a sore day of heavy rain, which washed away all the white from her face and back; so the old woman's Black Lady came home at night, and her rigget cow went away with the shower, and was never heard of. But Tom's father having some suspicion, and looking narrowly into the cow's face, found some of the chalk not washed away, and then he gave poor Tom a hearty beating, and sent him away to seek his fortune with a skin full of sore bones."  (Source: Excerpt from LOTHIAN TOM, Scottish Fairy and Folk Tales, by George Douglas, [1901], at

The video below is of J.West's McQueenie, who was out of my 'Riggit' marked Bountiful 04 sired by my original 'Doc' bull, who is also the sire of J.West's W.W. Doc, J.West's Elvis, and J.West's Mazarati.  Bountiful 04's dam was a quite costly Popeye daughter - HRH Bountiful, who is the senior cow in my herd today.  McQueenie had standard marked 'immediate' forebears, and McQueenie has had nothing but white calves for me until her 2011 calf, and nothing but heifer calves I would add.  It is this video on YouTube that led me to learn about the Riggit Galloway breed of cattle.