Friday, April 20, 2012

Cattle Are Sentient Creatures - And I wouldn't have it any other way . . .

J.West's Elsie Edna and J.West's Clementine, April 2012
Best Buddies, Born 4 Days Apart

There are times in this cow business when I find myself considering, fleetingly, becoming a vegetarian; when I keenly understand why some folks are so adamantly anti-meat.  Some particular event happens that makes me think a little deeper about the 'feelings' of my cows, or at least some of them.

I then mull over in my mind many of the fairly ridiculous stances of a lot of the extremist PETA types, most of whom no doubt have never stepped in cow manure or certainly never resuscitated a newborn calf -- but yet are emphatic that cows are 'sentient' creatures and therefore shouldn't be eaten.  Which leaves them in a sorry life in a zoo in some perfect future vegan world with zero meat consumption. Wait . . . That's also the FAO arm of the United Nations' long term plan! But I'm not going there this morning, discussing the FAO right now would give me a headache and make me nauseous, and my health care has already gone up 40% in the last two years, so I have to be careful not to go to the doctor, that might be an excuse to raise my rates another 20% next year. Oops, digressing . . .

Elsie Edna and Clementine, April 2012
I recently sent Elsie Edna and Clementine on to their new home in Oklahoma.  These two heifers are really bonded, more often than not found together, and I think would really have been traumatized to have been shipped off to separate pastures.  Eventually that strong tie they have now won't be so important, but at 2 years old the bond is still very strong.  Clearly, these two demonstrate that cattle are indeed 'sentient' creatures, as they have 'feelings' toward one another.

'had' two other heifers who were very much pasture buddies, born 7 days apart - J.West's Boopsie and J.West's Lassie.  Unfortunately, I never took a photo of the two of them together, but I do have a 'picture memory' of the two of them from last Sunday.  They both walked up to the cattle guard by the house, checked it out, looked at me, and presumably listened to me (okay probably not) when I told them not to walk that cattle guard.  But, they did promptly turn around and prance off together . . . and that's the last time I saw them alive and well.

Sunday night we were hit by the worst of thunderstorms and the lightning was very bad.  Boopsie and Lassie died under a grove of hickory trees, lying about a foot apart.  Fortunately, the rest of the cattle in that group were all fine, and so was every other pasture group.  I had moved this group in to the pasture by the house on Sunday so they could get shelter under the barn's big tractor shed, which they generally immediately do when the rain gets hard.  For some unknown reason they didn't this time.  The ground outside the shed was smooth and slicked off from the massive flow of water run-off from the barn roof (we had probably 11 inches or more of rain), so clearly the cows didn't exit the shed after the storm, they simply weren't there.

J.West's Boopsie in August 2011
Boopsie was Carter sired out of a Popeye daughter, bw 66 lbs.
Could it be something wasn't safe that night about the shed?  Oddly, when we finally got power back on Monday, all the power to the barns was still out, and that's never happened before.  Something caused the main breaker to all the barns to trip, and I have to wonder if it was a lightning strike directly to the barns or a hit to the ground around the barns.  They are metal pole barns, with tin roofs and walls of course, and I've not ever considered the possible danger to the cattle from being under a metal structure during severe lightning.  So far we haven't found a thing to indicate a strike on or around the barns, so it will remain a mystery.

J.West's Lassie as a newborn, her dam is J.West's Taylor Maid
Lassie was Carter sired with a bw of 37 lbs.
The sight of those two heifers lying dead and bloated under the hickory grove was a shocking sight.  Their walk to the cattle guard, their quizzical looks at me and down at the rails of the cattle guard, and that quite prancing turn and exit off to the pasture was all I could see in my mind, the contrast startling, the end of that life lying in the mud.  Rational or not, this became one of those moments when I question what I do, and think of the 'sentient' creature argument of vegans against eating meat.

But, even so, as the days have passed and I've thought about my own personal reaction to the loss of the heifers, I suspect it is me being too sentient of a human creature about my cows, or at least about some of them.  Yes, I do think cattle are 'sentient' creatures, many seem to make eye contact with us humans with something ticking in their brains and coming through their eyes that makes a total lie of the 'dumb cow' phrase for sure, could be their eyes are just so pretty I imagine it though.  Look at little Lassie pictured below - she had the sweetest eyes ever.  But sentient creatures or not, beef has been critical to the human diet since time out of mind.

J.West's Lassie, June 2011
So, I'll not be tossing out all the grassfed beef in the freezers, or turning the ranch in to a petting zoo, and for sure I also won't stop caring about the well being of my cows and trying to tune in to what they need in a 'sentient' way.  I'm glad I had that odd last encounter with Boopsie and Lassie; you have to wonder, or at least I have to wonder, about the timing of that and their death mere hours later.  I couldn't tell you one thing about any other cow or calf in that group from the afternoon before - just that picture memory in my brain of Boopsie and Lassie . . .

Yes, cattle are quite the sentient creatures, but I wouldn't have it any other way. 



Saturday, April 7, 2012

Happy Easter from J.West Cattle Company . . . and Happy Spring and Happy Ostera!

Happy Easter to Everyone!

Sandhill Cemetery's Oldest Unmarked Grave, cared for by
Colmesneil's Kenneth Brown, who planted the bluebonnets
 you see on the hillside.   (April 2012)
How fortunate we are that this most ancient and most revered celebration in the Christian world is still allowed to be celebrated publicly in the United States of America.

It actually strikes me as quite odd that it is still politically correct and unoffensive to say 'Happy Easter'.  I really can't imagine why we aren't already forced to say 'Happy Spring' - particularly in our public schools. 

Or has that already happened and I just don't know it?  In the pre-Christian era of the world, those happy heathens, the Anglo Saxons, celebrated spring by feasting to the goddess Ostera - so perhaps we could really trip up those spiritually bereft secularists by saying 'Happy Ostera'!  (FYI - Secularism Definition: ". . . a doctrine that rejects religion and religious considerations.")

Perhaps the day is coming when we see politically unoffensive pagan festivals of the ancient gods and goddesses beneath a peaceful spreading oak tree in a farmer's cow pasture, or  beside the banks of a clear and beautifully flowing stream deep in the woods - all with a closely guarded secret of course - that it's a scam of the Highest Order - if you get my meaning? 

The mainstream media would have a field day with that - probably run massive news coverage with the headline:  Proof The United States is not a Christian Nation! or, Paganism Replacing the Pulpit!  Christian city dwellers could even camp out in the public parks for some pagan tree praying!  Hmmm, what would the media label them?  Occupiers!  Occupying for their right to worship nature . . . what conceivable argument could be found with that?  They would be hailed as 21st Century hippies who actually cleaned up their trash, and would likely be interviewed with fond tolerance on the Today Show or Good Morning America.

Below you'll find some really old sayings and superstitions about Easter that are amusing, but also informative.  I had no idea that getting my 'Easter dress' as a child was from traditions started hundreds of years ago; and certainly had no idea how far back the tradition of the Easter egg dates.  If I'd been asked that question, I'd probably have replied without much thought that it is likely something Americans got started - I've just never really thought about it.  Shame on me. 

Also, I've excerpted at the end a great deal from an 1859 printing of a 'Cyclopedia' on the topic of Easter.  I haven't stopped to check what a modern 'Encyclopedia' says about Easter, I just generally like to read the less politically edited versions of old topics.

Old Sayings that caught my Eye or Ear:

     If you find a little calf on Easter Sunday, keep it and raise it, for it will bring you a small fortune. (Darn, wish I'd known that several years back!  I've only ever had one calve on Easter, and I didn't keep the cow and calf!)

     On Easter Sunday blow a loud horn into the cattle-house, and as far as the sound is heard, so far it will wild beasts keep away for the year.  (Okay, I'm on board for this one, and will be blowing a fog horn through all the pastures!)

     Egg rolling on Easter day used to be practiced with the idea that the farm lands over which the eggs were rolled would be sure to yield abundantly at harvest time.  (I'm too old, not to mention clumsy, to do this one.)

Really old Red Oak Burned up by a Lightening Strike
 a few days ago; fortunately, no cattle were in the pasture - April 2012
     In Catholic times, in England, people used to put out their fires on Easter day and would relight them from a flint. It was thought that a brand from this fire was a sure protection from thunder storms.  (We might need to figure out how to accomplish a modern version of this custom!  Lightening strikes have been many and fierce this spring!)

"At Easter let your clothes be new, Or else be sure, you will it rue."  In many countries it is a very general custom to wear new clothes on Easter Sunday and it is considered bad luck to wear old clothes. In East Yorkshire is the saying, that the birds, especially rooks or "crakes," will spoil the clothes, unless the person wears something new on Easter day.  (I do look back fondly mostly at new dresses for Easter Sunday, mostly, as some of them were awfully stuffy and itchy . . . Note in East Yorkshire you wear new clothes or a bird might poop on you, but in Gloucestershire it was good luck if a bird pooped on your new bonnet!)

     It is lucky to put on a new bonnet on Easter day, and still more lucky if a bird leaves a mark on it. (Gloucestershire, England.)
In Devonshire, the maidens rise early on Easter morning to see the dancing sun and in the center of its disk a lamb and a flag.  In Scotland, superstition had it, that the sun even whirled round like a mill-wheel and gave three leaps. This unusual merriment of the sun could be seen in its reflection in a pool or a pail of water, the movement of which of course caused or strengthened the illusion.  An Irish woman declared that she had seen the sun dance for joy on Easter morning: "It gave three skips just as it came over the hill, for I saw it with my own eyes!"  (This is a very old belief, and maybe is the root of the modern day Sunrise Service on Easter?)

On Easter day the water is believed to possess many exceptional properties, peasants ride their horses into the water early in the morning to ward off sickness. Girls wash their faces with the morning dew, to improve their beauty. Water drawn with the stream and while the wind is due east, is supposed to have great healing virtue. Much importance is attached to rain or shine on Easter day:
"A good deal of rain on Easter Day Gives a crop of good grass, but little good hay."
     Who steps not barefoot on the floor on Easter day, will be safe from fever; and if you bathe with cold water on Easter day, you will keep well the whole year.  (I see no reason not to keep this tradition up, and it is so unseasonably hot these days a cold shower shouldn't be a problem at all!)

Vintage Easter Greeting Card - Quite Appropriate, and I have lots
of Newborn Kittens to Back that up - Need a Kitty Kat?
On the traditional Easter Egg: 
"The custom of the Christians to present Easter-eggs as a symbol of the resurrection, has been adopted from the peoples of the East, particularly the Persians, where the egg was since the most ancient times symbolical of creation, or the re-creation of Spring. In Christian countries the Easter-eggs were painted red in allusion to the blood of the Redeemer.
The usage of interchanging eggs at Easter has also been referred for its origin to the egg games of the Romans which they celebrated at the time of our Easter, when they ran races in an egg-shaped ring, and the victor received eggs as a prize. These games were instituted in honor of Castor and Pollux who came forth from an egg, deposited by Leda, after Jupiter had visited her in the shape of a swan.
Others allege that the custom was borrowed from the Hebrews who at the passover set on the table two unleavened cakes and two pieces of lamb. To this they added some small fishes because of the leviathan, a hard egg because of the bird Zig, and some meal because of the behemoth.
In some remote districts of France it is still customary for the priest of the parish to go around to each house at Easter and bestow on it his blessing. In return he received eggs, plain and painted.
In Italy an egg dyed scarlet like the cloak of a Roman Cardinal is carried by some for luck all the year round.
It is very unlucky to give away a colored egg that has been presented to you at Easter."

On the history of Easter as presented in 1859: 


"EASTER, the festival of the resurrection of our Lord, or the Christian passover. The English name Easter and the German Oitern have been supposed by some writers to be derived from the name of the feast of the Teutonic goddess Ostera (the goddess of spring), which was celebrated by the ancient Saxons in the spring, and for which the early missionaries substituted the Christian festival.

According to Adelung, both the English and the German words are derived from the old Saxon word otter, oaten, which signifies rising, because nature arises anew in the spring. According to the Mosaic law, the passover among the Jews was celebrated on the 14th day of the month Abib, afterward called Nisan, that is, within a day or two before or after the vernal equinox. The early Christians differed in regard to the time of celebrating Easter.

The churches in the West, taught, as they declared, by St. Philip and St. Paul, observed the nearest Sunday to the full moon of Nisan, without taking account of the day on which the passover was celebrated. The Asiatic churches, on the other hand, in accordance as they said with the tradition derived from St. John, followed the Jewish calendar, and adopting the 14th of Nisan as the day of the crucifixion, celebrated the festival of Easter on the 3rd day following, whatever day of the week that might be.

Saving occasional disputes, matters continued in this state until the time of Constantino, who had the subject brought before the council of Nice (A. D. 325). The question was fully discussed, and finally settled for the whole church by adopting the rule which makes Easter day to be always the first Sunday after the full moon which happens upon or next after March 21; and if the full moon happen on a Sunday, Easter day is the Sunday after.

By this arrangement Easter may come as early as March 22, or as late as April 25.—This sacred festival has been termed the queen of festivals; it has been observed from the very beginning, and it is celebrated in every part of the Christian world with great solemnity and devotion. The primitive Christians very early on the morning of Easter saluted each other with the words: " Christ is risen;" to which the response was made : " Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon." The Greek church still retains this custom.

In nearly all Christian countries the recurrence of Easter has been celebrated with various ceremonies, popular sports, and superstitions. Among the best known is the English custom of making presents of colored eggs, called pasche or paste eggs, which were often elaborately ornamented ; and in a royal roll of the time of Edward I., preserved in the tower, appears an entry of 18d. for 400 eggs to be used for this purpose.

Colored eggs were used by children at Easter in a sort of game which consists in testing the strength of the egg shells, and this practice is retained in many places in England and the United States. In some parts of Ireland the legend is current that the sun dances in the sky on Easter Sunday morning. This was once a prevailing superstition in England also, which Sir Thomas Browne, the author of "Inquiry into Vulgar Errors," thought it not superfluous to declare unfounded."

For lots of old traditions and superstitions surrounding Easter and other events see:  Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Pg. 1515.

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