Monday, June 7, 2010
When I was young and dumb (ok, ok, maybe just "uneducated") I did not fully understand other sectors of the beef industry, therefore I was unable to appreciate all the gears it takes to make our wheels go round in the cattle business.
I grew up on a cow/calf operation in western Maryland where small farms are common but were just that - small. And agriculture was limited to cow/calf operations, small farrowing operations, a few chickens for laying and eating, a few lambs that were possibly shown at county shows, a horse here and there, a little corn, a lot of gardens, pasture, and hay. It was not until I left home when I was 18 that I really saw what the agriculture industry had to offer and what it really meant to raise cattle.
While in Kentucky I experienced large scale cow/calf operations and how non-challenging it can be to keep a cow who raises a calf on "tall grass and sweet water" (Thank you, Dr. Wistuba, for forever engraining that phrase into my mind...) with the right management techniques.
I had the opportunity to go on a short trip out to the Panhandale of Texas at the beginning of last summer to see feeding cattle at it's finest. With feedlots of 100,000 head of cattle being finished for slaughter, it kind of brings a new meaning to the word "fattening."
Last summer while interning in western Arkansas for the USDA-Ag Research Service, I saw what "stockering" was all about... Field after field after field of 400-800 lb. stocker calves grazing grasses of all kinds, preparing themselves for the feeder stage.
Here in Oklahoma I am seeing what it's like to manage a cow herd on native prairie grass... something that a farmer from where I came from would think is insanity. Some of these ol' girls require up to 50 acres per cow/calf pair, depending on the area of the rangeland. That's a far cry from the 2 acre per pair stocking rate I came from. Talk about strategic planning and management - the epitome of "risk management."
And today with so many different areas of the cattle industry coming into the spotlight - Grass Fed, All-Natural, Organic, Home-Raised - it's easy to get caught up in the buzz.
However, yesterday I experienced a sector of our industry that I have never experienced - I went to a bucking bull sale. Don't get me wrong, I've been to my fair share of rodeos and bull rides, but never have I witnessed what goes on "behind the scenes." D&H Cattle Co. of Ardmore, Oklahoma had a sale - you wanna talk about an educational experience. Some of these bloodlines are so respected in the bucking bull industry, people will pay out the wazoo for a yearling bull sired by [insert name of famous bull here]. But honestly it was incredible and very intriguing to observe the buyers and the cattle sold at these sales - both cow/calf pairs and bulls alike. Some of the most famous bulls owned by D&H Cattle Co. include: Coppertop, Mossy Oak Mudslinger, Night Moves, Fandango, Copperhead, Crossfire Hurricane, Western Wishes, and Hotel California.
Displayed at the sale on a huge tv were these bulls with "bucking dummies" on their backs to show how well each of the yearlings bucked on their first try. It reminded me of a young teenage athlete - one who will certainly be great in his day, but is still too young and clumsy to know just how to put it all together. These bulls will be enetered in "futurities," which are essentially like prospect shows in the show cattle business. There is a points system and money winnings and the bulls that score the highest in these futurities will be ranked the highest when they are invited to the PBR or other rodeo associations.