Weaning, Shipping and Preg Checking

I know, I know. Sometimes it sounds like we ranchers are speaking a different language. But don’t fret! We’re about ready to explain what “weaning,” “shipping,” and “preg checking” are…

Weaning day is also shipping day for us. That means the calves that were sold last summer on a video sale and the females we keep (called replacement heifers), have been separated from their mothers and moved to another pasture. The steers (castrated males) have a new home in Nebraska, some of the heifers (females who haven’t given birth) in Montana, and the replacements are home in Lander for the winter.

Timmery Hellyer works the gate during sorting and shipping time on their family ranch near Lander, Wyo.

Our steer calves are sold on a video sale. The video is a basic form of forward contracting. It is a really good way for a rancher to show and offer the animals for sale without having to physically move them to a place where they can be seen. A video sale is broadcast live on satellite TV and generally happens on the internet as well.

Shipping day begins with the neighbors arriving to help and everyone rides through the pasture to gather the cattle and start the weaning. Sometimes it gets a little noisy as the calves start hollering for their moms. Once inside the corral the cattle are sorted into groups of cows and groups of calves. The cows are then penned by themselves and the calves are then sorted into steers and heifers. This is called sexing.

After the sexing comes shipping. At shipping the steer and heifer calves that make the grade for size and shape, called the “sellers,” are loaded onto trucks and their journey to a new home begins. The replacements and everything else also get a ride to a new home.

The day after weaning we start pregnancy testing. Testing takes the neighbors’ help as well. Testing reveals whether the animal is bred (pregnant) or open (not pregnant). The entire herd is worked through a chute and sorted two ways when they exit the test. The bred cows are let back onto pasture and the culls (cows that are either bred late, are open, or are old) are moved to a place where then can’t mix back into the herd. Sometime later this fall or winter the culls will be sold to someone else.

Cattle are worked through a hydraulic chute while the veterinarian checks whether they are bred or not. These livestock handling systems are efficient and safe for both the cattle and the operators.

With shipping and testing over at our place it is now our neighbors turn and we will soon begin returning the help to everyone who helps us. Just like at branding, if we didn’t have our neighbors, life would be a lot more work.

From RealRancher Jim Hellyer – Lander, Wyo.

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