By Baxter Black: PNT columnist
In my travels I continue to be amazed by the technologies being used in ranching and feedlot operations.
The close monitoring, record keeping and decision-making as a result of implant or ear tag scanning and computer tracking of individual beasts is fine-tuning and improving our productive efficiency.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Dr. Darrell is a cow veterinarian and theriogenologist, as am I. We were waxing nostalgic about the good ol’ days when, despite our valuable medical opinion and sage advice, we didn’t always get the message across.
Darrell told of preg-checking a pasture full of dairy heifers in southern Colorado. The farmer, Leroy we’ll call him, had dumped a few black bulls in with the heifers.
About halfway into the bunch Darrell palpated something odd. The heifer he was in had no uterus and no ovaries. To an experienced vet it’s as obvious as reaching into your pocket and suddenly finding no car keys.
“This heifer is open,” he told Leroy. “She’s a freemartin.”
Leroy looked puzzled. The good doctor explained at length the congenital conditional, defined hermaphrodite, and the prognosis: She would never be capable of conceiving. He even drew diagrams in the dirt, then suggested the heifer be put into a feedlot and eaten.
Leroy nodded seriously, then turned her out of the chute. He instructed his helper, “Put her back in with the bulls, her ovaries haven’t come down.”
Darrell continued his tales:
He was on an 800-head Nevada cow ranch that had never done preg-checking. His grandpa didn’t believe in it. But the young rancher wanted to modernize. Darrell painstakingly explained the importance of culling open cows to prevent Trichomoniasis and improve production. They cut the cattle two ways — open and bred.
Darrell was not surprised by the 50 percent conception rate. While he was rinsing out his bucket, he glanced up to see the young rancher mixing the cows back together.
The young rancher acknowledged it was good to know how many calves to expect, but Grandpa always said the place would run 800 cows and who could argue with that?
Once, a company I was working for bought a ranch in northern California. I went down to inventory the cows.
With the crew I prechecked 2,200 head and sorted them into open, bred and old. They had a good set of corrals so I didn’t bother to mark them. It took three days.
To finalize the deal the boss sent down a crusty ol’ cattle buyer named Harold. He was experienced, the boss told me.
I woke up morning four to find Harold had turned the cows all together and was gate cutting them himself in the long alley. I was stunned, mad and bumfoozled.
“I sorted these cows, preg checked and mouthed ’em. … It took us three days,” I stammered.
“Sorry, ya wasted yer time, Sonny,” he said. “Anybody can tell if they’re old. And I can tell if they’re bred by the way the hair lays on their back.”