Last weekend, my sister and I drove out to the country for November’s installment of our farm project. We had intended on coming back to the city Saturday night or Sunday morning, but due to the first big snowstorm of 2012, we got stuck on Mom and Dad’s yard until Monday morning. It was a lot of fun though… Dad made us popcorn, Mom cooked delicious meals, I had mid-day naps, and we played several games of bien (a Belgian card game that I love). Our main focus for the weekend though was attending Saturday’s cattle sale, in which my brother Gordie had six bred heifers up for auction.
The cattle in this sale were being sold as breeding stock, meant to build up cow-calf herds. All of the cattle were of the Simmental breed, which originated in Switzerland and is among the oldest and most widely distributed of all breeds of cattle in the world. My brother has spent the last 30 years building up his cow-calf herd, selecting specific bloodlines to bring out the traits that he wants. Breeders are known for their stock’s performance, and cattle are purchased with that in mind. Sales ranged (partially depending on whether the heifer was bred or open), with the highest going for $5,000 and the lowest going for $1,700.
The week previous, my brother also brought four animals to the Manitoba Livestock Expo in Brandon — a bull calf, a yearling bull and a cow with her heifer calf. He sold the cow and her calf, in a sale there.
In August of each year, Gordie picks out which animals he will show and/or sell, and at that time, he begins feeding them a specific grain ration. In October, he begins halter breaking the sale animals. He tries to pick animals that have a good nature to begin with (very nervous or wild cattle are very difficult to tame, and often can’t be tamed).
This is the process for halter-breaking cattle:
Day 1: Catch and put halter on animal, tie to fence post and leave alone for a couple of hours. This lets the heifer or bull get used to being tied to a fence. Remove halter from animal and let be free in the corral again.
Day 2: Catch animal again and tie to fence. This time, Gordie will also comb the animal or use the hairdryer. This is to get the animal more used to him being in close range. After a few days, they enjoy being combed.
Day 3: Catch the animal, tie to fence, feed it the grain ration, comb or blow dry, lead the animal a few steps and then release.
After about seven days, most animals will be quiet and willing to be lead. This is important because in the sale environment, they need to be calm so they show at their best. As well, Gordie needs to be able to lead them from their pen to the auction ring, etc.
Another method Gordie uses to get the animals used to other people (including kids) is to bring them to Warren & Nicole’s yard for a few days prior to bringing them to the sale location. The kids job is to go talk to the cattle a few times a day. Gordie feeds them there, and leads them to water twice a day. Then when he goes to Brandon, the cattle aren’t dealing with a fear of people.
Gordie goes to the show or sale a few days before the event. This helps the cattle to settle down and again, get used to other people. It also gives Gordie time to prepare the animals. He washes each of them with soap and water (this will probably be the only bath that these cattle get in their lifetime) and gives them a haircut. Basically, he trims the hair along the shoulders, back and hips. The hair on their head will have been cut very short two or three weeks before.
It’s amazing watching the amount of work and effort that goes into ensuring the cattle look their best at the sale. I’d say the majority of them had prettier hair than I do!