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Down the Cow Path

Nothing strikes as much fear in the heart of a cow calf operator as a phone call in the summer. It usually comes an hour or so before dark. The message is short and makes your stomach do flip-flops: Your cows are out!

So far this year it has happened only once, but it came as I getting out of the shower, getting ready to go to the band concert in Princeton. Luckily, the neighbor who called helped me get them in and helped in fixing the fence. By 8:30 that night, we were finally able to go home and hit the showers, again. Electric fencing is quick and inexpensive to put up, but deer, weeds, multiflora rose and falling branches tend to render it useless. Once cows get out they seem to think it is their right to get in the neighbors’ fields, so for the last two weeks, a lot of time has been spent walking fences and keeping them clear of debris and in working order.

After a wet and late start, the crops are finally looking good. Corn is tasseling, and the beans are growing. We also just finished our second cutting of hay and are in good shape with about 169 bales of winter feed. Mowing of waterways and roadsides along with cleaning out corn bins takes up a lot of our summer also.

The cows and calves are doing great and are in very good condition. The wet cool spring promoted good grass growth in the pastures. In late June, I started mowing parts of the pasture to keep the grass from getting too tall. Cows won’t eat taller older grass, and if it gets too tall, it may scratch their eyes as they get their heads down to the more tender grass underneath. Scratched eyes may lead to “pink eye,” which left untreated may lead to blindness. Mowing keeps the grass fresher, reduces the chance of pink eye and helps to control weed populations.

One big problem facing cattlemen in the summer is fly populations. Flies can cause stress in the cattle, which reduces weight gain and milk production. There are two main fly species that the Midwest cattlemen need to worry about — the horn fly and the face fly.

The horn fly is a small blood-sucking insect that feeds on the backs, sides and shoulders of cattle. Face flies feed on the secretions around the eyes and heads of cattle. In addition to irritating the skin, they can spread pink eye.

To help in controlling these flies, producers can use insecticide rubs, insecticide dust bags, oil rubs and sprays, and we feed Rabon lick tubs. The Rabon goes through the cow’s system and ends up in their feces. Since the feces have the insecticide, and this is where the flies lay their eggs, it controls the population by killing the eggs. Every 10 days or so the cows come up to the barn for salt, fresh water and the lick tubs. When we see them in the barn, we can check for fly control and if needed, spray them then with extra controls.

We also control flies on the calves by giving them insecticide-treated fly tags. This was done in late May when we also gave them shots for worms, red nose, black leg and back, poured them for lice, and short term fly control.

We also castrate the bull calves at this time. Since I knew I had about at least 20 bull calves, I thought it would be a good idea to save the “Rocky Mountain Oysters” to fry up at a later date. The vet saved the “oysters” in a palpation glove (a long sleeve used when pregnancy checking) to keep them clean and in a safe place. When we were all finished for the day, I put the glove in the refrigerator to cool the “oysters” before a final cleaning, and I headed to the shower. Just as I got out of the shower, I heard my wife screaming “What the @#%* is in my refrigerator?”

I thought she was gone for the afternoon, and I would have things cleaned up before she got home. How wrong I was! A lot of fast talking and promises got me out of trouble, this time, but it will be the last time I keep “oysters!”

On a final note I hope to see everyone this weekend at Beef and Ag Days, Friday night at Soldiers and Sailors Park and Saturday at the fairgrounds. Friday night enjoy the singing and the all-beef hot dogs and rib eye sandwiches. Saturday take in the Jackpot Steer and Heifer show and a full meal of beef, sweet corn and ice cream.

Don’t forget, we do have drive-up service both days if the weather is too hot.

Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.

Larry Magnuson farms south of Tiskilwa.

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