It’s finally spring! The young calves are kicking up their heels under the watchful eye of a guarding mom as the weather begins to warm.
The calving season began on Valentine’s Day for my dad. It has been one exciting calving season since that day. For me, my first calf hit the ground on March 12. A cute, big brown-eyed heifer (a female) calf. My first heifer calf was followed by two more heifers. One of my heifer calves had to be birth-assisted by my dad and me. This involved pulling the calf while the mother cow pushed. What an experience that was for both of us! As usual, with each calving season we ended up with a couple bucket calves to feed.
Now that spring is here, it’s time to start preparing the show heifers and steers for the upcoming show season. The halters are on, and now it is time to start walking them around. Once the weather is warmer than 70 degrees, the animals will be getting baths outside; for now though the animals will be washed in my dad’s heated shop.
On sad news, my dad had to put down his main herd bull. The bull slipped on some ice during the thaw and refreeze we had early this spring. He was paralyzed in the back muscle near his tail, and was not able to get up again. There were some tears shed that day. Even though the cow/calf operation is a business, there is still a family attachment that is formed with each animal. The bull will be missed, but we move on and make adjustments to keep the business going.
With calving season winding down to an end, it’s time to think about next year. To prepare for these hard decisions about what bull to breed to which cow will be made in the near future. Most of my cows are artificial inseminated (A.I.), and some will be put with my dad’s herd bull. What I look for in a bull is a combination of growth rate scores and carcass ability. This will more likely result in a lean, meaty market animal. I also look for a bull that will continue to improve my herd from what I have used in the past.
So far this year I have been involved in the LaMoille FFA Livestock Judging Team. There are six members who have shown great interest in judging livestock. The team has had moderate success; we may not be the top team, but we are just trying to get our name out there. Livestock judging often involves more than just cattle, it includes all livestock. The LaMoille FFA chapter participated at the Illinois Beef Expo, the third weekend in February. The event was a great experience; there were participants anywhere from an 8-year-old 4-Her to a 19-year-old FFA student, judging the cattle. When judging a beef cow there are four qualities to look for: The structure soundness, the muscle quality and body depth, how they walk, and even how the feet look. Each of these qualities are major components to judging a female cow. For a steer (a fixed market beef animal), the qualities are the same, but there needs to be more muscle, frame and consideration on how fat or finished the steers are.
Also on the third weekend of February there was a sale at the Illinois Beef Expo. At that sale I did the unthinkable; I bought an Angus heifer. My father stood grinning ear to ear when I bought that heifer. I was not the only one in the decision on this heifer. I had brought a friend along with me. We had studied a long time on each animal before we picked the one. First we looked at the animal, and then looked at the numbers that will follow this heifer. We even watched the animal’s walk and studied their body structure closely. I know our decision on which heifer to buy was a good one based on all the information we had at our disposal. The Angus heifer purchased will be a great show heifer and a good addition to my Simmental herd.
On March 20, the Bureau County Farm Bureau held an Ag Fair at the Bureau County Fairgrounds to teach the fourth-graders in the Bureau County area about agriculture. I was able to take one of my heifers that I am going to show this summer and talked with the fourth grade classes. I spoke to the fact that a cow isn’t a type of beef breed, but that’s what we like to call them instead of cattle. I also taught the students that these cattle would be fed for meat production, the life cycle of a beef cow and what a full-size market calf would weigh. As there was a milk cow at Ag Fair too, I pointed out the differences between the milk cow and the beef cow.
Kaitlyn Hildebrand is a sophomore at LaMoille High School and works on her family cow/calf operation in Ohio.