Another year of feeding calves has come and gone, and Butch and Sundance are in the freezer. Correction: seven freezers.
Our latest Bonebrake Hereford duo went to the processor June 4 after 401 days on pasture and commercial feed. That was a mite longer than I usually feed my steers. Long waiting times for processing slots pushed us past our traditional kill dates, which was likely a good thing. The previous pair we butchered finished at around 1,100 pounds; Butch and Sundance weighed in at 1,250 and 1,350, respectively.
Over that same period they posted average daily gains of 1.7 and 2.1 pounds, respectively — not record-breaking numbers, but respectable gains coming out of a cold, wet winter and weeks of slogging through knee-deep mud from March into June.
No doubt about it, I am my father’s son. He fed every animal he owned every day — morning and night for both his horses and beef cattle. Before we had either of those we had milk cows, which naturally got grain with every milking. It was just natural cattle and horses would get the same regimen. Our hunting dogs, on the other had, were fed just once a day, right after evening milking — always Russell’s job when we were boys.
For as long as I’ve fed cattle of my own, I’ve fed them night and morning, too. I reckon the habit of carrying feed to animals at daybreak and dusk was firmly set in my psyche as a boy milking cows. It’s just second nature.
But, there’s more to it. I start feeding my new calves about as soon as they get off the trailer. Within a couple of days those skittish 300-400 pound feeders that initially ran like deer to the farthest corner of the place are bawling at the gate night and morning. I’m not deceived by their feigned friendliness. I know I’ve just begun to resemble a 50-pound Purina feed sack.
While I don’t try to make pets of them, I give my calves names and spend time around them. After all, I only have two, not 200, and the more comfortable they become with me, the easier they are to handle when it’s time to get them back on the trailer a year later. My current pair, by the way, are a steer and a heifer dubbed Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia by my Star Wars savvy grandson.
From a purely economic standpoint, the way I feed my calves might not be profitable if I were trying to make a living at it. After I add feed costs to the initial cost of buying the calves, it’s seldom much more than a break-even proposition; but, I’ve yet to lose money. This time around the sections I sold to seven families paid all my costs and left us with the remaining quarter of beef. When I figure the time spent raising those steers, the return per hour is a far cry from the $15 an hour protesting workers are clamoring for, but I’m tickled pink with beef in the freezer and enough from the sales to do it all over again next year.
All I ever aim for is growing the best beef possible for my family and friends. I can feel good about that, and I don’t have to pay anyone to brush hog my fields. Moreover, I get to visit with the guys at the feed store and carry grain to calves just like my dad did.
He’d like that, and that, alone, is reason enough to do it.
Copyright 2021, James E. Hamilton; email firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of his works in Ozarks RFD 2010-2015, available online or from the author.