Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Kansas Ag Day: Years in the Making

Today is Kansas Agriculture Day. I'm posting a story about selling feeder cattle last Thursday. But, in reality, the story is about much more than one day selling cattle. The story began when Randy was in high school. He bought a cow, and it produced a calf each year. Then, when he was a junior at K-State in 1977, he bought 35 cows and began renting the Ninnescah pasture, where we still take cow-calf pairs each spring. It was the true beginning of his cow-calf herd.

Much the same, the journey with this crop of feeder calves didn't start and end on one day in March. The calves were born on the County Line more than a year ago, and we have been caring for them ever since. The sale ends one chapter, but the next one has already begun with a new crop of 2015 calves. It also continues with 25 sisters to the yearlings we sold last week. Those 25 heifers will be producing part of our 2016 calf crop.

So the legacy continues. Every day is Ag Day around here, whether we're doing farm work or living everyday life in a rural Kansas community.
Cattle buyers had their phones molded to their ears with just about as much ferocity as teenage girls gossiping about the new boy in school. They pulled the phones from their Wranglers and wedged them underneath their cowboy hats as they took call after call, matching cattle with feedlots' needs.

We were at Pratt Livestock last Thursday to sell 73 feeder cattle.  

According to the sing-song chant of the auctioneers, the buyers undoubtedly were searching for "fussy and fancy heifers" and "green steers."

"There's power in the blood, boys," the auctioneer warbled, touting their lineage. "Look at the length on them, and their bigger sisters are coming right behind them."

The cattle turned in circles in the sale ring, reminding me of my hubby and me at a wedding dance, staying in our own little box.
"We have 7,700 of the best stocker and feeder cattle in the world here today, boys," the auctioneer proclaimed.

Ours were among them, though, thankfully, we didn't have any of the "party girls" that ended up coming through the sale ring twice. (As heifers come through the sale ring, they are guaranteed open, in other words, not pregnant. If the buyer requests it, the heifers are evaluated by a veterinarian. Any that are pregnant are sent back into the ring and sold again so the buyers know what they are getting.)

Our steers averaged 904 pounds apiece. Since we retained 25 of the bigger heifers to breed back for our own cow herd, the heifers we sold were smaller, averaging 746 pounds each.

It was a long day at the sale. We got there just after 10 AM, but our heifers didn't sell until nearly 12:30 PM. It was almost 6 o'clock when our steers went through the sale ring.

But it was worth the wait as we picked up the check.

It isn't just a long day on sale day. Selling feeder cattle is a process that's more than a year in the making. The feeder calves were born to our heifers and cows during the winter of 2014.
They got the eartags starting with "4" to signify that they were born in 2014.

 Through the cold and snow, they grew next to their mamas' sides.
By early May, they had already put on some pounds.
Mama at top and baby below at the Ninnescah Pasture in May.
Then, it was time to go the the summer pastures with their mamas, where they continued to dine on milk and prairie grasses.
We brought them back to the farm in early November and weaned them from their mothers.
They had a visit with the vet before taking up residence in a small pasture closer to home.
 All winter, Randy & Jake fed them silage and hay.
Then, last week, the semi came and picked them up for their ride to Pratt Livestock.
And we were glad to be there when the auctioneer proclaimed, "Sold!"
It may be the end of this chapter. But the next part of the journey is already under way. Every day is Ag Day - whether it gets a special hashtag on Twitter or not.


  1. A great, teaching post! Thanks for showing your year with the calves!

    1. Thanks for being a faithful commenter, Mary Ann!

  2. Sold! A great word to hear at auction! And getting that pay check. We sent a few cull bulls, a couple open heifers, a late late heifer an old granny pair. We also heard that sold word. And none went to slaughter. That was cool.
    Great post in the life of a calf.
    And a huge wow to Randy for buying cows while in college! That's awesome.

    1. Randy always knew what he wanted to do. He started farming some ground (thanks to a great uncle), when he was a sophomore in high school.

      Of course, after we heard "Sold!" and picked up the check, we had to go to the bank to make a payment on a loan the next day. It's all part of the cycle, I guess.

  3. A fascinating post Kim. Love hearing the whole process. The sale day is so very long! Was this a special weaner sale or your normal local sale? And to get a cheque at the end of the day - that's prompt payment!

    1. Pratt Livestock has a sale every Thursday, so it was a regular sale. They do have a few extra sales thrown in from time to time. However, more head went through the sale ring than many weeks, so it was a long sale.

      I agree that we are fortunate that we are able to pick up the check that day. I suppose that it saves them some postage, too.

  4. Excellent re-cap of the "life cycle" of a feeder calf. There are many steps to raising a calf from conception to sale day and you do a great job of "ag-vocating."

    1. Thanks, Robyn! I went to a photo workshop by National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson yesterday. The Kansas Department of Agriculture hosted it as part of the Ag Day celebration. I loved hearing him talk about how he composed some of his photos, which are spectacular! (Of course they would be! They are in National Geographic!)