I know people want to picture cattle blissfully grazing away in green pastures. We like having our cattle grazing on green pastures, too.
But when November rolls around in Central Kansas, there are not a lot of green pastures to be found - not even factoring in an unseasonably warm fall.
So since the beginning of November, we've been sorting and moving cattle from their summer homes.
We had moved the heifers to a pasture near Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in early September. We use rotational grazing during the summer. Once the heifers had eaten down the grasses in one pasture, we moved them to another.
But on a beautiful fall day, the grasses, the tree and even the sky looked a bit different two months later. The lush greens of September had turned to the browns of November.
Of course, the only critters hanging around the corrals and barn were the bulls, who we didn't need to catch. It's one of the inevitable "rules" of cattle round-up time.
As I waited for Jake to round up the heifers from the far corners of the pasture and bring them over the hill toward the corral, I thought it looked just like a movie set. I was waiting with anticipation, watching for the moment the herd would crest the hill. (Yes, haven't we already established that I have a vivid imagination? Throw in the theme song from Bonanza and, well, you have my unique view of the world.) But instead of seeing the heifers being guided by a cowboy on his horse, I saw the Fritzemeier Farm version: We have four wheels, not four legs on our "horse."
Randy and I were on foot to help guide them toward the corrals.
But ... Not so fast.
We had an escapee. One heifer decided she preferred to hang out with the bulls and jumped the fence. Jake convinced her otherwise.
We hauled the heifers to the farmstead, where the young mamas-to-be had their first "obstetrics" appointment.
At least, we hoped they were mamas in the making after being with bulls for the past 6 months or so.
To find out, the veterinarian, Dr. David Harder, did a "preg check," a physical examination to determine if the heifer was pregnant. There were three who weren't. We will fatten them and use them for meat in the freezer.
We run the heifers through a lane into a squeeze chute to safely restrain the animal and also to keep the people involved safe.Then Dr. Harder also estimated how far along the pregnancy was by the size of the baby.
The process has gone high-tech. Using a laptop computer, his vet assistant recorded the ear tag number of each heifer, made a notation about how far the pregnancy had advanced and recorded the shots given to each animal.
I know there are people who don't believe any type of shots should be given to animals grown for human consumption. However, we do have the veterinarian give shots to the heifers, cows and calves as they go through the chute.
The heifers and cows are given a blackleg booster shot. Blackleg is a highly fatal disease of the skeletal and heart muscle of cattle. We also give a combination shot that prevents leptospiriosis and BVD. Leptospiriosis is an bacterial infection that may cause abortion or stillbirth. BVD stands for Bovine Viral Diarrhea - 'nuff said. Dr. Harder also gave a shot as a dewormer to control parasites like worms, lice and liver flukes.
(He had a fancier shot system than I'm used to. The medicine was hung from the chute in thermal containers to keep it cool and the syringes were kept in an ice chest to keep the medicine cool and the tools clean.)
Dr. Harder gave the heifers a shot of Scour Bos. The vaccination helps prevent scours (diarrhea) in their babies.
Cattlemen want to produce healthy cattle. It's better for the cattle, and it's also better for the bottom line.
Just like we gave recommended vaccinations to our children, we believe it's important to give our cattle every medical advantage to have a healthy life.
We humans take medicines to lower our blood pressure and lower our cholesterol and for a myriad of other conditions. We take medications when we are sick to help us get better. It's the same principle for the animals we care for. It's part of our stewardship of the animals to provide the best care possible.
After the heifers had their "doctor's appointment," Randy and Jake hauled them to graze on milo stalks. They also have access to a mineral mix of calcium, magnesium and vitamins in feeder tubs.
Once the heifers have eaten down the stalks, we'll move them to corrals for the winter, where we'll feed them the silage, sudan bales and alfalfa hay that we harvested during the summer.
And then, we'll wait for the babies. For the heifers, that process should begin in late January or early February.
Welcome to the County Line version of a maternity ward.