Tuesday, April 2, 2013

By the Numbers

Meet  R53 on the left and R3 on the right.
I'm a word girl. Numbers are my nemesis. If Mr. Bissell were still around, he would tell you it was true. The dear man taught math at Skyline High. He probably thought he had a permanent appendage, since I was up at his desk, glued to his side, day after day, hoping he could help me figure out the mystery that was algebra.
Thankfully, numbers in the cattle lot don't require an equation. But then another of my less stellar qualities comes into play. I have horrible eyesight. I have glasses on before I get out of bed in the morning, and I lay them down only after I've crawled into bed at night.

So a job that requires numbers and keen vision seems like the perfect job for someone like me, right? OK, maybe not. But, as I remind Randy, you get what you pay for.

The mission was to find Cow No. F53. One challenge is that there are two F53s in our herd. Though I'm not known for my skill with numbers, this particular snafu was not my fault. We discovered the duplicate numbers last fall when the veterinarian's assistant was recording numbers as we worked cattle through the chute.

One lucky No. F53 is older, and Randy plans to cull her from the herd next fall. When that F53 had its baby this winter, he tagged the calf with No. 3005, so that we could identify the pair.

But then, we had to figure out which Mom belonged to baby No. 3005.

Right when we entered the pasture, I thought we had a winner when a brown white face calmly stared into the pickup cab.

"That's F53," I exclaimed. "Oh, no, wait. It's R53."

Across the way, I saw another contender cooling off in a mud puddle.

"There she is. Oh ... nope, R3. Sorry."

Then, a minor miracle occurred.
Meet the black F53 on the left and the black/white face F53 on the right.
The two number F53s were standing, practically side by side, at the feedbunks. How did we get that lucky?

Still, we needed to figure out which was the Mom to No. 3005.
He was hanging out under some old trees, just slipping into my camera viewfinder, as I focused on his cute little black/white face pasture mate. He scampered off, kicking up his heels like a defiant toddler playing in the afternoon sun, still not giving us an inkling as to whether he belonged to the black F53 or the black/white face F53.
Thankfully, the calf belonging to black/white face F53 needed a snack. (Though you can't really see from this photo, the calf looks like its Mom, with white face and some white on its belly.)

So calf No. 3005 belongs to the all black cow. Mission accomplished. Notes were made on the handy-dandy paper list, and we'll know which pair to cull.

So why are we looking to reduce the size of our herd? Because of two years of drought, we will have to take one-third fewer cow/calf pairs to the Rattlesnake Pasture. Randy and his cousin, Don, made the decision based on less grass available. Together in 2012, they had 91 pair of cows/calves and 3 bulls at the pasture. This spring, Randy will take 13 fewer pairs to the Rattlesnake.

We don't appear to be the only ones reducing our herd this spring. Central Livestock Sale Barn in Hutchinson has a special cow sale next Tuesday, April 9, and 13 of our pairs are consigned for that auction. We're taking a group of identical aged 3-year-old cows with their second calf by their sides. Hopefully, a matched younger pair will bring more money than older cows and their calves.

This group was also easier to sort out than other groups. Location, location, location. It's not just something on House Hunters. These pairs were at the barn corral just to the east of our house. The facilities and pens made it easier to sort the pairs we were selling.
Randy had his eye on these cows from the beginning of the calving season, since he knew we would have to take fewer pairs to pasture. As their calves were born (even in a snowstorm), we put tags in them right away and recorded the calf number and the corresponding cow number.
No, the computer hasn't come to the cow lot. He records it on paper, just like I used to in Mr. Bissell's math class. Let's hope Randy's number skills and figuring are more successful than mine for the sale next week.

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