Monday, May 21, 2012

Teach Me Tuesday: Sale Barns

So the last 2 weekends in our house have been spend at Chester Livestock Exchange for special sales.  Really that isn't unusual for someone in our household to spend at least two days a week at the sale barn, since my husband is the barn manager there, however lil man & I don't typically hit up the sale barn during a normal week.  Wyatt loves to go and watch his daddy sort cows, watch the auction and unfortunately try to bid on a few head while we are there.  Since I know some of you may have never seen a sale barn at work I thought I would give you a little tour and explain something that you may or may not know.  

Behind the sales ring is a maze of alleyways and pens.  Pens are numbers and cows are sorted based on a variety of traits.  Depending on the sale it could be type i.e. a steer (castrated male) a heifer (a young female ) cow (a female that has had a calf and bull (intact male) or it could be by weight, color, or seller.  During a typical sale during the week cows are weighed as they enter the ring this allows the buyers (most who are purchasing cows to use as beef) to know how much cow they are buying...its kinda important because you are buying by the pound.  So $1 doesn't sound like a lot but if it's a 1,600 lb cow that equals $1600 which could make quite a dent in your pocketbook.  

The pens are used to hold the cattle until the are ready to be sold.  Cows have access to water and hay prior to sale time.  In the picture above William is sorting cows and calves.  The goal is to get all the cows in one pen and the calves in another.  

This is done to make it easier to match up the correct cow and calf prior to entering the ring.  It's important when you are selling pairs (cow and calf together) to make sure you have the right calf and cow.  

This is the side of the barn most people see...the sales ring.  Cows come in one side and leave on the other.  Wyatt likes to be as close as he can to the sales ring.  According to him it gets him a better view of the cows and the auctioneer can see him better when he wants to bid!  (FYI he's not allowed to bid but try to tell him that).    

This is the crowd from Saturday's special sale.  This sale was a good many cow/calf pairs, bred cows and heifers and some open cows/heifers.  Open means that the cow isn't going to have a calf in the next 9 months.  Most of the time these cows are sold for hamburger meat.  

You can barely see the cow and her calf in the ring in this picture.  But they enter the ring together on the one side of the ring and exit on the opposite.  The guys working the ring do their best to keep the cows calm.  The auctioneer assist them in getting the cows out of the ring quickly.  The sales ring is a new place for the cows and some become agitated quickly.  It is safer for the cows and the people for them to remain as calm as possible.  An auctioneer that requires an animal to stay in the ring too long risk causing injury to the ring workers and the animal.  Most livestock auctioneers do a great job of only allowing the animal in the right for a minute or two.  

Wyatt is being a spy!

Cows and calves waiting in pens out back for their turn in the ring.  That yellow box looking thing in the back ground is an automatic waterer.  This allows the cows and calves to always have access to clean, fresh water.  You can also see that the cows are laying in the remainder of the hay that they were fed.  Pens at a sale barn are cleaned often to ensure the health of all the animals who enter them.  

The newest calf...this calf was actually born at the sale barn the night prior to the sale.  

Wyatt has spotted the newborn calf and realizes that it doesn't know the rule of the game yet.

Note that as Wyatt goes to pet the calf the other calf gets out of the way...he knows the drill

Wyatt spent a good 10 minutes petting the calf

Its amazing at 4 he has learned that you have to be slow and gentle with a calf if you want to touch it.  Hollering and running won't help you get close to a calf or a cow.  Wyatt has learned this by watching our family work cows.  My husband is one of the calmest, quietest people I know.  He learned early in life to "read" a cow and knows how to approach them to make them move.  This method is much better for the cows because they remain calm and much safer for William because calm cows rarely attack.  And yes cows will attack you!

I think he has a new friend.

This was Wyatt's favorite cow of the day...please note that this cow has ear...which means there is some Brahman influence in her.  All of these cows are open which means they aren't going to have a calf.

Most all sale barns I have ever been to have a catwalk which allows buyers to walk over the top of the pens to view the cattle.  During the weekly sale this is much safer option that the alleys.  

Santa Gerturdis Cow/calf pair in the ring

After the sale is complete the buyers bring their trucks to the loading area.  The loading area has chutes and alleys to help move the cows calmly from pens to the trailers.  The loading area also has a lift so that the cows walk up a gently incline to get on the trailer instead of having to jump up.  

Loading alley

As each trailer pulls in the driver gives William a slip of paper called a load slip.  This slip has information about who bought what cows.  It is important that people get the cows they purchase.  After all the cows are loaded on a trailer William compares the load slip to what's on the trailer just to double check everything is correct before letting the buyer leave.  

I hope this gives you a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes at a livestock sale barn.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact me or leave them in the comment section.  

Until next time--


Friday, May 11, 2012

Foodie Friday: Caring for livesetock

This week has been a hard one for the livestock industry.  
Earlier in the week HSUS released an animal abuse video reportedly taken on a swine farm out West.  
The video is very graphic and disturbing.
After much thought and reading other blogs I decided I would cover this as well.  

First let me say we do NOT condone this type of behavior from anyone in the livestock industry and firmly believe that they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.    You can view the video here if you would like.  

Like all industries we have bad apples and agriculture works diligently to get rid of them.  I am appalled by the behavior in this video and the person who videoed it!  How do you allow that to happen and not speak up?  If you are honestly trying to protect the animals you speak up... you don't let it continue and you definitely don't sit on the video for months prior to releasing it.  

So how do we ensure that we are caring for our livestock on our family farm?
The first thing is we have a discussion with all new employees on how we expect our livestock to be treated and the consequences for not treating livestock properly.  We also have implemented low stress handling techniques that are required to be used.   My husband and I have been working to create an on farm livestock handling guide that would be given to all employees including family members.  

We provide food, clean water, and shelter for all of our livestock.  At least one person visually checks on all the dairy heifers, dry cows  sheep and horses daily.  Beef cattle are checked in a rotation (2-3 times/week) as we are a family farm and don't have the man power to check every single cow each day (cows are scattered in pastures from one side of the county to another).  The milk cows are given a once over twice a day by at least 2 people many times its 3 or 4.  And last but not least are our dairy calves...they are checked on when we feed them twice a day.  In addition to all of our daily inspections our vet also comes out once each month to go through the dairy herd with us.  This helps get an extra set of eyes on the cows, heifers, and calves.  We go to great lengths to ensure the health and productivity of all of our livestock.

To show you the lengths we go to on our family farm look at the pictures and descriptions below...

Getting ready to go check fences.  Ensuring that all of our fences are in good condition allows us to keep our animals safe from predators and cars.  

Walking out to check water troughs.  This group of cattle congregating at the trough makes us suspect something isn't working correctly.  In this case it apparently it was just time to chat at the water cooler.

If you look really close you will notice 2 cows and newborn calves.  Now you might be concerned I wasn't closer to really inspect them.  Some cows don't like for you to invade their space for many days after calving, had I tried to get any closer they would have spooked and could have injured themselves or the calves.  

Some cows are much more social able.  This particular cow allows my son to put a halter on her in the pasture and drag her around like a stuffed animal (Please note my son is 4 and weighs 35 lbs...she on the other hand is close to a 1000, so he's not hurting her).  

This is how we check cows now...for multiple reasons
1) Wyatt's not quite ready to ride a horse by himself in a pasture with cows and calves because if his horse spooked he couldn't control him and PawPaw typically checks cows with us and he can't climb in the saddle anymore.  
Side note: I was checking cows on horseback at 8, cows darted out from behind a tree line, spooked horse and he left me with a goose egg above my eye for 2 weeks.

2) The buggy is super quiet and doesn't disrupt them while grazing.  

Please note the cows are following the buggy back to the barn for feeding

Cow waiting in the holding pen at the milk barn.  She is waiting for her turn to enter the line.  Not only are milk cows checked out while they are milking but while they are waiting we check them as well.  

Wyatt goes daily sometimes 3-4 times a day to check, feed, and love on this heifer.  It is his personal heifer and penned with Rachel's show heifer.  These cows get extra special attention around our house.  

The longhorns are kinda like guard dogs they protect the dry cows from predators and on occasion tear down fence.

Ewes are checked daily to ensure they are maintaining weight and doing well.  We also do our best not to interfere with the birthing process if possible.  Our goal is for all of our ewes to lamb unassisted in the pasture and raise lambs to a weaning weight of 60 lbs.  

We use sorting paddles.  These paddles make noise which helps move the animal without us having to get into the animals personal space.  All animals have a flight zone and if you invade the flight zone the animal will do whatever it takes to get away even if that means injuring itself.  To prevent that we use paddle such as these to move and sort cattle.  This is the safest way for animals and people.  My 4 year old is great at helping get up the 2nd group of milk cows using a paddle.  

So now that you have seen how we ensure proper care for our animals its your turn to ask me questions.  Ask me any questions you have about livestock management a chance to win a $25 grocery store gift card!

Until Next Time-



a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wrangler Wednesday

Last weekend were lucky enough to have weather to bale hay...
so that's what happened...hay was baled in every possible field 

William eating lunch in the field...trying to keep Wyatt off his food

Rachel raking hay...


I love this view

Wyatt watching Daddy

Checking out progress on the way to Grandma's & PawPaw's

I love this lil boy

After the t-ball game

One mad Cowboy

Don't forget to check out last Friday's post on Grass Fed vs Grain Fed beef.  Be sure to enter for a chance to win $25 grocery store gift card!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Foodie Friday: Grass Fed vs Grain Fed

Hi!  I hope you all are preparing for a wonderful weekend.  I know ours is booked with work , t-ball, baling hay, working the garden, caring for livestock and a rodeo.  Lil' man may be making his debut in the mutton bustin...if so I will be sure to post pictures on Monday.  

Today is a big day for this little blog of mine. 
 We are announcing the winners of our first giveaway and beginning another giveaway!!!  

So first thing first!  
The winner of the $25 gift certificate to Cotton Hills Farm is 

Mrs. Janette Deas!!! 

The winner of the Bush-N-Vine Visor is 

Amanda Radke!!

Amanda will now be able to show her support for family farms in South Dakota and South Carolina!

Congratulations ladies!!  I will be in touch with both of you about your prizes!!

This is grain fed Country Fried gravy though :( 

Now onto today's blog topic Grain Fed vs Grass Fed. 
 We have a cow-calf operation on our farm.  

Basically we have cows,

 those cows have a calf, 

calf is weaned, 

we sell the calf, 
the cycle repeats.  

The majority of our calves are sold to feedlots in the Midwest to be harvest for meat.  We do raise some of our calves out for ourselves.  When we do this we have them enclosed in a lot like the one in the picture below and feed them grain.

Recently I have had a couple of conversations with other moms who seem to think that grass fed is a better choice for their family.  That sparked some interest in me as to why they might believe that.   So I did some research.  I went to sources that know cattle to find out the facts.    

Replacement Heifer at Sunset
And basically what I discovered is it is all a choice.  Some cattle farmers & ranchers decide to raise their cattle feeding them grain for a portion of their lives while others feed them on grass.  Each type of beef offers value to consumers, all beef is safe and nutritious.  There are 29 cuts of lean beef and lean beef meets the daily value of 10 essential nutrients (i.e. iron, zinc, and B vitamins).  If you want to know more about the nutritional value of meat check out  We are blessed in America to be able to choose what we would like to eat.  And this is another one of those choices.  

Here's the facts so that you can make and informed choice:

Grain-fed beef is the most widely produced beef in the United States. Grain-fed cattle spend
most of their lives grazing pasture before moving to a feedlot for approximately four to six
months where they are fed a carefully balanced diet that usually includes grain. Feeding cattle
a grain-based ration for a small period of time helps improve meat quality and provide a more
tender and juicy product for consumers.
While cattle are in feedlots, owners and managers ensure they have a balanced diet; access to
clean water; room to grow and roam; and overall, humane treatment. To help improve their
productivity, grain-fed cattle may receive growth promotants that have been rigorously tested
and proven safe. (

Grass (Forage) Fed or Grass-Finished Beef

Grass-finished beef refers to how the cattle were managed prior
to harvest and specifically, to the type of diet the cattle consumed. While most cattle spend the
majority of their lives in pastures eating grass before moving to a feedlot for grain-finishing, grassfinished
beef cattle remain on a pasture and forage diet their entire lives.
In October 2007, USDA published standards that give beef farmers and ranchers specific
guidelines about the type of diet acceptable for cattle qualifying for the “grass (forage) fed”
marketing claim.
• Grass and forage should make up the animal’s diet for its entire lifetime, with the
exception of milk consumed prior to weaning.
• It is difficult to produce large quantities of grass-finished beef on a year-round
basis due to seasonality. For this reason, grass-finished beef can be more
expensive, and some grass-finished beef sold in the United States may be
imported from countries with more temperate climates.
Grass-finished beef may have a slightly different fatty acid profile than grain-fed beef; however,
the difference is not significant. Grass-finished beef can contain more conjugated lineoleic
acid (CLA) than other kinds of beef, but research has not determined whether this results in a
significant health benefit. Research also has shown that a 3.5-ounce serving of grass-finished beef
offers 15 milligrams more omega-3 than other kinds of beef; however, beef is not a primary source
of omega-3 fatty acids. (

I do want to point out that just because cattle are grass fed doesn't make them organic or natural this label just refers to the animal's diet!

 Now that you know the basics about the differences in Grain Fed vs. Grass Fed...check out the Cow Chow game to learn more about what cows eat!  If you have questions about Grass fed vs Grain Fed just ask me.  I will be happy to answer them or you can hop over to CommonGround's site and leave a question there as well.  

Now for the giveaway!  We are giving away a $25 gift card to one lucky reader!  The winner will be announced next Friday May 11!  The one required entry is that you leave a comment answering the following question: 

Do you choose Grass Fed or Grain Fed Beef for your family?  Why?