About Me

Kentucky, United States
Fourth generation beef producer, wife, mother, 4-H & FFA supporter, agriculture advocate, Christian, WKU alum, love livestock shows, basketball, college football, Dallas Cowboys. All things agriculture.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Daily Routines with Beef Heifer Projects

     The Kentucky Beef Expo is only 5 weeks away, and anyone with consignments to sales or youth planning to exhibit in the junior show should have cattle halter-broke, in the barn, and working hair daily. If you've shown cattle for a while you know what I'm talking about. If you are new to this adventure, you might want to learn about establishing a daily routine with your show heifer.
     First, and most importantly, you need to feed your heifer twice a day, and establish a routine of 12 hours apart if possible. This requires going to the barn before school or work,  a habit of most cattle producers. It will only take a few days before the heifers know the routine. Our son does an outstanding job of going to the barn every morning before school. He fills each heifer's pan with its own ration, and takes pans to each stall. All he has to do is open the door and the heifers go to their stall to eat, and he then halters and ties the heifers. 
     In a perfect world, the heifers would be rinsed each morning, hair combed up and forward, then dried. However, the temperature is often too cold this time of the year and there's not enough time every morning to rinse, brush, and dry, so depending on the day, the heifers are brushed and blown out while they eat. Afternoon is time for walking, rinsing (temperature permitting), or brushing. It's amazing how the animals love the routine and quickly learn where to go.

Blake blow-drying his heifer at the NAILE in November.
      In warm weather, it's best to rinse the heifers each evening, work the hair again, then turn out without drying. This keeps the hair growing, trained, and in good condition. Rinsing is just as it sounds, spraying the heifer with water and not using soap. Daily use of soap or shampoo removes the natural oils of the skin drying the hair and skin, resulting in dull hair and flaking skin.
     It seems that everyone's life is full with places to go and things to do, so it makes it even more important to establish a workable routine to keep the stall area clean of manure and adding new bedding when needed. If your mornings are really busy, make it a habit of cleaning the stalls each night. Depending on your barn or facility, it's helpful to have a wheel barrow to place manure and bedding for easy removal.
     If you are beginning with your first heifer, it's not important to have a blower to dry the hair, or a fan, however, if you want to get one of these items, I would first purchase a fan. A good turbo fan used during the day either on a stand behind the heifer or hanging behind the heifer will keep the heifer cooler during hot summer months and help to retain hair.

A fan on a stand like this is convenient to use behind the heifers at home  and at some shows. Just remember that some shows restrict "butt fans" from being used in the aisles.

     If you or your child is very young or small in stature, having a grooming chute can be helpful for safety and to build confidence of the child. Grooming chutes are great to keep a heifer standing still and from moving from side to side as they can when tied in a stall.
The middle vertical bars can be moved and placed horizontally, to keep a heifer from stepping to either side. These three young fitters have many years of experience and have the bars vertical so they can easily comb and groom the heifer's sides.
     The best part about the daily routine is the bond that is formed between heifer and the child. It is amazing how differently the heifers respond when another person steps in to feed and groom. These steps teach the child responsibility and the rewards of hard work. It doesn't mean that there will always be a banner at the end of a show, but the satisfaction in leading an animal that looks good and acts well as the result of weeks of dedication and work is the first step to one of life's important lessons.

Photograph of fan and stand, used with permission from Bluegrass Show Supply
Other photographs, property of Wanda Quiggins

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Halter-Breaking a Beef Heifer

     Everyone has their own opinion about how to halter-break a heifer, and to be honest, one way does not work on every animal. First it's important to remember safety for all people and animals involved, and you want the animal to experience as little stress as possible through the process.  I think you need to take each animal's behavior into consideration and you should remember that an adult should be doing most if not all the work at first, especially if you have young children.
     If this is your first time to halter-break a calf, it's best to take the time and prepare a stall area before a halter is placed on the animal. We like to have a solid wall with a tie rings attached, not a gate or wall with horizontal boards which allows an area for the heifer to get legs or head caught. It's also a good idea to have an area for halter breaking near the working chute, so you don't have to lead the heifer a long distance. Be sure to bed the area well with shavings or straw, both for the comfort of the animal and to help keep the area clean.
Poly rope halter with slide ring

Poly rope halter

Rice Root Brush
      Items needed to begin are a poly rope halter and a rice root brush. A poly rope halter is commonly used for breaking, and we've found that one with a slide ring works well at this time because it easily releases the pressure on the calf when the calf relaxes. A good quality rice root brush is a good way to train the hair, which is another post itself, and it helps both the animal and the child to get acquainted, comfortable, and trusting of the other. Time spent both morning and afternoon brushing will pay off in the end. You can purchase these items at your local livestock feed/supply store or go to http://www.bluegrassshowsupply.com/ and order online from our Kentucky supplier, Bluegrass Show Supply, of Winchester, KY.
     Keep in mind that most beef cattle don't like to be alone so if you have only one calf to halter-break it may be a great idea to have other cows or calves in sight in a nearby shed or stall to ease the stress level. Of course this may not be possible and many heifers will be content to be alone.
     If you have a squeeze chute, it's best to walk the heifer into the chute, catching the head. Carefully place the halter on the calf, making sure it is on correctly with the lead rope on the calf's left side. Be sure the nose strap is placed high enough and that the side straps are not too close to the eyes.

Halter placement on this heifer is good, however, it could probably be positioned further from the eye. Also, this photograph was taken at a county fair, and the heifer was halter-broke well. Do not tie a calf to a gate when beginning the process.
      Make this time in the chute pleasant, moving slowly and talking softly. Allow the calf to relax before opening the chute and leading the calf to the stall to be tied. This is where the fun begins! Some heifers will begin fighting the halter immediately, while others will be more stubborn and plant their feet determined not to move. Patience is the most important tool to have with you in the barn at this time. Take your time in coaxing and leading the heifer to the stall.  Tie the heifer with a slip knot, with just enough slack so the heifer can lay down. Never tie a a calf with a double knot because you want to be able to release the heifer quickly if needed. Give the heifer feed or hay to further make the halter a good experience. If you have a fan at the barn, now's a good time to have it on behind the heifer, either hanging or on a stand. I've not seen a beef animal yet that didn't enjoy standing in front of a fan. Of course, if the temperature is 30 degrees, you might want to forget the fan and turn on a radio!
     Don't leave the heifer during this early breaking period. Plan to work on other barn chores so that you are near but not sitting with the animal. You never know what might frighten the heifer and it's good to be nearby. It takes experience and natural instinct to read an animals disposition and determine if the animal is ready to have a brush pulled across their topline or side. You want to be wary of being kicked, but at the same time a heifer can often sense the confidence level of the person approaching. Talking quietly to the animal as you approach the lead side, it's best to take a brush to their shoulder, topline or side, staying clear of the back legs for a few days.
     Have you ever heard the saying, "You can lead a horse to water......?" Well, it's time to lead a calf to water! Having a water tub or tank near the stall area gives a great opportunity for leading the calf. Odds are the calf will be ready to drink after a while so getting the heifer to lead to the water tank may not be as difficult as just leading around in a lot or in the barn. This is an excellent way to take short, productive walks with the heifer. You will find that it is probably more difficult leading the heifer back to the stall! It's often good to have a person to help coax the heifer into walking while another person leads with the halter.Again, it just depends on the animal.
     After several days of haltering, tying, brushing, and leading to water and eventually outside, a heifer will begin to lead much easier with little or no resistance. Soon, catching the heifer in the morning will be as simple as having the feed pan filled in the stall before opening the door, then while the heifer eats you can easily slip the halter on and tie.
    I hope this information is helpful to beginners, just remember that common sense works best when dealing with animals and always be safe.

Photographs of halters and brush, used with permission from Bluegrass Show Supply

Monday, January 9, 2012

Selecting a 4-H/FFA Project Beef Heifer

     It's that time of year, when many kids have their beef projects in  the barn, working hair, and establishing the daily routines. If you or your child have not chosen that animal from the family herd or purchased a heifer, now's the time to be searching. With this post I hope to give basic information on choosing a good animal for a 4-H or FFA project beef heifer.
     Structure, capacity, and muscling are the three primary features you should consider when choosing a heifer project. Structure is most important because you want an animal that is correct on her feet and legs, stands square, is level from hooks to pins, and is smooth shouldered. Now, if you are not a beef producer, those terms may sound foreign or just be confusing. Let me help to break these terms down. The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture has developed a website called Agmania which includes sections on livestock judging and animal science. I've included the link to livestock judging which will help illustrate the structures, both correct and incorrect. I have great respect for Dr. Richard Coffey, Warren Beeler, and Kevin Laurent and I appreciate their work in developing the site and having it available to educate our youth. You can follow links on breeding heifers, to evaluating soundness and structural correctness. http://www.ca.uky.edu/agripedia/Agmania/Livestock/index.asp
     Correct on feet and legs and stands square, refers to the actual structure and form of the feet and legs. Begin with the feet and make sure all four are a good size, not too small for the animals bone size, and that there are no signs of previous injury. To be "square" all feet should point forward and be parallel to the body, not point out or in when standing or walking. You want to be sure the pasterns are strong with the correct amount of set or flex. The pastern is the area on the legs above the hoof and below the fetlock. A pastern too straight will cause an animal to walk on the front of their hoof, and have little flex. A pastern with too much set will be weaker and cause the animal to walk on the back part of their hoof. You must look for balance and correctness. The rear legs should also be looked at closely to avoid an animal that is "cow-hocked",  or has too much set to the rear hock and toes out.
     Level from hooks to pins. The hooks are the larger hip bones located on the top line of the heifer behind the loin, and the pins are the smaller hip bones that stand up on each side of the tail head. These bones should be level or have only a slight slope from front to rear, making the rump square and giving the heifer a longer stride. If there is too much slope the rump is rounded and makes the heifer walk with a much shorter stride.
     Smooth shouldered, refers to the structure of the joint at the front legs, which also determine the length and smoothness of stride. A shoulder that is too straight, does not allow for adequate flexibility making the heifer walk with a shorter stride. A coarse shouldered heifer is not as feminine fronted and often toes out with her front feet. Look for a smooth, long junction from shoulder to neck and watch the length of stride from the side as the heifer walks to determine the shoulder structure.
     Capacity refers to the actual volume of the heifers body and is important for reproduction because the animal must be able to maintain its body while also providing for offspring.
     Long-bodied, refers to the area between the fore and rear flanks. You want a breeding heifer to be long-bodied.
     Spring of rib, refers to the area just below the top line on each side of the heifer. You want the heifer to naturally have width and spring of rib, illustrating she naturally has large body volume and capacity. A flat-sided heifer is not desirable and it is not something that you can feed or change about the animal.
     Depth of body, refers to the "depth" from the top line to the underline and how much body there is between those two areas. It is most desirable that the heifer be level from fore to rear flanks also, and not shallow or high flanked but have more than 50% of their height in body depth.
     It is very important to consider muscling when selecting beef heifers. First appraisal for muscling can be done by looking at the width of the center rear quarter. Please refer to the Agmania link http://www.ca.uky.edu/agripedia/Agmania/Livestock/Heifers/hefmusc.asp. Base width, or watching how wide a heifer naturally walks, is also important when evaluating muscling. If a heifer has adequate or heavier muscling she will naturally walk wider, with more distance between her two front legs and more distance between her two back legs. This is something you cannot change.  Also, a groove down the top line  illustrates heavier muscling with the backbone lower than the ribs, due to muscle pushing the ribs out. A lighter muscled heifer will have a more pronounced, higher backbone and be flat-ribbed.
     Femininity, balance, and attitude are the three remaining characteristics important when selecting a project heifer. I'll let you decide which is most important to you.
     Femininity is important for breeding heifers. You want a heifer to look like a heifer, not a bull. You want a long, lean neck, free of extra skin or leather on the underside of the neck or dewlap area. You want a smooth shoulder, not a bulky coarse shoulder that looks more like a steer or bull. I think is is also important to have a clean underline, free of a wasty navel area. Also check for a correct udder, with proper teat placement.
     Balance is very important because you want all the desirable traits to go together into a nice package. This is where every one's personal opinions may differ and that's part of why we enjoy raising beef cattle.
     Attitude is very important for a beginning showman and as a parent I might give up some of the other qualities just to have an animal with a great disposition for a child's first project.  No one is going to have fun if an animal is too stubborn or just has too much spunk and no one wants that first project to be a child's last.  I also look at attitude a little differently than some. After a child has been showing cattle for a few years it's important to find those animals with "personality" and a little attitude. They often present themselves in the ring better and naturally catch the judge's and spectator's eyes.
     I also think it's important to have the child help choose their animal. They each know what they like and often the animal and child find each other when sorting through pens and pastures. It's a great opportunity to help the child see faults and desirable traits and it will give them confidence in their own livestock selection abilities. It doesn't matter if you raise the animal or purchase it, be proud of your choice, realistic and honest with it's faults and attributes, and remember no matter how much you like your animal, the judge has his/her own opinion and on show day its the one that matters that day.

It doesn't get much better than this. Mutual respect and comfort between our son and one of his show heifers of 2011. The result of months of feeding, washing, brushing, and walking.