22 CALF News • August | September 2020 • CALF ANIMAL HEALTH Chuteside Manner EXPLORING THE FRONTIER OF ANIMAL HEALTH Processing Cattle By Patti Wilson Contributing Editor I t’s August and spring calving is done. Cows and yearlings have quit forlornly and reluctantly eating last year’s hay; they are living like royalty on sunshine and green, growing forages. Our cattle are not the only ones relieved to be living a simpler life. Farmers and ranchers, after tedious and repetitive daily care, can now sit down for just a moment. Personally, I cannot make it past April 10 without looking belligerently at a big, round bale of hay that needs the twine or net wrap pulled. Working cattle That leads us to cattle process- ing. Feedlots have their own crews, a standard operating procedure (SOP) and employees who run their chutes year ‘round. They may process incoming cattle daily, laptops at hand and hydrau- lics humming. They are mostly what we oldsters term Millennials. Ranchers and farmers, however, are caught in an annual“branding stress.” There are many ways this springtime ritual takes place, each the same, and at the same time, each as different as every operation. In my mind, the crunch begins when cows come off cornstalks to calve. It’s time to roll up several miles of fence around last year’s crop residue and begin the daily chore of feeding cows. Yearlings need additional supplementation, as well. So begins a marathon of activity that lasts until grass time the following season. In a final springtime push, we work the cattle. Help wanted We are all familiar with the extreme labor shortage plaguing agriculture; it is the root of most springtime anxi- ety. Even those skillful enough to put together a sizeable, competent crew have been hindered this year by social distancing and self-isolation. We worked with fewer and braver people. In my neighborhood, hired help is scarce and a lucky few have family enough to supply almost-adequate labor for long and trying days. Neigh- borly help is more common and always welcome; trading day work has been a mainstay and glue in our community. Neighbors are familiar with one another’s facilities, livestock and proce- dures. We are all “on the same page,” so to speak. Cooperating friends become a priceless commodity. Many people hold their brandings in one day, a virtual marathon. Work- ing calves at the Wilson ranch takes place over two or three days. Easing through the cattle instead of trying to work everything the same day saves wear and tear on the help and decreases the chance of someone getting hurt. Neigh- bors can go home at a reasonable time and chore in the daylight. I am aware of very few people who have the big “party” brandings, inviting all to come who wish to be a cowboy for a day. This is something I cannot wrap my head around. The calf working becomes a sort of social gathering, and a good time is presumably had by all. My educated guess is, there are a whole lot of people dressed “western,” enjoying themselves in the sunshine, and a few hardcore, competent cowboys doing all the work. These few shoulder all the responsibility. Who wants their banker implanting their calves? Really? Clearly, the day is not for amateurs, and someone may get hurt in all the fun. In addition, many operations here use the axiom of “less is more,” meaning that there is a correct number of competent people needed to handle the cattle. Too Do It Your Own Way LEFT: Annual cattle working is as unique to each outfit as the individuals running the ranch. Photo taken by author’s father, circa late 1930s, believed to be near Hyannis, Neb.