Some time ago I wrote about a mama cow adopting a calf despite having her own hungry offspring. I had never before seen this occur and have learned it is very unusual behavior. Thought an update to this curiosity was needed.
The mama cow, bless her generous heart and sizable milk bag, continued to nurse both calves until they were yearlings. The calves grew into big, strong steers. I was proud when time came last week to take them to the auction barn. (Yes, I know what you may be thinking. Taking the grown calves to the auction barn is only a preliminary for 3-6 months at a feedlot and then a slaughterhouse. This is true enough. Yet, we need to remember how most of us enjoy a well marbled steak or a juicy burger. The animals are raised just for this reason not being, in any way, an endangered species.)
In any event I admired the two good looking steers when I dropped them off at the auction house. I also said a silent thank you that day to the giving mama cow. The result of this transaction; however, turned out to be surprising.
The first pleasant surprise was that I obtained the best price ever for the two steers. Several days later a second surprise occurred. A package arrived in the mail. In it was a a really fancy knife sharpener with a small plaque on it, notifying me that I had won the “top steers award.”
Imagine that: a calf that would have ended up a runt after losing his mama had instead been adopted by a generous mama cow. The two steers became the top steers at an auction last week of somewhere around 1000 head of beef. So as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now you know the rest of the story.”
The date we sell our calves at auction is the best day of the ranch year–it is also the worst. How can this be?
As anyone knows who has been to the grocery store lately, beef prices are high. This reflects in the prices ranchers receive at the sale barn. Last week’s prices for a load of six calves were our personal best. We received about twice the usual price (this is a good thing as cattle ranching for a long time has not been profitable). The sale is the payoff for a year of raising the cattle, vaccinating them, castrating the bull calves, being a careful steward of the herd, putting out hay during the winter, carefully managing the pastures, and dealing with any veterinary problems that come up. The rancher obtains a bonus for quality as well as existing market conditions. We feel this year like we hit the jackpot!
I enjoy hooking up the cattle trailer, loading the calves, donning my Stetson and proudly driving to the sale barn. This provides a fitting finale to the year’s hard work.
While sale day makes for the best day of the ranch year, parting with our calves is bittersweet. Frankly it hurts to send our critters away. After all, these are the baby calves that were once so cute, and we watched gain for the first time their wobbly feet. They entertained us with their joyful scampering, insatiable curiosity, and calf games. A few calves we have had to bottle feed when their mamas were unable or unwilling to act as the milk bar. Anyone who doesn’t bond with these hungry little fellas with their big brown eyes and who suck so vigorously at the bottle must, in my opinion, must have thwarted emotional development. There is something about their appreciative stares as they drain the giant milk bottles.
Granddaughter Ramsey bottle feeding a calf
We remind ourselves at sale time what calves are raised for. They are not endangered species and are raised to feed people. As a ruminant, they have the amazing ability to convert grass into a nutritious meal. By the time we sell them, they have grown to 500-600 pounds and aren’t nearly as cuddly as they once were. This helps. Also assisting the separation is knowing they will go on to feedlots for another three to six months and eat all they want and fatten up before rendering up their steaks, hamburger, and fajita meat. Knowing others will benefit from the nutrition they provide and enjoy a tasty meal helps as well.
So sale day brings about mixed emotions for us. We appreciate the payday but suffer a tinge of sadness sending off our calves. We hope one day you will enjoy some exceptional beef from Medicine Spirit Ranch.