View of old barn and meadows
I was born and raised on the ranch my parents left me. I worked the ranch with my parents until they passed away. In 2005, I inherited the ranch that had been in my family for 70 years, and I became the sole owner. My parents ran approximately 350 head of cattle on the 538 private acres, along with an approximate 10,000-acre Forest Service permit. It was considered a cow/calf operation, producing high quality beef. Owning a working cattle ranch is much more than herding cattle all day and sitting around a camp fire at night. When raising beef cattle, the bottom line is pounds of beef produced in the most efficient, economical and environmentally biodiverse ways possible (Maczko et al, 2012).
My Dad and his beloved horse Piaute
Taking the reins without the support of my parents was extremely intimidating. However, I was extremely fortunate that the family who worked for my parents decided to stay on and work for me. They had been with my parents for the last 30 years.
The summary that follows explains the management practices I used on the ranch. Many of the practices were handed down with the ranch, and others I adopted after I took over the ranch. I feel by following these practices, I was able to increase beef production and modernize some of the outdated practices my parents were adhering to.
main road, meadow and homestead
The ranch I owned and managed is the high mountains of Northern Elko County. The winters are hard and last a long time. Because of this we calved our cows in the early spring. I thought about changing and going to fall calving, but decided not to change something that had worked well for the last 70 years for my family.
The gestation period for cattle is approximately nine months and nine days, 283 days to be exact. The cattle needed to be bred in the summer to calve in late February and early March. The cattle were Saler X Hereford X Shorthorn. My Father decided to crossbreed to achieve heterosis, or hybrid vigor. Heterosis refers to the superiority in performance of the crossbred cattle compared to purebreds (Greiner, 2009). Heterosis also results in improvements in cow fertility, calf livability and cow longevity (Greiner, 2009). Crossbred cattle combine the strengths of the different breeds used to produce the cross. The cross we used were selected for range-ability, milk production, mothering ability, ease of calving, and weaning weight of the calves. My father decided on the breeds that best fit his forage resources, expectations and feed inputs.
The bulls used were carefully selected using birth weight, pound per day gain averages, milking ability of their dams (mothers), and carcass data of siblings. Low birth weights mean less trouble calving, and high weight gain means more pounds on the hoof at weaning time.
At birth I measured, (to help determine birth weight), dehorned, and ear tagged each calf. On April 15th of every year the Forest Service allowed us to turn our cows out on to the public lands we lease for grazing in the summer months. The meadows were fertilized, dragged, and irrigated to produce the hay we needed to sustain the cattle through the winter months.
mountain corrals, spring processing
Spring calves are ready to be branded and vaccinated at three-four months. Our branding weekend was always Memorial weekend. The cattle were gathered from the range and brought to corrals high in the mountains for branding. Staying true to tradition the calves were roped and drug to the branding fire. At that time the calves are checked for horns, branded, and ear marked for identification. They are checked for illnesses, abscesses, and vaccinated.
The bull calves are castrated to reduce aggressiveness and sexual activity. This is achieved by lowering testosterone levels. Lowering testosterone also decreases the number of “dark cutters” due to high muscle pH; creates higher quality, grade-more consistent, marbled, and tender beef. Steers bring higher prices at market and have a tendency to gain more weight. Castration can be stressful on the calves, but every precaution is taken making it as easy as possible on them.
branding, vaccinating, castrating, and doctoring
Calves are vaccinated with a seven-way clostridial (an anaerobic bacterium of a large genus that includes many pathogenic species) vaccine which includes blackleg. Blackleg is an acute, febrile, highly fatal disease of cattle and sheep caused by Clostridium chauvoei and characterized by emphysematous swelling, commonly affecting heavy muscles (clostridial myositis) (Roberson, 2007). It is found worldwide. In simple terms it is a fatal disease of young cattle. It produces an acute local infection, and the resulting blood poisoning leads to rapid death. The name ‘blackleg’ derives from the fact that the site of infection is often a leg muscle, and the affected muscle is dark in color (Roberson, 2007). Also included in the seven-way vaccine is a modified-live virus which is commonly associated with bovine respiratory disease (BRD) complex. The BRD complex includes infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), parainfluenza-3 (PI3), and bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) (Wenzel, 2015). These vaccines will produce initial immunity. However, additional booster vaccinations are administered at weaning so the immune systems of the claves will be better prepared to fend off actual diseases. After the calves have been branded and processed, they along with their mothers are returned to the Forest Service allotment to finish out the summer grazing season.
At the end of September, the cattle are gathered from the mountain range and brought back to the ranch where the calves are weaned and revaccinated. At this time the calves are given additional pneumonia vaccines to prevent pneumonia caused by Mannheimia/Pasteurella.
At the time of weaning, the cows are also vaccinated and a pour on pesticide is used. The cows are boosted with the IBR, BVD, PI3, BRSV complex including Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis or Lepto, is one of two bacteria that infects the kidney and genital tract of cattle. The result of Lepto in calves is high fever, anemia, red urine, jaundice, and can cause death within three to five days. It usually doesn’t cause death in cows, but can cause abortion in pregnant cows by causing embryonic death, abortions, stillbirths, retained placenta, and the birth of weak calves. Abortions usually occur three to ten weeks after infection (Zelski, 2007).
Mother cows getting doctored and vaccinated in chute
Vibriosis, is included in the vaccine. The disease Vibriosis or Vibrio, is caused by the bacterium Campylobacter and is spread by infected bulls during breeding. The bull remains an asymptomatic carrier of the condition. Non-venereal transmission of campylobacteriosis rarely ever happens. Once a herd becomes infected, Vibrio spreads rapidly. Unvaccinated cows and heifers have no immunity. Conception rates drop to around 45 per cent. As immunity develops, the disease rate drops, but reinfection often occurs because immunity normally wanes about a year after the initial infection. Infertility in cows and heifers normally occurs from an infection in the uterus after the cow or heifer has mated with an infected bull. Vibrio prevents the fertilized egg from implanting or more commonly results in the loss of the developing embryo in the uterus (Hum, 2007).
Trichomoniasis, commonly referred to as Trich, is a venereal disease of cattle caused by a protozoa organism, Tritrichomonas foetus. This small, motile organism is found only in the reproductive tract of infected bulls and cows. Infected cattle can lead to major economic losses due to infertility, low pregnancy rates, an extended calving season, diminished calf crops, and occasional abortions in pregnant cows and heifers. It can also be very costly to eradicate from a herd. Trich is not a human health issue, but it is currently a reportable disease in Arkansas (Endecott & Szymanski, 2012). The vaccination for Trich is an optional vaccine (Powell et al,2009), but was a part of my vaccination schedule, because I had problems with Trich. Anytime conception doesn’t occur or abortion occurs, less beef is produced at the end of the year.
applying pour-on insecticide
The pour on insecticide I used on the cows was called Warbex, and was applied to their backs to help prevent grubs, and parasites from damaging the meat, and causing weight loss (Khan & Kozub 1980). The cows were run through a chute and lead-up alley for processing.
The bulls were taken away from the cows at weaning time, and the cows returned to the high mountain Forest Service allotments. The calves were sorted and replacement heifers kept and steer calves sold and shipped. Cull cows and bulls were also sold and shipped at this time.
I left the cows on the Forest Service allotment until the first snow or December 15, which ever came first. The grazing contract with the Forest Service was from April 15 to December 15, with all the cows off for 30 days from September 15 and October 15. Replacement heifers were kept in the weaning lot and fed high quality hay and grain.
At the first snow, I began to gather the cattle that had not already returned to the ranch. When the snow falls, the cattle are anxious to get back home where they are fed high quality hay and a mineral supplement.
trailing cattle home after first snow fall
Around April 15th when the cows are taken to the Forest Service allotment, it is time to prepare the meadows to grow the best and the most hay possible. The meadows are dragged, breaking up any manure piles and spreading the manure evenly over the fields. The ditches are cleaned and any washouts and holes repaired. The creek is damned up and the water pushed into the ditches.
The water is rotated until the entire meadows have been covered several times throughout the summer. The high mountain meadows produce wild hay, mixed with Timothy and Clover. Years ago, we purchased a lot of fertilizer to help produce enough hay to get us through the winter, but the last twenty years or so we took the same amount of money spent on fertilizer and bought alfalfa hay. That seemed to work much better by mixing the grass hay with a little alfalfa to boost the protein content.
The growing season for hay was April, May, and June, and by July it was ripe and ready to harvest. Since our meadows were comprised of small hills and valleys and weren’t perfectly flat, we hayed with small tractors and equipment to prevent getting stuck or tipping over.
The hay was mowed, raked, baled, and stacked. We built hay sheds to stack the hay in to keep it from getting wet and molding during wet weather. We usually produced around 500 ton of hay and bought another 200 ton. I baled the hay in small, easy to handle bales weighing around 100 pounds each.
In the winter, if less than two feet of snow was on the ground, the bales were loaded on a wagon pulled by a four-wheel-drive tractor. If we were blessed with more than two feet of snow, then the bales were loaded on a sleigh pulled by a team of two or four draft horses.
Feeing with team and sleigh
During the winter months, hay is fed to all the animals everyday. Using an example of 1,200-lb. pregnant spring-calving cows, feeding a good quality grass hay that tested 8% crude protein, cows will voluntarily consume 2.0% of their body weight or 24 lbs./day. The 24 lbs. are based on 100% dry matter. Grass hays will often be 7-10% moisture. If we assume that the hay is 92% dry matter or 8% moisture, then the cows will consume about 26 lbs./day on an average (Radtke, 2013). Wastage needs to also be taken into consideration, and is often difficult to figure, but can be anywhere from 6%-20%. If we assume a 15% waste, then 30 pounds of hay must be hauled to the field for each cow each day. Minerals are important when feeding hay to assure proper assimilation of all the nutrients in the hay.
cattle on feed ground in the winter
Public rangeland management:
I was extremely fortunate to be able to lease public lands from the Forest Service for my cows to graze on. My parents had leased the same public lands ever since they began ranching.
Forest Service Permit
The United States Forest Service issued me a permit to graze the high mountains. The contract was a legal and binding contract allowing use of the land and streams. I paid anywhere from $1.35-$1.50 per head per month. The Forest Service lists this as an Animal Unit Month (AUM). The bill was due and payable within 30 days after all the stock was removed. All livestock turned out had to be owned by me. I also had to agree to comply with any laws or regulations of the Secretary of Agriculture, Federal laws pertaining to fish and wildlife, and all environmental values.
moving cattle to high Forest Service permit
Along with the permit, I was given an allotment management plan. I was required to agree with terms set forth by the United States Forest Service. The plan and contract read in part as:
a) The permittee must agree to all conditions in the contract and management plan.
b) The number, kind, and class of livestock, period of use, and grazing allotment specified in the permit may be modified at anytime by the Forest Service in order to protect resources.
c) If the Forest Officer feels the forage is not ready to be grazed at the beginning of the designated grazing season, the permittee, upon request of the Officer, will defer placing livestock on the allotment to avoid any damage. The permittee will also remove cattle from allotment before the expiration of the designated grazing season upon request of the Forest Officer when it is apparent further grazing will damage resources.
d) The permittee will allow only the numbers, kind, and class of livestock on the allotment during the period specified. If this is violated, permit will be cancelled.
e) Forest Service will not allow livestock to be upon any area of Forest Service not described in permit.
f) The Forest Service requires all livestock to be branded or marked to identify them as belonging to the permitee. The Forest Officer can require at anytime, the livestock to be gathered for inspection and counting.
g) Only livestock marked, tagged, or branded will be allowed on permit.
h) The permittee will pay the costs of, perform, or otherwise provide for the proportionate share of cooperative improvements and management practices on the permitted area when determined the by the Forest Officer in charge that such improvements and practices are essential to proper protection and management of resources administered by the Forest Service.
I) The permittee agrees to maintain and make all improvements required by the Forest Service.
j) The permittee agrees to graze at least 90% of the livestock permitted each year. Failure to do so will result in nonuse and may result in cancellation of permit.
k) The permittee agrees to see that all contractors and subcontractors respect the land. The land owner will pay the government for all damage caused to the land.
l) The permittee may be required to carry a bond to insure payment for all grazing or damage to the government land.
m) The permit will be cancelled, in whole or in part, whenever the area described in the permit is withdrawn from the National Forest System due to land exchange modification of boundaries, or otherwise, or whenever the area described in the permit is to be devoted to a public purpose that precludes grazing.
n) The permittee agrees to notify the Forest Officer of any changes in control or ownership of base property, ownership of livestock, or other qualifications to hold this permit.
o) The permittee may not transfer, assign, lease or sublet the permit.
p) Salt must be placed no closer then 1/4 mile from water sources, designated roads, trails, or recreation sites.
q) All non-pelletized hay, straw or mulch processed, stored, or transported on National Forest Service Lands must be tagged or marked as weed free, or be accompanied by weed free certification documentation and meet all State and/or County standards for certification as weed free.
The permittee agrees to keep fences and water sources maintained and repaired. Springs must be fenced to keep cattle from damaging the head of the spring. All pit tanks and water troughs will be built and maintained under supervision from the Forest Officer. Maintenance must precede cattle entering the allotment. Nonuse does not relieve the permittee from any improvements or maintenance required.
I always felt the contract and management plan were fair and I always treated the land as if it were my own. I was on good terms with the Forest Officer and office staff.
Water was usually plentiful on our ranch, except on drought years. Legal water rights, dating back to the turn of the century, insured stock water and water for irrigation of my private pastures and meadows. Our Private water rights were from Van Duzer creek. It was shared and rotated with the neighbors.
In the spring months, the ditches which carried water over the meadows, were cleaned with a ditcher which looks something like a plow, pulled by a tractor or bulldozer. We were careful to always leave enough water in the creek to allow survival of native trout and other wildlife.
When the cattle were in the meadows, they also watered out of Van Duzer creek.
Water sources on public lands were also maintained. A section of the grazing permit and contract pertains to water management. It in part states:
a) Inlet and outlet shall be protected to prevent damage.
b) Troughs will be equipped with an escape ramp, secured and extending from the top rim of the trough into the water. This is to allow birds and small animals a way to escape or drink from the trough.
c) Troughs, storage tanks, and pipelines will be drained and cleaned periodically. Pipelines which are designed to be drained for protection against freezing will be drained.
d) Pipelines air and drain valves will be covered with a screen to keep out animals and dirt.
e) Stock-water ponds will be kept clear of debris, dead animals, etc. Spillways will be kept clean and maintained to prevent washing or becoming plugged. Damage to the dam should be reported to the Forest Officer.
f) All salt and chemicals will be placed at least 1/4 mile from water sources.
Equine and canine management:
We used a lot of horses, but by the time I got the ranch we were down to only one dog. He was still very useful, but the uncertainty of the future kept me from getting more dogs.
Chewey and I roping a calf to be doctored
It takes a lot of working parts to keep a ranch running smoothly. Horses and stock dogs are vital to the livelihood of a cowboy or rancher (Thomas, 2005). With the high cost of labor and lack of experienced help to work the ranch, dogs and horses are more than just livestock (Cirelli, 98). Dogs replace several men when working cows. The vast and rough terrain of our summer grazing land didn’t permit motorized vehicles and horses were the only way to check and move the cattle from place to place. Whether driving cattle or roping them to doctor or brand, the cowboys couldn’t do it without their horses. Our stock dogs were very important in working the cattle.
Sneekers and I working a cow
Selective breeding is important in both dogs and horses. We used American Quarter Horses and Border Collie X Australian Cattle dogs with a little Australian Shepherd mixed in. Quarter Horses have the natural instinct to follow and work cattle as do the dogs we used. Good conformation is the key to efficient movement and freedom from unsoundness. I was always very careful in selecting dogs and horses with heritable traits needed to work hard and be able to go all day. The psychological make-up is as important as the biological traits. Predisposed traits such as trainability, versatility, and temperament are just a few of the desirable traits I bred for.
Maintaining our four-legged ranch hands was as important to me as maintaining a piece of equipment. Proper nutrition and adequate veterinary practices helped keep them up and running.
Even the little ones are taught to take care of their horses
Keeping hard-working ranch horses sound, creates a challenge for the cowboy farrier (horse shoers). Our terrain was so steep and rocky, a horse without shoes could leave you walking the ten miles or so back to the ranch.
shoeing a horse
Horse shoes are a metal oval with an open back. They have eight holes for nails to keep them on. Most farriers only use 6 nails to hold them in place. If a horse gets his foot stuck, it is better to have the shoe pull off than cripple the horse. Horse shoe nails are flat, thin and two to three inches long. They are driven in at a slight angle so as to exit the foot before they go into the quick. The nails are then clenched (bent over) to grip the hoof. Horse shoes come in different sizes depending on the size of the horse’s hoof. If the nail goes in straight, it can “quick” the horse and cause lameness. It can also abscess and put a horse out of business for months until it heals. The hoof needs to be trimmed at the proper angle to prevent tendon and ligament damage. A horse’s feet are relatively small in comparison to the 1200 pounds they carry. We had to keep our horses shod all summer. We pulled the shoes in the winter when we weren’t using them.
Vaccination and parasite control insure the dog’s and horse’s health status. Vaccinations are highly effective in preventing infectious diseases in horses and dogs. We always gave our foals a tetanus vaccine within 24 hours because we had tetanus around our barn. We then began regular vaccinations at five months. The vaccine used on the horses contained Tetanus, Equine Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis, Encephalomyelitis, Distemper, and Potomac fever. We also used Strangles vaccine which is an optional vaccine but we used it because we had problems with it before there was a vaccine for it.
Strangles and distemper are a rather extreme upper respiratory and throat infection caused by Streptococcus eui. Strangles is named after the noise the horse makes when there is a large amount of purulent discharge from the nose and nasopharynx. The horse can develop large, swollen, lymph nodes which can abscess and break and drain. A horse with strangles may stand with it’s head down and neck stretched out to breath. Once the glands break and begin draining the horse feels better (Giffin and Gore, 1998).
Tetanus is otherwise known as lockjaw. Tetanus infections can occur in almost all animals including man. It is caused by Clostridium tetani. Deep wounds where the oxygen content is low is the ideal environment for Tetanus infections. Death isn’t always inevitable. The toxin is carried by the bloodstream to the brain and can appear as early as one week after injury but usually delayed for several weeks. Spasms of the muscles including the jaw are common. Breathing is labored and the animal’s jaw becomes stiff and they are unable to eat.
Equine Encephalomyelitis, otherwise know as sleeping sickness is transmitted by mosquitos. There are three strains, Eastern, Western, and Venezuelan. The first symptom is a high fever followed by inflammation of the brain. The horse becomes blind, and begins compulsive walking and circling. They soon become lethargic with lips drooping and drooling (Giffin & Gore, 1998). Fatality rates range from 70-90% in horses. I never had any trouble with the disease, but I always vaccinated for it.
Influenza is the most common infectious respiratory diseases of horses. It spreads through coughing from one horse to another. They begin by running a high fever, coughing, and become very depressed and lose their appetite (American Youth Horse Council, 1994). When I was a young girl on the ranch, we had a lot of trouble with influenza. The old-timers believed the only way to prevent influenza was to run a goat with the horses. That is how we ended up with Corky the goat who lived to be close to 25 years old.
Rhinopneumonitits or Herpesvirus 1 and 4, is a highly contagious respiratory illness of foals, weanlings and yearlings. The virus can also cause abortion in mares carrying the virus (Giffin & Gore l998).
Potomac Horse Fever is a diarrheal disease whose mode of transmission is unknown. Loose watery stools, laminitis, and a high fever represent the symptoms of Potomac Horse fever. It can be treated with oxytetracycline (Giffin & Gore, l998).
The vaccine I used for dogs contained, Distemper, Parvo, Parainfluenza, Hepatitis, and Leptospirosis. Rabies is required by law on dogs over 6 months in Nevada and must be administered by a veterinarian. I also used an optional Bordetella vaccine to help prevent kennel cough.
Parainfluenza and Bordetella are both strains of several different strains of kennel cough which is an airborne virus.
Canine distemper is a contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of puppies and dogs. It is transmitted through the use of common feed and water bowls. It is also transmitted by airborne exposure. Initially, infected dogs will develop watery to pus-like discharge from their eyes. They then develop fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting. As the virus attacks the nervous system, infected dogs develop circling behavior, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions with jaw chewing movements and salivation, seizures, and partial or complete paralysis. The virus may also cause the footpads to thicken and harden, leading to its nickname “hard pad disease” (Appel et al, 1972).
The Parvo virus attacks rapidly-dividing cells in a dog’s body, most severely affecting the intestinal tract. Parvovirus also attacks the white blood cells, and when young animals are infected, the virus can damage the heart muscle and cause lifelong cardiac problems. Parvovirus is extremely contagious and can be spread by any thing that comes in contact with an infected dog’s feces. The virus can live in the environment for months even years, and may survive on inanimate objects such as food bowls, shoes, clothes, carpet and floors. Currently there are no drugs which can kill the virus. Supportive care is suggested (ASPCA). Bleach kills parvo virus living outside the host. I have had several young dogs come down with parvo.
Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH) is a worldwide, contagious disease of dogs with signs that vary from a slight fever and congestion of the mucous membranes to severe depression, marked leukopenia, and coagulation disorders (Aiello & Moses, 2012).
Canine Leptospirosis, or Leptospira Interrogans, is a zoonotic disease and has a wide range of clinical presentations. Before vaccinations, dogs were the maintenance host. Lepto may cause liver, kidney and renal failure, and all the problems associated. Muscle pain, stiffness, weakness, trembling, or reluctance to move or relax is common in dogs with lepto (Lunn, 2015).
Horses also require dental care. Their teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime and if their bite is off slightly and the teeth aren’t worn, the teeth will become long and impair the horse’s ability to eat.
stock dog trailing cattle
Training of both horses and dogs to become reliable help is of the utmost importance. I use modern methods of applying principles of psychology to both dog and horse training.
Most trainers use strictly positive reinforcement or strictly negative reinforcement, but, there are actually four quadrants of operant training. Using them in dog and horse training is exactly the same as behavior analysts do to mold or correct children’s behavior. The first is positive punishment (P+), which is adding an aversive stimulus such as spanking, shouting, jerking with the leash or reins (if training dogs or horses, not children), which will reduce the frequency of a behavior. Negative punishment (P-) is removing a desirable stimulus, such as attention to the dog or horse when undesired behavior occurs. Removing the desired stimulus reduces the frequency of undesired behavior. Positive reinforcement (R+) is adding a desirable stimulus such as attention or a treat to increase the frequency of a desired behavior. Negative reinforcement (R-) is removing an aversive stimulus such as the shock of an electric collar, tension on the leash or reins, harsh words, ear pinch or a spur to the side to increase the frequency of the desired behavior (Malott 2008). I have incorporated the four quadrants of operant training in my training program for both dogs and horses. Over time I have used many types of training methods, some worked and some didn’t. I learned a lot using the methods that didn’t work. I learned exactly why certain methods didn’t work for me.
machine shed, garage and old tractor
Ranchers have a myriad of equipment. Equipment ranging from haying and feeding equipment to small caterpillars and road maintenance equipment. Haying equipment ranges from modern to very old. Most of our equipment was very old. The price of cattle was low when I had the ranch. I wasn’t able to invest in new equipment. Having old equipment can be good or bad. Old equipment is easy to maintain and work on compared to the modern equipment, but finding parts for old equipment isn’t always easy. We had four old Farmall tractors, a four-wheel drive Massey-Ferguson, and an old Ford tractor. We had two hang-on mowers, a wheel rake, a baler (small bales), a harrow bed stacker, and a scatter rake. We also had ditchers, wagons, sleds, plows, and miscellaneous implements.
Interior of our old log barn
Even though I only owned the ranch for five years, I had a lifetime of experience, being raised and working there. I had to sell the ranch in 2010. With economic hard times, having to pay a ranch manager, the low price of cattle, and the fact I had a full time kennel business in Elko made it impossible for me to continue in the ranching business. It was hard to sell the ranch because it had been in my family for several generations.
My Dad and I shortly before he passed away