One of the things I have heard about being a good cowman is the ability to listen to the cattle and let them tell you what needs to be done.
That is true and sometimes I know it to be true – especially when it comes to grazing and rotating – but I also don’t completely subscribe to this theory either.
Cattle are just dumb animals, and they need us to decide what is best for them. I don’t know if I completely believe this to be true either, but most of the time I probably come closer to this line of thought. That was until Saturday.
Saturday, I was told I had a couple head of cattle in the road, and immediately I went to check it out. I have my replacement heifers and the bull I am using on them in a small trap close to the house, and they were the culprits. To be more specific, it was one of the heifers and the bull.
The bull I am using on my heifers is one that I had planned on culling all along, but when I found out that I needed to have hip replacement I decided to make things easier and use him to breed the heifers rather than to AI them this year. Then at the end of 60 days I could load him up and take him to the sale.
Good old 45 has been a great bull for us. He has primarily been our heifer bull and he has produced a number of nice calves. We have never had to pull one yet. The No. 1 objective of a heifer bull is to produce live calves, and he has done exactly that. However, like all good things, this too needed to come to an end.
We have kept a number of heifers out of him, and that makes things even more difficult when he is the heifer bull. This year was the exception because everything we kept was out of one of the other bulls. The plan was to sell him July 1.
Back to him being out in the road. Jennifer and I took Roo, the cow dog, and drove over to put him in. He is a gentle old bull and sometimes that is a problem. It was this day especially.
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Jennifer opened the gate, I got around him and turned Roo loose. She went in with her best barking and bluster.
Nothing. He just stared her down and didn’t move an inch.
This infuriated Roo and she went nuts on him. The bull didn’t even blink and kept eating the tasty road grass.
Being in my crippled state, Jennifer decided she would walk behind him, and I would turn him at the gate. This worked a lot better. He turned from Jennifer and grudgingly started working his way down the fence, stopping to eat mouthfuls of grass every other step.
He was a few yards from rounding the corner and being in when he decided to turn, put his head through the fence and make another opening. That was the time I started to think he was trying to tell me something, and it was close enough to July 1.
The realization continued to grow the whole time I mended the wire he pushed off the posts and stretched out. That night when we fed the group their grain, he was off under a shade tree by himself, and again I decided he was trying to tell me that breeding season was over.
The next afternoon we needed to move a couple of the old cows that were temporarily housed with the heifers. We called the group in and everything, but the bull came. He decided he did not need to come in and that the hay in the feeder was a bigger priority. The third time was the charm because at that moment I decided that June 26 was the magic date and the next day he could make that last journey to the sale barn.
He walked in easily with some guidance and prodding by Jennifer. He didn’t resist but he did saunter in at his own pace. I will say this for him, he saved us the need to sort him from the cows and that was helpful, but I am also as sure if he had come in with the herd as planned, we would have been done sooner. We left him in the sorting pen with a tank of water and a bale of hay. The next morning, I loaded him up for the last ride.
I had the gates all open to the trailer and before I could even get around him, he walked out of the pen, up the alley and onto the trailer. He stood and looked at me while I walked up and slammed the door on him.
On second thought, maybe cattle are smarter than I give them credit for and all we need to do is listen. Then again, if he knew where that trailer was really headed, I probably didn’t want to know what he had to say.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension educator for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.