Two-by-Two; Sorting Cow-Calf Pairs

The rain has come, and given the pastures a good dose of moisture.  Our babies are growing up – can you believe they are almost 2 months old?!  By the end of the month we anticipate to have all of the calves through branding (this will be covered extensively in the next couple of weeks). In order to be prepared for the upcoming events, our to-do list includes what we call “sorting pairs”

Who are the pairs?

Right now our herd includes cows with calves at their side, and also cows who have not yet calved.  So this week we are sorting the cow-calf pairs from the cows that have not yet calved . SJG-8879-web

What do we sort?

For the most part, calves follow their mothers. Slowly and quietly, we will walk cow-calf pairs through a gate, leaving those who have not calved, in the first field.  Over the next 2-3 days, the cows with their calf at foot, will be slowly moved closer to the corrals we will use on our branding day. Over the course of the walk to the gate, it is the perfect opportunity for us to assess the health of the calf and condition of the mother cow.

This sounds easy enough, but the grass is always greener on the other side – and cows are smart! Once the cows know what we are doing they tend to congregate around the gate, making it difficult to move the pairs we want through while keeping the rest. That’s our cue to move to a different spot in the field where we can try to use a different gate. Once all the gates get crowded we stop for the day.  We don’t want to push the sorting process too quickly because the calves can get displaced from their mother, and confusion ensues – much like humans!

How do we sort?

Sorting is done either on a 4-wheeler (ATV) or on horseback. Historically we used horses. But ATVs can cover a field faster, requires fewer people, and as the cows have gotten used to them, they respond quietly and calmly.

Once all the cow-calf pairs are in the same field they will be moved to the next pasture, closer to the corral and will be easy to gather on branding day.

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Cool facts about grazing animals and how far they walk per day

The average distance a beef cow will travel in a day will vary with the environment, breed and grazing conditions (i.e. type of grazing management – moved frequently or seasonally). More excitable breeds tend to walk more than docile breeds and smaller pastures will reduce walking distance compared to larger pastures even if water and mineral are available in uniform distances throughout. Research (page 155) has found that beef cows on Oklahoma prairie grassland traveled an average of 3.13 miles daily in a 1500 acre paddock.  Lactating cows in the Montana foothills was 2.9 miles daily; the level of milk production, body weight, weaning weight of calves had no measurable effect on the distance traveled. On the extensive rangelands in Australia cattle will walk between 4-9 miles per day and up to 12 miles per day.

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