- October 13, 2017
- Tiffany Schwenke
Shipping calves is the accumulation of the last year’s work. Over the last year ranchers have experienced sleepless nights, stressful situations, sickness, death, the miracle of life, moments of triumphs, and close calls. They have felt every emotion possible. They have done research. They have spent time caring for, feeding, and doctoring these calves. They have called family, friends, and neighbors to help gather and move the cattle. Bulls have been carefully selected. A lot of thought and effort has gone into what all depends on shipping the calves. Shipping calves is the one big payday of the year for the ranch. Most people get paid biweekly or monthly. Ranchers have to make one check last all year. To quote a Trinity Seely song, “Just trying hard to spread it thin, so we can do it all again and hoping that the rains come this time.”
Some ranchers sell their calves to a buyer who is a representative for a cattle buying company. Which means they already know how much they are getting for their calves per pound. The deal has been made with terms and conditions. This means the weight of the calves and the number of calves on shipping day needs to be within those set in the contract. If the numbers on the weight are off, that can make a big difference and nullify the deal. Of course if the calves don’t weigh enough it is bad, but also if they weigh too much then the buyer would have to pay more than what had been agreed upon in the contract. There are usually set parameters within the contract and the calves need to be within that weight range.
Some ranchers sell at a live auction in a sale barn or on a live video feed. This means they have no guarantee on how much their calves will sell for and no set weight that they all need to be. A live auction can either be very exciting or very heartbreaking. A year’s worth of hopes and dreams all depends on the highest bid taken. A low sale can be seriously detrimental to the bottom line of the ranch. A high sale price means that the ranch will have a little less stress and a feeling of having a successful year! Maybe you can buy a few new bulls or maybe some new replacement heifers or maybe not have to stress about the winter feed bill! It is nice to have those options. The truth is, that doesn’t happen very often. Most years the ranchers are just trying to stay afloat, unless the ranch is owned by a big corporation or rich person that was made rich by another means. All cowboys work hard. Big corporations hire cowboys who tend to the cattle and other ranch work. The small ranchers do the cowboy work themselves with the help of maybe one hired hand, some family, good friends, and neighbors. Small ranchers work hard to try to keep their operation going themselves so they don’t have to sell out to some big corporation. Cowboys work hard to be stewards to the land and the livestock.
No matter if you are a hired hand on a ranch or the ranch owner, shipping day is a big deal for everyone. Cattle have been gathered off of the summer range and pushed to pastures closer to the corrals where they will be sorted. Some operations wean their calves weeks in advance before shipping day and some wait. Every operation is different. If they aren’t weaned prior to shipping day then, first cows and calves will be sorted. Then heifer calves and steer calves will be sorted. The brand inspector will clear the calves for sale after verifying all have the correct brand on them. This year’s calf crop will be weighed and the trucks will be loaded.
With beauty all around in bright fall colors, big fat calves, and the fact that the cowboys know they won’t be horseback near as much throughout the upcoming winter, they really appreciate being horseback bringing in their year’s worth of work to the corrals. Shipping day is a good day to look your herd over to see if there are any old cows that need culled or need doctored. The winter is coming and the last thing you want is an old cow that can’t make it through the cold months without suffering. Believe it or not, cowboys care about their cows.
With any type of business deal there is paperwork to be done.
With all that goes into taking care of cattle it is obvious that cowboys don’t do it for the pay. The reward is the simple way of life they get to lead. The serene landscapes, saving the life of a newborn animal, tending to livestock, and riding a good horse are what make this profession worth while.
Shipping calves is a highly anticipated day of year and after the trucks leave, it all starts over again.
About Tiffany Schwenke
My family has been ranching and raising horses for over 100 years. We raise, train, and market AQHA horses at North Four Mile Creek Horse Ranch. We produce the annual event WYO WILD RIDE RANCH RODEO. I am a wife and a mother to 3 amazing...