I recently had a conversation with someone in my office just this week asking if I felt bad doing all those unnecessary things to my calves. Wouldn’t you rather market them as humane he said? I saw that at Whole Foods,he said and thought of you. Funny how I looked at him and did not feel the hairs stand up on the back of my neck or felt anger swell in my tummy- for me it was a valid question from someone not familiar with cattle ranching asking a question and I had an answer – the best answer I knew. For me it was quite simple.
He asked why I branded, castrated and vaccinated my cattle- he inquired why I did these things and he was sure it hurt them. My answer was simple – sure it hurts …………………. For a bit, no different than when we ride a bike as a child barreling down a hill and then face plant ourselves on the blacktop – haven’t we all done this ? Sure, did it hurt? Sure but it went away!
At our branding this year I took the time to see how long we actually had the calves on the table. For you see my family processes all of our calves on a branding table. The calves are put through a chute and then once secured the chute is tipped on its side, I like to think of it as an operating table, once on its side the calves are branded, vaccinated and castrated if necessary. The table is then flipped back upright and the calves released. Many times running to their mommas and grabbing a quick drink of milk. They are on the table for approximately 6-7 minutes. Within an hour of my observation, calves were laying down chewing their cuds. For those that don’t know cattle chewing their cuds are a sign they are content. I am sure at the time it hurt them but by the time we were done with the group of calves they were ready to head back out into the foothills and resume their life.
Why do we brand our calves? This is a clear identification system. If our cattle ever got out onto a public road or misplaced by walking through a fence and onto another’s property or even my goodness stolen from our property, authorities would know where they came from and work would be done to get them back home. Why do we vaccinate? To prevent- plain and simple. No different than a childs booster shots or flu shots we as adults receive. Our vaccinations prevent our calves from all sorts of disease and shield them from future harm. Do we add hormones? Not on our operation, our calves are considered natural; we do not inject them with any growth stimulants. And finally why castrate? We do not raise our male calves for bulls. We are not in the business of marketing bull calves, we market steers. Steers are easier to handle, docile and finish out sooner due to fat deposition than bulls. We also do not want our bulls mating with our heifers; they roam on our range together until the time they are weaned from their mamas. Our calves are marketed as steers; they will grow and finish out and then harvested and sold in grocery stores or end up in restaurants.
After processing is done calves are watched daily to make sure all goes well – I am not going to say that problems don’t arise for I would be fibbing to you however in all the years I have been on our family ranch it is rare for us to lose a calf or have a problem occur after processing them, I feel confident in saying very rare does a problem occur.
My cattle are cared for 365 days a year, always are fed before my family is fed and always tended to when they do become sick. I have had baby calves in my back porch and on the floor of my truck more times than I can count to warm them up and get them back on their feet. Baby calf bottles seem to be on the counter of my kitchen more than not during calving time and colostrums milk seems to always take up space in the fridge. We now use paddles when moving calves around rather than whips that used to be the tool of choice. I have a plastic paddle with beads in on the end that make a noise, similar to a childs rattle, by rattling the paddle on the side or in front or back of a calf will push him along where he needs to go whether thru a chute or down an alley. My paddle is of course Pink! Would you think anything other for a couture cowgirl? Think not.
So when people ask me – doesn’t it hurt the calves? I am not going to lie and say nah it doesn’t hurt I am going to say sure it does for a short period of time , no different than giving our own children their yearly shots or circumcision a young boy or perhaps touching an open flame on the stove before our moms smacked our hands.
We are doing nothing wrong , we are providing a healthy, safe product, a product that when is born on our ranch we care for it just like one of our own kids and I have no problems telling anyone what we do . For me it is simple, ask me a question about what we do and hopefully I can engage with you in a conversation or dialogue to explain it all – will you change your mind? Hmmmmmmm not sure but you can bet that I will provide you with a truthful, honest answer.