Far more exciting than NFL Draft Day, Draft Day at Blasdel Ranch is the day that determines, to a large degree, the future of the herd. (I was hoping to insert a witty sports joke here, but who am I kidding – I’ve got nothin’)
I have fond memories of riding in my dad’s pickup truck, checking cows while he lectured my brother and me about optimal genetic qualities. Sometimes I’d stare blankly out at the cattle, eyes glazing over, feeling like I could not possibly listen to one more fact about the Angus breed. Now, however, I’m so grateful for his words of wisdom.
(I’ll try not to get too nerdy here…)
Bull selection probably has the greatest influence on the genetics of a calf crop, but the genes passed down from the mother cow certainly have an impact, too.
To maximize the reproductive potential of cows, and due to their natural life cycle, most ranchers have to replace somewhere around 15% of their herd yearly. Before we take our calves to market, we select around 30 heifers* to add back into our herd as replacements.
*For my non-ranchy readers, a heifer is a female who has not yet had a calf 🙂
To make it in the Big Leagues on the ranch, a heifer must possess a specific set of genetic qualities.
The traits we look for in our “keeper heifers” are mostly aesthetic. I laughed out loud when I was typing the next section. It felt oddly similar to what someone would write in a “what are you looking for” section in an online dating profile… cringe
To make the cut, a heifer should be at a healthy weight, with nice feet and legs, a flat back, generally “pretty”, and with a nice personality.
Selecting the keepers with such scrutiny helps ensure a high-performing herd for years to come.
From a philosophical standpoint, I recognize the weirdness of this process. This type of selection feels at the same time both really cool and slightly freaky. In this microcosm of the universe, we have such direct control of the lives of hundreds of living creatures. We select who we keep, we choose their mates, and we provide them with food, water, and the means to live. Then repeat, generation after generation.
So, with the power vested in me, (as learned from my dad), we endeavor to make the lives of our cattle awesome. In every way, from the hands we hire to care for them, to the feed they’re nourished with, we want their lives to be as good as possible while they’re still in our control.
Am I too sentimental for this industry? Perhaps.
But are our cows happy and healthy? As far as I can tell, yes!
This year, since it was the first time choosing the keepers without my dad, I requested a few extra sets of eyes to assist with Round 1 of The Draft.
Jake and Aunt Marita – both people of excellent taste – accompanied me to the pasture with the newly weaned calves. We reviewed the desirable qualities, and armed with pen and paper we each made a list of our favorites. At the end we compared lists. Any heifer who got 2+ votes made it through to The Final Round of the Draft.
Several days later, one of my best friends from college, Alex, was visiting. While she was here, The Final Round took place. Though she’s a city girl, Alex possesses some innate cowboy qualities that would make any OSU alumni proud! (Not to mention her impressive two-stepping abilities, and her celebrity-autographed cowboy boots!)
The list from a few days prior + the opinions of our ranch hands + Alex’s input were all taken into consideration for The Final Draft. We ended up with 32 great looking heifers, who will hopefully grow into productive cows for years to come.
It’ll be exciting to watch them grow up, and it’s especially meaningful to know that so many people had a vested interest in selecting them. The future is now!
Till next time! -N
and remember you Herd it Here!