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Farm or freezer? (To breed or not to breed)

Discussion in 'Breeds & Breeding - Cattle' started by IstaItan, Jun 19, 2018.

  1. Jun 19, 2018
    IstaItan

    IstaItan Chillin' with the herd

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    Hi all! I have a silly newby question to ask...

    For background, I am known among friends and apparently also among my husband's work crew as the pied Piper of broken things. In September, 2017, we got a call from one of hubby's laborers that he had found a calf alone in a ditch. Days later, he was still there and very weak. There were no cattle and no farmsteads to be seen for miles, so they brought him home and called us.

    After nearly a week of doctoring, several hours driving back roads with the sheriff, and some very terse words after being called a thief, we tracked down the owner (who didn't know the calf was missing). He runs a few thousand head of Angus and didn't want a calf that couldn't just be put back on the mama, nor did he want to pay for my expenses in keeping the calf alive. In the end, he told us he would just throw it out in the pasture to live (he wasn't even bottle feeding well, he'd have died), then asked if we wanted a calf rather than paying me for my expenses. So we took him back home.

    We made it through him being so dehydrated and malnourished that he was too weak to nurse, then scours, through respiratory illness that reared its head as soon as he was hydrated enough to make mucous, and after a few weeks I stopped reminding my son repeatedly that the calf might not be alive next time we came outside to tend him. We initially planned to band him when he was around 6 months old and stronger... but 9 months later, he is still intact and we are hearing time and again how nicely built he is. Some even going so far as to tell us he should be kept whole as a herd sire.

    Now, my question is if he really is worth that? I've been around livestock all my life, it was ingrained when I was very young that the bull would as soon kill me than look at me, and that I wasn't even to be near the fence. I really did not plan to have cattle until a year from now. He is currently with my horses. He is thoroughly socialized and easy to handle. He leads, loads into the trailer, and is super chill, bit only about 500 lbs. IMG_20180619_073821187.jpg IMG_20180619_074128409.jpg IMG_20180619_073930672.jpg IMG_20180619_073916387.jpg IMG_20180619_073903630.jpg IMG_20180619_073930672.jpg

    Don't mistake me, he's still a bull and I absolutely understand the risks that are inherent to that. I've made a point of teaching my husband and son to never turn their backs on him, to always have a visual on him, to have an exit strategy ahead of time, and that he is not a pet. But in the end, as a small animal vet tech it drove me crazy having clientele that bred animals that should never reproduce.

    So. Besides the fact that it's a pain and a hazard to keep a bull, confirmation wise is this guy worth keeping whole?
     
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  2. Jun 20, 2018
    greybeard

    greybeard Herd Master

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    It's best to take pics when they are in short grass, so the full pastern and hoof is visible

    IF, he is 'about 500lbs' at 9 months, he's pretty light for his age and length.
    A little knock kneed in the front legs and maybe cowhocked in the back legs.
    To be honest, I do not like the looks of his front legs and the problem seems to be in his shoulder.
     
  3. Jun 20, 2018
    Baymule

    Baymule Herd Master

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    You just got a description from one of our best cattlemen on the forum. @farmerjan is another well of knowledge. All I can offer is what has already been said, that he is light for his age. That is probably a result of the setback he suffered as a calf, not genetic. But conformation IS genetic and greybeard has already pointed out some things you might not want in your herd.

    @Wehner Homestead does a lot of AI. Depending on the size of your herd, it might make more sense to use AI rather than keep a bull.

    It’s hard when you get your heart wrapped up in an animal. Freezer might be the better decision.
     
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  4. Jun 20, 2018
    IstaItan

    IstaItan Chillin' with the herd

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    Thank you both! Greybeard, I appreciate the specific details, it helps for future reference. :)

    Baymule, I'd honestly prefer to AI and not have to screw with having a bull, but wanted to make sure I wasn't discarding the proverbial gift horse. It is of course tough when you're emotionally invested in a food animal, but at the end of the day, my obligation is to first do what's best for the animals and land in my care. For those not kept for breeding, that means insuring that their deaths are dignified and that they are well cared for in their lives. If I can accomplish that and teach that methodology to the next generation, it's worth a bit of heartache when I pull a roast out of the freezer and know it by name.

    I've read that it would be best to either band him or leave him intact at this point. Cutting would be more risky. How significant is the difference in taste and texture between a virgin bull and a steer? I'm not terribly picky but the husband is rather high maintenance for an army guy and can tell the difference when I use duck eggs in his omlette...
     
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  5. Jun 20, 2018
    cjc

    cjc Loving the herd life

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    Wow, your story is almost exactly like mine. I too got a calf from a ditch about a year and a half ago, but I knew the owner and he wanted me to take him! He is shorthorn bull calf which I raised on a bottle. He is tiny. Compared to the other calves his age I have he is nearly half of their size, maybe less. Its the most bizarre thing ive ever seen...obviously it stunted his growth somehow. I ended up banding him at about 10 months but he literally had the tiniest balls ever to be blunt. I also did debate keeping him in tact because he was so well natured and easy for me to deal with. But, I just knew he wouldn't be a good bull to have on our farm. I ended up selling him to a petting zoo but I am a crazy cow lady. For me cows that have a real rough start to life like this I do not send for beef.

    I have also learned the importance of having a good bull after having a bull last season that either didn't get my girls pregnant or threw me very sick deformed calves. This season I spent the money and bought a bull from a reputable bull breeder. Every single one of my cows got pregnant this year and I will see what kind of calves they give but so far the results are showing better.

    Anyways, just to share because its absolutely wild to me. This is my cow Petey that I pulled from a ditch at 18 months, I bet he doesn't weigh more than 300lbs. Most bizarre thing ever! But he is a great petting zoo cow.

    Petey.jpg
     
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  6. Jun 20, 2018
    greybeard

    greybeard Herd Master

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    (His weight vs age)
    I agree with that too. It's easy for a struggling offspring no matter the lineage, to become runted. Some will grow out of it, but many never do. Honestly tho, considering the condition and circumstances in which you 'inherited' him, you have done a good job. IF 500 lbs, he's not off target all that much tho

    What to look for on a prospective breeding bull follows the old adage and I don't mean to be crude here, but it's "nuts, butt,and guts". The first 2 are self explanatory. He will need suffecient scrotal circumference to make and store plenty of semen. The testicles need to be uniform too, both in size and location...both fully descended...hang evenly. For an Angus bull under 14 months old, the suggested scrotal circumference is 34.8 cm. (No I don't know off the top of my head..had to look it up) Since he is apparently pretty docile and halter broke you can probably find out, the only way to determine the scrotal dimension is to measure it with a tape.

    The 'butt' part is to get an indication of what kind of market and freezer beef calves he will make. You want to see plenty of muscling back there. Wide and heavy. He, for his weight, is a little light back there, but not terrible by any means. I'd want to see some more width in the rear view, and butt roundness in the side view (some junk-in the-trunk) tho I understand he is young yet.


    The 'guts' part refers to his ability to pack in lots of forage. Unlike a cow that spends her time putting on some muscle and making milk, his job is to get full as soon as possible and spend the day (and night) checking his girls for that short window of opportunity. That takes lots of energy..all day, every day.

    He does seem to be nice and long, contrasted against the trailer in the background.
    He has the nice tight sheath Angus are known for.

    I don't want to sound crude here,but here goes...
    At his age, even tho he is in a pasture with just equines, he should have an occasional erection..just......because. The appendage should be straight and parallel to his underline.

    I mentioned the front legs for a reason.
    We all look hard at a bull's rear legs, because they have to support his prodigious weight during breeding but the front legs need to be well formed with good structure and muscle, because they are used a lot in the initial 'jump' to get mounted, and again to help stay mounted and 'scrunch' forward as the rear legs push..
     
  7. Jun 20, 2018
    Donna R. Raybon

    Donna R. Raybon Loving the herd life

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    Some have to die, so others can live. That is my motto and I give them as good a life as can be asked for: grass, shade, water, food, doctoring when needed, fly control, etc... And, some go to market and some go to freezer. And, if you have space and resources, nothing wrong in making him a steer and keeping as a pet. You can break him to ride, drive, etc... just be mindful that cattle don't sweat like horses so overheat easily.

    The danger you run in keeping a calf you are not certain got enough (or any at all) colostrum at birth is they have a compromised immune system pretty much their whole life. Never had any luck with any that failed to get colostrum in that first 48 hours of life. And, as this calf also was sick, he might have lung compromise issues that will really kick in as he gets bigger. Known in cattle terms as a 'lunger.'

    My experience has been that a bull is LESS dangerous if he is a bit on the standoffish side like they are when raised by cow. Study done years ago showed that bottle raising any breed (beef or dairy) make the resulting adult bull much, much more dangerous to humans.

    I have had several 'found' calves that I raised when no one claimed them. Best one was my cow, Wander, that my milk cow brought in from neighbors pasture. The neighbor had switched pastures a couple days before. The calf finally came out of hiding and was walking up the road as my cow led it from inside fence. A Jersey cow is mother to the world. Neighbor did not want to try to figure out which of his cows it belonged to, so I put the three day old calf on my goats to nurse and raised her. She grew up to be an awesome brangus momma cow. She was my babydoll and thought she was a goat. But, I did not even get close to her the first week she had a calf.... she would clean your plow and meant business!!! After about a week the hormones leveled off and she was fine with me being around her and calf.
     
  8. Jun 20, 2018
    Donna R. Raybon

    Donna R. Raybon Loving the herd life

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    I have put bulls in freezer that were four years old and no problem with taste or texture. Biggest reason feedlots make a steer is it is safer on help and they don't fight one another. A feedlot full of bulls would be a menace to behold!!!!!

    Same for older cows, they make good hamburger, stew meat, roasts, anything that you cook long and slow. Depending upon price it is often more economical to put an old cow in freezer than give her away at stockyard.
     
  9. Jun 20, 2018
    cjc

    cjc Loving the herd life

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    I just have to say from my experience, I have raised many calves that I am certain got zero colostrum in the first week of life and I have never lost a single one. I currently have 8 that I bottle fed, none had colostrum, 7 are pregnant now and 1 is a bull, all 2 years old. So although I appreciate what you're saying because you are right, it can be a real rough go for them, I do not think that their immune system is compromised their entire lives. They do recover most of time and go on to have the same outcome as any other cow we've had on the farm.
     
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  10. Jun 20, 2018
    IstaItan

    IstaItan Chillin' with the herd

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    Thanks Graybeard!
    I may try to measure him for curiosity sake when I have a handler that weighs more than 80 pounds. I suspect he will not care too much, but just for GP...

    I'm certain the combination of his start in life, my abject inexperience, and the fact that I kept him in a smaller pen for the first 7 or 8 months has not done him great favors in physique. I've yet to see any erections from him, but he does try to mount things (including goats, an empty feed barrel that got tipped over, the dog, the husband resulting in an immediate reminder about respecting our space and a pointed discussion about shortening his life expectancy). It would not surprise me to see an erection just about any day now given the behaviors. I can see how being knock kneed would make it difficult to grip and position himself on a cow.

    Cjc your little guy is cute though! I'm sure the kids love him at the petting zoo! And I totally agree that if we're going to keep a bull, he must be worthwhile. Trying to build a herd with weak links will not work out well in the end.

    Donna, I understand what you mean about the colosteum. While I did supplement with store bought colustrum before starting milk reolacer, I remember from my hours of reading that they are only able to effectively absorb in like the first 48 hours so it likely did little or no good as we know for sure he was more than 2 days old when we got him. I actually really expected him to be small and puny, but then again I expected gimto be dead every time I walked in the barn, so I guess he's determined to prove me wrong.

    This is where we started...he still had his dried up umbilical cord when we got him, the pictures were taken over the first 5 days with us. For reference, the dog is about 80 pounds.

    IMG_20170915_182704950.jpg IMG_20170915_181935864.jpg IMG_20170915_181922820.jpg
     
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