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Flying T Salers
I just reread our "Winter of 93" report and note that we concluded with the upbeat news that after months of being snow-bound the thaw was beginning and the first mosquito of spring had appeared. Well the next day we were mud-bound. Our driveway became the open mouth of a pagan earth goddess with a voracious appetite for any moving vehicles. The sacrifices to this evil pit included pickups, tractors, dump trucks, a road grader, and even a D-d Cat. In trying to retrieve our worldly possessions from this tenacious maw we managed to reduce every rope chain, and cable on the ranch to nothing longer than three feet. After six weeks of throwing all manner of rocks, gravel, and biological waste at it, our road again became passable.
We can't complain about the weather this winter because we haven't, had any. There were a couple of 9 below zero nights at Thanksgiving: time along with six inches of snow. Since then its been mostly dust. Calving has been very uneventful under these conditions. We have over 80 calves on the ground with no loses of any kind. It is so dry that some are starting to use the "D" word again, but we expect a wet April. Anyway, we have a good well which can get us through another dry spell. The past year has been rather boring. About the only thing earth shaking around here is the earth. Last fall the terra firma quit being firrna and still isn't. The quakes were a rather ho hum affair out here on the ranch but did make the national news for a couple of nights. For those in Klamath Fails, closer to the epicenter, it was a more moving experience. In fact there were several buildings in town that escaped being crushed by last winter's snow only to be brought down by these recent temblors. I read somewhere that one of these quakes was the strongest this century in Oregon. So it seems Mother Nature has us setting records again.
Anyhow, the locals now know all about aftershocks and Richter Scales just like the big city folks down south. I never have been able to figure out how Mr. Richter measures stuff so around here we rate these things on our own BS Scale. A mild shake is an "S" which rattles the house about like our five year old Susie tumbling down the stairs. A moderate rumble is a "B" and is a good rendition of seven year old Brandan thumpity bumping down from his room. Now a humdinger of a quake is a "BS" which would be those two doing a duet down the stairs. So far we haven't had any "BS" around here. (You're supposed to believe that!)
After enduring foot deep snow drifts inside our under construction barn last year we vowed to get the walls up and the doors hung before this winter arrived. I guess we were sufficiently motivated because the barn is at last completely enclosed. We now have a place to bring our problems in out of the weather. As the saga of the Flying T Barn enters its eleventh year all that remains is to paint the critter red and have a barn warming party. Since we had to grow the trees and then mill the lumber I guess we're about on schedule with this project.
Our other major achievement is in finally getting the upper hand with the computer. This is mostly due to the efforts of Arwen. Our resident genius with those things. Promoted as a leap out of the Stone Age of three ring binders and number two pencils, the Flying T entered the computer world of hardware, software, and printouts three years ago. Though tentative in our acceptance of this new technology we bravely set out to discover the wondrous doors this electronic marvel might open. Touted as the key to superior management of everything from manure to money and observing that nature took cars of the former and we had none of the later, we decided to try to better manage what we did have: cows. Specifically, we wanted to identify the best cow in the herd, and make a bunch more like her.
For three years we've been shoveling numbers at our computer. Now we need to learn how to deal with all the data we are generating. We have statistics on everything we can weigh, measure, or put a date on. There are even statistics on statistics. We have genealogies on cows going back to the ancestors of Adam Bovine and his wife Eve. We can tell you if Penelope's great uncle Jim on her father's side was polled or horned and if his mother jumped the fence to conceive him. It has gotten so complicated that I'm thinking of giving our cattle last names to keep it all straight. (That's in addition to the names some of them acquire as I pick myself up out of the mud at calf tagging time.)
We now have the technology to categorize our cattle by age, ear tag, tattoo, IQ, time in 40 yard dash, volume of their bellow, and how far they blow snot. So how does this wealth of knowledge help us in our quest to locate our most desirable cow? Well it doesn't because that information is in another file called calf data. The best way I know to evaluate a factory is by the quality of what it produces. Whether it's cars, calves, or Crisco. the factory that turns out the best performing product for the least cost is number one. So in evaluating our calf factories we turn to the calves for report cards on their mamas.
The information we are using here is of several types. There are EPD's for 5 or 6 traits along with accuracies for each. There are birth weights, weaning weights, and yearling weights, both actual and adjusted. Then there are a variety of in herd ratios that indicate how far above or below average an individual ranks for a given trait.
Several years ago we developed the idea that a good indicator of a cow's value was how big a calf she weaned relative to her own size. For example, it seemed that a 1000 Ib. cow with a 500 Ib. calf was a better deal than a 1400 Ib. cow with a 600 Ib. calf. So we started weighing our calves and their mamas at weaning time. With this information .we developed a .ratio that ranks our cows production relative to their size. At last we could identify the perfect cow.
It was an auspicious and exciting moment, when after years of research, we finally pushed the last button and the ear tag number of our much sought after Super Mama appeared on the computer screen. The data indicated that while most of our cows will wean about 50% of their weight this superior animal produces 70%. The computer also told us that she has the best maternal traits and highest milking EPD's in the herd. Strangely, there was no record of her as an embryo donor or any mention of a show career. So with great expectations and printout in hand, we headed for the pasture to get a good look at this mystery cow that was to become the foundation of our new high performance herd. It didn't take long to locate Super Mama in ail her black and white glory, licking the milk off the half Holstein face of her humongous Enterprise son. So hooray for the computer! It managed to find my milk cow; the one that eats three times as much as any other cow on the ranch and calves only in even numbered years.
The point is that it takes more than numbers to make a cow. Single trait selection can take you places you never wanted to be. And using the biggest numbers will get you there quickest. A cow's job is to turn a minimum amount of feed into a maximum amount of calf, and do it every year without making the cowboy's life too miserable in the process. (Around here she'd better keep the cowgirls happy too because the only thing I know nastier than an ornery cow is a female that just encountered one.) Though her job description is simple, a cow's complete performance cannot be reduced to a few numbers on a printout.
We hauled some show cattle around to the local fairs again last fall and toted home more than our share of purple ribbons. The crowning achievement of this exercise came at Tulelake. After showing our fullblood bull in the preliminaries we wound up in the show ring for the selection of Grand Champion of All Breeds. Our Salers was in worthy competition with an Angus and a Simmental. Imagine everyone's dismay when the judge announced his selection was a Shorthorn. Imagine my dismay when he handed me the purple ribbon! Imagine Ambush's dismay when he learned his 2000 year French pedigree could be mistaken for anything English! I had failed to realize when I started breeding Saiers 13 years ago I would eventually reinvent the Shorthorn. I guess I need to have a word with my old genetics professor.
We also participated in the Cattleman's Steer Feeding Contest at Oregon State University last spring. This is an ail breed competition open to ranchers from around the state. We are proud to report that our Saiers cross steer placed second overall in addition to winning second in the carcass portion of this contest.
We had a French exchange student again last summer. We have been very impressed with our previous students from that part of the world and thoroughly enjoyed their time with us. This past summer's student was a new experience. My theory is that when her plane landed in Frisco she looked out the window and figured maybe she had wound up in the third world. A couple of weeks here on the ranch removed all doubt. Her daily routine revolved around trips to the mailbox and phone calls to France. We all agreed she wasn't made of ranching stock. Being charitable. I don't think any of us would have fared too well in Paris either. Her school required her to spend two months here. Her bus left Klamath Falls in the middle of the night exactly two months and 15 minutes after her arrival. I can report there was no shortage of volunteers to drive her in there.
The crew out here made it through another year in pretty good shape. Arwen returned from Oregon State last spring and didn't require too much retraining to get back into ranch routine. In addition to her degree, she acquired a fiance and will be leaving to pursue marital bliss next fall. We have always figured an advantage to having girl help is they are bait to lure in boy help. It sure worked this time. Shelly is leaving too. After tending to the needs of the show cattle for a couple of seasons she's acquired the urge to cook them. So she's off to chef school to learn to create the finished product.
Brandan and Susie are both in school now. He's the biggest kid in second grade with outstanding EPD's for growth. Susie is in Kindergarten and has been named kid of the week. They are good help around the ranch with Brandan showing particular skills with the ranch pickup and Susie displaying an aptitude for back seat driving.
Virginia surmounted one of life's little hurdles last month by surviving the conflagration on top of her birthday cake. She finally out lived her first half century and now her little offsprings can run around school bragging that mommy is a senior citizen. If I seem insensitive to this state of affairs it may be because I had to endure similar treatment two years ago.
In closing let me invite you to visit any time. We enjoy showing our Salers to people who appreciate practical cattle. At the moment we have 20 two and 45 yearling bulls available. Many are black, most are polled and all are selected for good dispositions and calving ease. We also have semen on two new polled herdsires we're quite proud of. Its even possible to talk us out of some females once in a while. Best of all, we're the most competitive Salers breeder around.
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