Varies between pleasant and murderous

Whitehurst marci
Freelance Writer
Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can foll...

This year, drought is impacting cattle producers across the West. Fires have been consistent and temperatures high. Producers are looking at hay prices starting at $300 a ton. If you sell hay, this can be favorable. If you buy hay, this means you have the option to purchase hay at this price if you don’t have enough grass, or you may be reducing herd size.

We have chosen to reduce herd size.

While this season may bring frustration, it also means opportunity. It is a chance to reevaluate herd health and cull cattle that may not have a favorable profit margin.

We were moving cattle recently and looking at body conditions and temperaments. We will also look at breeding rates.


Since the ranch calves in the spring, preg checking will happen in the fall. We don’t keep opens. One year, one of our favorite cows came up open. We didn’t keep her.

Do you have favorite cows? I know we aren’t supposed to play favorites with our kids – and we don’t! However, it is really easy to have favorite cows.

Our favorite cows are the cows that look nice – they have great body condition, they don’t get sick, they raise healthy calves, they have nice temperaments and they live forever. They are the ones in the field you raise a glass to or smile whenever you see them.

Then there are the non-favorites – the antagonists. We’ve had less of these in recent years because we are selective with our cattle, but every once in awhile, we still get one. These are the cows that go their own way on every cattle move, they hop fences like kangaroos, they forget their babies, they get sick and their body conditions aren’t great. If they act like your horse has a big bull’s-eye on it, they go down the road. We don’t keep dangerous cattle; it isn’t worth it. These cattle often have a name.

When we first started out, we bought a few rotten cattle – never again. We paid for them dearly. They cost us time, energy, money and peace. One particular rip charged me. I wasn’t actually helping with her, really. Our son was a baby and I was carrying him around. She hopped her designated area and charged me. I ran and got our son in a dry ditch area with the other two kids before she lifted me up with her head and tossed me down. Thankfully, I was only bruised and sore. My hubby got her into the trailer and took her straight to town. She became burger. (This was before it was a year-long wait to get into a processor.)

We do our best to act calm with cows, which helps. However, sometimes you pick up a cow at a sale that looks like an angel and then acts like the devil. It would be nice if these cattle were named in the sale ring: Rip Snort, Snot, Charger, Leg Breaker, Crazy, Widow Maker. I know they wouldn’t sell, but it sure would be nice if everyone was warned.

The only time I gave a cow a person’s name was when I was trying to convince my hubby to buy a skinny cow. I don’t ordinarily do that, but I had a gut feeling that this one just needed groceries. She darn near was a no sale, but he relented. He could’ve ducked his head and pointed at me, like it was my fault, but he didn’t. He raised our number, and we got her. She gained weight in green pastures and raised several healthy calves. I’m not always right, but this cow was a good buy.

This year, as we look forward to preg checking, I’m hopeful our new favorites will all be bred. I’m hopeful that all the cows will be bred and that someone with a little more grass will benefit from our culls. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was always that easy?

As it is, though, we have learned to make things easier than we used to do them. I suppose we are all changing and growing as we learn new things and experience new things. I know that the me I used to be is much different than who I am now. I once heard someone say that you ought to look at dating your spouse as true dating because the two of you will always be changing as you age. I like this because none of us stay the same – and hopefully we are like wine and get better with age.

Regardless of how we change, we are always adapting because there are so many variables with ranching – weather being a big one. So whatever this fall brings (I suspect an early winter, but we’ll see), may we all adapt to the best of our abilities. And may all our favorite cows be bred. end mark

Marci Whitehurst is a freelance writer, ranch wife and the mother of three children. You can follow her on her blog (Cowboy Wife).