Ranching 101

Before I write anything about how shipping went I thought I would explain a few ranching basics for my city friends.

First, I should point out that different parts of the country do things a bit differently and even different ranches in the same part of the country can vary a bit on how they operate, so I’m just going to give you a quick overview of how we do things at our place.


We generally start calving in late February to early March and that continues until about mid April.  The heifers – the cows who are about to have their first calf – are brought to the calving barn.  They are kept in a pasture next to the calving facility and watched closely 24 hours a day so that we can help any that might have trouble.  The older cows typically do just fine on their own since they’ve been around that block before.  They are kept out on the winter feed grounds and ridden through once a day to make sure everyone is looking happy and healthy.


Starting around mid May we start branding.  This involves gathering all the cows and calves in bunches of about 200-300.  We put them in a corral and then the calves are branded, ear marked, vaccinated and the bull calves are castrated.

Artificial Insemination

Towards the end of May the heifers are artificially inseminated.  This helps to make sure that they will all calve within a few weeks of each other – because nobody really wants to be checking heifers at midnight any longer than they have to – and you can also be a bit pickier with the bulls that you use that way.


After they have been branded each bunch is trailed to the summer pastures.  We go up the stock trail which all the neighboring ranches use to move their cattle and sheep from winter feed grounds to summer pastures.  We just keep in touch with each other and take turns to avoid any major traffic jams and mixing of herds – which would make 35W in a storm storm look like a cake walk.  It takes about 3-4 days, if weather is good, to make the trip, which I think is around 20 miles or so from start to finish.


Once they are safely in the mountain the cows and calves just enjoy the grass (hopefully) and cooler temps.  We ride through them frequently to watch for any sickness or injuries and to make sure the bulls are hanging out with the cows and doing their job. Around the first of July we move to the far side of our summer pasture in order to give the grass on the near side a rest.  Then typically we move them back around late August or early September to start getting ready for shipping.  As I’ve mentioned this year is different in that respect.

Other summer happenings include but are not limited to; fixing fence, haying, irrigating, general maintenance and planning for the next year.


Shipping is when the calves are shipped off to whomever has bought them.  There are typically three ways that calves are sold:  private contract, where you find a buyer or they find you and two parties come to an agreement on price and delivery date; video auction, this is where a video of your cattle is shown at a an auction and buyers can also access the sale online, this is how ours were sold this year; auction barn, this is when you take a load of cattle to an auction barn and they are auctioned off.

Then on the agreed upon delivery date the cows and calves are gathered, the calves are sorted off from the cows, weighed and loaded onto trucks and sent to the buyer.

Fall Work

In the fall the cows will stay in the summer pastures as long as the grass holds up and the snow holds off.  Once it snows, or they run out of grass, the cows are trailed back down to the winter pastures.  We also pregnancy test the cows in the fall and the dries – the cows that are not pregnant – are usually sold.


Winter is spent feeding cattle, general maintenance projects that didn’t get done in the summer and getting ready for calving.  The cows are fed hay and sometimes cake – which is basically like a vitamin for cattle.

And then we do it all again.  This isn’t a complete list by any means and every year can bring a new set of challenges to work through, as this years drought has, but those are the basic highlights.  A lot of careful thought, hard work and effort goes into taking care of both the cattle and the land.

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