The Ranching Life Cycle, Part 1

The Ranching Life Cycle, Part 1

Before I begin this post, it might be helpful if I explain some ranch terminology to you.  It’s a little dry, but stick with me.  Also…please don’t laugh at me if you already know this!!  :)

Bull: male bovine, capable of reproducing. 

Cow: mature female bovine that has already given birth to at least 2       calves (experienced mama’s).

Cow/calf pair (or just “pair” for short):  the above cow, with her calf         at her side.

Heifer:  young female bovine.  There are several different terms               used to identify the different ages of heifer’s.  They are as                     follows: 

  • Breeding heifer: 1 or 2 yr. old heifer that you intend to, or have already turned bulls in with for the 1st time.
  • Bred heifer:  Same animal as above, except now she is confirmed pregnant. 
  • First calf heifer:  2 or 3 yr. old heifer that has successfully given birth to 1 calf.
  • Second calf heifer:  3 or 4 yr. old heifer that has successfully given birth to her 2nd calf.  (This happens to be the most valuable animal on a cow/calf ranch.  She has proven twice that she is a good mother, and she has a long life ahead of her to be productive.)

Yearling:  This can be either a male or female bovine who is 1 year           old.

Steer:  Male bovine that has been castrated.


A ranch’s life cycle begins when the bulls are turned in to breed the cows, and ends approximately 18 month’s later when those calves are weaned.  So, you actually have overlapping cycles.  Just like with wild animals, a cow is still raising one calf while she is pregnant with the next one.  She gets a break after one calf is weaned and before the next one is born.  Here on our ranch, that amount to 4 or 5 months between November/December and late April.  

Right now we're at the beginning of a new cycle, that means this week we have been working toward getting the bulls turned in with the cows & breeding heifers.  Before we could do that this year, we had to sort our breeding heifers out of the cow/calf pairs.  We were gone to AZ (visiting David & Reagan) for 2 weeks in June/July, so before leaving we put all the female cattle together in one pasture in the very middle of our place.  That way if something got out of the pasture while we were gone, they would still be in one of OUR pastures instead of the neighbors, or worse yet out on the road!  (Thankfully, everyone was where they were supposed to be when we got home.)

It has been hot here this week, so in an effort to beat the heat, we left the barn on horseback by 6:30 on Thursday morning to start sorting. 

It was about a 3 ½ mile ride to where we started gathering the cattle.  As we neared Grandma’s house, we rode over the top of a rattlesnake.  It buzzed loudly, and spooked some of the horses.  

Rattlesnakes are a threat to everyone.  They bite cows, horses, dogs and people alike, so we always try to kill them when we find them, especially when they’re close to a home!  Denver used his rope to try and kill this one, but it escaped down a hole after 2 or 3 swings.

Once we had the cattle gathered we put ½ of them into a pen, and let the cows out one gate, and the heifers out another gate that went into a different pasture.  We repeated the same process with the second half of the cattle.  It’s fun to sort cattle on horseback when your horse knows what you want to do, and does it well.

Aja, Victoria & Denver sort cattle while Daniel runs the heifer gate.

TJ & Cherish took a break while the rest of us sorted off the yearlings.  They had fun playing in the old squeeze shoot just outside the sorting pen.

When break time was over, Cherish was determined to get back on her horse, Scotch, all by herself.  Short girl, tall horse...that makes it complicated!  After several failed attempts, TJ decided to lend her a hand.

When the heifers were sorted off (and we were all horseback again!), we got behind the heifers and headed them northwest.  

We again had about 3 ½ miles to go, and the heifers really wanted to go back to the cows.  One or two of the heifers would get out and head back toward the pasture they had just left, so someone would have to go after them, and bring them back to the herd.  That left the rest of us trying to fill the gap left by the missing person.  It felt like we had to fight them every step of the way.  It was NOT fun!!  We finally got them into the pasture north of our house, and decided to leave them there until the next morning.  They would likely move better in the cool of the morning, and we would definitely work better then, too!

 Friday morning we were again leaving the barn around 6:30.  We had decided to take Grace & Ida (2 of our cows that we milk) along with the heifers.  The milk cows would know where to go, and the heifers could just follow them.  That did work better.  Neither milk cow was real happy about having to go with, but Ida did reluctantly oblige, and ended up being a pretty good leader in the end.  (I wish I could say the same for Grace…she spent the first half of the trip trying to go back home!)  In the end we did get the heifers successfully sorted, and put in their own pasture...even if it took longer than we anticipated. :) 

Next time I’ll share some pictures and details about moving the bulls out to pasture.  Sometimes that can be an adventure!  Thanks for visiting!

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