St. Bartholomew School
470 Ryders Lane
East Brunswick, NJ 08816
Dear 5th grade class:
Wow, you guys really know how to ask questions! Let me try to answer all of your questions in one letter.
I am happy to hear that you guys care for animals. Part of the joy of getting to do what we do is working with animals. A lot of your questions relate to sick animals. We vaccinate our calves against diseases that cattle can get. They donít get measles or polio, but get diseases with strange names such as Leptospirosis, IBR, BVD and Blackleg If a calf does get sick, we provide medicines to keep them well just as your doctor does for you, but our calves seldom get sick on the ranch.
One of you talked about keeping people away from animals so the animals wonít get sick. Our animals live out on the pasture. It takes from 25 to 40 acres to supply grass for a cow and her calf. This is a very healthy environment and they are not in danger of getting sick from humans. Calves also get a natural immunity from their motherís milk just as humans do.
If you will think about how you get sick, you will realize that it is often because the person next to you in class has been sick. If each room had just one person in it, you probably wouldnít get sick as often. On the ranch, cattle have lots of fresh air and sunshine and are not crowded in confined places; so, they do not often get sick.
The world is designed so beautifully that we are able to use natureís renewable resource of grass to produce the highest quality proteinóbeef. There is no other use for this grass and grass actually does better when properly grazed. During the summer, it provides all of the nutrition the cattle need and we donít feed them anything with the grass they graze.
There was concern about predators. We do have coyotes, but they donít really bother the cattle. If there is a sick calf that we donít find to doctor or care for, occasionally the coyotes will get it. But we work hard to make sure that we care for the sick calves and this doesnít happen. Likewise, if an animal gets hurt, we doctor it and care for it until it gets well. Fortunately, cattle do not get hurt very often. Most of what hurts you is man-made. Our cattle are not around pavement or roads and do not climb on fences or jungle gyms. Cattle do not hurt each other.
Probably the worst predator is worms. Cattle can get a stomach worm from eating grass that has the wormís eggs on it. This worm lives off the animal which means that the feed feeds the animal and the worm. We utilize a wormer when we gather the cattle to keep this from happening.
There are expenses in running a ranch. We have to utilize either windmills or solar wells to provide water for our cattle. Water is as important as grass. In the winter, we provide a protein supplement with minerals so the cattle will have all of their needs met. The main ingredient for protein is a byproduct of cotton, made from the cotton seeds. We feed about two pounds of this per cow per day throughout the winter. They get everything else they need from the grass even though it is dormant.
Keeping fences up and in good condition is another substantial expense. We utilize fences to control grazing; so, pastures can rest and the grass can stay healthy.
I was asked about training cattle. We do not train the cattle. They live in the wild and are happiest when we donít mess with them. There is nothing that we could train them to do that they canít do on their own. The cattle do learn to come to the pickup in the winter to get their protein (we call these pellets ďcakeĒ). We blow a siren that sounds like a police siren and the cattle come to eat. The cake tastes so good, they quickly learn what the siren means.
Cattle are normally gentle. We work hard not to scare them and if the cowboys do their job, the cattle are very tame even when people are around. When we feed our cattle during the winter, we get out and walk among the cattle. In this way, they associate humans with the good experience of eating the ďcakeĒ.
We round up our cattle twice a year. Cowboys ride horses and the cattle have natural herd instincts that allow the cowboys to gather them to the pens. The first time is so we can brand and vaccinate the calves. The second time is to wean the calves from their mothers. We separate them across a fence and have found that, in this way, they readily give up their motherís milk (giving her a much needed rest) while still having the security of their mother nearby. After three or four days, they forget about their mother and are contented eating the grass. We wean them when they are six to seven months old, so they already have been getting most of their nutrition from the grass.
We use two types of identification for our cattle. The first is a brand. One is the sunshine you see on the cartoon cow on my letter head. These let other people know that these are our cattle. Unfortunately, there are still rustlers and the brand helps keep them from stealing and selling our cattle. The second type of identification is an ear tag (sort of like an earring) that has a number on it. This is usually a four digit number and the first number is the year in which the animal is born. The other three digits let us keep track of this particular animal. So 4135 would be the 135th animal that was born in 2014. With our records, we know what medicine or vaccines an animal has received, when it had calves and other information. The number is like a name.
When cattle leave our ranch they go to feedlots where they are fed a corn based ration. This ration is scientifically formulated to provide everything the cattle need to do well. An average animal will eat 24-30 pounds of feed per day and they are fed two times per day in the feedlot. Originally, feedlots were used because all of the cattle came in the fall of the year and this made the market a lot lower in the fall. By feeding the cattle another four to six months, the cattle could be harvested at a time when there wasnít much beef available and the market was higher. People found that an added advantage was that corn fed beef tastes a lot better; so, it was a win-win to feed the cattle.
We allow people to hunt deer wild turkeys and quail. All of these occur naturally on the ranch and they eat the weeds and trees that grow there. We restrict the harvest; so, we will have sustainable numbers for future generations. All are very tasty.
I have five grandchildren who are from five to nine years old. Already, they own part of the ranch and everything I do is aimed at assuring that they will be able to care for the animals and the land just as I do. I am not interested in selling my ranch, but if my grandchildren donít want to run the ranch, I hope they will sell it to someone who derives as much pleasure as I do from being a good steward of the land and animals.