Dead on arrival

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click image to zoomcattlePhoto Credit: Lydia Bechtel Dealing with death on the farm or ranch is never easy Life and death are things you learn about at an early age growing up on a farm or ranch. Over the weekend I was reminded of the importance of those lessons.

On Friday, during my trip home as I rounded the curves of the gravel road near the Bechtel Ranch cow pasture, I stopped. I stopped not just to watch the sunset and take pictures of my “girls,” but also to be sure that no calves were on the ground yet.

Much to my surprise I found a calf nursing one of our cows about a quarter of a mile into the pasture. It only looked like a small black blob in my digital camera, but I knew it was the first calf of the year.

Saturday morning I made my routine ride through the cows and to tag the new baby. No luck finding the calf. The mother, #1007, must have had the newborn hidden in the grass, so I just had to come back before sunset.

I made my way back to pasture and there was the new baby standing with #1007. After a little tango with the cow and the calf-hook I was able to tag our newest addition, a black bull calf weighing around 65 lbs.

Photo Credit: Wyatt Bechtel  
The first calf of the year is doing well.  

Sunday morning wasn’t so joyous. Upon arriving to the pasture I found two cows standing together away from the herd. One was #1007 with no sight of her calf, the other was #1001. I wasn’t too worried about #1007’s calf as I believed she had it hidden, so I moved on to examining #1001.

She just had a calf; unfortunately it was dead before my arrival. There was nothing I could do at this point but remove the lifeless bull calf from the pasture and perhaps do a necropsy. I felt terrible thinking of what possibly could have gone wrong.

Could I have been out there sooner checking the cows and possibly caught the problem? Did I use bulls with not enough calving ease or too high of birth weight EPDs? Did I cause a genetic defect to occur in our herd by using similar genetics? All of these scenarios and more ran through my head as I drove back to the house with the lifeless calf. To say the least it was a bumpy ride not just through the pasture, but emotionally.

I had my father, who is a veterinarian, look the calf over and we came to the conclusion that #1001 just took too long having the calf. We weighed the calf because he was a bit larger than #1007’s and he came in at 75 lbs., an average weight. I’ll have to come to a decision this October before we turn out our bulls if I want to keep #1001 around, but for now I’ve got 75 other cows to worry about.

  Photo credit: Wyatt Bechtel  

#1001 maynot be on the ranch much
longer after losing her calf.


Animal rights activists believe I only view that dead calf as lost dollars, but it is more than that. The calf is a lost life. He is lost potential nourishment for many people. He is also a reflection of some kind of failure on my part as a producer.

That Sunday evening after raking hay and before heading back to Kansas City I made sure to find #1007’s bull calf. Luckily, he was with his mother nursing as I rounded the gravel curves. That was one bright spot I could reflect on as I made my drive back for work.

I, like many producers, care for my animals a great deal and death is never easy to deal with, especially when it comes to the loss of new born animals. No matter how hard producers try, we can’t save every animal’s life. However, we’ll try our hardest to prevent every unnecessary death that we can, and in the process raise a safe and healthy product for consumers.

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Bea Elliott    
Florida  |  July, 18, 2013 at 10:04 AM

"I wasn’t too worried about #1007’s calf as I believed she had it hidden." It? It??? You had already put a tag on him/her yet you still call him/her an "it". That speaks volumes to how the industry views these walking "protein" production units. Death is certainly never easy to deal with when it's planned, orchestrated and determined according to dollars. Please... Do try harder to avoid "unnecessary" death and focus on a plant based diet instead.

Old West  |  July, 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Get a freaking life, Bea! (If that is even your real name.) Your vitriolic responses and hatred toward humans is disgusting and speak volumes about the animal rights religion and views toward your fellow mankind. I don't WANT a plant based diet and I'm sick and tired of you all trying to force it down people's throats. You are more judgmental than ANY religion I have ever come across. Even the Mormons who come periodically to my door can be turned away politely and I never feel that they wish me ill as they turn away. Can't say the same about ANY animal rights freak I have ever come across...vile, nasty and filled with rage all of you.

Iowa  |  July, 18, 2013 at 11:07 AM

Bea and Chris, Seems to me that you are just opposites sides of the same coin. You would be happier if you could learn to live in peace with more things.

Enfield, CT  |  July, 18, 2013 at 03:35 PM

I grew up hearing how my great grand parents were farmers, the farm was long gone before I was born but yet I still wanted to get into farming somehow. I started through 4-H showing dairy cattle and before I knew it, I also was showing Beef, Oxen, Goats, Miniature Horses, Chickens etc. With all those animals on our property I too, learned about death. Whether your raising farm animals for hobby or for profit they all become part of the family. Any decent person raising an animal is going to care about that animal. We will be concerned if it gets hurt, sick or dies. Why people think farmers are heartless individuals that treat animals like crap is beyond me. Maybe the factory farms are whats giving other small farms a bad rap but people have to understand that its just like anything else. Big business does what it wants without regard of anyone. So, my suggestion, stay with the small local farms, because they actually care.

Bl 1    
Ok.  |  July, 18, 2013 at 10:19 PM

Dear Bea When Mama is breathing down your neck. You weight tag and get the heck out of the way. You often go by cow and calf tag because those are their names.

Old West  |  July, 18, 2013 at 11:11 PM

I am perfectly at peace, Rancher and I wish no one ill will. Being at peace does not mean I have to sit back and get insulted and vilified by anyone. I can defend myself without wishing ill on anyone. I turn the other cheek until and unless doing that just gets me punched in the other one. Then I tend to defend myself as anyone else would.

sigrid van fondern    
KY  |  July, 19, 2013 at 10:14 AM

I know the feeling, we always care about our livestock, but I don't think animal rights activist understand that even after many years of ranching, one gets affected by any animal we are losing, whether it is due to calving or illness. Our animals are part of our family. I wish people who are not involved in farming would understand that.

July, 19, 2013 at 10:28 AM

Bea, Chris & all: By 10 a.m., I had already been outside for four hours, where I moved three groups of cattle to new grass. I came in hot and sweating to rest and read these messages from people who obviously spend most of their time in front of a computer screen. Such misunderstanding saddens me. I am a long-time rancher, long-time grazier, and long-time caretaker and fan of domesticated livestock. Grass can be grown where crops cannot and should not be grown. Grain has always been grown in order to provide food for people, who find it easier and more convenient to live in cities rather than out on the land where they must work in less than comfortable conditions. People cannot eat grasses, clovers or weeds, but cows can. Cows that eat grass and other forages, therefore, provide a plant-based diet from land that cannot support people otherwise. As the cow eats the grass, she returns manure to fertilize it, something tractors and combines cannot do. She can provide milk for her calf and for people. (Yes, I have milked a few of our beef cows in my time to provide milk for myself and my family. Not the best way. Now I keep a Jersey cow for that purpose.) Domesticated cattle would not exist if some of us human beings were not willing to care and provide for them so that others can raise their children on high-quality protein. Cattle that graze grass their whole lives are green plant-based. Chickens, hogs, and cattle in feedlots are grain based. Grain is necessary to produce meat in concentrated animal feeding operations, to produce the nuggets, bacon, sausage and hamburgers for sale to people who live in urban areas. Grass-fed beef really could save the world, if more of us were out here working at it.

Auburn CA  |  October, 03, 2013 at 07:36 PM

=( Enough said.

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