|"Ever since I saw a John Wayne movie as a boy in Ireland I have dreamed of coming to America to be a cowboy. Now I'm here running a ranch with 3,000 acres," says Vince Kelly, General Manager for The Carruth Cattle Company ranch in El Paso (AR).||"Being a cowboy is a way of life that I enjoy," says Kelly. "And one I want to help pass on to the next generation." |
Every year on Labor Day the ranch holds a Santa Gertrudis Jr Show for kids. There are premium money prizes, trophies and a barbecue. "More than anything else they will have fun making friends with other people who love raising cattle. It's just a little show before they go on to the big shows. But it gives them a chance to get their animals used to the spectator attention, and the ring."
Parents come with most of the children. There is a place for them to sleep at the ranch, and more can stay in a motel just down the road. Anyone interested can write to Kelly at Carruth Cattle Company P. O. Box 11, El Paso, AR 72045
The sprawling ranch he runs looks just like the opening shot for an old John Wayne movie set in the high country. There are towering hills, sweeping valleys, and grazing cattle. There are knee-deep, clear mountain streams. There are little lakes and tall trees. Among other creatures wild turkeys and browsing deer are frequent visitors. The fences are almost invisible so the horizon seems to go on forever. At first glance the ranch might be mistaken for one from the beginning of the century with a dozen cowboys. Yet, Kelly's rugged 4-wheel drive pickup with a load of supplement blends right in. The herd of dark red cows scarcely even notice the truck is coming.
Blending the old and the new is what makes the ranch profitable. For instance, it might take 3 or 4 big men on horses to move a herd this size, so Kelly uses two small dogs and does it by himself. Horses would wear out quick in this rugged country so he seldom rides one, using the Ford to get around in; A pickup is a lot warmer than a horse in the winter too. If Kelly should ever get stuck he has a portable telephone to call for help on.
"You can't imagine how much a little thing like that phone helps out on a place this big. If I ever need help getting a cow out of a bog all I have to do is pick up the phone. Since it is portable I can plug it right into any tractor I get on too."
The pickup stops at a round bale ring. Asked to demonstrate the dogs, Kelly steps out and motions once with his hand. Immediately, his two speckled gray dogs leap over the tailgate and lunge at the heels of a few cows on this side, then on the other side. In just a few seconds the cows are gathered together into a herd.
"Those are Australian Blue Heelers," Kelly identifies the dogs. "They love their work."
Kelly motions again and the dogs turn the herd towards the far gate. When told that the dogs have been well-trained he agrees and says: "Yes, but that is only half of it. The cows have been trained too. When the dogs point them up the hill the cows know they are heading for the barn. If they get pointed down the hill they know they are heading for the gate. That makes everything a whole lot easier for the dogs, and me."
In the contented silence of the moment Kelly turns back to the pickup. His gaze caresses the hills then lingers on the herd again for a moment. "Being a cowboy in America is not the way I dreamed it would be. It's better."
What makes it better is blending your ways of getting things done with the latest technology that will meet your needs even better: Powerful trucks, and smart dogs. Easy grazing, and simple feeding. Till, and no-till. Branding irons, and computers.
How do branding irons and computers go together? Your old cowboys might have known a mossy horn or two in the herd, and maybe even a few with special markings. But Kelly insists that knowing your cows individually is an essential part of improving and maintaining the quality of your brood herd. When he walks through any herd on the place he can point at every cow there and tell you something about her. "This one has had two calves now. That one over there with the crooked horn is 9 years old."
With 1,200 cows on the ranch, that looks amazing. Actually, it is simple. On the Carruth Cattle Company ranch every bull, every cow, every calf is identified separately on computer by their brand. The day calves drop they get an ear tag. That tag number identifies them on computer, showing their breeding, date of birth, everything. The colors tell the years.
"The computer identifies each calf for us by that ear tag," Kelly explains. "If that tag says she is the 357th calf born in the year 1995, she will also be branded on the left hip with a 357 over a 5 (for 1995). Any time I see her in the pasture, her brand will tell me who she is, and how good she is. If a buyer comes here 10 years from now I can tell him how many of her calves were worth keeping, and how much each one weighed at weaning time. If there is any decision to be made about her, or her calf, I won't have to make it in the dark. I can make it knowing all about that cow."
The Carruth ranch raises 3 kinds of cattle; Charolais, Santa Gertrudis and a cross of those. Having calves show up all over the ranch, and all year long, might be more natural, but it would run a cowboy ragged. So instead, two calving seasons are orchestrated, spring and fall, by sending replacement heifers to their other ranch for breeding. Then they are kept separate by fences which divide the ranch up into pastures.
"Some cows just won't get bred. They go to town." So does any cow that can't raise a calf half her own weight in a season; that's another way the computer helps make decisions.
Only the best heifers get to become brood cows. Once in the pasture only the brood cows whose calves turn out good get kept. The computer data on each calf helps Kelly make wiser decisions about which borderline cases are worth keeping. "Half your replacements will go to town if you are culling your herds right."
Does that mean Kelly is heartless in all his decisions? Not hardly. At most dairies calves are removed from the mother at birth (three days at the most) and survivors are on solid food within weeks. There are constant health problems, and dead calves are hauled out every day.
Kelly is all the way on the other side of the fence; He leaves calves right with the mother for up to 8 months!
"The cow is there," Kelly explains. "It is more natural and it just makes good sense to let her go on taking care of the calf." Very seldom do they lose one. Because of the natural bonding and extra nourishment all the calves in his herds are almost glowing with good health when it comes time for backgrounding (at the other ranch).
"Our bulls will weigh maybe 685 and the heifers will weigh right at 590." The computer data on each calf helps Kelly make wiser decisions about which borderline cases are worth keeping, and which ones get culled. Only the top bulls are kept for sale as registered; the others are topped off for slaughter.
Modern technology is wonderful, but you have to blend it with what you know and what you do to fit your own needs. Every step you save can mean another dollar in your pocket every time you use that time-saver.
For instance, Kelly invented a special ball-hitch attachment for the tractor that makes it much easier to hook up to trailers. "Just back up, and lift; you're ready to haul hay. It may not be high-tech, but it is faster, easier, and more fun."
Kelly is especially delighted with their new round bale baler. The old baler was still good. And the twine for it only cost about 10 cents per bale. So, why change to an auto wrap net baler that costs about a dollar fifty a bale just for twine? It saves money!
"We bought a new 660 auto wrap net baler from New Holland last year. We'd never go back to string."
He pulls a netted bale open and shows what's inside. "These have been sitting here since May (8 months). You can't tell any difference between this hay and fresh baled. The cows can't either. The protein is just as high and the taste just as good."
When a tractor picks up one of the old bales and one of the netted bales, the difference is even more obvious. With twine the bottom part is a soggy mess. The bottom of the netted bale is just barely moist. And the best part is these are just as easy to handle now as the day they were baled.
There are other advantages. With the old twine baler, even in the barn their hay lost weight, lost shape, and became harder to handle. Kelly points at the gentle slope. "Now we can put our hay up outside on any hill the water will run off. Yet you might as well say there isn't any loss at all. Then we see the quality at the time of feeding, and there is just no way we'd go back to twine."
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A thing of beauty
is a joy forever:
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