Forms of Identification

Identification within the cattle industry is a very important part of management and record keeping. It is important that as beef producers we use a form of identification to differentiate our cattle from one another, as well as keep our records complete and understandable through documentation. There are four main types of identification that beef producers can choose to use within their cattle herds. No one identification method is better or worse than the other. Depending on geographic location is a big determining factor of identification and how producers will choose to identify their cattle. Below are the four identification methods that beef producers use to identify their cattle within the herds.

ear tag

Ear tags are comparable to an earring in a human. Displayed on the outside of the ear with numbers or letters, this method of identification is used more so within smaller herd sizes because the ear tags are not super big. Reading them may require being a closer distance to the animal, but ear tags can come in multiple colors which can differentiate owners within a family or breeds within a herd.


A tattoo is a form of identification within the ear. Little needles pinch through the ear flesh and leave permanent holes within the ear. Both numbers and letters are used in this form of identification which is used specifically for show cattle. Tattoo identification is used to match identity on record papers, which is comparable to a humans birth certificate. The letters signify the year which is universal for all herds and the numbers indicate the order of birth between calves on the certain farm.

hot branding

Hot branding is a prevalent form of identification within large herds, specifically out west due to the large number of cattle within all ranchers herds. This form of identification uses hot coals to burn the hair off of the animal and can be seen at far away distances. Only hurting for minimum time, both letters and numbers are burned into the animal to signify a specific farm. Because pasture land is plentiful and herds are larger, it is important that ranches brand their cattle at a young age to identify their calves versus a neighbors which also prevents stealing.

freeze branding

Freeze branding is comparable to hot branding where the brand is permanent to the animal with both letters and numbers. Freeze branding uses extreme cold to kill the cells in the animal’s skin that produce pigmentation, or color, and is a prevalent method out west where herd sizes are large. A freeze branded animal will have white hair where the freeze branding iron touched the skin.

We all have a form of identification to differentiate us from other people, and the same is with cattle and cattle herds. Methods are helpful and necessary within beef herds to increase healthy management and effective record keeping.

Happy Tuesday!



Stage Two: Backgrounding

Approximately 751 total days makes up the complete lifecycle of cattle. For the first 205 days, the calf spends with its mother who provides it milk as its main source of nutrients, and at the end of this time the weaning process occurs. After the weaning process occurs, cow/calf producers can sell their calves to other farms and calves will enter what is called a backgrounding stage for 100 days.

The backgrounding stage is considered the second stage in the bovine lifecycle and is also known as the intermediate stage after weaning and before placement in a feedlot. Background feeding relies heavily on forages such as pasture grasses and hay in a combination with grains, if the producer chooses, to help increase the calf’s weight during this time frame. The goal during the backgrounding stage is for the calves to reach 700 to 800 pounds, as well as build up immunity to diseases before it potentially enters a feedlot. The duration of the backgrounding stage is 3 to 5 months.

Producers that focus consistently on backgrounding cattle maintain heard sizes of cattle that are around the same age, meaning the calves were all born within two to three months of each other. The concept behind keeping all cattle close in age helps with consistency and efficiency of feeding and gaining weight, as well as consistency of the timeline of the cattle growing before they enter a feedlot.


Cattle in the backgrounding stage of the bovine timeline are consistently the same age and weight and spend the majority of their time grazing on grass to convert into lean protein.

Producers by the name of ‘Stockers’ background cattle between the ages of six to twelve months where they will spend the majority of their life grazing on pasture grass with some grain mixtures as a part of the balanced diet. In this stage, cattle gain weight and convert forage and grass into lean protein.

With approximately 100 days out of the total 751 days in the complete bovine timeline (conception to harvest), it is safe to say that all cattle spend the majority of their lives grazing on grass, it is the last four to six months that determines if a producer will finish them out on a grain based or grass fed diet.


Check back next Tuesday to learn about the feedlot stages of raising beef cattle.

Have a great Tuesday!



Weaning: A Part of Life

The beef industry is more than just the tender and juicy steak that sits on your plate hot off the grill. It is more than just the baby calves running in the pasture or feeding hay to the mama cows; the beef industry is a connection of many different sectors and family farms all working hard to raise a healthy and wholesome product, so that at the end of the day we as producers, as well as consumers can enjoy a hardy cut of steak with both family and friends.

cow and baby

Calves spend the first five to seven months with their mothers receiving nutrients from their milk and learning to eat forages and grains

An essential sector of the beef industry is the cow/calf operation where producers’ birth mother cows and offspring are cared for. Caring for their babies is the top priority of the cow for the first five to seven months as the baby calves receive most of their nutrients such as protein from their mother’s milk. However, at the end of approximately 205 days, or seven months, calves are weaned from their mothers and begin living strictly on their own.

Weaning is known as the process of managing without something or someone on which a species has become dependent on, such as young dependent on its mother’s milk. The mothers need time to put weight back on and have a rest period before birthing another calf. The ruminate of the calf takes four months to develop and after this time frame, the older a calf gets the more mature it becomes and can eat other foods, such as grass, hay, and grain that will sustain its body. The weaning process can be completed in a handful of ways such as fence line weaning or gradual weaning. Both weaning processes allow the calves and cows to be in familiar surroundings, as well as see and smell their mothers during the process of learning to live fully on their own, without their mother’s milk.

calves at gate

Gradual weaning allows calves to be separated by gates from their mothers during the evenings and return with their mothers during the days for approximately 3-4 days


Fence line weaning happens in one day with a fence separating the mothers and babies

During the weaning process, both the mama cows and their calves bawl because of being separated. The bawling is more of a psychological factor because the mother and baby are use to being together and bonding and being separated is a life change. As one looks at the process of weaning, mama cows seem to bawl more during the separation than the calves because as the calves get older and bigger, they spend more time away from their mothers playing with the other calves. Weaning is comparable to a mother sending her child to school for the first time, watching him/her get a driver licenses, or dropping them off at college. It is separation from what has been the norm, however it needs to happen and both the mother and child or calf has to learn to be on their own.

It is important that the weaning process takes place around the calf being five to seven months of age for the safety of the mama cows. The calves are old enough to function on their own, so if they are left with their mothers, they would continue to take the nutritional milk that needs to be reproduced for the next offspring. The bull calves would also begin to harass their mothers, which could result in stressful and unhealthy circumstances.

drinking milk

The older a calf gets the better it is able to care for itself. Weaning a calf at 5-7 months of age ensures the mother cow can rest and reproduce milk for her next offspring

Beef producers have the goal to produce a healthy product, on four feet or on the table. To produce a healthy product during the stage of weaning, the cows and calves need to have minimum stress and be closely monitored for injury and sicknesses. The stress level is also minimized when producers wean during adequate temperatures, meaning that the day of weaning is not too hot or cold and rainy which results in the least amount of stress and sickness which overall results in a better product.

calves eating grain

As calves learn to be away from their mothers full time, they eat grain, hay, and other forages to maintain a healthy lifestyle

Weaning calves from their mothers is a natural process that all (animals and humans) go through. For the overall health, safety, and low levels of stress on both the cow and calf, weaning is beneficial and is the beginning of another sector of the beef industry bovine timeline.


Not all “Cows” are Cows

Terminology to a beef producer is important. As a young kid growing up on the farm, it was important for me to learn the terminology, as well as the difference between the beef animals that we had on our family farm. Not only is it important to learn and call the animals by the correct terminology and names, but educating our consumers about this terminology is necessary. Throughout the entirety of the beef chain, all beef animals have their purpose that coincides with their correct term, or name.


A bull is an intact male. Bulls’ purpose is to provide semen in order to breed cows and produce offspring. Bulls produce semen starting at the age of ten months and produce until they are no longer able to provide a sufficient amount to use for breeding.


A cow is a female mom. Once the female produces offspring she is called a cow. A cow also produces milk in her udder for her baby.


A beef cows’ main job is to provide and care for her offspring until the farmer or rancher weans the baby-unlike a dairy cow that has a main purpose to provide milk for consumers, beef cows provide milk specifically for their offspring.



A calf is a newborn baby. Both male and female babies are called a calf when they are first born.


A steer is a castrated male. A steers’ main purpose is to produce meat. As an industry, we castrate and raise steers because bulls are very territorial. In comparison to a steer, bulls are also bigger and more massive in their front end rather than in the rump area. A steer is fed to market weight which is between 1200-1300 pounds which take approximately 18 to 24 months.


A heifer is a female that is one year old. All females are called heifers until they produce offspring, but until they are one year old, we continue to call them a calf or a heifer calf. A heifer’s purpose is to grow until they are able to be breed at the age of one and produce offspring 9 months after conception.


It is important to understand that not all beef animals can be, or are, called a “cow” because that is not the correct name or terminology. It is important as a producer and consumer alike to understand the difference in beef animal terminology, as well as the difference in production between the beef animals.

Beef, Barns, and Babies!




Calving Season is Here!

Around the country, and at my own operation, calving season is beginning!  Producers usually time-breed their animals so that they will all calve out within a two month period, reducing labor costs and ensuring a uniform calf crop!


“Little Miss Sass”



Calving season means two things – lots of excitement and very little sleep!  When it comes down to the week that my cow is due, we watch her carefully for signs of calving – swishing tails, discomfort, mucus, and filling of her udder.  If we see all these signs, we know that she is close to having her calf and will probably calve out within 48 hours!  We get up every few hours every night to make sure she isn’t having any trouble if she does start.  Making sure our cows and calves are healthy and happy is top priority for all producers!


A full Udder, Restlessness and Mucus around the tail are indicators a calf is coming soon!


After she calves, we separate our cow into a different pen to make sure she gets plenty to eat and her calf isn’t bullied by the other cows.  Not all operations do this, but because we are so small, it’s possible for us!  We check to make sure the calf is nursing, as it needs to receive all the “good stuff” such as immunoglobulins, and easily digestible nutrients contained in colostrum.  If the weather is bad, we will make sure that the calf is warm and mom and baby have shelter to stay out of the storm.  It is very important to make sure the cow has easy access to water, as she will be very thirsty and tired after the long process of calving.  The most important part though is to make sure everyone is doing okay and then to leave the cow alone.  We want her to bond with her baby and not cause her any stress.


Our cow wanted to make sure the camera was safe to have around her calf!


Receiving colostrum is important to the future growth potential and immune system of that calf












The next day, we eartag our calves for identification purposes and give them another once over to make sure they are still nursing and look healthy.  Calving season is one of my favorite times of the year!  Spending time with the babies (given that Momma is okay with this) is lots of fun, and for show cattle is an integral part of making them good show calves later on in life.



Spending time with calves ensures they are used to humans and being handled


Taking selfies with Ms. Elsie a.k.a. “The Princess of Everything”












From the Heart of Beef,






Bottle Baby Care

This past week, one of my first time heifers calved. Unfortunately this heifer did not have any milk to be a mother to her new baby calf. In situations like this, it is a beef producers’ duty to take care of the calf and make sure that it remains healthy and growing. Because the baby’s mother did not have milk to feed her calf, we now have a “bottle baby” at my farm. It is our responsibility as beef producers to ensure our newborns receive the nutrients and proper care they need, even when their mother does not take care or feed them.


Colostrum is important for baby calves to receive with the first 24 hours of their life. As a colostrum supplement, my family chooses to use Lifeline or frozen colostrum from other cows we have milked out to ensure the calf gets the needed nutrients and vitamins to sustain a healthy, quality life.

mixing milk

As a milk supplement, we mix milk replacer and warm water together.

pooring milk

The milk replacer used per feeding is 10 ounces of dry matter with a 4 pint bottle of water. Mix the two together, poor it in a calf bottle, and it is time to feed!

frog eating

Baby “Frog” gets fed 4 pints of milk twice a day. The milk replacer used has needed vitamins and minerals to compliment the same nutrients she would receive if she was drinking milk from her mom.


Like all newborn babies, once her tummy is full, she is happy and content. We will feed “Frog” approximately one month before introducing her to dry feed-then she will drink milk and eat hay and feed just like all the other baby calves that are still able to drink from their mothers.

Have a happy Tuesday!





The first time you meet Larry Grider, you would meet a man who thinks he is never wrong, has a lot of rough edges and truly lives up to the stubborn “Grider” name. He will tell you all about how when he hunts, the elk is “boom, down,” no chase, just drops dead. He will also tell you about how you are doing everything wrong with your cattle, and what you should really be doing. But underneath his tough exterior, you will find a man who has worked every day of his life and who cares deeply about his cattle.


His “babies”


Helping Get Cake








Larry ranches in northern New Mexico, near Grants, where he runs a cow/calf operation on several different properties. Every morning, after he checks in on his mom, he drives his ranch truck to all these properties to check cows, and serve them their cake. He also keeps a pasture of bulls, which he has fond names for, such as “Not Afraid”. During calving season, he keeps careful records on which cows have calved and which are due. If he can’t find a cow, he will drive around until he finds her, probably with her new calf, and make sure she hasn’t had any trouble.

As he drives out to feed cows, they come up to the truck and you can hardly move they are so thick. Roll down the window and a long tongue will weasel its way in to search for tasty things to eat. As he feeds them, he checks each one and gives them a pet. There are a few special cows that he gives extra attention to – mainly ones that were orphaned and he bottle-fed to maturity.


“Huncher” – Bottle Baby

Larry may come across as unemotional and gruff, but spend a few moments and you will see that he would do anything for his animals, no matter the cost. He has no formal education, but is a veterinarian, market analyst and ruminant nutritionist all in the same day. Most importantly, he is my Uncle and makes me proud to be a Grider.


“Fifty-One” Helping break ice


The “Real” Rancher


Cattle Breeding

There are lots of different ways that we can breed cattle, and even more breeds to choose from! I am a bit a repro guru, and I really enjoy learning about all the different ways we can ensure conception in our cattle, in fact, I just had an embryo flush done on my cow, Bella!  Below are a few different ways ranchers can breed their cattle.


  1. Natural Service – This is where the female is turned out with a bull, and is serviced by him when she comes into a natural heat. Cows typically come into estrus (heat) every 21 days. The rancher will select a bull that is suited for his cows and production goals and will then perform a breeding soundness exam prior to turning the bull out with the cows. One bull will service approximately 25 cows.
Hangin' out with the Ladies!

Hangin’ out with the Ladies!


  1. Artificial Insemination – Use of A.I. is increasing in popularity, particularly in the show cattle industry. A genetically superior bull is collected at a bull stud, then his semen is packaged into straws and frozen in liquid nitrogen. This allows the genetics of this bull to be shipped all over the world! Ranchers can then buy this semen and breed their cows recto-vaginally. A.I. typically has about a 60% success rate and costs about $50 per cow. Using this method allows ranchers to have greater access to a range of superior bulls and cuts down on cost and management of owning a bull (since they love to tear through fences!).

Visual of How to A.I.


Gettin’ It Done!








  1. Another new and exciting method of breeding cattle is through embryo transfer. A donor cow is superovulated using specific hormones. This means she will ovulate more oocytes, or “eggs”, than during a usual heat cycle. She is then A.I.’d, which allows these oocytes to become fertilized embryos. The embryos hang out in the donor cow for a few days, before being removed and either transferred into a recipient cow or frozen in liquid nitrogen. Embryo transfer allows one female to produce multiple offspring very quickly, without the toll pregnancy takes on her. The end result is a donor cow that is not pregnant and multiple recipient cows that are carrying the donor’s calves.

What Embryos look like before being implanted into a recipient cow


One donor cow with all of her calves. Each of these calves was once an embryo placed into a recipient cow!









All of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages, but they are all guaranteed safe for consumers. Embryo transfer, in particular, is a very exciting way to breed cattle and is helping to meet our demands for not only raising better quality cattle, but increasing our cattle numbers, and ultimately decreasing prices!