A Conversation With Kids About Cattle Production

Frankness is one of the greatest traits in middle school students and probably one of the personality quirks that drives their parents to the brink. I have taught middle school for the majority of my career and am currently teaching online students from my home on the family farm and ranch in northeastern Colorado.

My students are located in Colorado, Arizona, Michigan, and California and are primarily in metropolitan areas, with a limited number of exceptions. They know that my family raises cattle and they enjoy seeing photos and hearing stories about what’s happening on our operation.

We had a few moments to visit about agriculture after some students spent time researching GMO foods for a persuasive paper and their interest in food production and life on a ranch was piqued. This was their first question:

What happens to the cattle when they leave your house?

Cattle leave our operation for a couple of different reasons. When bulls leave, they’re purchased by another ranch and will be used to breed cows and heifers and will hopefully improve the next year’s calf crop by making the calves heavier, faster growing, and more powerful. We sell most of our bulls at auction so we carefully clip and feed them so they look as close to the ideal as possible. Many auctions are online so we post videos, photos, descriptions, and data on each bull for customers to see. We have sold cattle online for a number of years. In fact, Facebook is one of our greatest tools in promoting and marketing the cattle we’re offering for sale.

Bull for Sale

We take photos of the bulls we offer for sale at auction and online. Most auctions now are both live and online so having photos and videos of the cattle offered is very important.

When show cattle leave our operation, they are going to be shown, usually as market steers, in livestock shows all across the country. The cattle are trained to lead and are washed, blown out, and clipped daily in preparation for the shows. Many exhibitors keep cattle in a cool room in the barn to keep the cattle comfortable and to encourage hair growth and weight gain. The cattle’s diets are carefully monitored to show them at their best at the various shows. Many of the shows are terminal, meaning that when the show is over and the champions are chosen, the cattle are taken to slaughter. For many young exhibitors, this is an emotional day but this is the intended endpoint.

Champion Hereford Pen

Our family sells cattle to exhibit and also shows cattle to help market the cattle we raise. This is the Grand Champion Pen of Three Prospect Heifers at the 2016 National Western Stock Show. Of the heifers we exhibited at the NWSS, some were purchased to show and some were purchased as replacement heifers and will bred to quality bulls to raise calves.

We retain most of our best heifers and sell the best steers as show steers. The remaining cattle are typically sold at a local auction based on their weight. We carefully manage our cattle by providing necessary health care and a diet based on their nutritional needs. From the local auction, most of these cattle are fed in a feedlot until they weigh enough to go to slaughter. In our area, there are a large number of cattle feeders and processing plants so the cattle often never leave the area.

Show Steer

This particular show steer was shown online and is being shown by a young exhibitor.

Regardless of their intended use, it’s our job to make sure that all the cattle leaving our care are healthy and comfortable. After all, the beef available to consumers is the same beef we feed to our own family.

Rachel SpencerYou can learn more about my family’s operation by visiting www.gabelfarms.com or liking Gabel Farms on Facebook. To learn more about how we market cattle, visit rachelcspencer.wordpress.com or like Rachel Spencer Media on Facebook.