Why do we brand, tag and vaccinate our animals?
The first week of June every year, we have our annual branding.
We hire a crew of about 10 people, we gather the cow/calf herd at sunrise and go to work.
Two people at a time on horseback roping calves, one person branding, one person castrating and, one person vaccinating and one person ear-tagging. Sometimes the riders catch the calf like this picture shows, sometimes just one rider catches the calf by the hind legs and one person holds the front legs.
This is a pretty stressful day for the animal, no doubt, but with everyone working simultaneously, each calf takes about a minute to work. The calf is then released and goes back to Mom.
We plan this day in our grazing plan months in advance. We make sure the animals are grazing next to the pen we are working in so the animals don't have to walk a long distance. We make a smaller paddock right next to our working pen so we can keep all the cows right next to the calves. Every possible measure is taken to make this as gentle as possible for the animals.
We brand and ear-tag all our calves for identification purposes. The ear-tag is used for our record keeping, it identifies the year the calf was born and we use the number to match the calf with his/her Mom. Our brand is unique to our operation and by branding, if any of our animals are ever stolen (yes this still happens) this is the only way we can prove that they are ours.
We castrate our bull calves and vaccinate all our calves for 8 clostridial diseases.
There are several reasons to castrate bull calves. This is necessary for the welfare of the cattle herd. Bulls like to fight with each other. It is even more of a concern when new bulls are introduced to each other or when the bull calves hit puberty. They fight to establish dominance and even after the pecking order is determined they will continue to fight to re-assert dominance.
Since we need breeding bulls, this problem cannot be avoided entirely, however, by castrating the non-breeding animals the number of bulls goes from half the calf crop to the eight breeding bulls we keep year around.
Another reason for castrating is Americans prefer the taste of steer meat over bull meat. The hormone profile changes the flavor profile of the meat.
The reason we vaccinate our calves for clostridial diseases is because the Clostridial diseases are a group of mostly fatal infections caused by bacteria belonging to the group called Clostridia. These organisms have the ability to form protective shell-like spores when exposed to adverse conditions. This allows them to remain potentially infective in soils for decades and present a real danger to the livestock population.
We also vaccinate for an array of diseases collectively called Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD). These are pneumonia-like diseases and can cause a lot of sickness in mostly young cattle. There are 5 BRD's that we vaccinate for, but it is only one vaccination as all 5 are included in the vaccine. Similarly, all 8 Clostrida are in one vaccination, so each calf only receives 2 shots. Even with a closed herd like ours we feel that this is necessary in order to keep our herd healthy, mostly because they come into fence line contact with other people's cattle which may or may not be immunized.
We do NOT implant synthetic growth hormones, EVER! Don't confuse antibiotics with vaccines. Vaccines protect against disease, antibiotics help the immune system fight off or recover from disease. If we have a sick animal in need of treatment we will treat that animal with antibiotics, that animal will not ever be processed and sold through Graze The Prairie.