Well, it's Saturday and the first week of my internship is complete! I have had many new experience and learned a lot about everything from low stress cattle handling (expect a post about this in the future) to pre-breeding exams and freeze branding. All of these things are done in an effort to prepare heifers for breeding. It's important that they are healthy and many management factors come in to play to make sure this happens such as proper feeding and nutrition as well as vaccinations to protect them from any diseases or illnesses they may come into contact with.
Good records are also a key part to having a healthy and high quality herd...have you ever heard the old adage, "You can't improve what you don't measure?" In order to keep good records, a producer must be able to identify each one of his cows. This is done by "ear tagging" the cattle. The tag denotes a number that is specific to that animal, no animal has the same number within a herd. While this is an essential and important method of identification, ear tags are often lost by falling out of the ear, get covered in mud, or are rubbed off and the number is impossible to read. With this is mind, it's important to have a second method of identification. Many ranchers choose hot or freeze branding because is a way to permanently identify your cattle...it cannot come off! Hot branding is still widely used today. Freeze branding is a newer method and has many benefits over hot branding. First of all, when the cold iron is applied to the hide of the animal, it kills the pigment of the hair follicle. In 4-8 weeks after branding, the hair follicle will grow back white.
Many research studies have been completed by Texas A&M University and other institutions looking at the differences between hot and freeze branding and which should be the preferred method. Through many trials, they found that freeze branding was less painful for the animal. They measured pain by measuring things like plasma cortisol concentration, epinephrine, heart rate, and number of vocalizations made by the animal.
If you aren't familiar with the cattle industry, you may be wondering why it would be necessary to keep records and what kinds of things you would record. Cattle records are much like human records that would be kept at a doctors office. At birth, the calf's weight and day it was born is recorded as well as things like who it's mother is and if there was any difficulty during the calving process. As the calf grows older, a weight is recorded when it is weaned off it's mothers milk and when it reaches a year old. Any time a calf receives a vaccination, that date and the vaccine that was used is also recorded. Are you getting the picture? Can you imagine what it would be like to keep track of 100 black cows that all looked the same without having ear tags and brands?? Or trying to figure out who is who if 3 black calves lose their ear tags and there is no brand to identify them by? Without proper identification, record keeping would be nearly impossible!