My name is Jill Burkhardt and I am a mixed farmer (small grains, such as wheat, and beef cattle) from Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Today on the farm, we are moving yearling heifers out to summer pasture. What’s a heifer? A heifer refers to female cattle that have never had a calf.
Our farm is a 5th generation family farm. My husband’s family homesteaded just a half-mile up the road from our house in 1901 and have lived in the area ever since. Our land was purchased by his great-grandfather in 1915, and the original homestead is still in the yard. Although the house is uninhabitable, the artifacts remain.
We had our third baby in April. I do most of the calving work on the farm, while my husband, Kelly, is busy preparing for and seeding the crop. Well, this year, I had added challenge of taking care of a newborn human, in addition to newborn calves. It seems like everything is delayed on the farm because I’m busy with our new little guy and not able to help as much as I’m used to.
This year we are a little late moving cattle out to summer pasture. This is due to a few factors…
Last year, 2015, was a drought year for us in north central Alberta, and we had a drier than usual winter and early spring. Rain for us didn’t come until the May Long weekend and fortunately it hasn’t stopped since! We have delayed turn-out to allow the grass to grow up with some good moisture. This allows the grass to “de-stress,” put down good roots for the year, and grow. If we were to turn the cows out on the grass earlier, the grass may have still been in survival mode and stressed and would have decreased grass growth, preventing us to keep our cattle out on pasture later in the fall.
Thankfully, we had feed to use up. Last year, although it was a drought, the rains came later. These later rains landed right during haying season. To bale good hay, we need dry conditions to allow the hay to cure (be dry enough to store properly). Since it was raining, we made the decision to bag our hay turning it into haylage (fermented grass & alfalfa—similar to making pickles!). The haylage doesn’t keep well, so to keep from wasting it, we had to feed it all, and we just ran out in late June.
Before we take the heifers out to pasture, we have to sort them in to two groups. One group will go out to pasture, breed with a bull, become pregnant (hopefully!), have a calf next spring and join our cow herd. The other group will be sold as open (not pregnant) heifers.
After we sorted and got our two groups, we loaded the group going out to pasture into a trailer and drove them to their summer pasture. We always trailer the cows out to summer pasture, rather than “push” them out on horseback because our area has a lot of crop fields, a few houses, and not many fences. It’s safe and efficient.
When the cows were unloaded on their summer pasture they are always happy. Kicking and bucking usually happens—and then they go off to graze for the summer!