Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Weaning calves on the EJE Ranch has become a family affair over the years, with brothers and sister and their kids making the trek across the state to participate.

This year all five sons and the single daughter were available, and they brought a total of six of a possible 13 of their kids. It’s a reflection of the way time marches on that the other seven are busy with college and careers, which seems nearly impossible to me, as none of those older ones, in my mind should be older than five or six. Maybe eight or nine at the most. Time moves ahead regardless of whether you approve.

The pushing crew waits for the working crew to finish a calf in the chute during calf weaning this fall on the EJE Ranch south of Kimball, Neb.

They also brought an enormous quantity of dogs. I’m not entirely sure, but I believe the final count was eight. Several of those were puppies of the recently departed River, so it was good to see them and have them around though they got up to no end of mischief.

A fall-born calf gets worked the old-fashioned way during calf weaning Saturday on the EJE Ranch south of Kimball, Neb.
The weaning process itself is pretty straightforward. Bring the cows and calves in, sort the cows off, then run the calves through the chute for their brand and shots and de-worming and any other items a particular calf might need addressed.

For the second year in a row we added Anti-Nursing Devices (AND’s) to the mix. The AND is a plastic tag that fits in the nostrils of the calf. It is designed to prevent nursing but to allow the calf to graze and water normally. Adding the nose tags is part of a low-stress, two-stage weaning process. We tried it last year and liked the results, so we gave it a whirl again this year.

The pushing crew tries to get a balky calf turned around during calf weaning Saturday on the EJE Ranch south of Kimball, Neb.
Once the cows were sorted off and the calves pushed into the feeder corral, the real work began. My siblings jumped right in and did their usual outstanding job. It’s a pleasure to work with them and it’s amazing how adept they are at working cattle. Not every-day adept, of course, but surprisingly good when you consider that they all work for the government in their real jobs, which include firefighting, teaching and social work.

Of course there were the occasional problems. “Pushing” too hard led a pair of calves to escape, and a couple of the city dogs caused a ruckus once or twice. Two of my brothers even accidentally set a calf on fire when one applied the branding iron just as the other was pouring the calf. They put the flames out quickly, the calf wasn’t even singed, and though it was a surprise, it was quickly and correctly handled and we moved on to the next calf.

Once all the big calves went through the chute and were reunited with their mothers, it was time to brand and vaccinate the baby calves from our nascent fall-calving herd. This process went reasonably well and brought back a lot of memories from “the good ol’ days” when we hand-threw every calf. It didn’t tale long but it did result in an astonishing collection of bumps and bruises and the application of copious quantities on liniment.

When the work is done it’s time to play, and the autumn game of choice on the EJE Ranch is football. Here about half the working crew and too many dogs to count enjoy a pick-up game.
Once the work was done and after we checked the score to see whether the Huskers had managed to hang on at Beaver Stadium, we got together for our annual ranch football contest, featuring teams of “grownups” sprinkled with youngsters and made doubly exciting by the sheer quantity of dogs who chose to participate. I’m not sure if there was a winner and a loser, and I’m even less sure there were any rules, but we had a lot of fun and sent only one player on injured reserve with a bloody nose.

The evening meal was good, EJE grass-fed brisket, oven smoked all day, and all the usual trimmings of potatoes, salads, relish trays, baked beans, and even a taste of high school cooking class potato soup. And desserts. Lots of desserts. The whole meal was fabulous, and the 10 lbs. of brisket disappeared in only about 15 minutes. That’s got to be a record.

Afterward there was time for talk, for the recounting of the days exploits, and for watching a bit of college ball on the television.

The whole weekend was a delight. It included hard work, minor injuries and aches and pains, competency and comedy, a day spent in the great outdoors with calves which will ultimately provide sustenance to thousands, and time well spent together as a family. It’s hard to put a price on something like that.

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