By Dr. Arn Anderson, DVM
Henry Garrison III made his money in business and he made a lot of it, but from childhood on he wanted to be a cattleman. Not a cowboy like the other children but a cattleman. He wanted to be the overseer of a cattle empire, the patron of a dynasty, a cattle czar. As a young man he watched movies like Giant and The Cowboys with envy and desire. Henry went to college and followed his father with a business degree but he did not hesitate to cross the tracks to the agriculture campus to watch a demonstration or take a tour of the facilities. He built a library of animal books and studied the characteristics of available breeds, biding his time until his dream could be a reality. On the wall of his downtown corner office hung a silver belly Stetson, constantly serving as a reminder of that dream on his bucket list.
Living in Fort Worth gave Henry the opportunity for weekend drives to look at grass, windmills and wire fences. Soon Mr. Garrison bought a “spread” north of Fort Worth. He was not impulsive and took his time having fences built and pens designed on his 160 acre kingdom. He sought advice on breed selection, vaccines, nutrition and even truck brands. He bought a Chevy but that’s another story.
That fall Henry bought baldy heifers and a Charolais bull. The race was on and his empire was rising. That April my front office scheduled for us to palpate his heifers. He was standing by that new Chevy and a modest but effective set of pens. The heifers were waiting. They were all fat, branded and sporting bright yellow ear tags. This man had followed the production calendar to the letter, but as the cattle ran through the chute the world and Henry’s cattle crown fell. Fifteen out of twenty heifers were fat and happy, but clearly not bred.
Before I could carry my bucket to the truck he was swiping and poking his iPad scrambling to review all his notes, spread sheets and outlines. His vaccines were up-to-date, his deworming explicit and his nutrition balanced, adequate and economically feasible. The bull, now named Casper, had been semen tested, Trich tested and well-vaccinated. Seriously – where, when and how had he failed, or better yet, where had our advice gone wrong?
We sat on his tailgate in the cool spring air, calming the panic and looking for the “T” that wasn’t crossed or the “I” that was not dotted. Henry really had kept good records and the story began to unfold rather rapidly. Through the years we have heard some fairly amazing stories about animal reproduction or the failure thereof. There was the new rancher that bought thirty cows and wanted thirty bulls so each would have a mate (the seller politely refused the deal), and the client that uttered unspeakable oaths about heifers bred by bull calves in the same pasture. “How can they breed? They were half siblings, with the same father. In what world would that be right?”
We had the country music star/cutting horse breeder want-to-be that swore there was no way that his futurity mare was bred. He expressed his disbelief when she delivered a long eared mule that bore an amazing resemblance to the neighbor’s sweet little donkey. I also remember the experienced manager that in investigating the low conception rate in a particular pasture was humbled to realize that as the breeding season had worn on he had haphazardly removed the majority of the bulls to cover for injuries in other pastures, leaving the cows in the “Creek Pasture” without the possibility of getting bred.
It has come as a shock to some livestock producers that sires will breed daughters, pregnant cows are not able to rebreed until they calve and six month old bulls are not ready to breed thirty adult cows. Not all these slightly confused animal breeders were newcomers to the industry, though most were. Besides a few snickers most cases were handled professionally and the situations were repaired with the producers gaining valuable hard knock lessons and our clinic learning how easy miscommunication occurred.
Mr. Garrison’s case was one of misplaced good intentions and a simple misunderstanding. Henry had followed directions and really tried to get off to a good start. Planning his cattle operation had occupied his day dreams, fueled his imagination and buoyed him through numerous dull committee meetings and boring Sunday sermons. He had covered all scenarios; droughts, army worms, early frost, crashing markets and disease outbreaks but he had simply misunderstood the concept of a breeding season.
Henry had learned to keep a breeding season short. He had set a challenging 45 day season corresponding to when he wanted to calve and that calving season set to when he would sell calves. Henry lived in Fort Worth and wanted to participate in all aspects of his operation. So on the weekends he would gather all 20 of his baldy heifers into a ten acre trap and then turned out Casper for what was by all rights a weekend bovine conjugal visit. Every Saturday morning an exuberant Casper was released and every Sunday before church a frustrated Casper was driven back into the pens while the confused heifers were returned to pasture. Mr. Garrison had somehow missed the concept of an estrus cycle. For six weekends this bizarre mating ritual was performed until the end of the “breeding season”. In reality, given the restraints placed on Casper and the girls, Henry’s conception rate was pretty good.
Biology is never 100% and detailed plans and expected guaranteed results often end up humbling a person pretty quick. Attention to detail is essential but so is the big picture. As we have said before the ground zero of beef production remains calves on the ground. Without that there are no calves to wean, no calves to grow, no calves to feed and no beef to eat. We all learn from mistakes. Some are embarrassing and some are humorous and most are both.
Mr. Garrison and all these other producers over the years had tried hard and meant well. Most when confronted with the error and a way to save face have laughed at themselves and moved on without serious injury beyond some minor humiliation. I am sure that Henry taught many lessons in business and accepted this oversight in his beef production as a speed bump on his way to reigning over his bovine realm. Confronting your neighbor and pointing out his error needs to be done with dignity and patience. The first time you point and laugh you set yourself up for humiliation. We took this opportunity to implement a synchronization program and AI the heifers in May. Casper relished his role as cleanup bull and I asked for Henry’s advice on a partnership problem at the clinic. Now Henry sits on his Chevy tailgate every weekend surveying his dream come true.