As one of the truck moves into position, the calves are watching. The calves get excited anytime anything different is happening. There typically is one that will go out ahead and do the investigating while the others hang out in the background and wait for the sign that it's okay to approach.
Any time cattle are bought or sold, the brand inspector has to be present. The brand inspector is a state position started in the old days to prevent cattle rustling. Cattle rustling might sound like something from the old Wild West days, but it still unfortunately occurs.
Here are some of the calves waiting in a pen to be weighed. The basic process for shipping calves is to gather them, weigh them, and move them onto the truck. During this process, the brand inspector checks them as they pass by.
Here are some of the calves walking to the scales. This one in the front is a black baldy, with a red angus behind. You can brush up on your cow knowledge here.
About 30 calves were weighed at a time, using the Howe scale inside the scale building. They weighed about 800 pounds each. My husband would like to point out that the Howe Scales sign is made of enamel and is at least 50 years old, but still looks like new.
After being weighed, the calves are sent up this chute to the waiting truck. The chute makes them go one by one, or at least that's the idea. Sometimes they get overly excited and try to jam in there and get a little stuck. Frequently they aren't too keen about leaving the sunny desert, and don't really want to get on the truck, so have to be prodded.
Here's a view of the chute from the side. The livestock drivers and a cowboy are doing most of the work getting the calves up the chute and into the trucks. The number of calves going on each truck is determined by weight, with a 50,000 pound maximum load. That means each livestock truck carries about 60 calves for this trip. The trucks have upper and lower levels and gates inside to keep the cows from getting all bunched up.
As the last of the calves are being loaded, it's time for the business transaction. As you can see, it's a little informal out on the ranch. No big hardwood desks are needed--the trunk of a car will suffice.
The ranch sells calves a number of ways. Some are by contract a year in advance, locking in the current price. Others are by auction. And this bunch were sold by contacting Producers Livestock and having them find a buyer and arrange shipping. They are sold at the current market price, which is down about $0.30 per pound from last year. Ouch. With the much higher fuel and fertilizer prices this past summer, it makes it really hard to make any profit.
Next it's time to write a check to the brand inspector for his services. The truck drivers are standing on the side, chatting before they get in their trucks and drive 12+ hours to eastern Colorado.
With a loaded cattle truck in the background, Desert Boy can't resist taking the opportunity to get on Kate. He likes being up high, pretending he's a cowboy. He's gotten old enough he can stay in the saddle by himself, so it probably won't be too long until he's riding for real!
Today there are six more livestock trucks coming. The calves that are leaving were born last February or March. Just a few days ago, the first calf of this year was born--we'll be heading out to visit it soon!