In case you remember from the 2016 blog called Our Cow/Calf Tagging System, I am a bit particular when it comes to keeping track of cows and writing down records. At the time, we had quite an extensive record keeping system we developed through Excel. As much as we love a good spreadsheet, we were wanting a bit easier system (where I didn't have to write the code) to keep our cow/calf records up to date. Enter, HerdTrax.
HerdTrax is a herd management software developed by Dr. Troy Drake, which allows you access to carcass data. Once you enroll in HerdTrax, you can choose to retain ownership of your cattle until harvest, through Dr. Drake's extensive list of feedlots. Once harvested by Cargill, you are able to see the carcass data from your actual calves, link it back to their dams and sires, and make management decisions that benefit both you and the feeder. The idea is that you can cull the cows that don't make you money, and invest in the cows that do.
Now. I'm not here to tell you what to do, or even that this is the best software out there. However, I am here to share with our readers what has worked for us. On the data entry side of things, HerdTrax is fairly simple to use. While not in an actual App form, you can use HerdTrax on your phone, ipad or computer, to enter data as you complete work on the ranch. We enter individual treatments, calving records, breedings and pasture movements on the go. Because I am somewhat of a worry wart, I do still write down herd treatments, group vaccinations, etc on paper, entering them into HerdTrax later. I know, I know, I shouldn't be doing that in this day and age, but I am secretly an 80 year old Grandma who doesn't trust my entry skills, or that my phone won't crash and somehow lose all my data (I don't think that can even happen).
Being an excel gal, I do notice the odd weird glitch or inconvenience in the HerdTrax software, but honestly, whenever I do, I email Dr. Drake and he fixes it. It's an easy to use program, has all the data fields I was looking for, and can even allow you to upload up to 6 photos for each animal (hallelujah!). Overall, I haven't found any other software programs I prefer.
On the data sharing side of things, this software is pretty legit. When we retain ownership of our calves, the data is shared directly with the feedlot and I can see how all my calves are performing right until harvest. I also love the fact that I get carcass data back, allowing us to make management decisions that actually impact our product. Thinking back, it was actually crazy that we were selling a food product, but had no idea how that product yielded, tasted, looked or sold to consumers. WHAT?! In any other industry that would be insane. Only lately, through programs like HerdTrax or the CRSB pilot, is data being shared all the way from producer to harvester. And since all your data is at a click of a button, even if you're not retaining ownership through HerdTrax, you can email that data to anyone that wants it (perhaps a new marketing tool?). All i can say is it was time, beef industry, it was time!
I couldn't believe the cows that were making me (and the feeder) the most money. Let me tell you, it wasn't always my favorite cow with perfect composition and seemingly high weaning weights. Sometimes it was, but not always. Sometimes its that ugly cow in the corner that surprises you. We need to, as cow/calf producers, start looking under the hide to improve our profit margins.
But, I'll get off my high horse now. Have a read, maybe visit the HerdTrax site, and maybe give it a try. It might not be for you. But i would be going against the reason I started this blog if I didn't share with you guys something I found that works and adds value to our operation.
Until next time,
It's hard to believe this wild little girl is one! Although, its also hard for us to remember life on the ranch without her. She has helped us wean calves, preg-check cows, vaccinate the herd, feed, calve, and now shes working on putting up feed for another year. We are so proud to be able to share agriculture and ranching with our little girl, and hope she enjoys the lifestyle as much as we do!
In July we are expecting our first daughter and we couldn't be more excited! Enjoy a few of our maternity photos done by the extremely talented Ciara Sandum Photography (check out her page, its seriously amazing!).
I guess maybe we will have to change the name of the blog soon...
Summer Farm Hand
Beginning June 1st, Whiskey Creek Ranch is looking for a summer farmhand, with the possibility of full time work. Primary responsibilities include swathing, baling & hauling hay but fencing, cattle work and general farm labour will also occur.
Mechanics, previous haying and farm experience are an asset. Must have a drivers license and be able to work alone responsibly. A positive safety attitude is required.
Ranch is located 7 miles south of Hanna.
For more information or to submit a resume contact us!
What are the Canadian Badlands? Where are they? What makes them so bad (the good kind of bad ;))? Well you are about to find out! This summer I will be trekking across the Canadian Badlands, sharing my experiences and taking you all on a joyride of the southeast part of Alberta! So jump on in & take a rural road trip with me!
Canadian Badlands Tourism Ambassador
Blogging about my agricultural life for the past year has afforded me some pretty amazing networking opportunities that I am very thankful for, and another one has landed in my lap! The Canadian Badlands have offered myself and 17 other lucky souls an all access pass to the ultimate Badlands summer where we will be travelling around the region, experiencing, photographing and shouting our experiences for you all to share.
Follow me on Instagram (@MarriedwithCows) and Twitter (@WhiskeyCreek_AB), as well as on the blog, to see the secrets of the Canadian Badlands. Whether you live in the Badlands, would like to travel to them, or have no idea what they are, I will help you plan the ultimate summer vacation to my very own corner of the world! And don’t worry aggies, I couldn’t possibly tour anywhere without integrating agriculture into every kilometer of my journey. Hold onto your hats folks, she’s going to be a fun summer!
Want to see more from the Canadian Badlands?
Check out the following hashtags on Instagram & Twitter:
#CBTAmbassador #MyBadlands #SpecialAreas #VisitNewell #VisitLethbridge #YQL #Lethbridge
Social media and blogging have been the cause of a lot of flack from people in my life. Many of the people I interact with "in real life" think it's silly that I share so much of my life on the internet and often like to give me a hard time about it. I must admit that sometimes I take that ribbing to heart, but then I remember about all the amazing opportunities my social media life has granted me. One of which is meeting fellow online agriculture advocates form across Canada. At the inaugural Canadian Beef Industry Conference this last summer (read about that here) I met up with some of my blogging role models, one of which was former Cattlemen's Young Leader mentee and Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association communications Specialist Amanda Broadhagen (@AmandaBrodhagen). She recently tagged me on Facebook to participate in the #BeforeThePlate Challenge, and I of course accepted!
Amanda challenged me to share some of my favorite moments on the farm where we proudly produce food for Canadian (and international) consumers to enjoy. As commercial beef producers, Clay and I put our heart and soul into supplying healthy, safe, delicious beef products that are raised responsibly and humanely. We love to share the ins and outs of our operation through online platforms, and we welcome questions both in person and on social media. We always vow to answer honestly, and hope that we postively represent Canadian cattlemen.
Calving season is one of my favorite times of year on the ranch. We typically calve in March but there is no right or wrong time to calve your cows, in fact, dairies calve all year round! Each operation will choose the time of year that best suits their herd and needs. While calving may be one of the most stressul, time consuming and hectic times of year at our ranch, it is also the most exciting, rewarding and fulfilling. You just can't help but smile when you are surrounded with newborn baby calves, happy mamma cows and the first signs of spring! Here are some photos showcasing calving season at our place:
It may come as a surprise to some, but land management is also a cattlemen's task that I find so much joy in. We are very fortunate to be able to raise cattle partially on native prairie rangeland. It never ceases to amaze me how truly diverse, adaptable and valuable this natural resource is. And because of that, Clay and I take great pride in balancing the forage needs of our cattle with the unique capacities of the range. We strive to leave this land more abundant, diverse and efficient for our future children than we received it. Here are a few snapshots of the range, tame pastures and hay land that we utilize in our beef operation:
I would be totally amiss if I didn't mention the sense of community in raising beef cattle. Rural life has a way of bringing people together, and those people; well, they are down right amazing! Whether its helping care for calves, feeding cows, baling hay, harvesting, processing cattle or moving pastures, my community has been right beside me every step of the way. Clay and I are so blessed to have such phenomenal friends, neighbours and family that are here to help us at the drop of a hat. And speaking with other cattle producers, this is a common thread no matter where in the world you produce your beef. In honour of the thoughtful, generous, hardworking cattle communities out there, here are some photos of our help. And to all you helpers reading this, THANK YOU! I can never say it enough.
Posted By: Jesse Williams
I've kicked off my cowboy boots for the night after an amazing first day spent at Northland's Farmfair International in Edmonton, AB and I can't wait to throw them back on for day two. This was my first experience attending the infamous agricultural event that brings cowboys and cowgirls together from across Canada, America and even around the world, but it certainly won't be my last. And if you had the same lame excuses I cooked up over the years for not attending (no, you aren't really that busy), then I am telling you now to get in your truck and head on down.
I barely scratched the surface of Farmfair International on day one, spending the majority of my time at the Beef Advocacy Canada booth in Hall B, where the livestock shows were taking place. I also managed to sneak away for a few moments to the Ram Country Marketplace. Below are the top 4 reasons I think every rancher should experience Farmfair International at least once, and this is only from day one! I am looking forward to exploring more tomorrow, like the Heritage Ranch Rodeo, western art gallery, mozzarella making, horse wellness expo , dummy roping championship, of course the Canadian Finals Rodeo and so much more.
1. Farmfair is for families, by families
The first thing that I noticed in the exhibitors hall where the livestock shows were occurring, was that Farmfair is a family affair. Generations of cattlemen were cooperating to wash, clip, groom, show and watch livestock. There was an immediate feeling of familiarity and comfort for me when I entered the show barns. It was as if everyone there was part of one big, amazing, happy agriculture family. If you are a rancher who thinks that you might not be "good enough" or "big enough" to attend events like Farmfair International, don't be afraid. I have never felt so welcomed as I was in the exhibitors hall at this event. It truly warmed my heart and reminded me why agriculture is such a pride filled, honorable industry to be a part of.
2. Make connections, make money
One thing that has become very evident to me since the Canadian Beef Industry Conference this past August is that the agriculture industry is all about connections. Networking at events like Farmfair International is such a huge opportunity for your farm and your farm profitability. These are the events where any rancher, no matter the size of his herd, can connect with other like minded individuals, learn new things, discuss old strategies, and make business connections that can add value to your bottom line. Whether you are looking for the best breed genetics, the up and coming breed characteristic trends, the latest production technologies or the most innovative tools, you can find someone that shares your interests. And remember that every conversation you have is an opportunity to market yourself, your farm and your products. Don't underestimate the power of a BS session and handshake- it's how a lot of business is done in our industry!
3. Share your story & advocate
Don't forget that Farmfair International is set in the middle of Alberta's capital. You are literally surrounded by urban individuals, some of which head on down to Northlands to experience the ol' west. For many of these urbanites, this is therir only exposure to the farm. So what better way to show your pride and dedication to our ag industry than share your story with those who may not understand it? Show off, explain your dedication and demonstrate where the food comes from. Booths like Beef Advocacy Canada, the Alberta Beef Producers and the Canadian Beef Industry Conference/ Cattlemen's Young Leaders are excellent resources to help you share your story.
4. One stop SHOP
Ok, so this may not be as exciting to some of you as it was to me, but the shopping is phenomenal! The Ram Country Marketplace boasts over 200 exhibitors that are targeted towards the cow poke folk. There are booths selling cowboy hats and boots, western jewelry, custom saddles, beautiful artwork, cattle & horse accessories, handling equipment, drones, western clothing, children's toys, leatherwork, and the list goes on and on and on!
I had an absolute blast going through the marketplace and completed an ever growing wish list, much to my husbands chagrin. I also found something for almost every single person in my family for Christmas, and some great pieces for my the new house build. It truly is a Cowboy's Christmas at Farmfair International's Ram Country Marketplace!
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Northlands. Opinions expressed are my own. Compensation was received.
It's SHOW TIME!... at Northlands Farmfair International
As Edmonton's Farmfair International quickly approaches (November 9-13!) and I prepare for my very first visit to Northlands for this event, I feel the need to share my excitement! I am honored to volunteer my time at the Beef Advocacy Canada booth during one of Alberta's top agricultural shows as part of the Cattlemen's Young Leaders program and am so looking forward to the week ahead!
If you are interested in my adventures over the next week follow me on Twitter (@WhiskeyCreek_AB) or check out the hashtags #Farmfair and #CFR43, or the accounts @Northlands, @CFRedmonton for all the Farmfair International fun!
While I have never been to Farmfair before, I have spent a few days in a cattle show ring in my day and all of the hype of this event has made me reminisce about my show days. I scrounged up a few old photos below from when I showed cattle in 4-H as a youngin', so have a look and enjoy a good laugh on me!
While I giggled with my husband about my fashion choices, my mind wandered to the popular clubby calf photo that has been going around the internet discussing blow drying cows. While it is true (cattle showers do wash their animals, and dry them!) I thought it might be fun to discuss how and why cattle exhibitors get their animals ready for showing, and maybe how you might get ready for Farmfair too!
Why Show Cattle?
Why do some cattle owners spend the time to wash and blow dry their animals, drive them to the city and enter them into huge livestock shows like Farmfair International? The answer is simple- to show off! Cattle breeders, whether commercial or purebred, use these opportunities to demonstrate the quality and characteristics of their animals, not to mention all the hard work and pride that goes into breeding cattle. Depending on the breed, you may see a dairy producer show off the superior milk production of their cows, or maybe an Angus breeder demonstrate the carcass quality of their beef, or maybe even a commercial breeder show off the hybrid vigor of their crossbreds for replacement heifers. That's the beauty of livestock shows- there is something for everyone! Whether you are a fellow cattle breeder, beef consumer or someone just interested in farm life, there is no better place to learn the ins and outs of livestock.
These shows give livestock producers the opportunity to see a tiny piece of many farms in a one stop shop. While I joke about showing off and bragging about your own cattle, shows like Farmfair International do allow producers to share ideas, learn from each other and discuss production methods that would otherwise never be possible. The 'international' part of Farmfair International truly is just that. People from around the world are invited to and attend Farmfair!
How Do You Blow Dry A Cow?
After gaining the trust of your show animal, the next step is getting show ready! I would start by clipping. I used very quiet electronic clippers to do the job. My hubs is still jealous that I used nicer clippers on my cows than on him! The point of clipping is to highlight the best features of your show animal. You can clip to varying degrees, but I typically concentrated on head, top line and tail head clipping. It's important to note that clipping does not equal shaving- just minimal trimming that emphasizes the best qualities, while still looking natural. (Disclaimer: I had some amazing friends and family that always helped me clip my 4-H steers! They did a top notch job and I am still very appreciative of all the hours of hard work they put in!).
Get Show Ready!
So now that you have a crash course as to what goes into getting cattle ready for big shows like Farmfair International, you need get ready yourself! And if you are anything like me when I showed cattle, you'll spend weeks getting your cows ready, wake up early in the morning to get the best wash rack spot and the closest grooming chute, work on perfecting that tail head for hours, and then throw on a semi-clean shirt with a bunch of wrinkles and pinch your cheeks for color! Cattle exhibitors often spend all their time and effort pampering their livestock and run out of time for themselves. So don't be like I was (you can do better!). Head on over to the Ram Country Marketplace and grab yourself some fashionable outfits from the many amazing vendors that will be setting up shop. (You can get the full list here.) And even better, grab a thing or two for your friends and family. By the look of the vendor list there is no better place to get your Christmas shopping done!
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Northlands. Opinions expressed are my own. Compensation was received.
Posted By: Jesse Williams
Watch & Share Penny Patton’s Sustainable Beef Story
As Penny Patton, Cattlemen’s Young Leader program graduate, puts it- our land is our place of doing business. We need to make sure it’s available for us to use in the future. Our land is our renewable resource in ranching, but the media often twists our story. So how does ranching make a POSITIVE impact on our environment? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can give you an insight into one project we have been doing on our ranch since we started in 2012.
Protecting our Riparian Habitat & Improving Our Water Sources
Our ranch is nestled in the Special Areas of Alberta. This unique municipality received their name in the 1930’s when a huge majority of settlers in the area packed up & abandoned their homesteads due to extreme drought and impossible farming conditions, forfeiting the brown soiled land back to the government. So if there is anybody that knows about the importance of water on the prairie, its Special Areas residents. So much in fact, that my hubs made water our primary business, drilling water wells, providing solar watering options and completing livestock watering systems to ranchers in our area.
To protect our water sources, the wildlife & riparian species that depend on them (including us!), we have been fencing off our riparian areas (areas next to lakes, wetlands, springs, sloughs, etc.) to limit access to livestock during ecologically sensitive periods. This helps to keep the banks strong and lush with many vegetation species and clean water sources for all those that access them. In turn, we have been using solar watering systems to pump the water out of the riparian areas into troughs nearby. The interesting part is that cattle seem to prefer to drink out of troughs than in riparian areas, because the water is cleaner & free from their own contamination. How cool is that!?
Above: Photos of the Whiskey Creek natural catch basins that the creek fills, September 2016
The Whiskey Creek
The benefits to protecting riparian areas are many. If you follow my social media accounts you may recall seeing a picture I posted this summer of the Whiskey Creek flooding (below). While I said above that we are typically very dry, we had an unusually wet year this year. Our tiny little creek flooded vastly outside its normal creek bed, but luckily because it was a relatively healthy riparian area, the water was captured by vegetation, soaked into our soils and not lost to run off. The varying types of vegetation with different root systems and depths allow for healthy soil, good infiltration and strong, stable banks. We were very happy to see our water stay in our pasture soil and recharge our aquifers than run off as waste!
Top: The Whiskey Creek flooding on August 3, 2016 after 20"+ of rain this year.
Bottom: The Whiskey Creek on September 30, 2016, dried up, which is typical for this time of year. It will fill up again next spring to fill natural catch basins that are full year round.
Whiskey Creek’ flows through, we keep cattle off until after freeze up. This gives us a great hard grass feed source in the fall before we have to start supplementing with bales, plus once the banks are frozen the cattle do a lot less damage to the banks, vegetation and riparian species. We take the cattle off of that native pasture before it thaws in the spring to ensure cattle aren’t mucking up the banks when they are at their most sensitive. This system works great in our pasture rotations plus it conserves our sensitive, ecologically significant riparian habitat. And the wildlife species that share this particular habitat are many.
Who can help you?
I think it’s important to remember however, that our riparian area management is forever evolving. This post is not meant to make people think we have it all figured out or that all the riparian areas at Whiskey Creek Ranch are 100% (they’re not). We are constantly working on improving our riparian management and sustainability, and decreasing our footprint. My favorite saying is “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” and I think that is essential in livestock production, including the ecological side of it.
Organizations like Cows & Fish are dedicated to helping ranchers meet the needs of their livestock operations while benefiting the ecosystem and in most cases, improving it beyond its natural state. Cows & Fish helped us come up with a list of considerations before fencing our riparian areas to ensure we were meeting the needs of all species, not just the cattle. There are also lots of local organizations to look into if you are interested. In my area we have the Chinook Applied Research Association (CARA) who has staff on hand to help with riparian area assessments for FREE! We have plans with them this fall to do a formal riparian health assessment on the Whiskey Creek, prior to completing our fencing, so stay tuned for blogs about our progress! CARA is part of ARECA- the Applied Research Extension Council of Alberta- and have partners across the province dedicated to the same type of work. Check them out!
As much as this post is about what we are doing on my ranch, I want to stress that we are not alone. Ranchers have been doing this for generations, but it is only recently that we have been talking about it as consumer concerns have escalated, watering technologies have evolved and ranchers are under more pressure to show their conservation efforts to the public. I also want to emphasize that this is just one tiny part of ranchers’ conservation and sustainability strategies that I am sharing today. If you are curious about what ranchers are doing, just ask! We love to talk about our land because as Penny said, it is our business, it is our renewable resource, it is our life. It is why most ranchers took up this occupation! And if you are a rancher reading this, I encourage you to share your sustainability stories. I know you have many! Why not take part in #AgMonth16 this October using the hashtag #OurFoodHasAStory? Or search it and see what others are doing. As the old 4-H adage goes “Learn to do by doing!”.
Interested in learning more? Caring for the Green Zone: Riparian Areas & Grazing Management is a great resource from Cows & Fish to start with! (PDF available)
This post is inspired by the Cattlemen's Young Leader Program as part of an advocacy challenge. Help me win that challenge (please!) by watching & sharing Penny’s video & you could help send me to the National Western Stock Show and NCBA-CYL/YCC Round Table in Denver!
Did You Know? 1 in 8 Canadian jobs are in Ag & Agri-food, employing over 2.1M Canadians!
A Blog About Our Life, Love & Lessons Learned on the Ranch