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Raising beef cattle.

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Here’s a topic that didn’t find a place in my book, The Redgens of Redford.

Most of the farm was devoted to raising beef cattle, which supplemented the income from the dairy and the pigsties. Most of the animals were bullocks – males castrated when young, and known for a few years as 'steers'. Then they matured into placid beasts whose only interests were food and water. But just sometimes the castration operation would not be fully successful. Then as the beast grew older, the steer would develop a personality problem – having lots of aggressive male hormones, but with no way to put them to use.

These were the most dangerous animals of all – we called them 'stags'. They were dangerous because they were unpredictable. One moment they would be part of a mob of docile bullocks, then the next they would appear with a mad glint in the eye, and you knew you were in trouble. How you reacted depended on the situation. In the stockyard, the best place to be was on the other side of a stout fence – I've seen a man have 3 ribs crushed when he was too slow to reach the top rail. A horseman with a stockwhip could cause enough pain to change the stag's mind about any attack. A child on a pony was well-advised to get out of the road as quickly as possible!

Stags were always trouble. If you could get them in the crush, and repeat the castration, then the problem might be solved with time. But probably not. They usually went to meatworks.

Then there were ‘mickeys’. These were uncastrated young males that had run wild since birth, having little or no contact with people. They too were dangerous if brought into a yard, as they usually had strong sharp horns, and were quite capable of causing injury to horses, dogs and the men who worked with them. This was not a problem we ever had, as we did not allow calves born on the farm to grow up away from human contact. Most calves were sold young, and males would have been castrated by the buyers.

But at times we did have contact with both stags and mickeys. When drought threatened, Dad would reduce the number of bullocks on the farm so there was less danger of them starving. He did this by selling some, but for others he rented land where there was still grass available. This was often at some distance from home, and on properties that had not been well managed in the past. Then there could be both stags and mickeys living in the thick scrub. Patches where trees grew closely together gave them good hiding places where they could avoid Dad, as he rode through, checking on his own cattle in this new area. But being a good bushman, he knew they were there. He chose to ignore them, just as they avoided him.

Only very rarely did Dad buy cows to use for beef production. Some of them had long sharp horns, and Dad insisted that the points had to be removed, to stop them injuring each other. Cows that had been raised away from people were just as likely to be wild and dangerous as steers or stags. Only the dairy cows, being handled twice a day for months on end, had learnt to trust people, and be quiet in the yards. They rarely gave trouble.

Of course we needed uncastrated males – bulls –in the dairy. But the bulls themselves had to be quiet, not stressed when mixing with people in the yards. Otherwise they were a danger to both adults and children in the milking shed. Without them, there would be no calves, and the cows would not produce the milk to feed them. In our case, the calves were soon removed, but the regular milking kept the cows producing milk for a number of months. That milk, and the cream separated from it, was our main source of income.

Dad’s favourite choice for bulls in the dairy herd was the white-faced Herefords, the same breed that he preferred among the beef cattle. The calves they produced were large and strong, and were sold to other farmers who raised them to become the beef cattle of the future.

So there was another generation of beef cattle to be raised.

the photo shows some bullocks new to the farm. They would soon have their horns shortened to about half length

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