by: Lee Pitts

I have been a bona fide breeder of purebred cattle three different times with three different breeds during three different decades, with a grand total of 17 registered cows. So I am aware of the importance of performance data and record keeping. In fact, I am quite proud of the fact that I was once the owner of a bull calf with a weight per day of age of 122 pounds. Of course, the calf was only a day old but still, I think it might be some sort of record.

The very first thing that a breed association does after you buy a registered cow is send you a stack of forms to fill out that includes all sorts of performance information; things like weaning weights, eye pigmentation scores, ribeye area, blah, blah, blah. The big computer that keeps track of such things gets real upset if any of the blanks are not filled in.

What the breed associations don't tell you is how, exactly, you are supposed to get some of these measurements. Take birthweights for example. Whenever I tried to get a birthweight on a newborn calf the mother reacted in one of two ways: she either tried to kill me or she ran away, refusing to reclaim her calf, never to be seen again. I'd just like to ask that darn computer "What good does a birthweight do if the calf has no mother?"

I attempted to get a birthweight on all my registerable calves and each experience was unique. The main problem with weighing calves at birth is that it requires at least two people, one to tie up the calf's legs and to lift up the scale, and another person to read the scale. Because reading the correct weight is the most critical task I always assigned my wife the job of lifting up the calf and holding it while it dangled in midair while I took an accurate reading. This worked reasonably well until we had a calf born whose weight did not register on the scale. This calf was bigger than most implements pulled behind a tractor. We finally decided to weigh the calf by putting it in the back of the pickup, taking it to town and weighing it on the truck scales. We weighed the truck empty and then weighed the truck with the calf in the back. I knew the calf was big because my wife had such a hard time lifting it up twice to put in the truck, but I really didn't think it weighed 245 pounds!

I learned that timing is everything in weighing calves. If you don't find and weigh the calf immediately after it's born the mother will hide the calf and you won't see it again until it's a month old, at which time the wife has greater difficulty catching the calf and lifting it up for me to get an accurate reading.

Another option is to wait and weigh the calf at weaning and then calculate back what you think its birthweight was. I believe this is the most popular method amongst most purebred breeders today and I can certainly understand why. But the computer does not like this method and would prefer you weigh the calf even before it has taken its first drink. I took this approach on only one calf and the calf was so new it was still slimy with afterbirth. As my wife hogtied the calf and lifted it up to be weighed she got so filthy in the process the mother took one whiff of my wife and tried to lick her all over.

Our very last registered calf born was rather large also, but we never did get a weight on it because of its man-eating mother. First, I had my wife try to divert the cow's attention away from me as I grabbed for the calf. I missed but the cow didn't. Next, we tried to weigh the calf while standing in the back of the pick-up out of harm's way. But the possessive mother jumped in the back of the truck with us. Finally we gave up, and as the mother led her calf away to the farthest corner of the ranch, I said to my wife, "Looks like about an 80 pounder to me. What do you think?"

"Close enough," she agreed.

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