Saturday, February 21, 2015

Marketing the Steer

The reason for all of this: feeding the steer, brushing it, washing it, walking it, is all for one major reason-- the market. Every year in March, the Central Florida Fair Grounds host a Livestock show, complete with rabbits, chickens, pigs, heifers, sheep, and steers. Kids spend about five days out of the week at the fair grounds with their steer, participating in Skillathon, showing in their animal, and finally, selling the steer in the market.

Every participant is required to provide his own buyers. The steer goes to the highest bidder, and prices usually go higher than market price. However, any money over market price when buying a steer is a tax deduction because it is considered a donation to 4-H.  The most common way to find buyers is by sending out letters.  This blog is intended to compliment the buyer letters I sent out by allowing me to show potential buyers more of the process of raising a steer.  It also allows the buyers to see more pictures of George.

 If someone doesn't have the money to buy, but would still like to support a participant, they can do what is called an "add-on." An add-on is when you give a certain amount per pound that you would like to add on to the amount the student gets paid for the steer.   Whether a person buys a whole steer, or just contributes add-on money, buyers can feel satisfied that they have contributed to the development of a young person and to the agriculture industry.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Demonstration Time: The Ruminant Digestive System!

A demonstration is something every 4-H'er is required to do. The student is required to take one topic from skill-a-thon (a test every student is required to take at the fair) and do a presentation on that topic.

This year, I chose to do the digestive system. The board I made had pipes running to each section of the system. When it came time for my presentation, I put colored water into the pipe so I could show the "food" traveling through out the system.

The digestive system of cows is much different from pigs or horses, because cows do not have acid in their stomachs to digest food.  Instead, the food takes a round about path through different parts of the stomach for rumination, back up to the mouth (as a cud)  for further chewing, and then back again so that the grass or grain can be broken down enough for nutrients to be available when the food travels to the intestines. 

When cows and other ruminants are fed grain, as George is, it is very important to make sure they also get plenty of roughage, like grass or hay, to prevent too much gas from building up in their stomachs and causing diarrhea or bloat.  

While I was preparing my presentation, I got to get some hands-on expertise with my topic.  George and our bull Norman both had some mild bloating.  It was not severe, but because bloat can kill an animal if it's not treated, we had to act fast.  Fortunately, their case was mild enough that we were able to ease their symptoms by just walking them around for a few hours and giving them plenty of hay.  My dad was pretty nervous.  (We have a LOT of money invested in those two animals!)  Once we heard George and Norman passing the gas as they walked, I am sure my dad felt as relieved as they must have felt!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


This Saturday was the second time I had ever washed George, and he needed it. Luckily, he took to it well enough, and I was able to do it fairly quickly... Until I got to his face. One thing that I've figured out over the years of doing steers is that steers DO NOT liked to be washed in the face. Every time before, I have been blessed enough to have a mostly black steer, so I didn't have to worry about washing their face with soap as much, but this year, I have George, who has a massive patch of white on his four head. The moment the water touched his face, he went from a calm, gentle steer to a wild animal. It took me thirty minutes alone just to finish washing his face. It was quite the adventure.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Hoof trimming Part I: Why We Do It.

Up until now, my steer project has been pretty routine:  choosing the steer, getting him up to weigh-in weight and beginning to halter train him.  Since I also run Cross Country, I'm glad the fall is "slow" time for 4-H.

Now that it's January, the season to really start preparing George for the Central Florida Fair is beginning. The first step in getting him ready is hoof-trimming.  There is a very generous man who comes to the property of my 4-H leader and does hoof-trimming for all of the steer project kids. On the same day, we also weigh the steers on a scale at the property.

Why do we trim hooves?  If you look at the hoof of a cow, it is split into two parts, which, like our finger nails, grows at a rather alarming rate.  That's just fine if the steer is in a grass field, where the hoof can flex and spread out, but at the Fair, he will have to walk most of the time on concrete.  Since the concrete doesn't "give" the way grass does, the points of the hooves can push into each other and be uncomfortable for the steer.  By trimming the hooves of the steer, we make it comfortable for him to walk on a variety of surfaces.

Even though the machine above looks rather scary, it is actually very safe for the steer.  It starts out vertical, so you can lead your steer into the chute. Once his head comes out the other end, the gate closes gently on his neck to keep him still, and the straps underneath him gently lift him up off the ground. Once the steer is secure, the chute lifts the steer and turns him on his side, like in the picture above.  In this position the hoof-trimmer can see clearly what he's doing, and the steer feels calmer and is safer.  Once he's done, the chute lowers again and the steer can just walk out.

Another good reason for the hoof-trimming is it gives me a chance to take George some place in a trailer, lead him in new surroundings, and get him used to being someplace besides our farm.

Because this is the first "outing" since weigh-in, hoof-trimming is an opportunity to get a feel for how the steer will react in unfamiliar surroundings.  Sometimes a steer will be just great at home, but when you get him to the Fair and things are new and unfamiliar, the steer can freak out a little and act up. I experienced this last year with my steer Brother.  By the time the Fair gets here, George will weigh at least 1100 pounds (he weighed 957 at hoof trimming), so I want to know if he freaks out in strange settings!

If this year's hoof trimming is any indication, George should be just fine at the Fair.  A few of the other steers were hard to handle, but George was almost perfect.

In fact, the other steers gave us a bit of an adventure that day, but that story is for another time.