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By Sigrid Olson
Pathfinder 

Shipping Day on the Blackfoot

 

Sigrid Olson, Pathfinder

There were 2,650,000 Montana cattle including calves as of Jan. 1, 2016. More than 600 head of cattle will be shipped from Potomac this fall.

POTOMAC - There were 2,650,000 Montana cattle including calves as of Jan. 1, 2016. According to Montana Department of Livestock (DOL), more than 600 head will be shipped this month from Potomac producers.

On shipping day, the cattle are sorted into pens. Brand inspectors check brands and ear tags. They must clarify cattle ownership by the brands before the cattle are sold and shipped.

Livestock cannot be sold or owned without proof of ownership according to the DOL. Owners need to prove ownership by providing a bill of sale to the inspectors if livestock is ready to be shipped and has someone else's brand on it or is supposed to have a brand and doesn't.

After being checked and counted, the cattle are run through a scale that weighs them before being loaded into the livestock semi trailers. About 10-12 head each around 700 pounds can fit onto the mobile scale at one time while they are being weighed.

According to Potomac producer Denny Iverson, steers go to a different feedlot than heifers so they are often loaded on different trucks.

The livestock trailers have the potential to be divided into eight separate areas depending on the weight of the cattle. Each middle compartment may have 15 head and the end compartments could have six each, give or take one. The maximum weight for the trucks is between 55 and 65 thousand pounds. The weight the trucks can haul depends on the number of head and weight of the cattle being shipped, according to Iverson.

With fatter cattle, small calves or horned cattle, the compartmentalizing differs as well to maximize cattle welfare.

When multiple trucks are required, inspectors need to provide convoy slips for each truck that show cattle numbers and descriptions for that load including the new owner.

Loading the cattle onto the trucks as well as handling before and after shipping is important. "Each year the cattle industry loses millions of dollars due to bruises and dark cutting which reduces the value of the carcass," according to the Department of Animal Science

at Colorado State University (CSU). Careful handling of cattle during loading and unloading can help reduce losses as well.

Health of the cattle during the trip and in the feedlots is also important. "We vaccinate for a variety of health issues every year and the calves are typically vaccinated a month before shipping to ensure they will be healthy for the long ride back to the Midwest and stay healthy while they are there," said Iverson.

Where the cattle are shipped is between the rancher and the buyer. Montana beef may go to Montana feedlots, pasture or into another state to be finished. Finishing is when the cattle have reached their full growth potential.

Heifers and steers finish at different times. Therefore they may be fed separately in the feedlots. The heifers will come into estrus and the steers may try to ride them and lose weight in the process.

Sigrid Olson, Pathfinder

After being checked and counted, the cattle are run through a scale before being loaded into the livestock semi trailers. The livestock trailers have the potential to be divided into eight separate areas depending on the weight of the cattle for balanced hauling.

The animals are fed a high-energy diet for three to four months before going to market to make a carcass that will provide a healthy and flavorful eating experience for the consumer, said Iverson.

Executive Director Chaley Harney of the Montana Beef Council (MTBC) said, "Ranchers individually make decisions on [to whom and] where they will sell their cattle. The same goes for feedlot operators as to whom they choose to sell their cattle to and where they'll go from there," Harney added.

When the cattle change hands, money goes toward the MTBC check off dollars in the amount of one dollar per head collected from inspectors and/or buyers.

Broken up it consists of 29 percent spent in Montana for beef promotion, research and education; 48 percent spent nationally/domestically towards promotion, research and education; and 23 percent was spent internationally for beef promotion.

"The MTBC budget is all beef check off dollars which are all used for beef promotion, research, education and producer communication on the state, national and international level," said Harney.

 

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