Raising cattle for more than a century
The cattle pulled at 4 tons of hay from both sides of the harobed truck as it made its way around the loop of the Settelmeyer’s pasture in Northern Minden.
Arnold Settelmeyer brought his 6-year-old granddaughter Caitlyn along for the ride in the cab Friday morning as Caitlyn’s father James Settelmeyer and ranch employee Lupe Cueva stood in the back and tossed out the bales.
The brown, white and black Hereford and Angus cows turned their heads and eyed the small, blue short-bed truck following close behind, then returned to the business of consuming food.
“The animals are all familiar with this truck,” said James. “They recognize the truck, so they won’t run from it.”
At 8 a.m., the Settelmeyers were right on schedule. They had just come from James’ ranch in South Gardnerville where they fed another herd.
“We start out at my place early in the morning to feed, and then we come here,” said James.
Since 1890, five generations of Settelmeyers have made their living ranching the land in Carson Valley. James said they now run about 500 “mother-head” of cattle on their more than 1,000 acres.
In the wintertime they can’t water the ground because it is too frozen, so they have to make sure the cattle have more hay to eat. Although some calves have “dropped” in the last month, there are more on the way, according to James, who said the colder it gets, the quicker the calves will come.
“Just like humans, if you agitate (the cows) a little, excite them, the calves drop like son of a guns,” said James.
Another factor slowing down calving is problems with the bulls during breeding. Two had low sperm counts and another had a disfigurement from an injury.
“We had a little problem with the bulls last year, so the calves are not dropping as fast as they could,” said James, adding that they normally breed one bull per 40 cows.
Younger cows are called heifers until they give birth the first time, he explained. The older cows were dropping their calves already. These older mothers know how to take care of their babies more efficiently, according to James.
“The older cows are smarter. They get baby-sitters,” James said, pointing at several young calves suckling cows’ udders.
A lone calf rose from a distance away, walking unsteadily toward the group.
Although the Settelmeyers hope for colder weather, too much cold could be bad for the calves that are already born.
“The worst thing now is a blizzard snow storm and it goes to 0 (degrees),” said Arnold Settelmeyer.
The elder Settelmeyer said a little bit of cold is helpful, since it keeps the number of flies to a minimum. Flies transmit diseases.
“Calves will get ‘scours’ or diarrhea,” he said. “We have all the diseases in the world.”
As the calves get older, the Settelmeyers ship them to Yerington where they eat grain for a couple of months before they are sold. Typically the smallest and largest calves are the last to be sold, since ranchers prefer a uniform group. Full grown steers weigh about 800 pounds, and produce 400 pounds of meat.
Ranching is the way of life the Settelmeyer family has known for more than a century.
James said they are concerned at the steady disappearance of farming land in Carson Valley, as well as the nation.
“For the first time last year, the U.S. actually imported more food than it exported,” said James.
He is interested in a move to form a meat co-op with other ranchers in the Valley and marketing locally, but has concerns about whether consumers who are used to supermarket meat would accept the appearance of locally raised meat. He also wonders if the market would be strong enough to support each of the ranchers since calving is seasonal and the meat from each ranch would become available about the same time each year.
“I wonder, is there enough interest locally?” asked James.
“What it really comes down to is seasonality. What happens when we all have calves at the same time?”
n Jo Rafferty can be reached at email@example.com or 782-5121, ext. 210.