A Cowboy’s Faith: Deformities are not ruination

buchmanhead“Ears, feet and tail.”

That means a major price dock for a weanling calf going through the auction ring.

Whenever an auctioneer announces any of the three words when the entry gate opens, it’s certain starting price will be reduced. However, if two or three of the words are stated, the initial bid could be even considerably lower.

Confusing to a lay person, the jargon is obvious to cattle buyers and sellers. About anyone attending a livestock barn sale can soon figure out meaning of the often sharp retort, by the auctioneer, before bidding begins.

“Ears” means there’s a beef animal for sale that has shortened ears, generally caused by extreme cold on the day of birth, freezing the wet fragile newborn calf’s ears. Extent of damage varies from barely noticeable to almost complete loss, depending on lowness of temperature, wind intensity, etc. Price degradation correlates down with ear size, so to speak.

Feet of newborn calves are also susceptible to freezing conditions. Although not quite as easily injured as ears, calf feet damage can be from minor to complete loss of foot and some leg, and might affect only one, up to all four.

Other injuries to cattle feet are not uncommon: snake bite, foot rot, cuts, scrapes, causing swelling, lameness, price reduction.

While tail losses can be due to extreme cold, there are other causes, one being coyotes eating on them before the newborn can escape. Cattle tails can also get caught and injured, or even be stepped on my other cattle, causing permanent disfigurement. Certain genetic combinations produce shorter cattle tails, still reducing value.

Of course, lame cattle might not be as efficient as those that are sound, and cattle without tails can’t readily swat menacing flies.

Hearing can be affected by ear injury. And, growth stimulants are often implanted into cattle ears by feeders, and sometimes it is impossible to have effective placement in a partial ear.

All things considered, any one or more of those cattle scars make them worth less to cattlemen.

But, the question’s always if the final product is lower quality? Steaks from earless, footless, tailless cattle are just as nutritious and delicious as from cattle with all of their ears, feet and tail.

Reminds us of Leviticus 21:20: “Anyone who is blind, lame, disfigured or deformed may eat the food of his God, both the most holy and the holy.”


Frank_BuchmanFrank J. Buchman is a lifelong rancher from Alta Vista, a lifetime newspaper writer, syndicated national ag writer and a radio marketing consultant. He writes a weekly column to share A Cowboy’s Faith.

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