Summer Intern Introduction

Hello Everyone! I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself as the summer intern here at Rock Hills Ranch. My name is Garth Gatson and I live on a farm in Northeast Missouri a little over 800 miles southeast of RHR. I am currently a junior at the University of Missouri where I am majoring in Animal Science. There at the University I am also a member of the Meat Judging Team. Beef cattle are my primary interest and area of study, and I look forward to expanding my knowledge this summer.

There are many things that I hope to learn this summer here at Rock Hills Ranch, and my education is already well underway. I arrived just a little over a week ago and I have already gotten a little taste of a lot of different things here on the ranch. Some of the jobs that I will be doing here are similar to what I have done in Missouri, but everything is just a little (or in some cases a lot) different in South Dakota.

So far, in addition to learning my way around the ranch and surrounding community,  I have built fence, fixed fence, torn out fence, moved cows, checked cows, built mineral feeders, and helped some SDSU grad students on their intensive grazing research project here on the ranch. Additionally, I have tried long and hard to talk some sense into cow number 413. 413 lost her calf early last week, and since then Luke, Lyle, and I have been tag teaming our efforts in an attempt to graft another calf onto her. So far, we haven’t been too successful. We are working in the best interest of both the cow and the calf, but evidently she doesn’t quite see it that way.

I am greatly enjoying my time here and anticipate many exciting adventures to come. I will pick out a few of the most interesting ones and write about them here from time to time. There is a long list of visitors and tours that are coming to RHR this summer, and I look forward to meeting many of you during my time here.

Rosie the Ex-Milk Cow

When my rancher purchased Rosie the expectant Jersey heifer, he anticipated drinking fresh milk with a higher percentage butterfat than his cholesterol conscious wife buys. My mother-in-law was excited about extra cream for making that delectable official SD dessert, kuchen. My son and I were counting the grocery pennies saved. Surely Rosie milk would cost less than buying milk at nearly $5/gallon.

Rosie finally calved about a month ago. My rancher milked her out and froze several quarts of colostrum to revive any flat on the side, cold calves he might come across as our beef herd started having babies. The future of the Rock Hills Ranch dairy looked bright, except for one tiny problem. Rosie has no problem with Sunshine poking around looking for lunch, but she hates being man handled. Milking her turned out to be a one handed job because my rancher had to hold the bucket in one hand to keep her from knocking it over. He tried several methods of restraining her, which worked for a few milkings. Then, Rosie would go off her feed, act droopy and forlorn and manage to contract some kind of infection that made us back off milking her. My rancher let her out so she could eat green grass. She roamed all the way to the mailbox and back and checked out every corner of the barnyard and calving pasture. Little Sunshine had to trot to keep up with her curious mama.

After a few days, Rosie perked up and my rancher commenced training her into a milk cow. Sure enough, she quit eating again. It was a classic ranching battle of the wills, man vs. bovine. My rancher doesn’t give up easily, but Rosie’s attitude eroded his enthusiasm for milking chores. Rosie might have thought she was winning. She doesn’t know that when cows win the battle they lose the war and that McDonald’s is the final winner.

Then, nature provided a good solution to the standoff. One of the beef cows had a set of twins and wasn’t enthused about raising two calves. Luke brought one in to see if Rosie had more compassion than his mama. She did. And so Rosie saved herself from a trip to town by becoming a nurse cow rather than a milk cow. Orphan calves do so much better if adopted by a cow than they do slurping up a bag of expensive milk replacer. With beef prices at record highs, Rosie more than pays her way, even if it’s not quite the kind of savings we were anticipating. She spends her days happily munching hay and a bit of grass as her mismatched “twins” nap nearby.

The RHR dairy operation has officially been suspended for this year.