by Doug Ferguson
Reading some of the recent blogs on Cattle Call, and hearing the point of view of part time cattlemen, I was taken back to 2006. This was about the tipping point for me, when I was about to become a full time cattlemen. Notice I said about. I remember the events that derailed my plans well. A lot of what I do today is a result of the lessons I learned.
I was building my small feedlot/back grounding yard. I had two fifty head pens completed and I was determined to fill them. I had saved up some cash and could buy cattle without a loan. I was in my late twenties and very excited and determined to really get the ball rolling. I had been buying calves to feed for a while and had good success. But this time it was different. Instead of being in the custom yards I was going to feed them at home. I was right on the cusp of beginning to live my dream.
I went to a local auction market and started buying calves. I was really piecing together a nice group. I was buying the sorts and small packages of calves. I remember being so excited because I was putting together a group of black three and four weight heifers. I was imagining how nice they would look in my new pens. I sat there until the end of the auction, to be sure not to miss out on any bargains. I did get a few. I remember this one heifer that came into the ring and I bought her. I can still tell you today what she weighed and what I paid for her.
I got them home and made sure they had some good hay to eat. That afternoon was real hot, in the mid nineties. Due to the heat I was satisfied to let the calves settle in. That night we had a really rough thunderstorm, and it rained here for the next couple days. Due to the stress of the weather I decided not to stress the calves any more by processing them. It didn’t take long and one by one the calves started getting sick. I would treat them, and about the time I thought we were over the hump they would start getting sick again.
It was really getting expensive to keep treating these calves. They barely had an appetite, they were weak, and really in tough shape. I remember calling my vet one afternoon because I had a calf standing in the back of the pen that was shaking, and looking like she was going to blackout. At this point, I knew that I wasn’t battling a normal case of BRD or coccidiosis as I origionally thought. While I was talking to my vet that poor calf fell over dead.
That very day I was on my way to the diagnostic lab at UNL. I had a couple of my recently deceased calves and I played a hunch and loaded the only calf that I hadn’t treated. While at the lab I watched them do necropsies on my calves. I stood there for almost two hours without saying anything to anybody. I watched as they took lots of pictures of the calves. I finally started asking questions, about what I was seeing. I’ll spare you the details.
You have probably all read an article about PI BVD some where. I had. Let me tell you, that there has never been an article that has even come close to touching what I went through. Of course the guys at the lab told me that it was the worst case of BVD they had ever seen.
Now that heifer that I remember so well when I bought her was the only one that never showed signs of being sick. We tested her for PI BVD. Sure enough she was positive. She just kept shedding the virus to the other calves. It beat their immune system down so bad that they just couldn’t fight off any other bugs. After disposing of that calf, the others started to show signs of improving that very same week.
My vet bills were so high and my death loss was so high that I was out of the cattle feeding deal for awhile. My confidence in myself was shaken to the very core. I was wondering if I could really do what it was I wanted to do my whole life. I stopped my plans to continue building the rest of my yard for two reasons. One I was almost totally wiped out of money and scared I was going to have to go back to a job in town. Two, I had lost complete confidence in myself. I didn’t know what to do next. I just really can’t put into words what it was like to witness this train wreck. Or explain what it was like to lay in bed at night thinking about it.
In my next blog I will explain what I did next, and a few of the things I learned.