Today marks a rite of passage for the grass-fed beef business of my friends and neighbors, Sara and Ralph of Wild Type Ranch. We have said farewell to the foundation mama cow of their herd, and many others, our wide and beefy queen, R45.
I’ve known R45 since I first started coming to the ranch, so she is my oldest cow friend. It turns out she’s had a lot of adventures, for a Red Angus cow, and she’s been a wonderful leader of the herd since Sara and Ralph got her as a yearling.
We’ve always called her R45, even though all the other Wild Type cattle had cool names. Was I surprised to find out that she had a name: French Queen. Well, I think I prefer R45 to “Queenie,” so perhaps it’s for the best that they didn’t look to hard to find her name.
They bought her at the second auction they attended, when they were first starting their breeding program, so you know she was selected for her good genetics. She ended up being one of the first cows bred on Wild Type Ranch, too. And she didn’t let them down. She threw mostly bull calves, though no one can remember whether the one that slipped the fence and got killed by coyotes (or something) was a bull or a heifer.
Sarah sent me these calves that she can remember, most of which went on to become bulls used for breeding:
- Hobart (2010)
- Pyrmont (2011)
- Neptune (2013)
- Zen (2015)
- Dooku (2016)
- Randy (2017)
Hobart and Pyrmont were used to develop the Wild Type brand’s features, which are to be very tender grass-fed beef. After they fathered a bunch of heifers, they were sold to other grass-fed beef operations, so they got to spread those good R45 genes around. (You don’t want bulls breeding to their daughters too much; inbreeding is bad.)
All of R45’s boys were beautiful fellows. I especially liked Randy, because I got to name him. He was very interested in the duties of a bull from when he was a tiny calf, hence, Randy. He’s still off siring attractive Angus beef.
Now, Queen R45 (I had actually called her the Queen of the herd before I saw her papers!) was a big cow. Her sons and grandsons tended to be compact, but she was built like a 1950s Buick, large, deep, and wide. Very wide. She always looked pregnant.
Sara tells a story of one time, when she was pregnant, R45 laid down in the bank of one of the ponds (tanks) at the front of the pasture. The bank was so steep, and she was so large that she couldn’t right herself, and vultures started going after her. Luckily Sara and Ralph got her hoisted back up before she lost an eye! She went on to continue to produce calves for years.
R45’s size almost got her sent to the processing plant way before her time. One year it took her a while to breed, and they thought she was done. Sara checked her to see if she was with calf, but thought her big ole cervix was an un-pregnant uterus. She was scheduled for harvest, but a couple of weeks before that was due, out popped a healthy calf. Whew! I remember being all sad at that time, because I always liked her.
For the last couple of years, R45 hasn’t been able to bear calves, but they kept her in the herd to honor her years of devoted service. She remained the leader of the herd, and was still seen caring for calves and calming down the younger cows.
For the past few months, though, R45 has been showing signs of her age, and is, as they say in cattle talk, “losing condition.” It’s a sign that she’s having trouble digesting food, sort of like how our old horse, Pardner, did. He ended up so skinny. Rather than let R45 deteriorate, Ralph and Sara decided it would be kinder to harvest her while she’s still feeling pretty good and not suffering.
That’s called good stewardship of your livestock, and I appreciate it, even if I’m sad to see the old girl go. She got to do lots more than the average cow, and lived 14 years in our combined ranches’ beautiful pastures, with good health care and good cow friends.
And Sara wanted me to point out that R45’s harvest will be donated to local food banks to feed the hungry. She continues to serve a higher purpose. I salute you, French Queen R45. Graze in peace.