Tribal cattle owners sold 4,000 calves and sent them to new pastures July 11-22 during the annual calf shipping in Brighton and Big Cypress. The calves will spend a few months in feedlots before going to auction in April.
It took 40 truckloads to transport the animals to points north and west. During the 11-day event, semitrailers departed filled with about 100 head at a time. Destinations included Zellwood and Okeechobee in Florida and pastures and feedlots in Georgia, Kansas, and Texas.
Natural Resource Director Alex Johns coordinated the massive event, where each of the 67 cattle owners delivered calves and hoped they were all heavy enough to sell. To find out, calves were herded into the scale house, where each was weighed and sorted into pens filled with others of similar size. Cattle prod in hand, Johns stood like a maestro overlooking the maze of pens and directed each calf onto the scale.
“For the past two years, the calves have increased in size,” Johns said. “We’ve had good weather and good management.”
All the Tribe’s cattle have ear tags equipped with a data-filled computer chip which makes it easier to track individual animals. Sheri Holmes, natural resources office manager, monitored each calf as it entered the scale and added its weight to the computer.
The calves, which were about seven and a half months old, averaged about 540 pounds, 30 pounds more than last year. Johns attributed the weight gain to the weather; less water means more nutrients in the grass. The calves’ diet consists of about 99 percent grass. Supplements are given to ensure they get enough minerals. Johns said this has been a good year with an adequate amount of rain, but not too much to dilute the quality of the grass.
Like all the cattle owners, Moses Jumper Jr. and Naha Jumper rounded up cattle from their pastures, separated the calves, loaded them into a cattle trailer, and drove them to the cow pens. The job was a challenge July 19 with some uncooperative calves that wouldn’t be herded.
Moses usually works his cattle on an all-terrain vehicle with a few dogs to assist him. This day wasn’t like others; unfamiliar people were in the pasture to help load them onto the truck.
“They are skittish of people,” Jumper said. “But that’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Naha and Moses worked smoothly together to sort the herd and separate the calves for shipping.
The Big Cypress cow pens are located in an oak grove peppered with cabbage palms. The ample shade kept the cattle cool as teams of men moved them through the maze of pens, where they waited to be loaded onto trucks.
The large number of calves shipped is a sign of the cattle operation’s success. Bulls from tribal-owned Salacoa Valley Farms provided superior genetics and increased the quality of the cattle and Seminole Pride Beef. About 25 outside ranchers produce calves with the Salacoa genetics and the Tribe buys back about 4,000 head each year from those ranchers, Johns said.
The Tribe’s seed stock operation was ranked 67th in Beef Magazine’s Seedstock 100, which ranks producers nationwide for all breeds.
Those rebellious Jumper calves were rounded up the following day and shipped out.
“A cowboy’s work is never done,” Moses said. “That’s just what goes into a day’s work.”