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Team effort makes calf shipping run smoothly

Makayla Torres herds calves into the pen leading to the cattle hauling truck during Big Cypress calf shipping July 14, 2021.(Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — Hurricane Elsa and other scattered thunderstorms didn’t stop calf shipping in Brighton and Big Cypress from July 5th to July 15th. Every year, rain or shine, the calves get shipped out to feedlots around the country.

The annual two-week shipping event marks the end of a year in which cattle owners cared for the calves and kept them healthy and well fed. After a year of hard work, tribal owners sold 3,744 calves, which will spend a few months eating with the express purpose of putting on weight. When they reach about 1,350 pounds, the cattle will be sent to market.

This year, about half of the animals were sent to one buyer in Kansas, the rest went to lots in Florida, Iowa, Nebraska and Ohio. It took 38 truckloads to ship the animals. The average weight of Brighton calves was 483 pounds; in Big Cypress the average was 467.

Tiger Youngman herds a group of calves into the pen in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The tribe’s Natural Resources director Aaron Stam was involved with calf shipping during his years as a livestock/4-H extension agent and federally recognized tribal extension agent for the tribe, but this year he was the one in charge.

“Calf weights were down,” Stam wrote in an email. “The averages were 30-40 pounds less than last year. It was a bad winter for grass and forages, translating into lighter calves.”

It takes more than just 64 cattle owners to ship the animals; it also takes plenty of help from family members and crews of cowhands to get the cattle in from the vast pastures. Once in the owner’s cow pens, the calves are separated from the cows, loaded onto cattle trailers and taken to the pens in Big Cypress or Brighton.

Natural Resources employees Julie Braddock and Sheri Holmes log each animal as it is weighed and sorted into pens for shipping. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The pens in Big Cypress were crowded with calves and cowhands July 14, including Summer Work Experience Program participant Makayla Torres, who wants to have her own herd one day.

“I want to follow in my papa’s footsteps,” said Torres, the granddaughter of Carl Baxley.

Torres, soon to be a senior at Ahfachkee School, was a natural in the pens and fearlessly herded the cattle into the pens for weighing and ultimately for shipping.

Once all the owners’ calves were weighed and sorted, some were kept as replacement heifers for the herds; someone had to go retrieve calves from the Board’s pasture. The task was left to Josh Jumper, Naha Jumper, Happy Jumper, a couple of kids and a few other men, who all mounted horses and galloped away with some dogs to herd the cattle into a holding pen.

Ready to herd some cattle from the Board’s Big Cypress pasture are, from left, Randy Rueda, Josh Jumper, Naha Jumper, Kayden Jumper, Talen Jumper and Happy Jumper. It took some time, but they were able to gather about 90 head for shipping. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The Board’s pasture is large and dotted with hammocks and none of the Jumper brothers had been in that pasture for about 10 or 15 years. Josh Jumper was hopeful but noncommittal about how many animals they would be able to corral. As the group of eight rode away, only the sound of hooves on turf, insects and birds could be heard.

As they tried to move the herd, a few animals broke away and fled into the woods. Shortly afterwards, Big Cypress cattle foreman Andre Jumper rode in to help find those cattle. By the end of the roundup, they brought about 90 animals into the Big Cypress cow pens for shipping.

Natural Resources director Aaron Stam oversees the weighing and sorting of calves during the calf shipping in the Big Cypress cow pens. (Photo Beverly BIdney)
Todd Johns pets a cow before it is weighed and sorted for shipping. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Emma Urbina, background, and Sheri Holmes, Natural Resources office manager, pause for a moment as they wait for more calves to be loaded into the cattle hauling truck in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
The cow pens in Big Cypress are reflected in Tiger Youngman’s sunglasses July 14, 2021, as he takes a brief break during a hard day’s work of wrangling cattle into pens for shipping. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Workers help get calves onto the scale one at a time in Big Cypress. The calves, which will be sorted into groups based on their weights, sometimes each other too closely so the workers are tasked with separating them. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at