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Thousands of calves, worth millions, shipped from Big Cypress, Brighton reservations

Sixty-one cattle owners in Brighton and Big Cypress had a fruitful July as they shipped more than 3,500 calves to feedlots around the country.

The annual two-week shipping event marks the end of a year in which the calves were raised, cared for and sold.

“It went pretty smooth, we didn’t have any issues,” said Alex Johns, natural resource director. “The weather was ideal this year and the calves were heavier for the most part. It’s been a good season.”

At the marsh pens, Joe Osceola runs with the calves as he herds them into the next pen leading to the scales. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Crews of cowhands helped owners get their herds from the pastures into their pens.

The herds were vocal as the calves were separated from the cows and loaded onto cattle trailers. It is a grueling, dirty and sometimes dangerous job that begins just after sunrise and ends when all the calves from the day’s pastures have been shipped.

Blevyns Jumper, who was part of a team of cowhands working in the pastures, experienced a few close calls as he separated calves while on foot in the pens. From their saddles, Morgan Yates and Amanda Miller used their horses to move the cows from pen to pen.

Brighton’s marsh pen was busy on July 12 as seven owners shipped 349 animals. Once they were unloaded from the trailers, the calves were sorted once again, this time by weight and gender.

Cowhands moved the calves in small groups from the

Morgan Yates and Amanda Miller use their horses to move the cows and calves in Lola Gopher’s pens during calf shipping July 12 in Brighton. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

holding pens and into a chute leading to the scale. After their weight was ascertained, they were led into smaller pens with similar sized calves.

Melissa Gopher shipped 38 steers and 32 heifers and was pleased with the results.

“The numbers were good this year,” Gopher said. “I supplement the herd with molasses and organic fruit and hay from the feedlot. It made a big difference this year.”

A traditional cowboy lunch, home cooked by cattle owners’ families, was served under a shed which was rebuilt after Hurricane Irma damaged the roof. The impressive spread was more than enough to satisfy the hunger of the workers in the pens and pastures, who still had more calves to retrieve and ship.

The animals were loaded onto multi-level cattle trucks and sent to feedlots in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi and Texas. It took 39 truckloads filled with around 80 to 100 animals each, depending on the weight, to complete the job.

Aaron Stam and Alex Johns move calves into the chute leading to the scale. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The average weight of the calves was 530 pounds. The value of all the shipped calves exceeded $2.7 million.

“We are still making genetic progress,” Johns said. “The calves are heavier every year; we have more beef per acre so it increases our production. We got a good price for the calves.”

Edna McDuffie and her brother Norman Johns shipped 110 calves.

“We try to get them as fat as we can,” Norman Johns said. “It’s been a good year.”

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

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