High-tech on the High Plains

Cattle branding at the research center


Eric Seidle

Julia Danfoe, left, gives a calf an injection Wednesday while Les Grey applies a brand.

Wednesday saw the last herd of Montana State University Northern Agricultural Research Center's cattle branded and vaccinated.

Andy Matakis, the livestock operation manager at Northern Ag Research Center, was working the hydraulic squeeze chute to trap cattle in order to give them their pregnancy vaccinations.

The machine would also identify individual cows by reading an ID chip, attached to their ear, as they passed by a sensor. The information the machine gets from the chips is used to match data collected by the machinery, and other sensors, with the individual cows. On this day, weight data was recorded to show how much weight the cow had gained since it was last weighed.

Just over 300 head of cattle that have been processed through the research center in the last few months. These cattle were split into three groups to make it easier on the crews.

Each calf was branded and vaccinated and each adult cow was given a dose of bug repellant and vaccinations.

"We're fortunate enough to have a big crew," Matakis said.

The herd Wednesday was divided into calves and adults, and two teams processed the two groups at the same time.

Matakis said the calves were the more difficult group because they had never been through a chute before and had to be forced into the tip-table squeeze chute they had set up for them.

After the calves made it into the squeeze chute, they were administered a nasal three-way vaccine while they were branded with the "ES" brand that belongs to the research center.

The research center cooperates works with professors at MSU in Bozeman and from other universities who want research data on cattle. Matakis said oftentimes they will mirror projects being done in Bozeman to see what differences topography and climate will make with the cattle.

The cattle will be used for research projects and some will eventually be designated as feed cattle. Matakis said the cattle are used for either reproducing, research, pregnancies or food production.

The cows were all Angus-Charolais or Angus-Hereford crosses.

"We went with the Charolais cross because they gain weight better," Matakis said. Much of the cows used for feed cattle were of the Charolais cross.

The research center operates on about 7,000 acres, split between Fort Assinniboine and the Bear Paw Mountains, and is owned by Montana State University, the state's land grant college. During the school year, four to six college students work at the ranch and farm, many of them conducting research projects as well as pitching in on the work.

From May to January, the cattle roam the research center pastures in the Bear Paws. In January they are herded back to the main facility at Fort Assinniboine where the pregnant cows are given extra feed in their last trimester before calving in late winter and early spring.

After branding, the herd is taken, once again, to the Bear Paws.

Eric Seidle


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