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5 Things I can't do without: Heather Smith Thomas

Published on 17 August 2010

Heather Smith Thomas has raised cattle since the age of 12, and owns and operates a cow-calf ranch in Salmon, Idaho with her husband Lynn. She is the author of several prominent books on raising cattle, including “The Cattle Health Handbook,” the “Essential Guide to Calving” and “Storey’s Guide to Raising Beef Cattle.” Her work is also featured regularly in several horse and livestock publications.

We asked her what five items she relies on most for a productive and successful cow-calf operation.5 things I can't do without

1. My husband
Lynn, who is my best help and teammate. Together we’ve been raising beef cattle for 44 years, working as a very efficient team when calving, gathering and working cattle, winter feeding, treating sick animals or any other project that requires two people. Separately we spread our efforts (with him doing the haying/irrigating and me riding range to check cattle, gates, fences and water troughs) in order to get everything accomplished.

2. A good horse
Ranching on a strung-out operation and grazing cattle on summer range in rugged terrain, horses are essential to our cattle work. A good horse that can travel all day in the mountains, many days in a row, and chase cattle safely in steep terrain, makes the difference between getting the job done (and safely) or not.

3. Good facilities
Our cattle-working facilities must be user-friendly for us and for the cattle. We want our cattle to willingly come into our working corrals and chute, with least stress to them or us. As we get older, we appreciate effective, safe, easy-working facilities.

4. Good calving barn
In the Thomas’ region there can be bad weather (wind, snow and rain) in the spring, as well as cold weather in January and February, making a stable barn critical to calves’ health. “We’ve even had 10 inches of snow during a storm in late May. We calved in the dry cold of January for 36 years (1970 to 2006), and in the nasty spring storms of March and April before and after that period.

“No matter what months a person calves, in our valley, it’s sure nice to have a barn if you need it.”

5. Detailed cattle records
I’ve kept detailed records, especially breeding and calving records, parentage, vaccination and treatment records, on all our cows and calves for 44 years, even though our cows are crossbred and not purebred. These records have proven very useful. Along the same line, I keep a ‘cow’ notebook in my back pocket at all times, and always mark off the individuals I see when riding range or checking pastures. We like to keep track of our cattle and know where they are, and this enables us to know if an animal is missing and might be sick or strayed.  end_mark

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