I enjoy this time of year. I’m not especially fond of the very cold temperatures, but I like the idea of a New Year with new adventures. Starting a fresh calendar. Opening up a new unspoiled day planner, enjoying those first weeks of coffee-spill-free planning, using pages that haven’t yet been ripped out for busy kids to scribble on to keep them… occupied.
Inevitably, everyone is in a self-reflective mood, looking back at the previous year, thinking about the future, resolving to lose weight, quit something-or-other, be better people, blah blah blah. I’m not really into resolutions, although last year around this time I did make the bold declaration that in 2013 I would get a dish washer. Mission accomplished, although it was installed just under the wire and it isn’t exactly a “resolution.” Members of my household would likely suggest this dishwasher may have made me slightly easier to live with, though, so perhaps it does fit into the self-improvement category.
Whether you have big things planned in 2014 or whether the year will come and go as status-quo (which is good too!), for many a cattle producer, 2014 will forever be associated with the letter “B.”
There is an International Letter Code that is assigned to each particular year, and it follows the alphabet. Except for when it doesn’t. So it’s pretty handy, but sort of confusing, and usually involves me mumbling a random reverse 22-letter cowboy alphabet, and counting my fingers. For pretty obvious reasons, letters such as “I,” “O” and “Q” are not used, as they look very similar to numbers. This becomes especially apparent, when ol’ Bessie runs down the chute and out the head gate without a backwards look at the patient data recorder who is left trying to determine if that was 24“I” or “two forty-one?” For similar reasons, the letter “V” is not used either, because who can really tell a “U” from a “V” at 800m away? Someone along the line made the smart call to eliminate these potential problems and any time a cattle handling marital “situation” can be prevented, it’s a good thing. Trust me and any ranch woman on the planet.
Some cattle producers use these letter codes and some do not, however most purebred breeders use this system. The code is internationally recognized and including it is essential when tattooing the ears of your registered livestock. We use this letter system for all calves born on our ranch, whether they are commercial, or registered purebred, because it works with our management system.
Everyone who uses the system can’t help but resonate strongly with certain calf crops and their corresponding letter. My (human) twin babies were born in the middle of calving season and coincidentally in the midst of many bovine twins, in the year X. I did not tattoo my children’s ears, however that is a popular question making me wonder what people actually think of my parenting skills. My youngest is a December baby, squeaking by to be a Z, but I think of her as an honorary A because she was a patient little baby through much of the time that our A calf crop was arriving. R is another special year for us because that is the first year that we calved out cows under our own registered prefix. Understandably, many ranchers get a little sentimental when they’ve come full circle (sometimes into the third or fourth circle!) and return to the letter they used for their first calf crop. And some ranchers remember certain letters that they would rather forget because they may have had a particularly challenging season or calf crop. All in all, the system is pretty handy, because it can quickly tell you if a female is a first-calf heifer, or an old crock, or if a bull has sired three or nine calf crops.
While everyone is ringing in the New Year, contemplating their personal resolutions and tactics for maintaining their new life-changing behaviours, know that for some ranchers, 2014 simply means that it’s a new year, and one that will be brought to you by the letter B.