View From the Range

Silver Spur Ranch Success Comes From Ensuring Good Health for Cattle and Cowboys

Jennifer Carrico
By  Jennifer Carrico , Senior Livestock Editor
Lane Olkjer (left) and Bob Welch vaccinate a calf during a branding day at Silver Spur Ranch near Kiowa, Colorado. DTN's View From the Range series is following activities at the ranch throughout the year. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Joel Reichenberger)

REDFIELD, Iowa (DTN) -- Springtime on a cattle ranch is considered one of the best times of the year as new calves show up daily and prove to the ranchers if they made good breeding decisions.

That's no different at Silver Spur Ranch in Kiowa, Colorado. Manager Decky Spiller said it's his favorite time of year. "We can see if the decisions we made last year have resulted in what we planned and if the young bulls are going to go on to be breeders for us in the future. We also pray for good weather to help us out on the health side during calving."

Seeing the groups of calves at branding time tells him a lot about what the ranch will do for artificially inseminating cows in the coming months. "We learn a lot this time of year," he said. They learn what cattle will work on the ranch and which ones aren't as hearty. This not only goes for the breeding and growth of the animals, but also their health.

Silver Spur Ranch Kiowa Creek Division is participating in DTN's View From the Range series, where DTN will follow a year at the ranch to give readers an inside look at how the ranch operates and cares for its animals.

This third segment in the series looks at how a proper vaccination program helps keep good health in the cattle, and how communication among employees -- and sometimes taking time off -- improves the mental health of cowboys.


Employment on a cattle ranch takes a person who is willing to put in long hours and do hard work. Spiller said he has a great set of cowboys who treat the cattle like their own, but even cowboys need some time off.

"We allow our vocation to define us. It's our culture and part of us," he said. "In our business, it's 24-7-365. We have to be able to find peace in our daily lives and sometimes that means taking time off."

Calving season is the most trying time on the ranch because of the long hours and importance of keeping everything in good health. "Two percent of the (cattle) population will take up 90% of our time. We do what we must to keep cattle alive. The other 98% are good and don't need help," Spiller said.

His job on the ranch during calving time includes managing the people and their mental health. When 14 to 30 calves are born each day for three months, and problems arise, sometimes employees just need to refresh.

"Mental perspective makes our success. Communication lets us help each other. We all want to do better and be better and that makes the cattle better at Silver Spur," Spiller stressed.


For the cattle, Silver Spur Ranch focuses on providing a good health program throughout their lives -- it's very important for them to thrive. At the ranch, this begins at birth when the calves receive their first vaccine. They are also given an ear tag for identification and pertinent information is collected including birthdate, birthweight and sex. Any time a calf is treated for sickness, the ear tag is notched. This lets them keep track of which calves cannot go in the Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC) Program if they are sent to the feedlot.

"We are always cautious of calf health when they are born in the bitter cold temperatures, because we tend to see more enterotoxemia in those," he explained. The goal is to have good health from calving all through their lives and a proper vaccination program helps that, but Mother Nature can cause challenges.

"By branding time, the calves are about 45 to 60 days old, and they get their first round of full respiratory, Blackleg and BVD (Bovine Virus Diarrhea) vaccines," Spiller said.

In August, cows are pregnancy checked and given a complete round of vaccinations, as well as pored over for internal and external parasites. This will get the cows by until they get their pre-calving shots 45 to 60 days prior to calving. In August, calves are also given preconditioning vaccinations and checked for parasites. They are given a booster on these vaccines about 14 to 21 days after the first shots.

Virgin heifers are given pre-breeding shots several weeks prior to being artificially inseminated. Bulls are also given pre-breeding shots and tested for trichomoniasis. While virgin bulls shouldn't need to be tested, some states, like New Mexico, require a negative test on all bulls. Since some go to Silver Spur's ranch in New Mexico, they will be sure the bulls have been tested.


Spiller said they started using a foot rot vaccine several years ago in the replacement heifers and bulls. "Certain areas of the ranch have more problems than others for foot rot due to the terrain. It's better to use a low-cost preventative than have to try to catch an animal out in the pasture to treat it," he added.

Some producers prefer to change up the wormer from year to year, but Spiller said he won't make changes unless a change is needed. "My experience is unless there is a heavy parasite load with a bug not reacting to what you are using, then why change," he said. "We rotate pairs and have a good forage base in our pastures, which helps prevent most problems."

Problems within nature can cause health issues, too. The cowboys on the ranch said wildlife can become a real nuisance by destroying fences and equipment, but they don't cause many health issues. Silver Spur staff watch for sick deer and elk as chronic wasting disease (CWD) can be a problem in parts of Colorado. Rarely is a problem seen in cattle because of other wildlife diseases. If the cow herd has proper vaccinations, it avoids most of these other illnesses.

Noxious weeds can cause problems if they emerge and grow before the grass. This is another reason to continually rotate pastures to avoid these weeds like locoweed, lupine, larkspur, and knapweed.

Once the grass has started to grow, these weeds are not the forage of choice and are less of a problem. A high magnesium mineral is fed to cows, especially in the spring to avoid grass tetany.


Editor's Note: To see the first two stories in this series, go to:

-- "Follow Colorado Cattle Ranch Through the Year,"…

-- "Colorado's Silver Spur Ranch Shares Calving and Tagging System Tips,"…

Jennifer Carrico can be reached at

Follow her on social platform X @JennCattleGal

Jennifer Carrico