April 2017

Well here it is late May and I’m just getting around to my monthly update for April. And I skipped March. It’s been busy, mostly with my brewery consulting work.

The farm is doing just fine, it’s actually more mellow this year than it has been in the past. Right now we have 6 cattle and a bunch of laying hens. That’s it. All of our pigs are sold or in the freezer, and the grass is doing great. We certainly have some happy cows.

We are doing just 1 batch of meat chickens this year, and they show up in early June. They’ll be on pasture until late July, then it’s back to just cattle and hens. Meat chickens are a lot of work and a lot of sleepless nights. They sleep on the grass and are vulnerable to predators. And its summer so the windows are open, so we can hear foxes every night trying to get in for an easy snack.

What I want to show you is my farm compared to my neighbors. There is a patch of ground behind my farm that hasn’t had cows on it for years. This year cows with young calves were brought in. These cows are at the peak of their nutritional needs, they have to maintain themselves and make milk for their growing calf. The calf also needs nice forage to get their rumens kick started. This is basic stuff, but it amazes me how many ranchers around here don’t get it. Look at the difference here.

The first picture is my grass and cattle in mid-May.  The bottom picture is the neighbors in the background.  You can see they have eaten everything green and are basically down to eating dirt.  Too many cattle on too small of a pasture for too long.

These cows have run out of food, and they spend all day mooing as they see my cows eating good grass just a few feet away. The calves will grow, the moms will lose weight and condition, and he will sell his calves at the sale barn- and probably make more money at it than I do.

I work harder with my cows. I move them twice a day, everyday, to a fresh piece of grass. Grass that hasn’t been stepped on, pooped on, peed on and they are fat. The momma cows are getting great nutrition for the last month before calving, and will get great nurtrition all summer as their calves are nursing. And the calves get great grass to get their rumens off to a healthy start. Just like the deer and elk do it, they wait until the grass is lush before fawning/calving. Working with nature, not against it.

It’s frustrating to see this, but I am committed to seasonal calving and working with nature.

August 2016

The biggest news of the month is we have a bull again. He is one beautiful animal.

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His name is Bo and he’s from Clifton. He’s a registered Red Shorthorn, very gentle and very big. He’s about 2000 lbs and is gentle enough to eat out of my hand. Hopefully we get a few heifers next spring, we’ll keep them for breeding.

Very glad to find him. We were initially looking at AI because we couldn’t find a bull. Then we did find a bull in Eckert, and the day I went to pick him up his owner noticed he had pinkeye. Super contagious and I didn’t want to bring him in. As the last moment we found Bo, and he had been great.

The other big news for the month is tomatos! Holy cow. We are picking about one 5-gal bucket of tomatos per week. Lots of sauce making, roasting, freezing, yum. Emily roasted one batch and I turned it in to fermented ketchup. It turned out really good and we have about a half gallon of it.

We don’t do a lot of weeding in our garden, so it’s a lush green jungle out there.

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Our meat chickens are doing great. We had <5% loss with this last batch. The last round of chicken butchering is slated for Sept 6, they will be almost 7 weeks old. We will also be culling some older hens that day. I guess it’s not a good day to be a chicken on our farm.

My brewery work has been very busy lately. This makes fitting in the farm work a bit of a challenge. But it’s all good and life is just busy sometimes. See you in October.

Seasonal calving

I don’t consider myself to be a cattle expert.  Not by a long shot!  However one of the things I wanted to do before buying our first calf was get in to seasonal calving.  When do the local deer and elk have their babies?  That’s when I want to have our calves.

But is that right?  Everyone else around here calves in winter or early spring.  Am I making a mistake?

The basic idea is you want the calving in late May/early June to provide the cow with a month of good grass ahead of calving.  She will regain any weight lost over the winter and get good nutrients to the calf during the last month of growth.  The calf is born in to warm weather, so there is no weather stress.  The pasture provides great nutrients to the cow through the summer for milk production, and the green grass is helpful to the calf for rumen development.  It all makes so much sense!  Read more about all of this on this short web page.

Drawbacks to seasonal calving?  Flies are potentially one of them.  However we’ve read that fly exposure to the pregnant cow in late spring passes on fly resistance to the newborn calf.  We’ll see about that.  Another is the animal is potentially younger & smaller at market time.  At this point I plan to finish my butcher animals in May and June each year, with a butcher date of about July 1 when the animals is a full 2 yrs old.  Is 25 months old enough time to fully grow and express themselves?

Anyway, lots of learning as always.  But I thought you might appreciate this.


November 2015

Regular readers, if there are any of you, are probably getting sick and tired of me saying ‘It’s been a mellow month around here’.  Happy to oblige.

He’s gone!  The bull is gone.  What a relief.  After 2 months of cajolling him twice a day with grain, I finally got him to voluntarily go where I wanted him to go.

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It’s hard to see, but he’s in there.  We borrowed the trailer from our friend Helen, it took him 3 weeks, but he finally went in.  Once he was comfortable going in and out, on the right day I shut that big door and he was locked in!  What a relief.  Our cows were in there with him and they were all nervous with the door shut, but I was able to sort them myself and his owner came and picked him up a few hours later.  What a relief.

With him gone, that means I don’t need to buy him (and butcher him next summer).  So I bought 2 calves from Helen:

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And we also bought 6 pregnant ewes:

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All of these purchases were waiting on that bull leaving.

The calves are about 7 months old, one is ours for 2017 and one is for the farmers market.  The sheep are Katahdin hair sheep.  No shearing and no tail docking required.

What a relief.  Did I already say that?  You have no idea.

Speaking of no idea.  I have no idea about sheep.  Never really been around them.  But I’ve wanted them on the farm since we bought it (spring 2013 for the curious).  They eat grass and they taste good.  Good combo.  They’re supposedly all pregnant, don’t know exact due dates, the farm we got them from had a ram get loose.  One is very pregnant now and due within a month.  The others will get there.

One interesting thing about sheep is the first 80% of the gestation the embryo hardly grows at all.  Then in that final 20% the little guys really start growing.  Since I don’t know anything about sheep, what I’ve read is this last 20% (the last month) you should give them some grain since the lambs are growing so fast it’s hard to get the ewe the nutrition she needs without it.  We’ll see how that winds up shaking up as time passes.

Anyway, not a mellow month around here.  A very fun month!  We have pigs again soon, but they came in December so you’ll have to wait until next month for that story.

October 2015

He’s still here; the bull that is.

What a pain. And of course a nice school of hard knocks lesson for us. I didn’t grow up with cows, everything I learn I get by reading. But there comes a time when experience is better. For that I turn to my local cowgirl, Helen Rutherford. We bought our cows from her in 2014, and we want to buy more calves from her. But we have to get rid of this bull first. We might just buy the bull and happily butcher him in 2016 if we can’t get rid of him.

Helen brought us her stock trailer, it’s sitting in our pasture now. Her advice is to get the animals used to going in there, feed them in there, let them rub on the sides and get used to it’s metallic noises. When the bull goes in shut the door and he’s trapped. Guess what. He knows it’s a trap. Our cows and steer go in there no problem, even if I’m already in there. He seems to know better, again, what a pain! He was supposed to be gone in mid-Sept.

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Small bull, big pain. But I do think he was successful in breeding the cows.

The change in the seasons is here. Gardens are being put to bed, and since it’s not as hot and the grass is going dormant things stay muddy for longer. So our eggmobile is stuck in the mud. The joys of farming! I might need to move it with my pickup truck to get it where I need it to be.  On a side note, we do have lots of eggs for sale.

We did a 5-day family trip to Bend, OR! Friends of ours got married and we went for the reception. All of our friends got to meet Jemma for the first time. Our neighbors took care of the farm while we were away and did a great job.

Right before this trip to Bend I butchered all of the turkeys. Turkeys were much better for us this year than in years previous, but still we had 33% mortality. Is that a success? This is our third year raising turkeys, in the first 2 years we had a total of 20 birds and wound up with 2 in the freezer. The issue was predators, mink and fox. Mink!? This year we started with 15 and wound up with 10 in the freezer. 4 died in the brooder when they were little, 1 died outside from some sort of illness. But no predators! Again, is that a success? Turkeys are pretty simple once they go outside, but they’re much more fragile when they’re young. At least that’s their reputation- and it’s mostly true if they behave. The first 2 yrs what happened was the birds would fly outside their enclosure at sunset and couldn’t figure out how to get back in. Fox bait.

The summer farmers market is winding down, transitioning in to the indoor winter market.  This was our first season at the Montrose Farmers Market, and it was pretty good.  However my goal has always been to not do any farmers market.  It ties up every Saturday morning which makes things like camping difficult.  But I like it, talking with new people all of the time and telling our story.  I will be at the farmers market through 2015, taking the winter off, and will be back at it in May 2016.  I will have eggs for sale direct off the farm all winter long, hopefully I get enough traffic this winter to keep up with the egg supply!

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Anyway, farming like anything in life, is full of lessons.

September 2015

So we rented a bull back in August- his job is to get our cows pregnant. Seems simple enough, right? Like everything on a farm, it’s harder than I thought.

For starters we aim for calving in May or June, late for most outfits in the US. The aim is to calve when the local ruminants (deer & elk) are calving. Makes sense right? This means breeding in August or September.

The problem is we don’t own a bull, don’t really want to (we only have 2 cows), and I don’t want to AI (artificially inseminate). The other problem is most cattle owners around here bring their cattle up to the high country at this time of year. Finding a bull to rent was harder than I thought. We found a ‘lowline angus’ bull in Fruita. I love the name, lowline as in dwarf. He’s about 3 ft tall.

Bull and cow!

Bull and cow!

Eventually the time came to return the bull to his owner. This didn’t go quite as well as we hoped. In fact, he’s still here! He’s feisty, to say the least. All sorts of thoughts go through our mind as we’re trying to catch this bull. Don’t get killed, just cooperate!, Please!, and many more that don’t bear repeating. Ultimately I called my local cattle resource around here and told her my dilemma (Yup, she’s a cowgirl). ‘You can get more out of life with sugar instead of vinegar.’ Basically, tame the beast, make friends with him, and he will willingly do what you want. That process is happening now. I love the philosophy, it’s working, but it involves grain. We are a grass fed cattle operation and they’re all getting grain right now. Not much, but it grates my nerves. Once he’s gone the grain goes to the chickens.

Of course another situation is he’s 3 ft tall and our cows are about 4 ft tall. Fingers are crossed that he did his job.

We made some great hay in September. Late for us, but we grazed these pastures earlier in the season. The only way we can make this work, in fact make the farm as a whole work, is to hire the haying done. We hire the work, he owns the tractor and all of the equipment- and he does all of the work. Well, he does the easy part. Cuts it and bales it. There are several days in between those 2 events and we hope for no rain. Eventually it’s up to us to pick it up in the field, put it on a trailer, drive to the hay stack and unload. Roughly 60 lb bales and we got about 160 of them. Not huge numbers, but we’re a small farm.

I mentioned we were hoping for no rain. As the hay dries and cures, the cells dry and rupture. Rain washes the nutrients away. The other problem is mold, moldy hay is rejected by the animals we’re trying to feed.

Anyway, busy busy. Hopefully the bull heads home on Oct 9. Come to the farmers market on the 10th for the news report.

Support your local grass based farmer…

Michigan Firm Recalls Ground Beef Products Due To Possible E. Coli O157:H7

WASHINGTON, May, 19, 2014 – Wolverine Packing Company, a Detroit, Mich. establishment, is recalling approximately 1.8 million pounds of ground beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

The ground beef products were produced between March 31, 2014 and April 18, 2014. For a full list of products that were recalled please see the attached document.

The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “EST. 2574B” and will have a production date code in the format “Packing Nos: MM DD 14” between “03 31 14” and “04 18 14”. These products were shipped to distributors for restaurant use in Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio. There was no distribution of the products to the Department of Defense, the National School Lunch Program, or catalog/internet sales.

Did you know grass fed, pastured beef does not have E. coli?  Neither do our chickens.  This E. coli phenomena is a product of our large factory confinement farms.

The latest addition to our farm…

We bought 3 cows on May 14.  2 of them are our breeding stock for future years, the other is actually owned by Emily’s sister’s family for fall beef.  Not the best picture, but here they are:

3 new Hereford's

3 new Hereford’s

Our Jersey steers are pretty happy about it.  The cows are still arguing, working on deciding who is the boss around here.

Our jersey steers

Our jersey steers

The jersey’s were getting a little bored, here they are killing time chewing on each others ear:

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If you’ve ever been licked by a cow, you know how raspy and slimy those mouths are.  Yuk.