Category Archives: calf

Transition Thursday ~ Improved Management

Top 30 Oct. 29
Exactly one years difference between these two photos, taken October 29th in 2013 and 2014

Better management practices and additional rotations have great improved this pasture area. I arrowed the same tree referenced in both photos as a landmark.

2013~ This field had been planted the year prior and only had one cutting of hay removed. As our cattle numbers rose, we decided to put the cows into this pasture later in the year. The older growth and light colored grasses are from the previous years grasses and ones that had already died off due to colder temperatures. Most of those standing stalks were still left in the spring of 2014.

2014~This entire field was broken up into 10 rotational paddocks. Due to improper grazing methods the year prior, we saw additional weed growth and still some residual standing dead grasses remaining for 2012/2013. We decided that after the first rotation of grazing, the paddocks would be clipped. The clipping added organic matter for moisture retention and soil cover. When the cattle were turned into this paddock, the grasses measured approximately 11″ tall and fairly uniform (other than where heavy manure patties were located and the grasses were about 2-3″ higher).

Synopsis of tests and trials:

In 2014, we did some additional management testing. As each of the paddocks were clipped, we either left the animals in the same paddock for 24 hours or pulled them out prior to clipping. We had the same amount of rainfall for the first 21 days on two adjoining small paddocks, NONE. One we left the cows in and the other we pulled them out.  Which of these paddocks do you think grew back better? Do you think there were any uniformity difference?

Now that we are grazing these two paddocks again after the same amount of growing days, we are surprised by the results.

Paddock 4: The day the cattle were turned into this paddock, the grasses were approximately 11″ (or knee high on my legs) for second grazing. There were large patches of dark green grasses (from manure and slightly better nutrients).

Belly deep grasses of paddock #4

This is the paddock that was clipped and the cattle left in for around another 24 hours. There are one or two weeds that did pop up, but nothing like the previous year.

Paddock 5: I turned the cattle back into this paddock for regrazing just this week. The grasses were remarkably shorter with more defined patches of thick dark green grasses. The grass was averaged about 9″ tall.

Take note of the patches of darker grasses.

This paddock was clipped after the cattle had been located into the next paddock.

Rainfall rates after the 21 days could have made an impact because the paddocks had  7 days different growth. Or could the differences be from the actual animal impact? We really aren’t sure but think the animals were a major contributing factor.

Why would that impact be so important? Any farmer that has cut hay can explain that once grasses are clipped or mowed, they dry fairly quick. Grasses will lose a lot of moisture in that first 24 hours. What happens to grasses when they start to dry? The become brittle! As the animals walk, stand, and trample the dried grasses, it shatters or breaks it apart into smaller pieces. This could be the crucial difference. Not only do smaller particles breakdown to return nutrients to the soil faster but think about how sawdust can cover a floor faster than a tree. The particles are more evenly dispersed over the soil. I’m sure there are other benefits, like how any moisture is retained, too.

All of this has been a “work in progress” and “testing”. I’ve recently heard lots of complaints about how Holistic Management doesn’t give a “one size fits all” prescription. FOLKS, IT CAN’T AND IT NEVER WILL!

Why not? Holistic Management is about working with wholes. Not holes but WHOLES. I can’t identically replicate what I’m seeing as results on any other farm. Why? Every farm, even adjoining ones, will have different soil type, different nutrients, and even possibly different plants. What works here for me might not work exactly the same on a farm 50 miles away that has a slightly different climate. Holistic Management is about working with your whole environment. It covers everything within your own whole and you would be surprised how much variation there really is.

I think that’s the problem with the mindset with most people in agriculture today. It’s all about a “prescription”. If a farmer plants corn, there are specific nutrients (nitrogen is a big one) that are needed in the soils. Since corn is planted as a monoculture, it’s easy to get a soil sample and apply whatever amount is needed to amend the soils. It doesn’t work that way with more complex situations. For example, our three main paddocks have a total of 5-7 different soil types and a range of nutrient variations. We have planted more than 15 different plant species into our paddocks and not one field is the same. You can’t do a “one size fits all prescription” in that scenario.

Just like you don’t wear the same type of clothing in the summer as you do in winter months on the East Coast. The same methodology is used for management. Field A (spring) requires different management than Field B (winter) and even different yet than Field C (summer drought). Hopefully, you are starting to see and understand how Holistic Management is an ever evolving thing, on the same farm and difference from year to year.

If anyone has any questions, concerns or would like to chat about what we do, please don’t hesitate to comment below. That’s why we share what we are doing (try to anyway). It’s been hard for us to adapt and learn, I encourage others to learn from our mistakes and trials.

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Winter Grazing

We’ve been posting some photos on our Instagram and Facebook pages about the cattle and their winter choices and preferences. I’ve had various people from all over the world comment about their cattle and if they go outside and graze or stay inside to just eat and lounge around.

Here is what we have discovered over the past couple of years in our attempt to gain more days of grazing throughout the year.

Fall Grazing
Here the cattle are grazing (not an intensive grazing) in late October

1. We had a field that was going to be used for hay that didn’t get cut due to many days of rain and an over abundance of shale rock sticking out of the ground. This is the second year we had this issue and decided fairly early in the year that our new seeding fields would produce enough hay crop for our animals over the course of the winter. We allowed the grasses to grow over the entire growing season and created a stockpile of grasses in the field. Late in the year, starting toward the first of October we started grazing the animals in this unmowed paddock. The grasses were of various heights, many of which ranging between the 8-12″ mark. Some was taller and had died off while the bottom was a thick carpet of new growth.  The cattle stayed in this paddock until we got a heavy rain in November that caused some severely muddy areas that were starting to freeze and creating a hazard for the cows. They were shifted out of this paddock on November 27th.

Day One of Winter Grazing, November 27th, 2013

2. Cattle that have been raised to graze WILL graze when given the chance. The Irish Dexters we have here are natural grazers, so it makes sense to us to run all the younger cattle (yes, even the dairy breeds) with them as much and as often as possible. Cattle learn from repetition and by example. The older cows teach the younger cows what to do. Sometimes, this has additional woes to consider when it comes to animal handling but that’s another topic. Here is a link to a short video, taken on December 30th with about four to six inches of snow on the ground Post by Barrows Farm of one of our dairy cows grazing.

3. I’m slowly learning that weather issues that bother me might not actually bother the cattle much at all. Here’s an example of what I’m trying to say:

Snowy Cold Weather? These cattle are having a blast on their “snow day”
Older cattle teaching the younger to eat "grassicles"
Older cattle teaching the younger to eat “grassicles”

4. It isn’t only the cattle that prefer to eat something out in the pasture. We have chickens that refuse to eat the “rationed” diet provided by the feed store, instead the forage for their own food.

Look at those chickens go out and get goodies!
Look at those chickens go out and get goodies!

We have 18 head of cattle right now and we are still feeding hay. We feed 2 bales that measure 4 foot x 5 foot every two to three days depending on how much the cattle graze. We’ve done some rough estimates and we are figuring about 25% of their diet is still coming from pastures every month. Hard to imagine but it’s happening. We do want to increase the amount from pastures but after dealing with the harsh reality from this winter, I don’t think we are doing too bad since I think we have had two or three days in the past three to four weeks that have been above 15 degrees. The cattle go out everyday to walk the pastures and nibble on grass…all by choice, not force. They always have hay available inside the barn. Sometimes we do roll bales out in areas that could use some additional organic matter…

Bale grazing on January 27th
Bale grazing on January 27th

Overall, I have to say that this has been an experience for me. Each generation seems to be more adaptable to the winter grazing. Maybe we are just noticing it more but I can demonstrate what I mean by viewing the photo below. All the calves are doing great and at six to seven months of age are developing well.

A Dexter cow and her 2013 calf at 8 months old

We will continue to monitor and push for more “grazing” days. Of course, every day the cattle graze here but we want to get more of their diet from the grassicles (frozen shards of grasses) than the current percentage. There will be some additional trials into the paddocks themselves to increase the winter fodder coming for many years to come. One thing is certain, we aren’t afraid of change or adaptability. I will keep you all as up to date as possible on the happenings…and don’t forget to stop by and like our Facebook page to stay more current on details. I try to post a couple photos every week of what’s going on around the farm. “See ya soon”

 

 

 

Farm Visitors

Every year, during the time when the local kids have spring break…we start getting visitors. Friends and family members bring their youngsters out to play with the cattle, chickens and turkeys. This is always the time of year that reminds me of the biggest reasons why I raise, care and tend for animals the way I do.

Two days, two families. Smiles and laughter shared that no amount of money can buy.

Our first visitor that came this week was Sue and Ava. If you follow this blog on and off, you will know that Ava came out last year and the year before. Ava is a favorite, loyal visitor.

Ava loves spending time with the youngest calves.
Ava loves spending time with the youngest calves.

Last year, one of the calves kept trying to eat her hair. So this year…she was worried about her hair and kept telling them all “Please don’t eat my hair.” It is really amazing to watch kids with the animals though. This is what makes my job working with the cattle so important.

Not only with the kids…but with the adults it’s important too. You have no idea how many adults want to get “cow kisses”! It’s strange…but I get it. It’s that moment when you feel special with an animal. It’s that much greater because it’s a cow!

Cow kisses
Cow kisses

The following day after Ava came, we had new visitor for this year. A father (Pat) and his two sons (Logan and Connor). I didn’t know who was more excited when they pulled in…Dad or boys.

I haven’t seen smiles so big and so full of joy as when the calves started licking fingers and trying to get rubs on the head.

Pure Joy and Excitement
Pure Joy and Excitement

To those that don’t know me…this is the most important thing about what I do. Yes, I love raising our own beef, dairy and poultry. But, I LOVE sharing my passion for farm animals with KIDS! It’s an experience that I feel every kid should have.

There are really moments sometimes that almost bring a tear to my eye when I watch animals that are fearful of everything, nose up to a child. It’s one of those things for me.

To anyone in our area reading this…you are more than welcome to come visit, anytime. We love to have people stop by, young or old.

In the meantime, I will be out working (more like playing) with the cows…gotta get that next generation trained for cow kisses!

 

 

 

Extreme Weather Calf Care

All of us across the country have seen some extreme weather this year. Farms with animals have to pay extra attention under extreme heat and cold, not to mention high winds and heavy rains.

Here in Upstate NY, we aren’t facing winter colds as low on the thermometer as some of the others across the country but we are still facing morning temperatures of negative 6 and some wind chill factors.

As any person would, extra care needs to be taken to ensure safety in such extreme cold. This is one of the reason we make sure that our animals have good shelter and a warm place to rest. Cold stress in cattle is very difficult to deal with and should be monitored for.

Cold stress in cattle is just like the stress of hypothermia in a human. Treatment is very much the same. It involves slowly warming the body to get body temperatures elevated without reheating too quickly. Cold stress slows heart rates down and often makes animals very latargic. To rewarm an animal here on our farm, it involves many trips from the house to the barn; blankets being warmed in the dryer for several minutes and then tucked inside a coat to be run to the barn; it involves warm water (often electrolytes to prevent dehydration); and hours before an animal is back on it’s feet again. As you can imagine it is a very daunting task.

Calves are the most easily effected by cold stress. Without fat stores or long haired winter coats, they aren’t equipped to deal with these freezing temperatures. Calves can be stressed in temperatures at 40 degrees if the wind is blowing and there is high humidity. This is one reason why calf care is crucial. By closely monitoring how a calf acts and/or reacts to environmental conditions, you can determine a method of prevention. Many times, something as simple as a calf coat is enough to 1)block air movement and prevent body warmth from escaping and 2)provide a layer of protection against air moisture.

Adding a calf coat for cold temperatures in an attempt to keep a calf warm.
Adding a calf coat for cold temperatures in an attempt to keep a calf warm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paying attention to bedding is also crucial. A calf will not retain body heat if it is laying on damp or wet bedding. We pay extra close attention to this detail year round but will add extra bedding with the use of additional straw to keep them warm. Wheat or Oat straw is important to have within our bedding mixtures because straw is actually hollow. Standard hay is finer and is natural a solid “stalk”. The hollow core of the straw will absorb body heat and help retain the heat. We double load bedding area with straw during colder months to ensure that the animal is nested down inside…much like the shape of a dog bed.

What happens if the bedding and a coat aren’t enough? Sometimes we use heat lamps. The heat lamps, just like the ones used for keeping baby chicks warm, create a warm area under the lamp. Most often, this step will assist a calf from getting cold stress.

Have we had animals with cold stress? Yes, we have. Last, we had a couple of calves group housed within the main area of our barn. We provided them with thick sawdust bedding and lots of straw in one area inside the barn. Unfortunately, overnight on a sub-zero night one of the calf decided to be a jerk and keep the other calf off the bedding. Calves do get territorial from time to time and this does happen. We did not anticipate it happening with two calves over a very large area…but it did. The calf rejected from the bedding then laid down on the concrete floor. Needless to say, as she slept her body temperature dropped and continued to do so until I made my way to the barn.

After seperating the calves into different areas and getting her off the concrete floor onto good bedding…I started treatment for hypothermia. Warming blankets every 20 minutes, dribbling warm electrolytes into her mouth because she had minimal body function and a visit from the vet to make sure I was doing the right thing. The vet administered a shot of Vitamin B and told me to keep slowly warming her the way I was. Proudly, I can say that over the course of 12 hours, her body temperature elevated back to normal and she was back on her feed drinking and eating normally again. Today, she is one of my favorite girls and will be having her first calf this coming spring.

Ruby is one of the friendliest dairy heifers you could ask for
Ruby is one of the friendliest dairy heifers you could ask for

What are we doing different this year? Well, we have a calf that is just days old now hanging out with me inside. With zero fat stores, a wet and slimy newborn coat and the temperatures continuing to drop…we were keeping close watch when he started to show signs of hypothermia with uncontollable shaking that didn’t stop. Not wanting to expose him to the other cattle yet…one option remained. He is a good boy. He lays on a blanket (with an absorbtion pad much like those used for puppy training). He comes into the living room a couple times a day to jump and run around so he stays flexible. When the weather gets warmer, we will start getting him used to cooler temperatures and slowly start working him back to the barn a little more each day until he is back in the barn full time.

Is this the right way? Maybe not…but with me being unable to do some of the normal barn activities, I feel this was the best choice for his chance of survival. Personally, I rather enjoy the little guy being around. I will miss him when he goes back to the barn.

I will miss all of his "help" with paperwork
I will miss all of his “help” with paperwork

Winter Blues

They say the life of a farmer slows down in winter. I beg to differ. Winter time is usually the time we catch up on reading, sit through forage classes and plan out for the coming year. This year isn’t much different for me other than I am reading more on Holistic Land Management and taking some additional business and financial planning classes online. The extra course work, which takes a couple hours per week per class, really isn’t that much but it still takes time.

I have some other classes that I am taking too. Ones on the food system in the US and another on human nutrition. Why am I taking these classes you ask? Looking at from my perspective, I feel as a farmer who works extensively with consumers about food production, it’s my job to be as informed as possible about how food impacts choices when it comes to how you eat. It’s also important for me to know and be able to express how food moves and travels because you never know someday we might be selling our goods all across the US. As for the business and financial planning classes, no matter how you want to look at farming or agriculture in general…it’s still a business where we need to make sure that we are planning and spending funds appropriately but also ensuring that we are making enough money to stay afloat too.

Farming doesn’t have the profitability of many other jobs but it is rewarding in other ways. That’s one reason why it’s important to look at management from a Holistic standpoint since those methods also take a look at lifestyle too.

On top of classes, I am still doing all of the same stuff…dealing with frozen water, cold stress in cattle, feeding hay bales, changing bedding, filling water jugs several times a day, gathering eggs, feeding chickens, caring for calves, keeping the fires going, cooking the old style home cooked meals and still trying to keep up with laundry, dishes and housework.

Life doesn’t slow down for much on the farm. Sometimes we are forced to take breaks from the daily routine due to illness (and believe me, I have to be SUPER ill to keep me away from the barn) but it isn’t often. Even if we aren’t doing the manual labor involved for the farm, there are still other things we do. Research, reading and formulating crop charts, rotational grazing map or looking through seed catalogs…there is always something that can be done.

I have been down and out for a couple of days with one of those illnesses that prevents me from standing too much…but I still didn’t miss the birth of the first calf of 2013. I even managed to capture a video!

I didn’t get to stay out there too long and I am thankful for a cow that is awesome about birthing. I missed the first steps and the first suckle, which happen to be some of my favorite moments on the farm. It’s rather depressing to miss such moments too but, sometimes we have to take care of our own health first or we won’t be any good for anything at all for a very long time, if ever again. So for now, I will deal with my winter blues the best way I know how…learning, researching and communicating via books and the internet. I have to say, I have had some awesome conversations over the phone too about our grazing plans, the success we have had and why I think it’s important for others to consider rotational grazing. Being down isn’t all bad…it just takes some adapting.

I will write more soon about extreme animal care and welfare. I want to give some details about how we cope with winter months when temperatures hover around ZERO with freezing cold wind chill factors, what we do to ensure animal safety during winter, and how grazing has also been incorporated during the winter months. I may have to write up a series of articles but, I think it’s important that people see just how much care and planning goes into animal care during extreme weather.

Hope you are all staying warm…and I will leave you with a photo to contemplate for the next blog! Have a blessed day!

Here is Abel...warm, relaxed and sound asleep. What's "off" about this photo?
Here is Abel…warm, relaxed and sound asleep. What’s “off” about this photo?

Working with Cattle

The month of November has had lots of twists and turns. Sometimes when you work in on-farm agriculture, you have to sit back and think about why you do what you do. For some it’s the love of the land and doing the best we can to preserve it while making it better and then to others, it’s just the love of cattle, poultry or whatever other animal is on the farm.

Today, I want to discuss the cattle end of things. Working with cattle is not an easy job. They have attitudes and temperaments just like a teenager would/does. Then on the flip hand, they don’t trust easily. If they don’t trust you, your job is that much more difficult. Working with cattle is not the job for everyone but those of us that do know how rewarding it is when you love them enough and are patient enough to earn their trust.

I was inspired to write this blog today after reading the full story of Norma the cow by Dairy Carrie. Norma was a special cow to Carrie. Her first cow actually. Please take the time to go read the blog post. It is an endearing and true testament of a dairy woman’s beginning and learned passions from a single cow.

During the blog, she mentions that it took some time for Norma to trust her enough for her to get close to her. As a fellow woman, who has close to the same disposition and passion for animals, I understand the frustration that not being able to truly “care” for an animal can bring. Cattle might  be considered a form of pets to some of us, but in reality they aren’t. People like Carrie and myself work hard to get our cattle that way…but they still aren’t dogs or cats.

Cattle by nature have a natural flight response to anything different or unusual. They like pattern and routine almost to the point of having what is similar to OCD in humans. Anything not consistent startles them. When you move cattle, even to a different pasture paddock, they become full of nervous energy.  If you change entry ways into pastures or barns, they almost become confused. Small things like a piece of grass swaying in the wind, if the wind is higher than normal, can spook them as well. Temple Grandin explains some of these characteristics best.

Understanding now that changes can alter how cattle acts and reacts, you can also understand that after purchasing cattle, loading them into a trailer, relocating them into a new environment and also having new people with different mannerisms around can severely affect the “trust” level of cattle. Calves adapt easier than older cows as you can imagine but even in young cattle, there is still a flight response.

In older cattle the time until the “trust” level is established all depends on the cattle, the environment and the handler. We have two examples here. Our Belle, the Jersey rescue, only took a couple of days before she became trusting. After not being fed properly, I think she just innately understood that we transported her to provide her with a better life. She adapted to the barns, the pastures and us extremely quick.

Myself and my rescue girl Belle who trusts me and loves me enough to give me kisses.

On the other hand, our Dexter Cattle that came to our farm the end of last September still do not trust enough to allow you to walk right up to them in the pasture. They will come to you for treats but you can’t touch them. They do not allow you do scratch the ears, chin or back. If you are really lucky, you might be able to touch a back hip if they are super calm that day. The three calves they had this last spring have also been taught to not “trust”. You also cannot just walk up to them in the pasture….BUT if you are patient and kneel down, one of them will come up to have his head and horn buds scratched. You still can’t touch any further back than the base of his neck and you can never touch his legs.

Beefy, the Dexter calf, who likes to have his head scratched

The Dexter cows will come up to take treats from your hand but any type of movement or noise shoots them off in the opposite direction. I will admit…after almost a year of waiting for them to just trust me enough to get within reaching distance, I am elated to have them come to me for treats now. If I go out and sit in the pasture, they will come stand next to me instead of automatically running the opposite direction. Every time they do get close enough to touch which I don’t even attempt (remember: I am trying to earn their trust), I can’t keep the smile from my face.

Mini, the oldest and shortest Dexter cow, getting grass clippings from my hand

Just imagine not having any human contact for your whole life…and then all the sudden there is a person that wants to spend time with you. What kinds of reactions do you think you would have?

Cattle are big and potentially dangerous. BUT to those of us that are lucky enough to earn their respect…we know just how gentle and loving they can be!

This yearling dairy heifer trusts us without question

Farm Camp Grads

Well, yesterday was the last time those Texas girls came for farm camp…not to work but for photos with their favorite animals on the farm. I have to admit, I was delighted, shocked and surprised when the chose the calves over new chicks, chickens and the turkeys.

The whole farm camp experience has been both rewarding and fun for our farm. We got the opportunity to share part of our daily lives with two teenage girls who didn’t know, understand and were fearful of many things on the farm. Granted they were Mr. Farmer’s nieces but being one generation and part of the family removed from farm life doesn’t mean they had any idea what farming is/was like.

Having them come to learn about the animals, how to care for them and just spend time around the farm was an eye opening experience. It demonstrated to us just what type of seperation the younger generation sometimes have with the origin of 1)how people in the olden days used to survive, 2)their food and 3)the different methods of achieving the end result of milk, butter, cheese, meat, etc.

I am so very proud of them, even though they hated getting up early to be at the farm by 6 am. They learned to not be afraid of the chickens pecking them while gathering eggs. They learned that calves will not bite (too hard anyway) if allowed to suck on your fingers. They learned that just because a cow is bigger than you it doesn’t mean that you need to be scared all the time but that it is okay to have a healthy respect for the size of the animal. They learned that flip flops are really not good options for foot apparel on the farm, no matter what the farm manager does. They learned that farming can actually be fun and animals are really kind of funny with their antics. They also learned that sometimes normal chores like checking fields can be fun too…especially when you detour with the four wheeler into the woods to get stuck in the mud! They also learned that once you start adding up all that the land and the animals can provide for you, it’s actually a lot of work but very enjoyable too.

The whole thing has actually inspired me to dedicate sometime every summer to a few kids that would normally not have the opportunity to spend time on a farm to at least be able to spend an hour or two learning about what farmers really do. We, as a farm, have decided to use a funding raising method through the sale of t-shirts to raise money to cover for some of the items that would be supplied to the kids. Those t-shirt designs and logos will be given to all the kids that come to learn. They will also receive a portrait photo for them to keep too. For the younger kids, maybe a coloring book and some crayons. For the old kids, we still are thinking…so ideas are very welcome for that teenage group!

As we progress through with the shirts, I will generate a special post for here with color options. Adult shirts will retail for $15, kids shirts will retail for $10. Below are the farm camp version of the shirts, along with the farm logo and a couple of portrait shots as examples.

Newly graduated Farmer Autumn performing a calf whispering
New Grad Farmer Ashley out playing with the calves
Two very happy graduates of farm camp!

This is the new “I survived farm camp” logo. PLEASE do not use under any circumstance. No written permission is granted for the secondary use of this file. Thank you for your consideration.