Category Archives: photography

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”

 

 

 

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Lots of News

So much has been going on that I’m not really sure even where to begin. A year or so again, everything that has been happening was just a dream. A pipe dream of wishes written out on a scrap piece of paper and internet page links stored in favorites full of useful information. Twitter conversations about plants, seasons, materials and lots of questions were happening then too.

I have made so many great friends in the past two to three years of my life. Some of which I haven’t met YET but share the same kindred spirits. This is a group of people who have inspired, encouraged and guided. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that can attest to the power of the internet, in good ways and bad. What I’m discussing today is the power of knowledge, prayer and positive thinking.

As many of you that read this blog know, I’ve had some big transitions in mind for the farm I live on. Earlier this year, I thought those dreams were shattered. I’m not going into gory details but I will tell you that the whole ordeal took it’s emotional, financial and health tolls on me. It wasn’t the worst situation I had ever been through but I will admit that it ranks right up there in the top 5 fearful months of my life.

I opened up to a few of my friends about concerns I had. I talked to advisors about what to do about myself in the role I was holding to in a death grasp. It’s when I truly learned who to REALLY listen too and whose opinions to dismiss. I do have this word of advice….NEVER LET ANYONE DISCOURAGE YOU FROM LIVING THROUGH WITH A DREAM THAT YOU ARE SO PASSIONATE ABOUT THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE YOURSELF WITHOUT IT!

I had an advisor that told me that I wasn’t the one to make difficult decisions about the farm I have managed and that the animals are a business only. He proceeded to inform me that what I did do with the animals here didn’t have much worth in the “big” picture of things either. He never asked me about what type of protocols or plans I had set into place. All he seemed concerned about what my overall dollar value. It was rather insulting to tell you the truth. Okay, I admit that I am a pauper working toward a bigger dream. I struggle to pay my bills. I work hard and go without to work toward a bigger goal. But seriously, is that all I am viewed for? Nothing more than my “worth” on paper or my bank account? Well, to make a long story short, it was determined that my “real worth” was $675 a month. How about them apples?

I struggled for weeks with this new information. I doubted myself and what my long-term goals were. Then it suddenly hit me. I may only be worth $675 a month now but what about next month or even next year or better yet three years down the road? I started thinking about that kid going through college, building up debt, and working part-time at McDonald’s. I am at a stepping stone. The first step into a new life with a new future. Everything for the past three years has led me to here, worth zero when I started and look, I’ve increased my “worth” by what percentage rate? Just imagine how much I can change that worth in the next three years with proper planning, some of my awesome marketing skills, my photography and my networking!

I decided to take a risk and file an application to a Holistic Beginning Women’s Farm Management Program. I GOT ACCEPTED! Classes start in TWO WEEKS! Whoa, I’m doing what? Oh yeah, I’m not letting some or anyone for that matter tell me my SELF WORTH and I’m sure not letting anyone tell me to let go of what really makes me WHO I AM. You know that passion for nature, animals and the environment? You know that dedication and love I have for the cattle? Well, those are all something that God has given me that don’t have a dollar value! Just ask that rescued cow who lived another 5 years under my watchful eye and who know how it felt to be well cared for! Go ahead, look up into the sky and just ask yourself…is that something you could have done with tenderness and compassion when she first came here? Would you have taken the chance to get to know a scrawny cow who looked like she stood on the edge of starvation? In the end, that same cow you would have made into hamburger provided me with beautiful calves, LOTS of milk, butter and cheese but most of all, she provided a vision of what MY future may hold.

So again, I ask you to not let anyone judge you by what they see in paper or in bank accounts! Only you know what passions are held in your heart and soul. For me, it’s farming and photography combined. For you, it may not be. Look to people who are going to POSITIVELY encourage your own personal growth, NOT what society says it should be. Find what you love to do and NEVER let go of that internal drive that ultimately makes YOU happy!

After months of fighting my “worth” internally, I want to report that my “hobby farm” as this kind man put it, is now up to 21 cows, around 75 chickens and a handful of turkeys. I have 110 acres surrounded by beautiful high-tensile five strand fence. I have a full fledge water system for the fields going into the ground in the spring of 2014. I have increased our sales of meat products by 100%. We supplied chicken and beef for our first catering event this year. We have more and more people coming for visits. I am preordered on beef for next year. Demand is blooming for the rose veal. Contracts are in the works for some direct marketing for poultry. Eggs aren’t building up in the refrigerator. AND contracts are in the works to rotational graze additional animals for around $2200 per month until I can build my own herd. To say the least, my next worth has increased double since those fateful words back in June of this year! Just imagine what that worth will do next year as I am raising more chickens, selling more eggs, beef, rose veal, rabbits and pork.

Sometimes we all just need to take a step back and evaluate what our future is really “worth” to ourselves! I can’t even begin to tell you the changes that have happened since I told myself I’m worth more than just a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper. My passion has proven enough that maybe just maybe I can inspire another generation with the help and encouragement of someone like me. In the meantime, I’m going to keep on trudging….and getting better at this blogging thing. After all, I want to share all this new and exciting information I am going to learn!

For now, take a look at this picture.

Not my camera but that is my cattle on the farm!
Not my camera but that is my cattle on the farm!

I look forward to comments on speculation of what’s going on around the farm! This image holds a bunch of clues…can you figure it out?

Miss Belle

I’m writing this with so much sadness in my heart. Yesterday, probably one of the hardest afternoons of my life, brought an end that I tried to prepare for but found myself severely lacking.

As many of you know, several years ago we took in a Jersey cow in very sad shape.

Belle and Danny the day they arrived. Malnurished, she still provided love to her calf.
Belle and Danny the day they arrived. Malnourished, she still provided love to her calf.

I’ve talked about her countless times because she had such a profound affect on my life. I remember the day she stumbled out of a cattle trailer and became part of my life. I remember sitting with her and the two calves that came with her in the pasture with tears in my eyes. A promise was made to her that day. A promise that she had a home here on the farm for the rest of her days, no matter what may come. A promise that she would be cared for and loved. A promise that every day forward would be what she deserved in life, respect. In a matter of hours, she showed such grace and such a motherly devotion to her calves, she was named Belle and nicknamed Ma. She ended up becoming a mother to many and in one summer season came back to her full potential. The photo video below shows that transition.

As the years went by, she inspired so many changes. We developed the whole future of the farm based on her needs and care. You may all think I’m crazy and say she was nothing more than a pet cow but you couldn’t be more wrong. If anything, I was her pet human. She was the epitome of a lady inside that bovine body of hers. She was gentle enough to stand for anyone to milk her. She provided me with something I never thought possible; a calm personality. She taught me that no matter how bad your life may become, God will bring a change that will have a profound impact. She was a blessing to a woman who was lost in the depths of depression. She gave me purpose and showed me what I should be doing with my life. I will always hold a very special place in my heart for her and I know that there will never be another cow that comes into my life that will be like her. She was unique and special. I want to always remember her like the video and photo below.

My sweet Belle as I picture her in my head now grazing in God's green pastures.
My sweet Belle as I picture her in my head now grazing in God’s green pastures.

Beef Cattle Woes and Wonders

There are some things that I guess I should explain.

I was raised as a small child on a dairy farm. Dairy cattle are what I know the most about. Dairy cattle and Beef cattle are NOT the same thing!
Being raised on a dairy and gathering lots of knowledge over the years does NOT mean that I am an expert either. Somethings I know but there is and always be a ton of stuff I don’t know. There is always new research, new methods, and tweaking to systems. Dairy cattle require different food values than Beef cattle too. High protein, high energy and lots of different nutrients. Don’t get me wrong, Beef cattle still need good food they just require different levels than Dairy cattle.

I have never been around beef cattle until 2011. I don’t know much about them other than they are still cattle. I did a fair amount of research on a couple of different breeds until I found one that I thought was suitable for what I wanted to do. I started my journey into beef way back in 2008. It took 3 years before the breed was found and could be purchased at a reasonable rate. Did I get animals with a pedigree? No, I did not. It has created some issues on it’s own by not having them but they weren’t all that important.

So what’s the breed you ask? Well, Irish Dexter Cattle is what they are. I’ve heard many different takes on how to describe them. Overall and from experience, I will say this. They are a short breed of beef cattle with stout legs and solid feet. The three original cows purchased are 42″, 39″ and 37″ in height. When it comes to frame scores (based on body height at the front shoulder) these ladies don’t even register as a Frame one! They give birth to small calves too. The largest I have seen has been 60 lbs or so. Irish Dexters are efficient grazers that will forage on just about anything, including low protein forages and still have great daily weight gains. Irish Dexters are also a dual purpose cattle too. They can be milked and will give up to around 2-1/2 gallons of milk a day if fed a high protein diet. We do NOT milk them currently.

In the process of learning and building the herd, there are characteristics about them that are not all that wonderful. When you are producing an animal for meat, you want muscle bulk. This is something that the Irish Dexters severely lack in the rear quarters or buttocks region. It’s not that they don’t have muscle, it’s just small. This is something that can be improved through genetics by choosing the right animals to breed them with.

This is the second generation of Irish Dexter on the farm. He is ONE YEAR old in this photo.
As you can see, the rump muscle isn't nearly as rounded as what most beef cattle would have.
As you can see, the rump muscle isn’t nearly as rounded as what most beef cattle would have.

For a year, I have followed Pharo Cattle Company through their facebook  group. I have learned so much from the likes of Kit Pharo, Chip Hines and many others who discuss grazing, drought, genetics and so much more. I’ve been fortunate enough to gain mentors through this similar like-minded people who have established themselves as herd quitters (I’ll explain this more later). Recently, Kit and I have been holding conversations about what kind of options are available when you are breeding an animal like an Irish Dexter to improve the quality of the next generation. This whole process is all about learning for me and I will take all the advice given by him to heart. He probably doesn’t know it but he is also part of the inspiration behind my goal of 365-grazing. I am thankful to have such a great network of people to build knowledge from and the modern technology that allows me to be able to connect with them.

Now, as many of you already know. I’m a strange bird, doing different things and always experimenting with things outside of the box other farmers have built. This is the real reason I starting following and learning from Kit and others like him. Kit has come up with a name for those of us who don’t follow the “herd” and do what everyone else is doing. As I mentioned before, Herd Quitters, is the name appropriated used. He told me the other day, there is a phrase that fits me to the T.  His Cowboy Logic for me: “If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you will never be better than average.”

I don’t want to be average, far from it actually. I want to be different. I want to try new things, not only in life but with the farm.  I want people to visit and say, “WOW! Can you believe that?!?!”  I don’t have everything figured out and probably never will create the perfect situation for everyone but I can keep working to create better for me and for me to be better. I can continue to work to develop animals that are efficient grazers. I can continue to develop and improve the land I work. I can continue to tweak what I do with rotational grazing. I can continue to work harder, develop more and still keep my feet firmly planted.

To end this message, the meaning of being a herd quitter:  “The term “Herd Quitter” refers to people who have enough courage to break away from the status-quo, herd-mentality way of thinking. It is more about thinking for yourself than anything else. Following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing – WITHOUT KNOWING WHY – has never been the best way to manage your business. If you are doing what everyone else is doing, you will never be better than average.”

I think this should also include that is not the best way to manage business or life! And I couldn’t agree more!

Here’s to the Herd Quitters… The crazy ones… The rebels… The troublemakers… The square pegs in a world full of round holes… They see things differently… They have no respect for the status quo… They make things happen… If it weren’t for the Herd Quitters, the earth would still be flat… While some call them crazy, we see genius… Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do… Dare to be different… Dare to be a Herd Quitter!

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!

 

 

 

Muddy Tires, Sore Knees and Baby Chicks

Spring equals mud! Mud makes farm girls happy!
Spring equals mud! Mud makes farm girls happy!

Nothing like starting right out with a photo that can manage to bring a big ol’ happy grin to my face and a twinkle to my eye. I love mud. Spring mud specifically. That greasy, slimy stick to everything kind of mud.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the truck or the four wheeler…I must drive/ride to get “dirty” every spring. It’s my way of saying GOODBYE OLD MAN WINTER! HELL-LO SPRING!

I think that thing that makes it best right now is the simple fact that my knee has been driving me insane over the last week. I think it has something to do with the 5-6 mile walks everyday, chasing loose cattle and sliding down very steep hills. Could just be old age too. Not really sure…all that matters is it gives me an excuse to get muddy! Mud makes me happy!

As the paper lining the box says...Great Expectations
As the paper lining the box says…Great Expectations

Babies make me happy too! Doesn’t matter what variety, two-legged or four. Covered in fur or feathers, doesn’t matter either. This time, we have NINETEEN babies! Little associated, mutt mixed chicken chicks ranging in all sorts of colors and color mixes.

They are so much fun to watch running around, learning how to peck at food and scratch the paper to shreds. The first day is always kind of quiet. It takes a lot out of the chicks to hatch…but they are just too adorable to watch as they run around and just flop down to take a nap.

Of course, all those fluffy feathers make it that much cuter!  Nothing like babies to make a grown woman act like a young child.

Needless to say, I am definitely young at heart….now I think I need to act my age and take a nap. Maybe I can take this little chick with me?!?! Nah…maybe another time!

Napping newborn chick
Napping newborn chick

Why Rotational Grazing?

Since this is a question that has been asked several times over the past weeks, we decided now would be a good time to discuss what actually drove our decisions.

A few years ago, we allowed a local large-scale dairy farmer to utilize the 80-ish acres of tillable ground for producing crops for his farm. What we didn’t realize at the time was how he intended to use the ground. After tilling the soils around  half of the farm this first year, we started noticing some issues with soil retention. We held conversations with him to communicate our concerns about the erosion and run off issues. Unfortunately, our concerns fell on deaf ears or he just didn’t care.

He continued to till the ground from lowest to highest points, providing “alley” lanes for the water to just run toward our pond. Water wasn’t the only concern, it was also the over abundance of manure waste from his farm that he began applying as well. Every field slops toward the pond.  Concerned over contamination of our pond, we started really paying attention to what was going on. Even to the extent of documenting through photographs what was happening. Our Department of Environmental Conservation started doing water samples too. Low and behold, the phosphorus levels started to increase in the pond water. Not to the point of dangerous…but close.

Look at the top, you will see bare ground and corn stubble
A closer look at the “silt” or soil erosion
All the water funnels to a pond…can you see the “silt” along the ice?

There are ways this could have been prevented all together!

With just the simple motion of NOT plowing the field straight up and down the slope, much of this erosion would have stayed in the field instead of heading directly into the ponds. Cover crops that establish root systems would have worked too. Unfortunately, neither happened and now, we as the land owners need to repair the damages.

What started out as major concerns over erosion and run off, we stumbled across some information that has undoubtedly changed the course of our entire farm. The recommendation to start rotational grazing for our small herd of cattle has altered our whole perspective on farming. In April of 2012, we started rotational grazing on the lone 4-1/2 acre piece of the farm that wasn’t plowed up and bare dirt. We spent around $800 for step in post, braided wire and an energizer. It took us a few hours to put in the posts and another couple of hours to string all the wire.

We started grazing April 1st, 2012. We started noticing after the first month that the grass was getting greener in spots from the cow manure patties. We started noticing less and less water running across the field too due to the small pieces of matter laying between the plants. We noticed that our grass was still growing in July when every one else’s in our area had dried up and turned brown. Benefit after benefit started to show.

We planted the highest elevation piece into grasses for hay and future grazing too. 30 acres were planting with grass and legumes. After the first three weeks, we noticed less and less run off from that field too! Another 14 acres was reseeded and we started noticing spots of no growth. That got us to wondering why some spots were growing great and others barely at all. After walking through the field, the explanation was simple! All of the topsoil was GONE! Literally, it had all flowed off of spots and deposited in others. All that was left was the shale rock base. We knew right there that something had to change dramatically!

After talking with our Natural Resources Office and our local county Soil and Water representative, we all came to the same agreement. Based on the success of our rotational grazing trial and the erosion issues, we would all work together and apply for some grant funding to put the entire farm into Managed Grazing. March brought us the approval and the contracts for two separate programs! We are happily reporting that the full 90 acres of acre we deem as “farm” will soon be pastured and used exclusively for rotational grazing and hay production ONLY. There will be no more tillage, other than by cattle hooves.

Which do you think would be better if it was your property?

Erosion from water on tilled ground that was left bare after the corn was harvested fall of '12
Erosion from water on tilled ground that was left bare after the corn was harvested fall of ’12
Water draining out of the pasture.
Water draining out of the pasture.