Tag Archives: animals

Veal: Can it be humane?

Not that long ago, a war was waged between veal growers, HSUS and consumers. Traditionally, veal was raised in confinement housing, locked into tiny little areas where the calves couldn’t move around and fed milk and more milk. This was done to keep the meat white and tasteless.

Over the years, the standards have changed to group housing where the animals are allowed to move around and compete for food.

A couple of years ago, we set out on a path to find out what to do about the stigma surrounding veal. Most people will visibly cringe when I tell them I raise veal. What we do here is MUCH different than normally seen here in the United States.

Since we live in a dairy “district” so to speak, we have an outlet to many bull calves. Nearly all of the bull calves from the dairy industry land in the local auction barns and are sold as bob veal or raised as beef in other states. Having a couple of dairy cows ourselves and no way to sell or dispose of the milk, we started researching options on different avenues to add value instead of just dumping the milk.

My original inquiries lead me to @HeavesFarmVeal who raises rose veal in the Lake District in the UK. I watched their videos, talked with them via twitter and email. Learning all I could about what they do, why and how. I also stumbled upon @StraussMeats, which is a supplier of humanely raised beef and pastured veal. I started discussing veal with potential consumers, discovering the concerns over welfare and health of the animals.

Combining everything I had researched and learned, we raised our first rose veal animal in 2011. He was born to our rescued Jersey cow, Belle. We left him on his momma, drinking all the milk he wanted and tagging along with her as she would eat hay and pasture grasses. He was never given any kind of grain and was watched closely for health. We butchered him at 6 months old (don’t get mad yet, I’ll explain some more in a minute) and he dressed out at 200 lbs. We still hadn’t eaten any yet, but he was a good solid weight and his meat was a beautiful pink color with slight marbling.

All the cattle here enjoy pasture playtime!
All the cattle here enjoy pasture playtime!

Now let’s discuss this age thing. Trust me when I say that I know most people get upset when I tell them the age of the animal. I want you to remember a couple of things…. 1) Most of you have no issues with eating chickens. Well, most commercially raised chickens are actually butchered between 6 and 12 weeks (YES, WEEKS!) old. Under that same mentality, why would a 20-24 week old calf be different? 2) Hormones start kicking in on cattle around 6 months of age. Let me just say that once hormones kick in, they aren’t adorable long eyelashes, baby deer looking animals anymore. They can get aggressive and try mounting anything/everything with a pulse, humans included. Six months of age is the cut off age because puberty will alter the flavor of the meat too.

How are we different? We are different because we use the natural systems and the best pastures possible! Each and every calf is raised with lots of love and a great deal of hands on attention. This is done to ensure the highest quality of meats at the time of butcher because they are used to being around people. These animals are never stressed. They aren’t castrated, banded, dehorned or altered in anyway shape or form. They are fed whole milk from our farm, from cows that are also pastured on the highest quality grasses and hay possible. No veal calf is ever treated with any type of antibiotic, growth hormone or boxed at any time during their lives here.

After tasting the meat, I’m sold on this system. The meat, again light pink in color with a little marbling, has a delicate and light flavor profile. It’s soft texture melts in your mouth and it “takes” spices very well.

We do not raise thousands of these animals a year, instead keeping our numbers small enough to give each animal the time devotion we feel is needed. We have strict methods of rearing these animals too, based off all the information gathering we did from consumers to farmers alike. We work hard to develop a product that we are comfortable with producing and selling. One thing we don’t like around here is confinement. We love being able to sit in the pasture, watching everyone graze or lounge in the sunshine in a lush bed of green grass. We do our best to give every animal here the absolute best life possible… from chickens to calves to full grown cows.

All livestock are put on pastures as quickly as possible. Many have started nibbling grasses as early as two days of age.
All livestock are put on pastures as quickly as possible. Many have started nibbling grasses as early as two days of age.

If you are looking for veal raised with compassion, consideration and humane, look no further! We will have some available for 2015. We are also taking orders now for the season. Contact us for more details.

IF YOU ARE A CHEF, BUTCHER OR BLOGGER, WE WOULD LOVE TO SHARE YOUR TIPS, RECIPES AND LINKS! All links can be forwarded to @CNYFarmGirl on twitter.

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Chicken Experiments – Fermented Grains

I have been planning on putting this post up for a while now. It’s a little late for the winter effects but the value of this process can pay big dividends throughout the year for smaller producers.

I’ve been asked for years what I feed to my chickens. After a few years of evolution, I’ve finally got myself on the right tracks for better year round egg production and have seen a reduction in feed costs with the added benefit of strong, healthy chickens.

Before I get into detail, I want to give you a bit of back story into our road to discover. In 2013, we had a field that was newly seeded down for pastures. The crop specialist, Rich, was determined to plant a cover crop that would sprout fast and provide soil cover to prevent weed growth. The choice was made to plant forage oats.

What are forage oats? Well, it’s the rudimentary form of oats. It’s got wide broad leaves that sprout from the ground after just a few days of germination. It grows much more like a grass but if left long enough will produce the seed heads just like an oat plant.

As summer went by and we tried to get into the field to take the first cutting of hay, we experienced rain delays and scheduling issues. By the time we managed to get the field cut, the forage oats and developed their seeds and they had started to dry. Here on our farm, we like to feed the cattle baleage.

What’s baleage? Baleage is created when hay isn’t left to dry down all the way in the field before it’s baled. It’s not fresh cut but it isn’t dry either. Once the low moisture hay is baled into round bales, it’s then wrapped in a form of shrink wrap plastic. They look like those long tubes you see along the highway or the one’s you joke with little kids about being giant marshmallow poop. 😉

Once the bales of hay are wrapped, they go through a fermentation process that “cooks” the grasses inside, leaving more available nutrients than standard hay and also leaves the grass soft for the cows to eat. Since some of the forage inside these bales were the oats, they were “cooked” too.

That winter when we started feeding these bales, we noticed that one set of our chickens had stopped eating their layer mash (a special mixture of powder feeds that is formulated just for laying hens). Upon monitoring this group, we noticed that they spent all day around the hay feeders in the cattle barns. “Why?” we started asking ourselves.

Low and behold, we had stumbled upon something that had us researching what was going on. Why would the chickens prefer the oats overtop of their own feed?

What was soon discovered is an article about fermenting grains. What was the big deal? Why would chickens like the fermented grains better? Apparently, a little known fact about grains and fermentation processes is that when the grains start breaking down, the release a lactic acid. The lactic acid breaks the bonds within the grains compounds and makes the sugars and proteins more readily digestible. “Huh, who knew?” is what we were thinking.

Off we set to do some experimentation! What did we need to do? According to a couple of reference (listed below), all we needed to do was add water, stir occasionally and sit back to wait.

How to ferment chicken feed by the Art of Doing Stuff

Fermented Feed by Natural Chicken Keeping

Why and How to Ferment Chicken Feed by Garden Betty

We started by using the layer mash we had. While it worked okay, the process took a lot of water and you had to keep stirring and stirring. The chickens did eat it, if there was no other food choice. Maybe my chickens are just picky, but they didn’t care for it one bit. The method was also long, sometimes taking two or three days to even start the “bubbling” needed.

Last winter, I was extremely discouraged and went back normal feeding of just mash. The results were astounding and I didn’t realize the impacts it would have. Our chickens didn’t lay eggs. Their feathers seems more ruffled and they just seemed more down than normal.

This last summer, I decided to give it another go for the winter season. I turned to a local farmer who plants a variety of crops and started talking to him about what my options were based off from what he plants. Matt set me up with a mix of crushed grains. The mix includes corn, wheat, rye and oats. It was mixed at 25% of each grain after it was augered through a pro-box and put through a roller mill. He then bagged it up in 50 lb bags for me to transport it home (and because I can lift that size bag, 100 lb requires assistance).

Upon getting it home, I took an old folgers coffee can and filled it up roughly 3/4 full (to the top of the handle mold). I added hot tap water (roughly 140 degrees) until it was just covering the grain by about a 1/2″. I put on the top and set it aside. Later that afternoon, I checked it again, stirred it up and added a little more water to one of the two I had set up. Much to my surprise, the next morning I had bubbles forming on the top of both containers. I left the one I had added water to and just fed the other. At first, the chickens and turkeys weren’t too sure but by sprinkling some of the dry grains on top, they devoured what was left. I repeated the process for the container I had fed.

On day two, the container I had left had fermented so much that there was literally mold growing on the top of the grain! Nope, that wasn’t going to work. Matt did such a great job with raising the grains and the processing that I only need to wait 24 hours!

The routine now goes like this: Morning feeding, I take out two coffee cans of fermented grains to feed to roughly 50 birds. As soon as the mixture is plopped out of the can, it’s standing room only around the dish. The grains are devoured in less than 1/2 hour with not even a kernel or glob left! I refill the containers and bring them inside to repeat the process again.

What’s the benefit? Prior to beginning the fermented grain feeding, I was getting roughly 2 eggs a day. The chickens were always huddled together and rarely ran around the barns. After just three days of feeding fermented grains, the egg production shot up to 6-7 eggs a day. After a week, the chickens were running around on days when it was -30 below outside and still laying an astounding NINE eggs a day from three year old chickens!

This week, we topped our highest egg days that we’ve seen in months at 12 eggs. I can see a vast improvement in their energy, their overall condition and their eggs. I see the same thing in the turkeys too. I’ve also seen their water consumption drop. Probably because they are getting the moisture and flavored water from the grains.

I might not have fancy photos like the other folks do above…but I do know this is the better way to go. We are feeding roughly half the amounts we were before and the layer mash that been given as free choice over two months ago, is still sitting there in the feeder. The wild birds and chickadees are loving it though.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about the grains themselves, Matt is the guy to talk to! He’s available on Twitter and is full of great information about a variety of other stuff too (Just ask him about pressing ragweed for oil for confirmation). He can be found at @mdedrick1.

If anyone wants to see photos of the entire process, the way I do it… Just give a shout and I will edit accordingly!

The Book of Life

The past is nothing more than pages written in our book of life. The future is still unwritten (I think those are lyrics to a song). As the pages develop, chapters start and end. Each new page contains another memory.

Barrows Farm has a big, thick book already. To tell the tale will take some time but, eventually I hope to put it all together. There are stories like the family history within the deed. A deed that contains pages dated all the way back to 1850. A deed that contains information on parcels that go all the way back to the Boston Ten Townships purchase. 165 years of heritage contained within those papers, written and documented history of Barrows Farm.

In more recent years, there are stories about farm owners and livestock that bring a smile and shared laughter among the family, tales of buggy rides to Syracuse and how a young man worked with his Grandfather and eventually took over on the farm.

Not all the memories are happy ones. There are tales of government buyouts and the end of a dairy here. There are tales of barn and house fires. Many things have changed over the years, mainly with the last owners occupation. It’s hard to express the hardships that have been endured. Granted, I haven’t been here for the majority of them.

I’ve lived here for ten years and I love this place as much as this family does. Someday, I really hope to be able to have the time to sit with Rich’s parents to document some of the history. Even if it’s only ever to just put together to share with the family for future generations. I think it’s something important to be passed down throughout the years, from generation to the next.

As I sit here with this thought rolling in my head, I’m also saddened that it won’t be passed down to the next owner within the family. After so much that has gone on here since 2008, I’m devastated. I can’t even imagine the thoughts rolling in Rich’s head. Having been on or around the farm his entire life, it has to yank a piece of his heart out to make decisions like selling. Eventually though, when push comes to shove, self preservation takes over.

I’ve talked with others about concerns over farmers committing suicide because of these types of decisions, lack of funds and severe depression. In my way, I’m trying to explain how hard it is to lose a piece of yourself at times like this. Farmers who have worked the land, watched it grow and change have an affinity for the property that is unparalleled. They put their heart and soul into every piece of hay, every head of livestock, every grain of soil and every drop of water. Farmers love their farms like parents love their children.

To farmers, our farm is our legacy. It’s our book of life that we have written the pages for. Failures or success, risks and rewards, it’s all in there. Our pages might not be written over the years on paper, but they are written on our hearts, our souls and within each detail we find on the farm. It doesn’t make a difference what kind of farm it is, how big or how small. It’s just the way it is for farmers.

Change is Coming

Well, it’s the first week in January of the year 2015. It’s hard sometimes to believe that so many years have gone by for us. As the years have ticked by, we have watched the world change dramatically around us.

When I was a little kid on my Grandparent’s farm, there wasn’t the big, massive farm equipment of today. Cars were huge gas guzzling beasts that we now call classic cars. Four wheel drive trucks still had lockout hubs, not electronically transferred like most models have today. Neighbors knew each other and helped out during times of need. There weren’t cell phones or internet back then either. If you wanted to communicate with someone miles away, you wrote a letter or sent a card. If they lived close by, you would stop over for coffee.

Inside our homes, we went from home cooked meals with the entire family around the dinner table to fast food eaten in the car. Both parents have to work to make ends meet and the cost of goods just keeps skyrocketing.

Everything has changed. Nothing is as simple anymore as fighting for what’s right or standing on moral ground with the convictions you feel hold true. People will continue to express that change is good, it’s progress. I’m not so sure that I can agree. It’s when you feel you are forced to make dramatic changes that you gain insight into much more than you realized.

Why am I writing all this? It’s out of frustration, sadness, elation and tribulation.

As we have worked for years on expansions on the farm, nothing has come easy. Working hard at multiple jobs to make ends meet, save a few dollars here and there and struggling with the burdens of debt have taken a toll of both of us. Rich, being the sixth generation on the farm, has done the best he could to keep the farm going and kept mostly together. Each year, that struggle gets harder and harder. Income stays the same but expenses keep raising. Property values go up but in turn generates more tax debt every year. The struggles are very real and very frightening. The expansion past this current generation into the worry about who will take over for the next generation. Who could manage such an operation? Who would even be interested?

For three years, we’ve struggled with the taxes, debt load, and worry about who could take over. As time has gone on, the realization is we can’t afford to keep struggling with no potential future. We don’t want to continue working this hard to keep going no where. We can’t get a milk market developed with a small herd like we had hoped. We don’t have the extra funds to expand our beef herd because of the money invested every month into just getting by. After hearing from one that she wouldn’t ever milk cows and the other now located in another state, neither of which showing a real working interest in the farm, we know that the next generation won’t be taking over on the farm.

It’s with a heavy heart that we announce that we will be selling the farm. It’s frustrating to know that we just can’t do it on our own. The reality of the situation is that at some point, we need to admit defeat and do what needs to be done for our own self preservation. Maybe if we had funds to invest for a larger herd or a milk market developed, we wouldn’t be doing this. I’m sorry to say that here in NY, I feel that all the promotion for beginning farms and farm expansions is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. I can’t even begin to express the disappointment of stepping aside after all the time and energy spent into building the farm into what it is today.

I’ve lived in this area my entire life and I’ve always thought it was a shame to see so many abandoned barns, empty fields and vacant lands. I now know why my Grandfather advised me to stay away from farming. It’s always a fight. A fight over taxes and land values. A fight over markets. Risks in income. Struggles to just earn enough money to live. It’s a fight for any kind of working help. It’s a fight with Mother Nature. This isn’t the job for the faint of heart or the people light in the wallet.

For months, we have held a discussion about what the future may hold. We’ve fought over selling or keeping family property that has been in the family since the Boston Purchase. Neither one of us can do it anymore. The farm will be sold to someone who has the funds to bring in a bunch of beef and be able to make the farm into what it’s meant to be. It’s all setup now and ready to go, all you need to do is bring the animals.

What will we do? We will be keeping some of the cows, stepping back on our size and scale. We will be relocating to a small farm somewhere in Tennessee. We aren’t sure yet on a time frame but are hoping it’s in the very near future. We are looking forward to more relaxing days, not working so much and being able to take vacation, relaxing and just enjoying life at a slower pace. It’s discouraging to leave the history and the farm here. It’s a beautiful place with spectacular views, a secluded pond and in a good area. The future though is that we just can’t manage all of this alone anymore.

I (Doreen) may be staying for a while to work with the new owners to assist with the learning curve of the rotational paddocks and connecting them with the locals. It will be an adventure over the next year that will hopefully end in the successful transition into a less stressful life for both of us. It’s been suggested that we do some video recordings and write ups on the whole transition, which I will start working on in the near future.

Thank you all for your support, follows and comments up until now. You have been a huge encouragement for us to follow our passions and our dreams, I just wish the interim result was a little different.

If anyone is interested in buying the farm:
149.9 acres located in Center Lisle, NY with approximately 100 acres fenced with new 5-strand high tensile fencing, perimeter and cross fenced. An older double wide home, a 48×72 stick build barn with a new metal roof, a 32×70 hoop building. Rolling hills and spectacular views. Private 6 acre pond. Brand new cattle watering pond and pipelines (constructed and installed fall of 2014). A partially construction two story cabin. A sugar bush for making maple syrup.

Optional: 13 head of cattle, Ford 2120 tractor with fork and bucket attachments, New Holland 489 mower, brush hog, 2004 Dodge Ram 1500, Evaporator, temporary paddock supplies including step in posts, wire and reels and remaining hay and bedding.

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.

Weaning and Training

Well, life sure has kept me busy lately. I think I’ve eaten more breakfast for dinner lately than I ever thought possible. I have been super busy trying to keep up with my son’s wrestling tournaments, photography work, a new writing job, the farm and filling in for another farm while the owners went on vacation. It’s been a rough few weeks to say the least.

Now as we sit, discussing upcoming changes and events, there is so much to get done for 2014 on our farm. My head seems to swirl in a hundred different directions at just the thought of it all. Dividing animals, separating bulls from cows and last years calves from their momma’s, is next up in line. I’ve had a few people asking me lately what we do, how and why. So I guess it’s time to discuss it. First off, our beef breed (Irish Dexter) are really good mothers. We like to leave the calves with their mom’s as long as possible. It helps the calves continue to grow good and gives them the availability of having fresh warm milk from their mother through the cold of winter. Normally, we start pulling calves away from their mothers just about the time spring comes in March. This year, spring hasn’t even showed any signs of arriving anytime soon, unfortunately. That being said, we are still going to need to take the calves out of the paddocks. They will be shifted to the calf pens.

I know this sounds cruel but it isn’t. Once calves hit a certain age, they really don’t need the milk anymore and the majority of their diets come from the hay or pasture grasses. A good cow will reproduce every year but in between each calving, she needs time to rest and gain a little peaceful time. This helps her build her body stores back up and gets her in shape to provide for the next calf. This is very, very important to give cows this rest cycle or as I like to call a vacation from kids 😉

The calves are typically between eight and ten months old when we wean them from their mothers. This is when they hit what I like to call the adolescent stage of their lives. Any parent knows that teenagers can drive a mother insane. It’s no different for cows. Half the time, the calves are about 50-75% the size of their mothers and way too big to continue nursing. We have only ever had one calf that didn’t need to be “removed” from the pen with her mother. She weaned herself, amazingly enough.

Here we sit, right now, on the verge of separating animals. We have paddocks set up for housing just the calves and we do what is called “fence line weaning”. The divider between the mother and calf is a 5 strand high tensile electrified fence. It is rather noisy but is the least stressful way to separate them. They can still see their momma’s and talk back and forth. They still have the chance to get licks through the gate too. Most people outside farming don’t understand the bond between a cow and a calf. It’s an important one. The cow teaches the calf how to graze, what to eat and how to act. Sometimes, this results in animals passing on habits we really don’t want but that’s how it is until they are separated.

After a couple of days, the bleating starts to calm down and everyone transitions into the quiet they are used too. Once the beef calves are inside the calf pen, we start working with them to break some of the bad habits their mothers have instilled in them. The original dexter cows are the only ones who really have this issue and that’s really only two of them. Each year, we have one calf that is a little more “friendly” than the others. Not always from the same momma either. When we start working with them, it’s basically to get them used to having someone human upfront and in their face on a more regular basis. This happens because the barn they go into is a much smaller area and they are forced into the area each end of the day. It takes weeks before they stop running from one end to the other. As time progresses, we shrink the area they are allowed to move around. We sit with a hand out, allowing them to smell us or lick our fingers. Once they settle down and stop running in fear, then we attempt to get a halter on them. Sometimes this takes several weeks or even months. Once they are haltered, they get a collar. The collar makes it easier for us to reach out and grab them. The halter training continues until they are used to it…most of the time. Some never become accustomed to it.

Why halter train? There are a great many reasons to halter train a calf. One is that it’s easy to move them from one location to another without the exhibition of a typical “cattle flight mode”. Other reasons include being able to move them for vet visits, physical exams, potential pregnancy checks, and even transportation. Halter trained animals are much easier to handle. It’s builds their trust in you and teaches them that YOU are the boss. Halter training isn’t typically something that happens overnight either. Some do pick it up quicker than others but typically I would say it takes roughly 15-20 minutes daily for about two weeks before they really start grasping the whole concept of not pulling, tugging or attempting to run. The beef breeds seem to be a little more pig headed and stubborn than the dairy breeds too which doesn’t help. Some of the calves have picked up halter walking within the first two attempts. Others, well…let’s just say that when they see the rope come out that flight response goes into overdrive.

Both the fence line weaning and the halter training can be very dangerous. You can get run over by a calf that is running the fence line. You can get angry mothers who get rather nasty when you take their calf. You find out where every crack in your fence line is too. Halter training an animal that weighs in somewhere around 400-500 lbs and you weigh in less than 200 can be a trip too. I’ve seen one of these calves drag a full grown man like a rag doll on the first attempt. Staying calm but understanding the reactions of the animal are crucial. It isn’t recommended for the weak of heart. You have to be calm but just as stubborn and pigheaded as they are. You also have to understand that not every animal will be successful every single time.

As we go through this process, I will attempt to take some videos. I will forewarn you, it is rather difficult to get video when you only have two working hands operating the farm. I am going to see if I can enlist the help of a teenager who is showing some extreme interest in farming, even if only to video record. It would be a great learning experience for him and would benefit me with a video.

Until then, I need to start preparing for our first calf heifers to start having calves the end of the month. We keep praying that the weather will break and we will start getting some warmer weather by then. I’d hate to have calves come in this bitter cold. It’s below zero right now. I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen if it’s that cold when the calves come. I don’t think Mr. Farmer will like it much if I bring three calves in the house to keep them dry and warm. So, now I’m off to plan the “just in case” to ensure the calves get off to a good start, no matter what the weather.

I’ll update when I can. Sorry about no new recipes lately…. unless you want to know how to make toast, sunny side up eggs or oatmeal, I’ve got nothing new and exciting to share.

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”