Tag Archives: dairy cattle

Feature Friday ~ Ruby

Every Friday, I will be doing a feature on one of the critters here at Barrows Farm. I want to be able to explain what each animal is like, how they came to be here and what’s important to us about them. Why do I think this is important? It’s important because as a farm, we wouldn’t be where we are today with each animal here. WordPress also gives me an outlet to hold open discussions with our fans that aren’t allowed on other blogging format. It’s important to us that YOU, the reader, have that ability.

This weeks feature animal is Ruby. Ruby is a Lineback/Jersey cross cow and the oldest in our dairy herd. She came to live with us at about a week of age. We got her from Rich’s uncles farm and was originally one of a set of twins. When we first started, we didn’t have everything set up the way that it should have been. The calves, three at that time, were in the main part of the barn. They had free movement and a large area covered in sawdust and bedding. Unfortunately, the bull calf that was with Ruby and her sister Scarlett was rather dominate. One morning, upon arrival in the barn for morning chores, I found Scarlett on her back, wedged under the four wheeler.

To those that don’t understand that cattle have issues with bloat, I will explain. Cattle need to have their heads up, not be facing down hill or rolled over so that the gases inside of their stomach have a place to escape. If left untreated or unnoticed, the gases start entering the bloodstream and literally poisoning the animal. We lost Scarlett because we just didn’t know she was in the wrong position for hours. I did everything I could to treat her, including burping her and propping her head up. It was too late, she was gone.

About a week later, I found Ruby laying in the middle of the concrete floor. It wouldn’t have been bad if it was summer but unfortunately, it was the dead of winter in Upstate NY and it was cold. She was barely responsive and very lethargic. I went into immediate action and moved her to the sawdust pile, grabbed blankets from the house and made a call to the vet. Upon arrival she was given vitamin shots to boost her and the vet and I discussed how to rewarm her. For two solid days, I didn’t sleep. Instead, I walked back and forth from the barn to the house every fifteen minutes to warm blankets and keep changing them out. I used soda bottles with hot water tucked along her sides and slowly got her warm.

I didn’t know if she would survive but I was giving it 110% to make sure she had every available treatment to get her over the hump. You have no idea how elated I was going into the barn the third morning to find her standing at the bale in the center of the floor nibbling on hay and drinking from a bucket full of electrolytes. I actually cried tears of joy.

Now it’s years later and I still can’t get that feeling of connection out of my system. She is my cow. My favorite in the herd. She shares kisses and hugs. There is no better feeling in the world when you ask for a hug from a thousand pound cow and she wraps her head around you. Or that moment when you ask for a kiss and she takes that massive, scratchy, cat-like tongue and licks your face. She is my girl alright.

Beyond her early life struggles, Ruby has developed into the perfect cow. She is easy to care for and hasn’t needed any treatments since. She has provided us with two healthy calves, one heifer and one bull. She gives us lots of milk, even with her calf still nursing. She’s a gentle and loving creature but is also the boss of the herd. She has no issues with keeping her body condition on an all grass diet, in fact she gets kind of fat.

Ruby has had two calves on the farm now and just celebrated her third birthday. Her first calf, Suri, was a heifer (female calf) who is growing up to be very much like her mother. Her second calf, Ramrod, was a bull (boy calf) that is currently nursing and growing very well.

Ruby is the first in the line of cattle we are really looking to integrate into future generations. In years to come, more of her offspring will come and they will become part of our herd. Her calves will take first priority in selecting which ones are used for the next generation because of the ability to do so well on our grass based farm. Her legacy will live on for many, many years to come and we look forward to have her around for many more generations of calves.

Ruby the day we got her. August 2011
Ruby the day we got her. August 2011
Ruby at a year old in 2012
Ruby at a year old in 2012
Ruby with her newborn calf (Suri) in 2013
Ruby with her newborn calf (Suri) in 2013
Two generations. From left to right: Suri, Ruby and Ramrod. Suri and Ramrod are Ruby's offspring from two years.
Two generations of calves. From left to right: Suri, Ruby and Ramrod. 2014
Just lounging around. Rich laying on Ruby
Doreen and Ruby sharing cattle kisses
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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!