Category Archives: Cattle

Blizzard

Well, here’s the official tally after the snowfall:

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15″ of snow today.

15″ of snow is great for snowmen, snowball fights, sledding, and getting days off of teaching school.  It is not so nice for keeping animals fed and watered.  Just walking through 15″ of snow to check on the animals is a serious workout.  I’ve decided I need snowshoes.  Shoe size is 10.5, if anyone would like to make a snowshoe donation.

Here’s things you can’t do in 15″ of snow on top of 1/4″ of ice:

  • Haul more water to the back pasture.
  • Carry round bales with the tractor.
  • Run the tractor, period – 2-wheel drive is no good.
  • Find all of the eggs.

Still, you’ve got to get hay to the animals somehow.  So Lindsey, her brother, and I made hay sleds by bundling 60-150 lbs of hay (depending on the person) up in tarps and pulling them along behind us for the 1/2 mile back to the cattle.  2 trips for me and 1 for each of them did the trick.  Not going to lie, that is a workout.  Got to do it again tomorrow.

I vow to have the hay shed for the animals built before next winter.  That way the hay and the animals are both in the same spot.

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You can have lambs born in a blizzard.  We had twin rams yesterday.  They are fine.  After they were born we forced the sheep into their shelter and locked them in.  They had been riding the blizzard out under some trees.  Sillies.

The worst news is that I think Fitbit has it out for me.  According to mine I took 14,000 steps, walked 6.5 miles in 15″ of snow pulling heavy sleds of hay and/or herding animals for portions of it, climbed 11 flights of stairs, and had almost 2.5 hours of high activity and yet I still did not hit my calorie burn for the day.

I may drop the Fitbit in the snow.  Accidently.

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Saving a Cow

Yesterday we had to assist with a heifer for the first time.  It was a learning experience all around, which I guess is what people say when things don’t go as well as they should.

Like all emergencies, this one actually began its course long before.

This heifer was not supposed to have been bred when she was.  I bought her as a 13-month old last winter and didn’t get back home with her until the middle of the night.  I unloaded her into the pasture with the other females and a loan 6-month old bull calf that was still nursing.  I figured that I would separate that calf the next morning.  I have since figured out that the weaning was about 12 hours too late.

In that small window of time, a number of things had to go perfectly (or perfectly awry, from my perspective).  The bull had to be old enough and physiologically mature enough to do the job.  I thought, obviously incorrectly, that he was too young.  The heifer had to be in heat as well.  She was showing some signs of heat, but it’s really hard to tell on an animal that has just traveled across the country and I attributed what I was seeing to travel stress.  Again, I was wrong.

The next morning I removed the bull calf for weaning and the new heifer settled in nicely with the rest of the girls.

Fast forward 8 months…

The heifer was obviously heavy-bred, meaning that she was due soon.  It was now October.  My thoughts were basically, “Dammit.”

There were a couple of problems I could foresee coming.  First, the heifer was bred 6 months before I intended her to be and although she has good size for a heifer she was not as big or mature as she would have been with another 6 months of growth on her.  Second, the bull calf that impregnated her is not a low-birth weight bull like our other bull, the one I had intended to use on her and that I ran her with over the summer for a spring 2016 calf.  Above-average calf size and young heifers are not a good combination.

So I backtracked to the date of the cow crime, circled the due date on the calendar, and began to watch the heifer carefully.

The due date came and went.

Two more weeks passed.

I began to think, “Maybe she’s not really due until spring and she’s just showing a lot of udder development.”

‘Twas not to be. 

I came home from work to a heifer in the middle of a prolonged birth experience.

The calf was stuck.

First I inspected the calf.  It was oriented correctly, at least the front end.  The front feet were pointed in the right way and the nose and mouth were out of the birth canal.  Sadly, it looked like the calf was dead.  The tongue was still and the calf was not breathing.  The heifer was cooperative, possibly due to sheer exhaustion.

I tried hand-pulling the calf, in rhythm with the heifer’s contractions.  It would not budge.  At all.

Luckily Lindsey and Tyler, a student from our high school, were both around.  I grabbed them for help and brought a set of calf pulling chains, a rope and come-along, and the tractor, just in case.

I tried the calf pulling chains first, sliding them around the front feet of the calf.  I placed my feet on the heifer’s rump to brace myself and pulled on the chains, again in rhythm with the heifer’s contractions.  Still the calf would not move an inch.  The head, neck, shoulders, and entire rear portion of the calf’s body were stubbornly stuck inside the heifer.

At this point, the calf had still shown no signs of life.  My focus now began to solely be about getting the calf our and saving the heifer.

I ditched my gloves, rolled my sleeves up, and stuck my hand in the birth canal feeling around and searching for the source of the problem.  I couldn’t make it to the back legs; I couldn’t get my hand past the calf’s shoulders.  It was too tight.

So we attached the calf pulling chains to the rope and come-along, attached that to the loader on the tractor, and tried to pull the calf out using the come-along.  No movement.

We reset the equipment and tried again.

Nothing.

At this point I’m trying not to panic.  It’s getting really dark.  The calf is obviously dead and not moving out of the birth canal.  The heifer is exhausted.  We’ve got to get this calf out.

So I hop on the tractor and ever so slowly start reversing it away from the heifer.  The heifer starts to slide along the ground towards the tractor.  Tyler and Lindsey basically hop behind the animal and throw all of their strength and weight against the heifer to stop the sliding and provide more resistance.

Finally the shoulders come free.

I stop the tractor and run up to the heifer to feel around inside for the calf’s back feet again.  I don’t want to pull any more without them being in the right position.  If they were pointed down we could really hurt the heifer.  Thankfully the back feet were perfectly positioned.  The calf was in position all along.  It was just a very big calf in a young heifer.

Satisfied everything was in the right spot, I jumped back on the tractor and Lindsey and Tyler took up their positions at the back of the heifer.  This time, the calf finally came free.  I gave Tyler and Lindsey big thanks and let them go.

I inspected it by checking for breath and pupil response, but it was dead and had been for some time.  I quickly turned my attention to the exhausted heifer.

She had me worried.  She didn’t seem to be able to even sit up on her own.  For 15 minutes she would lay still and periodically try to sit up.

I realized that we had her back pointing downhill.  I’ve heard/read/something that cows can’t always. Get up if their backs are pointed downhill, so I grabbed her front hooves and spun her around.  That’s a little harder than that sentence made it sound, but it solved the problem.  The heifer was able to sit up.

I brought her a 5-gallon bucket with water and a kelp/vitamin B/electrolyte concoction we use when an animal is stressed.  She was very thirsty and downed the whole bucket in a moment.  So I brought her another, of plain water this time.  She downed that, too.  So the individual bucket brigade continued.  The third bucket she didn’t finish, so I sat down and waited with her for a while to see if she would or could get up.

After about an hour, she made an attempt.   She almost acted like her back leg was asleep, which would have been understandable.  She laid back down.

Satisfied that she was looking better and was at least fighting, I left her be for an hour as I finished chores in the dark and got a bite of supper.  After eating, I came back to check on her and she had gotten up and moved to the trough we here she was downing more water.

The next morning I found her at the hay. Ring with the rest of the herd, munching contentedly although with a slight limp when she walked.  I thought that the limp was to be expected.

Two days later, no limp.

It appears we have saved the life of the cow, which may have been the best outcome we could have hoped for that day.  The saga will continue for another 18 months, though.  We will attempt to rebreed her this summer and see if she can deliver a calf in the spring of 2017.

Fingers crossed.

***PSA: Don’t put heifers that you don’t want in with bull calves, even if you think the calves are too young and even if it’s only overnight.  If you forget, read the above story again.  /PSA***

Pasture Progress

Well, fall is falling and winter is coming.

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The pear trees are usually the last to change color and lose their leaves.

We have officially made it into December without feeding any hay this year.  Last year we only got to early October and most years we’ve had to start feeding hay in late October or early November.

We’ve been able to do this for 2 main reasons.  First, we’ve fenced in more pasture so that we have more grazing area available to rotate our ruminants onto.  Second, rotational grazing has really begun to positively impact the grass sward in our pastures.

The first reason is obvious.  More land available to graze equals more grass to rotate the animals onto and longer rest periods between grazing cycles.  Both factors extend the grazing season for the animals.

The second reason is more subtle.  Grasses and clovers respond much better to grazing than other plants, so their growth is favored over that of other plants during rotational grazing.

Non-rotational grazing, practiced by most producers, has a negative impact on the health of the soil and the pasture.  The animals are never or seldom moved so they keep coming back to their favored plants, eventually killing them and leaving in the pasture only the plants that they do not prefer.

In management-intensive rotational grazing like we practice, the cattle are tightly grazed and moved before damage to plants can occur.  They eat what they like, trample the rest, and then they are moved so that they area can recover.  Since grasses and clovers have evolved to be grazed, they respond faster than “weedy” plants.  The grasses and clover thicken vegetatively, sending up new growth and runners to improve the pasture sward.  This means that there is a constantly increasing volume of grass available, as long as the new growth is not grazed too soon.

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Sunset comes early in the winter.

It would be nice to be able to graze all the way through winter at some point.  Hay is the single largest expense to raising the cattle and sheep.

However, feeding hay does have some definite advantages.

First, it gets dark early in the winter.  Since we work at school as teachers, we often get home around 4 pm.  In the winter this does not leave very much daylight to move the cattle around in the winter.  It is a definite time-saver to put hay out instead of moving the cattle to new pasture.

Second, since we buy hay rather than cut it ourselves, we are basically importing fertility to our farm in the form of winter hay.  The hay is grown by our neighbors and eaten by our cattle.  Their manure from processing the hay is then deposited on our fields, increasing our fertility.  This is a great substitute for purchasing chemical fertilizer from a bag.  Yes, the hay costs money.  But it is scarcely more than it would take to make it ourselves in terms of fuel, time, equipment, and maintenance and has the added benefit of subtracting our need to purchase manure for fertilizing our fields.

Progress is being made.

From Farm to Table

Full disclosure… some parts of this post may be difficult to read.  Discretion is advised. This post is an effort to educate and inform about how our meat is raised and processed and how that differs from industrial practices.

Processing day is the hardest on the farmer.  It’s a great day in that it’s the day you get to provide your customers with the naturally-grown meat that they have been patiently waiting on for months.  It’s a great day in that we get paid for our hard work and effort producing all the wonderful food.  But it’s a terrible day in that the farmer has to load up the animals he has carefully tended for their entire lives and take them to be killed.

That’s a very hard thing to do.  These animals are food animals.  That’s the only reason they exist.  Without farmers, there would not be enough food to furnish all people on earth with food.  Farmers actually produce a surplus of food in relation to the caloric needs of the 7+ billion people on the planet.  The reason starvation exists in some areas is a function of distribution, equity, and social justice, not a shortage in the food supply.  Moreover, at Good Life Ranch we raise heritage livestock breeds.  These breeds were the ones bred to survive in the time before antibiotics, wormers, and grain feeding regimens.  As such, they perform better under natural management conditions than the modern breeds that have been developed with these modern crutches to help prop them up.  But in a twist that is hard for some people to understand, to preserve these breeds we have to create a demand for their products.  We have to create a market for the healthier meats our great-grandparents used to eat.  If there is no market for their meat, these heritage breeds will disappear forever.

The disappearance of heritage livestock breeds would be an unmitigated disaster.  Their genomes are a repository for traits that are diluted or entirely absent in the industry-standard modern breeds.  These new breeds are so specialized that their narrowed gene pools may offer little in the way of genetic diversity to withstand new epidemics, the failure of antibiotics, or the shift in climate now occurring worldwide.  Heritage breeds, taken in total, offer a far wider range of genetic variation to withstand our changing world.

As an example, we raised the modern Cornish x White Rock broiler chickens for a time – the same birds that are the only ones available if you buy your meat from a grocery store, a restaurant, or even the vast majority of small organic farms.  They grow fast, they’re ready for processing in 6 weeks, they are efficient in terms of feed, and they are resistant to the crowding and filth found in industrial poultry houses.  So what’s the problem with them?  They don’t do well outside when they have to act like chickens.  This hybrid breed has lost its ability to thrive under natural conditions.  They die in the cold.  They die in the rain.  They die in the heat.  They can’t walk well.  They aren’t fast enough to catch bugs, and the ones they can catch aren’t sufficient to sustain their rapid growth rates.  In short, if a farmer wants to rotate birds around pasture outdoors without using small pens crowded with 100 birds this is NOT the breed for you.

We now raise slower-growing, more flavorful, hardier heritage breeds.  But it is hard to sell them, even though customers say that they want them.  They don’t look like grocery store birds.  They have a narrower breast, larger legs and thighs, and yellow fat from the grasses, seeds, and insects that they have foraged.  They are more expensive to produce, since they live more than twice as long, and therefore they have to be more expensive.  Also, we have found that most customers have never acquired the cooking skills to make use of them.  Many customers do not know how to break down a whole chicken to cook it or how to cook leaner meats more slowly to render the unsaturated fats and release the superior flavor.  Education is needed.  We must relearn the skills of the older generations.

We just dropped a pair of steers off at the processor’s last week, so let me walk you through what happens during all steps of the process.  I’ll use beef as our example, since that is what we are helping customers with right now.

First, at Good Life Ranch purebred Red Poll cattle are raised on grass alone for 30 months.  The herd gets a fresh allotment of pasture every day to move away from manure and to allow the recovery of the grass sward.  They have water and free-choice access to mineral salt.  They quickly learn that their farmer coming means a shift to fresh grass and become very calm very quickly.  Cows are very easy to teach a routine.  The older cattle teach the younger ones, and our entire herd knows the drill now.  They know what area I am taking them to next and wait patiently for me to open it up to them.  They live together as a herd and are never alone.  Even our bulls are never kept alone.  They have a bull herd during the non-breeding season and then rotate with the cows during the summer and fall.

Our beef animals are born on pasture during the warmth of late spring and grow up alongside their mothers, older siblings, and even grandmothers and great-grandmothers living a cow’s dream life for 2.5 years.  This is in contrast to most beef animals, which are processed much earlier.  The reason for this is simple physiology.  If a farmer (or, usually, a feedlot) puts a beef animal on a diet full of grain, that animal can be force-fattened while it is young.  Fat and marbling can be gained simply by overfeeding the animal.  This leads to all sorts of health problems for the beef animal, and it must be processed while it is very young before its rumen and liver fail from processing such an unnaturally high-calorie grain diet.  With a grass-only beef like ours, the farmer must allow time for the animal to complete the growth of its skeletal and muscular systems.  In other words, once the animal has reached its adult frame size fat will be added naturally.  But not sooner.  Part of the reputation grass-fed beef has for being “too lean” or for having “off-flavors” comes from farmers who are still slaughtering their beef at an age that is too young for the animal to be ready to eat.  It hasn’t marbled, it hasn’t fattened, it hasn’t developed flavor yet.

Before we take a large animal to the processor, we have to walk through the butchering instructions with our customers.  We have make sure that the customers understand where all the cuts of meat come from.  It’s really enlightening for some people when they learn how few quality steaks actually come from a single beef, for instance.  They quickly gain an appreciation for why steaks are so much more expensive than ground meat.  The customers also have to understand that the more meat they get back as steaks and roasts, the less ground beef there will be.  We also try to convince our customers to learn how to cook the offerings that most people do not want, in order to make better use of the whole animal.  These are useful, healthy, but underutilized items like soup bones, heart, liver, oxtail, shanks, and head.

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A sample cut sheet from one of the processors we use

Once we have the processing instructions, we load the steer into the trailer.  This is done as calmly as possible because stress hormones actually toughen the meat and impart off-flavors.  We create a chute with corral panels, put some nice hay into the trailer to tempt the steers to enter on their own, and then shut the door once they are busy munching.  Then we take them on the short drive to the processor’s.  Both processors we use are 10-20 minutes away, so it’s a short drive.  Usually the steers are still eating the hay when we arrive.

At the processor’s the cattle are walked off of the trailer.  They are kept calm and where they can see each other.  They are herd animals; they have grown up together all of their lives; they don’t like to be separated.  We deliberately work with processors that treat our animals as humanely as possible.  This is a bad day, to be sure.  But we want the kill to be swift, painless, and humane.  We won’t use a processor who bungles this part.  We know of some who use cattle prods, crowding, yell, scream, and basically terrify the animals into position.  We refuse to work with them.  Our cattle have never had a bad day up until now, and we make sure our processors understand that and eliminate the suffering.  I watch.  It happens very fast and, while I cannot say for certain, there does not seem to be any pain involved.  It is as different from what happens in the videos of industrial slaughterhouses as I can make it.  Watch videos from slaughterhouses released by whistle-blowers, PETA, and others and you will immediately see the difference.

Afterwards, the beef is skinned and the innards are removed.  The hide goes to become leather and the innards are composted or incinerated.  We prefer the processor who composts the innards because then that material can be reused to add fertility to the land.

The beef is then halved lengthwise and the 2 halves are hung in a cooling room for around 2 weeks.  The timeframe can be longer or shorter, depending upon the fat covering on the animal, but 2 weeks is about standard.  This hanging processes ages the meat and adds flavor and tenderness.  It is at this point that the carcass can be graded as well.  Grades are assigned based on the fat content and marbling of the meat.

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Good Life Ranch grass-only beef in the cooling room

The photo above shows one half of one of the steers we took in hanging in the cooling room.  I apologize for not being able to fit the entire length of the animal in one shot, but the room was small and iPhone cameras are what they are.

You’ll notice that the beef is lean, but still has a nice covering of fat.  The fat coverage was nicer than the other beeves in the cooling room, none of which were grass-finished.  It is also yellowish.  That yellow color comes from the carotenes in the plants that the animal has been eating its entire life and is the source of the grass-fed flavor and healthier fat profile (omega-3 to omega-6 ratio) of a grass-only animal.  All the other beeves in the room other than our 2 had solid white fat, which means it is more saturated and heavier in omega-6’s.  Those animals had eaten more grain than grass.  There wasn’t a lot of difference in the amounts of fat between the different animals, only in the color and texture.  The difference in texture was unbelievable to me.  I apologize for not taking a picture of a grain-finished beef for comparison.  I just didn’t think about it at the time.

After the hanging process has tenderized and added flavor to the meat, the butcher makes the cuts of meat that the customer has ordered.  He (or she) quarters the animal, trims and cuts the steaks and roasts, and then grinds the burger.  The photo below shows the portions of the animal from which the various cuts of beef come, or the options the customer and processor have for each area of the animal, depending upon which perspective you are coming.  The processing sheet above reflects these options, although each processor is likely to have created their own sheet and have their own options.

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Beef Made Easy – image from America’s Beef Producers

The meat is then packaged in vacuum bags (some processors use paper if the customer prefers, but the vacuum bags keep freezer burn at bay better) and flash frozen.  It is then ready for the customers to pick up.  They then pay the processor his fees, which for both the processors we use are very reasonable.  The beef will be labeled “Not for Sale” if it was processed under custom inspection, meaning that the customer cannot resell the meat to someone else.  Meat processed by Good Life Ranch for resale at farmers’ markets and The Market on Main in Somerset, KY will have undergone USDA inspection and will be marked as such.

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Packaged beef ready for use. This is ground beef and a chuck roast.

We have found the Red Poll beef to live up to its billing as flavorful and tender.  The first steaks we tried were New York strips, and they were so tender I barely had to use the knife.  It is simply phenomenal.

As you can see, it takes a lot to get beef, or any other meat, from the farm to your plate.  It is our hope at Good Life Ranch to serve customers who want to understand the whole process; who want to eat better quality food; who want to support local farmers; who want to ensure the survival of heritage breeds of livestock and food plants; and who want to make sure that the meat they eat is raised with the upmost in care and compassion.

New Pastures are Nice

Over the past 5 years we have been slowly fencing in pastures to keep our livestock safe and secure and to help protect our erosion prone areas like steep hillsides, ponds, and streambanks.  We started off with nothing fenced in, just a half mile of decorative white vinyl fencing that the previous owners installed.  The livestock laugh at that fence as a barrier.  They go right through it.  

Our first grazing animals were the goats, and we made do with electric netting with them for a year while we fenced in our first pasture that fronts the road.  The electric netting works really well for rotational grazing, but it’s not good for the sole barrier between the animals and danger.  Sometimes it shorts out and it’s no barrier at all when it’s not electrified.  Sometimes it blows down in heavy winds.  It’s just not good to have only electric fence.

We finished that first pasture in mid-2011 before we got our first few cattle, and then we fenced in another smaller pasture the next year.

Those were the easy ones.  The final 2 pastures were much more difficult to complete because we had to go over the ridge, through the woods, to grandma’s house we go.  Those 2 pastures were finally finished in very late 2014, so this has been our first full year with 4 pastures that we can rotate our animals around on.  It’s still less than 40 acres, but it’s the only grazeable land we have right now.

The final pasture, all the way on the north side of the property, was utilized by our Amish neighbor for the last few years as cropland so there was no pasture there.  This spring I seeded it with a mixture of grass and clover.  Those are the only  seeds we’ve put in any pasture.  The other pastures have been rejuvenated through grazing alone.

But seeding that pasture was definitely worth it.  All year it has been lush and green and growing faster than any other pasture we’ve got.  The cattle and sheep race me to get into that field every time we rotate them back to it.  It makes me think about drilling some seeds through the sod in our other pastures next year. 

Sheep and cattle enjoying lush November pasture

Another Growing Season in the Books

It’s been a ridiculous amount of time since I’ve blogged.  I probably should apologize, but I’m not sure if anyone reads this anyway.  But with a 160-acre farm, a full-time teaching job, a wife, and a young son (oh yeah, that is new, too) I feel like blogging definitely falls on the low end of my priority scale.  You understand.

Good Life Ranch has grown and changed a great deal since December 2012, which is the next blog post down the page.

I’ll try to go through the most exciting (for me) changes and improvements we’ve made, in no particular order.

#1 – We traded our goat herd for hair sheep.

 

St. Croix sheep at sunset

 

Not everyone made it into the picture, but you get the idea.

The goats were great, and did their job of clearing brush well.  So well, in fact, that they ate themselves out of a job.  We were actually able to sell the entire herd to one farm so they all got to stay together as a unit and keep their herd structure intact.

Now that our pastures have been improved a bit through our management-intensive rotational grazing, we decided that hair sheep would be a good choice.  They don’t compete much with cattle in terms of the species of plants they graze, they don’t share parasites with cattle so each becomes a dead-end host for the other species’ worms, and the meat is a lot easier to market than goat.   They are also a dream to shepherd around the property, unlike the goats.  They also stay where you put them, unlike goats.   Want to test a maximum security prison?  Put a herd of goats in there and they will find the potential escape routes for you.

 

Our sheep are a bit friendly, as a bonus.

 

#2 – We chose a breed of hog to stick with.

Back in 2012, we were trying out all manner of heritage hog breeds and crosses – we had Gloucester Old Spots, Red Wattles, Mulefoots, Durocs, Tamworths, Hampshires, Berkshires, Herefords…. all have their strengths and weaknesses.

We settled on Large Black hogs.  I trust I don’t need to describes their physical appearance.

Large blacks are good grazers, docile, fertile, good mothers, and very intelligent.  They also have delicious marbled meat that can only be described as “phenomenal.”

They have thrived here for us.  We had a new litter just the other day and the piglets are already roaming all over the pasture following mom on her quest for falling nuts.

 

Piglets! Not large yet, but definitely black.

 

#3 – Our cow herd is growing and thriving.

We have grown from our initial 2 cow-calf pairs into a herd of 17.  We have had a few more animals go through our farm.  Some have graced plates and some have gone to join other herds.

Red poll beef is just awesome.  We raise them for 30 months on nothing but grass of course, and the meat is flavorful and so tender that you really don’t even need a knife on the steaks if you cook them right.  I’ve never had such tender beef before.  I was very nervous before trying it.  Our other meats were very good, but beef on grass only really reflects the character of the grass that the animals are raised on, and I was worried that our still-too-acidic soil would produce off-flavors in the meat.  Not the case at all with our beef.  I’m either lucky or good.  Probably door #1 on that one. 

 

Our herd of cattle and flock of sheep. Our “flerd.”

 

 

A bottle calf. That was a learning curve for everyone.

 

 

Red Poll bull Shuter’s Last Chance aka “Russell”

 

#4 – Back to dogs as livestock guardians.

Even though there is the added chore of feeding them because they don’t eat the same things as the stock they are guarding like llamas and donkeys do, dogs have the advantages of mobility, intelligence, and aggressiveness.  Our new dog, Bubba, is a rescue from a colleague at work, and you don’t mess with his charges.  The first time I picked up a newborn goat kid with Bubba around, he tried to kill my ass.  In front of my grandmother, no less.  Had me down on the ground, big holes in my best jeans.  So now Bubba gets tied to a fence post or tree whenever I have to work with an animal.  But if he’ll do that to me, I now a coyote or a livestock rustler (yes, those exist and strike often around here) doesn’t stand a chance.  Our neighbors have lost animals to both and so far we have not. Bubba did chase a utility company lineman out of the field and the lineman was yelling to his buddies to “shoot the polar bear!”  Bubba is 140 pounds, but still a bit shy of polar bear status.

 

Bubba

 

 

The bane of Bubba’s existence.

 

#5 – Our infrastructure is improving.

We have 4 fields fenced in now, and water access in all 4 with no lugging of 5-gallon buckets for hundreds of yards, which is good becaause I’m getting old.  All told we have around 45-acres of grazeable land now where even if an electric fence is knocked over by wind or a rogue animal the herd still can’t wander off.  

We’ve installed a water tower to gravity feed water to 2 pastures, a solar pump to supply water to the 3rd, and a couple of ponds to collect water for the animals’ use.

 

2 ponds collect water on the hillside

 

I’ve built Eggmobile 2.0 so that the laying chickens can follow the sheep and cattle around the pasture, filling their ecological niche as nature’s sanitation crew.  This version is much sturdier and more maneuverable than its predecessor.  I’ve also built the pigs a Love Shack to keep them warm in the winter and give them a place to make a nest for their litters.  It can be pulled around the farm as needed to keep the pigs moving around the pastures and woodlots as well.

 

Eggmobile 2.0

 

 

The Love Shack for the large black hogs.

 

#6 – I took a Permaculture Design Course and am now a certified permaculture designer and consultant.

This was one of the best courses I have ever taken, and I have been to a LOT of school!  I took the course from a man named Geoff Lawton, who is well-known in the permaculture world, and I can’t say enough about his teaching ability.

If you are unfamiliar with it, permaculture is a discipline that uses ecological principles to benefit humanity and the environment.  Basically learning how to accentuate and accelerate natural processes in order to create security and an abundance of food, energy, and health.  I highly recommend looking into permaculture.  If you’re reading this blog and not a blood relative of mine, you’ll be interested in it.  If you are a blood relative, you may still be interested.  Because it is interesting.  🙂

I am now able to use my knowledge to create and design properties for people who would like to create a little slice of food-producing, energy-producing, waste-reducing, health-increasing, happiness-inducing oasis on their property.  If you are interested in doing something like that, get in contact with me.  I’d love to help you make your dream come true!  

Geoff Lawton doing his thing.

 

#7 – Lifestyles Lane is ready.

Thanks to the help of our intrepid interns, we now have quite the impressive array of structures back in the village.  I believe I have posted about Haiti, Cambodia, and the urban slum.  We also have India, China, a refugee camp, Moldova, and a Maasai round house.

I am indebted to all of our interns who gave so generously of their time and energy to help us build all of this, so I feel the need to credit their effort by listing them here.  They are:  Cameron Day, Alexa Zanikos, Grayson Middleton, Catherine Alvarez-McCurdy, Katie Black, Annalise Carington, Julian Cross, Dana Eardley, Meredith Prentice, Sam Abney, Jacob Klein, Riley Francis, Allison Vigil, Rachel Seidner, Trevor Antrim (twice!), Bianca Lopez, Mariana Vazquez-Walter, Alex Cohen, Sarah Elizabeth McLaughlin, Emma (King) Fife, Tyler Swank, Hannah Kavy, Laura Prentice, Gabriela Castanon, Jake Weeth, Joy Rathman (twice!), Mackenzie Despain (twice!), Judah Oechsle, Grace Herndon, Abigail Land, Brianna Vitt, Sarah Gonzalez (twice!), Savannah Gonzalez, Liam Day, Caitee Nigro, Nicholas Ochoa, Avery Riester, and Isabella de la Rosa.  Muchas gracias a todos!

It’s been a great couple years.  I will put more effort into keeping this blog more active.  Please ask questions and give feedback in the comments section.

Early Winter

It’s been raining for 4 days straight, so I’ve finally found some time to blog.  I may have to cut this short if it keeps raining and try to teach the chickens how to swim.  Sorry for the long absence, but I’ve been teaching Spanish at the high school lately (yikes!) and with the daylight getting shorter each day I just haven’t found the time to put pencil to paper.  Er, fingers to keyboard.

Since the last blog, we’ve mostly put the gardens to bed.  There are still some greens and peas hanging on, but everything else has been chopped and mulched with leaves from the surrounding trees.  I’ve been working really hard on the gardens this summer and fall.  Next year should be our most ambitious gardens yet!  Lindsey’s dad Ronnie wants to help out with the gardens and essentially combine our labor on the gardens here to produce veggies for both of our families.  I’ve prepped the 2 raised bed gardens that we’ve used the whole time we’ve been here, the 3 Sisters garden that we made two years ago, and the new “straw garden” I made last fall and put to its first use this year.  I’ve also “broken ground” on two new gardens that we’ll use for the first time this coming spring.  One will be another standard garden and the other will be a trellis garden for growing vertically-oriented crops like cucumbers, Malabar spinach, peas and beans, and small squashes.  All of our gardens are created by first closely mowing all of the vegetation.  Then we lay down cardboard sheet mulch to block any regrowth (thanks to Jake and Ronnie’s move we’ve had access to a lot of cardboard).  After that I throw on layers of manure and old hay and straw and let that mix compost in place all winter.  Then in the spring, the garden is ready to go!  Plant, mulch, harvest!  All told, next year we should have almost 12,000 ft² of garden space in production next year!

The Food Forest in the backyard is moving along nicely as well.  This year we managed to get almost of the trees planted!  Our ultimate goal here is to teach people that a phenomenal amount of food can be produced in a regular suburban-sized back yard.  When we moved here there were a few raspberries planted in the backyard, but that was it.  Last year we planted grapevines and built an herb spiral with our interns Cameron and Alexa.  This year we got 5 apple trees in the ground (Gala, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, MacIntosh, and Arkansas Black), 2 plums, 2 sweet cherries, several blueberry bushes, 3 pawpaws, a mulberry, 2 hardy almonds, 2 brown turkey figs, 2 mayhaws, and 2 golden chain trees.  Most of the trees look like sticks right now, although the ones we planted in the spring put on some good growth.  These will be the canopy layer of our Food Forest and we wanted to get them growing as soon as possible since it will take several years for us to begin to see the literal fruits of our labor.  Next year the goal for the Food Forest will be to begin the establishment of the understory plants to grow underneath the trees.  These shorter plants will provide some food, but will also accumulate nutrients, block the grass, and generate mulching material on site.  Right now all the mulch comes from old chicken and rabbit bedding.  These plants will include comfrey, horseradish, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, sea buckthorns, nasturtiums, daffodils, and other shorter plants.  Once the trees get larger, we’ll add some more vining plants for another layer in the forest.

We also got a corral built around the winter quarters for the cattle and goats.  Now the animals should be secure behind a solid physical barrier.  We’ve been using just electric fencing and that isn’t a great winter solution because it doesn’t work very well in the winter.  We can’t keep the batteries charged well in the cold and snow shorts the fence out on occasion.  But now we shouldn’t have to worry about escapes due to faulty fencing.  We’ll be down to just human error now.  No place else for me to hide!

We are continuing to learn about pigs.  I really like them!  They eat a lot, but they are very useful and I can see them improving our woodlots paddock by paddock.  Now if their jaws could just get strong enough to actually crack all of the black walnuts they have access to we could cut the feed bill down significantly!

Finally, we’ve adopted a cow for the short term.  One of our Amish neighbors needed his cow bred, so we traded out our bull Russell’s stud services for some hay.  I didn’t ask Russell for his permission, but I can attest to the fact that he did not mind a bit.  I like this deal a lot.  Our bull knocks up someone else’s heifer and we get a half a winter’s worth of hay from it.  Only with cows…

 

Russell

“Russell”

We spent a while trying to locate a Red Poll bull to whom we could breed our cows and heifers this summer.  We first tried to rent or lease a bull, but we couldn’t find anyone east of the Mississippi who was willing to do that.  Finally, we decided that since we had two bull calves this year (meaning no heifer calves to breed next year), if we bought a bull we would be able to use him for at least two years’ worth of breeding before we would even have to worry about him encountering any breedable female relatives.

Our search led us to Brian Shuter at Shuter Sunset Farms in Frankton, Indiana.  Brian is another member of the American Red Poll Association and we had met him briefly at the 2011 National Sale in Danville.  He said that he had a bull available from his champion bull Tuff Enuff and a high EPD cow from Weise Farms in Kansas.  After talking to Brian, we decided to pull the trigger and get this bull for Good Life Ranch.

Russell’s sire – Shuter Sunset Farms’ Tuff Enuff
Photo courtesy of Shuter Sunset Farms

So on Friday I made the trek up to Indiana to pick up the young bull.  I got there just in time for the semen testing (yay), which the youngster passed.  He weighed 1175 lbs as a 14-month old.  He was good-sized, well filled out, had great conformation, and was docile.  Brian just threw a halter on him and led him to the trailer.  I hope that we can keep him halter trained.  That’s pretty convenient!

It was a long, hot day in the truck with the temperature over 100° F all day.  On the way back I stopped a couple times to fill up a 5-gallon bucket with water for the bull.  But he made it back in good shape and we got him into the paddock with the girls and the goats around dark.  Too dark for pictures, so I waited until the next morning:

Russell and Jack engage in a staring (and spitting) contest.

Don’t worry boys! You’ll be that size in a year, too.

Kickin’ up a dust storm – aka showing off for the ladies.

“What you lookin’ at, kid?”

I’m sure the yearling has an officially registered name, and we’ll find that out when Brian sends us the transferred registration papers next week, but we’ve decided to call him “Russell.”

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2012’s First Internship Session

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For the last 3 weeks we’ve had the pleasure of having 5 interns from the International School of the Americas helping us out on the farm.  Allison Vigil, Jacob Klein, Rachel Seidner, Riley Francis, and Sam Abney have been absolutely wonderful.  They accomplished more than any other group of interns so far – and every group we’ve had has been outstanding!

Some of the things they accomplished while they were here:

  • completed the halfway done Haitian dwelling (separate post coming soon)
  • started and finished an urban slum for Lifestyles Lane (separate post coming soon)
  • planted our 3 Sisters Garden
  • planted our popcorn and sweet potato garden
  • worked with our pigs and got them loaded up to go to the processor’s
  • put the broilers and replacement layers out to pasture
  • raised the rabbits
  • taught the turkeys how to free-range boomerang (come back to roost at night)
  • caught all the goats, weighed the kids, trimmed all the hooves, and herbally wormed the adults
  • rotationally grazed the cattle (and goats)
  • hauled tons and tons of water
  • moved all the rabbit hutches into the shelter of the barn

These guys and girls were absolutely tremendous.  Their major accomplishments will be detailed in subsequent posts, but their presence will be greatly missed.

For more pictures, check out the whole album on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.374729892592146.88189.102369686494836&type=1 

 

Goat Preschool

Goat Preschool

Most of the goat kids are 1 month old now and growing quickly.  We are taking their 30-day weights and most of the kids have made it to 20 pounds in their first month of life.  That’s great – it means that they are healthy and their does are producing plenty of milk for them.

Generally the kids are together in a big group that Lindsey has taken to calling Goat Preschool.

The kids are full of antics.  Every dusk they do this bouncing-around-the-paddock routine that is a combination of hide-and-seek, freeze tag, high jumping, and interpretive dance.  Sometimes the 2 Red Poll calves join in as well but they are shunned.  I can almost hear the goats saying “Too big!  Too big!”

One of the kids’ favorite activities is Cow Surfing.  The kids love to climb on everything – the wheelbarrow I leave for them to play on, the mineral tub and stand, the shade shack, each other – and they will climb on the cows when they lie down as well.  Every once in a while a kid will manage to hang on through the process of the cow standing up and will ride along on the cow’s back for a bit – Cow Surfing!

 

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