February 2, 2017 • 0 comment(s)
They are ready to be harvested, at four years of age rather than two, which is customary for a "finished" grassfed animal. We observe that older animals offer more flavorful fat, so we don't worry if they aren't ready as soon as the "industry" suggests. Some of our best steaks have been from 8 and 9 year-old cows, who have had plenty of time to mature. Another aspect of "finishing" a steer in 24 months or less is he needs to consume a lot of high-quality feed to do so. We finished our first batch of steers in 20 months by feeding them baled alfalfa for about six months. It worked great, but the cost was too high. Another option is to grow annuals, like Sudan grass, turnips, wheat, cereal rye, and graze or harvest those for "finishing". But those are costly to grow as well, requiring considerable equipment for tillage or use of herbicides, both of which we try to avoid. Planting annual crops means forgoing perennial forages. It is perennial forages that protect the soil and offer opportunity to build organic matter at least cost. Over the past two years, organic matter in many of our pastures has increased 50%, by implementing a tight grazing plan with our growing herd of cattle. As we have discussed, organic matter is the gold standard for providing nutrients to plants and resilience in drought. In the one field we plowed for organic corn, "o.m." dropped by 50%.
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January 26, 2017 • 0 comment(s)
They look rather exhausted, and are finding repose upon the remains of a bale of hay. Wouldn't it be the life only to work 45 days a year, with room-service provided the balance of the time?!
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January 19, 2017 • 0 comment(s)
Last week the post-pounder drew blood and this week I wallowed in mud to fix a leaking waterline. Such is the unyielding dedication of grass farmers.
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January 12, 2017 • 0 comment(s)
Managing livestock in the winter is simpler in some ways than during the growing season. Because grass is dormant, we don't worry about impact upon it from livestock, so we don't move water troughs as they advance forward. They go back to a central watering point within 30 acres. We also don't worry about providing shade for cattle. But if problems arise with the water system, executing repairs is a lot more challenging in the cold. One definition of misery is fixing a leaking waterline, three feet down, in wet, cold, mud... Fortunately we aren't required to do that often. Cold, dry weather is better than wet, muddy conditions. We try to keep animals out of the mud by keeping them moving. Migration is basic tenant of well-being for animals, in both winter and summer.
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January 5, 2017 • 0 comment(s)
The very dry fall induced an alternate strategy for feeding cows this winter. Typically we first graze through all fescue pastures, which usually takes us into February, and then feed hay for another six weeks until grass begins to grow. This approach works well when the period for feeding hay is relatively short. Because quality of hay is generally fairly poor and our cows are lactating, we can't extend this scenario much longer than two months. Given the dry fall prevented normal growth of pastures this year, we would be out of grass by the end of December, had we adopted the typical strategy.
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December 15, 2016 • 0 comment(s)
Their roofs are like the flanks of mares, the arms and the hair of wives. The future prepares its satisfaction in them. In their dark heat I labor all summer, making them ready. A time of death is coming, and they desire to live. It is only the labor surrounding them that is manly, the seasonal bringing in from the womanly fields to the womanly enclosures. The house too yearns for life, and hot paths come to it out of the garden and the fields, full of the sun and weary. The wifeliness of my wife is its welcome, a vine with yellow flowers shading the door. Wendell Berry
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December 8, 2016 • 0 comment(s)
... bringing lightness to nearby woods, charred by fire. This is a great time of year to witness the character of trees in the forest. When travelling back from charred acreage several weeks ago, the beauty and intrigue of the naked trees caught my attention. The forest felt particularly magnificent and courageous, like the homeplace of Nature, spawning and harboring all of life. The smooth grey of Beech trees both reflected and obscured light, bringing brilliance and shadows to winter woods, as in the lower left. One tends to think of trees as being linear and erect, but the Maple sapling on the lower right experienced a humorous and perhaps painful detour to its path, as transpires with so many of us... The human story is fully recounted in the forest, which is why we have to protect it. For it is us.
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December 1, 2016 • 0 comment(s)
We have enjoyed beneficial rains every week of the spring and summer, making for an ideal growing season, until mid-August. Since then, we have not received more than two inches of rain. Two Saturdays ago, the wind was high, the grass was dry, the leaves on the forest floor were very dry, and a neighbor at the top of the hill started an habitual trash-fire in her back yard around noon. By 1:00 we could see thickening and spreading plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. We could also hear sirens of fire engines approaching. The trash-fire had escaped onto dry grass and rapidly advanced into our forest. A level of dread arose, from our distance, as the prospect of a full-fledged forest fire seemed imminent... Fortunately, the neighbor had called the fire department right away, and by the time I arrived at the scene with shovel in hand, the flame was largely contained by heroic firemen. But several acres of under-story of our woods had burned and could have spread over several hundred acres. It was a very close call and an alarming event that caught everybody's attention. This brief experience with large fire apprised me how small and vulnerable one is when confronting a serious inferno. Interestingly, the primary tool for arresting the spread of the fire was a leaf-blower, as depicted in the picture below on the right.
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November 17, 2016 • 0 comment(s)
This hand-painted statement is affixed in our barn. It stems from Acts 17 in the new Testament, and first came to our attention through Berea College, where it serves as a cornerstone of values. The extensive and active dialogue in which this country is now engaged is reminding us of our commonality, above all, and how we are indeed of one blood.
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November 4, 2016 • 0 comment(s)
We wrestle with some anxiety as the leaves turn, because the odyssey that faithfully takes us from summer to winter, and from summer markets to winter markets, typically reduces our income by half. Many regular customers from the summer market disappear over the winter. We wonder why - perhaps because the social aspect of the marketplace is less, the winter market is more inconvenient due to adverse weather, or the novelty wears off... But nutrient-dense foods are not novelties; they are basic staples of life, upon which civilizations and well-being have depended over millennia.
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October 28, 2016 • 0 comment(s)
This farm is located 20 miles from Ft. Wayne, Indiana and is run by the seven sons of Mr. & Mrs. Hitzfeld. They have been direct-marketing pasture-based foods since 2000, and have become the dominant producer and marketer in the Midwest, distributing product to cities throughout Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan. All of their business is conducted through on-line transactions and deliveries to neighborhoods every six weeks. What is more, they are willing to consult with aspiring producers and marketers, like ourselves. It seemed prudent to sit at their feet for several hours, and it was. Below are Blaine and Blake, both of high character and intelligence.
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October 21, 2016 • 0 comment(s)
Seeds for Wool Grass on the left below and Elderberry on the right have been painstakingly collected this past month by Naturalist - Kathy Kipp. They, along with False Indigo, Nine Bark, and Buttonbush, are drying in thrift-shop sheets, by hanging in the wind. They will be cleaned, sifted, and then broadcast in December by Kathy and Jacob Bartley onto bare patches of soil, in 100-foot buffer zones surrounding our wetlands.
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