Updated: DANGHOLSTEIN!: The final chapter

For those of you who have kindly been following along with our cow follies, today the DANGHOLSTEIN! chapter of our journey comes to an end when Sheldon drives her to the happy hunting ground (aka the butcher who will process her) in the sky.

courtesy of soda head

courtesy of soda head

After she is dispatched, the meat will age at the butcher for a couple of weeks and then we will be able to pick up our cuts.  We have sold half of the cow for zero profit (should be at least break even) and will probably sell/trade a little bit more of her.  Since this was our first endeavor and not the breed that we are making a long term run with, our goal was just to fill our freezers up with grass fed beef for the winter.

While DANGHOLSTEIN! isn’t anyone’s automatic choice when it comes to beef cows, we have learned that it’s not uncommon for a Holstein to go to processing after her milking days are over.  Plus, we believe that the benefits of a grass fed cow are so incredibly strong, we have a hard time being anything but grateful for the meat that she will provide to us.  We anticipate the meat to be sweet-probably sweeter than what we have had in grass fed Angus and/or Belties, but we shall see.

We have talked candidly to the Blueberry about today’s event.  In fact, she has started licking her lips when we drive past DANGHOLSTEIN! in the pasture.  Something that creeps me out to no end if I’m going to be honest….but, I appreciate that my little pragmatic farm girl can take such a matter of fact perspective on this process.

Today in about an hour, our family will gather together to say a prayer over DANGHOLSTEIN! to thank her for her blessings on our family and wish her a speedy journey into the happy hunting ground.  For animal lovers, this may rankle, but our perspective is that we have probably provided her a much better life than she ever would have gotten in a commercial feedlot, plus her meat will provide for our family (and other families)-her life will not be wasted.  So, I guess in the end, she will not be DANGHOLSTEIN! at all, but despite the frustrations of learning to raise cattle, she will instead be known as ThankyouHolstein in our family.

UPDATED:

We heard from the Happy Hunting Ground (aka Cloud’s Meat Processing) that TYHolstein’s hang weight was 570 lbs.  While we didn’t know her live weight at time of butchering (she wouldn’t fit on my weight watchers scale…), the average percentage of hang weight versus live weight is typically between 60-63% with some range up to the high 60’s.  Taking this into account, she either had a big roll of quarters in her pocket or she lost weight from the time we purchased her to the time we took her to process.  We learned some things along the way from this, the purchase of our first feeder cow.  If we have to buy another feeder cow (hoping our #Beltie herd will be built up before that is necessary), we won’t do it during the height of summer.  Lands were dry, grasses were puny and while the cows had plenty to eat, it wasn’t the grass-a-palooza that we saw early this spring.  We also learned that we aren’t buying another heifer unless she is going to be used for some baby makin’!  For some reason, TYHolstein didn’t like our existing herd and ran like proverbial hell to get in our neighbors pasture with his Angus heifers.  Not sure why, but she never looked back and once a cow is committed, well, I think she is like a stubborn old woman-no changing her mind.  We think had we bought her younger, she would have had more time to acclimate to our herd.  I’m sure as the months/years go on, we’ll figure out what else we did wrong this go around, but at least for now, we remain forever grateful for her gifts.

Found on these blog hops:

found at www.modernhomesteaders.net.  Go check 'em out!

found at http://www.modernhomesteaders.net. Go check ’em out!

 

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It’s getting hot in here! A newbie’s guide to hay combustion

The other day as he was leaving for work, Sheldon made an offhand comment about keeping an eye on the hay so the heat doesn’t build up.  When I must have given him my usual whatyoutalkinboutwillis face, he told me that hay can spontaneously combust.  While I was able to keep my facial composure, I cannot tell a lie that in my head I immediately thought that he must be smokin banana peels and that was just another crazy thought from his sometimes paranoid mind.

Except, he was right.  Kinda….

Now, our hay hasn’t combusted since I had my smart arse thoughts.  As far as I know, it’s still minding it’s own business in the barn awaiting the day that our cows/Festus will convert it to poop.  However, being the Bing-er that I am, I had to get online and see what the deal is.   From what I could research on a couple of sites (including this excellent one from WSU), hay isn’t going to spontaneously combust just ’cause you talk ugly to it.  A variety of factors need to build up including heat, moisture (ironic, no?) and bacteria.  Obviously this isn’t going to happen overnight.  But if you have packed your barn tight with hay with limited air passage around your bales, you may find that you have created the kind of environment where moisture and heat can get easily trapped.  So, what’s a newb to do?

Well, think about foundation/stacking.  Most of our bales are small squares that one adult can easily pick up.  We also have some large round bales that we got from a neighbor, but they aren’t a huge concern.  We are planning to use those first just to get them out.  For the rest of our bales,  we have created stacks of hay that are loose-ish.  That is, they are strong enough that our 5 year old can stand on a stack, but not tight enough that I would trust her (or us) up there alone.  This allows air to pass through and reduces the chance for moisture build up.  In addition, we have stacked our bales up off the ground.  While our barn is solidly built, our floor is dirt meaning that moisture will seep up with anything that is in direct contact with the ground.  Some freecycled pallets worked well as our foundation to get the bales off the ground.

You also want to decide to cover/not to cover.  Sure, any rains that you get could eventually get dried by the sun but what are you losing in that process?  Not only are you increasing your chances of more moisture, more bacteria=greater risk for combustion, but you are also junking up your hay.  Remember, unless you are using this hay as bedding for animals, you need to be mindful of protein content.   If you don’t want to be running to the feed store once a week to feed your cows/donkeys, you need to make sure that the hay you supply is still a good source of protein for your animals.   A study by the University of Minnesota West Central Experiment Station at Morris, Minnesota has some great information on hay storage and the resulting effects of protein loss based on storage method.

So, while I’m not saying that we have figured it out in terms of hay production and storage (Ha!  We’re a long way from there)  but, I do feel better having spent the time to do some research so that I feel confident about how we are protecting this investment.  Look forward to hearing from anyone who has even more info to share!  Happy Haying!

I’ve been a lame blogger but a busy homesteader, Part 1: Cow Drama

I think it’s been several weeks since our last update of any value. But holy smokes, have we been busy here on Blueberry Acres Farm. Let me just give you the down and dirty update of the last few weeks on the cow front:

Went to cow auction to buy feeder cow. Purchased Holstein heifer. I received hilarious education in cattle prices that I will use to shame myself in later post.

Two days after receiving feeder cow that we have decided to originally name DANGHOLSTEIN! (explanation to follow later again…), we purchased a guard donkey named Festus for 50 smackers off Craigslist.

We work it out with our neighbor to get his cousin to cut our side pasture, which is 8-10 acres of too high grass. As a result, we need to move our tiny herd to what I refer to as our valley pasture so that he can cut our hay.

I wake up early on Mother’s day. I know…I should have gotten to sleep in, but that stupid circadian rhythm kicked in. I decide instead of waiting for Sheldon to handle walking these cows through what was probably snakey infested waist high grass, I would put on my big girl panties and do it myself. Blueberry decided to watch from the fence line (probably because I threatened her with every trick in the book to keep her out of the same probably snakey pasture) and cheered me on. While Festus nibbled on my hair, DANGHOLSTEIN followed too close next to him (did I mention that she was about 900 pounds at purchase?), and our Belties following a polite distance behind, I rattled my bucket of sweet feed for all I was worth while simultaneously scanning for snakes and cursing my now lost courage. But, I got those cows/donkey through the gate and closed it up. I was quite proud of myself!

Awaken the next morning to find all 3 cows back in the side pasture along with Festus. Curse them all tremendously and attempt to get them back into the valley pasture. Have the freaking GENIUS idea that I can just lead them from the gate in the “backyard” to the next gate to the valley pasture. Did I mention that I have to get across a totally open space, around Blueberry’s playset and our clothesline to get to this second gate? It made sense at the time. I let Festus out first (tactical mistake, I know that now) and get him to the second gate with ease, feed rattling, and only a little bit of anxiety. Think that this actually means that the cows will follow suit. See that Pia (the pregnant Beltie) is up next, open the gate and somehow manage to get her all the way across the backyard without incident. Turn to open the gate, turn back around and that ninja cow is gone. She is moving up the yard towards the front yard. Somehow I manage to redirect her and again lose her at the gate. She makes her way back to the original gate where she attempts to get back in to her little pal Maureen. I manage to get her back into this gate without incident other than the fact that I need to change my pants now. Decide that I can once again duplicate my walk through the snakey pasture, so attempt to get Larry, Curly and Moe to follow me, only to realize halfway through the pasture that I am Larry/Curly/Moe and these cows have outsmarted me…they are walking in the opposite direction despite my big bucket of sweet feed.  Take the walk of shame back to the house passing Festus who I let back in the side pasture in defeat.

A couple of days after getting Festus home, I find myself running down the dirt road yelling DANGHOLSTEIN! as she runs away from me in a focused attempt to get to our neighbor’s herd of cattle. No amount of sweet feed treats was bringing her back.  About this time Sheldon pulls up on his way home from work.  I tell him what happens, and he goes to park his truck in front of the house, which is about 1/4 mile away from me.  By this point, somehow Pia had found the weak spot in the fence (that DANGHOLSTEIN!) had served to make when she leapt over it and she was now on the loose too.  So, I’m standing on our road with DANGHOLSTEIN! the feeder cow going one way and Pia, the beloved mother Beltie who was helping to start our herd going the other way.  I decided to handle Pia and God bless her, she came right back to me with nothing other than voice commands and kind words.  She got right back in the pasture.  About this time, I had called for reinforcements from Sheldon (by called, I mean shrieked into the phone in the most unappealling way possible) and he pulled up to deal with DANGHOLSTEIN!…he crested the hill on our road just in time to watch her do a cow-jumping-over-the-moon impersonation when she cleared our neighbor’s cattle fence to get to the cow of her dreams.  She did not even touch his perfectly sound fence-just cleared that thing like it was a foot high.

Fast forward a couple of weeks…

Fences are repaired.  Sheldon wanted to get an electric cattle fence for DANGHOLSTEIN!, but I think I have talked him down off that ledge.  Seems kinda silly for one feeder cow who is probably only a month or two from becoming dinner.

The Belties and Festus are still in the valley pasture awaiting the mysterious cousin who is supposed to cut our hay.  It’s been hard to get more than a day or two without some kind of moisture, so I’m sure we’re at the bottom of his list of things to do.  We’re considering hiring someone to do it (because we don’t have the necessary equipment, nor do we have a need for it with our small 15ish acreage), but we’re hoping that Cousin Whateverhisname comes through.

DANGHOLSTEIN!  remains in with the neighbor’s cattle.  He is a super nice guy who is going to bring her over to us and actually put her into the correct valley for us (actually for me since I’m the only one home during the day) next time he manages to get her in the corral.  Otherwise, he’s cool with her remaining there until it’s time to do otherwise.  Can you imagine a neighbor in a suburb being that laid back about an animal infringing on their property?  Yeah, me neither…

We made the investment in our own little stock trailer.  We had found a very inexpensive rental place for trailers in a nearby town, but when we saw the opportunity to get our own, we thought it would be a good investment for us in the long run.

It looks like we will be getting a bull in the near future.  Our original bull didn’t pass his motility test (for those of you scratching your head, that means his swimmers were sluggish….), but this bull is from the same farm and from what I can gather, comes from Missouri Beltie royalty.  If he passes all of his necessary tests, we’ll add him to the herd with the hopes that when the time is right for Maureen, they will make sweet cow music together.

Well, I know this post is devoid of helpful links or interesting pics, but dang..this is about all I can manage these days.  If I could go back and tell my 2012 winter self to sleep up in preparation for our first spring/summer on the farm, I would have.  Unfortunately, I just can’t seem to find my flux capacitor….

We’ll share more soon.  Lots of chicken and turkey drama in part 2.  Until then, happy homesteading!

Choosing a heritage breed cow for your homestead

It’s been a few days of having our beginning herd home here on Blueberry Acres and we’re learning that much like every other animal, cows have their own unique identity and personality.  Maureen (the little one) is highly curious about our barn cats.  She is quite nosey and it’s obvious that she wants to explore the cats with smell and probably taste since she licked the wooden fence post that one of our barn cats, Peter had sat on just seconds prior.  Pia (the pregnant one) is a little more cautious.  Apparently we are her third farm and she is a little more apprehensive about us and the situation in general.  She doesn’t seem to display the same amount of “ooooh a cat!” as Maureen, and I suppose that is ok.

 

But, beyond these specific personality traits, our decision to build a herd of Belted Galloways was a strategic one.  We knew we wanted to concentrate on a heritage or less common breed.  Here are some of the things that we discovered specific to this particular heritage breed:

Temperment:   Generally speaking, these cattle are more docile.  They are not overly aggressive and as a result, we believe that they will be very well suited to our small hobby farm.

Size:  Galloways are typically smaller than your average Angus cow.  Maureen was born in 2011 and the top of her head doesn’t even come to my shoulder (and let’s not lie-my shoulder isn’t that far off the ground) which makes her a little easier to handle.  In addition to just having less body mass, this also makes them easier and cheaper to transport.

Feed:  Galloways are excellent at processing food/grass where some breeds will desire more specific grasslands, Galloways are genetically predisposed to make the most of the grassland that they have due to their heritage.  In addition, Galloways have been known to consume about 75% of what a typical Angus would take in but still produce the same amount of meat.  However, that is not to mean that they produce lower quality beef.  Quite the opposite, as Galloways are known for…

Beef:  High quality, lower fat meat is the by-product of both their genetic makeup as much as the fact that most Galloway producers (like us) are either grass-fed and/or grass-fed AND finished.  We’ll be in that later category-grass all the way.

Adaptable to varied conditions:  Given that this breed started in Scotland, I don’t think I would recommend them for a farm in Hawaii, but in the diverse Missouri climate, they are well-suited as they will produce a double coat in the winter to protect them from harsh winds and weather.

So, for us, this breed just became the best of the best in terms of value, disposition, and meat quality.  As our herd grows, we will eventually begin breeding ourselves as well as selling meat products.  As our herd grows, we may add an Angus or two just to see what a Beltie/Angus cross is like, but we will also make sure that we do our part to preserve the lineage of this amazing breed.  The breeder that we purchased our girls from also sold us some ground beef and it was FANTASTIC!  We know that building a herd is going to be slow going for this uncommon breed, but we think the investment will be well worth it.  After all, isn’t homesteading all about the journey and not the destination?  Happy Homesteading!

This post also appeared on Modern Homesteaders.  We love the info there-go check them out!

Desperately seeking oreos….

Oreo cows that is!  We are ready to add cows to the pasture here at Blueberry Acres and I’m wondering if any of you out there in the blogosphere have suggestions for finding Belted Galloways, aka oreo cows.  We have contacted breeders but are finding that so many of them are more interested in show cows vs. hamburger cows that I’m not confident that we are contacting the right people!  So, other farmer/homesteaders…have you had experience in researching and buying the “alternative” breeds?  We would love to hear from you!

pic courtesy of wikipedia

pic courtesy of wikipedia

 

 

 

Barn-Hop

Teaching our children about the circle of life

No, I’m not talking about the song from The Lion King…I’m talking about where our food comes from! So many times I think we forget about the value of teaching our children that hamburger is not actually made in a factory or chicken doesn’t actually come in nugget shapes.  I think it’s so important to teach our children to respect the animal just as they should respect the farmer that grew, raised and processed that meat. This is a big part of why we moved to Blueberry Acres-to teach our Blueberry where our food comes from. By doing so, we hope that we will instill in her a life-long respect for food. Both Sheldon and I grew up in the 70’s where companies were going crazy trying to figure out ways to better engineer our food. Remember Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman?

courtesy IMDB

Well, that is not what I want food to be like for my child.  A food product that is engineered so past how God intended it.  Our taste buds delight in the fat, salt, sugar and who knows what else, but what are we really putting into our bodies?  Sometimes I wonder if my constant battles with food are a result of spending a couple of decades eating total crap in the name of supposedly healthy meals.  I also know that I’m not alone- weight related problems have reached epidemic proportions.  Self control (or lack thereof) has to always be the first stop in deciding what’s making your butt jiggle like gelatin, but beyond that, you have to ask….are cheesy poufs, diet soda and over processed “health food” making us fat asses?

courtesy of Great Plains Earth Institute…I would add in a section of People eat animals in between them eating the plants and them poo’ing all over everything..

Enter teaching our children about the circle of life as a better way to look at food.   This means some hard lessons for both children and parents.  See that cow-yes, we’re going to eat it.  You know that chicken?  Yep, he was dinner last night.  Not always easy conversations to have with an animal loving kid.  We’ve been building the crescendo for our circle of life lessons since we left the city over a year ago.  We knew we would buy a farm eventually, so we wanted to get Blueberry used to the idea that bacon isn’t just yummy, it’s also pig.  As a result, we’ve had some frank conversations with her about where her meat comes from.  And while we think we’re getting through, there are still times where she has that “oh f dash dash dash” moment where it all comes together and she really gets that we are not just saying it’s chicken for dinner tonight.  We’re saying it’s Lana the chicken for dinner tonight.  So, here are some things that we have done to introduce the circle of life to her-not just in food, but in all areas:

  • We’ve openly talked about death.  Unfortunately, we have had 2 grandparents and 1 parent die in the last 18 months.  While Blueberry only knew one of these people, the deaths hit people she loved very hard.  We took these opportunities to talk to her about how death is inevitable and a natural part of the life cycle.  We also took that opportunity to talk to her about our personal beliefs around Heaven and the afterlife.
  • We’ve talked openly about birth.  While we haven’t opened the baby making can of worms, we have talked to her about how she was born, delivered, etc as part of the circle of life.
  • But, we’ve also used animals and plants to talk about it.  We’ve discussed how dead plants and/or animals provide food for others be it roadkill providing food for scavenger animals or dead plants providing nutrition for live plants in the future.  As a result, she’s beginning to realize that everything has a place in the hierarchy of life.  Let’s face it-we don’t like our kids to see that dead dog on the side of the road.  But, when you can talk about how his body will provide nutrition for others who will live as a result, it takes a little bit of the sting out of it.  Driving home from the store yesterday, we saw a dead raccoon.  She asked if we could say a prayer for it and in her prayer, she included some thoughtful words about its body providing for others.  That realistic but still empathetic reaction sure as heck beats a kid crying over the loss of an animal that she cannot help.

This journey has not been an easy one, nor do I anticipate it to get any easier…especially after she falls in love with her first cow.  I would imagine that there will be many tears shed on that fateful day when the big eyed cow goes for processing.  And while I honestly believe I will be right there with her shedding a tear or two, I firmly believe that by letting her experience at least part of the birth/death circle, she will better love and respect all living creatures for the broad range of gifts that they give us.