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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Some Thinking

This week I have been doing some serious thinking and evaluating. When you start sustainable farming, teaching the land to be self sufficient and have your animals work for you, there are many trials and experiments that go on. One thing I have noticed and learned is that in this wet season we have had, you are going to battle parasite problems. By choosing not to use commercial dewormers, the battle you will face initially is a tough one. So here is where different experiments and techniques come into play.

We currently use apple cider vinegar (ACV) to help with the problem. After going to the TOFGA conference, we learned that ACV is so much more than a dewormer, it has lots of other internal benefits to the animals. However, ACV cannot come in and take out an already established infestation. It will however, keep an infestation from happening.

When we started, we planned on doing a stocker operation, buying only cows from one source. The individual I buy from has really good cows and has a closed herd himself. All his replacement heifers are from his seed so he doesn't go out and purchase sale barn cows. We get these steers/heifers (we were going to feed out both), when they were weaned and they typically weighed anywhere from 550# sometimes up to 800#. This seemed like a good route to go but then I began to get a little more educated on these things. Yes, if we go the stocker route, we will be able to produce more grass fed, grass finished beef for our customers, but at what cost to us. We do have to purchase each animal so that is a an initial hit but you can make up the cost because the turnaround on the animal is faster than coming from raising the animal calf to finish. But.....

After having the steers/heifers for several months now, I am quickly realizing that though they may all look good initially when they come off their mama's, not all cows are created equally. Just as people I suppose. In the Stockman Grassfarmer, I read that anytime you buy stocker steers, you will usually have 15-20% that are tail-ender cattle. These are cattle that are perfectly healthy animals, but just don't have the genetics and capability of converting forages and energy into the same results as the other 80-85%. How true they are. Then on top of that, these animals are going to be your animals that are more prone to sickness, parasite infestation, and inconsistent weight gains usually a direct cause of the other two. I can't truly try to teach my land to be sustainable if I am always bringing in and inheriting poor herd management and land management from someone elses farm. Essentially that is what I am doing each time I buy a set of cattle for stocker purposes. So what to do?

We have decided to go to a closed herd. Yes this will take more time but after doing research, it is undoubtedly the correct path to take for us. This way, we can control genetics. If they don't match our standards, don't keep them as breeders. We can keep cows that are more fly resistant, shorter, wide bodied, and flesh easier. Keep cows that have good maternal instincts, that have good nipples that aren't too large for the calves to nurse. We will be in complete control of what we keep on the farm and get rid of. In New Zealand, they cull 25% of their cows each year. Is that what we will do, probably not, but that is why they have some of the best genetics in the world for grass fed beef. We want to be able to produce the best possible beef we can on the most consistent basis as possible.

After much research, I think we are going to go to the Red Brangus. I initially was leaning towards Red Angus heifers, sired by a Devon bull, but then I found a local farm just 15 min from our farm that sells Red Angus and Red Brangus. The owner allowed me to come out and look at his operation and boy was it big. 1800 acres, 700-800 head of cattle. Their main product is producing great bulls for breeding stock. I think he said they produce 300+ DNA tested registered bulls on their place. This is where he started talking to me about the benefits of the Red Brangus over the Red Angus, especially for our area.

It is hot and humid here most of the time. We have great early falls and springs, mild winters, and usually hot summers. The Black Angus/Brangus is used extensively in this area. But why? I don't know and he didn't know either. He has been producing great cattle for over 40 yrs in this area and still didn't know why people used them so much. He produces them as well, but only because so many people around here buy them from him. Smart business. But back to the Red Brangus. He feels these are going to be the new movement in the future if people would wisen up. They are red, of course, which makes them much more comfortable, tolerant, and efficient in the hot summers here. Yet handle our mild winters exceptionally well. By having the Brahma in them, they get more heat resistance and better parasite and fly control through natural genetics. By purchasing through him, who puts out lots of heifers and bulls a year, he is constantly working on his genetics. He understands grass fed beef and rotational grazing. He currently rotates all his cows weekly on much bigger tracts and really relies on the forage aspect of the cattle. Very rarely does he feed grain unless his heifers have twins, which he has had 8 sets this last month. He has cattle that are shorter legged, smaller boned, wide bodied, smooth haired, and more fleshing than any I have seen. Great for me, I just have to get him to sell me about 10 of them now along with a great Red Brangus bull built good for grass fed operations. He doesn't want to let any of them go but I hope I can budge ol' Stone Wall. They have a large auction in Oct. so hopefully then, we will be able to purchase a good number of our starter heifers for the beginning of our new herd. Then the fun begins.

But back to the thinking. I know this post is long, but I haven't done one in a while. I also am really wanting to use companion animals more. (ie) chickens and goats.

I ordered 300 layers yesterday so they will be in the end of the month. I have my house ready to use as a brooder for a while until I can get them big enough to go out on grass. They will still stay in that house though for a while with it being open for them to roam around freely. While they are in there, I will hopefully get a good size mobile house built that I can move around in the pastures with the cows. So I have about 2 months there. This will help spread manure and for horn flies and face flies.

The goats I want to help with browsing weeds and other unwanted forage, but also for parasite control. Cattle, goats, chickens, pigs, dogs, pretty much all animals have parasites, just as humans do. In our healthy state, our bodies know how to keep these numbers in balance and we are virtually unaware that we have them. However, in my case with the tail-ender cattle, these guys aren't growing as fast as my good looking healthy thick beeves. So these parasites know that and really vamp things up in their systems. Now I am fighting a battle that is very hard to fight naturally but it can be done. So this is the route we are going to try:

1.) Brix test. This tells you how sweet your forage is and is a good indicator of the parasite loads your pastures naturally have. If you brix is around 3-4, you will have a bad parasite problem. Brix of 7-8, things are much better and the parasites will have a hard chance of survival. Once your Brix gets to 11-12, you will virtually be parasite free. I have no idea where we are but I am going to get a refractometer to do a test. Very important.

2.) Never allow our animals to graze below the two inch height of forage. Currently we don't have this problem because our rye grass is up pretty good and they move daily. But this area has high parasite loads.

3.) Plant more forage so that the animals are able to keep their systems constantly going. We are way understocked at this time but in the summer, this will be big for us. I want them to always have more than enough forage so that when they move, there will be around 20% residual.

4.) Goats. These guys are a deadend host to cattle parasites so what enters them, dies there. No eggs layed, no larvae hatching, drastic drop in numbers quickly almost to the point of extinction over time.

5.) Continue on ACV. This keeps healthy cows healthy and can help turn your slightly infested back on the right track. I will continue to give this 3 days out of the month.

So this is what I will be working on here in the next 2 months or so. Sorry this is so long but maybe this will help others out. Good thing, is that I have 30 or so grass fed beeves that are doing great. I can't wait to be able to finish them out on our good spring grasses and see how the results are.


Steven said...

Have you looked into using Basic H for worming? I think we're going to try it soon.

Rich said...

I've always liked the look of Red Angus cattle, red-hided cattle seem to better match the color of our native pastures.

I think the bias towards Red Angus is due to a calving problem associated with one line of the breed that was used to establish the breed. A bull named Cherokee Canyon caused narrow hipped heifers that have difficulty calving. I might be mistaken, but I think something like that is one of the reasons for the bias. Red Brangus probably wouldn't have the calving problem due to genetic influence of the Brahman breed.

In addition, Black Angus cattle have benefited right or wrong from the Certified Angus Beef program, if cattlemen or consumers think that the color black is somehow superior they will usually pay more for it.

Of course, if you direct market your cattle and explain to your customers WHY you choose to raise Red Brangus it might enable you to better contrast your product with the grain-fed Certified Angus Beef on the market.

Sarah Shalley said...

I hope I'm not rushing you by asking, but how will ya'll be selling the beef? I have never had grass fed beef and would love to taste the work of Farmer Jason! I just can't take a whole cow though. We live in the city and our freezers aren't that big! Haha. We're interested! I'm on spring break next week so if you and Lyns are free on the same day, I would LOVE to come out for a visit...maybe late in the week?


ps - Dad really enjoyed catching up by reading the blog. We laughed and laughed at both you and Lynsey. We LOVE your stories and the way you tell them.

Ethan Book said...

Great post Jason! From the beginning (partially because of our purebred Dexters) I decided I wanted a closed herd. I wanted to be able to improve my cows through culling and breeding and take care of the entire herd. Plus like you mentioned I would then have better control of disease, parasites, and other things.

I am interested in hearing more about your goat operation and who you plan to sell to. I have been blogging about goats lately and am interested in learning more.

Kramer said...

First of all, thanks everyone for reading such a long post with no pictures or anything.

Steven- I have heard of basic h but very little. I know there has to be a way to get our pastures sustainable through proper management practices. Luckily, I have only 4-5 cows that are tail-enders. All my others are doing great. These 4-5 I will continue to use for pasture renovation but will probably just eventually get rid of them and hope to break even on them. However, just in pasture renovation, they are earning their keep.

Rich- I think your right. Luckily, the rancher I found has had all his cattle come from his heard for such a long time that he is now working on his very own unique genetics. He prefers his Red Brangus to be shorter, smaller boned, wide and more fleshing. So that is what he has bred down to. He told me this year, out of around 500 calves born, he has had to assist one. Pretty good I thought. Also, I know commercially, one of the main reason black angus do better is because of their hides. Packing plants pay more for them because they can send the hides off for tanning. I think on average, at a sale barn you can get $25-35 more a head.

Sarah- Thanks so much. We will be having a fair amount of product available this summer so we are currently getting prices together along with our website. I have had so many people want the pastured pork that I will probably take deposits for them pretty soon so that they will be accounted for.

As far as visiting, anytime. Just call or email Lyns and she will know more about our schedules.

Ethan- I will more just be using the goats for pasture renovation. Probably for a range of 5 years or so. We have so much pasture that it would be hard to sustain healthy goats because they prefer browsing over grazing. If I force them to eat grass all the time, I will then get into issues with the goats because that is not what they need. But for the meantime, I have plenty of weeds and stuff right now. The US imports 80% of the goat meat for sale currently so I know I can load them up and sell the kids in Houston. Huge market with the foreigners in Houston.

The Kramer Family said...

So proud of you Honey! I'm so on board with this.

And it is a little weird that you are talking about another heffer's nipples, isn't it?

HisPrincess said...

I know this isn't entirely relevant, but I grew up on a cattle station in North Queensland. We bred Brahmans and they were well suited to the warmth and humidity. We had a quiet one who we used to show called Bill. I will always remember Bill the Brahman fondly! He was such a gentle giant!

Good luck with your endeavours!

farm mom said...

Very thoughtful post. While I cannot relate, if I were a potential customer reading your blog I would be sufficiently impressed. And I love your wife's comment, she cracks me up. You have a great partner to help you along on your new adventures. Good luck!

Steven said...

On Basic-H: Of course, Joel Salatin uses it, but I've been trying to read more on it lately. My wife went to a little store yesterday to buy some and there was an Amish farmer in there buying 5 gallons of it, and some nutritional drink... all for his cattle. The Basic-H is an organic cleaner that can be fed through the water at about 1 cup per 100gallons for 2 days as a wormer. This amish guy is putting a little in his water troughs all the time because he says it makes them more efficient at feed conversion. Through what I've read it ends up costing about .50 cents per head or less to worm this way.

I also hope to keep parasite loads down through rotations, chickens, etc. but I figure that in Salatin still needs a wormer than I will too.

Kramer said...

Babe- that is too funny about the nipples. I thought it sounded weird when I typed it but I didn't know what else to put.

Steven- I have been looking at the Basic H but can't find much about it other than cleaning. I can only find one brand. Is there several brands or where can I find more info on it? Thanks

Sarah Shalley said...

Ya'll are funny! Teats or udders would have worked, but nipples didn't bother anybody!


QuiltedSimple said...

I'm impressed. Sounds like you are on the right path for raising beef. I think you're better off to do the closed herd route, especially for raising grass fed beef. Have you looked into A/I bulls yet for your cows? Good luck,

Rich said...

I've also been thinking about the subject of internal and external parasite control lately.

It might sound crazy, but after finding the following online:

I was thinking about the role an increased population of dung beetles might play in controlling the populations of parasites like worms, or horn flies. I was actually thinking of building a dung beetle farm to boost and/or rebuild the dung beetle population, with the idea that it would be cheaper and better than buying any kind of applied parasite control product.

Just think, dung beetle farms might soon replace ant farms at the elementary science fair. Imagine the commercials, "it makes a great gift", or "fun for both kids and adults".

hillbilly2be said...
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Kramer said...

Thanks Ron. That is always encouraging to hear. I appreciate you taking the time to read about our lives and hope you continue to do so. Where are you located and do you have interests in farming?

Once again, thanks.

hillbilly2be said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich said...

Your mention of planning to do some Brix tests with a refractometer is interesting. After reading your post, I did a little online searching, went around smelling different bales of hay and different grasses, and I definitely noticed that there is a certain sweet smell to what seems to be higher quality forages.

Are you planning on using the same type of hand-held refractometer that is used to test the sugar content of grapes in the wine making process? Where can I get some more information about Brix testing forages?

Kramer said...


I first learned of Brix Testing from Dr. Will Winters, a veterinarian for Thousand Hills Cattle Company. He stressed that Brix testing is one of the only true ways tell the state of your forage and pastures.

I don't know a whole lot about it. Still learning through the internet. But he did use the hand regragtometers. It was a very simple process which will give you a baseline of where your pastures are. Sorry I am not more knowledgeable of this.

james paul said...

Small bits of content which are explained in details, helps me understand the topic, thank you!