For more information on our farm and to order our products, please visit our website at www.yonderwayfarm.com or click on the link to take you there.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
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.