As we close out the year, our record books, and send off all the data we are required to by various agencies and breed registries, I find myself looking forward with excitement. We have a new poultry producer coming on board with pastured birds so our quality can remain high and we can broaden our offerings. We renewed our grazing leases for another 5 years so we can keep our cattle herds separated and production at optimum levels. The seed is going in for the irrigated pastures, the mowing is all done down here in the valley, the water truck is fixed so we have no trouble filling cisterns up on the hill, and our sheep flocks are producing like gangbusters!
My young dogs are really starting to get the hang of things although there are definitely cow dogs and sheep dogs in the group! Monk could care less about sheep but works the yearling steers along side his dad like a pro! (okay he cheap shots once in a while but he's just a year old!) Cricket is more settled on cows and Bella has perfect balance. As far as the sheep work goes, Tweed is 11 now and slowing down but Grace and her two pups are picking up the slack. I have to admit, working T is like driving a cadillac and the young dogs are more like Ferrari's. I'd gotten really spoiled! Fly is super quick and listens like her uncle T, where Sweep is a bit more single minded and needs to be reminded who's boss once in a while. Sooty still would rather be a couch potato but Smudge is coming on. He'll make a heck of a farm dog and does really well close in. I have to say, 1 good dog is worth 10 ranch hands most days! (except for the days I take a green colt out to work stock with young dogs, then I need to be an octopus!)
We've decided to double what we hold for grass fed and finished production so no one gets told no next year. Our steers are averaging about 700lb at weaning which is great!(that puts them around 1500+ at slaughter) People are really liking the Piedmontese crosses and we're going to breed more this next year. I love it when an experiment works! These cattle are larger than our Aberdeen Angus and Simangus and the unique muscling characteristics are really going to be a bonus. Like the Charolais they carry the gene for double muscling, but the Piedmontese only carries 1 gene and doesn't become tough like the Charolais when kept on grass that extra year. They still calve easily unlike the Belgian Blue and their conversion on grass is amazing! I like medium framed cattle as opposed to the little guys, they have to be able to travel across the pastures and climb hills. We tried some small breeds a few years ago and have kept the belties because they are a rare breed, but for us a 300lb yield isn't worth the effort that goes in to getting that steer ready to market.(it takes the same amount of time to finish a miniature as it does a full sized cow) I have a friend that raises miniature Herefords and she does a great business with those little guys but 900lb live weight vs 900lb hanging just doesn't add up for us. (she'll tell you the opposite form her point of view, "Meg, people like to get a whole cow for under a grand!" and I'm sure in her case she's right)
We're rolling right along with sheep production as well, the commercial flocks will continue to be Suffolk and Dorper cross, again because our customer base seems to really like 5" loin chops! Our Khatadin's are about half the size and I like them a lot due to their extremely mild flavor. The chop pops are amazing but I want more than 1 bite! Some folks like smaller portions and that's fine too. We've had a lot of fun this year with pigs too! Phil still is doing the Berkshires and Duroc pigs on pasture and we picked up some crosses for fun here at the farm. What great tractors! my garden plot never looked so good! In March the Mule Foot Hogs arrive and by next Christmas we'll be able to see what they taste like!
We're getting ready for the partial move up to the Hill Ranch where we have 10 times the space that we do here on the Home Farm so we will be able to showcase more of what we do. I can't wait! This place is fast becoming more of a learning center, Canning and production classes are filling fast and my travel schedule has expanded quite a bit for next year, I'm also firming up a book deal and our PBS special airs in the next couple of months. Multi Generational Farming and Ranching is the backbone on which this country was built and I am grateful to be able to carry on the tradition, while at same time bringing innovation and education into the lives of those interested in how we get your food "From Conception to Consumption"(tm)
Next time: An illustration of what builds great beef!