Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Have you ever felt like you were walking on a pontoon bridge with no hand ropes? Yeah! Whew! Scary, exciting, disturbing, all the adjectives come to mind. Taking a position that shifts my focus away from the farm full time, Changing my base of operation, Bringing people in to manage my stock, and the Biggie, Letting the home farm become a rescue. What Monumental shifts! I'm used to being hands on 24-7 and the shift has and is humbling and a bit uncomfortable. Thank Heaven for great friends and business partners that see beyond my scattered emotions and have the courage to kick me in the tush when I want to say F*** it! What they say about one door closing and a window opening is absolutely true! As the year draws to a close and we move forward I have to thank a few people that have really made a difference during this time of change.
I have to thank D for being the man he is, A good man, and an honorable man, but not strong enough to be the partner that I need as this life Blooms into greatness. He showed me that I am worthy and that Love will find a way.
Jan, for being the strength through all the whirlwinds, my friend, cattle prod, the voice of reason and at times the emphatic DON"T BE STUPID!
Mick, for being Mick, 30 years of friendship and still the shelter when I need it.
T for coming back into my life. And adding a Hard Rock beat to the process. (Not to mention an ability to read people and cut to the chase that I sorely lack!)
Jerry, For being the best friend a girl could ask for, John, for being the Dad right now. Mom, for being mom and saying that Kentucky sounds like a grand Adventure!
And all my friends both near and far that walk this journey with me, Especially my baby Brother and my lil sis Serri.(Shee Kicks my butt regular!)
California, Oregon, and Texas will still have our grass fed beef and lamb, but so will Kentucky and Oklahoma!
We've elected to keep our local offerings small and personal in each locale and the ship is slowly but surely righting itself and moving in a positive direction.
After the new year the blog will focus on each locale and my team will guest post so that you can meet them all, I will be focusing on the Genetics, forages, management, and the challenges that come with having stock spread across the country, a recipe page, and farm photos section is in the works, and Yes I am still on the Primal Journey, logging 260 lbs gone and ready to show you the changes!  I love you all! Thank you! Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or New Year, and Keep those Orders Coming!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Update! Or A new Chapter Begins!

The last few weeks have been an absolute Whirlwind of Change! Moved the Majority of my California Cattle to Tulare County, Sheep Flock to the Central Valley, Took a Job that has me Flying all over doing what  I love! Talking Ag! The position will have me splitting my time between Sunny California and the Midwest.
 I will be in Southern Cal the Second week of every month and am maintaining herds and flocks here to service my locals! Your loyalty has been Amazing and I will keep you supplied with Grass Finished Beef and lamb as well as Pastured Pork. I am Having to discontinue Farmers Markets However, With the exception Of The Murrieta Certified Farmers Market One weekend a Month. I have a good crew Hired to keep things running smoothly. Thank you for your continued support and stay tuned to keep up with my new adventures! There is a lot for you to learn and this old Ag-Nerd is looking forward to showing you the what, where, when, and how of what is important to YOU from the world of Ag!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9-11-12 A New Beginning

On September 11, 2001 I knew my life as I had always known it was over.  I had lost my husband earlier that year, and was talking to my friend and dance partner who was at Windows On The World when the plane hit.   He had become my lifeline during the months preceding that horrible day. Making sure I left the house to take care of the livestock, keeping the business going, Breathing, thinking, trying to keep my faith and move on. On that day, Randy had called to make sure that I was indeed on my way to meet him in NYC for a trip Upstate for a competition, I was watching the news as the plane hit the building, He asked what had happened and I told him. We stayed on the phone until the signal failed. His last words to me were, Promise me that you won't stop living, and Always Always Remember I Love You!
 I haven't honored him the way that I should, I fell into a bag of potato chips and stayed there for 9 years, doing the bare minimum, feeling sorry for myself and unworthy, I know I know Stupid Huh?  Two years ago things started to change,2 People came into my life that saw what I had buried so deeply under 300 lbs and took my hand and said that they wanted me around. That what I had here was special and I owed it to myself to at least try what they suggested. 240lbs down and a lot of bumps and bruises later, I know that they are right. I have decided to stop wasting time, I know that life can change in an instant, and I know that I have something to say and a difference to make in my world. The world of Agriculture. Yesterday I had surgery to fix a problem that was preventing me from doing many of the the things I love, and I made a decision.
9-11 is now more than a day of remembrance for me. It is the day that I made the vow to honor my friend and live life to the fullest, Share my passions, and be the example that I should have always been. Who knows! Maybe someday I will even Dance again. I have a lit of repairing to do, relationships, Business reliability, and the list goes on. But you know something? I will do it!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Back in the swing!

We've been crazy busy around here! New people, babies, market garden, Streamlining the Office stuff! Whew! Overwhelming at times but I think we are really moving forward in a positive direction. Delivery schedule is being firmed up. Trying to keep up with the educational aspect of things as well. The website is being improved and I am really pleased with the momentum! I'm sure there will be some bumps along the way but the difference is night and day! Come on by and say hello, Pick some veggies to take home, and if you feel like it grab a rake and pitch in! I love my farm family and am so grateful to have you all in my life! Now, back to mending fence!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

WOW! Just Wow! on a variety of things....

I have to say again how humbled I am by all of the love and support my farm family has shown. You are all Just amazing!
We're getting things ready for the new crop of grow out pigs here at the home farm, they will be Hampshire crosses this round as they do well in an outdoor setting, I looked into some Yorkshires, but the Landrace influence does not lend itself to outdoor production, These Types of hogs have been bred for decades to live indoors in confinement and are too delicate for our pasture based system. The Hampshire cross hogs we are getting this year are from an outdoor breeder of show hogs and will do well in our climate. The Mule foots are just getting ready to farrow and won't be ready until fall. The Red Wattles are being reserved as breeders to help improve the critically small population.
The steers have been ultra sounded and marked for re-checking as they approach Market weight on the irrigated pastures and the lambs are growing well despite late lambing this season due to the weird weather.
Baby Jesse is being weaned and her mama is definitely ready for the brat child to have her own space!

The squash, melons, tomatoes, and peppers are going great guns in the garden and we have some wacky heirlooms for you all to enjoy this season. The lettuces... well they became Dawg Food! The little brat got out and had a wonderful time chomping them up! Darn that Goat anyway! Nan-e is going to kid any day, with Floss, Floretta, and Baby G not far behind. Bill-e will be going to a new home and a replacement Buck is on his way from Kansas. We have registered Boer Goats and percentage Market Goats available.

The mini cattle for our research project are doing well but I can tell already that at least for us, these tiny guys just don't add up as profitable alternative. (they would work great as a family project though!) Their daily gain is about 1.5 lb compared to the Simangus at 3.2 and we won't even mention the dairy cross steers. Big Boned and definitely not designed to forage! They all had to come in and be supplemented and summer isn't even here yet!
Comet, the new guard Llama is AWESOME! He really takes care of his sheep and gets along with Lorenzo who is getting up there in age. Tony still lives with his horses and cows, he is just too pushy for sheep work.

The BC's are all tuning up for the season and Tweed seems content to just work the Granny's on the home farm (at 12 all day in the field is too much for his old bones) Gracie (aka The Land Shark) is solidly working the flocks, and Wallace is our Cow Dog extraordinaire! Cricket, Sweep, and Monk are all going to stock dog boot camp with auntie Robin for the summer so by round up time we'll have a great team! I tell ya, a good horse and good dogs really can do the work of 10 people, without the stress of chasing! Just a step and a look makes those critters turn for the chutes or holding pens. A brace makes moving an entire herd or flock a breeze, and there is nothing more beautiful than well trained dogs working healthy stock.

We'll have 8 steers that look like they will be ready to go by the end of next month so hot season orders shouldn't be a problem. We have tentatively scheduled our branding and gathering party for late October and I will keep you posted. Last year's party was a blast and those of you that came out sure got an education!

Until next time, thank you and see ya at the farm!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Good thing they called us first!

As some of you know I am part of a group that offers consults for small startup farms, We received a call from a very nice man wanting to start raising a few calves for finishing and he asked us to come evaluate his pastures before he brought in any livestock. What we found when we got there was a tragedy waiting to happen! He had a toxic Garden on that 5 acres! Oleanders along the fence, Nicotiana(Tree Tobacco) near outbuildings, Locust and Chinaberry trees, Nightshades and Star Thistle in the pasture itself, not to mention salt cedars, ragweed,  and Fiddle heads. We showed him how to remove the biggest hazards without the use of poisons and suggested fencing off some of the trees so that the animals could not gain access, He is blessed to be able to irrigate so we gave him a few suggestions about what to plant and how to maintain healthy pasturage year round, Nick Volunteered to go out and plow for him and bring in some well cured mulch from the dairy, NICE!

I'm sure glad that he called us rather than just jumping right in blind! he could have ended up with some very sick animals or worse!  Here are some stock photos of some of the toxic species I mentioned, so that those of you considering doing some small scale farming yourselves know what to watch for, some of these plants and trees are beautiful, but your livestock will be just as dead! UC Davis has a very comprehensive list of toxic plants that you can review at your leisure as well.                                                                                                                       

tree Tobacco       locust  nightshade     ragweed                 Fiddlehead                                                                                                         salt cedarStar thistle, there are both yellow and purple varieties.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Well hello!

I just came back to find a surprise in the sheep pasture! A new ram lamb! Mom must have skipped her preg check because he is definitely a surprise!
 It has been an odd day that's for sure! Running to the post office to verify that shipments actually went out because there is no on line data, Yep it's all on its way!
I got grilled by the cutest lady in the parking lot about Beef production! Her name is Addie and she used to live on the Vail Ranch when she was a girl and knew my dad!  After telling me some neat stories about what he and Mahlon Vail did back in the day she started asking me about the cows. I figured that she was just curious about how things had progressed in the last 40+ years, but Nope! Addie wanted to know how we were breeding, what improvements we had made over the years and if our White faced calves were Hereford or Simmental crosses. (If a breed of cattle does not have the genes for white faces, the offspring will never have a white face) I told her all about our breed-up program and she was delighted and approved! She also wanted to know if I had a horse kind enough for her to ride out with me some time. I better put a few miles on Red! He's a good boy buy I think Miss Addie will definitely expect better manners! (and a 87 years young she has a right to expect them!)
She is coming by the house in a few days with some pictures and I will be sure to share them!
 On another front, I've been talking up a storm since completing the Masters of Beef Advocacy course through the checkoff. I am constantly astounded at the disconnect between consumers and producers. People genuinely don't know where, when, why, and how their food, and especially their meat is grown.  Some of the biggies are Why Grass finished takes longer than grain finished, What the differences are, and the questions to ask when thinking about buying meats directly from the farmer or rancher. (I'm working on a printer friendly list of questions for folks to use as a guide.) I do think folks are starting to take a keener interest in their food and appreciate the food choices that are out there, but they don't know quite how to get exactly what they are looking for, or more accurately how to ask for it. If a place seems too good to be true, sadly, it usually is.
Farming and ranching aren't always pretty professions, some facets of production can be downright unpleasant in fact, and we need to show our customers both sides of process. The good and the bad, the miracles and the failures. If they only pet the babies and never see the end result, how are they going to know what actually goes into producing meat for the table?
 Some of my best stories come from when families come out on custom slaughter days! The kids are asking what every part is and why it looks the way it does, Mom is wringing her hands wondering if she has scarred her kid for life, and many of the big tough dads are hurling behind the barn! The kids are amazing! So curious, and the butcher takes the time to talk to them and explain each step. Our  future foodies getting a first hand lesson in where their food comes from. Just remember, Keep it real, do it right, be humble and beyond reproach, practice transparency and folks still may not like what we do, but they have to respect it!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Farm work day recipe.

When  folks come to help out on a scheduled work day here at the home place we like to feed them! As many of you know I follow a Primal lifestyle and have dropped over 200 lbs doing so. So here is one of my favorite Easy, crowd pleasing, guilt free recipes for a work day or any large gathering. (serves 10-12)
Most of my recipe's are geared for a dutch ovens hung over a fire pit but can easily be adapted for stovetop or the oven.
Beef Burgundy
6lb stew beef or Ox tails (Grass fed and Finished if possible)
3 lg onions roughly chopped
3 cloves Fresh garlic Minced
4lb crimini or button mushrooms. (small ones may be left whole, cut larger ones in half or quarters)
1/4 C. Organic, no soy, Steak sauce
1/4 C. Brown Sugar (may be omitted)
2T pepper
1t. dry mustard
2C water
1 750ml bottle GOOD red wide. (if you wouldn't drink it DON"T cook with it!)
1/2 C. Almond or Yucca flour.

Place a heavy stock pot or dutch oven over the heat source and while it is heating dust the meat with the flour.
add to your pot in batches and brown the meat. You aren't cooking it through, just browning the outside of each piece.
Remove the meat from the pot and set aside.
Put everything except the mushrooms into the pot and bring to a slow simmer. Add in the beef, cover and let cook for 2-2 1/2 hours. Add in the mushrooms and simmer an additional 2 hours. remove from heat and let sit covered 20 minutes, Serve.

I serve this over Cauliflower when it is in season or Sun Chokes. Potatoes work really well for those of you not following a Primal lifestyle.

A nice Spinach or mixed green salad with a good Olive oil and Balsamic vinegar dressing is a great side for this dish.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Streamlining is a lot of work!

We have implemented a CSA and some new membership options like buying in for a whole year, Holiday meats , exotics and the like. And I can't spread things out like we once did. We have had to really streamline and try to get on a set schedule. This has been my biggest shortcoming from the start. I raise great animals, can run the day to day operation like a well oiled machine, but delivery schedules with a good time buffer seem to escape me. Thanks to Tim and Christina I am learning how to be as efficient off farm as I am on farm.  I am so grateful for these great teachers!

Our research project is half funded and we have a way for you to donate in place. I am looking forward to doing a peer reviewed study of the benefits of Grass fed production over confinement raising. With scientific data to back everything up rather than the pseudo science and Celebrity tie ins we see so much of. My heroes come from the real world, with hard work and verifiable knowledge to back the claims that they make. I like that my customers can see what we do, and can ask questions without being worried that we will avoid answering or ignore their concerns. Now if I can just get the deliveries on time I will be Golden!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Garden Finally going in!

The weather has been so darn crazy that we are just now getting plants in the ground. (plus we had to wait until the last hog was ready before we could till) heirloom tomatoes, squashes, old varieties of sweet corn, pole beans and a bunch of wild and wonderful new things we've never tried before. the U-pick garden will be a lot of fun for members this year! Lemon cukes and ghost eggplant, peppers, and of course our almost famous chiles! yes Aaron there will be pequine's!
 The salad bowls are sprouting and we have decided to do some hanging baskets for our apartment dwelling members! we have berries in the Pallet gardens, and tubers where the hogs will go this fall! The herb garden is sprouting and I can't wait! My bay tree made it through the winter so dried bay leaves will be available this season! YAY! We also planted the Hugelkulture mound and will see if it really is as amazing as we hope! I will list everything we will have to offer as soon as I know what made it!
I am so proud of our farm family! Many of you are planting at least some of your own food this season and that is AWESOME! Now for some livestock news!
Lambing and calving are done for the season and the shearer was here last week so that's done too! Pigs are secured for next month and we will have 8 to grow out in addition to those Paul raises for us.
 The hens are laying and we will have broiler chickens ready to butcher in a few weeks, Who wants to help? Ray will be giving a class so it will be a great learning experience for those that want to participate. Turkey Poults will arrive any time now and with 75 spoken for we will only have a few extra for those of you that didn't pre-order.
We are half way to having the matching funds for our cattle comparison project and we have found a way to make it easy for you to donate if you wish, so watch for the link in the next week or so.
We have also been working our way through a TON of red tape to set up shipping to Hawaii and I think we have finally got all of the ducks in a row! Sheesh was that ever stressful!
I apologize for being lax on the blog but time should allow for more frequent posting soon! thank you all for your love and continued support! without all of you, we wouldn't be here!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Producers Perspective

 Sorry friend you aren't any better, just different. And we NEED to EMBRACE those differences rather than paint our competition as UGLY and Uncaring.   I've wanted to address this for quite a while and finally decided to do just that.
We are primarily a Cow/calf operation which means that we breed cattle for sale at weaning to finishing or backgrounding operations. We hold back a percentage of our calf crop to finish out on grass for our customers that choose to enjoy grass fed and finished beef.
I get asked pretty regularly how come we sell the rest, the reason is simple. We need to keep the ranches going and don't want to over graze our pastures. Pastures are living ecosystems that require care and attention. You have to know when to turn cattle on to a given pasture, how many head and how long that land can carry those cows without a negative impact, and when to rotate the animals off of that piece of ground. It is a much a science as feeding cattle in pens. Just with a different methodology. We have the forage analyzed, as well as the soil and water, to make sure it is suitable for the herds at any given time. Anyone can pull a cow out of the scrub and call it grass fed. But that doesn't mean it's going to taste good! Finishing is an art, and thanks to sound scientific technology, some of the guesswork has been taken out of the equation. Ultrasounding has really revolutionized our operation. allowing us to be certain that an animal is ready for slaughter rather than guessing that it might be ready because it looks good on the outside. We can determine the amount of backfat that animal is carrying and therefore get higher premiums because that animal will actually Grade.
Most grassfed beef is what is referred to as NO Roll because it won't make grade and ranchers don't want to pay for a lower grade score when they can bank on the Grassfed and finished moniker and still make money, The First time!
  Repeat business is reliant on a consistently superior product, and what better way to ensure quality than by being able to grade choice on grass? I see farms touting their feeding methods, playing to emotions and outright making things up to sell products. It might get you that initial sale but folks aren't going to come back if they aren't getting what they like. Both Large and small operations need to stop trying to pull the wool over people's eyes and tell it like it is.
One of my favorite small farms is owned by my friend Jan, she raises Heritage breeds and doesn't claim that they are better than anything else, She calls them what they are! Living Antiques, I like that! Because that is what they are, and yes they need to be preserved and what better way to do that than offer them for the table.
 When her animals win an award or get special recognition she lists the show, shows pictures etc. every step of production is open to inspection. We do the same and it is important! People need to see what the results of our growing practices are. I wish there were more than a few market classes to showcase Grassfed Beef and Lamb. I think that people would enjoy seeing this and it could only help the industry as a whole.
 Right now we have 2 bulls on the Show circuit and they could never compete as purely grass fed animals. Classes are divided by age as well as weight and a grassfed animal at a year old could never be as well finished as a grain fed animal of the same age. The same goes for junior Bulls and replacement heifers. I do think that it could even out for Senior Bulls though.
For those of you interested in what it takes to fit an animal for the show ring, I'll explain that in another post.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Time to think Turkey!

I know that on St Paddy's day most people don't think about Thanksgiving dinner, but we as producers have to, it takes time to grow those birds from Hatchlings to Table ready treats! This year we are doing something a little bit different. One of the local 4-H clubs will be raising the birds. Young 4-Hers usually start with poultry and move on to larger livestock as they get older. It is a great way for us to help youngsters get into Ag. and you as the customer knows which child raised your bird, what it was fed, how it was handled, and even when it was butchered and prepped for you to take home. It teaches that youngster the values of hard work and dedication, as well as improving communication skills and record keeping skills. Pretty neat huh?
You can meet some of the kids that will be raising the birds every Sunday at the Murrieta Certified Farmers Market, where their project leader sells eggs.

We will be offering both Heritage breeds of turkeys as well as the broad breasted birds that you are used to seeing. There are some major differences in these types of birds that you should be aware of.
Heritage birds will have less breast meat, longer legs, and a generally leaner appearance than traditional birds. The reason for this is because Heritage birds have not been bred for large or double breasts and actually can and do fly. The broad breasted birds are shorter legged, thinner skinned and are bred through artificial insemination since their large breasts make it impossible for them to breed naturally. The picture provided by Ebey farms illustrates this difference very clearly.
 So when choosing your bird please be aware that a Heritage bird will look more like the one on the left than the one on the right. 
I want our customers to know what they are ordering so that they are not confused or disappointing with their choice.
All of our birds are coming from Murray McMurray Hatchery this year as they have the best selection we have found and their quality and attention to chick health is beyond compare. (they've been raising poultry for over 30 years and have the largest selection of rare and endangered breeds in the country.)
Please have your orders and deposits in no later than May1, 2012 as we are limiting production to 150 birds total with 50  Heritage birds and 100 of the traditional broad breasted varieties.
We have been able to secure the following Heritage Breeds:
Bourbon Red, Royal Palm, Chocolate, Slate, Midget White and Narraganset.
You can choose Bronze or White in the Broad Breasted Varieties.
Our prices have gone up a bit this year due to the increase in feed costs, and since we choose to use an Organic Corn and Soy free feed That cost has almost doubled from last year. Raw birds will be $5.00 per pound regardless of choice, and smoked birds will be $7.50 per lb. Limited Choice of heritage breed and whether you prefer a hen or tom. Please email us or connect on Facebook. We look forward to doing business with you and Helping Kids keep loving the farming life!

Monday, March 12, 2012

I am Agriculture Proud! My heritage as a farmer/rancher.

"Poets often tell the truth and the old song which contains the refrain, "The farmer feeds them all," states a very fundamental economic truth. Without the farmer the rest of the country would starve within a week despite the large amount of food in cold storage. Every occupation might be done away with but farming and people could live, but a total cessation of farming for a very short time would actually depopulate the whole world. A man can live without banks all his life, but deprive him of his bread and his career is soon ended. Farming is becoming an honored profession; our district schools are teaching it as a science and our colleges are granting degrees for agricultural courses. The farmers of any community sustain the people dependent on every other profession. Without the farmer the banker would close his doors, the manufacturer would shut down his factory and the railroads would suspend operations. Among the honored men of Shelby county, Iowa, who help to keep the banker, the manufacturer and the railroads is Perry McDowell, of Douglas township."
I hope some day my epitaph reads as well. People forget just how important the farmer/ rancher is to the entire economic structure of the country. These words were true almost 100 years ago and are as valid today as they were then. This is an excerpt from "the history of Shelby County Iowa 1915" speaking about my great Grandfather.(Perry McDowell)
I'm the Fourth or fifth generation tied to the land, (Still working on that Genealogy!) There isn't much information about Great great grandpa and his life. Just a little note that he was a farmer in Ohio. My grandfather is the one who really built our operation, and our partners history is just as strong.
Our Registered cattle can trace back to Animals My Great Grand dad imported at the turn of the last Century. Our Production herds have Direct ties to the Vail Ranch which was once one of the largest operations in California (and encompassed much of what is now Temecula California, My Grandfather's herd produced some of the finest Aberdeen Angus around and those Genetics are still seen in our animals today. We have improved on those old style cows with selective breeding and have some of the most efficient grass based genetics going.
Every time one of our show steers makes the Championship drive, or a production animal grades Choice+ on grass , I send up a little prayer of thanks, to God and Grandpa for passing that passion down to me.
 I think that it is important for those of us in production agriculture to share our passions, and our day to day struggles, To embrace technology with a nod to those that came before us and paved the way for our success, To show how we differ from the preconceived notions and outright lies that some folks want you to believe. My Grandpa told me once, It doesn't matter how good you say you are, What matters is that People SEE it in Practice!
Show those beginners what you do, answer their questions, and take the time to learn about practices that improve your operation. It's what my ancestors did, and I'm proud to be keeping that tradition alive.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

You mean you Use antibiotics?

I get asked all the time if we use antibiotics. The answer is Yes! Absolutely! When NEEDED! If an animal gets sick or injured, it's getting treated in the most efficient way possible. (Now to be fair, we do observe double the withdrawal time and animals requiring treatment get a tag in their ear with a reference # on it so we can easily see when, where, why and what medication was used.) Not all animals require treatment, shoot it's probably less than 1% of the entire herd or flock that needs help in the course of a year, but if anyone says they don't treat, they are snowing you.
 NO ONE is going to let an animal suffer nor are they going to risk losing an animal to a problem that is easily treated.
 I think that a more accurate claim would be "No Sub-Clinical Antibiotics" that means that livestock doesn't get low dose antibiotics to boost feed efficiency. The practice usually occurs in grain feeding scenarios and really isn't applicable to grass fed and finished ruminants. I'm going to give you a couple of examples of where Antibiotics are a good idea:
I have a ewe that tripled this year and got mastitis in one teat, Now I could have let that go and risked the lambs getting an infection from sucking on her bad side, or the entire teat could have become non functional. Making the ewe essentially worthless. OR I could put a basket on her bad side and treat it with a local antibiotic that is inserted into the teat  three times a day for 5 days. I'm going to have to supplement the lambs no matter what, but I would sure rather they be healthy and that ewe stand a chance of continuing to produce.
 Another instance we had this year was a first time heifer with a partially retained placenta, Now am I going to risk losing the cow? NO. Am I going to risk losing the calf? NO. I'm going to treat her and clear up the infection.
 We supply our Whole and half animal buyers with a complete chart of the animals life from "Conception to Consumption"(tm) so they know just about every move that animal made on it's journey to their plate. (Thanks CattleMax(tm) and S.I D(tm) These are some of the best traceability software programs out there and they sure are great! Small operations may not need the full scale programs and I will be happy to share a couple of our herd/ flock management books with anyone that would like one. Next time: Back to FUN STUFF!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Supplements and why they are needed.

When most folks hear the work Supplement they immediately think grains, That isn't they type of supplementation we do, I'm talking minerals and micro-nutrients. A good mineral supplement formulated for your grazing area is a must for top performance. The lack of nutrients in the soil causes a lack of nutrient in the grass, and therefore a lack of nutrition for the animal. In our area the land is selenium, copper and cobalt deficient so we need to offer a free choice mineral mix to ensure that our cattle are getting the minerals that they need for good health, We use Redmond Salt(tm) and Redmond Clay(tm) formulated for our area using the guidelines detailed here: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ansci/beef/as1287w.htm
Anyone considering raising livestock for any reason needs to have their soils and forages tested and provide the minerals needed for optimum health.
I recommend that anyone just starting out contact their local Agricultural Extension Service and request that their fields and or pastures be tested.
The same rule of thumb holds true for sheep, pigs and poultry. If you have ever lost lambs to White Muscle Disease or piglets to iron deficiency, you will learn real quick how valuable that salt block or mineral tub is!
 I see all the time where farmers and Ranchers say that the don't supplement, in my opinion this is a disservice to the animals in their care and can cause major problems for those animals. Mineral deficiencies impact gut health, coat condition, pregnancy, bone and muscle growth, and can cause a host of problems easily avoided by having free choice mineral available at all times. It's inexpensive insurance and good for your livestock! 
Next time: When are antibiotics a good idea, or "How do I keep from losing that good animal?"

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Breeds that fit. A look at the choices in small scale beef, lamb and pork production.

Now that you have some Idea about what is needed to raise a meat animal lets look at what breed types may or may not fit your goals.
If you are raising just for your own consumption some things to consider are the amount of meat that your family will actually consume, For example; A miniature cow weighing 800 lb at slaughter will have a carcass weight of about 400lbs.(you "lose" about half of the live weight of the animal at slaughter, the head ,lower legs, hide and internal organs are not considered part of hanging carcass weight)After further processing (hanging, cutting, and wrapping) your yield of freezer ready beef will be about 280lb or roughly 60% of the carcass weight.
A full sized beef steer steer weighing 1800 lbs at 28 months will yield an approximately 900lbs carcass and roughly 600lbs of freezer cuts.
A steer with dairy influence will average 15% less than a beef breed because of the heavier bone structure.
Live weights vary dramatically but a good rule of thumb is half of live weight minus 1/3. There is no hard and fast rule for final yield as different cutting styles will impact your final take home weight. As an example, Bone in cuts will be heavier than boneless, Ground meats will yield less than cuts, and dry aging will cause shrinkage of a pound or more a day after about 10 days of hanging in the cooler.
All beef should be aged a MINIMUM of 5 days in my opinion.
Okay back to choosing that steer!
Always Purchase from a REPUTABLE SOURCE! Many breeders of registered stock sell very nice weanlings that just aren't what the want in their breeding program, these animals will be priced at about half of what you would pay for a breeding class animal. If you are going to put it in the freezer don't get caught up in breed hype. You don't eat papers!
If a mini is what fits your bill I prefer the Miniature Hereford. It's just my personal choice because I know what kind of yield to expect and they are pretty predictable. There are some people out there getting some nice crosses as well using Lowline Angus crossed to the mini Hereford for a Mini Black Baldie. Another breed gaining popularity is the Dexter, they are a dual purpose breed that doesn't have quite the yield of the mini beef breeds and is the smallest of all of the miniature cattle breeds, When crossed on a lowline Angus they average about 600lbs live weight at slaughter.
If a full sized steer is your choice I really like the Simangus. This cross is what we raise for production beef and is very consistent, and marbles exceptionally well on grass and forage. I am also a big fan of the Piedmontese Angus cross.
If a purebred is what you want, Nothing beats an Angus for conversion, flavor and texture but the Hereford and Belted Galloway come close in my opinion, with Maine Anjou and Criollo right up there.
It all comes down to personal preference. If you want 8-10 ounce Porterhouse steaks (based on 1" thick cut steaks) and 4-6 ounce rib eye, go with the mini. If you want an 18+ ounce Porterhouse and 8-12 ounce rib eye then the full size breeds will make you happy. You get the same number of steaks, roasts, etc no matter the breed,( ground meat yields will be very different due to animal size) the size and flavor profiles of your cuts are the only major differences.
No matter which size animal that you decide fits your Ideal, it is going to take a year or more of feeding and or grazing to get that animal ready for slaughter. Grazing animals to finish weight will take twice as long as grain feeding no matter the steer, and in my opinion, the time spent on pasture is well worth the wait!
Now. Lets look at Lamb:
Again, and I can't emphasize this enough, Buy from a REPUTABLE Source! If smaller lambs with a finished yield of  35lb or less is what you want to put in your freezer, with bite sized rib chops, beautiful little loin chops, and 3-5lb leg roasts, then I would recommend the Border Cheviot, or Southdown as a wool breed choice and St Croix or Khatadin if you prefer a hair sheep. If a larger lamb is what you are looking for, I like Suffolk and Hamshire sheep for meat if you like wool sheep and Nothing beats a Dorper if hair sheep are what you like. There are many other breeds out there that produce great lamb, these just happen to be my personal favorites. We even have a few rare breeds for fun, but when producing meat for the home freezer I feel that the first timer should focus on yields and wait a bit to jump into breeding, I want you to be successful your first time out and not be overwhelmed by cost or confused by breed specific hyperbole.
Any lamb you choose will be ready for slaughter between 7-10 months of age anything over a year is considered mutton and has a MUCH stronger flavor. Hair sheep tend to have a milder flavor than Wool breeds because they do not produce Lanolin that imparts that gamey hint people either love or hate! Our commercial flocks are a composite cross of Dorset, Dorper, and Suffolk which I find gives us the best of both worlds, less lanolin production, and I personally like a loin chop that is 5" across and 60-80lbs of lamb in my freezer.
On to the Pigs!
Yes, you have size choices here too! And again, find a REPUTABLE BREEDER!
Most of the smaller breeds of hogs are rare breeds like the Mule Foot, Kune Kune, and American Guinea. At 7 months they weigh about 100lbs compared to standard sized pigs that weigh 200 to 250lbs at the same age. I like my hogs to be about 235-250lb at slaughter and have a definite preference for pastured pork! In my experience, a good crossbred pig does fine outdoors, and the old style breeds like the Berkshire, Duroc, Tamworth, and Red Wattle excel in a pasture environment. I also believe that with pigs, as opposed to other livestock, breed characteristics do make a HUGE difference. An animal that has been raised to live in confinement will NOT excel in a pastured environment. However if that sow is cross bred with a breed that is suited for the outdoors the offspring finish out fabulously. One of the best crosses out there is called a Blue Butt, it is not a breed but a cross of several different breeds to develop a marketable pig that does well outside. Another thing you need to know so that you are not shocked when your pig comes back from the butcher, is that the meat from pigs raised in a pastured environment will have a MUCH DIFFERENT appearance than confinement raised pork. It is darker, and much more red than its pen raised counterpart, and will even exhibit some marbling. This is a GOOD thing! it shows that the animal moved around during its life and lived like a pig! Pork IS a RED meat, and should look like it! Pigs also need a varied diet unlike beef or lamb, Pigs are Omnivores and cannot survive on grass alone! Root vegetables, leafy greens, and dairy products are great for pigs and really enhance the flavor of the meat. A pig is one of the few animals where what it is fed is expressed in the meat, we finished hogs on Persimmons one year and that was the sweetest pork I have ever had! I don't use any corn or soy feeds PERIOD. So won't even go into the perils of commercial hog feeds here. We will save that for another day!
Okay back to yields,
The average hog yields about 73% of live weight.
So a 250lb hog will dress at about 185lb and yield about 140lbof finished cuts. a small breed hog 100lb will dress at about 75lb and yield about 60lb of finished cuts. here again it is a choice, and it boils down to preference.
I am not a poultry expert and will have a guest post up in a few weeks by someone that is for those of you wanting to raise their own Poultry.
The biggest thing to remember is to make the right choices for you and your family, and don't fall into the trap of buying a name. Buy what works for you and ask your breeder for suggestions, they are always glad to help and advise.
Next time:  What kind of supplements do livestock need for good health.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

As Promised.... A Greenhorn's Guide to Raising Livestock. part 1

Let's begin with the assumption that you have been around a few farmers and or Ranchers and have seen what they do to bring that Steak or Chop to your Plate.
It looks pretty easy right? Wrong! Ask any 4-H or FFA kid how easy it was to get an animal to market and they will tell you, It's a lot of hard work! But the rewards can be and are worth it. The things that a beginning Stockman (or Woman) learns from that first experience mold the direction that they will take in future endeavors.
I recommend that any beginner start with a market animal. No matter the species, a critter that is weaned and ready to fit out for the freezer is the easiest place to start. Most farmers and ranchers are more than willing to help someone new to the industry make good choices and guide them through that first experience. What we like to do is ask that prospective client to write down just what it is they want to achieve. Have a Plan! ( We have a worksheet that folks can use to make the decisions easier.)

What type of animal do you want to raise? Are they Large or small representations of their species? A miniature or dwarf breed takes much less space than a larger one, and you need to decide what will work best for you. Each species has vastly different needs that must be met. For example: Pigs need a place to wallow in the mud in order to cool off in the heat, a warm place to sleep and room to move around, Sheep and cows need shelter from inclement weather and shade in the heat, they also need an area that they can run and play in, a nice place to graze, and a way to handle them safely. Poultry need protection from the weather, a place to roost, an area secure from predators to scratch and move around in etc. Milk cows and or goats and sheep have different requirements still.(In the interest of time I am going to focus on meat animals here)

Now lets look at the space needed, feed requirements, water requirements, time required to get that animal ready for the butcher, health care, etc. Are you feeding that animal or grazing it?(if you are raising ruminants) How much pasture space or pen space per animal is needed? What kind of fencing and housing will that animal need? How much exercise will that animal need to get on a daily basis? Is there a good vet in my area to treat the type of animal you are raising? Who is going to butcher and process the animal when it is time? What is it going to COST to get that animal ready for the freezer? What is the expected rate of gain per day? How do I want to finish that animal? (grass, grain, haylage, concentrates, or a combination.)
All of  these questions and more need to be addressed before you bring that animal home.
Now, You've got your fences in, turn outs planted, and you're ready to bring home your chosen critter.
Where are you going to get it? My recommendation is a reputable breeder that can provide you with guidance. We as producers want you to succeed and continue to enjoy raising your own animals for years to come and will happily give you the tools to do it. Most of us suggest feeds, and or feed systems that we have found work well.(Be careful of places that either a. won't help you, or b. suggest you buy your feeds through them rather than give you reputable sources.) Your Local feed store will also have great suggestions for you, If organic or Corn/Soy free is important to you, Your feed store can and will find the type of feed you need.
(Our Local Feed Store, Round Up Feed, owns several locations throughout Southern California and is our preferred source, they also own the Hay Connection in Norco, Desert Feed in Phelan, and Roundup Feed and Udder Feed in Bonsall. The staff is very Knowledgeable and more than willing to help you make decisions about how and what to feed at different times of the year and during different Phases of production.)  That's right! Animals don't eat the same feed all the time. There are different nutritional requirements for each phase of life, growing, finishing for meat, and specific needs when and if you decide to start breeding, as well as shifts in nutritional needs with the seasons.

Clean fresh water needs to be available at all times. If you are confining animals to pens or coops automatic cup waterers and nipple drinkers work well, Water tanks are a good choice for larger animals in their turn out areas as you can tell how much they are drinking and be vigilant for changes that could be a sign of illness.
Your pens need to be carefully thought out, you can raise a steer in a 24'X 24' corral  if it is on feed, but I wouldn't recommend it(Unless you plan on walking that steer around on a halter a couple of times a day to give it exercise.) Most cattle do best if they have a minimum of 1 acre per head, you can cut that by half on the miniature breeds. Sheep need about an acre per every 3-5 adults, or 5-7 market lambs, you can adjust this down for the miniature or "light" breeds like Barbado's or Southdowns. Ruminants especially need ROOM to express their natural behaviors. You also need an area to secure that animal should it require attention. (this is where a 12' X12' pen comes in real handy!) Your perimeter fences need to be strong and secure, Wire is fine but it needs to be inspected daily for breaks. Hogs need fencing that they can't move! pipe corrals with close rails work really well and for turn outs electric fences work great! 
Make sure that there is a vet in the area that works on the type of livestock you have. If there is ever a major problem you NEED an expert within driving distance.
Make sure that there are Good mobile butchers in your area! I NEVER recommend hauling livestock intended for Custom Slaughter. It puts needless stress on the animal and can expose it to disease and filth that you would not encounter if the butcher came to you. In our Area Cliff Kwok is my go to guy! He is the only place near us that handles the entire process without sending any portion of our animals out for further processing. The only other Butcher that I know of  within 2 hours that still does the entire Process is Eddie in Barstow, and he does a great job too! If you are in Northen California Chico Locker And Sausage Co. is my recommendation. The Dewey's do things so well that I seriously considered moving my operation North to be close enough for them to do my custom work. If you haul post kill, PFL is by far my favorite local processor. They have been in business over 40 years and are true artisans. There are other good places around but these are my personal favorites close by.

Cost is another factor to be considered, It's going to take about 6-10lb of hay or mixed feed per pound of gain per animal or more to get it to finish, depending on time, age, and the type of finish you want. Lambs are ready to butcher at about 10 months of age, pigs about 7 months and cattle 24-30 months. So you need to figure out how long and what you are going to be feeding that animal and plan accordingly. I know this seems a bit daunting, and I've just scratched the surface here, but raising your own meat can be a very rewarding experience, you just need to know what you are getting into before making the leap.
Next time~ Breed specifics and yields, or How To Choose What breed fits MY plate.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Today I Stood and watched a Hero Come Home........

Today Sgt. Noah Korte Came Home. Not to Kiss his wife and children but to be laid to rest.
I watched his procession pass by where I stood, along side people I did not know, With tears in my Eyes for the loss his family is suffering, and a prayer of Gratitude to a fallen soldier that gave EVERYthing to ensure that this Country remains free and protected.
I never met him, but Just being there to say a prayer as he makes his final journey is my way of saying Thank You for making the ultimate sacrifice, and to solemnly welcome a Hero Home.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Breeding Up Beef, and the Decision of Who to Outcross.

When we look to improve our beef herds one method we look at is Out crossing or Cross breeding which is defined as follows:


[kraws-breed, kros-] Show IPA verb, -bred, -breed·ing, noun
verb (used with object)
to produce (a hybrid); hybridize.
verb (used without object)
to undertake or engage in hybridizing; hybridize.

As a producer we need to make these decisions annually. Do we maintain a registered herd? Do we outcross or cross breed to increase hybrid vigor? What are our goals for the next 3 years and can we meet them with the protocol we are choosing to implement? It takes 3 years to get a beef cow from "Conception to Consumption."(tm) And the end result actually begins prior to Conception. We have to analyze the genetics on first time heifers, and look at the production records on the older females,analyze the information on the bulls we are going to use, decide which groups will be AI and which will be live cover, and go from there.  We choose to follow a couple of different protocols. We maintain a Registered herd for the Show pen and our Backgrounding operation, Cross breed some of those good mother cows to Simmental and Piedmontese bulls for most of our Grass Fed and Finished beef, and do some experimental breeding to improve forage efficiency and rate of gain. We AI some of our cattle so that a percentage of our calving is predictable, we also live cover and run bulls with some of the herds at different times of the year. I prefer AI for breeding up because it allows us to get superior genetics for far less money than purchasing a bull, and we don't have to maintain that bull on site. Bulls are dangerous no matter how docile, and if you've ever seen a pen of bulls fighting for dominance you know just how easily someone or something can get badly injured or maimed.
With all of the new regulations that have gone into effect this year some of these decisions are even more pressing. For example, do I want to embryo transfer and does the new mandate fit with my goals? That's going to take some number crunching. We are always looking for the best way to improve our herds and the technology available today is wonderful! Ultra sound helps us know what percentage of females are bred and who needs to go out with the bull, it also lets us see if that cow is carrying a single or twins and when she is likely to calve. The same technology lets us determine when cattle are ready for slaughter, taking most of the guess work out of things and helping us maintain a consistent and superior carcass. Heat indicators are my new favorite toy! they stick onto a cows rump and change colors when she's in season so we know when to either put her with a bull or in the chute to AI.  I tell ya, I'm real good with that OB glove but would rather leave the Inseminating to Marvin! He gets things done so efficiently it's like watching a dance. Cow in, close the head gate, arm in, insert pipette, deliver contents of straw, and on to the next. Old bossy doesn't even make a fuss!
Our records are providing some really interesting data. When we decided to do more AI our conception rate jumped to almost 98% as compared to 80% with live cover. We aren't synchronizing heat cycles because I'm not willing to interfere with my cattle's natural cycles, but like most households with a majority of females, they cycle pretty closely together naturally.
I would like to inject some words of caution here, Cross breeding, or hybridization needs to be carefully considered and you better know what you are doing before attempting to intentionally cross breed. Small Cows bred to large bulls can mean disaster! Dystocia (the inability for an animal to give birth unaided, usually due to the offspring being too large to pass through the birth canal without help) can cause major losses in  a herd if you don't know what you are doing.  You need to consider frame size, birth weight, daily gains, cow age, Body condition, and your ultimate goals carefully. Indiscriminate breeding almost always produces an inferior animal. Another detail that must be paid attention to is when that cow is due to calve. If you have ultra sounded her or properly preg checked you should know when she's due and be able to bring her in close enough to keep an eye on. Cows carrying twins need to be closely monitored as well, not so much because they will have trouble calving,(twins are almost smaller than singles) but because she may reject one of the calves. Most of the time things go smoothly, but when there is trouble it can be BIG. As more and more people venture in to raising livestock I want to encourage them to get educated about production, and learn from folks that have experience before trying to do it themselves. Learn from others rather than subject good animals to trial and error that could possibly cause undue harm to your livestock and definitely impact your bottom line.  Next time: A Green Horn's Guide to raising Livestock, (or what Not to Do when you're first starting out.)