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!