Archive | January, 2014

Winter Calving

27 Jan

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We didn’t plan on having any calves born this winter.

But the bull had other ideas when he broke through a fence or two last spring, so wound up with 3 pregnant cows that were all due to have calves at a pretty inopportune time.  We don’t like calving in the winter.  It’s too cold, which is hard on the calves, and there’s no grass, which is hard on the cow who is dealing with an extra mouth to feed.

The first cow to give birth picked a lovely -25°F day. It didn’t go well. The cow was fine, but the calf didn’t make it.

So a week later, the second cow looked ready to pop, and we needed a win.


This little lady was born about a week ago to a first-time mom who did the best she could. We found her shivering on the ground in the blowing wind and snow. Not good.


After a little quality heat-lamp time and a bottle of colostrum she was looking much better.
Ideally, calves would be born in the spring, eliminating the need for supplemental heat to keep them alive during their first hours.


Once the calf was feeling better she got a new ear piercing, then we kept her inside with mama for a day or so. Mama didn’t complain, she got some grain to help produce the milk that the calf needs.  It’ll be a tough couple of months for mama, who will inevitably lose some of her fat reserves making milk for the calf during the lean winter.  This spring, when the new grass sprouts up she’ll have a chance to gain back what she lost.

Looking for a new Bull

19 Jan

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This is our bull. Like most of the cows he has no name, just “the bull.”
The bull is up for sale.


It’s not that we don’t like him, he’s just done his part on our farm. He’s been with us for 3 years, and fathered several young lady cows (heifers) that we’re keeping. So in order to keep things all genetically-kosher we’re planning on replacing the bull with a younger unrelated fella.


These two are some of the bull’s offspring. On the left (#71) is the only cow we have with a name: Paint. Paint is a steer (a castrated boy) who’s going into his 2nd, and final, year of his life. He’s a very nice steer, very quick growing, with a very pretty paint-job. It’s a shame Paint wasn’t a girl, we’d have kept him in a heartbeat.
Standing next to paint (#81) is one of the bull’s young daughters. She’s a pretty good-looking heifer who will be bred early this summer, and deliver her first calf next spring.

We’re currently searching for a new bull.  We’re looking at a few different Galloway bulls and perhaps a Barzona (if we feel like driving all the way to Des Moines.)

We’re looking for a bull of a slightly smaller breed, one that will finish a bit faster on grass.  We already looked at a couple Belted Galloway bulls last week, but they were too small.  The beltie cows were no bigger than a Dexter, with the bull weighing in at 1100# max.  That’s a bit too small, we’re trying to hit the sweet spot in cow size.  Too big and they take too long to finish on grass, like our old Charloais cattle (our bulls were probably 2200#.)  Too small, and you just don’t get that much beef.

Any day now

15 Jan

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Our three gestating pigs are looking awfully pregnant.


The two black pigs are about a week away from their due-dates. The spotted one is two weeks out. Their bellies are getting pretty big, and they’re just starting to show signs of “bagging up.”

Any day now…

Hay auction success!

15 Jan

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I was practically raised at auctions. Being a former auctioneer, my Grandad was an avid auction attendee and I got to tag along with him to quite a few. Grandaddy would always buy stuff at an auction if he deemed it was “goin’ too cheap.”
As a kid it was awesome, he’d bring home a trailer full of stuff from an auction. If it was an estate sale then there’d be boxes of books, tools or dishes, and occasionally a box of old toys.
As a teenager auctions were awesome because my first car came to me by way of an auction. It went too cheap.

So fast forward a few years and I do enjoy a good auction. But my Grandad’s “goin’ too cheap” gene must have been recessive, because I got just the opposite. Everything at an auction seems like it’s going for too much money. It probably has to do with the fact that the prices rise as the auctioneer calls.
Anyway, I usually don’t come home with much from the hay auction because it was all too high. When I do buy hay, you can rest assured I bought the cheapest lots of the day.

Sometimes, like last winter, I bring home some pretty worthless hay. But sometimes I get to bring home some pretty good stuff.


Someone brought 4 lots of this BMR Sorgum/Sudan grass haylage to the last hay auction. I ended the two biggest lots of it.
There has seldom been any haylage or baleage sold at these auctions. When it is sold, it usually goes for around the same price as plain hay, higher if the dairy farmers deemed that it was good stuff.
I had never seen Sorgum/Sudan Haylage before, but I assumed that like any Haylage it would be pretty good quality , and I knew I’d heard that Sorgum/Sudan grass was supposed to be a good forage crop.

Apparently I was not the only one there that day who had never seen Sorgum/Sudan Haylage. Nobody would bid on the stuff, they kinda looked at it like it might be radioactive. I won the first lot for $26/bale. To put that in perspective, most hay was going for $55/bale, and cornstalks (used as bedding, not feed) were selling for $25-32/bale.

As long as this stuff was cheaper than bedding, I figured we couldn’t go wrong buying it as feed. Even if it turned out to be crappy feed, it would make for cheap bedding.

When I got all the hay home, there was a bit of concern over how well the cows would eat it. The Sorgum/Sudan haylage was fairly stemmy, but the more I looked into the BMR (Brown Mid-Rib) Sorgum/Sudan grass, the more it looked like the stems wouldn’t be a problem. Apparently the BMR varieties have less lignin in the stems, so they’re more likely to lodge, but have more palatable stems. It’s apparently a very good forage-specific sorgum variety.


The next day we fed the first bale of the haylage, and the cows promptly tore into the stuff. Stemminess wasn’t a problem, they ate every last bit of it.

After a week or so of feeding the stuff, I can report that there are exactly two problems with it. First, when it gets really cold (-20°F) the cows have problems eating the haylage because it freezes pretty solid at those temps. Second, when it’s cold the net-wrap under the silage film is pretty hard to get off because, again, it’s frozen.

So needless to say, if there’s any more of this stuff floating around the next auction I’m going to pounce on it.

Tri-Tip Steak

12 Jan

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When I moved up here to Minnesota I never would have thought we’d end up selling Tri-tip steak.

I’d eaten plenty of Tri-Tip during my stint in Northern California, but had heard nary a peep about it before or since. But a funny thing happened in the midst of farmers-market season; people started asking for Tri-tip.


We were all to happy to oblige folks, getting the butcher to cut the Tri-tips out for us was no big deal.  We had to quit offering the Sirloin-tip roast (it’s the same cut of meat, you can’t have both) but it did give us an extra steak to offer.  Better yet, people bought them.

So fast forward a few months, and we finally got the opportunity to try one of our own Tri-tip steaks.  This being the dead of winter, we don’t have to worry so much about eating our inventory down.

But how to cook a Tri-tip?  Like any of the flat steaks (skirt, flank, hanger) they can be a bit tough, so it’s best to marinate them.  We marinated the steak overnight in a mix of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and a few other spices.

After that it’s onto a screaming-hot grill to sear for a minute on each side, followed by about 5 minutes per side at medium heat.  I swear that this steak started out about one inch thick, but it just kept getting thicker as it cooked.  By the time it was done it had shrunk a bit laterally, but it came off the grill at nearly 2″ thick.  Odd.  My best guess is that it’s a quirk of the layout of the tri-tip muscle.


Anyway, to make it Nor-Cal authentic, the tri-tip must be thinly sliced and served on toasted garlic bread.

True to form, the tri-tip has the strong “beefy” flavor to stand up to a marinade that might overpower a more delicate steak.  If marinades, fajitas or grilling are your game, then the tri-tip is your new BFF.

It was truly delicious, but no matter what the Californians claim, this does not qualify as barbeque.

Mega-Waterer gets a Jacket

4 Jan

It’s been pretty cold the past few weeks, often down to sub-zero temperatures, and I’m discovering the limits of the Mega-Waterer.

With overnight lows from -5° to -10°F the water inside the barrel has stayed liquid, but the nipples themselves have tended to freeze up.  I’ve been going out in the mornings and thawing any frozen nipples out with a heat gun, but it occured to me that insulating the barrel might give them a better shot at staying thawed-out.

I used a water-heater blanket to insulate the barrel, taping it up with plenty of duct tape.  Turns out that duct tape doesn’t like to stick well in below-freezing temps; thank goodness for the heat gun, that’ll make it stick to anything.

Pretty soon I’ll be finding out exactly how low the Mega-waterer can go.  The temperature Monday morning is supposed to be around -25°F / -32°C.

Greased Pigs

3 Jan

Unpleasant as it might be, having livestock goes hand-in-hand with having parasites.  We humans are pretty good at keeping ourselves parasite-free what with our opposable thumbs, indoor plumbing and modern medicine.

Pigs and cows?  Not so much.

So that means that eventually, you’re gonna have a problem.  For me, that problem has arrived in the form of the hog louse. I’ve never had lice, but from the amount of scratching that the pigs are doing, I’m assuming it’s not exactly comfortable.  Plus we’re going to have the first 3 pigs farrowing (giving birth) on our farm here at the end of the month.  We don’t want the youngsters getting off on the wrong foot now do we?

So how to get rid of lice?  Google tells me that there is a huge list of insecticides that are just perfect for getting rid of the hog louse!  That’s all well and good, but we’ve kinda been telling folks that we do the whole no-chemical thing…

So what then do the organic farmers do?  As it turns out, some of them were nice enough to make a nice list [pdf] of “organic approved” parasite control methods.  How thoughtful!

Our first obstacle was to find the appropriate ingredients locally.  While the local farm store had an entire asile of chemicals & antibiotics, the natural stuff was harder to find.  I ended up finding the stuff I was looking for labeled as fly-spray for horses.

The active ingredient in this concoction is Pyrethrin, not to be confused with it’s synthetic doppelganger Permethrin.  Pyrethrin is a naturally-occurring insecticide & insect repellant derived from the Chrysanthemum flower.
Couple this natural insecticide with the the time honored hog-oiling method, and we just might have something.  Hog-oiling has traditionally been done with used motor oil.  Seeing as how we don’t want to put much used motor oil back onto our pastures, we opted instead for an equally-effective vegetable oil.  All the oil has to do is coat the lice and deprive them of oxygen, a veggie oil can do it just as well as a petroleum product.

For the pigs sake we warmed the oil up by the woodstove first.  It is -5°F out there, I’d have some angry pigs if I were to go pouring cold oil all over them in this weather.

Warmed up and mixed at about an 1:8 ratio, I was ready to go grease up some pigs.

The oiling went better than I expected, they really didn’t mind the warm oil.  With a generous splash behind the ears (the biggest problem spot) and a stripe poured down their back, we were ready  to go.

The biggest problem is that all the very curious and very oily pigs decided that it would be awfully convenient if they could rub their oily heads on me.  Good thing it’s nothing toxic, cause there’s oil & Pyrethrin all over my insulated bibs now…

To finish up we’ll dust their bedding with Diatemaceous earth to kill any bugs in there. I’ll probably end up oiling them again in 2 weeks to catch any newly hatched lice, by then we’ll have a pretty good idea of how this Pyrethrin & Oil actually works.

If it doesn’t work, organic rules allow Ivomectin as an “emergency” measure. I consider eliminating lice before Winter farrowing an emergency, but we’re going to hope that the oil will take care of it.