Contour Strip Cropping, Farm Update

July 19, 2014

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There must be some sort of dubious record I am setting this year.  The top photo was taken July 6th.  It shows the contour strips, which is how we farm the hillsides in Wisconsin to prevent soil erosion.

The green in the foreground is a little strip of hay next to the road which was cut and baled in June.  Next up in the photo is very mature, cut hay.  Yes, the last of first cutting was made in July.  The green strip in the middle of the photo is hay which was cut and baled in May, and is now ready to be cut for a second time.  The light colored strip above that is my oats and hay new seeding which is cut and drying, waiting to be baled.

So, yes, I made first cutting hay in May, June, and July.  I know of no other farmer who is as on the ball, and behind, as myself.  At least I’m still laughing.

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The bottom photo shows my sweet corn on June 26th.  Beyond the sweet corn are the farrowing huts.  I’ve had 14 beautiful June litters.  Beyond the farrowing huts are my grass-finished steers.  I started them grazing hay fields at the end of June.


Fall-Calving, Grass-Finished Beef

November 12, 2013

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Bruce King asks, “why fall  calving?”  The short answer is “serendipity”.  The long answer is the rest of this post.

When I split my farm from my parents’ farm, I had to figure out how I was going to farm and keep the beef and pork markets I had built up with Jordandal Farms supplied.  With a much smaller land base I realized I would need to purchase more of my inputs.  So I started purchasing spring-born feeder steers in October when they were weaned from their moms.

I take the steers through the winter on stored feed, shooting for a pound and a half gain per head per day.  They then go onto the lush spring pastures, gaining three pounds per day in May and June.  I start butchering the biggest steers at the end of June weighing around 1000 lbs.  As the summer pastures fade I start to graze hay fields to keep high-quality feed available at all times.  I continue butchering the biggest steers at a rate of eight per month and they’re all gone by October.

But back to the fall-calving herd.  Even though I realized I needed to buy feeder steers to keep my market supplied, I was a little sad I wouldn’t have any cows or calves.  The breeding through birth process is always fun to experience.

But the fall before our farms split up saw many cows returning to estrus, after the herd bulls had been removed.  This is a bad sign because it means the cows are “open” and will not have a calf the next spring.  We sell almost all of the open cows for beef, as it doesn’t pay to feed a cow for a nonproductive year.

But in a bit of serendipity, the neighbor’s bull jumped the fence and spent a month with our cows.  When the veterinarian pregnancy-checked our cows, sure enough many were open, more than usual.  Some of the cows we considered best in the herd.  I realized some of these cows may be short-bred by the neighbor’s bull, (less than a month and the vet wouldn’t be able to determine).

So I decided to start a fall-calving herd.  I picked out the best cows, ones the vet said were reproductively sound even though they were open.  And I moved them to my farm and borrowed one of my parents’ bulls to breed any cows which weren’t bred by the neighbor’s bull.  The neighbor’s bull was black and he sired the black calves last year.  I had 8 black calves and 4 red ones.

I wasn’t sure where this herd would be, as I didn’t think I had room for them on my farm during the grazing months.  Luckily I was able to rent a neighbor’s wooded pasture from May 1st to November 1st.  After November 1st I bring them home and turn the bull out with them.

I wasn’t sure how the small calves would handle the winter, but last winter they did fine, nursing their mothers and eating some hay.  I weaned the calves from their moms at the end of April.  The weaned calves really took off on the spring pastures.  They spent the summer grazing with the feeder steers.  And now I’ve started butchering them weighing around 1000 lbs.

I think the economics of the fall-born calves is better than purchasing feeder steers, because although the cow and calf eat more hay than a feeder steer, I don’t have to spend the money purchasing the weaned calf.  Furthermore, the cow will have a salvage value at the end of her productive life.

If I didn’t need to keep a consistent supply of beef, and could just sell quarters to customers at one time in the fall, I think I would only have a fall-calving herd and market all the fall-born calves the following November.

What makes both systems economical is taking the animals through only one winter.  Feed is a huge cost in beef production, and the cost of winter feed dwarfs the cost of summer pasture.

The photos were taken recently and show two, fifteen month old fall-born calves above and below, from a different angle.  They weigh about a  thousand lbs and will be butchered in a few weeks.

The top photo also shows one of my fall-calving cows on the right.  She is eight years old and had something wrong with her udder so I took her calf away from her.  She is one of the biggest cows, I’m sure weighing over 1500 lbs.  She also will be butchered soon.

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First Snow, Fall 2013

November 11, 2013

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November 11th, 2013.  Here is another photo of the rye, now at six weeks.  It hasn’t grown much since it was two weeks old.

In the background you can see my fall-calving cows with calves.  I moved them home from the summer pasture and now they’re grazing hay fields on the south side of my farm.  The bull in the photo has been with the cows for a week, which will give us August and September calves next year.


Cattle out to Pasture, May 1st

May 2, 2013

Cattle out to Pasture

This spring has been as late as last spring was early.  The grass finally started growing and I turned them out yesterday.  The steers stayed on my pasture, and the fall-calving cows went to the rented pasture.  In the foreground you can see one of the fall heifer calves.  In the background you can see the neighbor’s dairy cows.

I wanted a few more cattle on the rented pasture, so I decided to try an experiment and kept the four fall heifer calves with their mothers to see if the cows would self-wean before they calved again in August/September.  The eight fall steer calves were separated from their mothers.  The cows and steers which were weaned are bawling for each other.  I don’t think the calves were getting much milk anymore, so the discomfort is probably psychological.


Daily Winter Cattle Watering

January 14, 2013

Cattle Tank Waterer

I wanted to house my fall-calving cows with calves on the south side of my farm this winter.  I couldn’t figure out a good way to walk them back over to where the heated Ritchie waterer is, so I purchased the 110 gallon tank, pictured above.

465 is the cow in the photo.  She is my oldest cow at nine years old.  Coincidentally, she was the model cow in last year’s post about the Ritchie waterer.

I needed a way to keep the water thawed.  So I purchased a sinking tank de-icer.  The first cold night it blew a 15 amp fuse.  I thought I was in for trouble, but I replaced it with a 20 amp fuse and it has worked flawlessly since.

Sinking Tank De-Icer

One drawback is I fill the tank with a hose at least twice per day, draining the hose well after each fill.  I figure each cow is drinking between 15 and 20 gallons per day.  I don’t notice the calves drinking much because they are still nursing their mothers.

In the photo below you can see the herd eating hay out of a feeder.  13 cows, 12 calves, and 1 bull are eating a half of a round bale of hay per day.  If similar quality hay is valued at $200 per ton, and a round bale is 1500 lbs, then the herd is eating $75 worth of hay per day.

Tank Waterer and Cows Eating Hay


Goodbye to Cow 521

November 26, 2012

We pregnancy-checked my parents’ spring-calving cows a few weeks ago.  Cow 521 came up open.  I have always liked this cow and I posted a picture of her a couple of years ago, shown below.

I am tempted to add her to my fall-calving herd which is in the midst of breeding season now, but instead I chose to buy cow 447, which the vet said he thought may be pregnant, but only a month along.  447 is a better bet than 521 because it’s unknown why 521 is open.  She may have reproductive problems which render her infertile.

Still, it’s sad to see her go.


Another Set of Eyes

September 1, 2012

Frank, with his horses.

Frank is another set of eyes, checking on my fall-calving cowherd.  He lives in the house which is situated near the middle of my rented pasture.

His yard protrudes into and is surrounded by the pasture on three sides.  When he has his morning coffee on the front porch, he is checking my cows.

For me to check my cows, it’s a mile ATV ride.  And if I get there at the wrong time, and they’ve gone into the woods for shade, I’m out of luck.

One day in August I only counted eleven cows.  The next day the same cow was missing.  I asked Frank to keep an eye out for her.

I started walking the woods looking for her.  The woods is a jungle, pictured below.  I realized, crawling under Multiflora Rose brambles, that the cows hadn’t even explored the whole woods.

I spent two days combing the woods looking for the missing cow.  Frank rode his horse where he could, looking for the missing cow.  I started using my nose, figuring the stench from a decaying animal would lead me to her.

On the fifth day, 949 nonchalantly walked out of the woods with a little black calf and rejoined the herd.  At that point, I realized I can’t micromanage.  Frank and I just count.  We’re at seven black calves now.


Camouflaged Calf

August 20, 2012

The cows have started calving.  I have a difficult time finding the calves because their mothers hide them.

There is a two-day old calf in the center of the photo above.  Below you can see a close-up of the calf.

The calves are coming out in shades of black even though their moms are red, because their daddy was a neighbor’s Black Angus which jumped the fence and hung out with the cows.  The calf below looks like a chocolate Lab.


Apples in Rented Pasture

August 16, 2012

I was fortunate to rent a pasture this year, close to my farm.  I had a vet preg-check my sixteen fall-calving cows this spring, then vaccinated and fly tagged the twelve which were bred, and put them in the pasture May 1st.

They have done really well, even in the drought, because  I under-stocked the pasture.  I wanted some experience grazing the pasture before I put too many animals in and then had to feed hay or destock.

Now they’re enjoying the wild apples which grow in the woods and in the open.  The cows have a route they walk everyday, checking for down fruit.

The tree above is strange.  Half of it has no apples, the other half is loaded with apples.

I usually eat a few every time I check the cows.  Each tree’s apples taste different, but they’re all good in their own way.


Summertime Drought

June 25, 2012

We’re in the midst of a summertime drought.  The second cutting of hay is considerably smaller than the first cutting.  The first field in my cutting schedule is seven acres.  Its yield decreased from 25 round bales of hay for first cutting to 3 and one third bales for second cutting.  Second cutting is always smaller than first, but this is abnormally so.

The permanent pasture my steers and hogs use is drying up fast.  My backup plan is to graze hay fields.  So I put a temporary electric fence in and started grazing a hay field, pictured below.

Summertime droughts are not uncommon here.  Rarely do we have crop failures, though.  So irrigation for crops is not used.  An exception is my partners, Carrie and Eric.  They rely so heavily on their pastures for chickens, sheep, and dairy cows, they’ve decided to put in a pasture irrigation system called K-line.  I’m interested to see how it works for them.


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