Matthew’s Reminder

July 7, 2022
Running of the Bulls

WARNING: Detailed and Long Post.  I wrote this to remind me of our selection goals and to hold myself accountable.  If you’re not me or Larry from Madison, I suggest you skip this long post.

100% Calf Crop.  If you’re a cow/calf producer and you aren’t weaning a calf from every cow, I’ve just saved you time by identifying what should be your #1 goal.

But, but, but.  I know, you have more butts than a Piedmontese stud, and its your herd, and you aren’t going to take my word for it.  Why should you?  Who am I anyway?

I’ll tell you.  I’m a guy who’s been farming his whole life, made most every mistake once, sometimes twice, (I’m a slow learner), and hung in there long enough that we make a living farming.

But you’re still not going to take my advice about your herd.  And you shouldn’t.  Its your herd.

So, where are you going with your herd?  Can you verbalize your goals?  Have you ever written them down.

Write down your goals!

You know who we lie to the most?  Ourselves.  Writing down your goals keeps you accountable to yourself.

I’ll use our farm as an example.  These are the traits we’ve identified and written down as being top priority for our farm.

Our #1 trait is Disposition.  

Why is Disposition our top trait?  My work crew is 2 elderly parents, a wife, and a toddler.

I loaded two old bulls the other day with the help of my wife and Grandpa.  Grandpa got to ride his 4 wheel drive ATV.  My wife and I walked through ankle deep mud, and one of her boots leaks.

To inspire my wife’s courage I used audible cues, “Come on honey!”  She came on.  We got the bulls loaded and I hauled them to market.

At the end of a long day I looked for my supper and I realized it was going to be something I remember my mom serving my dad from time to time.  In our family its a dish called, “Find it yourself.”

So yes, Disposition is going to stay at the top for the foreseeable future.  We need to have cattle we can work with.

Our next most important trait is Calving Ease.  

I anxiously watched my first heifer of the calving season try to push out a calf, Wednesday, April 6th, 2022.  20 mph wind was blowing rain sideways.  We don’t have fancy calving barns so we wait until April to start calving here in southwest Wisconsin. 

I told my wife we were going to have to wait until this heifer had her calf safely before we went to Platteville.  We had planned an outing to Farm and Fleet, maybe lunch at Culver’s, but that was on hold while we waited.

And I prayed that the calving ease bull we used was truly easy calving, as it was not going to be easy to help this heifer if she had a problem.  The pasture I have these heifers calving in is pretty nice, with stockpiled fescue, and hills for drainage, and draws to get out of the wind.  

But it would not be easy to help her as we would have to walk her through the muddy winter hay feeding lot, up to the pen by the barn, and then either haul her to my parents corral or haul the catch chute up to my barn.

Well it took most of the morning, but the heifer had her calf unassisted, with my dedication to calving ease only strengthened.  We missed our lunch at Culver’s, but happy to have a live calf.

I should mention we want both kinds of calving ease, direct and maternal.  Direct calving ease estimates how easily a bull’s calves will be born.  Maternal calving ease estimates how well a bull’s daughters will calve. 

The final trait we select is Soundness.  And by Soundness I mean feet and legs, breeding, and udder. 

If your cow can’t walk because of long hooves or poor legs, she won’t stay in the herd.  If the bull and cow can’t connect, no calf.  And if the newborn calf can’t stand up and put his mouth around a functioning teat, Matthew has to stop whatever else he’s doing and get the cow into the corral and help the calf nurse. 

The first Soundness traits keep you in the cattle business.  The last Soundness trait keeps me from being annoyed, and since I don’t like being annoyed, its definitely staying in our Soundness criteria.  

For our farm, that’s it!  3 Traits, Disposition, Calving Ease, and Soundness.  If you think I’m cheating by subgrouping 3 traits into soundness, then fine, call it 5 traits we select.

What do you select?  Keep in mind, the more traits you select, the less emphasis and progress you can make on any one trait.

What don’t we select?  Off the top of my head, weaning weight, yearling weight, milk, maintenance energy, average daily gain, dry matter intake, marbling, carcass weight, yield.  And everything else, except for one trait I forgot to mention.

We like red cattle.  Most of our neighbors have black cattle.  We like red cattle, so we select red cattle.  Maybe you don’t care what color your cattle are, fine, its your herd. 

What traits do you select?

Remember to keep it simple!  The more traits you select, the less progress you will make in any trait.

Let’s take a ludicrous example and say that you and a buddy have talked it over and decided that cattle need long tails to swat flies.  The longer the better.  You both decide to add tail length to your selection criteria.

Now this is a great trait to make progress on, because its measurable, and most likely highly heritable.  All you have to do is measure tail length at a consistent time in your cattle’s life, select the best, and breed the best to the best.  You will increase the tail length in your cattle.

Now your buddy is a reasonable person, and she likes well balanced cattle, so while she does select for tail length, she also selects for disposition, calving ease, weaning and yearling weight, and she does a little direct marketing of beef, so she even looks at the marbling EPD.  

You, on the other hand, are not a reasonable person.  You don’t care about anything besides tail length.  You measure tails and you breed the best to the best.

Now let’s say you and your buddy are consistent in your selection and keep after this for several years, several generations, who is going to have cattle with longer tails?

Your buddy may have well balanced cattle with beautiful tails, but you, you unreasonable person, will have cattle that can swat a fly off the tip of their nose!

When people talk about long tailed cattle, your name will go down as the visionary, the pioneer.  You’ll be the Thomas Edison of long tailed cattle.

Now depending on what traits long tails in cattle is correlated with, will determine what your cattle look like.  Maybe they’ll be tall, wild, quiet, easy calving or require c sections to calve.  You don’t care.  You wanted long tails and you got them!

So, I ask you, what do you want?  And will you have the guts to go after it?  And will you have the courage to hold yourself accountable and write it down?


Vaccinations

August 23, 2021

I asked my Dad to recollect about vaccinations.  He remembered the days when Cholera and Erysipelas were devastating to swine, nearly 70 years ago.

When the vaccines were developed, Dad’s family built catch pens out in the pasture and herded the pigs into the pens and then proceeded to catch and vaccinate every pig.

It was a lot of work, but worth it, as it eliminated death loss from these dreaded diseases.  


Trying Some New Things

April 28, 2021

I purchased a silage tarp to prepare a seedbed for our sweet corn field. I’m hoping weeds will germinate under it, and then after I remove the tarp, I can plant into a cleaner soil.

We manage our sweet corn without heribicides or pesticides and weeds can be a problem.

Later, I plan to use the tarp to cover round bales of hay.

I was also inspired by a book, “Keeping Bees With a Smile,” which promotes natural beekeeping. The author claims an apiary can be started and maintained with wild swarms.

So I’ve installed a swarm trap and am looking forward to see if it attracts a swarm of honeybees.

Swarm trap

If the swarm trap works, I know I’m going to feel bad for the native pollinators as some people fear that the European Honeybee with their huge numbers, may limit the nectar resources for the native pollinators.

So I drilled some holes in a log I’m leaving in a conspicuous place to see if I can get some native bees to nest.

UPDATE: Taking orders for delivery every other Saturday to Madison. Next date May 8th.  Email Matthew with order and/or questions: oakgrovelane@yahoo.com. Thank you!


Found My Old Homemade Snowboard

February 5, 2021

Like most Americans, I save too much stuff.  But I’m glad I saved this old snowboard I made one winter night, so many years ago.

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“It shouldn’t be that hard to build a snowboard,” Jimmy said.

“Yeah, we could do that,” Doug said.

Jimmy, Doug and I were all home from our respective colleges on winter break.  

We always got together when we had a chance to hang out, practice our songs, (we had a house party band), and whatever else intrigued us.

I had been lamenting that I would like to have a snowboard, when the engineer and the architect decided that a snowboard was definitely doable.

“We can use my Dad’s tools, and he always has extra boards lying around,”  Jimmy said.

“Ok, let’s do it tonight!  We each have until dawn to build a snowboard.  Then we find a hill and race down!”  I said.

“Yes!  The Snowboard Challenge!”

We drove to Jimmy’s home farm.  Jimmy suggested we work in the dairy barn in the middle alleyway since it was super cold outside and the barn stayed relatively warm since the cows were kept in overnight.

Plus the barn had electricity, pretty good lights, and a radio with surround sound.  Jimmy loves to tinker.  When he learned that sound can be transmitted via metal, he taped a speaker wire to the metal milk line and taped a speaker to the milk line at the other end of the barn.

It worked perfectly.  Sound on both ends of the barn.

Jimmy now works as an electrical engineer for a dairy equipment company, so he’s still tinkering with pipelines. 

Doug has his own architect firm out in Vermont, still enjoying building things.

Jimmy got us set up with power tools and boards and misc other supplies.

Its a good thing Jimmy’s Dad’s cows were quiet and used to machinery, as we made a lot of noise when we set to work on our boards.  Jimmy’s Dad was super easy going about stuff like this.

We all were in high spirits as we started.  But I’m not a night person, so about 3 or 4 am I started feeling it.

“Matt.  Are you all right?” Jimmy asked.

I guess he found me standing, holding my board, not moving for several minutes.  I was nearly asleep on my feet.

But somehow each of us finished with our prototype snowboard.

“Where should we race?” Doug asked.

“Let’s go to my farm,” I said.  “We can borrow warmer clothes for you guys.

Mom was surprised to see us.  We braced ourselves with hot coffee.  Then I got some of my Dad’s coveralls for Jimmy and Doug and we set out for the steepest hill we could find.

“Go!”

It wasn’t so much of a race.  More of see who could actually ride their board down the hill.

Doug and I kept practicing.  We gave each other’s boards a try. 

Jimmy is not a morning person, and the night finally caught up with him.  I remember him lying on his back in the snow, one arm up over his eyes to shield the sun, napping.

Now middle-aged with life’s responsibilities, I don’t get to see my old buddies as often as I wish.  But we keep in touch and always have a good time when we do get together.


2020 Turkeys

December 3, 2020

This is our fourth year of raising turkeys. Due to a cancelled butcher date our first year, this is also the fourth year of butchering turkeys on the farm. Customers drive to the farm and pick up their fresh turkey, works pretty slick.

Butchering turkeys is not my favorite job, but our closest poultry processor is about an hour and a half away, and that would require two trips, one for the live birds, and one to pick up processed birds, so more than 6 hours, plus customers would still have to get their turkeys somehow.

Turkey butchering day starts with early chores and starting by 8:30 am processing, done by noon, and then customers start rolling in. I don’t set an end time, but thankfully all the customers arrive before my bedtime.

The weather was miserable for turkey day this year with a snowstorm the night before, meaning I had to move snow in the early am, followed by snow and rain all day. But we had a great crew of friends to help butcher and a steady stream of customers all afternoon. The weather wasn’t able to dampen my spirits.


Attention to Detail and Changing Jobs

August 25, 2020

 

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Twine threading through my New Holland square baler.  We remove the last bale from the baler at the finish of haying season and have to rethread the twines at the beginning of the next.  It doesn’t work unless its exactly like this, so I took this photo so I could remember, and save myself some frustration.

If I had to square bale every day I’m sure I would come to dread the job.  But because we only do it a few days a summer, its actually exciting.  We round bale a lot more.

Changing jobs frequently suits me well.  Even menial labor can be pleasant if it doesn’t consume the whole day.  This is one of the reasons I love farming.  Often, my body is engaged in menial labor while my mind is busy working on a more difficult problem.

A new customer asked about the treatment of our animals from our farm to slaughter.  I’m confident our animals are among the most humanely raised on the planet.  We look at each species and strive to give them what they want: Pigs root, Cows graze in a herd, Chickens forage for bugs, etc.

And I deliver to our butcher and walk them all the way to the kill floor.  I don’t stay to see them killed, but Avon wouldn’t have a problem having me stay as they kill as humanely as possible.  I’m much more concerned with a slick walkway than with Avon’s slaughter technique, as hogs and cattle don’t understand they’re about to be slaughtered, but they definitely experience fear if they don’t have secure footing.

Another reason I like Avon is they’re changing jobs throughout the week just like my farming.  They only kill animals a couple of mornings a week.  The rest of the week they’re cutting up animals, or curing meat, or dealing with customers.  Unlike threading my square baler once a year, Avon is doing jobs every week, staying proficient, yet changing jobs every day to keep things fresh.

UPDATE: Taking orders for delivery every other Saturday to Madison. Next date September 5th.  Email Matthew with order and/or questions: oakgrovelane@yahoo.com. Thank you!

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The Power of Yes

July 27, 2020

 

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We always eat well, but these next two weeks are remarkable.  It’s sweet corn season!

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Above is a corner of my sweet corn field I carved out for my friend Jeremy.  He grows tomatoes, eggplant, and cowpeas, and the rent he pays is all we care to eat.  This is the third year we’ve said yes to this arrangement and its delicious!

UPDATE: Taking orders for delivery every other Saturday to Madison. Next date August 22nd.  Email Matthew with order and/or questions: oakgrovelane@yahoo.com. Thank you!


Farming Quote by Eisenhower

April 6, 2020

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“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

It may not be easy, but it is heaven on Earth for me.  

Spring always seem like a miracle, but this spring’s new births are especially welcome.  

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I marvel at the promise of a seed, all the instructions it needs, packed tightly inside.

All I do is drop them on the soil, and in a few weeks, luxurious green!

Seeding Compartments Grain Drill

Saturday morning Dane County Farmer’s Market closed due to Covid-19.  Making trips to Madison for meat drops every other Saturday.  Next delivery April 25th.  Contact Matthew for more information: oakgrovelane@yahoo.com.  Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 


2020 March Litters and Market Cancelled!

March 13, 2020

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Last weekend was a gorgeous weekend and all of our sows farrowed from Saturday to Tuesday, with 8 to 11 piglets each, and they are all doing fantastic.  Tuesday afternoon was only 46 F, but the sunshine felt so good, some of the piglets were sunning themselves in the entrance of a hut.

Humanity’s health is not doing so well.  The Dane County Farmer’s market is cancelled for this Saturday and I think its a wise move.  When I heard that some people can carry and spread Covid-19 without showing symptoms, I knew we were in trouble.  I’m reminded of some of the hog diseases that seem to sweep across the nation despite all our best efforts to prevent them.

So its all about flattening the curve now so that our health care professionals can treat everyone who needs attention.  So no more large gatherings for the foreseeable future.

I am however, making deliveries to Madison this Saturday.  If you would like something, email, and we will work out details.  Thank you and stay safe!


One Bad Day

June 21, 2019

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As caretaker of our animals, our goal is a beautiful life, with one bad day.  One bad moment actually, as Andrew and the crew at Avon Locker work to humanely kill the animals on butcher day.

Personally, we had a bad day the other day, as my Dad rolled his ATV.  He’s ok, but recovering, as he’s sore all over and his ear needed several stitches.

We were trying to get a cow in and Dad was driving along side her on a side hill and the cow kicked the ATV and somehow it rolled over on top of him and continued rolling off him.  I got to him shortly after and we took him to the ER to get checked out and his ear stitched.

One of the reasons we’ve needed to get cows in is we’ve had 8 sets of twins this year, blowing away the old record of 5 sets.  Our  cows have a difficult time keeping track of twin calves unless we get them in to a smaller pasture by themselves.  If we are unable to separate the cow and calves, we bring in whichever calf ends up abandoned and bottle feed it until it can live on grass.

Below is a photo of a bottle calf we took to the library for a kids program and short petting zoo.  The kids enjoyed petting the calf.  And at the risk of anthropomorphizing, I think the bottle calf enjoyed the attention as well.

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