Sunday, April 29, 2018

Big Food...Cheap Food....Good Food?

We had news today that the man who we got Katie from is giving up. He is selling out and will no longer have a dairy. The loss to him will be horrible, he is 3rd generation Dairyman and has bred champion Jersey cattle for most of his life. He is just a bit younger than Ralph.

Why has he made this decision? It was not by choice.

Walmart has decided to drop the food company that bought Mikes beautiful Jersey milk. They are going to be teaming with a Monolithic dairy called Fair Oaks. Fair Oaks milks 40,000 cows. They play the Big Food game with finesse. Walmart wants to be able to sell milk for 98 cents a gallon. Only the biggest corporate farms can make money with milk prices being so low. Fair Oaks has actually made a tourist side business with their operation in Indiana. You can take tours of the dairies, watch milking, feeding and even calves being born. You can shop attheirgift store. Government environmental subsidies fuel Fair Oaks Milk tanker trucks because Fair Oaks uses methane produced by the manure to make fuel. Yes it’s admirable they do that, Ralph and I see the Ruan Trucks with their special methane fuel tanks behind the cabs, hauling milk from Fair Oaks along Interstate 64. Hauling milk all over the country. The economy of scale gives them such advantages, they produce so much that their profit margin can be low.

So I sit in the sun on our back deck and watch our cows graze and I wonder what is going to happen to so many small dairies. Mike milks 75 cows, owns and manages over 300, young stock, replacement heifers, bulls, and cows in various stages of production. He has infrastructure to support his cows and a lifetime of experience. He loves his Jersey’s and is so proud of them. He told us he was so glad we bought Katie. Jersey cows are long lived and produce into their teens with good care. The job of a family cow is perfect for his older girls who’s production was slowing a bit. It also opens up room for his young first fresheners. He finds is frustrating to see more of the  modern Amish shy away from milking a family cow, it’s so much easier to buy milk. As to people with acreages....they would rather mow lawn.

Big Food is food is overwhelming the population. We follow blogs and v-logs of people that do have a cow and they love the milk and advantages a cow can give you. It is however not CHEAP MILK. Too few people really understand the entire picture of a family cow. It is easier to buy cheap milk.

We enjoy every tall, cold, delicious glass of milk we drink, we know where it came from, what Katie ate, we know there are no hormones, chemicals or additives to this milk. It is not processed in any way to alter the cellular structure of the milk. It is easy to digest. Katie has not been given shots of oxytocin to increase her milk production. The milk travels from the barn to the house, as fresh as it can be.  She has her non gmo grain for breakfast then ranges on grass, lays in the sun, ruminates and just lives like a cow should. Her milk costs us about 7.00 a gallon right now.

We think it’s a deal. I love milking her. She stands for me without even a halter on. She comes when we call or even when we don’t. The time we took to get her used to us was well worth it. How many food sources are also therapy and entertainment?

She eats grass we would have to bush hog. She is feeding our future beef with her extra milk. Supplementing the cats food and even the chickens share the bounty.

The small dairies that have been hit by the loss of someone to buy their milk [20 of them in this area alone] have families, mortgages, pride in their dairies. They are fanatical about the milk they produce and it’s quality. All across the country this is happening. Our feed guys spoke of 5 Amish dairymen he knows in New York State that have been forced out. All milking under 200 cows. I have friends in Ohio that are selling out. The company that bought their milk went into receivership after Walmart decided to go bigger. They milked 175 cows. Their oldest daughter is training to be a vet. These are just a few but any farm community in any state of the Union is being affected. The numbers are disturbing.

Why not become organic you ask, or grass fed, hit the niche markets? Some areas simply do not have the right kind of population. If Mike was close to Louisville or Lexington that might be an option but in rural Kentucky it’s simply not a possibility. So many small dairies are in the same situation.

People are getting smarter about food but are we learning fast enough?  Will there still be an option? Will there be any small local dairies left, Dairies that produce milk that doesn’t travel hundreds of miles before you get it. Dairies that are run by families that are proud of what they do, families that are part of the community not faceless corporations.

So I think and to be honest worry, not for Ralph and I, we have a food future in place here on the farm. I worry for the children who are raised expecting easy, cheap food. Food they are told is safe  but food I think is making this country terribly unhealthy.

I think I’m going to walk down to the pasture and talk to Katie. She always makes me smile. A sweet Jersey Cow is a special treat too few people are blessed with.

Take care and be safe. God Bless you all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Zero Turn Mower

We have acquired a solid set of small equipment for this small farm. Most of it has been researched in tedious detail, Pros and Cons gone over.

Would we use them enough?
Would they do what we needed them to do?
Would they handle the work?
Could we use them for multiple tasks?
Would they justify the expense of the purchase?
How would they treat the soil or hay?
Would they help us keep fit?

It was a long list of questions. In the end we had the information to make purchases for the future.
Some things went wrong, like the wonderful Diesel engine on the Grillo G110. It was a Koehler. A solid engine with great power and fuel economy. We loved it but it was not designed for farm work. It was more suited to stationary applications. After a number of serious problems due to dust we had to admit it was not going to work. Now a gas Honda motor runs the Grillo and the work gets done.

One thing we had not taken into consideration was the rampant growth of things green in this country. We had a serious battle with grass and lost most of it. Ralph knew the Grillo and the flail and drum mowers cut the grass/hay/weeds really well but we simply could not keep up to it. Then he hurt his back.

One piece of equipment we had never looked into was a riding mower. We both felt that walking behind the Grillo was good for us. It is not hard to do. Walking is good low impact exercise. Then one day we stopped to see our Small engine guy Aron. He had customers and while we waited we looked at a Husqvarna Zero Turn mower parked outside his shop. It look almost new and was tagged for sale.  We looked at each other and I think we both had the same thought.....FAST MOWING!!!

So we asked about the mower. It was a trade in on a bigger mower. It was basically new and a good deal. It had a blower and bagger set up already in place. We went home and talked about it a lot. Looking at our fence lines and the areas that we had not yet cut we knew getting the zero turn had possibilities. Could it pull a cart or wagon we asked? Yes it had a hitch mounted on it. It would cut across a fairly steep slope as well. It was a major expense and we waffled, then Ralph tried the Grillo and flail mower. His back rebelled and we knew we would be wise to get the Zero-turn.

Then we looked hard and found a very good small wagon for it. It was mounted with a dump cart option, wide sturdy wheel and stake pockets for sides to be mounted. It was not cheap but after looking at a lot of other carts we felt it was by far the best quality. It came home from Tractor Supply. We built side panels for it and Ralph promptly hauled leaves with it. Watching him learn to drive the speedy machine was a blast, I am glad he started out in the big field.

 Cleaning Katies Stall.

Unloading Manure in the West Garden.

This winter we took the blower assembly off and used the zero-turn and cart to haul manure from at first the poultry and then the cows. It was a blessing, We hauled water in the cart, wood, scraps from the barn rebuild, pumpkins and t-posts from the removal of the old fences. The dump feature made it easy for Ralph to unload the manure where he wanted it on the Garden. We drove over piles of leaves and the blower sucked them up and bagged them for us to use as mulch.

 Picking up leaves, I didn't have to rake them!

 Filling the wagon from the bagger.

The best thing though was the speed of the fence mowing. Our shaggy fence lines were tidy and clear in no time at all. The bagger and cart haul grass clippings in for mulch and composting. This spring the new Paddocks were all trimmed to ready them for even growth.

[ Ralph did get stuck a couple of times, the Husqvarna does not handle slippery, heavy tilth going up hills, although back and forth is fine.We used the reliable but slow Grillo to pull the Zero-turn out. Ralph never gets it stuck where you can get a truck! ]

The Fenceline maintenance is even more critical now with the new woven wire fences.

Hauling the grass clippings from cutting the fencelines back to the compost area. The bags collect it then when they are full Ralph dumps them in the cart. This allows him to do almost all the way around the outer fence with only 1 extra trip back.

So now we have to assess this purchase. We think it was a good choice. Ralph has had headlights mounted on it. We found in winter darkness caught up with us and there were times the lights would have helped a lot so after looking into the idea we had some installed.

This small farm keeps us hopping and best of all learning. What we realize is you have got to keep an open mind about equipment. You have to make changes in the way you do things and look to options within the machines you buy.

The Zero Turn has been a real surprise. It is far more useful than we ever thought it would be. The Grillo is still the star for rough work and the gardening but this mower we never dreamed of getting is earning its place in the way we do things.

God Bless all of you and be safe.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

April Showers or Snow flurries?

It has been a different April. Our gardens are still too wet to get onto as much as we need to and the garlic needs some heat and good sunlight. However the pasture is doing well and we are using the new paddocks at the back for the cows during the day. They are doing very well and we have almost quit feeding them hay. [They still like a small flake to nibble on at night but they don't really need it.]

Katie has made the nutritional adjustment we had hoped she would, she has gained weight and looks terrific.

Here she is the day she arrived:

Katie January 26th, 2018
 Katie  April 2nd, 2018

I read  a lot about condition scoring Dairy cattle. I was used to beef cattle that have more cover naturally. A dairy cow can have more bone showing and still be in good condition. It was a learning experience. I read and watch a lot of Blogs and Vlogs that talk about grass fed dairy cows. We have decided to try to blend the two systems. Katies production effects her condition, if she is eating only grass to produce milk it is harder on her to keep condition so we supplement with a non GMO grain ration. It seems to be working as she has maintained her 4.5 gallons a day and has gained weight. Ben has grown tremendously as well. A testament to calf sharing.

The rotation through our pasture has also been a satisfactory experiment except for one unforeseen circumstance. The two back paddocks have not been grazed in years and were growing brambles and rough weeds. The bush hogging last fall and flail mowing this spring has allowed the grass to regain a good foothold. 

However the tick population is horrific. We are picking ticks off the cattle every night while we look into tick control. Our front pastures where the chickens are have not given the cattle any ticks. Since we use the milk we have to be cautious about chemical tick sprays for the animals. Well at least Katie. 
It is good to be using the paddocks though and the system of gates and the lane-way has proved to be very nice to use.

The other news on the bovine front is the arrival of two Jersey steer calves. One 2 days old and the other just 4 days old. We got them from the man Katie came from. He delivered the calves and had castrated them for us.He was so pleased to see how good Katie looked and couldn't get over how nice Ben is. He was quite funny, he kept repeating how beautiful she looked and how long and correct the steer calf was, a super calf....he had really turned out!
The two little steers will become beef in the next two years or so. Cheese making is not feasible at this time, we don't have the refrigeration space or time.

The price was right and it should allow us to have them well grown by winter and helping eat the grass to restore the paddocks.

Katie and the Boys. April 8th, 2018
Ralph has been working the gardens as he can. The poultry sure remember the sound of the Grillo. They arrived like a shot to help him with the tilling in the east garden. The Peas and Broad Windsor beans are up but he was working some of the manure and shavings mix into the remainder of the garden. We love the way it is adding organic to the heavy soil. The chickens and ducks just love the entire aspect of fresh turned soil.

They all congregate and observe or participate as they see fit. The turkeys strut and gobble. It has always been one of our favorite things about the free roaming flock.

So this is the latest news. Ralph has some new tools I will tell you about soon, after we have used them a bit more and he got headlights on the zero turn Mower. He is so thrilled to have them. Men and gadgets are such fun!

We  are enjoying ourselves so much and marvel at our little farm and how it is developing its "Character".

God Bless you and keep you safe and well.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Weighing cattle by measurements.

Well it’s been a crazy month for weather, colder than February. We have been paying attention to our cows condition and feed. Mischief and Katie need to be gaining weight to cycle properly so we need to know what they weigh.

We don’t have a scale. There are tape measures available that give you an idea of weight by  measuring heart girth. I used them years ago in 4-H but they were not very accurate but my Mother found a formula using two measurements that was much better. Heart girth and length from the point of the shoulder to the pin bones.

The formula is simple:
Measure the heart girth
Measure the length of the animal from the point of the shoulder to the pin bones.
Use this formula with those measurements.

Heart girth X Heart Girth X Body length Divided by 300.
 This gives you a weight in pounds. [Not 100% acccurate but quite close.]

We have been using it to track the weight of all three beasts. It shows us our feed is working well and they are gaining properly. We thought it might be useful for anyone with a few cattle around the farmstead.

So today Mischief got to be our guinea pig and stand for photos. She was not amused but stoic!

Stand your animal fairly square on their feet.

Here are the places you need to measure.

We used a metal tape measure but you can use a string along the side and around the girth. Then simply measure the string. They often don't like the sound and feel of a metal tape.

Here Ralph has the tape in position for the length measure. His index finger is touching the bone at the point of the shoulder. That is where the measurement is read.

Here is the hearth girth measurement. It is snug but not super tight, try to get the same tightness every time you measure them. It means a more consistent reading from weight to weight.

Mischief weighed 502 pounds from this set of measurements. She is gaining 1.79 pounds per day, just right for her age and development. We want her well grown but not too fat.

We hope this is useful information.

We are enjoying the cattle very much. They are more work than chickens but sure work well 'with' the chickens. Now the poultry has figured out cow manure we see the cows surrounded by the poultry quite frequently.

Now I have to get a glass of milk.  Oh my Jersey Milk.....cold and rich and a bit of heaven.

God Bless you all and take note  of the blessings around you!