Grandpa Falconer

We all have people in our past who have helped us through the tough times and often we don’t recognise the impact they had until we are much older and those wiser ones are long past from our lives – perhaps even have died.  I didn’t know it at the time, but reflecting on the years i had with my grandpa – i realize now – he was my hero.

Sure, he wasn’t talkative or a hugger, but showed by example, a work ethic of getting up early (and making me get up early by pulling my toes to wake up), he would already have some chores done before i dragged my laziness out and ready to go do the chores that were away from the house.  The importance of finishing a job which included putting things away and cleaning up.  But, i LOVED going with him.  He’d let me drive the truck while he threw out small round bales to the cows to feed in the winter, taught me how to drive the old Farmall 460 and clip pastures with a 9 foot sickle bar mower AND how to change out a broken section.  And even when i drove (i think i was about 10) the pickup into a deep wash out along a ditch (he was on foot looking for a calf), he was more concerned whether or not i was hurt rather than upset about any damage to the pickup or that we had to walk a mile to get the aforesaid 460 to pull it out.   Additionally, he taught me how to ride and have a love for horses.  That was my passion for years.

Back from chores, every morning we stopped in at Tolly’s Garage on the western edge of Purdin, MO which had a population of 236 at the time – less now.  He would reach in for a Coca-Cola and I’d select my favorite – Chocolate Soldier.  Then i could just sit and act like i was one of the guys in the office area.  I was part of a small and important community even at age 8.

Today, my grandpa would have been 100, but he died August 9, 2008 and i continue to miss him though he corrected me a lot about how to raise cattle.  I’m still learning and still need correcting, but thankfully, i don’t make the mistakes he chided me about.

How many people get to farm or ranch the very land and legacy that his or her grandparent’s built?  Not many, but i do own and directly manage at least a portion of their legacy and i could not be more honored to carry on a tradition of land and livestock management.  I call this farm Tannachton Farm to reflect our Scottish roots and the commitment to regenerative and sustainable stewardship.

Heritage, Legacy, Tradition, Family  – cling to what is good

Cheers!

tauna

Grandpa Virgil Lee Falconer with Stanley and Stephen
Grandpa with his two sons, Stanley (my dad) and Stephen.  circa 1943

Virgil Lee Falconer tractor grinder

Grandpa Virgil Lee Falconer and tauna
Me on Danny and Grandpa on Gypsy
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Grandpa with my three yayhoos, Jessica, Nathan, Dallas
Grandpa Virgil Lee Falconer
Grandpa always drove Chevrolet pickups, so do i!  Thanks to cousin, Heather for this great photo.

 

 

 

The Lunatic Farmer -Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin, a self proclaimed lunatic farmer, is one of many real farmers i enjoy reading.  Nearly all of his blog entries, books, speeches, Ted Talks, and all around rantings are nuggets of truth and being politically incorrect (thank goodness!) he proclaims them for all to hear, digest, and test.

Another insightful writer (and personal friend) is the bloke he mentions here, David Schafer.  

INSPECTION FARCE is one of his most recent blogs that will be interesting to most consumers.

INSPECTION FARCE

            Anyone who thinks meat and poultry inspection actually makes safe food hasn’t been in a processing facility to see what goes on.  Yesterday I toured two of David Schafer’s Plant-in-A-Boxes (PIB) with him here in Vermont and Massachusetts.  Founder of Featherman Plucker and quintessential idea man and entrepreneur in the small-scale poultry processing space, he’s one of my greatest sources of inspiration.  When we get together, it’s heavenly.  I’m flying back home today.

             This is a trip I’ve wanted to take for some time because at Polyface we’re starting to bump our non-inspected poultry exemption that allows us to do 20,000 birds per year.  The reason we’ve gone this route is because it removes us from the hassle of inspection.  Inspection means a government agent tells you when you can start, when you can stop, what is blemished and what is not.  It requires substantial paperwork and calibration.  But more than that, it doesn’t improve anything and puts you under bureaucratic supervision rather than your own personal brand integrity.

             Before anyone retorts “well, not everyone is as honest as you,” let me tell you, the system can be gamed a million different ways.  Dishonest people find ways to express dishonesty no matter what you do.  For example, to make sure you have a negative E.coli test, you can just dip the sample birds in pure chlorine.  If you think “getting by” with a traffic violation is fairly easy, you ain’t seen nothin’ in a processing plant.

             David and I have come away from this quick tour of two of his facilities with more questions than answers.  Both of us are pretty savvy about regulations and both of us travel extensively and listen to the stories of other small operators around the country.  What’s obvious is that the stories don’t jive.  Clearly, different inspectors have different interpretations of the regulations.

             Same set of rules, but completely different interpretation.  This means procedures that work in one area with one inspector do not work in another area.  The tragedy is that nobody, I mean nobody, is there to hold the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) accountable.  If they write you up with a non-compliance infraction, you dare not complain because if you do, they retaliate.  It’s the worst case of emotional extortion you can imagine, and it’s ongoing across the country.

             Yesterday we met a new inspector in training and she said the line speeds at the big processors are 1.3 seconds per bird.  Yesterday, in these little facilities, inspectors had 10 seconds or more to examine each bird.  And yes, I watched them miss a lot–fecal contamination on the carcass, etc. Who spotted it and took care of it?  The well-trained employees down the line, that’s who.  Their brand reputation was on the line.

             The amount of anti-microbials used in the industry is nothing short of epic.  The clear prejudice of the FSIS against small plants creates nightmares for small operators.  The testing in a small plant is the same as in a big one, meaning that the percentage of birds sampled is exponentially higher in small facilities.  It’s a prejudicial and unfair playing field that protects the biggest players.

             I’ve said it before but it bears repeating.  When I testified before the U.S. Congress hearings into the meat industry a decade ago, convened by then Congressman Dennis Kucinich, I couldn’t believe my ears at what the head of the FSIS said.  He actually touted the progress the FSIS had made in efficiency, measured in pounds of product per inspector hour, due to the fact that so many small facilities had gone out of business.  I didn’t know they were inspecting for pounds per hour; I thought it was about food safety.  But his testimony let the cat out of the bag, The real goal of the FSIS is to increase through-put per inspector.  If that doesn’t make the FSIS a farce for food safety, I don’t know what does.

             Have you ever fallen for the duplicitous idea that we need more “government oversight” to insure food safety?

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Clay Masks

As soon as my little jar of clay mask is empty, I make a new batch.  There is a bit of planning on this because, being a bit on the weird side, i like to use only rain water to mix in with the clay harvested from the earth.

The clay in this mix is from the North Central Plains (or Visitors maps calls Panhandle Plains) area of Texas, near Olney.  To be precise, in the rocky paddock in front of the home of my rancher friends who live there.  Early this spring, i made a road trip to go visit and amongst many activities, their children and i collected a couple gallons of good ‘ole Texas clay.  (Our Missouri clay works great as well – it’s just red)

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Yup, that grayish/greenish rocky looking stuff is the clay we harvested and bagged and i brought home with me.

 

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Nice – a bit over an inch of rainfall in the gauge!
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Pour that liquid gold into a super clean glass spice jar.  Chooks in the background not paying a bit of attention to me.
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I only make about 1/2 cup at a time because without preservatives, it can get kind of rank smelling if it sits for more than a couple weeks.  I use a plastic screw type lid rather than metal because the metal one, i’ve found will rust and be hard to open.  Check out those two huge bags of dry clay harvested!  Probably last the rest of my life.
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Drop in some clumps of dried clay.
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Add the water.  Can’t give you an exact recipe – clay is going to be different and you’ll need to add more or less water for your batch.
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After i add the water, i screw on the lid and give it a swirl, then let nature take its course and use the erosive capabilities of water break down the clay clumps into softened lumps.  Much easier then to stir and smash any bits that didn’t completely break down.
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Add more or less water as necessary for desired consistence.  
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Smooth the clay mixture over your face and allow to dry – doesn’t take more than a few minutes.  Please excuse my blood shot eyes – haven’t been imbibing this early, just been out shifting my cows and ragweed season is in full assault mode. 😦
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All dry and ready to remove with a warm wet washcloth.  Keep the spa feeling going by relaxing in your favourite chair with a warm wet towel draped over your face.  Will make removing the clay easier, but more importantly, provide at least a moment to relax.  Or jump in the shower to rinse!

Got Him In

Quick update – i moved my cows et al to a temporary paddock i set up with electric netting (although it wasn’t electrified for this event, the cows are trained and respect it) and the bull had stayed nearby during the night and with some patience and quiet handling using Bud Williams Stockmanship techniques, i was able to not only ease the blind bull from the 20 acre paddock through a 16 foot gate, but with a bit more time walked him all the way to the corral and in.  However, i had to do this mostly from my Gator with a/c on; the ragweed allergy (yellow pollen) was horrible and i was suffering.

I called Dallas and he came up with the trailer and, together, we loaded him easily.  In the morning, i will doctor him for his bad eyes and spray him with natural fly repellent to give him some relief.

Thankfully, i discovered he could see a bit – very close up only, but at least that keeps him from running into fences and gates.  Today was a lot of handling and being by himself the whole time and sorted away from cows, yet he remained calm and well behaved.

Except for going shopping in town, i pretty much had to stay inside the rest of the day due to allergies.  However, this evening, i set up new poultry netting and moved the eggmobile once the chooks went to bed inside.

See what tomorrow brings!

Cheers!

 

Bulls Almost All Pulled

Today was not the most productive and had some frustrations, but Yah is good all the time and no one is hurt or killed.  That’s a good day when mustering in all one’s cows and sorting off 8 bulls.  Granted, only 4 of them are mature 1500-1800 lb bulls, even yearling age bulls can get cranky and hurt you in a heartbeat.

The frustration was only in that it was hot and the cows moved slow like pushing water uphill and that one bull was missing.  Completely, i looked and drove and walked a few ditches, but i knew it was a waste of time because of the heat – no doubt he was hidden down under some brush somewhere.

I did have another small group (24 head) located about a mile from the corral, but i had already set up tapes, so once they finally decided to go to the right corner of their paddock, they moved easily albeit slowly to the corral.  Sorted off that bull and let the cows back out.  The bugger was that i found one of those expensive cows i’d purchased from Ohio in the middle of the field – fat, slick, and dead.  I hate that!  Haven’t a clue what happened.  Wasn’t located to make sense that she was struck by lightning.  Maybe had a heart attack or something, it has been incredibly hot and humid and although she was a young cow, some just can’t hack it.

Called Dallas and he hooked onto the trailer and came up.  Kudos to him for backing the tricky curves to the load out.  Too muddy today to pull in and around, so he had to back all the way from the sealed road and make two sharp turns whilst backing.  Nailed it both times!  He helped me load the first bulls going back to pasture to use next year and i rode with him to make sure all went well.  We went back up for the two bulls that will sell in a bit once they gain a few pounds and maybe the price comes up a bit.

Sorry no photos, but when i’m sorting bulls from cows and calves, then sorting the bulls for each load, then loading, i do not want to be distracted by taking photos.

The good news is that by this time it was starting to cool off and i went to look for the lost bull again and there it was up and headed in the right direction.  Sadly, completely blind, so i eased it in through the gateway towards the cows and shut the gate (single strand bungee electric).  It was getting dark, so i decided to leave the cows in the corral paddock so he could continue towards them by listening and smelling.  Hopefully, in the morning he will be near enough that i can help him find a 16 foot opening.  This is not a handy thing, but i have a plan on how to accomplish moving the cows out of the way to give me plenty of time  to coerce the bull without any opportunity of him getting in with the cows.

But if tomorrow’s plan goes as well as my plans for today, it could be a long day.

Long, slow, hot day, but by and large it went okay – well, except for the expensive dead cow. 😦

Cheers!

tauna

Genetics and Selection

There are very few reasons for mobs of livestock to have access to ponds beyond and emergency drinking water access. My reason here is that these heifers needed to be separated from the main cow herd for the 45 day breeding season and the only paddock I have does not have shade or even a high point to catch a breeze such as the pond dam where the heifers in the second photo are standing.

Ideally, allotting short term adequate shaded space is the optimal.  Video below shows comfortable cows and calves.

In many cases, cattle not selected for heat tolerance will immerse themselves in a pond for relief. The flip side is that oftentimes these cattle will tolerate severe cold better than the others. We can spend decades selecting for the genetics which thrive in each of our unique environments and management. Hopefully also providing a quality eating experience for the consumer.

This is a jarring photo and i hesitate to post it, but reality is, we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes we make do until improvements can be made.  These purebred Angus heifers can’t tolerate much heat and humidity and stand in the pond. Not healthy for the pond or the cattle.
These heifers have up to 50% genetically selected heat tolerant breeds of either Longhorn or Corriente crossed with black or red Angus. Clearly more comfortable in Missouri heat and humidity.

 

Let Them Eat Weeds!

Kathy Voth, Fred Provenza, and others have long promoted letting cows eat weeds.  There are few weeds that are poisonous and unless cows are starved, they won’t eat them anyway.  Many farmers and ranchers clip or mow pastures and weeds, especially this time of year preparing the paddocks to grow for winter stockpile.

I like to mow pastures – i’ve clipped pastures with a 9-foot sickle bar mower bouncing around (sweating and burning) on a modified wide front end Farmall 460 for years.  The result is a beautifully laid down forage that allows the new growth to pop through and look like a lush lawn.  It’s a good feeling —but i now question its profitability and no longer mow.

Alan Newport recently wrote on an article (Who’s Afraid of Weeds and Brush?) on this very thing.  Greg Judy espouses the benefits of weed grazing in his books and videos.

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Another example of mature forage laid down by decent grazing and trampling pressure.
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This photo is just terrible, but it shows on the left the cows have eaten even Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed.  The right side of the fence has yet to be grazed.
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Well rested tall grass nicely laid down by trampling and eating.
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If my cows are getting this much grazing out of ragweed, i don’t see much point in mowing it except to lay down those stalks for better microbe use.  But can i afford to own and run a tractor to mow it?  What is left here, the cows will snarf it down once it’s dried down this winter.
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This is a thorny locust tree sprout practically stripped by my cows and calves.  I’ve owned sheep and they do a good job as well, but not any better than my cows.

Who’s afraid of weeds and brush?

In the right system, cattle grazing under ultra-high stock density will eat most “problem” plants and thrive doing it.

Alan Newport | Jun 05, 2019

 

Over the past year I have been grazing beef cattle at high stock density, and at times at ultra-high stock density grazing (UHDG), and I am regularly amazed at the things they eat.

A few examples are: Most of the leaves from buck brush (aka Indian currant), almost all the leaves they can reach from most trees, the top half or more of sericea lespedeza, a fair bit of ironweed and most ragweeds, and at least the top half of goldenrod. In fact, they clean up or at least take part of nearly everything in their environment. And they do it by choice. These plants are sometimes the first things grazed, sometimes the last things grazed, and sometimes taken in the middle of the grazing period. In other words, they are not eaten in desperation or starvation.

I’m sure some of you are asking what qualifies as UHDG. Johann Zietsman, the Namibian rancher and consultant who pioneered UHDG back in the 1990s, says a stock density of 1,000 to 2,000 animals per hectare. If we consider that one hectare is 2.47 acres and that Zietsman and his “disciples” typically run cows that weigh closer to 700 pounds than the 1,500-pound average for modern cattle, this helps us figure out a stock density of maybe 283,000 to 567,000 pounds of stock per acre — or higher. This generally matches my own definition that UHDG starts somewhere around 250,000 pounds per acre, while high stock density or very high stock density probably runs from 60,000 to 250,000 pounds per acre.

Anyway, last night my wife and I turned the cows into a really small paddock with tall and dense forage, in which I’d estimate from past experience they were grazing at well over 500,000 pounds of stock density. The little calves and the cows were all eating almost everything in there. There were still some cheatgrasses, some bermudagrass, a smattering of other warm- and cool-season grasses, and quite a bit of both lambsquarter (pigweed) and giant ragweed of the knee-high to thigh-high variety. They took it all out. It appeared to me each animal was eating a little bit of everything, switching from one plant type to another as they grazed. It’s pretty much what I’ve seen time and again under UHDG or even high stock density.

These are the same results I’m hearing from people all over the globe, on every continent. All are connected through Zietsman’s website and app-based discussion groups he runs. Their pictures and comments they share from their own ranches tell me volumes.

I’ll remind you the first goal of this type management is maximum sustainable profit per acre, which actually incorporates inseparably the goal of land improvement with beef production.

However, an advantage of this type management that has occurred to me lately is the reduced need for goats and sheep to eat the things cattle normally won’t eat. Maybe a little work by goats will be needed at times, but the cattle graze and browse almost all the plants. (Cedars and full-sized trees, of course, will require other control methods.)

Further, as I watch cattle of all ages graze/browse every imaginable kind of plant, I can only imagine what kind of quality they are building into their bodies, therefore their meat and milk.

Debi NewportCalf eating tree leaves

Even calves like fresh tree leaves that haven’t been exposed to grazing, therefore haven’t built up high tannins.

A few weeks ago, I published a blog about the importance of secondary and tertiary compounds in the quality and healthfulness of beef and other meats. It was called Here’s how grassfed beef really could be superior. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do so. Fred Provenza and others recently published a great paper on the importance of these compounds particularly to humans eating meats from animals adapted to diverse, native habitats.

So, besides achieving the highest sustainable stocking rate, the fastest rate of soil and rangeland improvement, and the highest potential profit in a cow-calf operation, you’re also getting the best weed and brush control possible with cattle and the greatest consumption of plants providing a wide variety of nutritional benefits. And by the way, once they learn to eat these plants they will continue eating many of them even when grazing at lower stocking densities.

The caveat is that conventional cattle of today are very poor at this job. They have been bred to graze selectively under continuous grazing and generally to receive large amounts of hay and supplement through large portions of the year. We need to breed cattle suited to this task.

And incidentally, they will have good carcass quality because any beef animal that can thrive under this kind of grazing, laying on fat for winter survival, then fattening in the spring on green grass for calving and reproduction. Any animal that can get fat on grass has great potential to produce a quality carcass, and the US Meat Animal Research Center carcass data on the African Sanga breeds, as well as other testing, has indicated this is true.

The innovators and early adopters of grazing management and now cattle breeding are leading the way. I’m watching.

TAGS: BEEF WEEDS PASTURE