Category Archives: FARM

Working Cows and Calves Friday

The weather looks like it’s going to be perfect for pregnancy checking my cows and vaccinating late April through May born calves.  With daughter Jessica off teaching 1st grade this year in Hanoi, Vietnam, i’m short someone to do the tagging.  So that job gets shuffled between me and whoever is head catching the animals.  Not as efficient, but there is no one to pick up that job.  I do have most of the calf tags ready and most of the replacement tags for cows.

 

This peaceful video was taken Wednesday afternoon at my farm while i was up there working.  Happy cows and calves.

Fall Calving?

Heather Smith Thomas has written an interesting article for Progressive Cattle magazine entitled, “Fall Calving – Worth the Off-Season Plunge?“.  It’s worth a read for consideration, however, in my opinion, the answer is given in the question.  Seldom, if ever, doing anything off -season is smart or profitable.

The advantages listed in the article are straw man arguments, however, so if you are considering changes to your heard, be certain to talk to producers who can show you the real costs.

Advantages listed for fall calving:

  1. states that better prices for calves sold in the spring – this is true, but has nothing to do with fall calving.
  2. states that cows are on a better nutritional plane – not necessarily true since it depends on what they have been eating and the weather.  Missouri grasses and weather can have mighty thin cows by early fall.  Heat and humidity and toxic fescue play havoc with a body.  Inventory your location and resources before adapting.
  3. Row croppers are busy in spring (yes, they are) and so don’t have time to check cows.  This has nothing to do with fall calving.  Cows calve on their own.
  4. i think the issue on this is cold, muddy, health conditions.  This is largely, though not entirely, a producer making poor management decisions and can be issue no matter what season you have your cows calving in.
  5. Vaccinating/processing calves – there is no difference.
  6. Weaning calves in October when weather starts turning cold – why are you weaning just before winter?  Winter the calves with their mums.

Disadvantages listed for fall calving:

  1. more feed due to higher nutrient demands – yes, this is true, increased cost for feed and labor.
  2. lighter calves may be weaned in the spring – yes, this is true, and usually bring more dollars than heavy calves.

 

Wildlife have been working out the time for having babies for millennia, so mimicking their patterns is definitely worth a look since it is likely they go for the time of the year with the greatest survivability by now.  In the case of cattle, the closest animal type would be bison or buffalo in the Midwest, USA.  Most of the calves are born between the middle of April and end of May.  For this reason, I have chosen that same time frame for calving out my cows, and it works very nicely.  I seldom see a calf born and i haven’t assisted a cow in years.  That doesn’t mean every cow has no trouble or never gives birth to a dead calf, but even those times are extremely rare.  So, in my case, labor and labor costs are a nil.  Grass is coming on nicely, so the cows are in good condition and can feed themselves. (no labor)

So, while it’s a good article – you must do your own research.  As you see, i easily refute all the ‘advantages’ listed in the article of fall calving in my own operation and resource base.  I like to be profitable and fall calving simply doesn’t fill the bill.  (Disclaimer – my husband has a spring and fall calving herd and he likes it that way)

Another thing to remember when reading articles is that many producers call spring calving Dec through Feb/Mar.  That is the dead of winter!  Spring starts March 20.  Fall calving would mean starting September 20.  Make sure you clarify what people actually mean when these terms are bandied about.

Fall-calving cows

There are advantages and disadvantages to every calving season; producers need to figure out what works best for their own climate and management system.

Dr. George Barrington, Washington State University, says the advantages and disadvantages to fall calving are partly geographic, with regional and management differences. “Some producers in the Intermountain West have successful fall-calving programs, even though it might work best in a milder climate,” he says.

Advantages

The benefits of fall calving include a chance for better prices when fall-born calves are sold the next spring or summer. More people are spring-calving, with a larger supply of calves in the fall at weaning time, so the market generally drops. There is more demand for calves marketed in the spring.

Dr. Shelie Laflin has a mobile veterinary practice and helps run the family ranch and registered Angus herd near Olsburg, Kansas. Her family has both a spring- and fall-calving herd, and she prefers fall calving. “Several studies have shown that fall calving generally gives a better return for your investment. Cows tend to breed back sooner because they’ve been on a better nutritional plane through summer rather than having just come through winter before calving, and also tend to have less dystocia when they calve,” says Laflin.

Cows that come through cold during pregnancy tend to have heavier birthweight calves. “Cows that are pregnant in warm weather tend to have slightly smaller calves at birth – on average – and fewer dystocia cases compared to calves with the same genetics and management born in the spring,” says Laflin. “This means less labor needed, less stress on calves, healthier calves, with less scours and pneumonia, and fewer cases of mastitis in the cows.”

However, if cows are calving on mature grass pasture in the fall, calves sometimes get umbilical infections from grass awns getting up into the umbilical cord stump. “In the spring, umbilical infections are usually due to mud and dirty conditions,” she says.

There is no perfect situation. “From a management standpoint, however, from calving up until calves are about 2 months old, fall is hands down better than spring, especially in terms of illness.” By the time those calves are 2 months old, they are less vulnerable to some of the common diseases and can also withstand cold weather.

“Fall calving might mean from early or mid-September until late November,” says Barrington. “If producers are doing any farming, spring is usually a very busy time, and fall tends to have fewer demands on time and labor. Some producers in eastern Washington prefer fall calving because they also grow wheat. They are so busy in the spring that they can’t devote time to calving,” he says.

“We spend a lot of time treating calves for diarrhea in the spring – in wet, muddy confined areas. If weather does not allow producers to put the cows in larger, clean areas to calve, they are usually calving on the winter feeding area in contaminated conditions,” says Barrington. There are often better options in the fall for where the cows can calve.

“We calve fairly late in the fall,” says Laflin. “We are busy with haying until early September. There might be some producers harvesting crops in the fall – putting up the last of the hay and ready to start cutting corn or other crops. There might be overlap with harvesting and calving, but fieldwork overlap can also be a problem if a producer is calving in April/May,” she says.

“For us, the labor becomes a big factor. We are a family operation, and our kids play a big role in what we do. The labor involved in spring calving is just more intensive, trying to manage baby calves in cold weather. We feed the cows a lot through cold weather, and they tend to produce bigger calves and also make more milk than young calves can consume – which can lead to scours, mastitis, etc.”

Regarding vaccination, fall- and spring-calving herds are managed the same, but since there is less risk for scours in fall-calving cows, they may not need pre-calving vaccinations for scours. With fall calvers, this would be one less time those cows have to go down the chute. Those are late-gestation vaccinations, and most people would rather not stress their cows at that time if they don’t have to.

“From a bull management standpoint, there isn’t much difference, but the nice thing if you run two herds, is the opportunity to spread out your bull power and decrease your cost per calf,” says Laflin. Fewer bulls are needed because they can manage both breeding seasons with a period of rest in between.

Disadvantages

“Some of the disadvantages of fall calving in certain climates is that grass is maturing and going dormant,” says Barrington. “In the Southeast, however, there may be new growth of grass, and fall-calving cows have good nutrition.” At higher elevations and northern regions, fall rains might bring a brief flush of green grass, but dropping temperatures soon end the growing season. Cows generally must be fed through winter, and lactating cows have higher nutrient demands.

“We sometimes have lighter weaning weights with fall-born calves,” says Laflin. “Those calves are born at a time when we soon have to supplement the cows. Many fall-calving herds in our area start in September and are done by Thanksgiving, and by then, our native grasses are dry and dormant, and we need to supplement. There is an increased cost in feed, but several studies show that even with the increased cost, over the years, you will fare better with the fall calving compared with spring calving,” says Laflin.

“All of this must be penciled out, looking at the amount and quality of feed that will be needed,” says Barrington. “You lose all the advantages of fall calving if the cows aren’t producing milk or if it costs too much to feed them. Fall calves may also be a little lighter at weaning than spring-born calves because they went into winter soon after birth and require more feed for maintenance and body heat. Small calves are not yet ruminants, so they are not producing body heat from fermentation in the rumen.”  end mark

PHOTO: Fall-calving cows can calve out on clean pastures and in generally better weather than those dams in spring. Photo by Heather Smith Thomas.

Heather Thomas is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

Determining which season to use

There is no perfect calving season. “Ranches with both a spring- and fall-calving herd have the best chance to weigh benefits and disadvantages for their own environment, management, labor availability and feed,” says Dr. George Barrington. They can compare, within their split herd, to see which season pencils out best when figuring feed costs, etc.

  • Weather is a big factor and it can be variable from year to year. “If someone wants to try fall calving, they should not base a decision on just one year’s experience. The more data you can get, the better decisions you can make,” says Barrington. The year you try fall calving might be really good or really bad – for weather, or calf prices, etc., but that year might not be typical.
  • Feed inputs are something to think about. “If you are buying most of your feed, it will cost more, especially if you need to push first-calf heifers nutritionally to get them to cycle back again,” says Dr. Shelie Laflin. “You’ll have to put some feed into them because your native grass is gone, dormant or snowed under, whereas in the spring, the grass is coming on lush, and this will flush the cows for cycling.”Cows grazing new green growth breed better, and a person might not have to buy as much feed. However, you are also feeding calves through winter until weaning in April. In a spring-calving herd, you are only feeding cows through winter, rather than pairs.
  • Health: On the other hand, wintering calves with their mothers has some advantages. They tend to stay healthier through winter than calves weaned in late fall just before going into winter.“We run fall and spring calves – about half and half – and our fall calves have fewer problems. There is less labor involved, and the calves wean off better. We don’t have to deal with disease at weaning time; they’ve already come through winter.” By contrast, the spring-born calves are weaned in October, and it’s starting to get cold, and weather can be bad.

 

Garden is Done

Last night hit 31 F and my garden is wilted and done.  Sadly, there are several large green tomatoes which will not ripen, but not a loss – fried green tomatoes are a treat.  My tomato plants just didn’t get a good early start this year; same with Zucchino Rampicante Squash.  Only two are grown and large.  Incredibly, last year, i had so many of these and they are such good keepers, that i still have 3 of them to eat!  It was a challenging year for growing food.

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This squash is ripened and i’ll harvest it today.
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This monster at nearly 4 foot long isn’t ripe – i’ll harvest it and hope that it will finish in the house.

Everything Cover Crops

Love or hate Facebook – depends on your perspective – maybe both.  But there is real opportunity for farmers to share and learn from one another about cropping and ranching methods they’ve tried – what has been successful and what was a colossal failure.

I coped a young farmer’s (from central Iowa) method here, so i can come back to it as a reference for what i may try in the future.  This is copied and pasted from a Facebook page by the same name, so it reads clunky out of context of responses, but i wanted his words.

Drilled a 4 way mix of oats, annual rye grass, rape seed and soybeans about a month ago (late August/early September) following rye harvest. Very pleased with the amount of forage and soil structure that we have gained. Planning to let cows out later this week if the weather cooperates. Located in north central Iowa.

30 lbs (annual) ryegrass  (10# is enough, but farmer was using up what he had on hand)
20 lbs oats
8 lbs rape seed
Roughly 20 lbs of soybeans ( some seed was 2 years old)

we hauled cattle manure then chisel plowed and field cultivated to work it in before we drilled it.  I agree that tillage will break down some of the soil structure but I sleep better at night when I can work the manure in. I also don’t have access to a no till drill.

I chose annual rye grass over cereal rye so it would winter kill and everything else I planted will winter kill and I am planning to plant corn in that field next spring. If I was going to plant soybeans I would have used winter rye.

the winter rye that was growing previously we combined for seed. The four way mix that is growing now will be grazed and the corn that we plant next year will be combined.

Master Gardener

Perhaps Jessica was 8 or 9 when she enrolled in the University of Missouri’s Master Gardener program.  That was nearly 20 years ago!  She really got a lot out of it (though i think her favorite lesson was flower arranging) by learning a lot about companion cropping, planting and caring for flowers, trees, and community involvement.  One of the requirements for finishing the program was to do a community service/beautification project.  Contact your local county extension agent for information about Master Gardener and other education programs available in your area.

Anyway,  October Gardening Tips from Garden Talk! for the Heartland garden enthusiast, a 4 page newsletter available online including past editions.

The ones which i will use are:

  1. Transplant deciduous trees after they have dropped their leaves.  We found a few redbud trees saplings we’d like to enjoy closer to our house.
  2. Persimmons start to ripen, especially after frost.  Well this year, no frost yet, but the persimmons are already ripe, picked up, processed, and in the freezer!
  3. Place wire guards around trunks of young fruit trees for protection against mice and rabbits.  Last year, i lost nearly all my new fruit trees during the winter.  i did have protection around them that was about 18 inches tall, but the snow drifted taller than that and the critters girdled them above the protective sleeves by walking on top the snow!!! Grrrrr…..
  4. Continue harvesting produce.
  5. Sow oats as a cover crop (i’m also chopping down the Sunn Hemp and laying it flat on the soil)
  6. Winterize lawn mower.  We send ours to John Deere for complete maintenance then remove the battery and store it inside so it doesn’t freeze.

 

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Garbage Disposal

In the United States, many of us automatically think of an InSinkErator, which is a brand of electrically run mechanical grinder of food which then flushes it all down the drain for someone else to deal with.  It is attached to a kitchen drain and mounted underneath.

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This old one no longer works and leaks!  Thus the bucket underneath because we haven’t found someone to disconnect and remove it.  I’ll figure it out and get it done sometime.  In the meantime, we put a note in the sink so water won’t be poured in accidentally.  It’s not at our house.

I remember when i was growing up, we had one.  There was always a good respect for its power – keep fingers and spoons out of them!  However, as an adult, i’ve never had one and honestly never missed it.  Now, i wonder why one would ever need this type of garbage disposal.  Natural processes are excellent at garbage disposal – especially food scraps and other organic stuff.

But, garbage disposal is actually just a term that describes various ways to dispose of garbage.  Your location and occupation often determines your definition of garbage and how you may dispose of it.  If you have too much; it might be time to make a plan to reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle, repair.

In my world, food scraps are not garbage – either they are composted, (i’m lazy and just throw them out on the garden spot to break down over time, or if i’m really energetic, i may get a spade and bury them) or i feed them to our pastured laying hens (chooks), but chicken scraps go to the dog – (i never feed chicken bones and such to chickens – it just seems wrong).  Fruit from fruit trees almost always produce far more than i’m willing to preserve in some fashion, so the extra is allowed to fall, rot, and provide fodder for soil microbes which in turn provides fertilizer for the tree.

There are some amazingly attractive kitchen sized compost bins available.  Here are some on Amazon, but i’ve never tried any of them.  Do some research before purchasing – you sure don’t want smell and/or flies in your house!

But, by and large, we have very few scraps.  Leaves from broccoli and cauliflower, for example, make awesome replacement for celery or other similar greens.  This goes for nearly all greens attached to vegetables.  The core from tomatoes go to the chooks; they love them!  Beef fat goes to the chooks for extra protein they need when bugs are in short supply outdoors.  (As an aside, if you are buying eggs that are labeled as vegetarian raised chickens, the label is either a lie or the hens are in confinement – either crowded in a floored building or in a cage.)

There is a lot of hue and cry about being ‘green’, but as is usual, the ones crying the loudest are often the ones living the least ‘green’ and the biggest wasters of natural resources.  They are the crowd who shout ‘do as i say, not as i do’ while they manipulate regulations to suck cash out of your pocket and put it in theirs.

We can all do better at managing resources – we are, by and large, a wasteful country because we are blessed with so much abundance.

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Nabbed this poster from Mountain Top Cattle Co Facebook Page.

 

Thorvin Kelp – Iceland

Though Dallas and i recently returned from 2 weeks stay in Iceland, we did not have opportunity to visit the location where Thorvin Kelp is harvested, dried, and packaged.  If i get the opportunity to go back, i will make a better effort to get there.  However, it is a 3 hour drive one way from Reykjavik, so we’ll see.  Driving is straightforward and fairly easy in Iceland, so it wouldn’t be difficult.

Here’s a brief history from Thorverk website:

The ascophyllum covered shores

The ascophyllum covered shores

Thorverk hf.

Thorverk hf. is a seaweed drying plant founded founded in 1986 on the remnants of the pioneering Þörungavinnslan at Reykhólar North of Breiðafjörður, Iceland. The abundnat seaweed grounds of Breiðafjörður have been harvested in the area since 1974 to produce geothermally dried algal meal. The geothermal heat comes from local boreholes. Thorverk is able to produce annually several thousand tons of pure, dry seaweed meal. The product has been certified as organic and sustainably harvested for decades..

Seaweed Meal Processing

Thorverk focuses on harvesting two species of seaweed: Ascophyllum nodosum and Laminaria digitata. The A. nodosum is collected between April and October using specially designed harvesting machines. They cut the plants obove the growth point. The harvested grounds are then left for regrowth for at least four years. L. digitata is harvested using a specially equipped coaster in late autumn and winter.

Harvesting schemes are deployed for the seaweed based on decades of experience and in accordance with surveys and consultancy from Icelandic and international marine biology experts.

Once landed, the crop is chopped and dried using a band drier. Clean, dry air is pre-heated to a max. of 85°C using hot geothermal water that is fed through heat exchangers. This gentle drying procedure ensures that all minerals and organic substances are preserved in the raw material. The drying heat also prevents surface oxidation and browning or burning. Its colour is therefore delightfully bright. The use of the geothermal water also means the production process is environmentally benign. The geothermal hot water flows freely from the wells and emits next to nil of CO2.

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Tuesday i took another pallet shipment of Thorvin kelp which i offer free choice to my cow/calf herd as well as offer for sale to those who don’t need a pallet at a time.  Thorvin Kelp is offered in 50 lb bags at $60 per bag picked up at Powell Seed Farm, Linneus, MO.

Iceland is a beautiful but sparsely populated country with natural resources including geothermal heat just spouting up all over!  and the sweetest tasting just-off-the-glacier water in the world.  More about our journey in Iceland in future blogs.

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Thorvin seems to be the USA package name for Icelandic kelp.  I’m trying to get that connection made.
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pure, dry seaweed meal from Iceland – Click here for the analysis
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this is a muddy day, but the cows still need minerals in north Missouri.  This feeder has 3 compartments in which i offer Thorvin Kelp, Pure Salt from Kansas (no YPS), and a hi-phosphorus product from Agri-Dynamics.
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Thorvin Kelp can also be added as a soil amendment – after all, it’s simply geothermally dried seaweed.