Friday, August 7, 2009

Post Tamping, Cattle Shopping, Truck Shopping, & Company O My

I had planned on mowing our grass planting this spring, and after servicing the tractor and getting everything ready to go, it would not start. It has not spark so I suspect the starter. I am going to ask a neighbor for a second opinion before I go spend any money. The planting looks pretty rough. I walked it and I can't say that I was able to identify any of the plants that were seeded amongst the weeds. I probably should have planted it with annual rue grass or some oats, but I dropped the ball and did not think of that. I would like to add some eastern gamagrass seed to the mix. I am thinking of ordering 5-10 pounds of it and taking my little yard seeder out there and just broad casting it. That should be done before I mow so the reactor tires can help act as a roller and get the seed into the soil. Ideas like this are great, but executing them is not always that easy. I have to get the tractor running and the seed here before this is going to work.

With the tractor out of commission, I went back to tamping dirt in around my wooden posts. I will be doing this for a very, very long time. I really have to pick up the pace. Using tamp in posts, like Power Flex fiberglass posts or metal t-posts looks more attractive all the time. By next spring I want to get the whole southern half of the farm fenced and get the corrals re worked. This includes fencing cattle out of the water ways. We will have an Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) contract from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to put some of this fencing in. The contract is also providing some cost share money on a new livestock well. We are still finalizing all of the bids on the well. That can be a really daunting process with a lot of money involved. I look forward to locking that in and getting the well set-up.

There is this weird pressure to get cattle. It is like once you have cattle, then you are a real farmer. I can not get the contract that I wanted from the NRCS, because I did not have cattle. I want to have grass-fed beef in the future, but I don't want to make a mistake and buy cattle that won't perform on grass. Most of the cattle out there won't finish on grass. They have been selected for grain finishing and are too big, too leggy, with small guts, are poor milkers, and are black.
Big animals need more feed just to maintain body condition and make it hard to finish livestock and build marbling. One advantage to a small animal when direct marketing is that it is easier to sell whole, halves, and quarter animals to customers when they are a bit smaller because it keeps customers costs down. You can also run more smaller animals on fewer acres. Our goal is a mature cow around 1,000 to 1,200 pounds.
A leggy animals with a shallow gut will not finish out on grass because they do not have a large rumen so they can not eat enough grass to put on proper weight. A good milking cow is important to rearing a good calf on pasture. According to Greg Judy in Comeback Farms, a cow "has got to be able to suckle a calf 10 months, be growing one inside her, and breed back on schedule every year while maintaining good body condition" and having a deep wide gut and good milk is a huge part of that.
If you see cattle in a field, you will likely see black cattle. The reason you see so much black is because there is a price reward for black animals in a conventional market because they can be sold as Angus. These cows do not actually have to be angus, just black in color is close enough. The problem with a black cow is that it gets hot. On a summer pasture at around 80 degrees, they run about 10 degrees warmer internal temperature then a black animal. This mean more stress, more water consumption, and a greater need for shade. To me, a red animals is a much better investment.
In my quest to figure out what cattle I would like to work with, I have started by visiting Hazybrook Dexters outside of Cambria, Iowa. I met with Dan Thomas and saw his herd. I have included a picture of Dan with his two gentle bulls Harley (black) and Pepper (red). They are both beautiful animals, although I though Harvey was slightly more to my preference. They are good looking animals, but they are not cheap either. They are about 1.5 times what I might pay for some other breeds and they are close to 2 times what I might be able to get at a sale barn. I am going to have to think long a hard about this. What I am leaning in the direction of right now is perhaps to buy a bull calf from Dan bread it to some shorter cattle from the sale barn. I have not put any money down on the table yet so I am still free to explore my options. I did pick-up some steaks from Dan so I could give dexter cattle a taste. I will also talk with Ethan Booth around Knoxville. He just brought home a beautiful bull that is shown on his amazingly well constructed and written farm blog:

My F150 is 15 years old and needs some expensive work done on it. I am in the process of determining if that is a worth while expense or if there would be another used truck set-up that would work better. I am actually looking at moving to two trucks. One with 4x4 and a larger cab to haul kids, get around the pasture, and get us out in the winter, and adopting my grandfathers good old pick-up. That 1990's chevy only has 80K on it and is in great shape. It is a basic 6 cylinder 2 wheel-drive full size truck that pulls 6,000 lbs and gets 18 mpg. My ford pull 11.5 to 12.5 mpg, and the 4x4 replacement vehicle should be running right around 15 mpg. I am not expecting gas to stay cheap so we are planning on that for the future.

We have good friends coming down this weekend. I was hoping to get help tamping posts, but it should be near 100 degrees tomorrow and I don't want anybody getting heat stress. We will likely play a few board games in the evening and try an auction tomorrow. Until then, with the rain I am inside I will be working on some consulting work that has languished for too long.

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