— Jan 20, 2009 —

My goodness! Its been ages since I’ve posted…

Our basement house/office building is proceeding. We have the basement poured and subfloored, but the carpenter hasn’t been back in over a month to roof it and finish making it weather tight. Apparently the weather has been bad. Still, it would be nice to be able to get started on making the place livable – at least for weekend purposes.

As I’ve been reading up on cattle breeds, I keep noticing Galloways as a breed that would seem to fit well into our eventual grass-fed cattle business. The cattle are required to maintain the prairie – replacing the native buffalo’s role. Why not just raise buffalo (bison)? Well, to be blunt, they are not domesticed, and quite dangerous. They also require MASSIVE fencing improvements (think steel posts in concrete and chain link fence vs. barb/electric wire fences).

When I looked into Galloways, a sub-species, Belted Galloways (black fronts and rears, white “belt” around the middle) showed up pretty frequently. These are unique looking cattle. Alas, the local feedlots and cattle yards shun away from anything other than Angus and pay less per pound when presented with much else. No reason for this really, but they do, and since everything is sold via auction, one has no control over it if you use those avenues for sale.

My partner recently pointed out to me that its about the same amount of work to raise 100 cattle as it is to raise 10 or 20. The downside to that comes into play when you only have enough acerage to raise 30 or less cow-calf pairs. It simply means that my cost of production are going to be higher than a bigger guys, if everything else is equal. So… the trick is to make make things NOT equal. I believe Galloways (probably Belted since they are available and make it pretty easy to tell my future cattle from the neighbors) will help in that regard. They are reported to be better grazers than the more traditional breeds designed for corn finishing. By better grazers, I mean eat a wider variety of vegetation and in more diverse environments. This, in turn, may reduce my need for hay feeding, which in turn allows me to graze more acres and hay less. By nature, the Galloways are suppose to be easier birthers too – meaning less losses due to birthing complications.

Another way to make things “not equal” is to direct market the beef. I’m still exploring options along that path, and have noted that some “Grass Fed Beef” farms simply sell half or full cows directly, and have their customers work with their processing plant directly. I have to admit, thats clean and simple. The plant we have used for our own beef even comes to the field to drop the cow, totally eliminating any stress to the animal.

For now, I have contacted a few Belted Galloway farms, and had a wonderful response from one lady, Mary Sapp of Bear Creek Farms in Columbia Missouri. She has invited us to come out and chat, which we are tenatively planning on doing the 31st.

One a related note: while talking some of this over with my partner, we decided to actually read the label on the “Cattle Charge” feed suppliments we have been using to train our cattle. This is a commonly (VERY commonly) used suppliment used to help socialize the cows to make them easier to handle. Our cows come up to us with a shake of the bag. They LOVE the stuff and it really seems to help them grow quickly when we compare our calves to those that have gone without it. Alas, clearly marked on the lable is “Medicated” – yep, it contains growth enhancers. Looked up the drug, and its considered generally safe, but there are notes about sudden heart attacks and the like if the cows get too much. We have also heard of cows dying with such symptoms. Suspect like people, different cows have different tollerances to it. I had to wonder if perhaps thats why beef consumption isn’t advised for people with heart conditions?

If we do direct market beef, it will at least be done as “Natural”, if not “Organic”. We will vaccinate – just too many other herds around not to do that. I don’t have anything against antibiotics used to save a sick cow, but know that would instantly keep me from selling the beef as “Organic”. I still need to learn more about any other differences. In any case, “Cattle Charge” usage would void “Natural”, at least in intent if not legally. So I guess my cows will grow up slower. I hear that makes for more flavorful beef for those that care. For those that are just looking for a low price/lb – they are welcome to go to Walmart.

— Feb 1st, 2009 —

Yesterday, January 31st, 2009, we had the pleasure of visiting with Mary & Les Sapp. They run Bear Creek Farm and raise Belted Galloways for sale. They have a small herd of about 18 animals which they raise on their 37 acres, along with some land they rent. VERY nice people!

Mary provided us with literature on Belted Galloways, and Belted Galloway Society information. (Membership is $50 the first year, $40 thereafter, with a binder full of information on Belties provided to new members – our applciation will go out on Monday).

Mary and Les have been raising Belties for about 20 years now. Although they started their business raising Herefords, they shifted over to Belties long ago and have been very pleased with them since. Currently, they start breeding their heifers at 18 months. Thats older than current common practice, but since starting this, they have not had to assist in a birth in over 10 years! Mary and Les target fall births – it fits their business cycle better than the traditional spring season.

Bear Creek Farms business model is to raise the cattle for direct sale to other cattlemen – not for beef. Each of their cows, heifers, and bulls are named. The steers feed their large family… Mary is quite proud that Belties now live in all 50 states – quite the change from when they started the business and had the honor of being the western most breeder!

Although we didn’t talk price, the market for this breed is quite strong, with live cattle selling for substantially more than beef prices (2X or more?). Mary thought that this would hold for many more years, and was a better business model for small farmers than raising the breed for beef. I did a quick Google search and found 6-year old unregistered Belted cows for $500 each – about the same as any other breed. Of course, one never knows exactly what they are getting when buying such animals. I suspect registered animals go for quite a bit more, with show quality animals fetching the premium prices – but requiring the effort and expense of showing in order to win the coveted awards.

Les commented that the animals are very containable using electric fences for interior seggregation, but he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the concept of using electric fences for exterier fencing. They also raise horses, and alternate fields between their belties and their horses, so need stouter fencing.

Conclusion: I still remain of the opinion that this breed is desirable and very compatible with our prairie efforts. The concept of raising them for sale to other cattlemen is interesting, but I’m not convinced its practical for us – at least not until we live full-time on the farm.

— April 1st, 2009 — No foolin!

The family had a grand spring break, spending March 20th through March 27 out at the farm. The weekend before, Evia and I planted 250 trees – during the week, Evia and Nastya planted 350 more of the Missouri Department of Conservation seedling.

I disced fields for the first time in my life – preparing fire breaks for the scheduled 60 acre burn on April 10th.

Nastya did some real work on the tractor – after I showed her how to stab, lift, and move a bale of hay, I had her move 17 more of them about a 1/4 mile to an area that should be safe from the burn.

House work continues – with any luck the final carpentry will be completed today. We met with the HVAC guy over spring break and he delivered the main unit. Believe he will be finishing up soon too – so we will be able to heat the basement. Of course, the weather is getting warmer, so the need is decreasing, but I’d still prefer to work a basement heated to 68F than one at 45F. I did manage to get a lot of stud walls built, and started working the plumbing. We caught a shower door on clearance at the local Home Depot – 50% off and exactly what we wanted – great luck!

Actually, once the house is weather tight (again, hopefully today), it will be interesting to see the relationship between outside and inside temperature. Most of the house is underground, with just the east end fully exposed. No insulation though, other than below the concrete slab. One thing at a time.

Nastya has a new best friend: Bobby. Bobby is a yearling heifer, 100% black, that eats from her (and my) hand. She tends to lead the rest of the herd around – once they see her eating, they come to see if they can get some. Bobby’s Mom is almost as brave, and occasionally eats from our hands. Only #2 (a white faced cow) has also joined that club.

Frank had a great time pulling up grass (and eating it!). At least it wasn’t the hair on my arms – another favorite “pull toy” of his…

Gabby is more at home on the farm than in the city. Its truly amazing how brave she is – often walking 500+ feet just to see whats going on, or to catch a ride back in the RTV.

We had bought, but did not get started on building, a playset for the kids. Donnie did get an area flattened for it on Thursday – but the weather turned and we decided to come home a day or so early and relax.

— Nov 19th, 2009 —

My goodness… its been 6 months since I updated?

OK. Lots to tell.

1st – the basement house is coming along. Its weather-tight, we have a working bathroom, shower is installed but not yet tiled (so isn’t working), most of the walls are up, we have insulated the ceiling with R19 and most of the walls with R13. We have some furniture and appliances (stove, refrigerator, freezer, kitchen table, recently beds (goodbye air mattress!)). We are sleeping there now when we go out there.

Property wise: We burned 60 acres this spring which went real well. It was greening up in 2 weeks and you couldn’t tell it was burned 2 months later – beyond it looking better. Lots of flowers, more warm-season-grasses, etc. We are looking to have 30 acres sprayed with roundup yet this year to winter kill the fescue, and will frost-seed that area in January. A second grass-only spraying is scheduled for early spring to set the fescue back even more. Oh, we have had (4) dry-hole structures built to help with some erosion (lots of cost-sharing with the government on that project).

I lost my job after 25 years, but expect to start a new consulting career on Monday with my first client.

Family is healthy and happy. Nastya is working at a local dog farm when we visit our farm, so is making some money and keeping busy. Evia and I need more sleep – Frank is 16 months old now and is still waking us up at night, but Gabby, at 3 years old, is sleeping just fine. Alas they both like to get up at daybreak, so it cost us dearly to burn midnight oil.

I’ve become more active in the Missouri Prairie Foundation and am getting involved in “Nature Friendly Conservation Branded Beef” as a steering team member of the “Nature Friendly Meats Producer Organization”. We are trying to come up with guidelines for raising and marketing value-added prairie raised beef. We desperately need a way to make prairies a greater source of income than pasture alone.

Well… guess that wasn’t as long as I expected. Mostly we have been working on the house out there over the weekends…