Tag Archives: cattle

Farming in June

It’s always a splendid idea to move residences just as farm season ramps up for the summer.  I have done it three times now.  You’d think we’d learn.  Needless to say, it’s been a busy month but we are having all sorts of fun!

This is sort of a photo-dump but here’s what has been going on at the farm in the last week:

 

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We’ve been breeding cows (artificially inseminating) up at Carol’s ranch.  She selects good bulls for sires and hires someone to come AI the cows. The Spring 2014 calf crop is percolating as we speak!

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The weather has been nice, so our broiler chicks have been heading out to pasture at precisely two weeks of age.  They still have their fluffy chick down, but they much prefer being on grass to being in the brooder.  They really forage a lot even at this age.

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We have been happy to see the variety of grass and forb, species that are coming up in the fertilized area behind our broiler pens.  Now that there’s been a bit of rain there is quite the diverse landscape. This is a picture of selfheal (prunella vulgaris) in bloom.

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We are even seeing some wild strawberries (fragaria virginiana) ! They are tinier than the tip of a finger, but they look just as delicious as their domestic counterparts.

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Emmie picked a fight with a tougher dog than herself and ended up with a few war wounds.  She was bedridden for a few days but the first sign of life was her intense desire to go with me to the farm when I’d put on my boots in the morning.  She can’t stand being left on the sidelines while I’m working.  It’s been said of Border Collies that each dog has the energy of a small nuclear reactor.  That’s very much true of this one.  I’m glad she bounced back quickly. I hadn’t realized how attached I’d become to my sidekick til I had to do chores without her.

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We’ve been making hay up at the ranch.  I have been assigned baling duty.  I straight-up love it.   It’s hot, the dust makes me itch and sneeze,  the baler is old, and the fields are rugged.  But the scenery is terrific!  We’re making hay in the foothills of the Coastal range, with covered bridges and vineyards and rivers on every side.  I’d rather be out there making hay on a sunny weekend than doing pretty much anything else in the whole wide world.

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Carol and James first cut the grass down with a swather.  The swather incorporates a conditioner (or crimper) which crunches the grass a little bit to make it dry faster.

Then they come along with a “tedder”, which has tines that fluff up the hay and accelerate the drying process.  Getting the hay to dry quickly is important in the Willamette Valley where mornings have lots of dew and it could rain at any moment.

The next step is raking the hay into windrows.  This puts the grass in nice, straight lines so that the baler can pick it up.  Raking also helps with drying, as it turns the grass and fluffs it up to get more airflow.

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We check the grass by hand and with a moisture meter and when it’s dry enough, we fire up the baler and I get to work.

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James comes along behind me with the bale wagon and scoops up the bales.  When he gets a full stack, he drives up to the barn and and deposits them for the winter.  

And with that, I’m off to go bale some more hay.  We are expecting rain in the early part of the week, so we’re getting it up as fast as possible.

 

 

 

 

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Working Calves

I have this funny situation occur regularly:  If I come back from a long marathon training run with painful, tight calves and I Google anything to do with “calf muscles” I get lots of results on breeding beef cattle for more musculature.  And when I want to know more about how other ranches “work calves”, I get lots of links for exercise websites.  It’s like my two worlds collide via the power of Google.

All that to say, I’m sitting on the couch drinking my nasty electrolyte sports water and nursing my sore calves from a 23 mile morning run, so I thought I should use my rest time to tell you about the other calf work I’ve been doing up at the Hemphill’s ranch.

I’ll say up front that my pictures are not Pioneer Woman quality.  There’s a couple reasons for that:  (a) the purchase of an SLR camera isn’t really a financial priority in my lil’ farm budget, and (b) I’m actually working, so I don’t have a lot of time to  frame the perfect shot.  Also, who are we kidding?  My siblings got all the photo/video genius in my family.  I’m just a farmer with an iPhone.

So, Friday before last, we rounded up about 50 mama cows and their calves that were born fall of 2012.  Carol breeds a total of about 100 cows a year and times it so that half of them calve in the spring (happening right now!) and half of them have their calves in the fall.  The Fall 2012 calves are now about 4 months old and they’re not quite weaned but it’s time for them to receive their vaccinations and wormer and the bull calves will be castrated.

All the cattle are in sacrifice paddocks right now because the pastures need a rest during the winter.  This particular group of cattle hangs out at the top of a hilly pasture.  We bring them hay every day, but that morning we mixed things up a little.

IMG_3454We brought the hay truck up to their paddock and then opened the gates.  The hungry cattle eagerly swarmed around the “breakfast wagon” and then followed it as James drove towards the corrals where we planned to sort and vaccinate them.

Carol and I walked along behind the herd and she directed her Kelpie/McNab dog Lizzy to keep the cows bunched up and moving behind the truck.  The cattle were pretty excited about the green grass all around them after a winter of hay consumption and they kept getting distracted from following the pickup.

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This is ranching in Western Oregon: green grass and dense forests of Douglas Fir trees.  I find it absolutely beautiful!


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It didn’t take long to get the cattle coaxed into the corral.  We had thrown some flakes of grass hay on the ground to give them a little incentive to move into the enclosure and then we shut the gates behind them.  Carol does her best to make always make the corral and squeeze chute experience as stress-free as possible for her cows.  She says that if we can keep the cows and calves from being frightened in the large corrals and chutes, then they typically associate it with a pleasant experience and are willing to be cooperative in the future.  This is even despite the fact that each one experiences a brief “scary” moment of castration or vaccination while in the squeeze chute.   But that is over very quickly and doesn’t seem to cause the calf a great deal of anxiety.

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We spent a few minutes sorting the cows out of the pen so just the calves remained. The mothers bawled for a bit and then assumed their babies were in daycare and wandered off to enjoy the grass.  Carol had a list of bull calves that she was considering saving to sell as bulls instead of castrating. We circled the pen, looking for the numbers on her list and then analyzing each calf for conformation, vigor, size and weight gain.  She narrowed the list down to about five calves that she wanted to save. She would probably want me to point out that those two brownish calves in the above picture are not an example of the quality of her herd. They were twins and are kind of runty, pot-bellied little things.

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Here’s a better picture of the handsome Angus calves we are working with. It was hard to decide which bull calves to keep.  She had a number of very good options to pick from.

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After writing down the calves we were not going to castrate, we set up our equipment at the squeeze chute.  Well, it used to be a squeeze chute a long time ago, but the contraption seems to be about 100 years old so now it’s just a chute.   James hung the Cydectin pour-on wormer from the rail and then set the syringe gun for the correct dosage for a four-month old calf.

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I was put in charge of loading the latex bands and clips onto the EZE Castrator tool.  The bands are very thick and a little hard to stretch onto the tool, but I got the hang of it after a while.  We would send a calf into the squeeze chute and then call out his or her ear tag number to Carol.  She cross-checked the males against her list and if it wasn’t a bull we were keeping, I’d hand the castrator to James and he quickly applied the band.  It didn’t really seem to phase the calves one bit.  Then each calf got a dose of the purple Cydectin wormer applied to the top of its back.  Finally, Carol gave each calf a couple of vaccinations which protect against a number of diseases including leptospirosis, tetanus, Bovine Viral Diarrhea, respiratory diseases and clostridial diseases.

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The vaccinations are given subcutaneously in the neck area, just in front of the calf’s shoulder blade.  It’s the best spot to do it, because on the off-chance the calf develops a reaction to the vaccine it won’t affect an area that would yield a valuable cut of meat.

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Carol had the trickest job.  It is challenging to keep the needle steady and in the correct spot when the calf is jumping around in the chute.  The calf’s head is locked into the head-gate, but he can still move around enough to make the job difficult.  Carol speaks soothingly to the calf as she works, and the ordeal is over in a matter of seconds.  The calf leaps free when we open the head-gate and promptly joins his buddies in browsing oak leaves and grass sprouts.

It only took a few hours to work through all 50+ calves.  The next day, they were all happily eating hay back up in their winter paddock, looking no worse for wear.  They have another month or two with their mothers and then will be weaned and sent out to enjoy getting fat on the lush spring pastures.

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Paddock Shift

As I alluded to on Facebook this weekend, big changes are in the works for Provenance Farm. No, we’re not expecting.  Geez people! Asking such prying questions up in here!

I won’t keep you in suspense any longer…Image

 

I’m moving the farm and starting my venture into cattle ranching!

Starting this week, I’m packing up broiler pens and all my farm equipment and heading for the new location of Provenance Farm.  Our friends Stu and Carol Hemphill have asked me to run broilers on some of their nutrient-deficient pastures of their 400+ acre cattle ranch just west of Philomath.  I jumped at the chance because I’ve been an ardent admirer of Carol for a few years now.  She has been raising high quality grass-fed Angus beef cattle for over 30 years.  I’ve been privileged to buy stocker steers and heifers from her for the last few years, finishing them on my own pasture for the latter months of their lives.  The excellent beef you have enjoyed from our farm is primarily due to the hard work and dedication of Carol Hemphill long before I came into the picture.  I’ve often told Keith, “When I ‘grow up’, I want to be just like Carol.” There just aren’t many women ranchers out there, and even fewer with the intelligence, education, animal savvy and dedication to quality that Carol has.  I’ve been eagerly following her for a while now, gleaning any knowledge I can from her wealth of experience.  To say that I’m thrilled to be farming in collaboration with her would be a humongous understatement. Broilers and layers are awesome but cattle ranching is in my blood and it’s the reason I chose farming as my life’s work.

 

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So, many things will be changing around here but at the same time it will mostly be the same.  We will be growing and processing as many broilers as we did last year, if not more.  They’ll be raised on the rolling hills of the Hemphill ranch, high above the Mary’s River and out of the mud (hallelujah! – can you hear the angels sing?!).  The pastures we’ll start on will be the most needy ones – fields that can use a hearty dose of chicken fertilizer.

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Our beef cattle will be finished in the same fields in which they were born.  If you don’t know how rare and wonderful that statement is, you haven’t been paying much attention to the way the US beef industry works.  It makes me unbelievably happy to know my cattle have had a good, stress-free life, so I’m really excited about this.

I’ll be raising lambs at the ranch as well.  We’ve had such a great demand for our lamb in the last few years, that our flock was rapidly outgrowing the space available at our current acreage.  Our sheep will have plenty of room to graze up at the Hemphill’s place.

Our laying hen flock will be staying at our Fern Road location for the current time. The hens are just beginning to lay consistently and moving them would cause them stress.  Stress always affects production and so I’m keeping them in their current place for the rest of the year.  We look forward to settling them in at the new ranch in the future, as their current location is subject to floods from the Mary’s River in the winter.

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Local customers will be happy to know that they can still find our eggs and chicken at the Fern Road farm stand, and that’s not going to change!

There are lots of big things happening around here this year and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, overwhelmed and scared to death at times.  But I also love the adventure and the chance to learn and grow and make this farm (and my life) something worth being proud of.  There’s something so satisfying about hard work and new goals.

 I look forward to sharing the adventure of this upcoming year with you all in person and on these pages.

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Would you like to learn more about our new digs?  Check out a few of my friend Camille’s blog posts about the Hemphill Ranch here:

http://waywardspark.com/feeding-cows-in-winter-at-hemphill-angus/

http://waywardspark.com/april-with-stu-and-carol-hemphill-anguscoast-range-forest-products/

http://waywardspark.com/pasture-with-carol-hemphill-angus/

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February 20, 2013 · 2:26 pm

A Day in the Life of a Farmer (Winter Edition) – Friday

5:30 a.m. : Up and out of bed.  I’m joining a few of my favorite running girls to do a quick one hour run around Corvallis.

6:00 – 7:00 : Run baby run! I’m starting to enjoy running in the dark, past the grand buildings of the university campus and through sleeping neighborhoods. We live in a very fitness-friendly town with plenty of trails and bike paths.  The variety comes in nicely when you are training a lot. We run nearly 7 miles, stretch and chat back at our cars and then head home.

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7:30 – 9:00 : I make breakfast and coffee for myself and take a long shower.  Keith wakes up and heads to work around 9.

9:00 – 12:00 : I have a lot of accounting to finish up and then I head to the bank to make a deposit.

12:30 : Lunch

1:00 : Head over to the farm and wash a bunch of eggs to stock the farm fridge.  Keith calls in his weekly Friday order for his “Buying Club” … made up of his coworkers  at Marvell. I pack up a case of eggs for the Marvell employees and drive them over there.

Afterward I do some grocery shopping at Safeway, as we are having dinner guests this evening.

2:00 : The too-few hours of sleep are catching up with me.  I’m fighting off Keith’s cold too, so I suddenly feel terribly tired. I take an hour nap.

3:00 : Back to the farm to work until dark.  I am trying to tidy up the place and get all of our seasonal equipment put in the barn for the winter.  Slowly but surely it’s looking better around there.

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5:00 : Keith is home from work already and has tidied up the whole house and set the table formally in anticipation of our dinner guests.  He is in the kitchen, frying bacon in butter against all common sense.  We have Julia Child’s Coq au Vin on the menu, as we’ve got a lot of stewing hens in the freezer and they are excellent for Coq au Vin.  I guess it isn’t technically Coq if you are using a hen, but I don’t speak much French.

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My major contribution to this meal was lighting the cognac on fire.  If you only get to have one part in cooking a meal, always try to get the part where you light food on fire.  Fortunately, I survived the fireworks with my eyebrows intact, and the Coq au Vin was amazing.

Follow this link to the recipe if you’d like to try your hand at Coq au Vin : http://www.wgbh.org/articles/Julia-Childs-Coq-au-Vin-Recipe-6971

Learn from the incredible Julia Child herself with this video:  http://www.wgbh.org/articles/The-French-Chef-Coq-au-Vin-6970

If you need a stewing hen for your Cognac-lighting adventure, you know where to go:  www.provenancefarm.com

6:50 : Our friends arrived for dinner.  They are another farming couple who have 30+ years of experience on us.  They mainly raise Angus beef and I have to tell you:  their beef is the finest.  We buy a few animals from them every year to finish on our own pastures and are always so pleased at the gentleness and quality of the cattle.

What do you feed cattle ranchers?  Chicken, of course!  (My grandfather the cattle rancher would not have approved).

We all wined and dined until nearly 11 pm and then parted ways.  I truly enjoy this time of year, because we and all our farmer friends are less busy and can afford time to spend visiting over a good meal.  The seasonality of farming is so good.  We all need a rest period after a Spring, Summer and Fall of hard work.

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Right on Time and Farming Like a Pro

My heart is full.

I’m snuggled up in sweats, with a cup of coffee in hand, watching the Westerly wind bring Autumn to my back porch.  And my heart is full of joy, because I’m doing what I have always wanted to do.

If you’ve never had this feeling, I highly recommend it.   I am a large-scale dreamer, but even I have put some of my aspirations on the back burner for myriad reasons.  I am forever thankful that I’ve got the chance to take those dreams off the shelf and put them on the fast-track into reality.   I’ve never felt so consummately happy as I do these days.   There is no better feeling than knowing you’re living your dreams, not someone else’s.

My purpose in blogging today is to bring ya’ll up to speed on the state of Project Start a Farm.   [Not just to wax poetic about the state of my emotions, though I’m sure you all find such things highly interesting].

First off,  despite being asked every day, I have not yet decided on a name for the farm.  Your input is welcome.   If you come up with a good farm name, I’ll give you….um….a free filet mignon.

Item of interest number two.  I have leased 45 acres of prime pasture land between Corvallis and Philomath!  I am speaking prophetically, as the land will be prime pasture land…just give me a year or two of good grazing practices.   I’m ecstatic to have my “own land” and I can’t wait to get animals on it.

888587_clip_art_chicken_2This winter, we’ll have chickens on the farm.  Get your egg cartons ready:  I’ve ordered 500 hens to be delivered in October.  I have got some Portland chefs already asking for my eggs.  Talk about a fast-track to reality!  Yikes!

Don’t worry, Steak-Eaters.  We’ll be getting cattle in the spring, just about the time Oregon rains are turning that brown grass into lush, green forage.  I’m looking forward to filling your freezers next fall!

This week, Keith and I (with the help of our excellent friends, Tyler and Alicia, who have more useful hauling equipment than we) will be making our way to Eugene to pick up a couple of old trailers.

Exhibit 1a

Exhibit 1a

Exhibit 1b

Exhibit 1b

These funky looking trailers will be the bases of my movable chicken coops.  [Eggmobiles, if you’re a Joel Salatin disciple].  With a little engineering, they will soon house 500 chickens at night.   During the daytime, my birds will be free to run around the pasture scratching up bugs.
Eggmobile

Eggmobile

This is kind of what the chicken coops will look like.  Say it with me, “That contraption looks ridiculous”.   But it’s a groovy little setup for fertilizing the pasture, minimal work for yours truly, and it should work quite nicely.
Stay tuned for pictures of the building process…

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Doing Something With My Life

This is for everyone who wonders what I’m doing with my life since I no longer have a J-O-B.  Mostly I just sit around and watch the rain come down.  But occasionally I come up with a brilliant idea and then I sit around and think about it while I watch the rain come down.

This is Project Start a Farm.  (Also known as Project I Guess I Should Use that $75,000 Degree For Something).

The Office

The Office

The idea, thus far, is to lease some land and purchase stocker cattle (300-700 lb weaned calves) and maybe a few sheep for good time’s sake and maybe a couple chickens ’cause everyone knows how much I love poultry.   I’d graze the cattle and finish them and direct-market them as grass-fed beef.  Maybe I’ll grow some turkeys too, for your Thanksgiving pleasure.

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So…I think I’ll be in the market for a Ford Pickup and a couple cows pretty soon.

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Penning like the Pros


This Monday, Mariah, Savannah and I took the horses to the Albany Fair/Expo Center and tried our skills at team penning.

Since nobody has a clue what I’m talking about when I describe team penning, I’ll try to explain: It’s a cattle sorting competition. A team of three people on horseback ride into the herd of cattle in the arena. As they start, the announcer calls out a number from 1-6. The riders have to find the three cows with that number on their backs and sort them out from the rest of the herd. They have 90 seconds to do that and get them down to the other end of the arena and into a pen.

It’s a lot of fun to watch people compete when they know what they’re doing! There were some great riders and excellent horses there this week. The girls and I, however, were not so good at it. Granted our horses had never seen cows before…that is a little bit of a hurdle to overcome. We spent most of our 90 seconds trying to keep the horses from running away from the cattle! Next time we’ll do better…and there will be a next time. These cowgirls don’t quit!

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