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The Other Part of Grassfarming

July 1, 2011

It’s easy to go on about harvesting solar energy via grass, but the harvesting part is the sticking point to many.  I don’t see my self as a callous, uncaring person when it comes to my animals.  I love them, take care of them and provide for them every single day.  I may not kill them literally, but I make the decision on who stays, who goes, and I take full responsibility for the why’s and when and how.

It may be milk.  Or milk to be.

Or it may be meat.  I am living a deliberate life.  I sell meat.  I use words like tool, and landscaping to describe my husbandry practices and how I see my animals in the big picture.  I live and breathe all the good and bad scents and sounds and get my hands dirty and bloody.  I have learned that with most of my endeavors with animals that most of the mistakes and low points are from operator failure.  And I am the operator.  I cuss, and I cry and puzzle and ponder and smile a lot, and I try not to repeat my mistakes.

If you look, you can see me in the front of this group.  I am carrying hay and going into the corral first ahead of the cows.  The corral is not the scary place it used to be, for most of the cattle.   I no longer have to chase them in, they follow me.  They trust me.  I know I’m leading them to slaughter, and it sounds cruel if you want to take it that way.  But really?  Should I chase them and get them riled up or should I treat them like it is just another day and lessen the impact of sorting off a few and taking them to the butcher?  Or maybe mobile slaughter, and have all the cows see the comrade fall, and then run the risk of having the meat contaminated at the butcher shop.  Two years of work down the drain because your beef has the sad luck to be hanging by some yahoo’s sour deer in the locker.  I’ve done it all ways, right down to doing it all ourselves for our own meat.  There is no perfect way in my opinion.  Each has its drawbacks.  And as for not raising meat at all.  My cows maintain our open land much better than any machine can do, and enhance it instead of taking away.

My cows are happy cows.  They are running to me, not away.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2011 9:48 am

    Loved this post! Well actually I love them all…but especially loved this one! Selecting the ones that “go” has been hard for me…but it is getting easier. Guess that is how it is supposed to work. Our family is slowly starting to not be so disconnected from “where” our food comes from. This will be the first year for raising beef for us…we have it pastured at a friends house…baby steps. 🙂

    • July 2, 2011 7:54 am

      Kristen, thank you! Baby steps are after all, steps. You got to start somewhere, and that sounds like a good plan to have the beef at your friends house. It’s easy to get attached to just one animal 🙂

  2. July 1, 2011 10:08 am

    I give you credit because I know I could never make that decision, or for that matter, raise my own meat. And it is comforting to know that you treat them with respect.

    Love the Jane video 🙂

    • July 2, 2011 7:57 am

      Allison, thanks for that – I am not saying it is always easy but economics have to play a role. I like the day to day aspect of having animals to care for. And the processing is such a small part of that, but many times becomes the focus on people’s minds. Mountains and molehills. Just depends on perspective I guess.

  3. Sheila Z permalink
    July 1, 2011 10:20 am

    I love to watch cows chewing their cud. A whole herd or dairy cows chewing away on a winter day in the barn is even better. I miss cows and am watching all the land around me grow up to brush since all the dairy farms have gone out of business. I’d rather have local food security than the mess the country is in today. Butchering is just part of having animals. There are culls when you have a dairy herd. We never lacked for meat on the farm.

    • July 2, 2011 7:59 am

      Sheila Z, me too! I love all those childhood days sitting in the manger reading while the cows ate. Very calming and secure.

      Sadly all the dairy farms are gone here too, there is not one working dairy anymore in the county I live in. Nowadays the fields either are sprouting trees or houses and sometimes both. 😦

  4. July 1, 2011 11:18 am

    Loved this post!

  5. July 1, 2011 12:34 pm

    What an amazing sunset!

    My hubby showed me the tackle where they used to slaughter their cows. It still hangs on one of the trees in the pasture.
    I expect I will learn the ways of at least some of it.
    Hubby has slaughtered chickens, too.
    And I am hoping that we will do it humanely, too.
    Hope you all have a great weekend, Matron!

  6. July 1, 2011 12:36 pm

    Excellent post. We have tried various ways of processing our meat animals, and have decided on home butchering for the chickens and the goats, but professionals for the pigs. Mainly, this is because we might want to sell pork and so have to have it done in an inspected facility. But also because I don’t know how to cure bacon and ham, and I definitely want bacon and ham!

    I’m sure a pig is intelligent enough to see a comrade killed and feel fear, and so I think the killing should be done out of sight of other animals. The goats I am less sure of – They don’t seem to take any notice whatsoever of a dead comrade. Recently we had to put down a goat for illness, and just as we held the pistol to her head, one of her kids came running up and was quite close as she fell. The kid was clearly kind of confused, but acted completely normally the whole rest of the day – only bleating as evening came and she got hungry for her mother’s milk. It’s obvious that the goats miss animals for a day or two after they disappear, but I don’t think they have any inkling at all about death.

    I could be wrong – in any case, it is of course important to provide the animals with a quick death, as free from pain and fear as is possible. Your cows look as happy and healthy as cows can be!

    • July 2, 2011 8:21 am

      Aimee, I couldn’t agree more. A licensed facility is the best way to go if you’re selling meat. Nothing wrong with professionals.

  7. Carol permalink
    July 1, 2011 2:16 pm

    I came here from Science blogs and the discussion there is leaning towards seeding pastures. Wouldn’t your pasture be better if you did seed?

    • July 2, 2011 8:19 am

      Carol, I guess my view on seeding is that it is a lot like using herbicide to get rid of weeds. It doesn’t cure the problem that made it easy for the weeds to be there, rather it just gets rid of them for that one time. Seeding does the same thing, not that seeding is bad like using an herbicide, but rather it is a crutch preventing deep observation of the soil conditions and capabilities. If you have persistent weed problems telling you that you have sour, compacted, poor draining soil, like dock, or buttercup, throwing out pasture seed will definitely make you feel better, but it won’t do much for your soil. Not to say that if you throw clover seed out that it won’t come up, but you never will really know if your management is helping or hindering. It’s a magical thing to see plants communities change by just tweaking your grazing a little. Not quite so magical to seed a pasture and see the crop come up like, well, a crop.

      So I am not against seeding, but preferring to take a more passive approach. Our hay used as winter feed, and spread as compost is re-seeding our pastures, as does tall grass grazing. The clover seeds my cows are eating now are being inoculated as we speak 😉

    • July 3, 2011 1:36 pm

      Hi Carol

      Seeding would actually excellerate the problem already existing in the soil, because it will create more demand to mine the same elements causing the deficiency in the first place. It won’t enhance the pasture, just render it starved quicker – requiring more cows for fertiliser, which creates further compaction of the soils. It’s a never ending spiral of soil depletion.

      In Australia we have some of the most defficient soils in the world, thanks to the mass introduction of livestock such as sheep and cattle. Our soils and inigenous grasses didn’t evolve for heavy, hooved animals. If you want to see why seeding doesn’t work, take a look at Australia’s agricultural history. We seed and seed and the nutrients just leach through the soils, because there’s nothing to protect it any more. The only way we are managing to farm at the rate we do in Australia, is because of artificial fertilisers.

      It’s important to remember that grass and weeds evolved together too. It’s natures way of ensuring each can survive. Grasses only go down “yay” far in the soil, where as some weeds (especially in deficient areas) have long tap roots which bring inaccessible nutrients to the surface. Grass has evolved to then feed off the sugars contained in the roots of those weeds. Being annuals, weeds die every year too and leave all those nutrients behind for the grass to use as well.

      Adding more grass seeds only excellerates the need for more weeds. 😉

      Nature will revert to that original system, every time the farmer runs out of money for seed. This is why you will often see abandoned farms riddled with masses of weeds. It’s evolution trying to play catch-up, and it always will.

  8. July 1, 2011 3:51 pm

    This post sums up why I respect and admire you, Nita. Warts and all, it’s all there, consistent, reliable, and as sure as eggs, you write from the heart as well as the brain.

  9. July 1, 2011 6:27 pm

    galloping cows.


    • July 2, 2011 8:23 am

      Chook, they are a hazard for sure breathing down my neck, but they are careful since they know I am “bringer of food.”

  10. July 2, 2011 8:29 am

    beautifully said, nita, and beautiful pictures. Thank you.

  11. Anne Taliaferro permalink
    July 2, 2011 10:10 pm

    Not having done this myself yet, I’ve thought I would prefer mobile slaughter because I’d rather the animal not have to be transported. Is it not possible to have it done away from the other cattle, and are you unable to find someone you trust to handle the meat properly?

    What is the difference in finding someone competent to process the meat after slaughter if you take the animal away to be killed or have it killed on your own land?

    • July 3, 2011 6:06 am

      Anne, every method has its pros and cons. I can only speak from my experience. To me the less people I have involved in getting my meat to my or my customer’s table the better. We deliver the animal to a small USDA certifed organic facility, we unload it, and the animal has overnight to adjust to new surroundings. I met the owners, they farm also and have done both processing and farming livestock their entire lives. I have no qualms about their procedures or their facility. I am confident I am getting my own meat back. They do not accept meat they don’t kill themselves, meaning no poorly handles home killed or hunted meat can be brought in. Less risk of contamination.

      However, my experience with mobile slaughter has not been as good. The last guy we used was the best I had seen in a long time. This post details that experience and it went well. I still would have preferred to just take Blackie in myself. But I can’t run a charity operation, and keep animals that won’t get with my program, at a certain point they are dangerous. Not that he was a mean steer but he would not be confined, and he was flighty, that leads to stress every time you even attempt to put your cattle in a corral. As it was I kept him for an entire additional year. That gets expensive. Isolating him was out of the question. Shooting him before he knew what was up was the only way to get rid of him so to speak. The herd gets over it, but if you haven’t been in a herd of cattle when one gets shot, it’s an interesting time. Lots of growling, and a little chaos for a few minutes. Of course they get over it, they have to.

      We’ve had mobile slaughter guys show up with their alternators dragging the ground. While he processed our pigs, my husband worked on his truck so our meat and all the other meat already hanging in the truck would make it to the locker plant. He was a great shot, had animal sense, but he couldn’t maintain his vehicle. Another one took choice cuts from the meat for his meat counter. He was a good shot, nice truck, but you never got back what you sent in. Or at least all of it. And word around town here is that one of mobile guys likes to “hunt” his prey before he kills it, he is able to do that because many people choose not to watch or even be home when the animal is killed – because they don’t want to see it.

      As for meat lockers, we have ended up with whole cows ground, because “they couldn’t find” the form, and didn’t take the time to call and ask why would anyone grind an entire young beef? Meat mix-ups, pork in beef packages, meat not properly frozen because the “cooler hasn’t been working too good for a while now.” Ruined meat from contamination during hunting season.

      I think mobile slaughter is good if you have a good state inspected locker plant at the end of the line. You don’t need a trailer then or a pickup to pull the trailer, so that helps on the expense end. But for me, selling meat, I have to cut out as many steps and try to keep each step as consistent. as possible. These are just my experiences and it doesn’t help that I live in an area with a dearth of farms. More farms, more choices. I know a lot of people worry about the stress of the animal, but you also have to make sure you’re not stressed out too, with mobile slaughter I worried a lot, when we load and haul the cows, I worry much less.

      Each farmer has to make their choice taking many factors into consideration.

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