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Posts Tagged ‘family farm’

More than a few people have asked me lately, “Do you put your cows inside when it gets really cold out?” Oh, goodness…we don’t have the biggest herd in the world, but it would still take quite a structure to keep them all in!

There is no doubt, this winter has been an interesting one. We have had long stretches of temps below zero at night and only in the single digits during the day. And then, and NOT disappointing to my cold-intolerant body, we have had some grill outdoors, play-in-the-yard, wear-short-sleeves kind of days! As much as I love those warm days for me, they are actually too warm for the cows who have their “winter coats” on.

Mama and Baby

Mama and Baby

As you can tell from the picture, the cows don’t get to be indoors when it is cold out. We will bring in one who is ready to calve, let the baby get good and dry and nurse, and then turn them out.  God made animals, cattle in particular, very hardy! We certainly do our best to keep them comfortable by having shelter from wind, putting down bedding (straw), and always making sure they have hay to eat and fresh water.  They have a layer of fat, thik skin, and plenty of hair to keep them comfortable.  While I am layering on the amazingly sexy layers of long johns, sweatshirts, coveralls, and coats, those mama’s are doing just fine in their God-given body armor.

So, as we go through these last weeks (I so dearly hope…last…) of winter, enjoy some delicious stew or meatloaf, or whatever you consider comfort food. Before you know it, the grass will begin turning green and it will be time to grill for every meal!

Even when it’s cold, we get to enjoy views like this…

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Where did your footsteps take you today and what kind of footprints did you leave behind?

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This past Sunday Matt and I got to attend a special church service. The little church (very near where we farm and ranch in Kansas) celebrated 125 years! His grandparents were pastors there at the time they were killed in a car accident in the 1960’s. The message of the sermon was about footprints. My mind immediately began racing about the steps we take and footprints we leave in our farming and ranching choices. The bulletin for the service was titled “Celebrating Northbranch Heritage”; every farmer’s heritage is determined by his choice of footsteps.

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(I didn’t have a picture from when the kids were little of boots – but this one is darn cute!)

I can’t help but think of how BIG some guys feet are and how ADORABLE toddlers are when they try to stand in the boots of those big men! Those young people are shaping their hopes and dreams based on the footprints we leave. Are we constantly stumbling? Are we walking proudly? Are we taking scary paths? Are we taking time to let them follow closely?

Just to lighten this up a bit…I guarantee, several times a week, we step in a pile of poop. When you have cattle in pens, there is bound to be a footprint in a cow pie. There are various ways to then clean those boots or shoes – just make sure you do before heading in the house! And I know I have attempted to step over an electric fence, only to lose my balance and get a zap on my inner thigh – yep, go ahead, laugh along with me! It’s all one can do when that happens! I hope our kids see when, in life, we figuratively “step in the poop” and learn from our mistakes! I also hope they notice that younger kids are already looking to them as an example and they REALLY need to carefully select their path!

Matt and I have been blessed with some pretty amazing footsteps to follow & we have blazed our own path a few times & all we can hope is that our “heritage” is meaningful in some way decades from now. Regardless, those who know us, are not a bit surprised by the spot in our path where there are tons of prints all in one area…those are the times we are dancing!

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A question I heard many times from the kids when they were little – and still do sometimes!  ~Why?~

OK - I admit...Matt and I probably promoted more than a little of the asking, "Why?"!

OK – I admit…Matt and I probably promoted more than a little of the asking, “Why?”!

Why do we have to go home and chore? ~ Why is it raining when I have a baseball game? ~ Why is that word naughty? Why can’t I say that? ~ Why can’t we have french fries with pizza? ~ Why is the sky blue? Why is the grass green? Why do those people have white cows? And on, and on, and on…

Well, now I have a “Why?” for you…

Why do you choose certain types of food when you shop? I ask this because I have heard more than a few times lately the following statement, “I like beef, but I don’t want to buy what is in the grocery store.”

People often ask me if we eat our own beef. Well, of course we do! We also eat beef at restaurants, from butcher shops, and yes, even from grocery stores. I have to admit – I did a quick Google search on purchasing beef in grocery stores and I found very little (practically nothing) helpful, truthful, or objective. So – I want to help you feel assured if you do your shopping in a grocery store and don’t have a separate meat market to buy your beef at.

First of all – the beef from grocery stores comes from the same packing facilities as that in restaurants, butcher shops, and so on. And prior to arriving at the packing facility, it comes from the farms/ranches and  feed yards of people like myself and those who feed our cattle for us.  (I will qualify now – local meat lockers are WONDERFUL and if you have one nearby to shop at, consider yourself blessed!)  One place I would send you for advice is the Interactive Butcher Counter. There is a lot of helpful information there on how to choose a cut for a particular meal and then how to cook it properly.

Even though I have a freezer full of beef, sometimes I am in a hurry and the kids are really hungry for my hot beef sundaes. If I don’t have stew chunks thawed out, I grab a pack at the supermarket and we have a great meal done soon after I get home.  When I choose beef at the store, I like to look for some marbling (flecks of fat in the muscle portion of the meat – this helps assure juiciness and flavor); not much fat around the outside of a piece of meat; good color (a little brownness does not bother me, as I know that meat was just exposed to the air for a bit longer than a bright red piece & it is still safe and tender); and, I look for a good value for what I am buying.

All of this meat looks GREAT!

All of this meat looks GREAT!

So now I leave you with this – WHY don’t you go to the store, purchase some beef, take it home and fix it? Oh wait – what if is doesn’t turn out, you ask? Re-purpose it! More than once I have had a wreck in the kitchen or from the grill! We are all human and that makes it ok for us to make mistakes, right? Golly I hope so!!!! So – if a steak gets too done, chop it in tiny pieces and make steak and egg hash. If your hamburgers crumble, make spaghetti sauce or chili. It will all be just fine and you will still have something delicious and you won’t have wasted any money 🙂  And if you haven’t cooked with beef much – practice! It is SO worth it in the long run!  If you would like some amazing recipe ideas, go to Beef It’s What’s For Dinner.

Now I get my “Why?” …  Why do us girls say we don’t want flowers for Valentine’s Day when we really do? ~ Why do I procrastinate on certain things and rush others? ~ Why do I get to be so blessed to live in the country and ranch? ~ Why do men get SO giddy over cool vehicles?… And yes, I could go on and on 🙂

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What is the first thing you thought of when you saw that title? My guess is any number of thoughts may pop into different people’s minds; maybe seasoning, lighting a grill, a special cut of steak, or even what to have with it.

T-Bones grilled by Emmet

T-Bones grilled by Emmet

Today, I want to help you understand how a rancher or cattle feeder makes steak; what does it take to accomplish that delicious, protein packed meal we all love to enjoy? Grab your boots and gloves – we have to step out of the kitchen for a whole lotta this process!

First of all, of course, we have to start with a herd of cows.

Note our special "herd marker" cow, i.e. the Longhorn, taking up all kinds of space!

Note our special “herd marker” cow, i.e. the Longhorn, taking up all kinds of space!

Next, there has to be a bull to put with those cows. Ranchers study bull pedigrees for weeks and even months, deciding which ones would work best for their situation. They study things such as carcass traits, growth tendancies, maternal traits (in case they want to keep heifers out of him), and of course, structural soundness. One mature bull can cover approximately 30 to 40 cows, depending on the environment. In areas where it takes significantly more acres to sustain a cow, more bulls may be needed to make sure all cows are bred in a timely manner. Many ranchers strive for a 45 day “calving window.” We like to have as many calves born as close together as possible, so we have a nice uniform group to market later.

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Cows and bulls get to hang out together for 45 to  60 days during the summer. I am timing all of this for a spring calving time. Some people prefer to have their cows calve in the fall – which is good for you consumers because that means there is great beef available all through the year!

Pasture Rainbow

During the summer while cows are on the grass, we have to make sure they always have salt and mineral available. They must have access to water for drinking. We also have to make sure fences are in good condition and thistles do not get out of control. Thistles can be sprayed or dug. I definitely prefer spraying if I am the one doing the work!

During the summer we also have to check the cattle regularly to be sure their feet and eyes are not injured. Cattle tend to like to stand in ponds, which can soften their hooves and allow injury to happen more easily, potentially causing a condition called footrot. They can also get pinkeye from flies. Either of those conditions must be treated immediately so the animal does not suffer.

Cow Swimming Party

In the very late summer to early fall, the calves are weaned from the cows. The calves receive vaccination boosters and are put on a very nutrient dense diet. They may either be kept at our place to be “backgrounded” (introduced to feed from a bunk) or they may be sold and go directly to a feedyard. At this point, they are no longer small and cute. They are very much growing animals that want to be fed well, lay around, and grow.

In the fall, in our area, we move the entire herd of cows, calves no longer with them,  to a stalk field after the crops have been harvested. The cows love it, and it is feed we can offer them that is low cost.

Cattle on stalks.

Cattle on stalks.

If we get significant snows during the winter grazing months, we may have to take hay to where the cows are, or if it is bad enough, we may have to bring them in to the lots and calving pastures early and start feeding them hay and supplement. While on the stalks, we have to run water everyday, make sure they have plenty of salt and mineral, and provide a protein supplement. Again, they get checked regularly to make sure they are o.k. Often, deer will run through the fence (which is a temporary electric fence that has to be put up before taking the cows there and removed once they leave) and it has to be repaired.

Are you still with me here? I promise – we really are making steak in this whole process!

Now, when calving time is getting close, the cows are brought to an area to be watched more closely and fed hay and distillers grains (or whatever a producer has and buys to make a nutritionally ballanced ration) daily. Some areas of the country are very fortunate to have winter range and the cows can graze for much of their nutrients. We are not so blessed and we get to deliver feed to them every afternoon.

Emmet driving the tractor and feedwagon to deliver the cows their daily ration.

Emmet driving the tractor and feedwagon to deliver the cows their daily ration.

 Once it is time for calves to start arriving, someone checks the cattle every 2 to 3 hours. Even through the night. And yes – when one member of a couple has been out in the cold to check and all is well so they get to crawl back into bed, their body is cold and now both members of the couple are awake! Another reason 45 days is long enough…sleepless nights!

This is what we are looking for! This heifer is about to give birth to a calf. The water sack is out, the hooves are presented correctly, she just needs to lay down and have it.

This is what we are looking for! This heifer is about to give birth to a calf. The water sack is out, the hooves are presented correctly, she just needs to lay down and have it.

Finally, green grass arrives and we are turning cows and calves out to pasture for the summer. Ideally, with enough moisture, and warm weather, this can happen in very early May.

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Before we turn them out, however, calves are vaccinated, the bull calves are castrated, and we mend fence all the way around the pastures. And once again – we are timing our “turn out” date to put bulls with cows.

Another spring time event –  the afore-mentioned weaned calves are ready to send to the packing plant. The way the particular ones shown below were managed and fed, they were harvested at approximately 14 months of age. I do know that the beef that came from them was very high quality, as we received the carcass data on each one individually. They graded 97% USDA Choice or better – that is amazing!

 Market cattle nearly ready to be harvested for beef.

So, as you can see, there is a significant amount of time, work, and dedication into making steak. As one group or calf crop is going to harvest, the next has just been born and and we are getting ready to breed the cows again for the next one.

Whew! – that took a bit longer to explain than I thought! Of course, there were many daily details that got left out as I wrote this, but I really wanted you to get the jist of what goes on around our outfit…

Please – enjoy beef often, it is good for you and it tastes amazing! And also – our family and many others like ours really and truly love our life of being ranchers and beef producers. Thank you for enjoying what we raise!

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Life is so full of choices…from “What’s for supper?” to “What am I going to wear?” to “What should I do or be when I grow up?”  My little girl is growing up. We got some of her senior pictures done at our farm & she has grown into quite the young lady!

It does not seem long ago that we were toting her along to the State Fair and Ak-Sar-Ben as a newborn in her infant carrier. Now – we are working on finalizing high school, choosing a college, planning a graduation party, trying to figure out how best to finance college, and hoping she might choose to focus on all of those things more than human specimens of the male gender!

I hope she can always be this excited for something as simple as toe socks!

I remember being her age and hoping I was making the right choices. What a blessing for young people to have choices and not have to just follow some mandated plan set forth by a government or someone else.

For cattle ranchers, choices this year are tough ones. Fun choices to make are breeding decisions and studying different types of profitable marketing decisions. What is next for ranchers all across the plains states the rest of this year? Lots of planning and hard decisions. The drought forces herd reduction, feeding alterations from typical practices, and changes in family farm/ranch succession plans. We all learn to prioritize what is most important. Like always, the health and well-being of the animals comes first. If we don’t have feed for them, we have to sell them.

What does that mean to any of you who may not farm or ranch? It may mean having to do a bit more planning as to “What’s Next” in terms of what you can provide for meals. Farmers and ranchers have done an outstanding job over the years of overcoming challenges to continue to provide a very safe, abundant, and affordable food supply. Sadly, that is getting more and more difficult as the drought broadens and worsens. Groceries will very likely get more expensive. We all just need to get through this and remember stories from our great- grandparents about survival in difficult times.

O.K. I really dislike negative talk – just had to get a little realism out there. Hunker down folks – get the freezer stalked and be ready to get creative with the cooking skills! Kaydee wants to learn how to can this year, so we are starting with peach jam. Yum! Hopefully we get enough made to last us through the year.

I am adding a photo from the winter here just to remind you all how much we always wish for a nice hot day in January when it’s 10 below….Enjoy!

 

 

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