Friday, February 26, 2010

"Salad Bar Beef" and other ideas

Paul and I started our adventures with Scottish Highland cattle the way we seem to start a lot of things...we jumped in with both feet and then scrambled to fill in the gaps left by lack of planning, such as fencing, handling facilities, etc. We loved the look of the Highlands, enjoyed the beef we sampled, and felt they'd be a good way to utilize our bit of country paradise with animals that earned their keep without emotional needs. (The lack of emotional needs thing was my personal requirement, although I now understand my cattle satisfy my own emotional needs in a way. Go figure! And this as I hear the six - SIX - horses our neighbors across the street just started boarding in their one acre pasture whinnying in the darkness.) We started with no real expectations or plan for the future, other than to enjoy ourselves and perhaps sell a calf or some beef here and there.

Fast forward over a year and a half and our perspective has changed. We finally got real and looked at our expenses going back to purchasing Bridgit and Sheila (that "head in the sand" thing isn't ever good), and realized that we enjoy what we're doing too much to stop, but changes are necessary if we want to be viable. Otherwise, we're essentially feeding our cattle all of our money (which, knowing the breed, they could probably digest just fine, but oh, the germs!).

We don't yet have a farm vision statement or plan, but we're thinking and talking about some ideas. I (the reader/researcher extraordinaire) have reserved about 1.2 million (plus or minus several thousand dozens) books from the library on a variety of farming-related topics, from geese to pigs to grass fed beef and business plans. I won't even start on the amount of Internet research I've done. Apparently I'm not the only one with these topics in mind, as the wait list on some of the books is quite long. (I'm number 14 in line for one of them!) So far I've read three of Joel Salatin's books plus two from other authors. The most notable (so far), Salatin's "Salad Bar Beef" and "You Can Farm," have my mind racing the most.

We are going to give management intensive grazing (MIG) a whirl this year, to see whether and how we can make it work on our postage-stamp-sized acreage. MIG involves using portable hotwire fencing to create many small paddocks out of one's pasture, the size and shape of each determined by the growth patterns of the grasses, and rotating the animals fairly quickly from paddock to paddock so they can keep the grasses at the right height for optimal growth without overgrazing. The beauty is it's supposed to be flexible, meaning we will have to really keep an eye on how it's working and make adjustments as necessary.

Another idea from Salatin's books is running chickens in a chicken tractor, or portable coop, through those same paddocks within a few days of the cattle leaving them so the chickens can spread the manure and eat any bugs they find. The chickens get added grasses and bug protein for their diets, making their farm fresh eggs even more gorgeous and nutritious, and in return help maximize the fertilizing effects of the cattle manure and prevent flies from multiplying. Our property is too small to do this with our current flock using Salatin's methods, but I'm considering trying net fencing and a small portable coop to keep the chickens in the designated paddock (and keep predators out) so they won't return to the barn to roost.

And then there's the thought of raising a couple of pigs in our vegetable garden after we harvest everything, then butchering for pork...or raising a couple of small geese around the fruit trees we would like to plant so they can keep the grasses and weeds down...or trying our hands at pastured broiler chickens...or ...   :)

1 comment:

  1. I always say without passion a person should not farm because passion is what keeps us farmers going when all else fails! :-) Sounds like you are on the right track and I think it's wonderful that you love your cows so much!



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