Saturday, January 22, 2011

Harvest time

Last weekend we harvested beef, and I found myself approaching harvest day feeling both humbled and sure. Humbled because Paul and I again got to be a part of supplying our customers with high quality beef that we know is safe and tasty to eat and was humanely raised and produced. Sure, because we know that the choice we made to cull those two animals from our herd was the right one.

We made the decision to cull both of these girls fairly easily (although what is really "easy" about this decision?). One was a "rescue" we had high hopes for, but we really should've known better; rarely can you get a diamond for next to nothing. In her case, the disappointing reality was that she had fertility problems (side - good thing we don't cull humans, or I'd be in trouble!), but she was also wild and unmanageable. The second cow, even though she was one of our first in the herd, also had attitude problems along with some physical conformation issues that really made her someone we didn't feel comfortable selling off to someone else.

There are many reasons to pull a cow from a herd. Open cows, those who fail to breed back, cost a farm or ranch money because they are not producing the next year's calf crop on schedule. In a large cow/calf operation, open cows are often shipped cows, making their way to a table near you. Cows who are too old to breed, or whose udders have fallen from slipped ligaments, the result of either poor conformation or too many years of breeding, have a hard time rearing calves and are sold or slaughtered. Cows with weird leg conformation, especially in the hind legs, don't move as well to feed or otherwise get around, so they're culled. Cows that cannot keep their body condition up throughout the year despite good management are also culled. As much as we love our cows, we do study them with eyes-in-training, looking for clues that they no longer meet our needs.

Incidentally, we received our copy of The Bagpipe, the quarterly journal of the American Highland Cattle Association, in the mail last week and discovered the Highland Performance Data Report. Among other things, the report summarized docility scores of Highlands on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being nearly zen calm, and 5 being crazy wild and potentially dangerous). After reading the descriptions provided, Paul and I were able to place each of our animals appropriately, and this further validated our decision to harvest the two animals, both on the "wrong" end of the scale. Certainly, having better handling facilities, like chutes and gates, would help us manage unmanageable animals, but what we really want on our farm is animals who don't require such measures just to work with them. (In case you're wondering, my girl Sheila is in the 2 range, most of the time. When she's not she does quickly remember who is boss (me!), thanks to my pal Bonnie's tactic of holding my arms out like giant horns! Not that she likes it, but she does back down right quick.)

Now that the harvest of our wild cows is past, we hope we don't soon forget how difficult it was to separate them (especially the wilder of the two) from the herd and get them where we needed them to be. No, with our herd, we want to aim for zen...or darned close to it!


  1. After all my whining about wayward goats, I can't even imagine trying to deal with a giant horned cow with an attitude problem!

    Culling/harvesting has to be one of the hardest parts of growing your own, but it sounds like you guys really thought it through and arrived at the right decision for your herd and yourselves. And now I'm going to go mosey over to your storefront and see if you have any beef left for sale! Yummmmm! :)

  2. I just replace the word goat where it said cow in the third paragraph and read it to my husband. It sounded just like my thought process this Fall when we culled two goats. And I too didn't think I could sell either of these to be someone else's problems. Good personalities, but physically not breeders or even good lawn mowers, as the one was the runtiest runt. He just lived as long as he did because he was cute!

    Now I take greater pride in my herd, as I know the does will carry kids well, and I don't have too many parasite issues with them. They are a hardy bunch.

  3. Deere Driver, I'm glad you can relate! We strive to keep the "hardy" in our herd of Highlands, too, and making the tough choices is one way to stay on track.

    Michelle, I have respect for meanie goats, too...they're right at the height to get you in the thigh muscles! Ouch! I replied to your email, by the way, but it may have gone in your junk mail box. :)

  4. Can I just say that I respect your self journey/transformation of city girl to farm girl? That's AWESOME. I've always kind of secretly wanted to do that but probably never will. And Washington's the best place to do it! (Just because it's an awesome state). Anyways, I'll probably follow you, that's just such a cool thing you're doing. Best of luck, seriously. Check out my blog if you like.

  5. I appreciate your sharing this type of information with the public. I think its important for people to be exposed to the realities of livestock raising. My father-in-law runs about 400 head of breeding cattle, and each fall we have them preg checked and cull off the ones that arn't bred. Also the ones with attitude go, b/c its just not safe to be out there in temps below 0 in a snowstorm trying to help a cow deliver when she's got a bad attitude.
    I LOVE Highlands! I think it would be really neat to own a few. Maybe I can sneak a few into my FIL's herd, even though they won't blend well at all!

  6. Sarah and hrmustang, thank you for visiting!


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