As we shared with you last month the sudden & unexpected loss of our herd Sire, Winchester, left a sudden job opening at the farm. This job opening had very specific qualifications. We ask a lot of a Bull working on our farm. First, he must have GREAT grass-fed Galloway genetics. In addition, since our farm has hundreds of visitors every year, he must have a trusted, gentle disposition. Plus, he must be ruggedly handsome! These qualifications are difficult to meet when working with a rare heritage breed. Our search had us looking all over the continent. Luckily, an ideal situation opened up. A nationally recognized Galloway breeder, Judy Decker of Renaissance Farms, who happens to be based in Kansas, decided to rotate her 3-year-old Sire out of their herd. It was perfect timing and a perfect fit. We were able to get this AMAZING bull who fit all our criteria and he was just a couple hours away from us.
Apostle is now living at Synergistic Acres. He was in a separate pasture for a couple weeks as he went through a quarantine and adjustment period. During the quarantine, he spent a lot of time eyeing the herd when he can see them up on the hill, itching to do his job once he is introduced to the herd.
Once introduced, he quickly greeted everyone and made himself at home as they all got to know each other. We shared several short videos on our facebook page of the introduction. There was some initial tossing amongst the boys. However, Apostle is quite a bit larger than any of the other male cattle. Dominance was quickly established without any real fighting.
We can't wait to see next Fall what kind of calves we end up welcoming with our new Bull, Apostle.
It has been an exceptionally beautiful fall, full of nice weather and adequate rainfall. This had made our pastures look especially good as they begin preparations to head into winter. We want a nice, healthy stand of thick grass going into winter because that ensures we have great grass coming into Spring.
One of the ways we ensure this is making sure all our pastures get the rest they need to recover from their previous grazing. In our rotational grazing system, the ground has a high degree of impact for a very short amount of time. For cattle, this means they are only on any one particular piece of land for one day before being moved to the next pasture. After one day of heavy impact, the ground then recovers for anywhere from 30 - 180 days before once again having one day of impact. This form of grazing mimics nature and how grasslands were created with the gigantic herds of migrating bison. They would come through an area, eat it down and plow it up with their hooves - but then move on. This periodic disturbance followed by time to rest creates robust and healthy ecosystems.
As our cattle herd continues to grow every year, we have begun utilizing pastures around us. It has been so good to find pastures around us that have been untreated and unused for many years and begin to heal them simply with the power of naturally managed grazing. We can then lease this land from our neighbors -- giving previously unused land some real value for land they were not utilizing. There is a fair amount of work involved in moving cattle around to these different pastures, however. Today was one of those days. We needed to gather all of the cattle which were in one pasture about 10 miles away, load them in a trailer and then move them to a new pasture that is directly across the road from our farm.
To gather the cattle, first, we have to construct a temporary corral.
This is where lots of great pictures would go of the rest of the process. But...as often happens, once the work actually starts, I don't have the presence of mind to pull out my camera.
So - I'll be brief in my wordy description. After we put these panels together into a corral, we then bring the cattle into the corral, back the trailer up to the corral and coax the cattle to enter the trailer in an orderly fashion. Sometimes they go in really easily, other times they require lots of patience and persuasion. Our trailer can hold 10 - 12 cattle -- so it takes a few loads to transport the whole herd. Moving the cattle is usually an all-day affair and today was no different.
The land they are grazing on now has not been grazed or used for anything for several years. Previously it was CRP grass. CRP is a government program that pays landowners money to allow land to stay fallow for several years. This program is losing popularity and most farms, like our neighbors, are no longer part of the program. They now have land that has been essentially not touched for the last 10 years. I am very excited to see how it reacts to some grazing. The grass there will be nutritious and delicious for the cattle. Our plan is they will be on this pasture for several weeks before moving across the street back to our home farm. Once back on our farm, we will need to start feeding hay as winter will be in full swing.
Leasing neighbors land and turning into rich, productive, healthy organically managed pastures is just one way your support as a customer is slowly changing the world acre by acre. By choosing to spend your food dollars on agriculture that supports the world you want your children to grow up in, you are radically affecting the future in a way much more effective and profound than any other form of radical protest.
Spring is an exciting time as we change from the slow, intense pace of the cold winter to the frantic and chaotic pace that often comes with spring. It never fails. We feel very prepared, rested and rejuvenated after Winter. However, as soon as the grass starts turning green (and man is it turning green!) suddenly that feeling of preparedness evaporates and we immediately feel that we are suddenly behind. That's because green grass is a very tangible signal that many things are about to get busier.
The first and very busy thing that has changed is our first batch of chicks arrived in the mail. Each year at this time we start receiving new chicks that we will grow on pasture to butcher in early summer. The first batch we got was our Prairie Rangers. These are our slowest growing broilers, so they are the ones we start with. Before they arrived, we had to get the brooder prepared after a long period of inactivity over the winter. Equipment had to be checked, supplies cleaned and things arranged. Once they arrive, a whole new list of chores of feeding, watering, and checking get added to our daily routines. However, chicks are more than just work. They are also a celebration. Our girls love getting a few chicks and playing with them in the yard, in the sandbox sometimes even in the house. These chicks will be out of the brooder and into the pasture in just a couple weeks - and then our next batch will arrive. The brooder will be kept busy with chicks and turkey poults for the next several months.
The cows have also started causing us a little more work. They LOVE the return of green grass. They seem to get tired of the dry, crunchy hay and yearn for the lush, soft, green grass. It seems to instill a certain amount of orneriness in them and we have spent several days lately readjusting the cattle from the pastures they think they should be in -- to the paddocks we have assigned for them.One very nice thing about spring though is the return of temps above 32 degrees. This has meant we have been able to start using the watering system again, at least for the cattle. This means that now water is brought to them automatically and on-demand at any time instead of us having to haul water out to them in large several hundred gallons tanks. This saves us time, is best for the cattle and is also more gentle on the land -- a win for all. Now if we can just have guessed right and can avoid below 20 degree temps for the rest of the season.
Overall, Spring is more excitement than work and any work involved we are ready for. Our farming is very connected to nature and the natural cycles of the seasons. This natural cycle seems to be well suited to keep us excited, invigorated, and ready for the challenges of the farm.
In the barn, gathering up orders for city delivery, I hear a suspiciously close 'moo.' Sure enough, as I emerge from the frigid freezers, I spy cattle right next to the barn in the front pasture. NOT where they are supposed to be. Actually, about the furtherest spot on our farm that they are supposed to be. If you picture a box and number each corner, the corner by our barn is #1. The cattle are supposed to be in #4 - but 1 and 4 are separated by 40 acres, a steep bluffs area and a creek - there is no direct path from 1 to 4! Moments later, my 6yo joins me outside just to say hello and I mention the cattle are out as I finish loading the car. On her own accord, she runs inside, gets her 10yo sister and they return minutes later all bundled up and ready to wrangle cattle together. How great is that, they came out dressed and ready!?
We three girls actually decided to do regular chores first because we knew we had a deadline as we have scheduled city deliveries and as long as the cattle were on our property, there was no emergency. If all the animals were tended, we could spend any extra time working with the cattle. If the cattle were still out when we left, instead of meeting us at our daughter's music lesson that evening, Jeff would go to the farm and tend to the cattle and we could assist as soon as we got home.
After tending our two pig pastures, front yard flock, dog, cats, layers and turkeys, we turned out attention to the cattle pasture. We inspected the paddock they had been in and quickly determined the fence had been knocked down (probably a rowdy calf) and probably got caught on someone's foot at which point it got pulled all out of whack and everyone decided to go find greener pastures. We restrung some of the wire (we use simple step-in posts and poly wire) to rebuild the main area, yet also left some low spots so the cattle could get back in. Goodness knows, I didn't want to get the cattle all the way back where we needed them and have them unable to get in and decide to run off again.
Our fencing assessment complete, we zipped around in our UTV to locate the herd. They had wandered up to the current layer pasture (that would be corner #2 so good progress) and were not very interested in moving further. The chickens didn't mind the visitors as their weekly rotations usually follow the cattle anyway. My 10yo (with her 6yo sister co-pilot and moral support) drove behind the herd while I walked, clapped, waved my arms and scooted close to the cattle which activitates their desire to move away from me. Once we got them on the move, they generally stayed together. We were not in a rush and hoped to avoid a stampede so we took it real slow. Things were going well. The only thing I wanted different was a ponytail holder. It was windy and my hair kept blowing in my face but I had just planned to load the orders, not do chores, and there was no time to tend to such a small detail.
Mara, our livestock guardian dog helped out a few times, running up to the cattle to get them to move forward. She's quite aware of where the animals are supposed to be even though we rotate them to new pastures as often as daily. She also doesn't mess with them so at one point, when mama Ulani and her calf Cadmus were slow, Mara approached them and then quickly backed off as Ulani gave her a 'don't mess with my baby' look and started to wag her head in a head-butty way. We all know the power of a mama! At another point, Winchester, our bull, paused to rest by a tree. Mara knew he should stay with the herd so she ran up to him to startle him into action. He was startled, but not impressed and Mara quickly retreated.
We slowly walked the cattle across the back edge of our 40 acres and then they turned, corner #3. Over the years, I have learned the cattle always know their way home and will usually take the exact same path in reverse. So, instead of trying to move the cattle a certain way, I just try to keep them moving and together. They choose the path. I was surprised they didn't go down through the woods or the shortcut hill, but instead went all the way to the last pasture area and finally turned towards 'home,' corner #4. We remain calm and call out encouragment as they move along. "Good girls, keep moving!" "That's the way, stay together." The cattle don't need or appreciate rowdy yelling or chasing.
At the bottom of corner #3 is our current boy pig paddock and I sure hoped that wasn't the route. I didn't want cattle and pigs on the loose! The cattle gathered near the pig pasture and had two main options. One, walk along the pasture road which is long and windy, but would lead them back to the proper pasture. Two, cross the creek and go directly into the proper pasture. Apparently, there was a third option to go into the pig pasture and as some cattle got close to doing so, the girls and I hurriedly waved our arms and told them to turn back. Thankfully, they did! In a few minutes, the cattle started to cross the creek and we zipped down the pasture road to meet them on the other side. However, they did not emerge on the other side. We had some former pig paddock fencing set up and they wouldn't cross it (yes, I do find that ironic). Several went back into the pasture and we three girls went down to the main creek crossing and called the cattle to follow us. They didn't so we instead crossed the creek on foot and traipsed into the pastures again to encourage forward motion.
My 6yo stayed by a bramble to call the cattle in the right direction. My 10yo and I worked as a team to flank the herd like cattle dogs and get them to keep moving. Ulani finally took charge and headed towards the creek. Walking right next to the pig pasture (please don't knock any poles down!), the cattle slowly moved in the right direction. Everyone followed Ulani across the creek and we cheered the forward progress! No time for celebrations though, the cattle can definitely outrun us and we wanted to keep them moving in the right direction.
Recrossing the creek and discovering a hole in my boot (brrr!), I asked my 10yo to drive the UTV behind the cattle. Her sister joined her and I walked alongside the herd to discourage any side adventures. As we approached the proper pasture, I ran ahead and pulled open the end fencing. My daughters continued following the cattle and after a brief minute of the cattle not being quite sure how to get where they were supposed to go, they entered the proper paddock. I called for my 6yo to take the fence end and follow behind Lass, the last cow. My daughter waited patiently for the cow to meander by and then ran like the wind to pull the fence closed behind the herd. I asked our 10yo to drive ahead and restring the low wiring we had left as an entry point. In the UTV, she was kinda stuck in some muck, but she knew what to do! She went into reverse to gain solid footing and then gunned it through the muck. I later told her about the 10 foot fountain spray of mud she shot up! While she did that, I ran up and restrung and tightened the current fence paddock.
All of a sudden, we were done. The cattle were right back where we wanted them. We had all played huge parts in making it happen. The cattle were contentedly getting a drink and laying down or eating hay. We had the biggest smiles on our faces! I gathered the girls in a little huddle. We crossed our arms and held hands, giving a 1-2-3- cheer for GIRL POWER! They giggled and we instantly reminisced about the experience. Laughing at Mara charging our bull - from the safety of the other side of the fence. Shaking our heads at the 'roadblock' of the old pig fencing. Smiling at the accomplishment of successfully wrangling the cattle such a long distance.
As we returned home to finally get ready for our city deliveries, I reflected on a blog post I had read that morning. It was a lovely homeschool weekly schedule featuring lots of focused study time, planned lessons, and scheduled group activities. I chuckled thinking of the discrepancy of that schedule and our day! I shook my head thinking our homeschool would never be quite like that.
Yet the lessons my daughters learned today surpass anything I could have planned. They learned about problem solving and working together. They practiced communication skills. They experienced treating others kindly even under stress and the thrill of accomplishment. They demonstrated helpfulness, initiative and critical thinking. They believed in their own power to make a difference. I love that these lessons are a natural part of our lives. They are lessons I hope stick with them through the years! Thankfully, the cattle don't usually go adventuring and we do have quite a few idyllic days in which homeschool, life and farm happily co-exist. But even when things don't go as planned, a lot of important learning is being done.
So, when you see us in the city for deliveries, if our hair is a bit wind-blown, our jeans have a mud spot or we have dirt under our nails, please know that we are real farmers working together as a family to make a difference, one cattle wrangling at a time. And often, that difference isn't necessarily evidenced as a great meal of pastured meat on your plate, but in empowering a young girl to be anything or do anything she desires. And that is an amazing lesson of which we can all be proud to play a part.