Tag Archives: farming

She’s gonna jump.

For you today, as this house nurses stuffy noses and short fuses: a small but extremely accurate window into my marriage.

Curt was gone for most of last week, and to add salt to the wound, Mother Nature completely lost her mind while he was away. Six-foot snow drifts changing shape hourly like sand dunes made our road completely unpredictable. Snow piled up in the pastures and along the fence line covered up the bottom 2 of 5 rungs, effectively raising the ground by 2-feet in some cases.

The chickens huddled in their coop to avoid the wind, but the cows had no such luck. Personally, I nearly lost my boots in the back 40 post-holing to the water pump to refill. Like, literally. The snow came up to just above my knees- the last time I had such a serious cardiovascular workout was in college as a sports major. The children asked me why I was breathing so hard. When I told them I was tired from walking outside to check on the animals, Gideon asked me if he needed to call an ambulance. Ahem.

Tempest

Curt returned late, late Wednesday night. Before he could even hug me and tell me how excited he was to be back in my presence, I launched into the following desperate and update that I had been holding in for three days:

Curtis James. The snow is so high. The cows are fine. I fed them. Their water is fine. They’re all happy. I mean, they’re not happy- they’re miserable. They stare at me and I think they are silently cussing at me. The wind is KICKIN’ out there. Today was nice. The sun was amazing. But, Curt… we got SO MUCH snow and the ground is so high now. Those cows can jump over the fence without any problem on a normal day… what if they walk over it now? What if they come up for a drink at the fountain and just keep walking? What if they all get out? I have been trying to figure out a plan in case they bailed on me. I mean, I can’t walk out there in the yard, the snow is so deep… how would I push them back into the gates? How would I even get some of the gates open? They’re iced shut! Who would help me? You were in Colorado! What if the cows slipped on the 2-inches of ice on the driveway? What if they took off down the road again? I would never be able to get them back alone in this kind of weather. I almost died taking the trash out. And if they came back on their own, they’d be so amped up that they’d hurt themselves on the ice. And then what would I do? Call Doug? Call the vet? Oh, man. You saw that you can’t get through to 6 Mile, right? We wouldn’t be able to get the tractor through some of those back fields to surround them and we wouldn’t be able to get up the hill FOR SURE. Lawd, Curt. It’s a little nuts. Everything’s totally fine, but the snow is making me nervous.

Curt took off his coat in our bedroom and stared out the window where the yard met the pasture. He sat down quietly on the bed and began to unlace his shoes.

The cows won’t jump the outside fence, Kate. There’s no green grass or corn growing to entice them. All their food is inside the fence.

 

*blinkblink*

I am so glad you’re home.

Every day, Folks.

EVERY. DAY.

 


Branding 102- on the range

Forgive my unexpected absence last Thursday, Folks. I was ambushed by a plague so mean and nasty I didn’t know what day it was until Saturday. I can stand on my own two feet today, but I am not steady… so watch out. I wanted to give you a poetic tale and testament of the Old West, where the longhorn came from, and how the breed survived extinction by the efforts of seven families, but I will keep it simple today. We’ll just cover the branding process, nice and neat. 

Branding, like we talked about on the 25th, is simply expressing your message visually. It’s creating a symbol or a look that represents you consistently wherever it’s seen. In today’s world, that’s all about sales and websites and stats.

In the Mulder household, branding actually has more to do with cattle than with writing… but still everything to do with ownership, vision, and consistency. Branding animals is proof of genetics, ownerships, and breeding. Before there were fences, there were brands. Each year, we brand our calves to have give that animal a permanent, traceable record of birth and ownership. Genetics for longhorns are handled like genetics of any other registered animal. The ancestry of the animal can be traced back along lines, which allows buyers to search for specific offspring from specific animals in the hopes of adding those traits to their own program.

So, each registered breeder has a brand. Ours looks like this:

texasnorth brand

(on paper)

TXN brand

(burned into leather)

monday3

(backwards, on the iron)

You can see that on the actual brand, the arrow is quite rounded. Anywhere there is a pointed or sharp intersection is especially dangerous for the animal. The tip gets SUPER hot and could press sharply in, so we tried to minimize that as much as possible. But that’s our brand: TX for Texas and then the NORTH is the arrow pointing up from the X as if from Texas to Michigan.

branding1

Each animal is also given a number. Each breeder you meet will have a different numbering system that makes sense in their books. Some simply number the calves as they come through the chute. Our herd is small enough that we like to number them according to birth order. So, looking at Jitterbug here: she’s got her TXN brand and the number 513. This tells anyone that she was bred at TexasNorth and it tells us that she was the 5th calf of 2013. See? In a couple years, this will make it easy to tell at a glance how old she is.

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The branding process itself takes about 1 minute per animal. They are branded young, when they are fast healers and easier to handle. They simply walk into a squeeze chute that hold them tight and then rocks back so the animal is on its side, which helps keep it calm.  The branding iron is just a large version of your own curling iron. There are still old-fashioned, non-electric versions that you heat up in a fire, but this way is more consistent and safer for the cowboy and the animal: no constant re-heating, no uneven heat distribution, etc. The numbers are all on an iron, too- 3 irons, actually: 1, 2, 3 on one and then 4, 5, 6 on another and 7, 8, 0 on the last one. The number 9 is made by using the 6 upside down. Fancy, right?

monday1

Once the calf is on its side, Curt pressed the TXN iron on first (which smokes because of the hair) and then alternates irons to get the right number on the animal. It helps to have a beautiful ranch manager nearby yelling out what number goes on which calf. Sometimes that sassy manager also holds the calf’s heads and tells them stories while the boys do their work. Sometimes she takes the kids for a walk when they get bored. Sometimes, they go get pizza. It depends. It’s not all boots and glory, I’ll tell ya that.

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After the numbers are on, the chute is righted and the calf is released. It’s a quick, albeit uncomfortable (but not loud… our girls didn’t make a sound) process. The tattoo will scab after a week or two, but the girls are more stressed out by the whole traveling bit than the branding bit, and I’ve see grown men whine about their own tattoos more than these girls ever make noise about theirs. But, they do have some incredibly thick skin.

We own our own branding iron, but we don’t have the number irons OR the fancy flip chute, so each year we load up our girls and we head over to a friend’s ranch for a “branding party.” Several folks usually show up with their calves, which makes the work easier to manage and absolutely a good time.

Now, if there’s an buyer interested in Jitterbug, we could say, “Oh yes. She’s got fabulous potential. Lots of winners in her family lines.” The buyer could take us at our word, but before laying down serious cash would probably like some proof that she’s the real deal. Her certificate of registration, which follows her wherever she is sold, is stamped by the TLBAA once she’s branded and verifies her family tree.

Bug’s tree looks like this:

monday7

The sire, or bull in this case, is always listed on the top of the tree. This is showing us that she’s got Rio Safari, Rio Grande, and Tejas Star in her blood, which is great news for horn growth, since Rio Grande (her granddad) is one of the longest bulls in the breed. It also shows us that she’s a Belinda granddaughter (who we did not breed but do own… you know Belinda… she’s Sugar’s mom), which tells anyone that it’s likely Jitterbug is going to be a good milk-producer, an easy calver, and and all-around good mamma to her babies. Just what you want in a girl. We know all of this because every cow in that tree has a stamped registration card verifying their breeding lines.

So that brand? That brand is symbol of our word and our program. It makes identification easy when the calf grows into a full cow and blends in more with the older herd. At the very least, it continues a visible tradition that goes back to the Egyptians.

Thant, my friends, is a little bit about the other kind of branding.

Thanks for hanging in there.


lost and found

Yesterday, I picked Rylie up from Sunday school and her teacher pulled me aside to let me know the earplugs we’ve been using are helping Ry feel more comfortable during the loud music time (amen and alleluia). Then, she asked if things were fine at home and I said, “Yes, actually. Things are fine. Right? I mean… are things fine?” She laughed and mentioned that Ry had been praying for 2 weeks now about the BABY COWS! and today she was very excited to share (something) about the BABY COWS! but the teacher wasn’t quite sure what story Ry was laying down (welcome to my world).

Ah, yes. There’s a story there, I thought to myself.

Remember? Rain was due to have her baby on the 19th? She did. In the middle of thunder and lightening and a complete downpour, that sweet first-time mamma had a little boy calf. I found it immediately after I wrote that morning and mamma and baby were doing fine, despite the weather. The calf was walking… wobbly, but walking… and the skiies were clearing, so we dubbed him Lightening and went on with our day.

That night, Curt walked out back and saw the two of them together again… wobbly, but walking and apparently nursing… so all was well.

Until it wasn’t. The next morning, all the cows- including Mamma Rain- were up front and there was no Lightening. No big deal, we thought. It’s early and she’s young. She probably has him hidden. She’s a helicopter mom.

But we didn’t see him later that day.

Or the next.

Or even three days after that.

I mentioned to Curt at dinner one night that I had a bad feeling and he agreed. A long search in the back 40 revealed… nothing. No calf, no signs of struggle, no anxious cows… nothing. We were sad. I mean, I saw him! We both saw him. And he was fine! What did I miss? And what could have happened? It was such a mystery… but there was simply no way to know. We finally told the kids that we weren’t sure, exactly, where Lightening was. He was hiding. And I think Ry knew that he was lost. So she, in her infinite awareness as a child who sees everything but cannot speak well, she had been praying. he Sunday school class had been praying.

Wednesday, a sweet friend came to visit and we walked a little ways to see the cows… all up against the fence again… on display. And there was sweet little Tex right there in the back.

Except… it wasn’t Tex.

It was Lightening. Sure enough… there was the tiny calf… a week later… completely fine and very shy. He popped up immediately, ran to Mamma Rain and the two of left left us to sweet talk the other cows. They walked quietly and very quickly with no ceremony or distress.

Two days later, I found him again. This time, he gave me a good 10 minutes before retreating with his mamma… and since then he’s been sticking around a little longer each day.

Lightening1

first glimpse

Lightening2

He sees us.

Lightening3

Where’s my mom?

Lightening4

safety

Lightening5

Mamma Rain giving us the eye.

Lightening6

Mamma and baby making their way… away.

Lightening7

together

Lightening8

Sweet Pea playing defense while the pair leaves in the background

Lightening9a farewell

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little teary with amazement when I “found” him again that Wednesday. I guess he was never technically lost, but I was so afraid he’d been hurt or sick and I’d missed it. I’d not been there to help. We’ve had our share of death on the farm… a calf born too soon, chickens losing against raccoons, and even our sweet cow dog Blue. It happens. It happens whether you’re ready or not, whether the baby looks fine or not, whether your brand new  or have been farming for generations.

But what sweet relief to see that baby… fine and strong and shy. A first time mamma with a little baby to take care of and 12 other mammas alongside her to help and guide and protect. She did just fine. She did it exactly right. Not like any of the others, but still exactly right.

We were all thrilled. Rylie squealed and giggled and clapped… which I wish I had been free enough to do myself.

Such an amazing find.

Life.

I found life where I did not expect it, where I had counted all for loss.

Anything, absolutely anything, is possible, friends.


home on the range

1185973_10100361327668312_475637321_nFor a year now, I have been on the Dayspring (in)courager volunteer team as a co-leader of an online community group for moms with kids of special needs. For three months now, I have been a (volunteer) mentor for the leaders of 13 other Special Care groups in the (in)courage community.  There are almost 70 groups with almost 140 total leaders out there right now, getting ready for registration to start today.

If you find yourself hesitant to join a small group in real life because of time commitments or hermit tendencies (ahem, Katie Mulder), this faith-based community may be exactly what you’re looking for. This session runs from Sept 23 to November 8, and registration starts today. Each group is limited to 30 women (sorry, Dad) and each group marches to their own beat. Maybe it’s a Bible study, maybe it’s a life-stage, maybe it’s a profession that is the common link- but there is something for almost everyone. You’ll find a complete list HERE.

•••

aj

First of all, look at this child. Is she not stunning? Even with the scar of having a brother on her face? She is the toughest kid I’ve ever met and can stare me down in a contest, which is something. I love her.

We have spent a lot of sweet time with our herd this summer. The boys of summer, the steers who will feed family and friends come January, are a year old now and so, so fun. Wooster (say that out loud) has a white patch on his forehead that looks like a chicken. He begs to be scratched every day. I have lost count of how many time Abby has made her way into the boys’ pen and held them captive with a monologue or two. She always starts with, “HOLA, COW.” I think that’s wise. Always start with ‘hello.’

wooster

Here is proof-positive that these are gentle giants if treated well and given the respect any large animal deserves. No doubt, they are still wild and unpredictable… and very, very strong. But, they are so fun. And so pretty 🙂 We love ’em.

I’ll show you this year’s babies later this week.

Have a good one, Folks.

We love you here at TexasNorth!


’tis time to talk about hay

Y’all ok with doin’ a little farming this week?

What if I show you this sweet girl?

abbyondozer

That’s what I thought.

She does not understand what all the fuss is about. It’s hot here. Shirts are optional, apparently.

NOW. Today we’re gonna learn a little bit about HAY.

hay  /hā/

noun: grass that has been mown and dried for use as fodder

Hay is grass. Dried grass cut and then baled together. Our hay is a mixture of alfalfa, brome, and timothy grass… plus a little clover thrown in there. It all depends on the farmer’s field.

bobcat

We do not grow our own hay here at TexasNorth. We don’t have our own equipment to cut and bale yet. Maybe some day. For now, we buy our hay from friends, neighbors, and folks on Craig’s List.

Seriously.

Our usual hay guy has less available this year… and when your usual hay guy has less available you go to Craig’s List and see if there’s anyone near you with good stuff. We look for miles to travel, quality of hay, size of bale, and price. Our bales are about 6-feet in diameter. This year, six-foot bales cost about $60 a piece and weigh about 980# each.

Farmers cut and bale their fields up to four times a summer, depending on how well the grass grows back each time. The 1st cutting is the lowest grade, nutritionally, and we use that for our older girls who are not nursing or pregnant. The grass that grows up after the first cutting, called “2nd cutting,” is richer in nutrients and will help the calves and heifers we buy it for to grow steady and strong. Those little gals and guys double in size their first year, so it’s important that the best quality grass go to them.

22bales

We use a Dodge truck and a big, red trailer to haul the hay. Our trailer can hold up to 22 bales of hay on each trip, but that’s really pushing it. Obviously it takes a little bit of planning and time to get all the hay you need in the right place. We use a little bobcat fitted with a spear on the end to pick up and move the hay.

But what if you find it at a great price and don’t have the room in the barn to store all your inventory? Ah. Yes. This is us. Well, when that happens you have to call the hay-wrapper-guy. For $8 a bale, he’ll come out and wrap the hay while you load the bales on. It’s a really cool machine… Gus cried when it left. You just feed the bales onto the trailer and it wraps over and under them, allowing them to be stored out in the open indefinitely. When you need one, you just take a box cutter and rip the plastic off the last one in line. You must, must, must protect your hay from rain and snow. If they sit out because there’s no room under a shelter, you lose whatever gets soaked, or about 6-inches of grass. No good. Thus, WRAPPING.

hay2

hay1

So, in a good year, our cows will feed on live, growing grass out in the pasture from April-ish to October. Once the grass is gone or the snow comes, you have to switch to hay. We are fortunate in Michigan to have really great grass and rain. We can have about one cow per acre. Other states rely on hay year-round to feed their stock. In Texas, for instance, the grass ratio is way higher: you need at least 10 acres per animal. Then there are crazy unpredictables like the weather. Last year, there was a huge drought and hay was nowhere to be found. Our neighbors go theirs from Kentucky. 6-foot bales were over $100 a piece, when you could find them and we starting putting out hay in May because the pasture grass was already gone.

Farming is hard. Not because the tasks are necessarily hard- no. It’s simple work that requires remarkable effort and an incredible faith. When you meet a farmer… not a hobby farmer like us, but a raise your family by the sweat of the land farmer, you have met a man who can read the clouds, who sings in church with dirty fingernails, and who remembers every turn and bump of his land. Farmers are rewarded by seeing results… babies born, families fed, seeds blooming into crop. They’re amazing, farmers. I just can’t get enough of them. Really, I can’t.

But back to HAY. Right. You’re wondering how much hay we need on our little hobby farm… and that’s a great question. This is a good year- the opposite of last year. The grass is growing fast and beautiful. Farmers are already on their 2nd cutting, and many will get 4 out of this year. Prices are down and most folks have a good supply to sell.

From October to April, our little farm will need 64 bales to feed

  • 11 mamma cows
  • 2 heifers (girls in their first year)
  • 10 calves
  • 6 steers

We still need 50 bales of 2nd cutting specifically for the calves and heifers. That’ll come a bit later. We’ve got all we can handle for now!

Before we go, here’s some live action of the the hay ‘chine (as Gus calls it):

What’s a 6-foot, 1st cutting bale cost near you? Maybe we need to come for a visit 🙂


newbies

Aw, look who joined the farm last night! Eleven sweet little teenager hens and 1 little rooster man were brought home from friends in Cedar Springs to bring our flock back up to speed.  We were down to 11 hens- which is totally fine, but I find that our ladies really do best when there are 20-25 friends to hang with.

Plus, my girls are all on the down-side of laying. Hens only lay for 2 years… did you know that? They start laying at about 6 months and are finished laying at 2 years. They live to be about 7 (or so I’ve heard… ours don’t get much past the 4 year old range thanks to the foxed, raccoons, opossum, and hawks around here). All ours are 2 or older and still laying, but it’s time to add some young ones into the coop to overlap the cutbacks that are bound to happen soon. They would make perfectly fine chicken stock for soup after their laying days are over, but we don’t butcher our older girls.  They get to hang out here as long as they’re happy… or fast.

Gideon was less than impressed. But I’m excited. New animals on the farm are always exciting.

 

Alright.

I finally got all the details worked out for some new sweatshirts!

TEXASnorthSTAR

If you’d like to order, THESE are our 4 options! Super fun, right?  These are all adult unisex sizes and I’ll only be ordering what you ask for, so there won’t be any wiggle room.  The hooded sweatshirt is GILDAN brand and the crew-necks are ALTERNATIVE APPAREL brand, if you want to do some sizing research. Best to order up a size if you’re unsure of shrinking or in-between sizes. I have some plans for youth and kiddo sizes, but I’d like to see where we stand on this order first.

Some things to consider:

  • the logo will be printed on the front in white ink
  • these are all adult sizes
  • there is no XS in the green hooded sweatshirt
  • 2XL sweatshirts of any kind are $5 extra
  • shipping for each sweatshirt is $5 each

 

Clicking HERE will take you to a page that will allow you to order. I’ll respond with an email invoice that will include your total and double-check your order. Let me know if something’s funky. I’ll let you know in the next week if we’ve reached our 25 sweatshirt minimum.

Happy Monday, Folks!

We love you here at TexasNorth!


the nitty gritty

THE LOGO WINNER IS DECISIVELY THIS GUY.  Thanks for voting!  I’ll yell to you Thursday about sweatshirt options… still waiting on the printer to give me some prices.

TEXASnorthSTAR1

Em, mind if we go one step further on this whole beef thing? A few of you emailed to ask about the specifics of cost.  Alrighty.  Stick with me.  Let me preface by saying that I speak only from what I know personally. I cannot guarantee this is how all operations work or that my math goes beyond a 2nd-grade level.

PART 1 (our farm)

PART 2 (grocery vs. local)

So, we talked about how we raise Longhorns for the history of the breed. And then, we started having a LOT of bull calves, so we started selling beef to a few friends. How does that beef get from our pasture at 20 months and into their freezer? Good question.

First, we call up the butcher and schedule a pick-up date. We don’t have our own trailer to haul cattle, but the shop is happy to make the rounds and give our guys a ride for a very small fee.  Honestly, this helps me… I don’t think I could take them myself. It would just be too much for me to handle. I love my boys. I see them off from the farm and that’s fine by me.  They head down the road where they will stay the night in stalls at the shop with all the other beef that was picked up that day around town.

The next morning, the boys are put down and immediately dressed. This is where your pictures of a meat locker come in… tough guy in a white lab coat back in a freezer surrounded by sides of beef hanging on hooks.  Those sides you’re picturing are actually halves.  So, the two halves of a cow are hung together over the scale in the shop to get the HANGING WEIGHT.  When the halves are hanging and weighed they are missing (and forgive me, but I’ll just got through it) the head, the hide, the legs, and the non-edible organs.

Prices are all based on the animal’s hanging weight. This is when the animal is in its largest usable state but before the specific trimming is done for each customer.

When you buy a side of beef (a quarter, half, or whole), you pay the farmer a price for raising and feeding your animal, but you also pay the butcher for humanely and precisely processing that animal.

The butcher makes a note of each animal’s hanging weight and then calls the farmer. By the time the farmer calls the customers and the customers have placed their individual orders, the sides of beef will have hung in the freezer and aged for 10-14 days. This helps tenderize and flavor the beef.

Alright. So, the beef has been dressed and weighed and aged a bit.  The customers have all called in their preferences and everything’s packaged for the freezer.  Now it’s time to work out the cost.  Our farmer fee is $3.50 per pound (hanging weight).  Our butcher’s processing fee is $.40 per pound (hanging weight).  Add those two together and you get your total cost per pound, or $3.90 per pound.

EXCEPT. You don’t take all that hanging weight home. Remember, the price is based on hanging weight, but you don’t want to take all that weight home.  You’re still looking at the bones, the excess fat, and the tendons of the animal hanging there… no thank you.

In 2010, we bought a half of one of our steers.  That 20-month old steer hung at 480 pounds. When we brought our boxes home, Curt counted everything out before putting it in the freezer.  We don’t do this every time, but it’s been a great reference. Here’s the break-down:

quantity cut weight
48 Ground Beef 50
1 Brisket 4.25
5 Soup Bone 12.5
6 Loin Sirloin Steak 11
7 Round Steak 20.25
5 Stew Meat 6.5
1 Heel Round Roast 2.75
3 Chuck Arm Roast 6
2 Round Tip Steak 6
2 Chuck Blade Roast 3.75
2 Rolled Round Rump Roast    4.75
8 Short Ribs 9
11 Rib Steak 11.5
6 Loin Porterhouse Steak 7.5
8 Loin T Bone Steak 8
7 Chuck Roast 15
2010’s half    480# hanging weight 178.75

This chart represents a HALF portion, so the WHOLE guy would have put 357.5 pounds in the freezer- or 74.4% of the hanging weight after trimming and packaging. Excellent return.  Because longhorns are so genetically lean (90 to 95%) our steers lose very little fat in the trimming process.  This allows us to bring more meat home.

Let’s figure out the actual cost.  The out-the-door, pretend like I’m buying from Kroger price.

farmer fee: 3.50 x 480 hanging weight x half =  $840

butcher fee: .40 x 480 hanging weight x half =  $96

We paid $936 for 178.75 pounds, which works out to $5.24 per take-home pound. THIS is what you use to compare cost at the supermarket.  We paid $5.24 for ground beef, for roasts, for prime steaks. $5.24 across the board.

And, there you have it. The whole deal. It’s more than just a per-pound price on a sticker. There are people and time and feed bins and haul trailers and massive freezers and phone calls and preferences and a couple checks behind that number… which can be a bit daunting to the buyer. But, I hope this helps explain a little of what goes into those numbers and sheds a little light on the subject.

It’s a little more involved than just cruising by the meat counter at the grocery store, but it’s so very worth it.

The End