Snow!

It’s been a cold, snowy winter so far. A couple of days ago we got about 10 inches (or 3 feet according to Rick) of fresh powder on top of the 8 inches already on the ground. It is absolutely beautiful if I must say so myself.

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Very pretty but also very hard to maneuver around. Since the critters have to be cared for every day no matter what the weather is, we do have to be outside. As long as you have the right clothes, boots, gloves, scarf and hat it is not bad; especially if you are working – that does keep you warm.

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alx-and-calvesRick and Alex do most of the heavy work around here – someone has to stand by and take pictures of them – so they stay pretty warm they tell me. The cattle do fine as long as they have plenty of feed, water and shelter. After the fresh, powdery snow we’ve had really cold (for us) temperatures – I think 10 degrees is our low so far – so most everything is frozen. I don’t think we will miss the snow when it is gone, but I will enjoy looking at the pictures.

Grazing Paddocks

It may not look like much to you, but to us this is a very important fence post. Maybe we should have spray painted it gold, or put some kind of plaque on it?

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This is the last post! Yes, at long last Rick and Alex finished all ten of the grazing paddocks on our new pasture. It was a huge project and took them twelve weeks, but they got it done!  It has been a long summer filled with fencing and more fencing.

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And in between fencing grazing paddocks there was hay season.

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Another long, hot project which has to be done as quickly as possible to get the hay cut, raked, baled and stacked under cover before it started raining. It was our first year to get hay from our own pasture and it went really well.

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We have stacks of fresh hay in the barn waiting for the cold winter weather. And then back to fencing grazing paddocks, which includes installing gates.

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Rick and Alex have had a lot of experience setting posts and installing gates so they will all close and latch on one post.

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That is important when you are setting up your paddocks so one person can move the herd. You close off the gate across the alley where you don’t want the cattle to go, open the gate to the new paddock and then open the gate on the paddock they are moving out of – have all those gates latched in place – and you can move them to fresh grass by yourself and just close the gate behind them. No chance of the cattle getting loose and easy for the humans too. Since there are only the three of us here, that is a good thing.

So now that the grazing paddocks are all fenced the guys must be laying on the couch watching NASCAR all day right? Not exactly. They have moved on to the next of the projects that have to be done before winter.

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This one involves water and electrical lines, big ditches and lots of rocks.

Hay Season

We interrupt fence building to bring you hay season. You’ve heard that phrase “Make hay while the sun shines” well it is probably true most places but it is certainly the way it goes around here. When the hay is ready and the sun is shining you drop everything else you are doing and make hay.

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Hay season is usually around the 4th of July and it is all-consuming because you have to get the hay cut, dried, baled and the bales in the barn before it rains again.  Hay is what our grass-fed beef eat in the winter months, so it is an important part of our operation.

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With our new acreage, we had some of our own grass for hay this year. Our friend Jeff cut it for us, then raked it .

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And baled the hay. I really have no idea how a hay baler works. It looks to me like they drive the tractor pulling the baler over the rows of hay, it rakes up the loose hay and squishes it all together, ties it with twine in two places and spits the bales out the back.

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It is possible there is a more technically correct explanation for the inner workings of a hay baler. I do know everyone I have ever known who has worked with one complains about how hard they are to get adjusted just right. Too tight, too loose or too something.

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Rick and Alex used our tractor and bale handler to gather up the bales in the field and stack them on the trailer.

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They pulled trailer loads to our place to put the hay in the barn for winter.

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The bale handler works to make the hay stacks in the barn too.

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Unlike some places where they get multiple cuttings of hay, here you usually get one per year – two if it is a really good year and you get rain and dry weather at just the right times.  And then we are done with hay for the year and can go back to . . . yep – building more fences.

New Pastures – Part 2

In addition to the fencing for the new grazing paddocks we have to install water troughs. The labor intensive way to water cattle is to drag a hose from place to place and fill up the trough. We have done plenty of that. This time Rick and Alex wanted to put in the labor and time up front to make it more efficient in the long run.

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So they trenched two very long water lines across both sections of the paddocks and installed water lines. Then they stubbed up a line at each water trough and installed a float which refills the trough automatically as the cattle drink the water down.

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 It s a lot less time-consuming for us – after the system is all set up – and better for the cattle too as they always have a supply of fresh water.

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And then they were back to fencing. Alex is driving T posts.

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 When all the brace posts have been cemented in and the T posts driven in and the clips installed, it is time to pull the wire. This wire spool holder keeps the spool in place as they pull the wire down the fence line. You can see the cattle waiting impatiently in the paddock they are ready to move off of behind the spool – but no pressure.

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 Way down at the end of the fence line you can just barely see Karla. She and Larry are the previous owners of the property that is now American Alps Ranch and they were here for a visit. They graciously helped us that day building fence. Karla took the hedge trimmers and did away with a lot of blackberry vines that were creeping into the new pasture. Sorry I didn’t get a better picture of you Karla!

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 Meanwhile Larry and Alex were putting together the pieces of the wire gate.

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The fresh grass in the new paddock.

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The fence is complete, the water trough is set and it is time to move the cattle onto the new pasture.

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The cattle are watching Larry unhook the wire gate.

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And then they are off to the new pasture.

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Out of the old . . . .

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. . . and into the new gate . . .

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. . . and onto the fresh grass.

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Larry closes the gate behind them and we are done – with this paddock anyway.

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Greener Pastures

It is finally time to move the cattle from our home ranch where they winter over to the fresh green grass of the summer pastures. This has been the wettest spring on record in our area so we were a bit later in the season than usual moving the bovines this year. We moved the steers first, they have been on the summer pastures for a few weeks now. It was time to move them to a fresh paddock and believe me they know it. They are lined up at the gate waiting for us to open it.

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Before we move the cattle into the new paddock we walk the fence line to make sure all the fence wires are secure with no breaks or shorts in the electric fence. The animals watch us and if we aren’t moving quickly enough they start bellering to remind us they are waiting for fresh grass. Most of the time they are very quiet, but when they are ready to move they can get loud. After we make sure the fence is secure – no one wants to chase loose cattle around  – we open the gate and the herd trots off into the fresh grass. Here is A7, a yearling calf from last year, enjoying the new pasture. You can see he is still shedding his winter coat in places; this is the scruffiest they look all year.

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This shot of the fence line shows the grazed pasture the cattle are moving off on the left and the new one on the right. When the grass gets down to about six inches it is time to move the herd.

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And now the herd is quiet and calm again, busy munching on their fresh grass.

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Meantime, back at the ranch the cow/calf pairs were waiting. We moved them all up into the trap.

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Then sorted the cows from the calves into pens side by side. The calves don’t seem to mind being away from their mothers, the mamas are a little more concerned.

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We put the cows through the squeeze first. Alex takes off their old ear tag and puts a fresh one in; kind of like changing your earrings with pierced ears. We use an ear tag impregnated with a natural pyrethium to control flies. The cows have been through the squeeze and chute many times and know the routine.

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This is the first time the calves have ever seen the chute, sweep and squeeze, a whole new adventure for them.

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The squeeze is adjustable, but it doesn’t go down small enough to hold the calves – Rick ends up holding them so Alex can insert the ear tag.

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B5 with his new ear tag. We also banded the bull calves, all four of them. Of the 19 calves we had this year only 4 are (or were) bulls.

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Sometimes the calves get a little turned around – literally. B19 is the last calf this season; a little heifer who was very small and weak at birth. We had to tube feed her (insert an 18 inch esophageal feeding tube down the throat and all the way into the calf’s stomach, then pour in the colostrum and milk). After two days of feedings she was able to get up and nurse on her own and now she’s doing very well.

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She turned around and went out the front of the chute with a little help from Rick. The cows are not able to turn around in the chute, but the calves are so small it is no problem for them.

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Then we loaded them up for their first ride in the stock trailer and took them to their mothers in the new pasture. We just leased this 80 acre piece this year and it is a great addition for us.

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Lush, green grass for the herd – and so tall you can almost lose sight of the calves out there when they lay down.

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And finally, one of our bulls – Ox – is in that pasture with the cows. It is time for the bulls to do their job so we have calves for next year. Many of the 19 calves from last year are his.

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We had a 100% breeding rate and 100% live, unassisted births this year. Can’t get much better than that!

Grass Fed Beef

It’s been a busy couple of weeks around here – it seems like I say that a lot, and yet it is still true. First we had the mobile slaughter unit from our Farmer’s Co-Op here at the ranch. The MSU was the first one in the nation to be operational and is really a great thing for small producers like us.

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Butchering day is not my favorite, but I really like that our animals are harvested in a quick, quiet, humane way with as little stress as possible. After the carcass is split into halves, the meat dry ages for 14 – 21 days in the cooler at the Co-Op.

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Then the meat is cut and wrapped, frozen and ready to be boxed into individual orders.  Alex, Rick and I spent a day packing boxes of meat. We were so busy packing up our orders that I forgot to take any pictures. So, you can look at a boneless chuck roast instead OK?

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Last Saturday Alex and I delivered a little over a thousand pounds of our delicious grass fed beef to our customers in the Seattle area. It was a long, busy day with lots of delivery stops and boxes of beef, but it is always nice to be able to meet our customers both old and new. I was so busy with deliveries and talking to customers I forgot to take any pictures. So how about looking at a yummy steak?

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Then we had visitors come to the ranch to see our operation. We enjoy showing people around and answering questions about our Lowlines and grass fed beef. But, I forgot to take any pictures of the visitors. I’m noticing a pattern here; really bad on taking pictures lately. So here is one more picture of our meat – this time hamburgers fresh off the grill.

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So, that about wraps up our Fall Harvest for this year. Now we are scrambling to get ready for Thanksgiving and the snow that is predicted for this weekend.