About Sylvia Burgos Toftness

A Latina from the tenements of the South Bronx, I now raise 100% grass-fed beef in west central Wisconsin with my husband Dave. We believe more people will choose to farm and eat healthful foods if they know the connections between what we eat and how it's grown. That's why we invite you to walk the fields with us; hear from experts on my Saturday morning show, Deep Roots Radio; share our adventures on my blog, From the Bronx to the Barn; and buy our sustainably grown beef. We farm with a tiny carbon hoofprint (R) so that you can enjoy great-tasting grass-fed beef that's high in nutrition while helping to restore our environment.

Elvis is in the building!

The herd sire returnith
Although I’ve witnessed the scene several times now, the simplicity and unvarnished single-purpose of it continues to amaze me.
Dave and I met the cattle hauler at a neighboring farm late in the afternoon. The hauler had, in fact, gotten to Turnip Rock farm five or ten minutes ahead of us and had already backed the long, aluminum trailer to the cow barn. He and Josh, owner of Turnip Rock, were in the old barn coaxing my BueLingo bull, Full Throttle, away from the Jersey cows he’d been “keeping company” with since late May.
I stayed out of the bull’s line of site; I didn’t want to spook him. If you get a bull walking in the right direction, you don’t want to halt his movement for even a second.
Fortunately, both Josh and Tracy (the hauler) are experienced, and Full Throttle soon clumped heavily into the trailer.
The four-mile trip to Bull Brook Keep was uneventful and Tracy began backing the trailer to our gate. The rest of our cows, heifers, steers and calves silently watched from several hundred yards away. Their heads were up, eyes bright and ears forward.
The trailer was nearly to the gate when Full Throttle let out a loud, long trumpeting bellow: he’d gotten a whiff of the waiting herd.

Full Throttle, registered BueLingo bull, herd sire

Full Throttle, registered BueLingo bull, herd sire

The herd immediately responded to his call and came galloping across the farm. They stopped just a few yards from the trailer and waited as Tracy opened the doors and Full Throttle calmly stepped down.
Herd mobs a welcome for Full Throttle
The bull was immediately mobbed by the welcoming herd, and he walked through the throng.
He was home.

Learning to talk – and eat – like a farmer

Growing up in New York City meant being able to speak at least two or three languages, each reflecting the mindset and philosophies of a distinct group. I spoke ‘Bronx’ of course, Puerto Rican Spanish and spanglish (mix of English and Spanish), Bronx High School of Science Yidlish (Jewish expressions and inflections mixed with English), and a bit of Italish (Italian expressions mixed into the English). My brother, who was a little kid when we moved into an mostly Italian neighborhood, is much more fluent in Italish. He took to the inflections like a duck to water. When I first … Continue reading

Tune in. July 19, 9-9:30AM CT – Grazing guru Cody Holmes – how multi-species grazing benefits soil, livestock, and people

What: Deep Roots Radio interview with Cody Holmes
When: Saturday, July 19, 2014, 9:00-9:30 AM Central Time
Where: Broadcast and streamed live on WPCA Radio, 93.1FM, http://www.wpcaradio.org

I was lucky. It was a cold early December afternoon, and Cody Holmes was at the front of the room. There were about 70 of us in that St. Paul, Minnesota hotel meeting space; men and women from all across the country, Canada, Mexico and Europe. We sat behind long tables, our legs stretched in front of us, and our attention intent on Cody – one of the top grazing gurus in the US today.
2013-06-16 13.06.04Cody and his wife Dawnnell operate Rockin H Ranch in Norwood, Missouri where they use sustainable practices to raise and graze about 1,000 head each of cattle, sheep, and meat goats. They pasture pigs and chicken, milk cows and goats for making cheese, and they sell eggs. Cody is also the author of Ranching Full Time on 3 Hours a Day.
On that cold afternoon, Cody described and showed us photos that illustrate how pastures spring to life when cattle are grazed appropriately. He talked about moving the cattle from one field to the next – rotating them – and about clustering them tightly – mobbing – so that hoof action pulls dormant seeds to the surface and natural fertilizer is distributed as the cattle dine.
That was in 2009. Since then, my husband Dave and I have implemented rotational grazing on our farm, Bull Brook Keep, and we’ve already begun to see the benefits. There’s more grass, more diverse plant life, the cattle are fat and happy, and we have repeat customers for our 100% grass-fed beef.
We realize there’s a lot more to do to improve our soil and reinforce cattle health. For example, we’ve just added chickens to our rotational mix. I look forward to tomorrow’s chat with Cody; to tap his decades of experience. I hope you’ll tune in as Cody Holmes shares insights with us.
Sylvia

Temporarily stymied by farming.

June 26, 2014 I just stood there. I stared at the full 150-gallon water trough and wondered, “How am I going to move that thing 300 feet to the next paddock for my thirsty cows?” An experienced farmer would have looked at the situation and immediately pulled from years of similar challenges to come up with three or four possible approaches. A much younger – and stronger – farmer would have applied brawn as well as brain to implement a solution. But I am neither deeply experienced nor young and strong. I am, like so many new farmers across the … Continue reading

A day in the life

6:00 AM – As always, MPR’s Cathy Wurzer’s bright voice from the bedside radio let’s me know the world has survived another night and Minnesota is involved in all kinds of activity. Although I now farm in Western Wisconsin, I pulled many of my Minnesota habits with me when I crossed the river. In an hour the radio will automatically switch to Wisconsin Public Radio – new alliances. 6:45 AM – Doing some laundry. In the heat of summer, and when you’re dealing with livestock, sweat, dirt and manure build up on everything. Dave and I often go through two … Continue reading

Update: Plowing with my keyboard

Grrr, and Happy Anniversary It’s part of farming – a part that cramps my neck and makes my eyes water from fatigue: computer work. I’ve been rebuilding this website – From the Bronx to the Barn – for several weeks now. Why so long? Because a website that includes podcasts, automated feeds to iTunes, videos to YouTube and photos to galleries isn’t the easiest thing to construct. At least not for this farmer. I’m migrating my website to a new service provider and I’m doing it with unfamiliar software. Yes, I’ve a few bald patches to show for the effort. … Continue reading

The reluctant lover

Spring 2014 Farm Update He called to say he’d be an hour late. A tiny inconvenience, but unavoidable. He’d had to drive to Eau Clare earlier in the day. Fortunately, the breeze was gentle. I didn’t mind standing in the bright sunshine. When he arrived, he pulled the long trailer up close to the milking parlor and disappeared inside the barn. Five minutes. Not a sound. Ten minutes. Birds sang over the alfalfa field. Fifteen minutes and nothing coming from the barn. What was going on? I paced, but made sure I stayed away from the barn windows. I didn’t … Continue reading