Putting my money on the beat-up trailer

Sometimes we stand together quietly – me and the cows. The air is still and filled with green smells: grass, hay, leaves, fresh herbs. I lean against the metal gate and watch as some stroll from one patch of fresh grass to the next, others recline and chew their cud, and calves run in what looks like a game of tag.
It’s what grass-fed/grass-finished cows do every day, every growing season.
It’s late summer, time for harvest. On Thursday, Dave and I loaded two beefy steers (altered males) into our “new” cattle trailer. It’s an investment we made this spring so that we could transport our cattle as calmly and humanely as possible.
Dave discovered it along-side a back road. “For Sale” the sign read. When we pulled over to take a look, we immediately saw the bashed-in back end. An auto accident, said the owner when she came outside to chat with us. Yup, a section of the frame was bent and the back sliding door was crumpled and pulled off the runners. A mess. But was it a salvageable mess?
Dave had a friend – a master welder – take a look and estimate the repair cost. Based on that, we purchased the trailer and set about to repair and paint it. It still looks used – the dents are easy to see – but it works really well.

repaired cattle trailer

An investment in sustainable farming

It was about 6:30 in the morning, and the sky was heavy when we walked to the barn and loaded the cattle into the steel trailer. It took no more than 10 minutes. We then drove 30-miles to our USDA-licensed, family-owned custom meat processor in nearby Woodville, WI.
After a life on open pastures, in full sunshine, in the company of their herd, our beeves traveled 30 miles. They were spared growth hormones, sub-therapeutic antibiotics, months in crowded feedlots, and a final drive of up to 1,000+ miles to a massive processing plant.
I won’t kid you: raising 100% grass-fed beef isn’t easy, and it isn’t without physical and financial costs. There’re weekly fence repair, annual fence replacement, improvements to the handling facility, and building better water systems. Two years of drought were followed by this year’s deluge. Both conditions – dry and drowned – ruined large portions of the hay we’d hoped to store for winter feeding. This roller-coaster weather also drove hay prices up from $35/bale to over $65-100/bale.
This is farming. Hard and often unpredictable. Yet, Dave and I remain committed to grazing our beef cattle (and not feeding grains or corn) because grass is what cattle are designed to digest. Grazing is healthful to the herd, restores soil and protects groundwater, produces beef of high nutritional value, and contributes to the economy and vibrancy of our local community.
As a girl growing up in the Bronx, I never would have imagined that I’d care a wit about a beat-up cattle trailer. But that 12-year-old who volunteered at the ASPCA and the cattle woman I am today share a basic value – the wellbeing of the animals put into our care.

Food scare. Ag hype. What’s the truth? Live, Sept. 6, 9-9:30AM Central w Ag Insider

What: Deep Roots Radio interview with Chuck Abbott, Ag Insider journalist.
When: Saturday, Sept. 6, 9:00-9:30AM Central
Where: Broadcast and streamed live from the studios of WPCA Radio, 93.1FM and www.wpcaradio.org
Why: The Internet, social media, emails and water cooler conversations are all about the latest hype, scare or boast about America’s food and the system that produces it. Where’s the truth, and how do you find it?
This Deep Roots Radio conversation features Chuck Abbott who posts daily on the Ag Insider. A project of the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN), Ag Insider is available free of charge. Abbot brings three decades experience as a Washington-based Reuters commodities correspondent and as national farm editor for United Press International.
I hope you’ll tune in.


Rain – at last

Farm Update – Monday
It was the downpour that woke me this morning. What a welcome sound! After four weeks of dry – only 1/4” rain that entire stretch – we needed this inch-and-3/8 on our fields. The seasonal pond just below the house has gone from dust to ripples. And, somehow, a small flock of geese knew it would reappear.

Taking flight

Taking flight

It’s stopped now. Clouds scurry overhead and the air is filled with the rustle of grasses and leaves pushed by cool gusts from the north. Everything feels scrubbed clean, refreshed. Calves are kicking up their heels and running circles around their dams.
Thank you, God.

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.

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