Farming ice and sugar snow at Bull Brook Keep

I have to admit – I really loved the thaw this past weekend – temperatures in the upper-30’s, sunshine and no wind. And that’s what did it. That combination of warmth and sun-filled breezes melted the snow, transforming snowy tractor tracks to rounded ice ridges, and making every level surface a skating rink. All across the farm, snow crusted over shoals of deep, loose snow and ice crystals. 16-second video: Farming ice and sugar snow

I had to move hay this afternoon, regardless of the treacherous conditions. It was snowing sideways, and every surface posed a challenge. My boots slipped and slid as I walked to open fence gates. Sleet encrusted the tractor’s windshield and doors. Fortunately, the engine block heater did it’s job, and the machine rumbled to life on the first try.

I could’ve never imagined weather like this when I was growing up in the South Bronx. And the thought of raising cattle and moving hay never entered my mind. But here I am, decades later, raising 100% grass-fed beef cattle in western Wisconsin with my husband David. And that means feeding them high-quality hay throughout the winter. (They graze grasses, legumes and herbs during the growing season.)

It was slow going today. A job that might take 15 minutes on a warm summer afternoon, took hours as I carefully negotiated ice-packed hills and crossed drift-filled pastures, often plowing my path as I went. When I wasn’t sliding on glare ice, the tractor’s nearly four-foot high wheels would spin in pockets of snow the consistency of fine sugar. Lovely to look at, but a real challenge to pull out of when I get stuck. And, yes, I got stuck more than once.

When that happens, I use the front bucket like a claw to drag the tractor onto solid ground. It’s an inch-by-inch process that can take forever. It’s one reason I make sure there’s enough diesel in the tank. Funny – the cows love to watch as I struggle.

It always feels good to get this chore done, to park the tractor and walk back to the house, my Corgi Siggy trotting along side. I thank God for my late-in-life journey from city-girl-to-cattle farmer. (And thank you, Dave) I’m grateful for this opportunity to gain a better appreciation for the work life-long farmers tackle every day.
Sylvia

New. Limited. Natural Veal – really

Veal wasn’t something my Mom put on the table when I was growing up in the Bronx. A dinner of pork or fish, rice and beans, and a salad was the usual fare at our house in the 1950s and 60s.

Veal also never made it to my shopping list in the 1970s and 80s, when I was old enough to stock my tiny kitchens in Manhattan and later in Duluth, Minnesota, because by that time, news stories told us that those pale cutlets were the result of calves kept isolated and in the dark. Ugg.

Now, here I am, selling veal! We’re offering our Nature’s Veal in limited quantity for the health of the pastures, the cattle, and for economic sustainability.
Rotational grazing. Because we rotate the herd from paddock to paddock throughout the growing season, we have to manage the herd size to promote top-quality grass. We’ve reached our maximum herd size given the 72-acre size of the farm. Our pastures are lush and diverse, but can provide highly nutritious grasses, herbs and legumes for 35-40 animals during the growing season. It’s also about giving the pastures time to recover and regrow for 40-60 days between grazings.
Cow, pasture and economic health. If we keep more and more cattle on the pastures, they’ll decline, and the cattle will require hay to keep growing and staying contented. Fresh grass is more desirable. An alternative would be to sell the extra calves to the conventional food system, where they would end up in feedlots. We don’t want that! So we offer naturally raised veal.
Working in harmony with nature. All our cattle – bulls, cows and calves – are provided fresh water, open pastures and a natural diet every day of their lives. That means grasses, legumes and herbs on the fields throughout the growing months, and good quality hay in the winter. They never get grains, hormones or subclinical antibiotics. It also means the calves stay with their moms, nursing 9-10 months and grazing more and more as the season progresses.

A few of our grazing Buelingo beef cattle


Know that when you buy our veal, you’re part of a sustainable food system. You can purchase ground veal in bulk, or variety packages that include delicate, low-fat roasts, cutlets and ground veal. Order here.

Questions? call, 651-238-8525, or email,
Sylvia

Typing, invoicing, phone calls, map searches – getting our grass-fed beef to your table

I sat down to the keyboard a bit before 8:00 this morning, and now it’s after 1:30PM. How is that possible?!
Well, there were all those emails with a subject line I love to write: Your beef is ready!
Then there were the follow-up calls with customers to confirm delivery to drop sites in and around the Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN metro area.
And there were Google Map searches to find out where I’d have to make home deliveries.

Beefy soup!

And, of course, while all of this was going on, I was keeping a mental inventory of beef just picked up from the USDA processor. Hmmm, T-bones, ribeye, sirloin, chuck and cross-rib roasts, briskets and flank steaks, and lots more.
This is the record-keeping-and-communications time of the year that adds the final links to the food chain. To be honest, it’s a time I value and respect – delivering beef directly to the customer.
It represents well over two years of work on Bull Brook Keep farm.

BueLingo calves

It starts in the early spring with the arrival of our BueLingo calves. The herd grows sleek and fat as we move them from pasture to grassy pasture throughout the growing season. Midsummer marks the breeding season. We separate the bulls from the larger herd in mid-fall (away from the heifers too young to breed). Grasses shrivel as frosts hit and snow blankets the farm. That’s when we provide the cows with hay grown in our own fields. As the days warm in April and May, the cycle begins again. Dave and I work to manage our pastures and herd in harmony with nature.
Cattle that spend the last several months of their lives eating grain in feedlots reach harvest weight by the time they’re 16-18 months old. It’s a confinement approach that is often accompanied by subclinical antibiotics in the feed, and the administration of hormones.
In contrast, our 100% grass-fed cattle, take nine to 10 months longer to reach harvest condition. It means an extra year of feeding and care for us, but we’re committed to breeding and raising our beef cattle on grass – and only grass. No grains, no hormones, no subclinical antibiotics. And by practicing rotational grazing, our cows are contented and healthy, and the pastures improve. We’re seeing more farmers in our area adopting this approach.

Fresh air and sunshine 24/7


Dave and I made a home delivery last night, and I’ll be making several stops at drop-sites this week and next. It’s hard work, but to me it feels like a reward. When I hand over the boxes, it’s almost like placing a big bowl of delicious beef stew and a thick slice of homemake sourdough bread in front of a dear friend or family member. (It’s so much more fun to cook, when you’re cooking for someone you value.)
I thank God for the farming stewardship He has given Dave and me, and for the wonderful customers and friends walking the path with us.
Sylvia

Video

New calf, sights and sounds from Bull Brook Keep

Spring has arrived on Bull Brook Keep. We greeted our first calf, a little bull, yesterday morning. He’s now tagged #82, and he the cow are doing fine.
I’ll be at the CSA Fair at the Farm Table Restaurant in Amery, WI tomorrow afternoon, March 25, 12noon-4:00.
I thought you might enjoy some pics and videos, old and new, from the farm. This brief slide show includes a short video clip of the new calf.
I hope to see you at the Fair.

Sylvia

Image

Morning mist rising above snowy Bull Brook Keep

BueLingo cattle relax as the sun and mist rise

Our BueLingo cattle thrive not only in the warmth of summer, but in every season. They walk the pastures, and get fresh air and water every day of the year. This helps them stay healthy and contented, and helps produce great-tasting beef with high nutritional content.

Dave and I manage our herd and farm in harmony with nature – farming with a tiny carbon hoofprint (R).

We hope you’ll come visit us at Bull Brook Keep, home of 100% grass-fed beef. We’re a beautiful ride from the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area.

Sylvia

Audio

Rancher Gabe Brown on regenerative, holistic farming on any scale, and profitability even in transition

I hope you enjoy this Deep Roots Radio interview with North Dakota rancher Gabe Brown on the principles of regenerative farming that will yield health and profitability even as you transition your operation – large or small.

Gabe will be in Amery, Wisconsin February 9th for a full day workshop in which he will describe how he, wife and son have worked to transform their 2,000-acre, diversified farm to a healthy, profitable business while improving soil and regenerating the landscape. In addition to raising and direct-marketing grass-fed beef and other livestock, Gabe grows and sells cash crops from his sustainable farm.

Go to hungryturtle.net to register for the workshop. I hope to see you there!

Sylvia

How long has it been??? What’s happening on this city-girl’s farm.

What happened?? Where did the summer go?
Well, if your life’s anything like mine, your Monday-Friday went to work and family. And your weekends, if you planned well and were able to add a dash of good luck, were spent doing lots of chores. You know – the laundry, food shopping, buying school supplies, banking, and repairing this-and-that. Hopefully you took some time for coffee with friends, and maybe dinner out with your sweetie.

A few 2016 calves

A few 2016 calves

The growing season started with the arrival of our spring calves. All our new little BueLingos were born out on our pastures and unassisted. This season also required that we up our game and manage our pastures for a slightly larger herd. This summer’s frequent rains helped keep the much-needed grass growing.
We began harvesting in July, and will take our final two beeves to the custom USDA processor in a month or so. (Those two animals will go exclusively for ground beef and summer sausage.)
Today, we get ready for an annual right-of-passage – tagging every calf, and castrating the bull calves. Once castrated, the male calves are called steers, and they’ll graze for two years to harvest age and condition. Until that time, all the cattle will enjoy the best of care: 365 days a year on grassy fields, sunshine and fresh air, a 100% grass diet, and the company and calm of their herd. It makes for contented, healthy cattle, and, ultimately, great-tasting and highly nutritious beef.
And that’s the heart of it: health and happiness – for the the cows, the land, and for you and me.
We all benefit from farming and living with a tiny carbon hoof print (TM)*, truly sustainable farming.
Thank you for visiting the farm and sharing the story of your food journey. I really enjoyed making frequent deliveries in Amery, Polk and St. Croix counties, and the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area.
I look forward to meeting you. Please visit. And until then, enjoy the cooling fall weather.
Sylvia

*tiny carbon hoofprint is a US registered trademark belonging to Bull Brook Keep.

#GrazingItalyUK. Farming for different reasons. Two young men.

Nov. 13

It was a wonderful day and a half at Nicharee organic farm, just off the eastern coast of Ireland. Clouds rushed overhead and the wind whipped at ground level. The constant buffeting took me back to my childhood summers on the beaches of Staten Island.
Bill Considine was a wonderful host. He made sure I walked his meadows, heard about his organic philosophy, and experience a bit of the song and heart of his homeland.
Because November gusts are cold and it often rains several times a day, we bundled up against the chill and pulled on high rubber boots to visit with cattle and drive out over wet fields. After a couple of hours outdoors, we’d come in to warm our hands around hot cups of tea.
Thanks, again, Bill.
An unexpected treat was meeting a couple of Woofers now interning on the farm. (Woofers are men and women, usually young, who travel the world to work and learn on established organic farms.) Bill invites several Woofers to the farm every year.

Left: Antoine with his husky/German Shepherd mix Nao, and Edoardo with Bill's dog SoLow

Left: Antoine with his husky/German Shepherd mix Nao, and Edoardo with Bill’s dog SoLow

Edoardo Giorgi is a young architect from Italy, and Antoine Marellaard, from Brittany, has herded and milked sheep in the rugged Pyrenees. Although I speak neither French nor Italian, we were able to push through and exchange a few ideas. I heard that each is struggling to build practical skills, including conversational English.
In fact, acquiring fluency is the reason Edoardo is in Wexford. Although he studied English in school, he’s realized total immersion is the most efficient strategy.
Antoine originally intended to spend just a short time in the area, but Bill convinced him to stay longer. I sensed that Antoine is also searching for something, but I’m not sure of what that might be.
During my short visit, the young men worked to build a cement column to support ancient wooden beams holding up the slate roof of an old stone shed. They mixed cement during a brief break in the clouds and got a good part of the task done.
I wish we had had more time to talk. What more will they do on the farm? Where will they take what they’ve learned? Would they like to visit my Wisconsin farm?
I sure would like our paths would cross again.
Sylvia

Feeling Laura Ingalls

My husband Dave likes to joke that when I was a kid growing up in New York City, I read Little House on the Prairie and decided to become a farmer.
While I love tales about clever people creating new communities (whether in the past or in some distant future), the truth is I knew next to nothing about Laura until I was in my 30’s. I became acquainted with her and Ma and Pa as I read to my children in our South Minneapolis home. I was captivated by the resourcefulness and skills demanded by the times. I was drawn to the self-reliance and community inter-dependence described in those children’s books. (And yes, we made the pilgrimage to her home and bought the stiff-brimmed bonnets.)
Fast forward a whole lotta years and here I am, a baby boomer from the Bronx raising beef cattle on Bull Brook Keep, our northwestern Wisconsin farm. (A far cry from a full career in business suits and awful commuter traffic.) This morning’s chores included moving our beef cattle to new pasture, feeding and watering the chickens, exercising the dogs, and meeting with a customer to deliver cuts of beef equaling 1/4 steer.* And of course, I went through the early emails and reviewed my digital photo files for possible uploads to my website.

Cabbage fermenting to sauerkraut

Cabbage fermenting to sauerkraut

Later in the day, Dave and I enjoyed a dinner of home-grown, grass-fed beef Bourguignon. And in the evening I sliced, brined and packed cabbage into half-gallon jars. In a couple of weeks, it’ll ferment to sauerkraut.
French sourdough boules

French sourdough boules

It’s late, and I just pulled a couple of French sourdough loaves from the oven – a weekly demand and a much-anticipated ritual.

It is very, very late and I’m tired. The tomatoes, peppers and onions on the kitchen counter will have to become salsa on another day. I’m ready for this day to be done.

Yes, I’m feeling Laura Ingalls Wilder…like a bad ass Laura with Internet coverage and in-floor heating.
Sylvia

*We offer our 100% grass-fed beef in variety packages (ground beef, roasts and steaks) in a range of sizes starting at just 25-30 lb. Reserving an order is easy online. We deliver to drop sites in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN.