Our efforts in switching dad's corn and soybean fields over to high quality hay are paying off now that cold weather is upon us, providing our herds with energy rich forage to add to the regular grass pastures. The cows wander through the protein rich clover and alfalfa (despite it being frozen), picking choice bites with a look of glee in their eyes as they are not usually allowed this privilege during the warm seasons.
The days have gown shorter and shorter and yet the calves continue to pack on the pounds thanks to these new hay fields. They are looking positively tubby in their thick winter coats. We are still in the decision process about just what to do with the calves (we may still wind up selling some of them at the sale barn), but I am getting to know them much better now that they are separated from their moms. A couple of the steers stand out as possible practice finishers for our fledgling grass fed beef program. They are big boys with big shoulders and lazy dispositions who just love to stand and graze - so we might let them do so for another year before seeing what kind of steaks they might make.
More importantly, there are also several heifers who will most likely be staying on as cows in this group - those docile with good confirmation. What is good conformation, you ask? Well, I am learning what to look for in a grass fed cow - a flat back and high shoulder blades are good for starters, along with sturdy hips and a down turned pelvis for easier calving. Who knew there was so much to know about bovine beauty?
The cow herd, too, is reaping the benefits of the hay fields that were planted last spring, looking more like yearling fat cattle than 10 year old cows. Many in this group also have the marks of being good for pasture raising, shorter statures with a bigger barreled middle. One mentor described a good grass fed cow as having a one third, two thirds profile. One third being the space from the ground to the bottom of the belly, two thirds being the body
of the cow from belly to back. My prettiest cow, according to this metric, is number 13, a smart, nearly fly free cow during the summer, whose only flaw is being a bit flighty. Just looking at her makes me smile.
The only bovines not yet reaping the benefits of last years hay fields are the bulls. Separated from the loves of their lives until next June, they are stuck in the south pasture by themselves, eating mere grass. But they seem none the worse for it and they will soon be getting bales of the second cutting hay (the best available in bale form). A winter of rest, away from saucy cows and the intrigues of love will do them good.
I am becoming more comfortable with my herd and I believe they are more comfortable with me. In addition to keeping some of my calves, I have other plans to improve the herd with the addition of another breed of bull and perhaps a few new cows too (which I will discuss in another post).
Finally it feels like I am on the right track after a summer of struggle. Perhaps, unlike poor Richard the Third, this is the winter of our content.