Many people who take an interest in livestock are familiar with the concept of rotational grazing. The practice goes by many names and variations – management intensive grazing, limit grazing, mob grazing, cell grazing – but the general idea is the same – keeping livestock contained to a smaller section of their pasture, rather than giving them access to the entire thing. It’s a rationing system, and cattle may be moved to a new section of pasture several times a day, typically seen in grazing dairies, or they may spend several weeks in a pasture before moving to a new one.

The concept is as old as animal domestication, (Ezekiel 34:14 – I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and [in] a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel.) though the implementation has changed over the past few thousand years. Advances in electric fence charger technologies and fencing materials mean that rotational grazing is now a convenient and economical way to manage livestock.

This is a pretty big step from shepherds watching their flocks by night. My family had several of these weights we tied animals to so they could graze, and somewhere at my parents old house, is at least one wheel bearing, mounted to a stake that was pounded into the ground.

We had a bunch of these when I was a kid. This one is for a calf, and weighs about 40 lb.

 

This is what rotational grazing looks like now.

The cows actually grazed this too short, but these are the tools we use these days for rotational grazing.

The whole farmhouse look still confounds me. At some level, I’m not sure why anyone would want their home to look like one, but my parents were way out in front of the trend.

My first home, complete with running water and a flush toilet, both installed by my dad.

 

Beneath the vinyl siding and the second story addition, my childhood home still stands.

 

 

We run our cattle at three different farms, here at home, and two rental farms. The cows themselves aren’t much of an issue really. It’s a bit of a pain to truck them from farm to farm as the forage dictates, but it’s fairly straightforward, and we only have to do it every couple of months.

Our biggest problem with managing cattle on different farms has been our lone tractor. There’s always planting or mowing or fencing, and the tractor isn’t always where it needs to be. Add to that, so many things end up happening at the same time, and it’s safe to say that we’ve been under-horsepowered for a really long time.

I guess now is not a good time to ask to use the tractor.

 

Scott wanted another field tractor, while I was petitioning for a smaller one that I could use to maintain trails and fence lines. The good news is that we found this little tractor that was close by, and fairly priced. The bad news, it’s my Christmas present. That’s okay though. I have some trails to clear.

Look out blackberries. Here I come!

 

 

Our farm has been farmed continuously (except during the war) since the 1730s, when William Pannill built Green Level. Our farm was divided off of the original Pannill property years ago (Green Level is still a residence), and other than an old roadbed, there are few remnants of the 18th century activities.

We sold off some timber several years ago, and uncovered some more modern farm equipment in the process. One of these I had long assumed was an old sickle-bar mower, and I had walked by it hundreds of times. During the summer, only the levers were visible over the blackberry bushes, but as I walked by it the other day, I realized there was way more to it than just a mower.

There’s a cutter bar, and the remnants of a conveyor.

 

Here’s the intake side.

 

Here’s the output side.

I had found some sort of grain binder, and the McCormick-Deering stamp on it easily led me to this YouTube video, showing one in action.

 

Bull selection is a huge topic, and there’s a few thousand years of history, science, and folklore behind the topic that I won’t bother getting into right now. Scott had found an old-school meat wagon, and I liked the way the bull looked on paper, and that’s about as good as it gets for us.

Our old-school bull was standing in some old-school facilities when we got to The Plains to pick him up. Lots of people use guard rail in their working facilities, which means they can more safely handle flightier cattle. Not where our bull was raised though. They were still using black board fence, which wouldn’t have survived as long as it has if they were dealing with crazy animals. The facilities were old, well-used, and well-maintained, to me a sign of well-handled animals.

See that black speck in front of the old dairy barn? That’s the man.

“530” calmly walked on the trailer (first time in a trailer), and with that, we were on our way home.
I’m not sure if there’s any research to support this, but it’s been my experience that cattle who exhibit a healthy curiosity are going to do well. Nosy cattle adapt quickly and easily to new situations, focusing their resources on eating and parenting. “530” walked quietly off the trailer to inspect his new surroundings.

Quietly stepping off the trailer as he checks out his new domain.

Normally we quarantine any new animals for a week or two, but it doesn’t always work out that way with bulls. They’re likely to try go where they want, when they want, and on our farm, we have to balance the risk of illness vs. the risk of injury. So “530”, renamed “Buster”, started his 70 day breeding season yesterday. And it’s looking like he likes his job.

Buster – The New Kid in Town

Stacking up your veterinary work is not only cheaper, it’s easier on the owner, easier on the animals, and easier on the vet. So when I scheduled the bull for his BSE – Breeding Soundness Exam -I also scheduled some cows for pregnancy checks, opting for a later date to get it all done. Big mistake.

Having a bull fail his BSE is a bit of a setback. Having him fail the day before he is supposed to go in with the cows even more so.

Turn-in date for our bull was scheduled for November 18. He’d stay in with the cows for 70 days, then go off to spend some well-deserved (hopefully) time off. Seventy days gives each cow in the herd 3 chances to get bred, since a cow’s breeding cycle averages around 21 days. And extending the bull’s stay to 70 days lets us schedule our bull-moving Saturdays.

So I saved a few bucks on trip calls, but had used up our buffer time that could have been used to get a new bull.

Time for some serious shopping. I happened to be heading to a Black Angus bull sale that coincided with my Team Beef runners group. After a few hours of research, I had a bull picked out, a buyer’s number and a budget.

Calving-ease, a moderate frame, and a great attitude – three things we look for in a bull.

No-go on this one. Sometimes you just have to tell yourself that you’re good a picking out animals, because this guy was pretty popular at the sale, and he went home with someone else.

In the meantime, Scott had lined up a farm visit, where again, we saw some great looking bulls, with great temperaments.

This is great group of yearling bulls, except for the one in the front. He’s just a nosy neighbor.

We were in 100% agreement on one, but he’s really too young to do what we need him to do – breed 35 cows inside of 70 days. He’s still on the list, but not for this breeding season.

With one more bull on our list, I pulled up his records on the Black Angus web page. It’s hard to assess a home-bred animal simply because there isn’t enough data to make any judgements. But there are often a few clues, and this bull had one thing that screamed out to me. This bull’s bottom line – bottom line as in the dam’s side of his pedigree – went back on that same farm to 1991. I can’t see all of the records on these cows, but I can see five generations of cows who calved on schedule, with daughters who stayed in the herd. Plus he’s two years old. As far as green lights go, it doesn’t get any greener.

Monday evening, Scott went up to see the bull. On Friday morning, we go pick him up.

And our new addition should be breeding cows by noon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I told myself a few days ago that I was done posting about the fabric I was finding at Mom’s, but I promise, just one last one.

In the spirit of Ugly Christmas Sweaters, I offer this fabric.

On its own, this pseudo Native American – Phoenician woodcut fabric is appalling.

Is there any way to make this any worse? Well yes, by God, there is a way to accentuate the hideousness of this material!

Even with the pattern perfectly matched, these pants are an absolute monstrosity.

But wait, there’s more!

If rust britches don’t suit your fancy, how about blue?

I’m not sure why my mom never finished these, and how I escaped wearing these things. And it’s easy for me to sit here and blame my mom about making me these ugly pants, but what if that’s not really what happened? What if I picked out this appalling print and asked my mom to make me these pants, and she conveniently “lost” them as to prevent me from going out in public in them? We’ll never know now, will we?

As it stands, Mom is in a nursing home, and if she want to counter anything I say here, she can write her own blog. Until somebody can prove otherwise, I’m dumping this one on her.

 

 

 

 

I spent a couple of extra hours yesterday playing “Find the Cows” – two pairs (two mamas, two babies) who were there Sunday, but not there for Tuesday’s roll call. Not a huge deal, 99% sure it’s not a problem at all, but it’s that 1% of the time that they pay me the big bucks for. It was sunny and warm yesterday, and they were most likely more interested in napping than visiting.

I got through a few more boxes, and part of the reason I can date certain things is they were boxed up when my family moved. And some things were just a mess. Like the box that contained the bag my mom made me for slumber parties.

My mom made me this overnight bag instead of buying me a suitcase. When I was a kid, you did not want your parents buying you a suitcase.

I found a few things that I’m actually capable of finishing, or in the case of the cat, re-stuffing and restoring.

I don’t really remember this cat, but I’m reasonably sure it didn’t belong to any of my brothers.

Little known fact – I’m fairly competent at embroidery. I’ll finish these, and then probably throw them in a box so that my kids can figure out what to do with them.

Some projects are going to be harder to complete than others. They’re more pre-project than actual project.

It’s safe to say that my mom started specifying baby-print feedbag fabric before I was born.

My plan to be done with all this by Thanksgiving has run up against, well, Thanksgiving. I’ll get back at it this weekend.

 

 

 

Now that the hay hauling is done, I’m back at cleaning up my mom’s house, going through boxes and boxes of craft projects and supplies. In addition to more fabric, and more yarn, I found a box full of finished cross-stitch, ready to be mounted (or whatever you call it) and delivered.

In box full of old patterns, I found a couple of envelopes with some old Disney stuff.

Bambi Christmas Cards

 

Mom was a member of the Snow White Jingle Club, through the Snow White Laundry. Disney’s licensing game has not always been on fleek.

And finally, a size 1 feedbag dress, a work in progress. I guess for the moment it’ll go in the “What in the heck do I do with this?” pile.

Mom never finished this. I’m guessing that one-year-old me had a melt-down over the print. What were those people at the feed store thinking?

I’m getting down to the last few boxes though, and I’ll be done. Well, at least I thought I was about done. Apparently there are hundreds of boxes that never made it to Virginia. Lovely.

In between wrapping bales, we had the vet out to do some reproductive testing on our new bull.

The three letters BSE can mean two (at least) different things in the cattle industry. BSE – Bovine spongiform encephalopathy – is also known as Mad Cow Disease. That’s a bad thing. We’re not here to talk about that. BSE – Breeding Soundness Exam – is a good thing. It’s an assessment of a bull’s soundness and fertility, preformed by a vet, before he goes in with cows.

Once we’ve selected a bull (based on breed, breeding goals, and temperament), there are three main things we need to verify so we can be sure he can get the job done.

He has to be physically sound. He has 65 days to get a group of forty cows bred, and it’s demanding work. He’s not complaining, but he needs to have some energy stored heading in, because even the best bulls can look pretty rough coming out of breeding season. He’s going to be spending most of his time walking, covering a lot of ground, spending hours “dogging” the cow that he senses will be the next one ready to be bred. A bull needs four solid legs, and sufficient body condition to maintain his fertility throughout the breeding season. Any cattle manager can look at a bull and decide whether he meets this first requirement.

Second is fertility. And there basically two ways to determine that. One is to just put the bull in with the cows and see what happens. Or you can have the vet out to perform a BSE – breeding soundness exam – to test a bull’s fertility. Using a electroejaculator, a semen sample is obtained, and assessed under a microscope. Motility – the ability to move, morphology – whether the sperm cells are normal, and count- it varies with age – are the things we’re looking for here.

Getting ready to perform a BSE on an Angus bull. Looks like he’s going to get a job at the nearest burger joint.

Third is libido. Does the bull want to do his job? Some bulls are flat out not interested in breeding cows, and these are the bulls that will put a hurting on your business. Observation is about your only tactic here.

We never got to the third step. Our bull failed his fertility test miserably. The few swimmers that he had weren’t swimming, so his next job will be at Arby’s. “Buy New Bull” just got added to out to-do list!