Springtime in the Rockies. Hah! We’re in the midst of the biggest snowstorm of the season, nine inches and counting. We delayed our calving season this year on the theory that mamas calving in April and May (as opposed to our past practice of February-March) would fare better on the spring flush of grass and save us the expense of feeding hay in corrals. Not to mention being a lot warmer. Looks like Mother Nature has up and changed her season too. Guess she thought we’d miss taking care of newborns in the freezing snow.
From Linda J:
One sign of spring: After helping move our fifty-five yearlings across the highway and onto Red Ridge, David J, Promise and I went into the Big Valley where the first little calf was just hours old. A sweet looking little red heifer with ridiculously long eyelashes, was lying in a little hollow in the dirt. A very bitter wind was blowing, and as we left, I saw her mama actually lie down with her, to keep her warm. I’ve never seen a cow do that before. She’s a good mama. Mango, our cattle manager, was coming to walk them down to water and some better cover, but I hated to think of them out in that cold all night.
PS. From David J: The calf is doing great at 4 days old. Her mama, #010, has stashed her baby in the tall grass in a hollow close to the irrigation ditch. Anytime you approach the calf, Mama comes running and mooing. Don’t mess with her baby!
Every few months, an outbreak of sickness and death caused by lethal strains of E. Coli and other “super bugs” makes the headlines. These bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics. Why? One reason, according to scientists, is that unlike grass-fed beef, low levels of antibiotics are being routinely fed to industrially-raised cattle to make them grow faster and protect them from diseases caused by their living conditions. Thousands of animals are crowded together into massive feedlots for months at a time, where they stand in their own wastes and gorge on grains that upset their normal digestive systems. The bacteria happily seize the opportunity to multiply and evolve into new strains resistant to the antibiotics. And they aren’t choosy about their hosts– humans do quite nicely.
Someone must be doing something about this, right? Think again. According to David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA doesn’t even know what antibiotics are being fed to our food animals. Legislation authorizing the FDA to collect this data can’t get out of a Senate committee. Too bad. As Kessler says, the problem is rapidly becoming a matter of life and death.
Here at Sylvan Dale we are using cattle to help build up organic matter and carbon content of our soils. The technique: planned, rapid rotation grazing. It turns out this also helps the soil conserve water. Here’s a post from Dr. Roy Roath, CSU Professor Emeritus, describing a grazing experiment he conducted on range land in Northern Colorado:
In a program implemented north of Fort Collins in a ‘short grass prairie” receiving an average of 10-12 inches of annual precipitation; we implemented a grazing program designed explicitly to greatly increase water capture and retention. This requires a designed rotational grazing program to allow use, foster tillering and plant recruitment and management for growth and regrowth to full recovery in every pasture every year. In doing this we were able to increase forage on offer, leave greater residual cover and increase the diversity of the stand including greatly increasing the forb component. What we found is that the “short grass prairie” was really a mixed grass prairie suppressed by years of inappropriate grazing. We soon had major increases in cool season grasses and forbs and many tall warm season grasses that were not evident and not even thought to be a part of this ecosystem when we started. After five years in this program we had two dry streambeds that became streams that flowed 365 days a year and began to grow riparian vegetation the full length of their corridor. A critical part of this management strategy is to regain and manage cover on the primary terraces bordering the streambed. These are water storage areas and must have structure and cover to maintain the integrity to the stored water in the system. I can’t say that this works everywhere but I have enough experience in a variety of environments to know that one can vastly improve water capture and in doing so has a great probability of good things happening.
The world has a water problem. More and more of the landscape in temperate zones is turning into desert. The planet is warming due to greenhouse gases.
Now along comes Allan Savory, the founder of holistic grazing management, claiming that herds of livestock can reverse these trends. It sounds a little too good to be true, but Savory makes a convincing case.
My wife and I heard Allan Savory speak at the Quivira Coalition conference last October. Now everyone can hear him speak at the TED Talks website. It’s way worth twenty minutes of your time. And his photos of transformed landscapes are stunning.
Just when you thought mass-produced beef couldn’t get less appetizing (remember the “pink slime” hamburger controversy?), along comes Zilmax, a new growth drug being fed to feedlot cattle across the country. According to author Christopher Leonard, Zilmax was originally developed to treat asthma in humans. In feedlot-raised cattle, it produces faster muscle growth…and more profits. It’s FDA approved, but according to Leonard, it makes steak tougher, less flavorful and less juicy than beef from untreated cattle. Beef McNuggets anyone? Read the full article from the San Jose Mercury News, and a longer article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Cows are more athletic than most people think. They are also usually pretty sensible. But every once in a while they do something really weird.
This is number 601, veteran of five calving seasons, steady mama, six years in the herd without incident.
Until last Tuesday.
We had just finished separating cows from calves in preparation for branding and vaccinating the little ones, when a passing ranch hand let us know we had a cow with a high-center problem. We dropped our syringes and branding irons and ran to help.
We don’t know what possessed this cow to take up the sport of high-jumping. But her labored breathing and frantic leg thrashing told us she was in a world of hurt. Her hind legs, stuck through the gate rungs, were in danger of snapping.
What to do?
Our cattle manager had the wit to thrust a piece of plywood between the cow’s back hooves and the gate, then clip the wires holding the gate panel to the fence. We slowly tipped the panel forward to the ground. Number 601 scrambled off, huffing for breath, drooling, wild-eyed, and looking like a candidate for a bovine psych ward.
As we tried to edge closer to assess any damage, Number 601 eyed us as if we were the cause of her troubles and galloped off to the far side of the corral. That’s gratitude for you.
In response to an article by Bobby Magill in the Ft. Collins Coloradoan about a new “Ecosystem Services” Conservation Effort in Larimer County, one reader questioned whether city dwellers should contribute funds to help farmers and ranchers reduce nutrient or sediment pollution that flows from their lands into the watershed. Shouldn’t there be regulations that force landowners to assume these costs themselves? he asked.
A legitimate question. Here is the answer prepared by the Steering Committee of the Colorado Conservation Exchange, the group promoting the ecosystem services concept.
There are hundreds of small livestock and horse operations in our watershed, and thousands of agricultural crop lands. Individually, none of them releases significant pollution or sediment into lakes and streams. Collectively, they hold the potential to improve water quality for all. Read more on Why Help Ranchers Improve Our Watershed?…
October 25, 2012
Our first snow of the season. Wet flakes, barely covering the ground. I woke up, peered out the window and glanced at the date on my watch. With a start, I realized it was my father’s birthday. One-hundred years ago.
He passed away in 1993 at the age of eighty. A terrible lung fibrosis stilled his great heart. During the nearly twenty years of his long decline, he never complained. He kept plugging away at his dreams and projects at Sylvan Dale, the place he loved, even when he had a hard time moving from his chair to his desk.
We still experience the beauty of the place he and my mom developed and nurtured. A great privilege. My sister, Susan, delved into the files and pullout out the “Remembrances” book for his memorial service. I thought I’d share what we wrote about him: Read more on Maurice Jessup Would Have Been 100 Years Old Today…