Blame game

I’ve been trying to catch up on some reading, which isn’t an easy task with little ones suffering from cabin fever. But an article that ran on the front page of last week’s AgWeek really got me to thinking.

You see, I’ve been repeatedly told on numerous websites, blogs, article comments, etc., that part of the blame for our country becoming increasingly obese is the amount of meat that is consumed…namely, beef.

Yet, according to the cover article (and facts, stats from the USDA), beef consumption in the U.S. is down by almost 20 pounds per person since 1985. That’s right, our country may be becoming more obese, but the amount of beef consumed can’t possibly be the cause.

This is how our beef gets from pasture to plate.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not shocked by this information. I never bought into the argument that consuming beef is the issue with an ever-growing America. But it was interesting to actually see the numbers, right there, in black and white.

So, the next time someone tries to tell me that my family’s herd is part of the problem, not a solution, I’ll just kindly remind them of all the great-tasting, quickly-prepared cuts of lean meats available, and merrily go about my way.

You just can’t argue with ignorance.

On the calving front

We have about 40 cows that have calved now, with about 135 or so to go. Since we calve in February and March, in the great warm state of North Dakota, I thought I should explain how all this works.

You see, the state of North Dakota tends to get kinda cold in the winter. And since we prefer our calves to be the living, breathing kind, we try to make sure that each calf is born in the barn. Since that is almost impossible, we at least try to get the calf into the barn as quickly as possible, so that frostbite damage is minimal.

How do we do this?

Boss Man and I take turns checking the cows, constantly. As in every 2 hours. Unless it’s really cold or storming, then we check more often. Yep, that’s right, every 2 hours max. This means that every 2 hours someone is bundling up, heading outside and checking each and every cow behind the house. Right now there’s about 80 that we’re watching. (Cows cycle, just like humans, so we use ultrasound technology to date the development of the calf in the fall, which gives us a pretty good idea as to when they may be born in the spring.)

I’ve been pretty lucky so far, I haven’t had to chase any cows in during my checks, just call Mark a time or two when a calf was born outside. Until tonight. As we speak, a heifer is in the barn, ready to have her calf any minute. I will check on her in a few minutes, and if she hasn’t had her calf, then I will need to wake up my husband and have him use his expertise to help her. Hopefully I will go down to the barn, be greeted with a fresh pair of eyes and all will be well, and my hubby will be able to enjoy another few minutes of sleep.

And then I’ll be able to catch a few winks myself…at least that’s the plan.

Let the fun begin

In honor of calving season starting in just a few short days (hopefully not sooner!), I’m going to share with you the first video I ever “made.” As in edited, etc.

There is no music, voiceover, etc. to the video, just the absolute silence of the moment. Much the same as every birth in the barn…at least, when things go as planned.

I will warn you, this video shows an actual live birth, minus the blood (since it was dark and color didn’t show up well). But for those of you who have never been on a farm, or in a real barn, or seen a calf shake its wet head for the first time…here you are! Enjoy!

Making it personal

So, one of the big pushes now is local food. And I’m all for it. If you can buy your food locally, more power to you. Support your local farmers, support your local growers, support your local stockmen. But what about those who can’t?

I’ve wasted spent time this afternoon trying to get a figure on how this would work in North Dakota. And boy, can you find numbers for just about anything if you’re really looking! But I digress.

According to several studies, the average person consumes 67 pounds of beef per year (to make this easier on myself, I just included beef, but I could look into chicken/sheep/hogs/etc.). The average feeder (usually a steer (bull calf castrated))  produces roughly 350 pounds of meat for consumption. (Again, those numbers can jump all over the place, but this is a pretty good average.)  So, if we can agree on these numbers, that would mean that an average feeder would feed 5 people in one year. Are we on the same page still?

Well, let’s look into that. Let’s say this whole push for local food become mandated (don’t laugh, we’re heading that direction if not careful). I decided to look around North Dakota and see how we would fare.

Just for this scenario, I kept everything within county lines. As in, pretending that a law had passed that made it impossible to buy meat that wasn’t raised within your county. (I had to start somewhere, and it made the figuring a little easier…although still pretty time consuming!)

I started with Dickey County (where we live). And we would actually fare pretty well, although that’s not too surprising, since we only have a little over 5,000 residents in the whole county. We only need roughly 1,043 head of cattle (fit for consumption) to feed our county for a year. According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture put together by the National Agriculture Statistics Service, Dickey County has 49,937 cattle. Now, that includes all cows, calves, bulls, etc. But no matter how you look at it, we could feed our own. Way to go Dickey County!!! Woohoo!

But let’s look a little more populated. Let’s check out Fargo. Guess what? Yeah, apparently we’re going to need to set up some sort of “food panel.” The Fargo metro area boasts approximately 200,102 people in 2009. Which means that it would take approximately 40,020 head of cattle to feed them for a year. Guess how many cows are in Cass County? According to the USDA, there are just over 12,000. So who isn’t going to eat?

Now, don’t go jumping to conclusions that going vegetarian is the answer. We don’t have enough land for that either. We currently raise cattle on land that, for the most part, isn’t suited to grow crops. So we’re already growing crops on whatever land is available to do so. And in spite of all of our efforts, people in our country are going hungry each and every day.

Buying local/growing your own is a great alternative for those that it works for, but it’s not for everyone. The numbers don’t work, no matter how you look at it. Agriculture as a whole is needed to feed not just the world, but our own country and our own neighborhoods. We need to work together and realize that one alone does not stand. It’ll take all types, all kinds, all methods to be able to feed our ever-growing population on our ever-shrinking acreages.

Do the math. It doesn’t figure any other way.

Welcome to our herd

A few weeks back, I promised to explain the history of our herd…and I thought today would be a great time to do that!

As I had mentioned a few weeks back, our herd is what would be considered a closed herd. My husband explains it this way: “Well, the only new women on this farm were you and Mom.” Yeah, he has a way with words.

Basically, every cow on this farm is traced back to another cow on this farm…all the way back to the original herd started in the 1950’s. The only new blood (necessary, to prevent in-breeding and defects) on our farm are bulls that are bought periodically. We also use artificial insemination…but I’ll get into that in the future.

Now, this type of ranching may not work for others, but it works for us. We are able to trace back any genetic issues, match up heifers to better bulls for their ease of calving, and have a very detailed history of each calf that is born on our farm.

So, our herd started out as polled Herefords…and now we are Red Angus with Simmental cross. We changed things up when we needed to, made careful choices throughout our history and were able to survive through today. That, in itself, is something to be proud of!


This is an example of a polled Hereford.


It also goes to show that agriculture isn’t just about setting a goal and being strict in your path to get there. Sometimes along the way you need to be willing to veer off the path and try something new, be willing to be flexible and willing to work with whatever is thrown your way.


This is our herd today.


And with four boys coming up, I’m hoping that there will be at least one new woman coming my way!

And the tag means???

I had a question asked of me on Twitter today, or should I say I answered one that was being discussed. Someone was wondering how we decide what tags go on which cows. I had never thought of it before. Sometimes, when you’re on the inside, things seem so obvious that you forget that others don’t know why you’re doing it…it’s an epidemic in agriculture, and one we’re working on fixing.

To answer the question, yes the tag does mean something. When calves are first born (or at least soon after), they get a tag in their ear with the same number their cow has. The white tags mean that the calf is a bull, the yellow tag means that it’s a heifer (a female that hasn’t had a calf yet).

Separating the two sexes of calves helps make giving the calves their vaccinations easier. Plus, you don’t have to worry about trying to castrate a heifer! 🙂

Purple cow

This cow has a purple tag, you can see the one in the background has a blue tag.

Now the cow tags are different colors for a different reason. Each year the cows get a different color ear tag. Tags come in tons of different colors, so it works pretty well. Cows are normally only on the farm for 10-12 years, as long as they have a calf, they stay. You can look at the cows tag and know which year she was born in. (We have a closed herd, which means every cow that’s on our farm was born and raised here…I’ll explain that more in another post some time.)

Another benefit of having different colors is so that you can easily determine which cow you need to bring in (sometimes looking at a sea of red faces is confusing, but the color of the ear tag helps), during calving season…or any other time of the year, if there is a health issue.

There’s a lot more to it then that, but that’ll do for now. I don’t want to overwhelm you with cow information!

If you have any questions, please, feel free to ask. I love talking about our farm…and I’ll gladly take a video or some photos to help out the process! 🙂