Sunday, April 11, 2010

The $5 calf goes to market; thoughts on the last 18 months

This is pointy, an 18 month old holstein steer that was slaughtered Saturday morning. Pointy is one of my $5 calf's. I slaughtered this steer a little earlier than I'd like because he'd been getting aggressive and had learned that he could walk over my 5' field fence at will. I'll be improving my fences later this year but I don't have the time right now, and it's been a while since I've had beef in the freezer, and he was plenty big enough to go.

I've got two more of these steers, but I'll probably wait until the end of the summer (at 22 to 24 months age) to process them. Put a little more fat on them, let them take advantage of the summer grass and put some fat on.

These cows are my first, and for the most part they've been pretty painless to handle.

My experiences over the last 18 months, in no particular order:

Bottle feeding a calf is no big deal, especially if you use a calf dome. When they first arrive, you stick your finger in their mouths, and then lead them over to the bottle holder. Sometimes you have to hold the bottle for a day or two, but once they clue in that the bottle holder is where the milk is, it becomes a 15 minute per day chore to heat the milk replacer (powdered milk mix) and fill the bottle and drop it into the slot. It's just as easy to bottle feed 5 calves as one, so I'm going to buy batches of calves, 5 or 10 at a time from here on out.

I transitioned these guys from milk replacer to alfalfa and mixed feed at about 4 months, and then out on grass. I think i'd do a better job on shelter for their first winter; a simple run-in shed made them much more comfortable and seemed to save me money on hay and feed.

The next cows that I get I'm going to spend less time with. Unlike the pigs, where being able to get up close and personal is an important husbandry issue, having 800lb puppy-friendly cows is a bit of a pain in the ass. it's hard to herd them when they run right up to you and mug for attention. I'd prefer a more normal "flight zone" reaction. Even if they aren't being aggressive, having your foot stepped on is sure to wake you up. I understand why dairy boots have steel toes now.

The amount of feed required wasn't much in the first year; but the last 6 months each of these cows have been eating 60-80lbs of hay a day. I'll still buy small square bales to use as bedding or whatever, but the bulk of my hay purchases from here on will be either large square or round bales. It's about half the cost.

I won't mix cows and turkeys in the same pasture ever again. I lost a bunch when the cows stepped on their feet, and the cows really liked the turkey feed and would do their best to break into the turkey tractors to get it, including walking on top of it. I will follow cows and sheep with poultry, but be careful to seperate them via electric fence.


sheila said...

Looks like a good sized carcass, but very lean. When they get to the point of disrespecting fences it's time to go to electric. If they break through that then I agree, time for freezer camp. Add some fat to the burger and some steak sauce (my favorite is Worcestershire sauce) and I'll bet it will taste great. $5 calves turn into lots of meat. I see you slaughtered at the farm. Will you be doing the processing yourself? Will you be marketing beef in the future?

Bruce King said...

He is very lean, and I'm going to work on adding more fat to the other two. Al Stevens, the farm kill guy for sylvana did this one for me, and I'll have sylvana cut-and-wrap it. I've done pigs myself, but a whole beef is quite a few pounds, and what really stops me right now is that I can't hang it for a couple of weeks. If I were slaughtering in the fall I could hang it in my barn and do my own cut, but right now logistics are that having someone else do it is best for me.

As far as marketing beef goes, I'd like to make sure that I can produce a good quality product before I market it -- so I'm going to eat this steer and work iwth the other two, and if I can offer something that's good quality I will.

Anonymous said...

Bruce- where do you get your round bales? Were in Stanwood with no truck.... any ideas?