We had some AWESOME visitors to our farm in 2017!  When the group of folks pictured below showed up one cold Saturday morning in November, we were a little over whelmed.  So what brought this large group out for a visit?

Read, Brennan and Post Families from the Omaha area visiting November 2017.

Post, Brennan and Read Families from the Omaha area visiting November 2017.

Mothers On Mission

The three Mom’s in the photo above had done their homework.  They care about what they feed their families.  The questions they brought to us were to the point:

  • How do we care for the animals?
  • What else do the cattle eat besides grass?
  • How do we manage the pastures?
  • What kind of grass is this?
  • What about the fat profile of the meat?
  • Do you spray the pastures?
  • How do you move the cattle?
  • What about the water for the herd?
  • Do the cattle get any medicine or shots?
  • When are the calves born?
  • What are the best ways to prepare the meat?

We did our best to answer each question.  The Pass – Fail test comes when our guests visit the herd.

  1. It doesn’t take long for anyone to decide if the animals are calm & satisfied versus stressed or lacking care.
  2. You don’t need to be a range scientist to see if the pasture is overgrazed.
  3. A simple walk across the pasture will tell you if the land and water is protected.

Seeing the pasture and herd is KNOWING.  Know Your Farmer Know Your Food.

Back to our visiting Mom’s

We applaud the Mothers and Grandmothers that visited our farm over the past few years.  The impact THEY are having on the “food industry” is a welcome change.  Successful Farming noted this change on this February 2016 Magazine Cover.

meet your new boss

Real change is happening

After the families pictured above left our farm, we had another visitor scheduled this same cold November Saturday.  Our next guest was a woman who works for one of the largest food processing manufactures in the world.  She was interested in what was happening in our pasture.  As with all our visitors, we had a great time discussing farming, food, environment and “the herd”.

When she disclosed who she worked for and what she did, we asked about any changes her company was going through.  Our guest was quick to point out that her “customers” were demanding the removal of many processed food ingredients.  The number one priority, removal of artificial food colors and dies.  Her company is responding, change is happening!

Change starts one bite at a time

Years ago when Sheila and I first felt the need to change our food buying options, it seemed overwhelming.  The first farmer we purchased clean food from locally was quick to discuss our feelings.  He told us to just keep it simple.  Make easy changes to your food purchases.  Grow into the change where it makes sense when the timing is right.

This advise was spot on.  Slow and steady wins the race.  We all vote for what kind of “food industry” we want with each bite.  We are moving the food industry one bite at a time!

What about our visiting guys?

We really need to talk about the guys pictured above.  These husbands had taken the wives out for a special Friday evening the night before visiting our farm.  Where did the ladies take the guys?  HA, I had to laugh, the ladies get a night out on the town and the guys get a cool morning walk in a pasture!  Way to go Men, supporting the ladies!  What a fun group.

What about the kids that came along?

The kids pictured above had a sense of wonderment that us adults need to stop and recapture more often.  They had some great questions also.  What can these kids learn from their parents?

My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.  Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck.

Proverbs 6:20-21

When these kids become the next wave of food purchasers, all we can say is, watch out and Thank You MOMs!

Recently we posted a short video (YouTube link) to the DS Family Farm Facebook page showing how we provide fresh water to the cow herd in subzero weather. Late December 2017 through early January 2018 we had a 17 day stretch with temperatures below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit) and many stretches below 0 degrees F (-18 degrees Celsius).  The system worked fine and we finally sold the propane tank heater we were keeping around for backup.

The secret is to keep the water surface protected from the WIND!  Since the video generated some questions on how the system exactly works, below is our “How To install a Subzero Frost Free Tank”:

Step 1:  Start with a heavy-duty tire from your local shop.  A few years ago we were able to get a used tire for two-dozen donuts!  The tire shop workers were glad to see us coming.

used tire for tank

Use sawzall (reciprocating) saw to cut holes in one tire sidewall (for cattle to stick their head into). Not an easy task, best accomplished with help of teenage boys!  Do not cut the entire side wall off!

Step 2:  Place and level tank in pasture.  We place the tire tanks on a ridge, in a fence line dividing two pastures.  We also drill a hole near the bottom of the tire and insert a pipe with a valve.  From the valve we run poly pipe over the ground and gravity flow water to portable tanks throughout the pasture (not during winter).

place tire tank

Level spot for tire tank. Once in coming water pipeline is trenched to tank, place geotextile fabric around tank and add crushed rock on the fabric providing a solid area for cattle traffic.

Step 3:  Bring water source (trench in pipeline) up through the bottom of the tank and also add overflow outlet tube/pipe if you like.  Next add concrete to plug the bottom of the tire hole to create a “tire tank” that holds water.

plugging tire to hold water

After pipes are brought up through bottom tire hole, pour concrete to seal the bottom of the tank!

Step 4:  The tank pictured below serves as our freeze proof tank (see diagram at end of this blog post).  The pump only runs when we have sunshine!  The photo below was taken during a long cloudy stretch of weather a few years ago.  A series of 12 volt batteries connected to the controller will run the pump without solar power.  Just once or twice a year we may run out of stored water before the sun shine’s again.  (Solar panel in background of photo below).

tank filling

Water running out fill pipe. Overflow tube is white tube near fill pipe. Float switch wires visible.

Step 5:  During winter, add a cover with flaps and cattle simply raise the flap to reach water.  In southeast Nebraska we are blessed with consistent sunshine during winter.  Even on cloudy winter days the solar panel will usually generate enough power to pump water and keep the tank recharged with fresh warm water.  If the air temperature reaches near or above 32 degrees F, this system works without any problems.  If temperatures are well below freezing, a layer of ice may form overnight on the water surface.  Cattle usually break the ice on their own and drink but the float switch may be frozen in the ice layer above the water surface.  We have to break the small layer of ice and allow the float switch to fall to the “ON” position for the pump to run.

cows lift flap

Tire tank cover. Cattle lift flap to drink. Fresh water keeps tank warm and prevents freezing.

Overview of entire system:

freeze free tank

The bleeder valve allows water to drain back down the fill pipe. Without the bleeder valve, water above the frost line could freeze solid after the pump stops.  A frozen fill pipe would cause all kinds of problems!

One last note on our system:

We actually run two tanks from this single well/pump setup.  A valve near the well (below the frost line) allows us to direct water to either tank pipeline.  With a float switch in each tank, we inserted a three-way switch to the controller.

  1. With the controller switch in the top position, the float switch at the top tank controls the pump.
  2. With the controller switch in the bottom position, the float switch at the bottom tank controls the pump.
  3. With the controller switch in the middle position, neither float switch controls the pump!  Pump is always “ON”.

What is the advantage of being able to switch the pump to always “ON”?

  • Answers:
    • In very cold weather, with the switch always “ON”, when the sun shine’s, the pump is running water.
    • Any extra water just runs into a pond at the “overflow tube” outlet (to daylight on diagram).
    • If a layer of ice forms overnight, the new fresh “warm” water will thaw the ice layer.
    • This gives us one more option to make sure the cattle always have access to fresh water.

In summary, protect the water surface from the wind and recharge fresh (warm) water daily.  Do your research, information from Canada is very helpful.  We also like these ideas:

  • Add a thermal “heat tube” under the tank
    • Based on our experience, not necessary if you have adequate recharge in our environment.
  • Frost free “nose pump”
    • Yes, cattle pump water when then need it with their nose!

We urge you to take four minutes to watch “NRCS: Pasture Management“.  It really does a nice job describing some activities we practice here at DS Family Farm.  These practices work for both pasture health and animal health and ultimately your health!

  1. The depiction of Rotational Grazing at 1:20 into the video is excellent.
  2. There is a discussion of excess manure at 3:00 which is not an issue in our pasture grazed only system.
  3. We are not “organically certified” but follow organic practices in much of our operation.

Overall, a nice video by the folks at USDA.

We all enjoy the beauty of trees in fall colors.  What does this season change mean for the land and animals?  What is nature doing?  How would large herbivores such as buffalo respond to the annual leaf drop?  These are the questions to think about when working with nature.

Elderberry leaves seem to be one of our cattle favorites to BROWSE.

Elderberry leaves (bright greenish yellow) seem to be one of our cattle favorites to BROWSE.

Grazer or Browser?

Cattle are primarily grazers, preferring grass over broad leaves.  Sheep will generally eat about half grass and half leaves.  Goats are primarily browsers, meaning they prefer leaves (broadleaf weeds and trees) over grass.  All three are ruminants, they have a special stomach called a rumen.  The rumen is full of bacteria that digests the incoming vegetation.  As vegetation is broken down by bacteria, nutrition is released and made available to the animal.

The broad wide mouth of a cow is obviously designed to grab swaths of forage, such as grasses swaying in the prairie and probably one main reason cattle prefer to graze.  Since the main incoming vegetation is grass, the bacteria that best thrive on grass will be dominant in a cow rumen.  It is best to feed the dominant bacteria population in their rumen what they want, and not sending down something the bacteria is not used to, resulting in an upset tummy.

Grazing the annual leaf drop in a section of forest/stream that was last grazed the summer of 2016.

Grazing the annual leaf drop in a section of forest/stream that was last grazed the summer of 2016.

Grazing Leaves?

If a leaf drops on the ground before it is eaten, is that considered Grazing or Browsing?

Cattle aren’t much for climbing trees!  Goats are known to climb somewhat (warning don’t park your car where a goat can climb it).  The cattle herd will browse the lower branches of trees creating a “browse line”.  This time of year the leaves come to the cows!

So why eat leaves if you are a grazer?

  • Tannins
    • These somewhat toxic compounds, mainly found in tree leaves, can actually help animals balance digestive problems.
  • Nutrients
    • Leaves contain different nutrients than grasses.
  • Other
    • Reasons the cattle only know.

You will find warnings to not let cattle have access to this tree leaf or that weed leaf.  These warnings imply cattle are dumb?  Luckily we have smart cattle.  As long as the herd has adequate foraging opportunities, we do not worry about poisonous plants.

  • Our Momma cows teach their calves.
  • If someone gets an upset stomach from something, lesson learned!

We do avoid poison hemlock patches during the winter when hemlock leaves are green and everything else is pretty much brown.

Annual leaf drop in forested stream area. The herd is excluded from this section of stream that was grazed earlier this summer.

Annual leaf drop in forested stream area. The herd is fenced out from this section of stream grazed earlier this summer.

Annual Leaf Drop

With just a little planning we can MOVE the herd for the opportunity to take advantage of the leaf drop.  We let them choose how many and what leaves to graze.  Other things to consider during this graze:

  • Stream channel stability
  • Water quality
  • Wildlife needs

When leaves fall in the stream and dissolve, carbon dioxide is released.  Carbon dioxide plus water creates carbonic acid.  This weak acid breaks down rocks/minerals.  The changed mineral content of the water cycles new minerals through plants and animals.  The break down of rocks is also part of soil formation.

It is easy to see and understand the process described in the photo of the stream and leaves shown above.  But this is the exact same process the cattle herd encourages in our prairie!  When cattle stomp and manure a pasture, the dead grasses release carbon dioxide and moisture in the soil or from rain creates carbonic acid in the prairie soil creating more soil!  What a wonderful design.  Remember the bacteria described in the rumen of the cow?  The exact same process is also going on under our feet in the soil!  SOIL is one huge RUMEN full of all kinds of microbes.  Do you think it is an accident that these processes have a similar design repeated throughout nature?

Grazing and managing cattle in natures image results in:

  • SOIL CATTLE!

    • Nourished by the soil

    • Creating new healthy soil

    • Feeding healthy people

  • Not OIL Cattle!

    • Dependent on fossil fuels (OIL) for:

      • Fertilizer and pesticides

      • Machine planting, harvesting and hauling

Please contact us if you would like to visit the herd of SOIL CATTLE always on the Mooooove.

Unfortunately, our beef is not normal.

Looking at a “normal distribution” of HOW all beef is raised in our country, we are definitely weird!

Normal is for the masses, we like being weird!  No status quo around here.  Actually, if you look at the pattern of nature and IF you consider nature normal, then yes we are normal.  That is why we say, “unfortunately, our beef is not normal”.  We hope in the future that pasture raised beef will be the norm, until then, we choose to be weird.

Fortunately our weird is some folks normal.  We are currently seeing great demand for our beef and are happy to spread the word and connect interested customers with other weird beef producers.

Weird vs Normal beef:

Weird vs Normal Beef

The problem with normal food.

Seth Godin points out that “Normal diets made it easier for mass food manufacturers to generate a profit.”  We have seen the results of the Standard American Diet (standard = normal).  Our society has reached a point where some of the masses are realizing that their diet is directly linked to their overall health and they are seeking out healthy/weird food.

“We are all on a diet, be on a healthy one!” – Dr. Joseph Mercola

Being weird is not easy, as Godin also points out, “Do the hard work – be real.”  For real health, you are going to have to do some work!  Raising REAL BEEF, in natures image requires some hard work and commitment.  Give us a call and come see some Weird Beef.  As Dave always says:

“Be Weird!” – Dave Ramsey

(If you have comments, please leave a message on the DS Family Farm FaceBook Page.)