Monday, August 6, 2007
Our Herd Mothers
Isn't she a beauty? She is one of our four new herd mothers, the future of Flynn's Irish Grove Acres.
We are in our first year of transitioning the farm from a conventional grain-fed beef operation to an organic grass-fed beef operation. The reasons for the change are wide and varied, but I'll briefly touch on a few of them here.
Today, to be a successful farmer following the rules of the game set out by Big Agriculture, you must "get big or get out". For those of you who don't own land and aren't familiar with farming, 260 acres may sound big. But for conventional agriculture, it is laughably small. We are WAY too insignificant to compete in conventional agriculture, and unfortunately, that's exactly how the big players want it. The only future I can see for a small, working family farm is to specialize in a rare, niche product, and/or go organic. There is no other viable alternative.
On a more personal level, I am a farmer, but I'm also an environmentalist. As a farmer, I see my farm as as a productive entity, as a partner, as a provider. As an environmentalist, I see my farm as an ecosystem, as a lifeline to flora and fauna, as a prairie waiting to emerge from beneath these strange and foreign plants called corn and soybean. Obviously it is pretty difficult to reconcile these two, real, live personas within me. Grass-fed beef offers me an almost perfect opportunity to work the land without damaging it, to take but to also give back.
Finally, I want to raise grass-fed beef because I am a mother, and because I want my children to love this farm. There are plenty of jobs around the farm that would make even the most seasoned farm kid want to thumb a ride to the Big Apple, but it is nothing but fun when we are working with the cattle. My kids love to help switch them from one pasture to another, and think it's hilarious to see them kick up their heels when they are allowed into a new section of the farm. We all love to go see the cows, to watch them eat or laze around. Oh, and I almost forgot: grass-fed beef poop, yep, you guessed it, in the field. Take that, Dad!
Here are my kids--happy as flies on manure--the day we brought our new cows home. You can tell they're real farm kids because they have no fear of those poop-smeared trailer panels.
And thanks to the cows, they are genuinely happy, even after being forced to ride 8 hours in the Big-Ass truck to go get our new mama's. Yeah, that's right. We drove all the way to Black River Falls, Wisconsin for these beauties.
But they are worth it. They're Murray Grey cows, and Murray Grey's are a specialty breed. There aren't too many people raising them around here, but those who do love them. The best thing about them, to me, is that they're an all-beef breed, meaning they've never been cross-bred with a milking breed. Their genetic make-up is focused on bulking up, not producing obnoxious quantities of milk, and, because of this, they fatten easily. This is key to a grass-fed operation, because we won't be supplementing their diet with grains. They will have to survive on pasture and dry hay only, and these ladies are good at producing calves that achieve a nicely marbled meat without grain.
Here's another look at our Murray's en route to their new home in good 'ole Irish Grove.
They were calm and collected the whole way home. Good girls. (Murray's are also known for their calm and gentle disposition, which is another big hit with this mama.)
Even though they are an Australian breed, a cross between a Scottish Aberdeen Angus and a Shorthorn, Murray Grey is appropriately Irish-sounding, don't you think? If not, no matter. They're Irish now, and, if you can't tell, we have high hopes for them.
You'll be seeing more of these ladies, I can guarantee it.