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I love September. There's still plenty of summer left but the subtle changes are starting to appear. The trees in the timber are a little less green, the pumpkins and butternut squash are ripening while their vines are starting to wither. The apples are turning sweeter with the last blast of hot weather and the bees are busier than ever. Best of all, Clarise had a healthy calf on September 1. Last year she lost her calf to coyotes or, as the vet thought, a large cat because the injuries were consistent with a predator coming down from the trees on top of her. Clarise and Alice, along with their calves, are closer to the barn so they're safe and easy to bring in for milking.

Red and Black Angus
Red and Black Angus

This is the second summer that our friends have brought their black cows to our farm for breeding. Their boys raise steers to show at the 4H fair. They have two black cows each with a black calf. The first summer they brought their cows to our farm their oldest son got out of the truck carrying a notebook. Before we could open the trailer door he double checked his notes to make sure he could identify his cows. He checked their ear tag information. He checked the calves ear tag information. He double checked the tag numbers. When he was certain he could identify his exact cows from our herd he said we could open the trailer door.

I smiled, “Have you seen our herd?”

“No, not yet.”

“Take a look in the field. I'm pretty sure you'll be able to figure out which cows are yours?”

He smiled and laughed, “ I guess I don't need my notebook, they'll be pretty easy to find.”

It was a very sweet moment. He'd been keeping accurate records for his 4H book and was concerned about identifying his cows and calves. Among our herd of Red Angus cattle his are very easy to find.


Our plans for this farm included rotational grazing, we started out following this practice but in 2009 Keith became interested in Management Intensive Grazing (MIG Grazing). It's the practice of heavily grazing  an area by increasing the number of livestock on a small parcel of land for a very short period of time and then moving them to the next paddock. This practice replenishes the soil by allowing grazing, trampling, and animal waste to increase organic cover and vital nutrients.   This restorative practice is essential to preventing desertification.  We've been following the practices of  Allan Savory and Greg Judy.



This is the 2010 areal view of the planned paddock layout:


MIG Grazing paddock layout
MIG Grazing paddock layout

These photos show the paddocks after grazing with new areas the cattle have moved to.


Frostbite, named because she was born in February 2007 which was a very cold February, had a mother who wouldn't stop licking her ears. We tried putting a stocking cap on her to protect her ears but the cow kept on licking them. We tried using bitter apple (it prevents animals from licking a wound) on the calf's ears, the cow kept on licking them anyway. As ridiculous as it sounds we tried using a helmet, socks, foam tubing, just about everything we could think of to keep the cow from licking her calves ears. After a couple days the cow stopped licking them but the tips were frostbitten. The calf lost the tips of her ears so we named her Frostbite. Her ear tag number is 711. Our ear tag numbering system is simple; year of birth, birth order in the herd. The dams number goes on the bottom of the tag, the bulls number on the top. Frostbite was the eleventh calf born in 2007. She's easily identifiable in the herd - she's the cow with the short ears.

Frostbite, second from the left
Frostbite, second from the left


Last week Keith came in the house and asked if I'd make two doses of vaccine for the new calves. I asked which cows calved Keith was pretty sure that Frostbite had twins. We've never had a set of twin calves before. At first he wasn't sure if Frostbite had twins or if a heifer had left her calf behind. Cows always hide their newborn calves. The cow will walk to an area of tall grass and let her calf know that they're not to leave the area unless she comes for them. Amazingly, the calves obey. They'll stay exactly where they're left, not moving, until the cow comes for them. Frostbite hid her calves in two different patches of grass. As Keith watched he figured out they were both hers. When he started walking into the field she looked toward where each was hidden and then walked in the opposite direction to throw Keith off course. Before a cow tries to lead you away from her calves she'll always glance toward them. If you're observant you'll catch her gaze and figure out where she's hidden them.  Keith waited patiently for her to go to her calves. He watched her from a distance so she wouldn't know he was there.  Eventually she went into the tall grass and nudged one calf to nurse. After a few minutes she left this calf, walked across the pasture to another area, and aroused her second calf. Keith showed me where both calves were. We vaccinated, ear tagged, and briefly examined them. Frostbite had a heifer and a bull calf. The heifer calf is a 'freemartin' meaning she'll be infertile. When a cow has a mixed set of twins the female is born chimeric; she starts out with XX chromosomes but acquires an additional XY chromosome in utero from the male twin. Freemartinism is the normal outcome of mixed-sex twins in cattle. Same sex cattle twins aren't effected by this.

After a few days the cows stop hiding her calves. They'll  join the herd and play with the other calves under the watchful eyes of all the cows.


The grass is pretty sparse this spring. The warm weather just got here but it isn't here to stay, yet. A snowy mix of precipitation is forecast for May 2. This is May, isn't it?  The cattle are back on pasture but are moving more frequently to keep them grazing and the new grass from being trampled.  Last night as we were setting up fences I saw one cow off by herself, she went off to have her calf. A few minutes later she delivered a big, healthy heifer. Life is good! When all the cows had been moved Keith went back for the cow and her calf. He ended up carrying the calf because she hadn't been on her feet for more than a few minutes and it was a long walk.

Cattle Quiz: What cattle eat 678 always loves to have her picture taken


 Click on the links to see what some farmers are feeding their livestock.
Cattle are ruminants. Ruminants eat grass, at least they should. Here's a simple quiz to test your knowledge. If you guess correctly  you should  become a cattle farmer, we need common sense producers.
1. Cows eat...
If you guessed 'A' you're one smart cookie! However, both B and C are being used as cattle feed. The biggest shocker is that University scientists and veterinarians aren't admonishing these alternative feed practices, they're studying them  Read more here
2. Cattle's rumens are designed to digest...
a. Grass
b. Gummy worms
c. Sawdust
e. All of the above
I tried to throw you off with the potato chips. If you guessed 'A' you're right again, kind of. These day's  'All of the above' (excluding 'A' as an answer) might be correct. Grass is very expensive, especially if it's on ground that could have gone into corn production so cheaper alternatives are being fed to cattle at an alarming rate.
3. Cattle need _____________ to thrive...
b. Gummy worms, antibiotics, hormone implants
c. Sawdust, antibiotics, hormone implants
d. Potato chips, antibiotics, hormone implants

If you guessed 'A' congratulations again! You might know more about feeding cattle than some farmers. Don't you feel smarter already?

We've heard from many people concerned over the drought in Iowa. The Drought Monitor determined that 59% of the state is in severe drought.  We are concerned and are trying to prepare for the worst.  We're implementing a drought plan we've had in place for a few years, just in case.  Because we rotationally graze, the ground has additional recovery time between foraging. During drought conditions overgrazing certain areas by increasing the stocker rate (number of cattle in a paddock) and allowing them more time in each paddock, gives larger areas of pasture more time to recover.  This allows deep rooted legumes, weeds, and less palatable plants to hold the ground, keeping the soil in place when rain returns. If the weeds or cover crop were killed off, soil erosion would be accelerated. Soil erosion would leave very poor conditions for plant recovery.

As unpleasant as the subject is, culling older herd animals is necessary. A few favorite cows are going to be sold, two horses were sold, and a third is being advertised for sale. There isn't enough hay for the profitable animals so the older animals and recreational pets have to go. It's tough. These are difficult decisions but necessary to sustain the herd and the land.

The sheep who are prone to overgraze deep rooted forages while ignoring grasses have been brought closer to the barn for management. If confined to smaller areas, the sheep will eat weeds and clean up grasses and dry pasture matter. The saying, "Beggars can't be choosers", applies. Another drought management option is early weaning. The calves and lambs are offered better grazing areas and the cows and ewes reduce their required feed intake by up to 40% when not lactating.

The dairy cows and calves haven't been separated, yet.  Their yield is high and milk for the pigs keeps grain costs to a minimum. Sows, boars, and feeder pigs are grazing in smaller pasture areas, keeping rooting behavior to a minimum.

Hay prices and the rising cost of grain has us looking at changing our production model. This year we'll be selling off most of the feeder pigs. Carrying them through the winter months when grain prices will be at their highest would drive prices too high. We'll hold onto our sows and boars and breed for late spring rather than late winter farrowing.

With all of these practices in place we're optimistic about the coming year. As our friend says, "Every dry day that passes gets us one day closer to rain". He's right. Eventually it will rain. That's inevitable. The question is... when. Until that day our drought plan is in full force.

This would be the time to buy larger quantities of meat. The price is only going higher, at least until the next harvest season. Planning ahead can make a big difference in your budget.

Warmest wishes and food for thought,

Alice, one of our Jersey cows had a new calf this afternoon.  We bought two Jersey cows last fall.  Now we have even more milk for the pigs.  In a few days I’ll start milking Alice in the morning, she and her calf will be together all day, separated only at night.  I love spring!  Everything is bright, fresh and new.

Nobody can go through an endless chain of farm births and growth and harvest - and be subject to nature’s mysteries, bounty, and sometimes harshness - without developing a philosophy of life.  -J. Brewer Bottorff

With all the new lambs born recently we’re feeding the richest hay in the mow.  The more coarse hay is fed first. As winter progresses the hay supply is dwindling. The highest quality hay is held back until the end of winter. It’s reserved for cows, who are nursing calves, and ewes nursing lambs.  Keith brought down a bale and showed me a flake that was still bright, soft, and green. It was a blend of orchard grass, alfalfa, and clover. The heart shaped leaves of green clover, topped with brown flower heads, looked as if they’d been pressed in a book. This was third cutting hay.  It smelled sweet and the stems and leaves were still tender.  The plants weren’t tall, not on the last cutting of the season, but the pliant green blades were perfectly cured. Soft palatable hay, after a couple months of eating dryer hay, is a reward for livestock eager for spring grass.

“ A man begins cutting his wisdom teeth the first time he bites off more than he can chew”
Herb Caen


LONDON: Two students at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom have won a veterinary medicine prize for showing that giving dairy cows names and calling them by their correct name increased milk production yield by an average of 258 liters per year. The researchers said the cows are very responsive to friendly milkers with a positive attitude. We are pleased to introduce you to our four dairy cows; Chloe, Lulu, Alice and Clairece.
Chloe is a Jersey-Angus cross. Lulu is a Holstein, and Alice and Clairece  are registered Jersey’s. They provide milk for our family and all of the pigs at Forest Hill Farm.


©Glenda Plozay, Forest Hill Farm Products,LLC