State of the Farm

Really escaped with nominal damage [from Hurricane Harvey]. No creatures lost at all. In fact, the pigs seemed to have enjoyed all of the mud and water coming at them. Our concern was the possible over-topping of our dam (Pig Lane) as happened in the Memorial Day flood. So I had opened the drain pipe valve two days earlier and drew down about three feet of water. Got back to Houston just as the rain began. The extra three feet of water holding capacity made the difference. Water got high but never to the dam top. Every once in a while you get something right.

In the Kitchen

Last month I wrote of John Henry's discovery about the beneficial effects of salting steaks three days in advance of cooking. I spoke to our butcher and learned that the inspector approves that procedure and the butcher thinks it's a good idea. So I am going to experiment with a few cuts for next month to see if it should become our standard. Here's the process, both at the butcher and the kitchen. When the butcher cuts a steak in the chilled cutting room, his assistant will sprinkle sea salt on it before vacuum packing the steak. From there it goes into the freezer room. That begins the osmosis process of breaking down protein tendons, though it will be suspended once frozen. When the steak arrives at your house you may choose to just thaw it normally OR, if you want the full benefit of the osmosis process, take it from your freezer to the fridge to thaw for two full days before cooking.

State of the Farm

People sometimes ask why we call ourselves "farmers" rather than "ranchers". It's a legitimate question since we raise livestock as our primary product. But the answer lies in our motto, "Grass. It's What We Do." That says it all about how we think of ourselves. We are grass farmers. Grass is our primary crop, and it's what makes everything else work.

So if grass is our crop, what are our cows and pigs? Our harvesters, of course. Except they are not $100,000 John Deere tractors. They are producers rather than expenses. Nice system, wouldn't you agree? Mother Nature knows best. This system was devised a long, long time ago. It has only been re-discovered, not invented, in modern times. If PawPaw was alive, he would tell you we are only doing what was done before the post-WWII “get big era”.

Keeping in mind that we are grass farmers is important to our day to day activities. It guides and reminds us daily that grass must be protected and watched at all times. Our pastures are divided into eights as are our pig paddocks. These divisions allow us to monitor and limit the amount of grass harvested by our creatures and affords recovery time for each of those divisions. The basic thesis that becomes the daily operating rule is to leave 1/2 the grasses available for harvest to act as solar panels for the next growth cycle. Move the livestock to the next pasture or paddock which assumedly will be ready because it was rested and allowed to regrow fresh grass blades for the next batch of harvesters. The further you go beyond the "1/2 harvest" rule, the longer the recovery time becomes. So stick to the operating rule, even if it means putting out a bale of hay while you await the next pasture's maturity.

So there you have our short term operating thesis. What are we looking looking at for the longer term?  2 parameters: will we get through the warm season without running out of grass; and which pastures will be planted first with our cool season grasses? The first parameter is decided by the eyeball test - experience over nearly 30 years tells us where each forward pasture will be in 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks or more. The second parameter looks at the two pastures that are irrigated. We want to plant them first in winter grasses and if there is no rain, we can still get water to them from our deep well. Just as grass is what we do, rain is what grass does. We are looking to finish our irrigated pastures first so that we can then plant our winter pasture, relying on the other 6 pastures to get our livestock through until the first crop of winter pasture is ready for the harvesters.

There are several secondary factors to consider not mentioned here, but this gives you a broad sense of what goes into being grass farmers as well as the growing-out of the harvesters. We're dancing with Mother Nature, folks. She has a lot of moves. Pay attention!

The Longer-Term Plan

We have not gone “hard” on this yet, but are seriously considering taking a month off each year with December being the most likely candidate. Our thinking is that a one month rest will be good for all creatures on the farm. The rest in December will probably make our November deliveries boom, especially since we expect to be offering Christmas lamb in the November deliveries. So that would be an appropriate end to the calendar year deliveries.
We will let you know our final decision in the next newsletter.

In the Kitchen

This month will not feature any particular recipe but instead will concentrate on changes in the food system brought on by consumer demand that 20 years ago was declared a “fad”. So much for that little bit of “whistling through the graveyard”.

But I will first note that HoniAnn did pull a quart of frozen bone broth from the deep freeze last night, added mixed veg, and made it our quick and easy soup for dinner. I am always amazed at how delicious and satisfying it is. And filling. I never go back for my second bowl, saving that for lunch the next day. For those of you who do not request free bones with your delivery, you’re missing a treat and a budget stretching one at that. Our bone broth recipe is found at the website.

So, let’s talk about the change in how America views food these days. First, can you find a full size grocery that does not feature organic produce in its fresh food section? And while some offer grass-fed meats, it seems that all offer “natural”, but you have to be inquiring about that label. It often means nothing, but more and more it means the elimination of antibiotics - maybe. And of course, a LOT of it comes from 1000’s of miles away, so who really knows if they can confirm what they say about it. We know there is a lot of cheating in both categories. Nonetheless, this all demonstrates that when my Aggie County Agent referred to me as “one of those organic hippies”, he had already missed the future.

But he wasn’t alone. Tyson recently announced that it “wouldn’t dream of putting antibiotics in their chicken feed”. Really? So when did you wakeup to that? It took 75 years to figure out that was a bad idea?

This month also saw that more and more of us are waking up to the fact that the government has not been our friend in its dietary recommendations for the last 60 years. A fat-free diet is a loser, not a winner. It was the sugar and hydrogenated oils, Stupid! But they were protecting our sugar and vegetable oil industry while supporting those that got grant money trying to prove the thesis on fats and starving those that believed otherwise.

Now if they would only drop the subsidies to the grain growers and make commodity beef, pork and chicken stand on its own 2 feet, you would find out what the true cost of commodity meats are. (Did you notice I didn’t say a thing about how nutrient-deprived a skinless chicken breast is? Don’t get me started!)

So, I end this letter with this simple note: the organic/grass-fed movement has only started and is nowhere near its end. And yes, we are a bunch or “organic hippies”. And proud of it!!

State of the Farm

The calves have thrived on the spring grasses for an unusually extended growth period, starting about 6 weeks earlier than usual due to the extraordinarily warm winter. It is very satisfying to watch them grow with the abundance of sweet grasses available. The pigs too, but those guys seem to grow regardless of weather, August heat being the exception. That will slow the no-sweat-glands piggy down every year.

But we are now in June and things are heating up at the same time that we are seeing the now familiar “heavy rain/no rain” cycle. Let’s review with stats from the rain book.
We were doing fine through the first 3 months of the year. Jan/Feb/March were fine, slightly above normal. Then April missed by nearly 2 inches, and early May brought one good rain then went dry again. That accumulating dryness extended into early June, accompanied by strong, low humidity winds, further sucking moisture from the soil. I began to hear the crunch of drying grass as I walked the pastures, an unhappy sound. Clay and I could see that moving the cattle to the next pasture would be a short term fix only; the pasture was not ready and grazing it would only weaken it further as we prepare for the hottest months of the year. So we brought out the hay in order to buy some time for the coming pasture and turned on the irrigation well for future pastures. Voila! Here came a good rain, ranging from 2.4 inches on the west side to 3.5 on the east side. (yes, we often find discrepancies in rainfall between our east and west side rain gauges. We have different micro-climates on our small patch of the planet Earth. Amazing) So, life is good again. We have a chance of having grass as we turn into July and August, a hope that we shoot for every year, sometimes hitting, other times missing.

Assessing the Consequences of Warm Winter

Here find the differences noted by an unusually warm winter:

  • our fruits orchards, pears and peaches, bore almost no fruit. Insufficient chill hours.
  • the wildflowers skipped the first bloom of bluebonnets and paintbrush and went straight to the second bloom of Indian blanket, Mexican hat and yellow flowers. We sure missed the bluebonnets though I must say the second bloom was beautiful and prolific. She tooketh away, but she gaveth back.
  • our purple martins are almost non-existent, apparently staying further north rather than migrating down where they help us keep the insects and grass hoppers at a manageable level. We love the martins but they don’t love us this year.
  • most disquietingly, I spotted a road runner in our east pasture. Why troubling? That’s a desert bird. Are we going back into a drought or just a dry’ish period? What are the long term implications? What is Mother Nature telling us? Time will tell.

That’s it for on the ground, folks! Here comes the kitchen...

Kielbasa Sausage Reiterated

We introduced a new sausage this year, kielbasa. It’s a German, Polish Czech kind of sausage, a perfect fit for this part of Texas, reflecting the migration of those European natives into New Braunfels, Weimar, Schulenburg, and Brenham. We started out with a South Texas addition to the recipe, jalapeno. Not this month but in July, you will find a different iteration of kielbasa – the addition of green onion. I look forward to trying that and it is what is so cool about kielbasa; it’s base recipe is receptive to all sorts of additions. So after jalas and green onion, what might come next. I’m thinking bell pepper or maybe even pimientos. We shall see.