Winter Rye

State of the Farm

Our winter grazing was not as commensurately bountiful as the effort we put into planting it. We had one complete grazing of the oats and rye before the first, early, hard freeze came on us in late November. Very unusual to have it that early and that hard; and even more unusual that it was followed through in December and January by more hard freezes. All of that to say that we had no more grazing opportunities after the first grazing in early November - until February. Our creatures were limited to standing hay - the tall grasses that go dormant in freezing weather — which may maintain them but will not grow them like the winter grasses will.

But here is the rest of the story. February, often our coldest month, turned us from Arctic freezes to balmy weather, sometimes warming into the low 80’s, frequently reaching the low 70’s but always returning to cool nights. Average 24 hour temps were probably calculated into the 60-65 bracket, perfect weather for growing winter pasture, and the grasses responded with a vengeance. Jumping out of the ground, we were quickly overwhelmed with beautiful dark green pastures of oats, rye and clover by late February through March. The calves and pigs went from barely holding on to growing grass-fat! Big smiles all around.

The lesson? Never give up on Mother Nature. She’s a balancer.

State of the Farm

This is the time of year when we know whether everything got into sync with Mother Nature. Are the winter pastures up and growing, providing a salad bar of oats, rye, clover and standing hay for our grateful and very much appreciated momma cows and their offspring, piggies, chickens at Jolly Farms and egg hens at Coyote Creek? If so — and it is so this year — then we ease into Christmas with family and friends, nearly overwhelmed by a grateful heart. This will be a splendid Christmas, so good that it is almost eery. Dancing with Mother Nature can be grand when fickleness abates and her stars align over our little patch of Earth.

Best wishes for a grateful Christmas in your home too, but let us remember those for whom life after Harvey, a lost job, or the loss of a loved one finds them less than grateful. Reach out wherever you find them. ‘tis the season of giving back as well.

Fall’s Work Is Done

The many hours, days and weeks spent on the tractor preparing and planting our winter pasture is now behind us and we plus the beeves and pigs wait for our chance to enjoy it. Planting is a tedious, labor-intensive business done in three stages and it is more expensive than the easy way out — buy a bunch of hay and put it out as needed. And our good streak continued when we registered 1.6 inches of rain in less than a week after planting. The rye and oats are jumping out of the ground and reaching for the sun.

The livestock will be rewarded by having fresh green forage all through the fall and winter and we are rewarded by watching the smiles on their faces as they grow grass-fat. Plus, it’s the pretty factor again. When the bright green contrasts with the yellows and browns as the sun goes down, we admire the scene from the porch and say, yes, it was worth the effort. Life is good on the farm.

State of the Farm

We finally worked out of our Fall dry spell with 4 inches of rain as December began. September, October and November were well below expectations on a combined basis. The dryness retarded the growth of our winter pasture as we watched our cattle draw down on fat storage. Always tough to see that happening, especially when we had experienced such a good growth year to that point. Mother Nature giveth and she taketh away. It is rare indeed to have a perfect year. We’ll settle for a simply good year as we watch the winter rye sprout and grow with the life-giving rains.

Instead of groaning, we look for the bright side. Having a much better than usual rainfall in August gave the summer grasses one last and gigantic boost. The leftovers from that month make for “standing hay”, the dry matter that will make the fresh green winter rye more digestible. So there you go! The bright side of things as we head into the most wonderful time of the year.

Winter rye has no equal in terms of giving a fine, fresh and clean beef taste. We hear people talk about grass-fed and grass-finished beef being “gamey”. Not ours. It’s all about getting the right grasses into the growing beef. Get ready for our best beef and pork come January through the spring, when it’s best competitor, spring grasses, will take over. You’re eating not only with the seasons, but with the best seasons of the years once we enter the new year.