We completed our Highland cattle roundup yesterday near Ferndale.
We gathered our herd of 60+ Highland mother cows for our annual fall roundup at the Morrison Ranch along the picturesque Bear River in remote Humboldt County.
We have leased the Morrison Ranch from Peggy Morrison Fox for the past seven years, which has provided ideal conditions for our Highland herd. From the top of the property at nearly 1500 feet elevation, one can gaze out across lush coastal grasslands to the Pacific Ocean below. "Tough" duty if you are a cow. . .
The roundup scene could have been a Hollywood movie. The cattle were gathered on horseback from across the 2000-acre ranch, which has been in the Morrison family since the 1850s (now owned by sisters Kay and Peggy).
Cattle dogs, beautiful working Quarter Horses and Appaloosas, and wranglers wearing chaps were all part of the scene. We brought the herd down from the hills to corrals and barns that were first constructed in 1854.
Our workday team included our longstanding part-time wrangler, Adam Tait, and LMR horse trainer/stable manager, Sarah Bertoli, plus four local friends of Peggy Morrison.
We gathered all of the cows and their calves and "worked" them. The mother cows were given their vaccinations, boluses (two big pills containing selenium and copper), and a treatment for parasites. The calves received a similar regimen.
We were very pleased with the health status of the herd. Ninety-six percent of the cows were pregnant (a very impressive result for our three bulls) and all but one was in perfect health. The calves were vigorous, bright-eyed, and fleshy.
We separated the calves from their mothers ("weaning"). The calves were kept together in the barn for the first two nights (there is comfort in numbers after losing mom) and then were put out onto a nearby pasture along the river where they could be watched and fed supplemental hay.
Sadly, because of a change in direction by the two Morrison sisters, we are leaving the ranch this fall. Our beautiful herd of Highland cows was moved south yesterday by truck to our property in Tomales. The Tomales location will now become our primary location for our cow-calf operation.
We'll continue to send our calves north from Tomales to Ferndale each spring as part of our overall integrated production system. There we will finish our steers and beef heifers using an intensive rotational grazing system followed by a short low-stress trip to the abattoir at Redwood Meats. More about this later. . .
In the meantime, we are entering winter feeling confident about the health status of our herd and already looking forward to calving season in April.
Posted by Ted Hall
The beauty - and the madness - of our integrated farming operation is that we move seamlessly from one activity to another. Although we have just completed our grape (and potato) harvest, we held the fall roundup of our Shorthorn cattle herd on Thursday.
We pressed our last red wine on Wednesday afternoon, which means we have completed the initial fermentation of all of our wines. The 2009 red wines are already in the barrel in our cave and the grape crusher and press have been cleaned, sanitized, and stored not to be used again until next year.
But, on Thursday we were already off to our 500-acre property at Tomales Farm & Dairy to conduct our fall roundup of the Shorthorn cattle herd. We brought in our entire herd of heritage breed Shorthorn mother cows (about 75) and their calves. This is an important event as we examine every animal for its health status, take important steps to protect each animal against disease or nutrition problems, and remove the weakest animals from the herd.
We vaccinated every cow and calf and applied wormer to eliminate parasites, flies, and mites. We also placed two boluses (one selenium and one copper) in the first stomach of every animal to ensure proper mineral balance - because grasslands in Northern California are notoriously deficient of these critical micro-nutrients.
Since early July the cows have been exposed to our three outstanding Shorthorn bulls. At the fall roundup we remove the bulls from the herd and check every cow for pregnancy. Our vet, Dr. Nathan Keefer, palpates every animal ("the long reach of the arm") and gives us an estimate as to how far along the cow is in her preganancy. We record this information and use it for monitoring the cows in the spring. Our target calving date is April 15th (gestation is 284 days or 9 months and 10 days) and we want to know which cows might be early or late.
If a cow is not pregnant, we evaluate her age, body condition, and bloodline to determine whether she should remain in our herd.
At this roundup we decided to cull (or remove) 9 cows from our herd. This reduction is offset by 11 new cows ("first calf heifers") that we added to the herd in July.
We also weaned the calves, which means we separated the calves from their mothers. Our target is to wean the calves at about 200 days of age. At this stage they are very strong and independent and we want their mothers to focus their energy on the next calf - since they are already pregnant and at the end of their first trimester.
After a long day of handling almost 140 animals, we returned to Long Meadow Ranch with the bulls (where they are maintained for the winter). We were pleased with health status of the herd and also with the progress we are making in creating a first-class grass-fed beef program.
Next on our agenda, during the first week in November, we will be holding our fall roundup of Highland cattle at our leases at Ferndale in Humboldt County.
And then, of course, there is the olive harvest . . . in the meantime there is the planting of cover crops at LMR Rutherford Gardens, completing the winterizing ("erosion control") of all of our vineyards, and . . .
Posted by Ted Hall
Posted by Ted Hall
Believe it or not, Thursdays are LMR Grass-fed Beef Burger Days in all of the local public schools, including the high school. We are very proud.
This past Thursday Laddie and I were invited to help cook the burgers for the students at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School in St. Helena. I had a blast. I put on my white LMR chef's coat and took my place at the grill in the school courtyard.
For the past year or so we have been talking with Allan Gordon, the Superintendent of St. Helena School District, about how to bring fresh, local food into the regular menu planning cycle for the school breakfast and lunch programs.
Enter Kay Wilson, the Health and Safety Officer, who took the intiative to start the process of changing the lunch program. Lydia Damian from our team worked with Kay to coach the program's administrators about the importance of planning menus in tune with the seasons.
Starting with produce availability - as opposed to designing a menu and then placing an order - was (and remains) a very new concept. For longstanding food service providers, it is kind of like turning around the telescope and looking through the other end.
We also helped educate about the very significant difference in quality of grass-fed beef from a specialty producer as opposed to commodity ground beef bought primarily on the basis of price.
So, burgers were an easy place to start because the beef is frozen and the quality is apparent as soon as you do a side-by-side comparison.
Burger Day is made even more special for the elementary and middle school kids because the schools do not have a full kitchen. Meals are usually prepared elsewhere and then delivered to the schools. So, setting up a grill in the courtyard and freshly cooking the burgers is a special treat.
It was very clear that Burger Day is a very big hit with students (and parents). Laddie and I loved the kids' enthusiasm. Watching them line up to get their meal and then load up with condiments was a wonderful sight to us.
I felt a special pride because I knew first hand the steps that were involved - from cow to calf to pasture finishing to slaughter to packaging to, now, cooking. Wow!
We are just beginning to see what can really happen.
We look forward to developing a produce production planning calendar and working next school year with Kay and the team as they introduce other fresh, locally produced foods into the menus.
Posted by Ted Hall