Ask The Farmer: Part 1

A few questions came from a customer yesterday. I thought I would answer them and make a blog post as they are good questions.

What breed are your cattle?

We do not have a single breed of cattle on the farm. Our cows are a mixed herd. The bulls we have used over the past few years are Black Angus, Galloway and Black Welsh. The main thing we look for in genetics is the ability of the animal to finish on grass and not need any grain. We choose a little smaller body size and a quiet disposition. The conventional cattle industry looks for big cows and big calves so that on sale day there are more kilograms of beef to sell. We focus on animals that are able to convert grass to beef and give us the best grass finished meat we can grow.

What is the marbling like?

100% grass finished beef is leaner that the Triple AAA beef that sells in grocery stores. In the conventional beef industry, the calves and weaned and hit the feedlot where they eat a ration that is primarily grain based. The animals do not get any access to fresh green grass and are not allowed to graze. The animals receive a growth hormone implant so they can convert the calories they eat into fat with greater effeciently. This conventional way of doing things will give you more marbling in your steak.

By keeping our animals on grass and forages, our beef gets a better balance of the omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. The taste changes slightly from grocery store beef. A customer once described our beef tasting like a full body lager beer compared to a lite beer. It still tastes like beef but there is more flavor in every bite.

So to make a long answer short, we aim for a AA beef with our grass finished beef. It will have less marbling than AAA beef but our grass finished program puts more into the fat it does have.

Is your meat dry aged?

When you purchase a split half, half or whole beef, the beef will be dry aged. We try to get a 21 day age on the carcass but depending on the processing plant schedule, it may be a few days less.

Is it butchered somewhere you trust so that I get the meat I purchased?

We have used the same butchershop for the last 15 years. They understand what we are doing with our grass finished organic beef and they know our customers expectations. It is a certifed organic facility so they have to ensure separation of the organic from the non organic meats. I am 100% confident that you will receive the beef you purchased.

Antibiotic Free: Why it Should Matter to you

In the midst of all the twitter uproar about Premier Brad Wall and A&W, I want to look at one of the protocols that A&W is promoting. A&W makes the claim that the beef they use is antibiotic free. And the response from the industry? ‘All beef in Canada is antibiotic free’.

In terms of scientific analysis of the beef cuts on the shelves, the answer to that questions is maybe or maybe not. The withdrawl period for antibiotics doesn’t mean that there is NO antibiotic residue in the meat. It means that the residue is within the safety limits that the government sets for human consumption.

And don’t forget that the beef industry uses a lot less antibiotics in the production of your burger than the chicken and pork industry.

The statement that all beef in Canada is antibiotic free also doesn’t give a complete picture. It is like saying I am drug free 20 minutes after all the cocaine has left my system.

Every dose of antibiotics kills about 50% of all the bacteria in your gut biome, and I am making an assumption that it affects animals in the same way. Please remember that the bacteria in your gut affect almost everything – from digestion to behavior. The antibiotics change both the animal and their gut bacteria in ways that science is only now starting to understand. And the systematic use of antibiotics in different animal production systems not only changes the animals, but also the bacteria that are being suppressed.

Why does this matter and why it should concern you?

Take a minute and watch this video and find out.

Every time an antibiotic is used, the bacteria that survive are better able to resist the antibiotic next time. In farm production systems, evolution makes the bacteria stronger and better able to resist the antibiotics. In the confinement pork and chicken industry, animals are sometimes exposed to antibiotics their entire life, excluding the withdrawl period at the end of their lives.

Ever hear of someone for whom antibiotics didn’t help fight infection? We have family that has died in hospital after fighting an antibiotic resistant strain of bacteria.

On our farm ‘Antibiotic free’ means so much more than no chemical trace of antibiotics in the food we grow.

Our farm is a whole system. Everything we do on our farm is designed and planned to have healthy cattle and animals. We keep stress down to a minimum for the cattle, and we want to keep our farm as close to nature as possible.

We try to minimize the opportunities for disease. We feed only the best food we can grow to our animals. We mimic nature as much as possible on our farm to build up all the natural systems that exist, including animal immunity and health.

It is our hope that by keeping our production practices as close to nature as possible, we can reduce and almost eliminate the need for antibiotics on our farm.

That is what I mean when I say our farm is antibiotic free.

When an animal is sick and requires antibiotics, we treat the animal. It would be inhumane not to treat it. But everything we try to do on the farm leads us away from disease in our animals and leads us towards good health.

To my customers, please know that any animals we treat are out of our organic program and are marketed in other ways.

Our organic beef has not received antibiotics of any kind.

For a great read, check out The Hidden Half of Nature from Amazon.ca.
For more info on the superbug, read this.

How We Move Our Cows

I put together this little video about how we do our daily moves with the cattle.  Please take 3 minutes to watch and learn.

It has been 2 days since I filmed this so here are some additional thoughts.

I really miss my Quad.  It literally saves time every day when moving the cattle.  The truck is too big but you have to use the tools you have available.

How much time does this all take?  From the time I get to the cattle, turn off the power, put up the fence, move the cattle, put up the backfence, turn the power back on, and then get back on the road, I would estimate the fastest is 30 minutes.  Honestly though, yesterday it took close to 2 hours.  I had a few cattle that had jumped the fence into an adjacent pasture that needed to be chased back in, I had to fix a waterer issue, 3 new calves I had to check out, and the extra time necessary with the truck all added up.

I still believe the benefits of daily moves outweigh the costs.  But that is a discussion for another day…

Happy Cows

One of the questions many customers ask me is “Are your cows happy?”

 
I would say that cows have 3 emotions – anger, contentedness, and stressed. Each individual cow is usually predisposed to one of the three.
 
Angry cows, much like Angry Birds, are not welcome on the farm. The last thing a farmer needs is a 1500 lb cow (or a 2500 lb bull) with an angry attitude. Lots of farmers have lost their lives to animals like that.
 
Stressed animals develop this trait over time. They are more susceptible to stress and it shows in their body language and behaviors. Any type of pressure on them and they show signs of stress. Even being out in the field 200 feet away, the animal moves as far away as possible from the stress. When we have to sort cattle, the stressed animals stick their heads up in the air and their ears perk right up. We call them ‘Heads Up’ because their heads are up in the air and their ears are straight up. With these animals, you have better keep your head up and keep a watchful eye so they don’t run you over the fence. Believe it or not, this is a genetic trait. Stressed (or wild) mommas make stressed calves. We don’t keep these cattle on the farm.
 
Happy cows are the contented ones. Peaceful is the first word I would use to describe these animals. They are content with their grass or hay, content with their water, and content with their surroundings and environment. Time seems to move slower for these animals as if they do not have a care in the world. You can see the contentedness in how they move, walk, run and lay down. It permeates through them.
 
While cattle are predisposed to one of the three traits, they can move back and forth between them. The most peaceful cow can become as angry as a bear if a coyote or some other predator appears to be threatening her calf. If a cow thinks you are a predator trying to hurt her calf, watch out!
 

So are the cows here on Hoven Farms happy cows?

Every day is better when you get in touch with nature

A post shared by Tim Hoven (@hovenfarms) on

 
We do everything possible to make for happy cows. We aim for daily moves to fresh grass so the animals have the best feed. Imagine how happy you would be if everyday you got to go to a new huge buffet with all sorts of new food to try to eat. That is the life of a cow on our farm.
 
It is all a big cycle. The daily moves make for more contented cattle. The cattle eat grass and stimulate the microbiology of the soil. The cattle move to the next paddock making them more content. The grass in the paddock they leave behind starts to regrow, with the old grass trampled down protecting the soil and microbiology from the hot sun. The trampled grass forms a protective covering that protects the precious water in the soil from evaporating. It keeps the temperature of the soil less variable throughout the day. The manure and urine the cows leave behind add to the bacteria and microbiology of the soil. This all works together to grow healthier grass for the cows to eat the next time they come to the paddock.
 
The managed interaction between the cows and the grass leads to more happy cows and more healthy grass for them to eat.
 
Everything on the farm works together for good.

Gone in 60 Seconds…. Hail

Imagine losing a whole years work of effort and revenue in 60 seconds….

Hail can destroy a years worth of work in minutes.  Years of planning the best crop rotation reduced to stubble in the length of a song.

Nothing else can cause as much fear in a farmers mind as ice falling from the sky.

We got some hail yesterday.  Not a huge amount but some.  Our garden took a beating.  Our malt barley crops seem to come through not too bad.  My cousin texted me in the afternoon to inform me that his 2017 harvest is finished even before it had started.  Very sad news for him and his family.

Crop insurance should take care of the dollars lost, but it won’t take care of the lost profit.  ‘We didn’t lose much money, but we didn’t make any’.  Another year lost.  Another year of effort gone in 60 seconds.

Hail #abstorm

A post shared by Tim Hoven (@hovenfarms) on

I have spoke to farmer friends this year and the one comment I  hear is “We have to be crazy to do this.  All this effort, work and dollars invested only to disappear because of the weather.”

I was thinking the exact same thing as I stood at the windows and watched the hail smash done on my land.  I have to be crazy.

Time to head out and spend some time walking through the crops to see the damage.