Joel Salatin and Michael Ableman at Foxglove Farm
I thought of calling this Part 4, to match all the other Part 4 posts I did (grin) …but this is the last one, just to wrap up the tail end of Joel’s presentation, and what I gleaned from the Q and A session afterward.
-Gerald Fry writes about genetics.
Grass Fed Beef – with regard to taste/texture there are several factors that make up a pie chart:
-Brix (sugar), genetics, maturity (should be ¾ dam’s weight minimum), stress, handling/loading, Calpone/enzyme and hanging time, minerals fed, cooking. Ratios vary, but should make up for each other. There is said to be terroir in grass fed beef (like in wine).
Calpone – enzyme that needs slow cooling time after processing so it can soften connection tissues. Processors are set for fast cooling, which toughens the meat. Supplement with calcium (in feed) to overcome this. Applies to rabbits and chickens too – rigor mortis. Freeze 6 0r 7 hours after they’ve been dead . OK to use chill tank, no ice till later.
Minerals – pigs and poultry get it in their balanced ration feed. Cows get a box of mixed mineral, they can access at will.
The farm is portable. You do not have to own land, or a tractor or a big barn to be successful at pasture farming. You can do it with 2 cows or 200. It is a scaleable model.
The single biggest topic during the Q and A at the end was around hay, sileage and hayleage. Up here in the PNW, haymaking can be challenging as our damp weather, especially in the last couple of years, has been carrying right through the traditional time for first cuts (mid-May through June). We had a couple of dairymen in the crowd, and a couple of guys raising beef, one originally from Alberta, where things are much drier for haymaking. The basic question was not so much a question as a defence, I think: we need to make haylage or sileage here because it’s difficult to make good hay – but easy enough to make good haylage. The cows seem to prefer the haylage, the protein content is much higher, but if it’s bad to feed fermented hay to cows because they are walking fermentation tanks, what are we supposed to do?
Joel’s response: put the cows on the hay field, and graze it instead of cutting it for hay so early. That will delay the first cut to a period when the weather is better for haymaking.
Dairy guy: I’ve put gloppy gooey haylage and dry hay side by side in front of my cows, and they pick the haylage first every time. Doesn’t that say something?
Joel: If I put a Snickers bar and a piece of broccoli in front of you, which one are you going to eat first?
I don’t think the dairy guys were completely convinced about the idea of grazing to delay the hay. And when you’ve been doing it one way forever, it’s hard to wrap yourself around a new concept – there’s a lot at stake. What if it doesn’t work and you have to buy in hay later – a huge cost? What Joel is implying is hard to visualize from a conventional/traditional point of view – to keep on top of that grass growth in May with our ideal grass growing conditions (damp) – you need a much higher stocking density. The problem then is that you need a lot more hay to winter them over with, but you don’t have it because you had them grazing the darn stuff.
Joel has obviously run into this one before. And he acknowledges that his climate and growing conditions are quite different from ours, but he staunchly maintained that it’s a paradigm shift more than anything climate related. He also allowed that it’s quite possible the grass would get ahead of the cows during the fastest growth curve, and might not be ideal hay, but made the point that it would be better than hay spoiled by mold or damp, and that you would still derive the benefit of delaying a significant amount of grass growth for hay by grazing.
I haven’t broached any of this with Hay Guy yet – but we here at Tyddyn-y-morwr are convinced that the intensive grazing model will benefit our land, our grass, and our income, and we will still be able to make the hay we need for the winter. We will still need Hay Guy’s services, which is a good thing – he’s been cutting hay here for more than 30 years. Though he has a very conventional mindset with regard to farming, he used to have a small dairy herd when he was younger, and I know we will rely on him a lot when we get started with four wheel drive fermentation barrels.
That’s the end of the Joel Salatin Workshop series of posts. Take away messages? Farming is portable. It’s about healing the land. Stacking enterprises is beneficial, economical and more productive overall – cows graze grass, chickens sanitize pasture for cows, and provide eggs, cow patties and chicken manure fertilize fields, grass grows better, cows grow better, more beef, etc. Sound farming models are scaleable – 2 cows or 200 cows. Don’t get locked into infrastucture or thinking that confines you. Go out and grow some food. And as Joel always finishes every talk: May your children rise up to call you blessed.
p.s. As I was getting ready to post this, I found out that Polyface experienced a twister on the weekend, destroying 30 broiler pens out on pasture, and an eggmobile. As bad as the pictures on the Polyface Henhouse blog look, the only loss of life was some chickens; others in the area were less fortunate.