Happy Fall Y’all! Bring on the hayrides, s’mores, and pumpkin everything, right?! Fall on the farm also means planning and preparing for winter.
As you would expect, on a farm there are specific tasks that need to be done every season. It’s impossible to name them all, but there are four main things we do in the fall on the farm:
- Fall calving
- Wean spring calves
- Finish the second cutting of hay, if needed
- Prepare for winter by checking our herd’s fences, food and water supply, and more.
Let’s talk a little more about each of these.
Fall on the Farm: Fall Calving
As we’ve discussed before, our farm is a cow-calf farm, which is the most common type of beef farm in the U.S. On our cow-calf farm, we own cows that stay on our farm their entire lives. Ideally, each cow has a calf every year, and then we eventually sell the calf for income.
How do we know when our calves will be born? We only allow the bulls (the Dads) in the field with the cows (the Moms) at certain times of the year so that our calves are always born in the spring or in the fall. This timing is very intentional because we want it to be nicer weather when calves are born. Spring and fall are best for the mama cows and the baby calves since it’s not too hot or too cold.
Our calves are usually born unaided, outside in a field — as naturally, and low-stress as possible. If we suspect a cow may have issues birthing (which is very unusual on our farm), we monitor them closely and are there when they need us.
Fall on the Farm: Weaning Calves
Calves stay with their moms for about six-months, and then we wean them. There are numerous reasons for weaning.
First, at about six-months of age, the cow stops producing milk. Second, at the beginning of a calf’s life it needs its mother’s milk for nutrients. However, as the calf grows, it slowly starts to get more nutrients from the grass verses milk. At six-months, the calf is about 500 lbs, and its body is able to effectively convert grass to nutrients.
On our farm, we practice what’s called “fence-line weaning.” Fence-line weaning is considered an industry-best practice because it’s lower stress on the cow and calf.
The fence-line weaning process looks like this: cows and calves are kept in the same field together for months so that the calves are very familiar with their surroundings, including the field’s water and feed sources. Then, we move the cows to another field that is adjacent to the calves, but separated by a fence. The cows and calves have nose-to-nose contact and can hear and see each other, but the the calf can’t drink its mother’s milk. Generally, within about three-days, the calves are fully weaned and they only want to eat grass from that time forward.
To give you an idea of the whole timeline, if we breed a cow in the Summer of 2021, it will give birth in the Spring of 2022. The calf will be weaned in the Fall of 2022, and then it eats grass and grows for 12-16 months. It will then be delivered to your door in the Winter of 2023.
Fall on the Farm: Second Cutting of Hay
We talk a lot about hay, but it’s because it’s so important. Without quality hay, you can’t have quality beef.
We start making hay in late spring and finish in early fall. We then feed hay from late fall through spring. On average, one cow will eat five large hay bales during a typical winter. A typical bale weighs about 600 lbs.
The hay we make in the fall, is called a “second cutting.” This means we’ve already cut the grass in the field once in the spring and made hay bales. We then go through the field a second time and cut any grass that has grown since early spring.
On a second cutting of hay, we don’t get as many hay bales per field as we do on a first cutting in the spring. However, it’s still high quality, nutritious grass that our cattle are able to eat throughout the winter.
We’ve shared a lot about making hay on our farm, but here’s a quick referesher of what the process looks like.
First, we drive through the fields and cut the grass with a mower. We use what’s called a mower-conditioner. A hay conditioner crimps and crushes the grass after it is cut to promote faster and more even drying. Once cut, it dries on the ground for several days. Then, when the grass is dried, we rake it into mounded rows, called windrows. We drive over each of the windrows, and our baler picks up the dried grass and binds it together in large round bales.
Fall on the Farm: Preparing for Winter
Another big task that takes place in the fall is getting ready for the cold winter months. This includes things like building a fence, if needed, as well as ensuring that our herd’s water and food supply is more than adequate for a long winter.
On our farm, cattle have three main sources of water: fresh springs, ponds and automatic waterers (that’s not a typo, it’s “waterer”). Since ponds can freeze in the winter, the automatic waterers become very important.
Automatic waterers are sort-of like cow-sized water fountains. They contain well water, and we can adjust the temperature slightly so that the water doesn’t freeze in the winter. Our cows love the waterers, and we do too because we know they can always get water when they want it.
Our cattle stay in the pasture year-round. We take them bales of hay every day from late-fall to early-spring to ensure that they always have enough food.
We hope this overview of fall on the farm gives you a glimpe of what we’re doing this time of year. If you have any questions about our cattle, let us know. We love to talk beef.
One More Thing!
Do you want to learn more about beef? Below are a few popular beef posts and recipes you may like. In addition, we have an entire ebook about beef that goes through purchasing and preparing beef from a farmers perspective.
- What everybody ought to know about beef cuts
- Buying a Cow. How Much Beef Is It?
- Is It Done Yet? The Best Meat Thermometer
- How We Raise Our Grass Fed Beef
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