Rising to the Challenge


The past month has been a whirlwind of activity out here on the farm. The grass has been growing like mad, meaning I’ve been trying to keep up, but I’ve been thankful for the extra grass to give to everyone! Literally all the animals are keen on a little green in their diet! The pigs have been gulping down mouthfuls. The rabbits nibble on bits. The sheep and cows, of course, are mad about fresh cut grass, as one can tell by the green faces of all the sheep-hard to tell such on the black cattle. Even the poultry like to come and scratch about the grass clippings for tasty morsels once the sheep have had their share!

May 15th is the estimate last frost day, but it’s looking like May 12th will a golden opportunity this spring. That means I’ve been tilling to get the ground ready in time, between storms that is! The plants that are already in the ground are getting prepared to take off! Soon the radishes and lettuce will be ankle high and ready for chopping into your salad! More transitions and moves are ahead as well.

The broiler chickens have been out on the grass for a few weeks and have been enjoying their spacious and green digs. The ducklings are with them and appear to be growing just as fast as the chickens! I’m preparing a new place in the garden for all of the ducks as they will be my pest control company this year. I’ve never done this before, so it will be an interesting experiment. The two yearling cattle will be moving to a bigger pasture down the road so they can get all the grass they could possibly eat and more, while Grover, the holstein calf, learns to eat grain and grass and join the flock of sheep.

All of this is going on while Covid-19 still has its grip on the world. I’ve risen to a great number of challenges in the past, but this is certainly one none of us have ever experienced before. This year, I’m rising to meet this new challenge and facing new struggles: Pork will be going to the butcher a month later than planned. It’s certainly not ideal, but it will have to be that way. Now here’s hoping the cattle aren’t delayed in the fall too.

The butcher might be delayed, but the crops are still growing. The hens are still laying. The broilers are still eating. Some things Covid-19 just can’t delay. Despite that, another challenge has arisen: An influx of customers looking for safe, reliable food. I will supply everyone I can with what I grow and raise. But there is only so much I can produce. One way to make sure you get vegetables, eggs, and meat every week is to join the CSA. CSA shareholders are guaranteed first cut of all of the produce. If you want to join the CSA, please just let me know. There is still a few more spots available!

And, as always, the farm is a safe environment to spend a calm afternoon, picking up some Vitamin D and laying down some stress. Come visit, pet a lamb or a calf. Pat the dust off a happy hog. Hold a chick or try to catch a duck! You can even come weed some veggie rows if you just need to get your hands in some dirt! These are challenging times and sometimes we just need to take a breather. I’ll rise to that challenge too and continue to offer my farm as a safe haven for you to get out of your quarantine zone, get some food, and de-stress!

How They’re Raised-Cattle


Starting with calves has been an interesting experience. Every species is unique and within each species, each member has their own quirks. I’ve heard “sheep are dumb” and “cows are dumb.” Let me just tell you, that’s a lie. Animals are instinctual, but they sure aren’t stupid. Cattle are some darn smart creatures and it gets them (and/or their owner!) into loads of trouble at times. Despite being on only my second pair of cattle, they have taught me so much about their species, so much so that I won’t do much more than only begin to help you understand these awesome giants. But I’ll at least start with how I raise cattle from bottle babies to half-ton toe-crushers.

Cattle raised on the WPP farm are bought as calves. The first two were holstein/hereford crosses that arrived after they were about a month old. The second two are holstein/angus crosses. Holstein is a milking breed and both Hereford and Angus are meat breeds. The first ones looked like dairy cows, but the second pair, twin girls, look like beef cattle. They were brought to the farm on their second day of life, after receiving their mother’s colostrum, which is a vital component of milk during the first 24 hours that provides antibodies to help the calves fight off bacteria and viruses.

Once the calves arrive here, they are bottle fed milk replacer for about 3-5 months. It’s not as ideal as having them with their mother who, naturally, would provide milk for the calf for nearly its entire first year of life. The calves are fed a little grain early on as they transition from milk to pasture to help their stomach turn from a milk-digesting stomach to a solid-food digesting stomach. Grain helps to jump start this process so that the calves are able to get the most nutrients out of the grass as possible.

But the yummy nightly snacks don’t stop there. Since it is usually the end of spring when the calves are coming off milk replacer, the sheep are also coming off their winter grain ration as they no longer need the extra sugars and proteins to stay warm and make milk for their lambs. Everyone transitions together onto alfalfa pellets. These are soaked to prevent them from choking on the dry pellets. Alfalfa is a high protein plant that herbivores love. It gives them a small boost of protein and encourages them to come when I call for them! This makes for retrieving wayward bovines a breeze! When I call “come on big cows” and shake the grain bucket, it’s a lovely sight as they come raising towards me kicking up their heels in excitement!

For the summer, the cattle enjoy the fresh green grass of the pasture and their nightly snack of alfalfa pellets, but once winter rolls around, grain and hay are on the menu. Around late October, early November, when nights start getting nippy and the daylight starts fading fast, they start eating almost entirely stored forage and a few pounds of grain. The grain helps the calves continue to grow well through winter and stay warm with the added sugars that the hay may not be able to provide. By this point, the calves are around 7 months old and well over 500lbs.

As yearlings entering their second spring, they again are switched back to alfalfa pellets and released back onto the pasture. During winter, they are stuck with the “sacrifice paddock,” that is to say, an area of the pasture that is sacrificed for the winter so that the rest of the pasture can have a rest and begin to regrow in the early spring. This sacrificial area will then be fenced off to hopefully give it some time to rest as well before the next winter. The cattle enjoy their second summer as they push past 1,000lbs each.

Once the cattle reach their second winter and before they again need to start eating hay and grain, they will go to the butcher. By this point, the goal is for each heifer or steer to weigh around 1,200lbs. They will have eaten minimal grain and been provided with 99% of the food coming in the form of fresh or stored forages by way of pasture plants, alfalfa, hay, or cut grass. By keeping grain feeding to a minimum, the beef from these grass-fed cattle is heart-healthy and provides a number of other health and taste benefits.

The best part for me, though, as the farmer, is being able to provide as close to natural of an environment for the cattle as possible with the current resources available. While it may not be natural for cattle to receive chin scratches and tummy rubs or be saved from getting stuck somewhere, they sure do seem to appreciate it. Cattle seem to be just as intrigued by humans as humans are by them, and while I don’t always appreciate a giant, slimy cat tongue lick from a cow, I know that’s just one way that they let me know I’ve been accepted as part of the herd.

Where’s My Heifer?!


I dumped alfalfa pellets into the bucket and added some water; sheep tend to eat too fast and choke if the pellets are dry, so I have to soak them first. By the time I walk up the hill to the pasture and dump the pellets in the bowls for them, they are all saturated and soft so no one will choke on them. I made my way up the hill, slowing down to say hello to the rabbits and then greeting the mooing and baaing flerd of hungry sheep and cattle.

I only glanced at them for a moment initially as they came towards me, awaiting their delicious snack. Confused, I looked back up and counted the hungry herbivores. Seven sheep, but only one heifer? Where the heck is my other cow? “Meh, she’ll come running in a second once she hears me.” So I filled the bowls and waited. Now I was getting a little concerned. There’s nothing more important than snacks to a cow!

I looked in their shelter. I walked around the shelter. I looked in the shelter more closely. It’s kind of hard to miss a 600 pound black heifer. I listened for her and studied the edge of the fence, looking through the greenery in case she had managed to find a way through the fence. I was growing more than a little concerned at this point. I began making quicker strides as I hurried towards the lower portion of the pasture, being careful not to stumble on the uneven ground while simultaneously searching the brush along the fence lines.

Suddenly, my eyes caught a line of black on the ground further down the hill. I stopped, but only momentarily, as I processed what I was seeing. I heard myself say “No!” as I thought “She’s dead.” I sprinted towards her, my keys jingling on my belt. The sound brought her round and she began thrashing as I ran towards her. I breathed again as I saw her move and ran faster. Once I neared her, I slowed down in an effort to not scare her.

Apparently, she had stumbled and slipped at a giant groundhog hole. The hole was in enough of a depression that when she had fallen, her back was downhill. In this position, she was cast and no amount of thrashing would get her back up again. It seemed she had struggled so much she had even pooped herself and who knew how long she had been laying like this! She stopped thrashing and panted heavily. I got down against her back hoping she still had the energy to try to get up. I pushed and she worked to throw her legs under her rotund self.

With a heave from me and a throw of her head, she found her footing and got herself righted. She appeared woozy and only walked a few steps at a time, but we walked back until her sister saw her coming up the hill. Her sister came to greet us and began gently mooing as she came over. I walked ahead, hoping to encourage them and get my unsteady cow to come drink or eat. Thankfully it was a cool and overcast day. I’m not sure how long a black cow could have lasted in any sort of heat in that position.

The two cows ambled slowly back to the group and I went to fill up their hay feeder. When I returned, the sister was cleaning up the muddy, cast cow. I came back to them and took her head in my heads, petting her dewlap and her neck. She had mud across her forehead and still had some foam around her mouth. But once she saw the hay, she and her sister trotted right to the feeder, no longer looking as though she had accepted that death had been right around the bend.

Symbiosis on the Farm


If you have been following WPP on instagram, you may have noticed a recent picture of a chicken standing on my heifer, Black Licorice. I titled it “Symbiosis in the Barnyard.” Symbiotic relationships are incredibly important on the farm. In order to keep animals healthy and ensure that their environment mimics what life would be like for them if they lived on the open range in the wild, symbiosis is an absolute necessity.

You have probably seen nature documentaries of animals such as water buffalo with wild birds perched on their backs or buzzards hopping around a pack of lions chowing down on their prey. Birds of all kinds are crucial to success of the ecosystem whether they are cleaning up after herbivores like cattle or sheep or carnivores like lions and tigers.

Chickens, in this case, serve in their vital role in a couple of ways. The cattle are not only tolerant of the chickens, but are practically blind to the chickens! This has upsides and some serious downsides. The simple downside: Chickens are mighty prone to getting stepped on by the blundering giants who have no clue that stomping on chickens is not going to go well for the chicken. Thankfully, chickens are pretty quick to hop out of the way in most cases. The positives of this awesome relationship are numerous though!

Chickens aren’t vegetarians. Did you know that?! They are serious omnivores and eat a huge variety of foods. Chickens nimbly peck at seed heads on the pasture plants but also scratch around for insects. The most fun to watch is a a chicken carefully snatching gnats out of the air! When chickens snag a bug too big to swallow in a single bite, they will essentially play “keep away” with one another as they try to find a safe space to break apart the bug and much down their prize. But how does this apply to sheep and cattle?!

Well, herbivores make a lot of poo. Fibrous grasses and legumes are digested quite efficiently by these animals, but it still makes for lots of raw fertilizer. What likes poo too? Flies. Flies are quick to lay eggs in cow patties. Dung beetles also get to work on breaking down the excrement. Chickens have an innate understanding of this and go searching for the little critters that have found their way into the piles. Chickens scratch apart the piles of poo in search of any bugs they can eat. Sure, it sounds gross, but this is what chickens were designed to do.

In addition to eating the fly larva and other bugs, the act of scratching the patties up means that the grass it has smothered can see the light of day again and allows the ground to more easily absorb the nutrients from the poo. It leads to a healthier pasture and fewer insects that will bother the sheep and cattle. Chickens will not just eat insects from the poo, but also eat them off the backs of the sheep and cattle and generally help keep them away.

Even the sheep are known to allow some back scratching from some brave chickens from time to time! During the winter, the sheep have thick, warm coats that insulate them so well that snow generally doesn’t even melt and freezing rain will form ice on their backs. The chickens are keen to lend a helping hand by pecking the ice chunks off the backs of the sheep for some water and even scratch snow off the sheep. Now, while the sheep don’t need this, it certainly seems that they don’t mind. I think they might even enjoy a nice chicken back scratch!

On a farm that allows symbiotic relationships, everyone benefits! The chickens get easy, healthy food and gain some extra daytime protection from hawks who are less inclined to snag a chicken with such large body guards. The herbivores deal with fewer insects and less stinky poo. Even the pasture benefits by being able to absorb the nutrients more efficiently! It’s a good life when they can all enjoy it together!

What’s Up With This Whole “Grass-fed” Thing Anyway?


You eat because you have to eat to live right? And because food tastes good too, of course! Healthy, delicious food sometimes looks just the same as some less healthy options. Grass fed beef and feed lot beef don’t look all that different and some people don’t find it to taste very different. It’s a subtle difference that can make a big difference to your health.

Grass fed, pasture-raised cattle at WPP aren’t stuck in a stall their entire lives, being handed all the food they need. The calves brought to the farm are only about 24-48 hours old after being sure to receive the necessary antibody containing colostrum from their mothers. This ensures that they are able to fight off potential illness and infection as youngsters. Once they join the flerd (flock/herd), they cattle are allowed to roam the pastures, starting to nibble perennial grasses and legumes.

Just about a month old!

Grass fed doesn’t mean they only eat grass. Clover, dock, plantain, and many other broad-leafed “weeds” as you might call them, make up the diverse diet of herbivorous ruminants like cattle and sheep in addition to the numerous species of grasses. The benefits of being out on pasture, eating what’s natural for cattle aren’t always measurable, but most of them are. So let’s get into what those benefits are and why on earth you should care!

Some benefits are related to the health of the cow, some to your health, and other benefits are for the earth itself! But today, in this blog post, we’re going to focus on YOUR health and how grass fed, pasture-raised beef isn’t just good for your taste buds, but your heart and other organs too!

I’m betting you’ve heard of how awesome Omega-3 is for your cardiovascular system, right? It is said to lower inflammation and increase heart health. Feed-lot beef is found to contain similar amounts of Omega-6, which is necessary, but it’s found to be in a ratio to Omega-3 that appears to have negative impacts on health. In lab tests, grass fed beef is found to contain up to 5.5x more Omega-3 than conventional beef.

She finally stood still long enough for a picture instead of trying to lick the phone!

Another important component of grass fed beef is in the fats it contains. Grass fed beef has more conjugated linoleic acid or CLA, a type of fat. This is linked to lowered rates of inflammation and aids in boosting the immune system. It’s also thought that CLA has cancer-fighting benefits. But grass fed beef also tends to have less fat overall due to the cattle spending more time moving around finding tasty plants to eat and the fact that grain tends to encourage packing on the fat, especially fat like saturated fat.

At WPP, cattle are also never given hormones, steroids, and rarely, if ever, given antibiotics or vaccines. Conventional cattle are injected under the skin with a hormone that is slowly released over their short life to boost growth rates. Due to the unsanitary conditions of feed-lot beef, cattle are often given antibiotics and steroids. Out on the pasture, however, this is unnecessary as they are able to move away from their own excrement and the chickens that they co-exist with move in to spread out their piles of dung, eat the bugs, and allow it to be absorbed into the ground more quickly.

Sometimes they get some treats like freshly mowed grass or corn leaves and stalks.

Sometimes, it is necessary to use antibiotics if an animal gets an illness or infection and some cattle are given vaccines to prevent against things such as tetanus. For instance, the first steer brought to the farm was given a tetanus shot when he was banded to become a steer rather than a bull since this process can allow for that bacteria to enter his bloodstream, but since that point, none of the cattle have received vaccinations. At one point, I was concerned about the potential infection that could have sprung to life through the one calf’s naval as it was slow to heal. For that, I bought long-acting penicillin, but waited to see if it would be necessary. Thankfully, her naval did heal on its own, so I never needed to use the penicillin, but I would have used it to save her life if I had to because to not do so would quite simply have been animal cruelty.

There are so may more benefits to grass-fed, pasture-raised beef, but we won’t get into all of those today. We will go into more benefits in the post “How it’s Raised: Cattle” when that gets written. We will also talk more about rotational grazing and how it impacts the environment and the animals. For now, though, look forward to winter 2020 when beef will again be available!

They’re pretty friendly creatures, too!

Every Precious Drop


Setting out on my own. A rented farm. Fresh ground to manage as I saw fit. It was exciting. Who am I kidding, it was exhilarating! I had farmed my parents land and worked out a deal with a neighbor to start raising broilers, but after three years and no room left to grow, I knew it was time. Besides, I really wanted some pigs and mom said “no” before I even had the words all out of my mouth. I had managed to sneak chickens onto the property, so I can’t complain. I grew quite a little operation in those first three years. It was a safe place to start.

But I needed to expand, so off I went! The rented farm was lush with opportunity and I was downright giddy to get started. Before long, I was raising 4-6 pigs per year. I hit some some struggles with the broilers. Predators are always hungry. Especially when they have young to feed. But I learned, built stronger defenses, worked some offense. The layers were working their magic and I grew my flock from double digits to triple. Somewhere in there I had amassed over 100 chickens for the purpose of laying eggs to sell.

Things were going okay as a young farmer, just getting her feet wet. But that dried up one day when the well pump failed. Due to extraneous circumstances and a strangely wired house, it was impossible to get the pump going again. For two long years, I muddled through. I lugged six 5 gallon water jugs from my second floor apartment to the truck to trek to the farm. In the winter, I carried these jugs through three feet of snow. In the summer, on especially hot days, I made three trips instead of two, bringing a grand total of 90 gallons to the farm rather than only 60 gallons.

I put a stop to my broiler operation as 100 broilers will go through 15-30 gallons per day. Predators took care of my laying flock, bringing me well under 50 hens. Between fledgling red tailed hawks being trained in the art of the buffet line of chickens, raccoons, and some extremely hungry foxes, the flock was hit hard. I allowed my hen numbers to stay low, taking care of the problems mother nature had thrown my way (thanks Abel!). I had fewer animals to water, but I still had crops to water.

Getting seeds to germinate is hard without adequate water. Carrots hardly grew as frequent, even watering is absolutely essential those first few weeks. With only 5 gallon jugs, it was impossible to water them well enough. I didn’t have enough time to drive back and forth from the farm into town and back, filling all those jugs and water all those crops. Half never even sprouted from the ground the first year. The second year, I planted less and grew more.

But I’m stubborn, I must admit. If I couldn’t have broilers, I’d get sheep. Three or four of them wouldn’t drink much and I was growing fewer crops, so I had some wiggle room. So I sprung for a ewe with two lambs and later found Sam the Ram to join the show. Then I thought, “why stop at sheep? I have these ruminants, why not add some calves?!” So I did. I found two calves, a heifer and a steer, both around one month old. Maybe stubborn isn’t the word for it. Crazy might be better served in this context.

Word came later that year though that I needed to move on. Might my water woes be over?? Indeed. I found a safe haven for my creatures, a place to grow some veggies, and watch water flow from a hose again. Those two years without water taught me some valuable lessons though. I don’t take water for granted like I used to when it flowed so easily from the hose at my parents’ home. Even now, at this third farm (fourth if you count my childhood home), every drop is precious. If the hose leaks, a bucket goes under the leak to catch it or I find a new hose. If I can collect some rain water, I do it.

I know how much my animals drink on hot days and cool days, in the middle of winter while eating hay and the long days of summer when they are on the wet, green grass. I know how much the broilers will drink in the shade compared to full sun all day. When water flowed freely, I just filled up the water bowls without thought. Once that water stopped though, I had to bring out the calculator while watching them drink every drop to make sure they would always have just enough. Even now, I don’t pick just any day to plant, I watch the weather and wait. When rain is fully expected that night or the next day, you will see me in the field, planting madly all the seeds I can when the time comes. Tonight, I’m watching the weather to see when I’ll be planting my spinach seeds.