cattle, cows, grassfed beef

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch 3

#3 of a series about life at the EO Ranch by Barb Harr


So, as I was saying, keeping the “easy keepers” is the goal!


To us, that means cows that get busy and graze without being too picky, calve every year, provide enough milk to give their calves a great start, and are just docile enough that they work with us (not against us).


As stated in my last post, “We just gotta be careful that we don’t . . . . . let our cows put the squeeze on us.”  Disposition is one of those traits that we could easily carry too far, ending up with a lot of ‘nice’ cows that may like our attention but don’t perform well.  We have some that are so ‘nice’ that at times it seems they would rather hang with us than do the ‘herd thing!’


But as things turned out, having ‘nice’ cows was the only thing we COULD think about on the day we made our first cull!  Here’s that story…





. . .  Our herd started with the purchase of 14 local crossbred heifers that we intended to move from their native pasture to our leased acreage about 30 minutes away. Only 13 of them got moved as “the SANITY trait” compelled us to send one to the local sale barn right then and there.

As we began to pen our new little herd to make the move, we quickly found we had acquired a heifer that must have spent a former life posing for cartoonists.  She looked the part of the classic comic strip bull – curly hair on the top of her head, flaring nostrils, big round belly, and hooves stomping and pawing the ground as she took stock of us.

image credit: dreamstime






Well, we took stock of her body language and quickly exited the pen to regroup – and she quickly exited the herd!!!



Apart from that incident early on, it has proven really hard for us to cull (fancy way of saying “send to the sale barn and get less than what you’re sure a cow is worth”) while we have been trying to build our herd.


The 13 from our original 14 are still around!  As we take notes and observe, we have identified two or three of them that will eventually be removed from the herd.  We’ve been threatening for a while, especially when we have felt threatened ourselves, but beginning the process is a process in itself!  Even our neighbors, who have been cow people for years, lament that culling is something that is hard to do – you always want to give that cow ‘One More Chance!’  Since we hope to be in this for the long haul, we will be needing to make some “Cull Calls” soon. In the meantime, we’re moo-ving along, watching carefully and learning as much as possible about cow behavior, genetics, perfomance on grass, etc.  Hopefully, we will get good at choosing “easy keepers” as we forge ahead.


By the way, speaking of choosing (unless you’re going to go the AI route – which we’re not),  no herd can be built on just a bunch of females!


We had to choose a BULL for our 13 girls…


Now that’s another story…


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January 5th, 2018

Posted In: Livestock


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cattle, cows, grassfed beef

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch 2

#2 of a series about life at the EO Ranch by Barb Harr


Expanding on our lessons…learning from cows and cow people…

Cows are pretty self-sufficient – and in our case, they need to be.  We live 3 1/2 hours south of the pastures they call home, and we get up there to check on them about every 7 – 10 days.  My husband has assured me they will be all right, and with the landowners living onsite and neighbors all around, I know that is true…yet…I still whisper a prayer each time we pull in that half-mile long driveway.  And, you know what?  They’ve been ok – maybe a tad bit lonely – but ok.  It is amazing how glad they seem to see us when we pull in – they come running!  And we are happy to see them as well.

cattle, cows, grassfed beef

Earthwise Cattle

Ask any cow, and she’ll tell you “I really don’t need my humans to help me be a cow.  I eat and drink what I need as long as my humans make sure it is available and I tend to my young’uns (and/or other young’uns if their moms don’t seem to be doing a very good job).  I stand up to the bull – and for the bull – so he can do his job, and when I relax and chew my cud, I’m thinking life is good!


Leader of the Pack



Now, we don’t ask just the cows; there are plenty of knowledgeable humans that have learned how to work with nature to raise cows that can take care of themselves.


One of the email groups that has become a “go to” resource for us strongly encourages building your herd into one filled with – LOW INPUT/LOW MAINTENANCE – “I don’t need your help” kind of cows.  In other words, “you don’t want any of those ‘High Maintenance Ladies’ in your pasture!”  The thinking is that with the right genetics, you can bring a lot of the good into your herd –  increased milk quality, improved maternal instincts, reduced horn fly attractiveness, reduced internal parasite pressure, increased docility, etc.  You name it, you can select for it – that’s the theory.  But putting that theory into practice and deciding which of our girls to get rid of, that’s the hard part!  Watching carefully so that we can make the best decisions as to which cows to keep and which ones to cull has become one of our big jobs – lot of notes and lots of time spent just walking in the pasture.  We just gotta be careful that we don’t bring in too much of one good thing and squeeze out room for any other good traits.  What we’re after is a well-rounded cow – an “easy keeper.”  If a cow is not an “easy keeper,” life is not so good for them or us!


We learned this early on…



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December 6th, 2017

Posted In: Livestock


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compost static piles organic fertility


This is the first part of our original series “The Effective Use of Compost”

Part 1

Compost, manure, and synthetic fertilizers are all widely used for soil application in production agriculture today.  Each of these fertilizers has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.   In Part 1 of this series I will briefly define and describe the relative values of these three fertility inputs before expanding on the effective use of compost, which I believe to be the most valuable of the three for profitable, sustainable, commercial farm operations.


feedlot manure piles

MANURE is the waste product of animals (and plants: see green manure – a subject for another post), usually only commercially available from animals confined to a feedlot operation where the waste product is convenient to gather.  Where locally available, manure is valued for its low cost and high organic matter content.  At the generally used rates of 10-20 tons per acre, it provides significant plant nutrition and organic matter beneficial to soil structure and plant growth.   However, untreated manure requires specialized application equipment and can introduce unwanted weed seeds to the farm.  If the manure is anaerobic (left wet or compacted for a period of time) toxic organic compounds may form and inhibit plant growth for some time after application.  This last problem can usually be mitigated by allowing the manure to age or applying and incorporating the manure several months before the target crop is to be planted.  An additional consideration is that a significant portion of the nutrient content of manure is water soluble and can be leached from the soil in adverse weather conditions.


Calcium Nitrate

Calcium Nitrate

Generally speaking, “SYNTHETIC” or “CONVENTIONAL”fertilizers are inorganic, mined or synthetically produced minerals that have gone through a manufacturing process to make them more pure and/or more water soluble. They are valued for their consistency, reliability of analysis, and concentrated nutrient value.  This last attribute makes them easier to transport long distances and store out of the weather.  Because of their high relative water solubility, they are also valued for their ready availability for plant uptake once applied to the soil.  Additionally, a single fertilizer applicator can put out a wide variety and analysis of various synthetic fertilizers. Some common examples of these fertilizers are Ammonium Sulfate, Diammonium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, and Urea.  On the down side, the water solubility of these materials though can be a two edged sword.  The fact that they move with water makes them highly susceptible to leaching out of the root zone, especially in sandy soils.  If this happens they are not only “wasted” in terms of availability to the plant, they also become potential pollutants in the water table or any surface water they may reach.  In addition, “synthetic” fertilizers contain little or no carbon, thereby negatively impacting soil health over the long term unless compensating farm practices are employed.


COMPOST is the result of the decomposition of anything that was once alive – in general, the bodies of plants, animals, and their waste products. This decomposition process is accomplished mostly by microorganisms which use these raw materials (plus oxygen and water) as a food source.  Aerobically produced compost is considered the most beneficial for plant growth for many reasons which will be explained in additional parts of this series.

EO compost and Loader

Common sources of feedstocks for commercial composting operations are: manure from animal feedlots; agricultural wastes such as “gin trash” (cotton gin waste) and sugar mill pulp (bagasse, mill mud, etc); food wastes; and tree/brush trimmings.  Compost is valued in production agriculture for several reasons.  It has most of the same positive characteristics (nutrient content, organic matter) as manure without the likelihood of toxic organic compounds and without weed seeds – both of these are destroyed and repurposed in a properly designed aerobic composting process.  This process also links or “ties up” the water soluble plant nutrients with the carbon present in the pile.  This linking prevents any significant leaching of nutrients from the soil after application as can be a problem for both manure and synthetic fertilizer.  In addition, many of the same microbes that decompose the raw materials in an aerobic compost pile are highly beneficial once applied to the soil.  Despite its advantages, there are barriers which may prevent the use of compost; it is not always locally available and can’t be shipped economically much more than 200-300 miles.  It also requires handling equipment that is specialized and not always readily available.


Next in this series we will take a look at some of the ways (and reasons) that compost is superior to manure and synthetic fertilizer as a commercial fertility input.



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September 29th, 2016

Posted In: Agriculture

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Pretty cow

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

I moved to Texas from the midwest back in 2005. One big difference in the landscape was the presence of cows – lots of cows. And boy, were they PRETTY! As we drove across the state to meet and service our customers, I would comment to that effect – “those cows sure are pretty.”

Then, 5 years ago, when I returned from visiting family in the midwest, my husband greeted me with “we’re going to get in the cattle business!” He says his decision was made because of my ongoing admiration, but I’ve reminded him that I have mentioned that a lot of other things are pretty (houses, for example), and we haven’t bought a new house.

Anyway, in November 2011, we started a new venture – cattle ranching. And, what an (ad)venture it’s been.

I grew up on a farm, but a cow-less one, so these marvelous creatures are a new experience. In some ways, it’s like having a lot of over-sized dogs as they clamor for attention and come running (udders swinging and all) when they see us putting out their treat bowls (they love alfalfa cubes). It’s been hard to remember that we’ve been advised not to “fall in love” with any of them.

So, what have we been learning in the last 5 years?


I’ll be expanding on our lessons…

Our cows remind us quite often that they have a LOT to teach us!!

And, we’ve also discovered there are a LOT of knowledgeable people out there; you just have to find them.



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September 23rd, 2016

Posted In: Livestock


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