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rocky mountain oysters

I can't say I can tell you what they taste like. I've had them but it's been a REALLY long time. It's not that I don't want to try them again, I just haven't sought them out... Anyway, I digress.

Farmer Jon here blogging for you on this beautiful (almost) spring day. I wanted to update you on some of this week's events. I recently talked about balance, mainly in regard to the humane treatment of farm animals and how to find that balance of keeping the farm animals happy without getting too carried away at the expense of your farm business. Because, at the end of the day, it's still a business and if we can't make money then we can't afford to provide those animals with the happy, healthy lives they deserve.

As part of that, we decided that we needed to have our 8-9 month old bull calves castrated.  We had considered finishing them as intact bulls but that would require two separate herds for half the year (which means a lot less grass growth) and then we would have to find demand for the very niche market of bull meat in the U.S. Plus, bulls are generally more aggressive then steers (castrated bulls) so there's a chance for unnecessary added danger. So, we decided to haul all of our bull calves, heifers and cows into the vet to be preg-checked, aged and/or castrated. We had to take them to the vet because we don't have a handling facility set up yet (pens and cattle chute). I figured that would be a 3-4 hour process. As usual, my naivety caused me to greatly underestimate how long it would take but even now, I'm surprised that it took about 10 hours before everything was said and done! I'll spare you all the details but you can imagine that there was a bit of cow chasing and some swearing involved. It has definitely helped me to re-prioritize the Farm To Do List. And guess what's now at the top of my list. Yep, a handling facility. Luckily, my family still has some equipment left from the days when they had cattle. They have been kind enough to let us use the old cattle chute and a bunch of other things, including the livestock trailer I used to take the cattle into town with. We've said it many times but I'll say it again - we are very grateful to have such supportive family and friends!

Now that it's done, though, we have a ton of great information. We now know that 11 out of 12 cows were bred back and 5 out of 6 heifers are bred. All of which are approximately 6-7 months along. We also now know that our cows are mostly 4-5 years old. We also got weights on all of them, which we can use to help us decide which cows we want to keep and which cows need to go. And it will help me develop an eye for estimating the weights of cattle. So, all in all, we are very glad we did it. For beginners like us, that information is invaluable. I still have heartburn about taking our medication free animals to a place where many other (sick and/or heavily medicated) animals have been but we needed to get it done and everyone seems OK so far. 

By the way, who's up for a rocky mountain oyster fry?! I may or may not have forgotten them in the truck for 6 hours... Normally that wouldn't be a problem but with the 80 degree weather, I'm not so sure. Or should I say that Jamie's not so sure. I threw them in the freezer anyway in case someone still wanted them.

I also wanted to mention that Open Sky Farm is putting together an email list for anyone who wants to be the first to know of new things we have available. We will also offer email list only specials! Shoot us an email or give us a call if you'd like to be included.

Rich  – (March 16, 2012 at 9:12 PM)  

Even though you didn't ask, I can tell you how I manage our calves and some of my thoughts on finishing beef.

All our calves get an ear tag and the bull calves are banded a couple of days after calving. If it is supposed to be bitter cold (20 degrees F or below and wet), I'll wait until it warms up a little because I've had trouble with frostbitten ears in the past.

It does take a little time each day during calving season after checking the cows to tag and band the calves, and it's usually easier and sometimes necessary to have a couple of people available to tag and band calves daily.
But there also isn't a long, hard day of working calves or the stress on the cattle running them through chutes, etc.

In my opinion and from what I've read, castration results in more marbling and delaying castration or leaving bulls intact might cause them to grow quicker but the growth is muscle instead of fat. More muscle means leaner meat, but more marbling results in meat that is more tender and has more flavor (which is what people want from beef regardless of what they might say about lean meat).

Farmer Jon  – (March 16, 2012 at 10:11 PM)  

Thanks for the comments Rich. I agree with most of what you said. We will look long and hard at banding and tagging within a few days of birth, for the upcoming calving season.

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