8-Month-Old JLow Bull Calf Yield

We decided again this year to butcher the calf at 8 months.  From the reading we have done, we found out this is categorized as “baby beef.”  We do this because we have no pasture at all, so we have to buy all the hay we feed.  And with our current drought hay is expensive.  The weight gain to wait another ten months or so doesn’t justify the cost to feed that long.  So this is why we do it this way.

I must admit that it wasn’t as emotionally difficult this year as it was last year.  Maybe because it wasn’t our first time?  To read about last year’s butchering click here.

Three things were different this year.  First, the calf is a JLow (miniature Jersey x Lowline) so it is a miniature, and it is also half beef breed.  Last year our calf was a purebred full-size Jersey (dairy breed).  The second difference this year was that we decided to leave the calf intact, so he was a bull.  Last year’s calf was a steer.  The third thing was that this year’s calf is being butchered after a couple of months of hard winter, last year’s steer was butchered in summer.

Here is what we were able to harvest from our 8-month-old JLow bull calf:

  • 102 lbs of meat (steak, roast, ground, & stew meat)
  • 22 lbs of soup bones
  • 10 lbs of dog food
  • This year my dad requested organ meat, so we also had 6.6 lbs of meat organs

We are very happy with these amounts.  Especially since he is a miniature.

Just for comparison, here is what we got off the same age Jersey steer last year:

  • 110 lbs meat
  • 34 lbs soup bones
  • 22 lbs dog food

Yet again, we weren’t able to age the meat since it is so cold out that even in any of our outbuildings the meat will freeze overnight.  But last year’s beef was great and it wasn’t aged, so we are OK with that.

It feels so good to have all that meat in the freezer!  And yet again, we raised our own grass-fed, homegrown, antibiotic-free beef!

Sunday Homestead Update

It’s been a frigid week here.  We had a few days of single digit highs and lows in the -20s at night.  Everyone has survived it with no problems.

It definitely seems like the hot mash, scratch, and heat lamps are helping the chickens – when we had a cold snap like this in December we had all sorts of frost bite problems with the chickens.  But this time there have been none.

We are happy to be heading back into the 30s for highs this week and teens for lows.  And we also are supposed to get some more snow.  It has definitely been an abnormally harsh winter as far as the weather is concerned.

Butchering Calf

We took advantage of a break in the weather and butchered the bull calf yesterday (in between the days of frigid temps and the incoming snow).  It went smoothly and we are very happy to have all that healthy beef in the freezer.  I will post the yield stats later this week.

Beef Broth

The butchering came just in time, because I only have 2 jars of beef broth left.  So I started a batch and will be making and canning that throughout the next few days.

Last Milking

Yesterday was our last milking of Violet.  It was SO nice to sleep in this morning and not have to be up at 5:30.  She is still on the property for a few days because the weather prevented the new owners from getting the fence finished at their place.  But they will be coming every morning to milk her, feed her, and clean her stall until they move her to their place later this week.  We will definitely miss having a dairy cow, but this is the right decision for us in this season of our life.

2nd Incubation

Today we started collecting eggs for the 2nd incubation of 2014.  They will go in the bators in 10 days.  We are using two different incubators to see if one performs better here than the other.  Each will have eggs from each hen so it is fair and even.

This round we are breeding Boaz (Dark Brahma rooster) to Sophie (Easter Egger), Ruth (CochinX), Rachel, & Dixie (Light and Dark Brahmas) in the lower coop.  We are very hopeful his foot issues wont effect his ability to breed the hens.   And we are breeding the two young cockerels, Blue and Banty (mixed breeds), and our top roo Pepper (mix), to Daisy (Black Australorp), Goldie (Buff Orp), Bindi & Matilda (Easter Eggers), 3 Dark Brahmas and a couple of Barred Rock hens in the upper pen.

We are testing out Goldie one last time.  She has been bred twice now and has never produced a fertile egg.  If she doesn’t produce one this time we are assuming there is something wrong with her repro tract and she will be given until spring to go broody.  If she doesn’t go broody she is out.

Due to the high percentage of feathered legs in the last hatch, even from the upper coop, we are pretty sure that Pepper was infertile from his frostbite and the two cockerels were the ones who bred all the hens last hatch.  Because of that, we have kept Blue (cockerel) around for this breeding even though he attacked our son a few weeks ago.  We want to ensure good fertility.  There are 15 hens in that pen, even though we are only collecting eggs from 9 of them there is no way to separate them out, so the three roos will be covering 15 hens.  We figure with three of them, even if one is infertile from frostbite we should get good fertility.  As soon as we are done collecting eggs we will butcher Blue because we don’t keep aggressive roosters.

Garden Planning

It is time to start making plans for the garden and building a greenhouse.  I am surprised that I haven’t started planning already.  Usually, by this time of year the plans are all but done.  But we have been so busy with the kitchen remodel, and the cold weather (more work to keep animals cared for), that I haven’t even thought about it.  Hopefully, with the butchering of the bull calf done, and no other projects except the kitchen going right now, we can get the plans made and finalized before the end of the month.

2013 Review of Willow Creek Farm

It has been quite a year! There have been successes, failures, a natural disaster and subsequent evacuation, injuries, births, deaths, plenty of learning and tons of adventure. We really enjoyed writing this post and looking back at a full and somewhat crazy year at the homestead. So let’s dive in and share it with you all…

First, some statistics…

Chickens:

  • We had anywhere from 8-52 chickens on the farm at any given time this year
  • We had as few as 2 adult laying hens all the way up to 19 adult laying hens at once
  • All told, 1,541 eggs were laid at our farm this year
  • 56 dozen of those eggs were sold
  • 72 dozen of those eggs were used by us
  • 20 chickens were sold as layers for other people’s flocks
  • 14 chickens were butchered for meat for us
  • We successfully hatched 25 chicks, we had quite a bit of unsuccessful incubation of eggs
  • 1 chick was lost within the first 48 hours of hatching
  • 1 bird (a pullet) was lost to frozen legs and 1 pullet was lost to cross-beak

Considering the fact that we only had 2-5 layers the first half of the year, in addition to the fact that the birds were evacuated for the flood and thus stopped laying for several weeks, and that we have no record of what they laid while evacuated, we are very happy with these numbers. The cost to us to buy the amount of eggs we ate ourselves, and the meat, would more than cover the gap between income and expenses, so we are fully expecting the chicken project to go into profit-mode next year. And we feel that the losses in the chicken project were very small compared to what they could have been, so we are thankful for that.

Rabbits:

  • We had between 3-6 adult rabbits on our farm at any given time this year
  • 44 kits were born
  • 1 adult doe was culled because of production issues and bad temperament
  • 1 adult doe died with kindling complications
  • 3 does were added to the breeding program
  • 1 buck was added to the breeding program
  • 70 lbs of meat were sold for pet consumption

This year has been quite a struggle with the rabbits. We had A LOT of pregnancies not take. We had A LOT of kit deaths and/or small litters. While there was profit, we are not very satisfied with these statistics. We know they can produce better than this – they have in the past. We are hopeful that next year will prove to be a more productive year for the rabbits.

Cows:

We did not keep milk production statistics on the cows over long periods of time this year. However, we had plenty of milk for our family’s needs, including to make cheeses, butter, sour cream, and yogurt. So we are happy with that. They produced well.

We butchered our first steer (a full bred jersey) and ended up with 110 lbs of meat for us, 34 lbs of soup bones, and 22 lbs of dog food.

Sheep:

The sheep produced 3 fleece for us this year for a total of 12 lbs of wool.

Garden:

We did not track or weigh produce this year because of the flood in the middle of the harvest season and the evacuation.  However, considering our major problems with the soil we bought, we are very happy with what we were able to get from the gardens, and are hopeful for an even more productive garden next year with the amended soil.

With the help of all the animals we have produced large amounts of very rich compost this year that we will be using on our garden (and sharing with our friends) next year. We consider that a wonderful product of the farm as well.

Heritage Arts:

  • I knit 4 baby hats, 1 pair of fingerless mitts, 2 pairs of kids socks, 1 boys sweater vest, 1 pair of adult socks, and a girls poncho.
  • I sewed 2 single sized bed quilts, 4 baby blankets, 2 knitting needle cases, 3 crochet hook cases, 1 DPN case, 4 pairs of pantaloons, 2 girls dresses, and 3 ladies skirts.  Not to mention mending innumerable items.
  • I crocheted 12 dish scrubbies, 4 cherry pie hot pads, and numerous granny squares for an afghan.
  • I learned to tat and tatted 3 bookmarks.
  • I learned to spin and spun about 350 yards of double-ply yarn.
  • We did our first batch of hand-dipped taper candles and ended up with 40 candles.

In the Kitchen:

I don’t have exact stats from the farm kitchen, but A LOT of dairy products and home canned food came out of there this year. Not to mention bread, daily meals, and treats too.

And now for some highlights from the homestead in 2013:

In January we purchased 27 chicks.  They all survived, and one turned out to be a rooster.

February brought very cold weather.  We made firestarters for the woodstoves, and built a new rabbitry.  We banded our calf, Charlie, and began building the upper coop.  We trained the chickens to use the “chicken nipple” water spouts and moved the chicks up to the partially finished upper coop.  I finished a scrap quilt for my youngest daughter, and my grandmother passed on.

March brought us warmer days, and we used them to enjoy time outside.  Our son started his rabbit business, selling meat for pet consumption.  I learned to tat and tatted some bookmarks.  We battled scaly leg mites in the adult chickens and decided we were going to start a chicken breeding program.  I made knitting needle and crochet hook storage cases for my daughters.  I also learned to make my own condiments, including mayo, ketchup, and BBQ sauce.

In April our dairy cow, Charlotte, bloated, and thankfully survived it.  I started some garden seeds indoors.  And we had a spring blizzard.

May started with a bang, as we had a blizzard that dropped 18 inches of snow in 24 hours, and we lost electricity.  We celebrated our one-year anniversary of living at the farm.  We built a strawberry patch, onion patch, and the raised bed vegetable garden.  We tried out a compost heap pumpkin patch.  We started our first incubation with a few of our own eggs as well as some purchased hatching eggs.  We decided to sell our Jersey cow, Charlotte, and instead get a miniature cow to save on feed costs.  We canned quite a bit, and tried out re-useable canning lids.  And we built the hay lofts.

In June we butchered our first chicken for meat after our young cockerel attacked our 8-year-old daughter.  Our first hatch was a sad failure, as only one chick survived it.  We bought some chicks to brood with the sole survivor, and planned to try again.  We loaded up our lofts with hay for the year, and decided we were going to add sheep to the farm.  We realized, after planting our entire garden, that the garden dirt we bought was very poor soil and very much like clay.  We butchered our steer (that was a first for us).

In July our two sheep joined the farm, Stella and Fiona.  And our Jersey cow, Charlotte, was sold and left the farm.  Our garden made good progress, despite the soil disaster.  And, sadly, our second incubation was a failure.  We began researching high-altitude hatching, and found someone who was experienced with hatching at our altitude.  We started our third incubation with our new knowledge, but with high anxiety after already having failed twice.  We built trap nest boxes, and started free-ranging our chickens in the barnyard.  We washed our first fleece shorn from Stella.

August brought Violet, a JLow cow (miniature Jersey x Lowline) to our farm.  We dealt with her having mastitis in one quarter her first few weeks with us.  Later in the month we struggled to, but succeeded in, grafting a calf, named Ferdinand, onto Violet.  We finally had a successful hatch with 23 chicks surviving.  Our garden continued to make progress and we started harvesting and did more canning.

September started well, with our local 4H group touring the farm, and with the construction of our herb garden.  But beginning on the 11th our world was turned upside-down as flood waters tore through our community, taking lives and homes with them.  We evacuated 71 animals from our farm, in addition to our family of 6.  Our animals were spread to several different “foster” homes to live until we could bring them back home and we lived with my in-laws.  Toward the end of the month we moved ourselves, and the smaller animals, back into the home off-grid, while utility crews and disaster crews worked long hours trying to fix the destruction.  With the loving financial help from family, friends, and strangers we were able to build a water system so that we could have running hot water in large quantities (as opposed to the 5-gallon buckets we were using).

In October we felt ourselves strengthen as our farm, and our community began to overcome the disaster.  Rebuilding went forward at unexpected speeds and by the end of the month we had running town water, flushing toilets, and safer (though still scary) road access to our homestead restored.  The mild weather kept our spirits up and kept us outside focusing on moving forward with projects around the farm.  We also had our first hard frost.  We kept ourselves busy making soap, harvesting the garden and putting it to bed, canning chicken and beef stock, and I started knitting Christmas presents and finished making my son’s quilt.  While evacuated from the farm the sheep and cow were bred.

In November we were able to officially label our homestead as “mostly back to normal” when our sheep and cows finally arrived back home.  The community around us was far from “back to normal,” but it felt nice to have our homestead mostly back where it used to be.  We successfully weaned Ferdinand with the Quiet Wean device.  We built part of the barnyard fence, as well as a wall around the water system in the mud room.  After years and years of wanting to, I finally learned how to spin yarn.  We added some “refugees” from the flood to our farm for the winter, a cat and her kittens.  We ended up bottle feeding two kittens after she rejected them.  We kept one as our own pet, named him Nicholas, and our friends took the other one.

December brought a big winter storm with it.  After the snow was done we went into a deep freeze with temps not going above 9 degrees for several days and going into the negative teens each night.  We fought to keep animals safe, warm, and alive.  We struggled with frostbite on the chickens and lost one bird to the cold when her legs froze repeatedly.  I continued with knitting Christmas presents and we made a bunch of yummy treats.  The sheep were shorn.  We did blood tests on the cow and sheep to check for pregnancy, the cow came back pregnant, the sheep not.  We butchered many cockerels and did our first ever hand-dipped beeswax taper candles.

It is just amazing to look back on a year so full of activity.  We had some of the hardest days of our lives, and yet the blessings overshadow them completely.  Goodbye 2013!  Hello 2014!

Sunday Homestead Update

It has been a full week at the homestead.

First, we are having a heat wave…yup, it has been in the 40s during the day and the teens at night — HEAT WAVE!  But really, it is such a huge improvement over the single digits and negative teens that it really does feel like a heat wave.  The animals have been enjoying getting some sun and fresh air.  I caught Ferdi sun bathing this morning.

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The Quiet Wean device in his nose is still working great.  We are very happy with it!

Sheep

The sheep were shorn this week.  We were hoping to get it done in January in preparation for their lambing in March, but the timing and scheduling with the shearer didn’t work out that way and our only chance until March was this week.  Since they are hopefully due to lamb in March that wouldn’t work.  So this week was it.

They look so small!

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I’m glad we jacket them, and I hope it helps them stay warm.  Winter isn’t an ideal time to shear in my mind, but it needs to be done before they lamb, which is in March, so our only choice is winter.

This was Stella’s second shearing since we have owned her, and Fiona’s first.  We ended up with some very nice wool and we are excited to skirt and wash the fleece this week.  Then, once we get some carders, we can actually start working with all this wool we are “growing.”

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Chickens

We are still battling frost bite on several combs and wattles, but the “heat wave” has helped with the healing process.  The cold snap really slowed down the laying.  We went from 10 eggs a day regularly to 1-2 eggs a day.  I hope it picks back up a bit with the warmer weather.

The pullet who had frozen legs twice is still alive.  She has not had her legs freeze up again.  We hope it was kind of a freak thing and that it is over now and she will be normal.

Rabbits

Things are not going well with the rabbits.  Both Fuzz and Ebony were due to kindle this week on Wednesday.

Fuzz, as usual, did excellent and put all 9 kits safely in the nest box and covered them with plenty of fur.  And then they all died.  We have NO idea what happened.  It looked like only two were stillborn and the rest were born alive.  They did not freeze to death.  She did not harm or damage them.  They just all died.  It was so wierd and very disturbing.  We have never had this happen before.  It caused us all quite a bit of upset and worry.  We have been closely watching Fuzz ever since to be sure she doesn’t get mastitis.  She seems to be recovering well so far.

Ebony was the doe that had a kit stuck last time and was in labor for several days and finally had one stillborn on day 35 and one on day 37.  It was a disaster.  Well this round is not showing good signs either.  She is now on day 35 and hasn’t done anything.  So she either didn’t get pregnant at all, or she is having troubles again.  We are keeping a close eye on her and waiting.

Christmas Homestead Baskets

We have been putting the finishing touches on the Christmas homestead baskets and most are ready to be delivered.  Every item in the basket is homemade and each family member helped and made something for the baskets.  It was a fun family project, and I think the baskets will be well received.  Each basket is a little bit different, based on who they are going to.  But here is a look at some of the stuff going into them.

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Cherry Pie Hot Pad

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Tin of Caramels

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Jar of Old-Fashioned Hard Christmas Candy

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Soap in a Shower Cozy

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Dish Scrubbies

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Embroidered Hot Pad

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BBQ Sauce

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Ornament

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Soap and Soapdish

We baked several types of cookies that will be going into a jar in each basket as well.

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We have another full week ahead of us as we prepare for Christmas and continue to move forward with projects and plans around the homestead.

Using the Quiet Wean Calf Nose Ring to Wean Our Calf

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The Quiet Wean calf nose ring weaning device was made to help cattle producers wean their calves with less stress, and thus less weight loss, bawling, and walking through a two-step process.  You can see more about it at their website here.

Our friend, who took the cow and calf during the evacuation, knows our farm and suggested we use it to wean Ferdinand, she even gave us one when she brought them back home.

We have limited space, so weaning the calf can be a tricky situation.  Last year, with our first calf, we accomplished it with our stock panels and using the then-vacant second stall, but it was inconvenient to get in and out of the stock panel pen without a gate, and we have since added two sheep to the farm who occupy our second stall.  So this was the perfect time for us to try out the Quiet Wean device.  For our farm, the benefits would be just like the others, less bawling and weight loss, but it would include an even more important benefit – not having to separate the cow and calf at all.

The second that our friend gave it to us and explained the concept we were very excited to give it a try.  We knew it could potentially be an excellent answer to a problem we were facing.

Ferdi was being closed off from his Mama from about 7pm-6am.  We would milk her in the morning and then put them back together.  So to ease the transition on her udder as well as on Ferdi we decided to put the ring in around noon.  We saw him drink a full meal right around noon and then we put the ring in.

As far as inserting the ring – it was very easy.  In the videos on the website they, of course, have the calf in a squeeze chute.  We don’t have a squeeze chute so we planned to have my husband restrain him up against a wall and then I would insert the device.  But while I was inside my husband saw an opportunity when both cow and calf were in the stall, so he just really quickly pressed Ferdi up against the wall and put the thing in his nose.  It was in and over before the calf even realized what had happened.  I think the speed and element of surprise was the key.

It has been almost two weeks now and it has worked WONDERFULLY.  We are so happy with it.  It blocks him from being able to nurse, but he can still eat and drink with no problems.  There has been no bawling and no upset.  We are getting the milk we need from Violet again, and they are both happily living together as always.  The transition was SO smooth!

We plan to leave it in until we butcher Ferdi in February or March.  It is very convenient to be able to leave them living together this whole time since we only have one barnyard.  What a great solution for our little farm.