What this winter brought (so far) has been amazing. There is abundant winter grass, which grows well in coler temperatures but not in warmer temperatures. And, there is abundant clover which is rich in protein. These forages may be appearing because we have had moderate temperatures (50s-60s) through December and well into January, as well as several inches of rain that we did not have in the recent prior winters.
We can assess the protein content of the forage by looking at the cattle manure. If it is stacked (looks like a stack of pancakes), the forage is low in protein. If it is runny, the forage has plenty of protein. In previous winters, it was stacked and we supplemented with alfalfa pellets. This month, it is becoming runny from the clover. We set out some hay (which is relatively low in protein) and the manure has normalized to well-formed patties that are neither stacked nor runny.
We can assess the energy content of the forage by looking the "body condition score" of the cattle. This is a number between 1 and 10, where 1 is skin-and-bones, 5 is desirable, and 10 is really obese. The body condition is mostly 5 now, compared with 4 during the previous winters. If the present weather pattern persists, the herd should come into the spring grass in pretty good condition and we should have a reserve of hay for whatever next winter brings. This is a great relief compared with the past few winters!
September 2020 (updated January 2024):
How to remove mesquite trees organically? If you have mesquite invading your pasture, you will share our respect for this worthy antagonist. Armed with sharp thorns that drive away cattle and a very strong and long taproot that resists anything but direct assault, this tree has a survival mode that causes it to return even bigger and stronger after its branches are cut off. The only way to remove it without using poisons is to remove the rootball.
Here we document our method for removing small and medium size mesquite trees. We hope others will find this useful because when we started, we could not find detailed information on how to remove them. If you have a large tree and no bulldozer, you might be able to use our method for medium-sized trees if you can get the above-ground portion of the tree off by pushing or cutting, so that only the rootball remains.
Why grassfeeding beef now appears to reduce, not increase, greenhouse gases. The evidence suggests that multipaddock intensive grazing, which is what grassfed ranchers do, results in net sequestration of carbon dioxide. The effect is so strong that several organizations are beginning to pay farmers and ranchers, as part of the new "carbon economy", to add cattle to the land the way we do. The money comes from companies that are net carbon emitters who want to buy "carbon credits" to offset their activities. One estimate is that the average household emits 50 tons of carbon dioxide per year and that 22 acres of grazing are needed to offset this amount. By coincidence, each one of our steers represents about 25 acres of grazing by the entire herd. You can meet your annual offset requirement by buying just one of our steers!
March 2019 (updated June 2020):
Why beef is now thought to be Heart Healthy. Reexamination of the medical literature shows that the decades-long theory that beef causes atherosclerotic heart disease is not supported by the data. New well-controlled clinical studies also show that adding beef and other unprocessed meats to the standard heart healthy diet actually results in better lipid profiles than does the standard diet.
Since the last update, we found that growing vegetables requires more time than we have, raising small animals feeds the predators who like them just as much as we do, and that cattle can take care of themselves except when they are very young. So we are now raising beef cattle, and we check them every day to make sure they have lots of water, pasture grass that is tasty and plentiful, and shade in which to relax on hot days. During calving season, we watch even more carefully since new calves and their mommas can be bothered by hungry predators. As we talk about our new grassfed calf crop with friends and neighbors, we find that some people want to sign up now to make sure they can have a share when the calves mature. They notice that grassfed meat is in their grocery stores but it comes from as far away as Australia. They very much like the idea of buying their grassfed meat right here in the Great State of Texas!
On the 12th we received notice of Certified Transitional status from the Texas Department of Agriculture for vegetable products (and a small area of land for hay). Thus culminates an effort that began in July, 2013, and an initial application in late January, 2014. Patience pays! We have seedlings growing in our Certified greenhouse and are looking forward to planting in the soil after the estimated time of the last frost.