Coopers Farm Practice; Our Beef Cattle
Bull: Male, non-castrated cow that is used for breeding.
Cow: A female cow that has been bred and birthed before.
Heifer: A female cow that is a first-time mother.
Steer: A male castrated cow.
Cow/Calf: A farming practice of breeding cows and raising the young to be sold as feeder stock or sent for processing.
Feeder Cattle: Steers and females not raised for breeding but raised for processing.
Pasture: A Fenced in field with different varieties of grasses and forages planted for the cattle to use as their main feed source.
As of the summer last year, we only bought small feeder calves to raise on our pastures for our meat shares & sales. Come the fall of 2018, we began to expand into cow/calf farming, a practice the Coopers did for a very long time until vegetable farming took over. We now have 1 Bull, 34 feeder cattle, 17 cows, & 23 bred heifers. We are expecting our first calves come March. We have our cattle on pasture all year long, pasture being their main food source during the summer, and an area for them to exercise in the winter. They get some pasture if the snow melts a little. They are very spoiled cattle, and we personally like to allow the cows to be able to act as natural as possible, wether it be adventuring in the fields, grazing, scratching, or socializing with each other. Here is a little more about them and our farming practices.
Before we go into more detail, first you should know a little bit about cows to understand why we do certain things. Cattle can only eat grain and forages (grass), they have a special stomach that contains for sperate organs to help digest the mass amounts of grass they eat. The main organ is the rumen, cows ruminate (bring up food from the rumen and chew it more) this is also known as chewing their cud. This process aids in breakdown for digestion and helps make nutrients more available to them. Cows can eat a lot, but it takes them a very long time to get nutrients from all of this grass. This is why farmers create mulched up hay mixtures like haylage and silage so that that the cows digestion system does not have to do as much work. This way the cows don’t have to use as much energy and they can get nutrients to their system faster. Basically, cows like to ‘get their graze on’, and farmers like to feed them more efficiently.
There are many breeds of beef cattle here in Ontario and they have all been ranked for certain qualities. We have Red/Black Angus-Simmental Cross Cows and Heifers, these are bred and have the calves that are raised to be feeder cattle that go for processing. We have a Limousin Bull that breeds the cows, his name is Scurs and he is about 3 years old. These breeds yield large carcass weight, have a calm demeanor so working with them is safe for us, they have good birthing & mothering skills, and they also put on weight in good time.
How we feed:
There are a few methods for raising beef cattle here in Ontario, backgrounding, pasture raised, ranching, and feedlot to name a few. Here at Coopers we us a method called rotational gazing on pasture, this means we use fencing to keep the cattle in one section of the field at a time, when they have grazed that section down, we move them to a new one. This does a few things; it keeps the cattle on a controlled diet that makes it easier for us to monitor how much they’ve eaten, their nutrient intake, and it keeps our fields healthy. Continuously moving the cattle allows the pasture to regrow and become fertilized by the cattle’s manure. If we let the cattle graze where they please, they can damage all of the grass by chewing it right down, halting it from growing back. This is practice encouraged by many AG organizations to keep Ontario’s farmland in good condition. Every day we feed a few pales of spent brewers mash (the grain left over from making beer) as a protein source. The cows get a bit of mineral and salt blocks to lick, this keeps their nutrient intake balanced as they don’t get everything from grass. Our cows have a 95% grass fed diet, in the summer they graze pastures, in the winter they eat hay (grass that was cut and baled for winter feeding), and if we get really low on forage feed, we will occasionally give them some grains such as corn, oats, barley, or soybeans. We will also occasionally supplement grains in the winter time to the cows because consuming grains makes the cows produce a lot of energy.
As a comparison, our cows are 95% pasture raised, where Beef Feed lot cows receive 90-95% grain feed. It makes a very big difference in how the meat will taste.
The cows can come in everyday and hang out in the barn, this is where their water is located. It keeps them shaded in the summer and gets them out the wind in the winter. We have separate groups, feeder cows are separated from our breeding cows, so they each have a half of the barn.
Beef Farmers of Ontario have had farmers share how their beef cattle breeds handle Canadian winters. Most beef cattle breeds grow more fur in the winter, looking a little more ‘poofy’. When the cattle have a small layer of snow on their backs, it actually provides a layer of insulation, keeping them warm. As long as the cattle’s fur remains dry and they are sheltered from the wind, they handle winters quiet well.
The first thing we do is provide the cattle with the best living conditions possible like clean water, a clean paddock and open space so the cattle stay dry and clean. This way they can keep healthy as best as they can on their own, but of course, stuff happens. We monitor our cows and we know what months bring certain diseases, illnesses, bugs, etc. so we can anticipate when we may have to treat cows. We only treat when appropriate (just like our philosophy towards growing fruits and vegetables and handling their pests), if one of the cattle become ill and needs treatment, we do so, and we are under heavy supervision by veterinarians as we cannot treat them without a prescription. It is mandatory for us as farmers to keep records of treating sick animals, this way we can show that we respected the withdrawal time required for the treatment, dosages, & procedures. We treat animals on a case-by-case bases, we get the animal healthy so that we can keep the whole herd healthy. Happy cows are healthy cows.
SO, with a newly expanded herd, we have a lot of work ahead of us, but we love our cows and are looking forward to it. Bring on summer of 2019!
Check out http://www.coopersfarm.ca for more on our CSA Beef Shares