Friday, July 20, 2007

My Work: 100 Years of Herefords - Part 2

Just like Chester, we wanted Herefords for their gentleness and ability to thrive on poor to medium pastures, so I looked up the membership list of the Canadian Hereford Association and called everyone in our area. Finally I found Joseph Cutler, who had a bred cow and a six month-old female calf to sell. I did some research on what to look for in a good beef cow and Susan and I went to Joseph’s place to look at them. I was immediately impressed by his manner and character. He seemed honest and straightforward.

I was impressed with the cow, too. I asked him how much and my face fell when he named his price. Joseph might have noticed because he said, “That’s for both. And remember, the cow will have a calf this fall.”

“Well then,” said Susan, “I guess we should take both.”

We named the cow Alice and her calf Betsy. We were going to butcher Betsy but some friends who judge and show cattle suggested we keep her.

“It would be a shame to ship that heifer,” they said, “We’ve seen cows that don’t stack up to her in the show ring. She’s long and straight. You should think about keeping her.”

I was already thinking about it. And Susan agreed. So we went back to Joseph and bought T-Bone, a young cow that had never calved, for our fall beef. In the fall, just like Joseph said, Alice delivered Arthur, a Hereford-Blond Aquitane cross. That winter we borrowed a bull from Joseph and bred both Alice and Betsy.

The following fall, Betsy delivered a nice heifer calf with a patch on one eye and Alice gave us a bull calf in the middle of the year’s worst thunderstorm. Of course, he’s called Stormy.

With Alice and Betsy giving us calves for a few more years from bulls borrowed from Joseph, we are now self-sufficient. This is the first year we won’t have to buy cattle. With calves from Betsy and Alice every fall, we now have two grass-fed steers or heifers for ourselves and our beef customers every year. No hormones, no antibiotics, no pesticides. Just in time, too, with all the concern about bringing in BSE with new beef stock.

Most of the credit goes to Joseph who gave a green couple new to cattle a very good price on outstanding breeding stock to get them started.

We’re up to nine paddocks now and, as I dig more gatepost holes, I think of Chester McKeen. Everyone says he used to have the best Herefords in the county on this farm. I’d like to have him here to see our cattle grazing his pastures again, and maybe use some of his toughness to dig a few postholes past the Pre-Cambrian rocks that lurk everywhere in our ground.

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