Aging in Place


Using equipment to do the heavy lifting really makes a difference.

We all get older (darn it!). Given that it’s inevitable, I’m always surprised at the folks who seem to think they’ll be able to keep right on doing the same stuff in their 70s that they did in their 30s. Here’s a little secret for you – you can’t. So start thinking about how you’re going to age in place.
When I was 30, picking up a bale of hay was no big deal. Today it is – although that’s partly because in the days of my youth, a bale of hay might weigh 60 or 70 pounds. Today’s bales are meant to be handled with machinery, so most bales start at 100 pounds and go up, with an “average” bale often weighing in at 120-130. I can’t lift them and neither can hubby or the right hand ranch hand (oldest granddaughter). Not to mention that even if I could lift the beggars, it wouldn’t be long before the discs in my back would start to give out. So I drag, roll or tip them on end to get them loaded on the hay trailer.

This low hay trailer makes feeding chores a lot easier.

It’s going to take you longer to accomplish tasks as you get older – might as well get used to it. It will help if you organize first, instead of just leaping in the way my nearest and dearest tends to do. You should also plan to take breaks. The body might be willing, but it’s not physically capable of the kind of sustained heavy work you could accomplish 30 years ago. Not to mention that you have a bunch more aches and pains. I can still put in 10- and 12-hour days but I have to break them up with rest periods.
While the basics of exercise, nutrition and sleep were important in your youth, they are absolutely critical now. I am the first to admit that I’m lazy (which helps me be efficient) and a routine exercise program just grates. But there are some muscles that don’t get much of a workout in my day-to-day activities, and if I don’t stretch regularly, I can barely hobble. I see a chiropractor regularly. I have also come to the realization that wheat causes all sorts of nasty side effects (like pain, stiffness, asthma flare-ups and high blood pressure) and that I feel best when I minimize my grain intake. I don’t have trouble sleeping unless it’s a few days around the full moon, but if I did, I would cut out my coffee entirely (I only drink one cup a day as it is) and take steps until I was getting a minimum of seven hours a night.

Keeping your immune system strong is vitally important as you age; blackberry syrup helps.

In addition to accepting your limitations and doing everything you can to stay healthy, start thinking about some of the other things you can do to help you age in place. Live in a house with stairs? What happens if you can’t climb them in 10 years? A big part of this, when you live on a ranch or farm, is making sure that the younger generation has the necessary skills and knowledge to take over. My library contains a number of “how-to” books; while I don’t necessarily need them at this point, they’re great reference material for the up and coming gang. It also helps to get the kids involved, as many of these things are psycho-motor skills – meaning they involve brain and body and should be practiced regularly.
How are you planning to age in place? Got any tips and tricks for the rest of us?

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Grass-fed Beef Prices


Time for a sunbath and a nap!

There’s plenty of evidence that grass-fed beef is healthier for people, better for the planet and offers a better life for the animal than the conventional way of raising beef in a confined animal operation (CAFO). But, the initial sticker shock is a big hurdle for many people. I’m not even talking about certified organic grass-fed beef — try $ 7.19 a pound for ground organic, grass-fed beef. And if that doesn’t curl your hair, consider paying $20.59 a pound for a raw, frozen T-Bone steak. That’s about as much as a full restaurant meal with CAFO steak as an entrée — and someone else cooked it, serves and does the dishes! Before you run screaming into the sunset, consider whether you would rather pay money for really good food that is likely to keep you healthy into a ripe old age, or pay insurance premiums and copays (both of which just keep going up to ridiculous levels and I see no sign they are topping out) for medical expenses. As Joel Salatin has commented, “If you think the price of organic food is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?”

Green grass and beef cows; what could be better?

My beef isn’t certified organic, for several reasons (among them the cost and the need to jump through multiple hoops and submit to government inspections by people who don’t know as much as I do), but we don’t use antibiotics or hormones, we don’t spray or otherwise drench our beef with insecticides or use pesticides in the pasture. We feed our animals grass and hay and we kill them instantly with a head shot as they graze — no trucking down a highway with other terrified animals to an abattoir that smells of fear, blood and death. But my beef is more expensive than conventional meat. Here’s why.
1. I raise my animals from birth to death. That means that I have to support the mama cow through the pregnancy and until the calf is weaned.
2. In order to have a calf, I must breed the cow. We don’t have enough cows to make it worthwhile to keep a bull, so we use a rent-a-bull service. In addition to the rental fee, we either pay for hauling or do it ourselves, and we feed the bull while he’s here.
3. Grass-fed beef is generally butchered at 18 to 24 months. It takes longer for the animals to grow to butchering size and the extra time also promotes terrific flavor. But it means I feed the animal longer. Conventional beef is butchered at about 12 months of age.
4. We use supplements such as kelp, minerals and loose salt to promote better health in our animals. Since I don’t live on the ocean floor, I have to pay both for the supplements and the shipping. I don’t have enough cows to be able to buy large amounts in bulk (as in a pallet or more).
5. We buy hay for winter feeding.
6. We have the typical costs of any ranch – fencing, gates, seed and fuel for the ranch vehicles such as the 4 wheelers, tractor and backhoe.
7. Although we don’t have employees, our time is certainly worth something.
8. We rarely use veterinary services, but if we do, that adds to the cost.
9. We have property payments and property taxes, just as you do.

Dinner time.

Many of these are the same expenses any farmer or rancher has, but there are some differences. CAFO beef is typically sold to a feedlot producer and trucked to a feedlot for fattening (some very large ranches run their own feedlots). You’re paying for the labor and feed as well as business expenses of the trucker and feedlot as well as the farmer/rancher costs, plus a profit for each. Since I sell direct to the consumer, you aren’t paying middleman costs. The supplements and salt I use are a little more expensive than conventional forms (but they work a lot better and are easier for the cows to eat). The additional time to feed the animal is one of the primary reasons for the extra cost – for example, I’m feeding two winter’s worth of hay. Larger operations can afford to have one or more bulls.
Everybody makes choices about how they want to spend their money. In my opinion, grass-fed beef is worth it. as Sharon Astyk says, “Remember, every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in – don’t waste them.”

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Calf Nutrition…


Small fry on bottle detail.

and other issues. A calf who is nursing her mama is in the ideal situation to get the best possible nourishment (assuming Mama is healthy and well-fed). Once you start bottle-feeding a calf, you have to think about her nutritional needs. It’s particularly important in the case of a bottle baby you’re raising to be a family milk cow. We ask a lot of our milk cows and they need to be in tiptop shape to meet our demands. Violet is half Jersey (a dairy breed) and half Angus (a beef breed). On the other hand, her paternal grandmother, Strawberry, is a very heavy milker for a beef cow. Since she has the genetics, we want to make sure that everything we do promotes Violet’s nutritional status.

Lots of nice calf slobber; saliva helps the calf digest milk fat.

Many people underfeed their bovine bottle babies, in my opinion. The current professional recommendation is to feed 10 percent of a calf’s weight. Since milk weighs eight pounds to the gallon, that works out to be about one pint for every 10 pounds of body weight. Violet made it abundantly clear that she wanted MORE. On the other hand (there’s always an other hand in ranching and sometimes three or four), overfeeding milk can give calves diarrhea. That means keeping a close eye on her poop and cutting back if it looks like she’s getting loose stools. One thing that makes Violet different from a full Jersey is that she has more muscle mass and is heavier than a Jersey would be at the same age. She probably needs more chow than a full Jersey would.

Sage: self-appointed guard cat and calf supervisor.

So I’ve been gradually increasing her feeding; it’s always much better to keep a calf on the gain than to have them plateau or lose weight and try to get them gaining again. We’re currently up to two gallons of homemade formula a day (two feedings – one morning, one night), which seems to be about right. I’ve used the last of the Maybelle milk and bought some raw milk from the small cow share dairy about 45 miles south of us. Ideally, I would like to keep bottle feeding her at least six months. The other thing about bottle feeding is that you want them to work for that milk – lengthy suckling makes them produce saliva, which helps them digest the milk fat. It also strengthens the jaw muscles, which will help them be better grazers.

OK, I’m ready to run!

At this stage (coming up on five weeks), calves will nibble a bit at hay and sometimes try grain, but they can’t get enough nourishment to go without their milk. This is also when they try tasting things like minerals, salt and kelp. Calves are like babies – they explore their world with their mouths. By making sure we have a little bit of all these things around for her to taste, we’re helping to introduce her to the world of food outside of milk. If she were in the herd, she’d learn it from her mama or the other cows, but that’s not an option – if I turn her loose she’s at risk from the other animals and predators.

I feel good! I knew that I would!

Then there are all the other things she needs to learn, like don’t butt the bottle holder after you finish nursing. You can’t stop them from butting during nursing; it’s part of what make a cow let down her milk and is instinctive. So we’re having lessons about don’t twine yourself around the nursemaid like a very large cat, and when you have a halter on and the nursemaid pulls it, you’re supposed to follow along. She hasn’t had her first full-fledged tantrum yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time…

But… I want you to play with me!

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