Steve’s Update for 5/6/10

Dear members,

Climatology 2010: 18 degrees at Mesa Top on Saturday morning, May 1 and more snow (just flurries) the next day.  Frost nearly as far South as Las Cruces.  Estimated 25% loss of squash plants at Desert Garden in Salem.  This is a week past their CONSERVATIVE estimate for latest frost day ever.

This of course AFTER 2 days of 50-75 mph winds.  From the south I hear that this has been a relatively windless spring:  that is what they are generally most concerned about down south at this time of year.  But to offset that, when the wind has blown it has been extreme and damaging.  Roofs blown off, walls blown down, etc.

Does anyone remember 1991, the year Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in June?  We had the coldest and wettest summer I ever remember after that happened.  The conventional wisdom at the time was that ash in the upper atmosphere acted as “seed” for cloud formation.  I wonder if this spring’s Iceland volcano eruptions are setting the stage for some additional climatic extremes this season?

This week’s update on Mesa Top cows and Jim Miller Ayrshire projects:

Last week I promised some cow stories from Mesa Top:  The first cow I ever bought for Mesa Top is Cassie.  She is a Tarentaise, a breed recommended by my ex-partner’s daughter, at age 12, after reading through a book on cattle breeds that we received as a Christmas present in 1999.  See www.americantarentiase.org .  These cows are a medium sized breed, originating in South France, used both for meat and for cheese making.  There they “range” from 1,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation in a season, are hardy and good foragers, great mothers, and produce rich milk.  They were brought into the US originally via Canada in the mid 1970s when beef breeders sought to improve their standard breeds by crossing in some new, diverse genetics.

Cassie was a range cow, had never been handled by humans.  The first day we had her she stood for us and let us brush her and handle her udder.  Her temperament is quite amazing.  She has a bit of a bossy attitude  (cow = Latin name = bos domesticus) but she is basically a great big huge puppy dog.

Her mother had been culled because she produced too much milk and got mastitis and lost a quarter.  That characteristic is a negative for a cow-calf operator, who wants cows that take care of themselves with minimum handling and little or no health risk out on the range.  Mastitis can lead to other complications and kill a cow.  Cassie was going to be culled also, but the rancher knew that we were looking for a heavier milk producing cow, so we could milk her AND let her raise a calf, so he called us.

We bought Cassie and her first calf, a heifer, in September 2001.  Since then, Cassie has missed one breeding cycle AND produced 8 successive bulls calves.  We have bought 4 other tarentaise and sold two of them and so far all of the calves from those cows have been bull calves.  WE HAVE NOT HAD A TARENTAISE HEIFER YET!  And one of our other Tarentaise just calved another bull!

Last year we traded 6 of our Ayrshire bulls for a mixture of cows of different ages and varieties from an organic dairy near Roswell.  These folks had about 900 cows and were liquidating their herd, and planning to regroup at about the 300 cow level and begin producing value added dairy products.  They wanted to try Ayrshire as breeders for their heifers.  As part of the trade, we got one “cull cow”, a big young Holstein who was culled because of fertility problems.  We were planning to take her to the processing plant to make ground beef.  Of course, things being what they are, we never got her to the plant, she over wintered with us.  Two weeks ago Martina had a calf.  Boy or girl, you ask?  Well of course it was a boy, his name in Angelo.  Martina, who had never even been IN our coral, walked right in, walked over to the stanchion, and stood their waiting to be fed.

After a few tense days as she relaxed and let her milk down and got used to being handled, she is now doing fine, as is her boy.  We will either sell her or train her to be a nurse cow, so that we can take more milk from the Ayrshire for cheese making but still have plenty of milk for the various calves.  She seems to have the perfect disposition for that line of work.

As for Angelo, his prospects are not too good for a “long life”, as not very many people breed Holsteins naturally.  We will try to get him a home as a breeding bull, but he will likely end up a beef.  Meanwhile our responsibility is to give him the best quality of life that we can.  Unlike most Holsteins, especially males, he will be raised by his mother and have a vigorous life outdoors, on wide ranging pasture.

Of our many tarentaise bulls, all have had a chance to become breeding bulls, and one was not successful so he ended up a beef.  One of last year’s bull calves will be a beef this fall or next spring.  He has a nice body shape and will yield some nice meat.  Cassie’s boys all have found work because of their excellent body composition and disposition.  Her last two have been sired by Ayrshire bulls, and are sturdy looking, easygoing lads.  Huey, her bull from last year, will be our Tarentaise breeder this year, and her latest boy, Midget, will be held in order to be sure Huey is a good “worker”, and then one or the other of them will also be traded or sold.  I think that they will be able to get jobs as working bulls.

This week’s cheese share update:

Starting out in the Farmigo era (the online member support system) of Beneficial Farm CSA we have 3 cheese shares.  For simplicity sake, we will give 1 lb of Twin Mountain Ayrshire Cheddar for each share.  If we can get up to 8 cheese shares, things start to get more interesting.  Of course, I wish we had 50 cheese shares!

This week’s Veggie/Share Update:

We have our last week of greens from Red Willow as they clear their greenhouse and get ready to plant tomatoes.  We will have a head each of red leaf and romaine lettuce.  We also have a lovely batch of sweet hakura turnips and some kale and collards.

From Mesa Top we have more collards.  We have an overwintered patch of collards that we will allow to go to seed after a couple of pickings.  Collards are a bi-annual brassica, like cabbage, that goes to seed in its second year.   A number of years ago we held a young patch of collards over a winter, with heavy row covers and mulch, and let them go to seed, and were very happy with the results.  Again we have a vigorous patch of fall planted collards so we will do that again.  Their leaves may be a bit more tough than those from Red Willow, so steaming or cooking in some way will be necessary.  We also have the very last mesa top onions from last year.  They have been in dry storage since harvest in October, and are in good shape.  It is amazing that onions store so long, but the right varieties, pungent rather than sweet, have amazing keeping qualities.  These are Copra onions, and we are expanding our planting of Copras this year, hoping for more late spring onions for our members in 2011.

We have the last of the quinoa, some apple juice, and more bananas.

Rumor has it that the baja bus  (see blog posting from last year) is headed to New Mexico with the earliest garlic in North America, grown by a Mexican family farmer on the South end of the baja peninsula.  We do not know when it will arrive, but expect it soon.

We are doing what we can to find variety and quality to pass along in your share.

Membership News:

Now that we are up and running with Farmigo, and have done all we can to include our existing members, efforts must be turned to growing the membership under the system.  We have about 80 shares, almost 75% of you have continued with the CSA and that is a record number and we cannot express our gratitude enough.

At the same time we have to emphasize that the diverse range of services and the more professional, expanded formats are designed to serve a larger membership.  This means that we are “losing money” at our current size and our goal is to almost triple!  We have submitted grant applications to USDA and NM DA seeking support for our plan to work with LA Montanita COOP distribution center and move Beneficial Shares out to other interested communities.  We are networking with our core farms to help them build up CSAs if they are interested, and Gard-n-hers is now serving a startup CSA in Las Cruces.

Our strength is in our Santa Fe membership.  We need to grown here where we are most effective and established and known.  Do any of you have groups to which you belong, that we might work with you to present information about the CSA?  School groups?  Work affiliated, employee groups?  church groups? any groups that come together for health and fitness reasons?  We can arrange a presentation and conversation.

We are working on other ideas as well.  We look forward to your support with this process.

All my best and thank you for your support,

Steve Warshawer

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