The long promised “Paradise In The Wintertime” of Florida finally arrived. The weather here since sometime in October has been beautiful. Cool nights and warm dry days. Now I’m whining because it’s too dry. It’s impossible to please some people.
We continued moving the cows on a 30 day rest period plan throughout most the fall but as temps dropped and the rain stopped we’ve begun to lengthen the recovery times. The last few weeks we have begun adding paddocks that we dropped out of the rotation schedule earlier. I think we’ll need to be at a 90 day rest period soon but there is still lots we have to learn about this environment so we’ll have to see how that shakes out over time. There is still worlds of room to manipulate the rest periods as we get the fences on the eastern third of the ranch repaired or replaced and can begin grazing there.
We had an International Crew for weaning and branding this fall. On October 24 Adam Puncochar and Adam Panchartek, from the Czech Republic arrived. Adam Puncochar spent two summers with us on the Cinch Buckle in Montana and Adam Panchartek (I know, it’s confusing…we took to calling them Punchy and Pancho) has spent a couple of tourist visa stints in Montana working with friends of ours. They both train horses for a living in Czech and live for opportunities to improve their “cowboy” skills. Both are accomplished ropers and horsemen and super amenable gentlemen to be around. We wish there was a way for them to immigrate here.
A few days later Casimir Golob arrived from London. He is a young man just graduated from High School whose parents have been friends of ours since before he was born. He has spent at least a few weeks with us wherever we have been since he was two years old so we have had ample time to indoctrinate him into thinking the way we do things is the absolute gold standard set in concrete for all time. And on top of that, he’s good help.
Jake got here from Montana the last day of October with Lane Krutzfeldt and Wry Williams with him. They started out with Alec Haugian as well but halfway to Florida Alec, who flew down last winter to help us brand, realized just how far Florida is from his beloved Eastern Montana via overland travel and panicked. He turned back for home.
On November 5, our old friend Alison Walker, also from London (but frequently from the Far East, India mostly) flew in and spent a couple of weeks with us. Ali comes to visit us every couple of years and has spent several branding seasons with us. She is a wizard with a vaccine gun and fills a hole while gathering as well.
On the 9th Gaspard Beaucarne showed up. Gaspard is from Belgium and, like Casimir, taking a “gap year” to see the world before settling down to serious academic pursuits. Gaspard, of course, has become “Frenchy” in spite of his best efforts to explain the difference between the two countries to the rest of us rednecks. He has fit right in and, I think, is enjoying his stay on the Blue Head. We are enjoying him.
We weaned calves for several days the end of October. Ended up with about 1,000 calves born on the Blue Head since we bought the cows the fall of 2015. We let them get over the stress of weaning and well hooked on the balanced ration provided in large bin feeders that it takes to keep a calf going here post-mama and then in the middle of November we branded and vaccinated all the calves. Kathleen shouldered most of the burden of keeping everyone fed and, as usual, did a sterling job.
One thing we’re learning is that when it’s wet in Florida it’s really wet but, as hard as it was to imagine for the first 13 months we were here, when it’s dry it’s really dry. It hasn’t rained a drop since early October when Hurricane Matthew failed to show up. Just today, November 30, it rained in the evening barely enough to settle the dust and thoroughly soak me as I was coming back from the Kayo where the fencing crew is working.
We still have that fencing crew going full time and, for much of the past two or three months, have had an excavator working ahead of them clearing out years (10, 20, 30?) of brush and tree growth along boundary fence lines just to make it possible to get to them to fix or replace them. The dry weather makes the fencing crew’s job much easier. They can build a fence through waist deep water but it takes time, is miserable work and I hate it when I have to ask them to do it, as sometimes I must, when the cows are hot on their heels. We continue to put in new cross fences also when we feel we know enough about how things need to be managed here to justify a fence to facilitate that management.
We had a few horned steers big enough to rope from the calves that came on the cows we bought last fall and I put them on Superior Livestock Video Auction. These kind of cattle were worth $750-$850 as recently as last spring (Jake bought some in Montana for $800 in April) and the bid went to $350 so I No-Saled them. After some deliberation, cogitation, speculation etc…Jim and the rest of the GL decision makers decided that, since we have lots more grass on the Blue Head than we have cattle, it just might make sense to keep everything. We have planned all along to keep all our heifers and breed them, expecting to sell everything that doesn’t wean a calf (eventually that is…we’ve also decided to give them a couple of years to acclimate to hell…I mean S Florida… before we demand that of them) but we’re thinking now that with the drastic downturn in cattle prices it could be a good time to keep even the steers, let them grow up…possibly two or three years more, and market them then. There is a fair chance that the market will have improved and prices come up by then and, even if not, we’ll have a steer that weighs 800-1,000 pounds to sell that should be fat enough to be marketed as grass finished beef. Even in Florida, if you keep them long enough they can achieve a level of finish to grade select or even choice and the ones that don’t make that mark can be grass fed hamburger that currently in local stores is selling for $8.00-$9.00/pound. That’s the goal. A 900 pound steer (or dry heifer or cow) that dresses at 60% produces about 350 pounds of beef that, even sold as hamburger wholesale for, say, $5.00/pound brings $1,750. The prospect of that kind of return makes the cost of running him for a couple of years on grass that we had originally planned to buy more cows to eat seem like a reasonable gamble. We already bought 4,000 cows at the peak of the highest cattle market in history and I’m not convinced that we’re all the way to the bottom of the cycle yet. Buying more cows now, tempting as it is with prices not much more than half what they were a year ago still means we’d likely be investing in a depreciating commodity. Keeping our calves lets us own an asset that is appreciating (at least in weight if not in price…time will tell) and using it to improve the resource base that we are relying on to stay in business and make the Blue Head an ecologically and economically sound enterprise.
The North House, where Jason and his family started out living when we first arrived turned out to be less “livable” than first assumed. There were immediate issues with things like a leaking roof, faulty plumbing, rotted window frames…the list goes on. They spent the first few months sharing their home with various contractors diligently trying to remedy the problems. Unfortunately, months after all the renovations had been completed it was discovered (initially by recurring, mysterious health issues…headaches, persistent cold/flu symptoms and then by the floors in several rooms almost giving way) that a leak in the decades old plumbing (that hadn’t been renovated when the rest of the work was done) had allowed water to seep throughout the house under the flooring but above the sub-flooring and even wick up the walls several feet in places and then (this is Florida after all) mold had invaded to highly toxic levels. Jason and his family had to move into the old Office, which we discovered as all this was going on, had mold issues itself, though at levels that could be addressed without gutting the house so they were able to move into it after a thorough cleansing. This saga actually started in August with the discovery of black mold under the (new a few months ago) faux wood flooring and soft spots showing up in the floors…which swiftly grew from one or two little spots to major areas of the house that we had to lay sheets of plywood over to keep from falling through while they were waiting on the Office to get de-molded and turned into a more family friendly dwelling. We already were committed to receiving an influx of fall cow-work help due to arrive from all over the globe in late October and early November so the pressure on the poor contractor we hired to renovate the North House was pretty intense as the deadline approached. We definitely struck gold in hiring Jay Hitt and his crew to do this job. He had up to eight or 10 people at a time here both demolishing the old and moldy and rebuilding the new. Jay’s a big guy with a ponytail and a Harley t-shirt and his crews run heavy to scary looking hairy, heavy smokers with lots of tattoos (many of the prison variety) but we grew quite fond of them. They showed up early and worked like fiends both inside (with the AC off to speed the drying process) and outside the house through some of the hottest days of summer. Tiffany and Kathleen baked them numerous platters of cookies and it may have helped. The day Jake, Lane and Wry got here from Montana was the day Jason and family were able to move back into their house and give the Montana contingent the Office. They still had to live around the Jay Hitt crew doing final touch-up work for a couple of weeks but they at least had the house to themselves from evening to morning.
The logging company moved back on the ranch toward the end of November and are working in the Bootheel area. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in that area lately working on fences and trying to figure out how to incorporate it into the grazing plan and I have to say I’m really happy to see the logging machinery at work. Letting some daylight into the jungles in that part of the ranch is going to be a huge improvement.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!