Sex on the Farm

It can be difficult to warn people that ours is an “X-rated” farm.  Our farm animals do the “wild thing” at the drop of the hat!  Sex is so prevalent on a farm… and an important topic to be able to discuss.

six piglets getting the colostrum, after birth

Piglets delivered and nursing well

We’ve had many an intern turn red and start stuttering when we have to discuss the topic of breeding and mating.  As if it were magic! Our interns are generally, bright, well-educated young people who want to learn organic farming.  We are one of the few farms that offer livestock management as well as the organic gardening aspect. And yet, SEX, is still a forbidden topic.  But the mating management is critical to the success of any farm.

We try to get over that barrier pretty quickly.  We are involved in utilizing high-tech methods to improve livestock for the small, low-tech farm. We want livestock that can survive WITHOUT vets, medicine, special diets, or extraordinary support.  To do this we sometimes use artificial insemination (A.I.) & embryo transfers (E.T.) to get where we want to go.  Thus it is important to monitor their reproductive cycles.

Lowline Bull, Herd Sire

Lowline Angus Beef, full-bodied, grass-based genetics

We are working on returning to the “grass genetics” that allow livestock to thrive on their historically natural forage.  We use DNA testing to identify markers for food efficiency, as well as observation.  You can have two cows, eating from the same pasture.  One will be fat and the other will look scrawny.  The fat one is better at converting her food to meet her needs AND build a reserve. She is a survivor, and it will cost less to support her.  Her’s are the genes we want in our pool.  As long as she has a good temperament. Temperament trumps… be nice or you are off to freezer camp!

In nature, it make take years for those poor survival genes to be weeded out.  In our herd, we cull those animals and don’t allow them in our gene pool.  We have very mellow animals that are generally easy to work with.

Jim tells the interns, “Cows are really a lot like women! They cycle every 21 days, they get bitchy and they get lovey-dovey.” And it is actually true.  One cow will start licking another, and nuzzling, comforting her. You know she is getting ready to ovulate.  Another cow may bawl and bellow all day.. she is really ready to ovulate. Interns have to learn to watch for standing mount. When a cow allows another cow to mount her, without moving away, we know she is ready to breed! (i.e. she will ovulate within 12 hours).

If you know your cows you can figure out what is going on.  We have to identify when they ovulate so that we can do our intervention (A.I. or embryo transfer), or just mark down on the calendar so we know when to expect a calf if she has been exposed to a bull.  Our goal is to get a bull  & cows, who carry the DNA markers we want to encourage, and then eliminate the need for AI or ET. But at this point the numbers are still small.

The current success rate in embryo transfers, in the industrial cattle industry, is 30-40 %.

Our success rate is close to 90%!

We do NOT use hormone injections or patches to bring on a cow’s cycle. Instead we watch for her natural cycle and work with her.   Of course it helps to have a top-notch vet versed in the skills needed. And we pay close attention to the cows diet.  We add kelp meal, selenium, and diatomaceous earth for the micro-nutrients she may need.

We follow our beef cows, our dairy cows, pigs, and poultry.  The goal is to understand the natural behaviors and work with them to breed stock that can survive in the real world.

Such show-off, our tom turkeys

Heritage Bronze Turkey Toms strutting

I was shocked to hear that the turkey one buys in the store… are so large breasted that they can NO LONGER reproduce on their own.  They must be AI’ed to reproduce.  That, to me, is a very precarious situation.  We use A.I. but our goal is to NOT need it. Our heritage turkeys are quite capable of doing their “job”!

I’m reminded of the story of the special dairy cows in Cuba.  There was a line of dairy cows that were so productive that all the dairies used them.  The problem was… when they no longer had access to the special diet that was needed to produce those prodigious amounts of milk, they were in big trouble.  Besides no longer producing volumes of milk, they could NOT even survive. Not on pasture alone.  That line died out.

We were asked to provide vacation backup for some friends; to milk their daughter’s blue ribbon milking goats.  What struck me as terribly funny (funny sad)… when we milked the goats, we had to pasteurize the milk before we could give it by bottle, to the kids the mother goat had given birth to.  The line was so inbred that an organism was in the milk which could damage the babies if they drank milk straight from the mother.

Our farm is focused on the sustainable. It’s a pretty precarious situation to get into if you make yourself dependent on livestock that can’t survive in the real world

When the price for oil shoots up, the agriculture prices supported by oil must increase.  What happens to the price of food?  We’re working to unhook from that price lock.

Beef has gone up 17% in the last two years, and looks to go higher in the coming years.  The beef herds are the smallest they have been since the 1950’s. Between the price of feed and the lack of water, cattlemen have been unable to support their herds and have reduced their stock.  Our Lowlines don’t need feed (grain), they flourish on forage/grass.

So interns come to our farm and learn about the economics of livestock management… at least on a small family farm. Included in that is learning about the sex life of cows… and most importantly, how to talk about it!

another Lowline Bull

Another Herd Sire

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous said,

    February 13, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    :You go girl………grin….I love all you have to say and am sitting
    here wishing I had just one on your “products”………..grin….would
    love to talk cow sex with you….. laughter here………

    again……..you go girl…………


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