Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Ag Dictionary: "Steer Stuffer"

I will never forget the time or place when I decided to marry a farmer. I was a junior in high school and working part-time at Sears in the mens and childrens department. Thanks to  other Sears associates, I went on a group blind date (my first date ever) with a boy who worked in "Tool Territory". (Just an FYI, my brother went along on this group blind date...awkward!) Anyhoo, after that first uncomfortable evening, my "date" and I continued to talk at work until I guess I pestered him enough to ask me out again. This time all by ourselves! Finally, I was going on an actual date!

I remember we went out on a Friday night after I had worked until closing time. He picked me up at work and we drove to a Mexican restaurant (where I was too nervous to eat anything!) As we were driving in the car, making small talk, he asked me how my day had gone:

Me: "Oh, pretty good. I had to pass a combine coming home from school today. It kinda freaked me out because other cars were coming in the other lane."

Date: "What's a combine?"

I looked over at him and realized he honestly didn't know what a combine was. I think this was my first experience talking about a piece of farming equipment with someone who didn't have any ties at all to farming.

How odd, I thought.  Am I going to have to explain everything to this guy, or others, about every aspect of October and the farm? (The farm being grandma and grandpa's...Shaw Farms.)

I knew then and there that something like this just wasn't going to work. I wanted to have conversations with someone who knew what I was talking about and didn't need any kind of explanation... combines, corn cribs, the difference between hay and straw, the gratification of growing my own green beans versus buying them in a can at the store, knowing that sweet corn straight from the field and frozen for the winter was so much better than store bought corn (which was and still is considered a sin to my family), even going as far as using common knowledge that you don't wear flip flops and sandals around the horses... I simply couldn't do it.

My quest of dating only "country boys" took me to some pretty interesting places, and I don't necessarily mean that in a good way... in fact, it really only got "good" when I met Dan. I also want to point out that I got criticized for it by more than one person. So sorry that I knew early on what I wanted out of life, and gee, my persistence has paid off more than what I ever dreamed.

So, now for the reason of my post; I know I have mentioned a contraption several times on my blog and I would like to highlight it since I realize not everyone has a picture in their minds when I mention the "stuffer". I didn't know what one was until I met Dan and he had the steers here at the house.

Every year we raise up 6 or 7 steers for meat purposes. They are all Holstein bulls who have been neutered and their sole purpose in life is to eat and get fat so we can butcher them and eat them. We use the Holstein breed since that is the breed of milking cow that the Shawhan family milks and we keep back half a dozen bull calves a year to become steers. They are neutered at a young age and move down here to our place (the Shawhan farm) when they are about 4 to 6 months of age. They go to market at around 14 months of age. During that time, the steers, or Beefy Boys as they appear on this blog from time to time, run around in what we call the steer lot, which they share with the chickens. It's an empty lot that has access to the back of the barn, so they get inside from inclimate weather. It has an automatic waterer and of course, the stuffer.

The stuffer is a big wooden bin that holds the corn the steers eat. Our stuffer here is made of wood...Dan says it's older than he is (about 30 years), whereas newer ones are made from fiberglass to help with rodents chewing through. As one can imagine, a free-choice buffet of corn is an all out casting call for rats!

Our rat tunnels in the yard that border the steer lot rival those of the Viet Cong.

The stuffer can hold about 6,000 pounds of corn, but Dan usually puts in about 4,000 pounds when he fills it up.

The stuffer has to be filled about once a month or every 6 weeks. Dan usually drives the tractor with the feed grinder on it down the road from the dairy, even in cold nasty winter months, and back... about a 20 minute ride one way.

The corn is mixed with dairy beef grower, which is basically protein. Some farms use silage, chopped up and fermented corn, which is a cheaper route in feeding steers. They eat silage until 6 weeks prior to going to market, then they are switched to corn. As of right now, we don't have a system set up to feed silage, but you never know what the future holds.  The steers also get 1 to 2 pounds of hay per day, each. The hay provides the roughage their digestive tract needs to keep functioning properly.  

I know a lot of people want grass fed beef, for many different reasons; some think that it's more natural for the cow. We prefer grain fed beef because we feel it tastes better.

People ask me if it bothers me that I see the animal that I'm going to eat. I tell them no because I know what they taste like, and the time it takes from the steers going to market until we get the packages of beef back is about 2 weeks. I know how well the steers were treated in life, which is pretty darn good, and what they were fed, versus going to the store and guessing.

I do enjoy the presence of the steers; I would miss having them if they weren't here. Currently, we have 7 steers: Ben, Jerry, Buzz, Woody, Peanut, Achmed and Jose. I like to pick the steer names since my mother-in-law gets to name all the dairy cows...this is a group that I can name! My sister-in-law asks not to be told the name of the steer that their beef comes from.

I hope I've given a good description of a steer stuffer. I realize that I've probably mentioned things that some would like to know more about or at least be able to visualize something when it gets mentioned!

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