Mossback Farm

Gullies, part 3

July 2nd, 2013

(Part 1 , Part 2)

Gullies in the landscape cause several problems, mostly more rapid dewatering of the surrounding landscape in the dry season, and increased erosion as the gullies move upstream, taking valuable topsoil away.  Mossback Farm experienced severe gullying in the years before we purchased the property, due to mismanaged cattle grazing.  This grant was an attempt to stabilize their movement, and to flatten the flow curve in the drainages.

10 plugs were installed at various locations in the property, in a mix of mature (nearly stabilized gullies, with a V-shaped cross section, and grass vegetation) and younger, more active (U shaped cross-section, with bare earth at their base as they actively erode) erosion sites.

The work had fair to excellent results, depending on the site.  The mature (V-shaped) gullies didn’t have the sediment load needed to fill the plugs at an acceptable rate, so needed more fill to top them off.  They also didn’t seem to flatten the flow curve as much;  however, they were in locations with smaller watersheds, so it wasn’t a good measure of success.  They did appear to capture and store more water into the soil, though, when things dried out.  And a purely anecdotal observation…we haven’t run our well dry while watering the garden this year, which might indicate more groundwater recharge.  Far more work / data would be needed to prove that, though.

The active gullies (U-shaped) had a more satisfying result.  Suspended sediment from active erosion was (and still is) captured rapidly, building up the backfill and providing substrate for riparian vegetation to establish.  Raising the grade provided more storage for groundwater to be release in the dry season.

In the past, when we’ve had a dry spring like 2013, the largest watershed on the main creek (U shaped channel) would be down to a trickle by mid-June.  As I write this, there is still enough water flowing at the ram pump intake (below 4 structures) to pump water for livestock use (~1gpm), with ~5+gpm left for instream use.  My downstream neighbor noted the other day that he usually sees the creek drying up by now, but there’s more water than ever in summer.

A few lessons were learned on this project.  First off, surveying the grade of the channels before making grand plans is important.  By eye, I originally thought most of the channels fell at 1-2%, when it turns out after surveying that they were closer to 5%.  The ideal approach would have been to install several gullies in succession, with the backwater of one meeting up with the base of the upstream plug.  The higher rate of fall than anticipated made this doable, but they covered less ground than anticipated, so currently the only channel with these multiple features implemented is the main creek, since it gives the most economic return (ie late season water flow).

Second, building for high flows is a must!  I thought I did a pretty good job of it, but when we received 8” of rain in 24 hours in November 2012, there were a few problems.  One of the plugs was pushed over somewhat by the high flows, changing the shape of the weir and the location of the outflow.  This caused the structure to be flanked by the flowing water.  Repairs were relatively simple when the water levels went down.

Another issue related to flows is some of the straw bales and wood used to fill the plugs were floated by the flows of that event…these items ran downstream, causing some minor damage, and scouring out some of the fill.  Again, minor repairs were needed, and this month I’m going to re-add some fill material, and tie it down better with branches, jute netting, and heavier wood (oak, not fir).

All told, this project was a big success…gullies are stabilized and more water is available for farm and instream uses.  The grade miscalculation increase the number of plugs that I’ll need to attempt to return the landscape to it’s pre-abuse condition, but it appears to be a very good start.  Thanks OWEB for the opportunity to improve our land and waterways.

Some pictures below, and more are at my google pageSlide1






A customer recently emailed me after picking up her order… she was curious as to why the “take-home” weight was different from the “hanging” weight.

When it comes to beef weights, there are 3 different ones of which customers should be aware.  The first is “live” weight. This is what the animal weighed on the hoof, or when it was alive.  The live weight for our Premium summer Angus steers usually averages around 1200 lbs.   Jersey steers are usually less, as are heifers.

The next weight is “hanging” weight.  This is the weight that the butcher gives us after the animal has been taken back to the butcher shop to hang.   The weight difference from live to hanging is from loss of blood, head, hide, hooves, viscera, lungs and heart.  The hanging weight is usually about 40% of the live weight.  So, a 1200 lb animal would have a hanging weight of 720 lbs (estimated).  (A half share would then be 360 lbs, and a 1/4 would be 180 lbs).  This is the weight we base our per lb charges on.  The butcher also charges cut/wrap fees based on this weight, plus extra if a customer has requested additional bones or organ meats.

The last weight is the “final” or “take-home” weight.  This is the weight of the meat that each customer will bring home.    This weight is usually about 60-65% of the hanging weight.  So for a 180 lb quarter share, the final weight would be about 108-117 lbs (estimated).    The weight is lost in 2 ways.  About 4% is water weight lost during the 10-14 day period that the carcass is hung (or “cured”).  Then about another 30-35% is lost during the cutting process.  This amount is variable based on 2 factors – one is the amount of fat in the meat, and the other is the cuts that a customer requests.  Higher fat means more loss.  (Our grass-fed beef animals tend to be lower fat, so the loss tends to be closer to 35%.)   Also , the more boneless cuts requested by the customer, the lower the final weight.  (Note that the lower weight doesn’t mean that you are receiving less meat – rather, you are receiving fewer bones).

What does this mean as far as actually per lb costs?  It depends on the per pound price (higher for the Premium Summer Angus beef, lower for the Premium Summer Jersey beef, and Neighborly beef), as well as the cuts that a customer requests.    A 180 lb quarter share of beef from us would range from $6.60-8/lb (for final weight).  This is about 40 to 60% less than what you would pay if you purchased grass-fed beef by the cut from retail outlets.  (My latest research found that ground beef averages about $5/lb, roasts are about $12/lb and premium steaks are about $20/lb).

Hopefully this information is helpful to folks considering buying a beef share.  As always, please drop us a line if you have questions!

We are currently sold out for our Premium Summer beef shares.  We actually sold out in record time this year… which was great for us, but not as great for customers who missed the ordering window.

The good news is that we are currently taking orders for Neighborly beef shares, available ~October to December.  Please contact us for information about reserving your quarter for Fall!

Ram pump troubleshooting

February 25th, 2013

Can you tell the difference between this video


and this one?


Hint…the first video, the pump is leaning to the right, downhill, and every cycle it hisses, rather than just does its positive click sound.  The second version is far superior, and pumps nearly it’s historic 150-175 gallons / day.

Between a tree coming down on the gravity-fed drive pipe last summer, and all of the water that the ram pump blows out every cycle, causing the pump to tip downhill 15 degrees or so, our ram has had bad to no pressure for the last 6 months or so.  After far too long troubleshooting (and digging holes, looking for leaks), a scrap 2×4 solved nearly all of our problems due to a crooked ram pump not sealing it’s check valve correctly.  Now, someone else will be able to google “ram pump troubleshooting leaky check valve” with more success than I did.

Another change that I’ve noticed since we installed it, the wooden platform that it sits on is softer (from waterlogging) than it was in the past.  The pump seems to wiggle a bit each cycle, which probably drains some of the energy that could be pumping more water for us.  In the next couple of days, I’ll try to secure it onto that platform to try to eke out the last few gallons per day…every drop counts here, come July!

Wow, we only have 3-4 of the Premium Summer shares left!  Get your reservations in ASAP!

We also have another option for Summer beef that is not on the flyer… it’s shares from a Jersey steer, selling at a lower price of $3.50/lb.  We’re doing a lower price because the shares will probably be smaller, the assortment of cuts may be somewhat more limited, and the beef may be a bit less tender.  But it’s a good chance for those on a tighter budget to get a share.

When you contact us to make a reservation, please specify a “Jersey” quarter if you are interested in this option… otherwise, we’ll reserve a regular Angus mix quarter at the $4.25/lb price for you.


2013 Newsletter, and Summer beef

February 15th, 2013

Hello! We’re proud to say that we got our 2013 Farm Newsletter out much faster than last year (as in, at all :) ). Click on the link to see what we’re up to on the farm.

Orders for our Premium Summer beef for June have been trickling in, so we also put together a new flier with the current rundown to complete getting the word out.

Let us know if you have any questions, and let’s think spring!

“Neighborly” shares are from heifers raised on grass and hay by our next door neighbors, and available in fall. We have quarter (or half) shares available October – November. $3.25/lb (hanging weights have been ~145-180 in past years), plus butchering charges which usually average about $120 per quarter. Final cost will be about $600-700 for a quarter. Email us now to order or ask questions!

Alright, orders have been rolling in, and it turns out that we have just a few quarter shares still available. The price is $3.75/lb (hanging weight), plus butcher charges (which will probably come out to ~$110-130/quarter). We’re estimating these quarters to be between 165-215 lbs (hanging weight). (You can request a smaller or larger quarter.)

4/29/12: edit/clarification: At $3.75/lb, a 165 lb quarter will cost $618.75, plus the butcher charges which are about $110-130/quarter. So a small quarter would cost about $750. A larger quarter would be closer to $950. We don’t guarantee a specific quarter weight… the quarters will most likely weigh between 165-215. Customers can state a preference for a smaller or a larger quarter, and we do our best to meet that preference. Sorry if there was any confusion about the pricing!

Contact us right away if you have questions or if you’d like to make a reservation. $150 deposit (applicable toward the final balance) is required to hold a reservation. And the steers will be going to the butcher in late June, ready in mid July.

Answering the age-old question

February 28th, 2012

Back in January, our friend Jeff came out to help out with some fencing and clearing out some trees and brush to make our woods a little more walkable. We came across some damage that our local black bear did to our beehive, ripping the frames to shreds and killing the oft-neglected bees.

Yes, bears do.

Bears. Woods. Poop.

It might be too late to get a new hive set up this year…I’ve been meaning to move them closer to the house so we can take better care of them…perhaps that one just pushed higher up the list.

Continuing our discussion about how our beef and our farm practices differ from some of the other farms out there. In this 3rd and final installment, we’ll talk about the seasonal nature of our beef harvest, and about following the rules relating to butchering.

4) Seasonal harvest
I’ve seen some farms offering beef nearly year round. I can appreciate being able to provide beef whenever a customer would like it, but the reality is that grass fed beef, like all other fresh foods, is best harvested at a specific time of year. I could go buy strawberries at the grocery store right now (in January), but I know that they wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as strawberries harvested in June or July.

Our “Premium Summer Beef” is named as such because it is harvested in late June, when the steers have had 6-8 weeks to dine on the premium grasses during the period of lengthening days, giving them the highest sugar content. Higher protein grass – such as grass in the fall and winter – makes for gamier and tougher meat. This grass is better for growing calves and for milking cows. Grass with higher sugar is better for fattening animals and making more tender meat. Because the sugar content (Brix) in grass is higher in the late spring/early summer. So, we plan our seasonal harvest so that the meat benefits from the animals having grazed mainly on sweet grass leading up to harvest. This is also why we adjust our price for the “Neighborly” beef shares available during the fall… those animals have had less sweet grass prior to harvest, and their meat, while excellent, is not usually quite as tender, and we adjust the price to reflect that difference.

Incidentally, the sugar content of grasses is also higher during the afternoons after the grass has had time to absorb sunshine, which is why we usually move the steers onto a new pasture later in the day, rather than in the mornings.

We’d love to be able to supply families with beef shares all year, and to supply local restaurants as well. However, we know from experience that the taste and texture of grass-fed beef changes quite a bit during the year, and we prefer to limit our harvesting to the time of year when quality is at its peak.

5) It’s the law, ma’am (Rules regarding “custom-exempt” meat processing)
Here’s a link to an OSU report summarizing small-scale (custom exempt) meat processing rules.

a) why ¼-animal shares?
Our beef shares are butchered and processed by a local state-licensed facility. When you buy a share, you are actually buying ownership of 1/4 (or more) of an animal. While we could legally sell 1/8 shares, this is stretching the limits of the “custom exemption”, which is basically a a loophole in the Federal Meat Inspection Act to enable farmers to be able to get their own livestock processed for their own use. When farmers use this loophole to divide up an animal among more than 4 customers, they are really stretching the intent of the loophole, and it can cause additional scrutiny (and possible repercussions) for both the farmer and the butcher. We think the loophole works just fine as is, so we don’t push the boundaries just for the sake of making additional sales.

b) butchering and cut/wrap charges.
The laws are definitely clear cut about this. Customers are supposed to pay the farmer directly for their share of the live animal (based on live weight or hanging weight), but are not allowed to pay the farmer for the butcher’s services. While some farms include the butchering fees in their per pound cost (ostensibly to avoid confusion or “hidden” fees), they are not actually following the law. We choose to follow the law about this, and have our customers pay the butcher directly for their services.

c) meat delivery
By law, we could deliver the meat to customers. However, given our small scale, and our lack of a delivery vehicle, we don’t do any deliveries. We feel that the easiest way to handle the beef shares is for the meat to leave the butcher shop directly with each owner, rather than us getting into the delivery business.

d) cowpooling
We are happy to facilitate cowpools… this is when 2 (or more) families get together to purchase a quarter share of an animal. If families are interested in cowpooling we are happy to take note, and to try to connect them with other families. When cowpooling, families need to come to agreement about their cut/wrap preferences, about who will contact the butcher with the preferences, and how pick-up will be handled. We are willing to hold a quarter share for a potential cowpool for a limited amount of time, but can’t guarantee that we will find another family to share the share. We encourage families who are uncertain about a full quarter (due to freezer space or other considerations) to talk with friends and families members about sharing a quarter.

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