Working With (Not Against) Your Boss Cow

You know the one…the cow that is your best friend when things are going right. The same one that has the ability to send the entire herd running to the other end of the pasture with just one look or tilt of her horns. Whether you have a love or hate relationship with your boss cow, knowing how to work WITH her is the best way to make everything operate more smoothly.

Step 1 – Earn her trust AND her respect. If you get this right, you can do anything! The boss cow is the top of the herd and is used to getting her way. For your safety (and sanity) she needs to know you are NOT part of her herd and she can’t intimidate you or push you around like she can everyone else.

There are a few popular ways Highland owners can establish a solid report of respect with their animals. One of the easiest, and most popular is to carry a big stick…literally! On our farm, it’s a 4′ piece of PVC. Others use a cane, walking stick…really anything that can essentially act as your ‘horns’. Use your stick like you see your cattle using their horns. Example: A gentle poke or prod to get the others moving in the right direction….or simply raising it horizontally with a stern voice has worked well for us to establish that we’re not to be messed with.

To build trust, our favorite method is a simple scotch comb. I’ve seen people who attach them to the end of a broom stick or bribe with food for the more skittish animals. It may take time and patience, but there is nothing more rewarding than the day you can walk up to one of your animals in an open area and they CHOOSE to stand and let you comb them.

Once your boss cow understands you’re in charge and you’ve earned her trust, it’s time to let her do the work! She’s already a pro at controlling and moving the rest of the herd, so why not use that to your advantage? We have multiple reasons we may need to bring the herd to the barn to work them, or move from pasture to pasture. If your boss cow is halter broken, simply slip on a halter, lead her to where you need to go and the rest will follow. (Don’t try this with anyone other than your boss cow…trust me, it gets messy quickly!) Not halter broken? Try her favorite treat or a bucket of feed. Just be cautious, around food is the only time our boss cow can get pushy. Make sure you have an escape plan (fence to jump over, ATV to get behind) if she gets too close for comfort. Herding, focusing on your boss cow, can work as well…but in our experience, Highlands follow much better. We prefer leading or having them follow us with a bucket of feed over herding any day.

Whether you’re moving cattle from farm to farm or have another reason to load a group into a trailer, this is another situation where you want to make sure your boss cow doesn’t work against you. When moving the herd, we just talked about letting the boss cow lead, but when it comes to loading a trailer (or really moving them into any enclosed space) the opposite is usually true. Think about this… you load up your boss cow first (she’s the leader, right?), everyone starts to follow, she gets to the front of the trailer, realizes there isn’t anywhere else to go and decides she’s headed out. She’ll turn and take the entire herd back out of the trailer with her! In this case, load her last and she’ll help you push the others to the front of the trailer.

Last, but not least, is some other advice we’ve learned the hard way (a few times). Anytime you’re working with your cattle and need them to enter/exit through a doorway or gate, ensure your boss cow isn’t standing on the other side. Lock her up or otherwise make sure she stays away. Ours thinks it’s a really fun game to just stand immediately outside of the barn, not letting our other animals exit.

While those boss cows can seem intimidating, making sure you understand your herd dynamics and have earned your boss cows’ trust and respect will make working with your herd a more enjoyable process.

BRF Ciera – our boss cow, lovingly referred to as the ‘Big Red B’ by those closest to her.

Let me check my phone…

As a Millennial (or more specifically Geriatric Millennial…seriously, who comes up with this stuff?!?) my generation has grown up around tech. For better or worse, our phones are often an extension of our bodies and tech is a natural part of our every day life. I’m not here to brag…often it’s ‘too much’ and people need to unplug and enjoy the simpler things in life, but tech also has it’s advantages.

When it comes to life on the farm, tech (in many forms) has become helpful, and even necessary to ensuring the health, safety and overall management of our operation. Who can argue with that? Here are a few of my favorite phone apps that help our farm run more efficiently.

  • Weather Apps (yes, plural) – Think about it…have you ever had a conversation with a farmer or rancher that didn’t involved the weather? I didn’t think so! Want to know when that rain will be coming in? Check the radar in an instant. Need be on high alert for a cold snap, blizzard or strong winds? Done! Personally, I have 3 weather apps that I look at daily…The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, and Weather Bug. When they agree, you can almost count on it. When they don’t, you know things are ‘anyone’s best guess’ and can still plan accordingly.
  • Plant Identifier – Sure, I took an Ecology class in high school, and I know the basics…but there are ALWAYS random weeds, grasses, etc. that I just can’t identify. One quick photo of a plant and I know not only what it is, but in what conditions it thrives, if it’s toxic, and for those ever fruitful weeds…tips on how to eradicate it from our pastures. I use PictureThis. It’s free and does everything I need, but there are many different apps (free and paid) depending on your needs.
  • Google Drive – Many larger cattle operations could benefit from paid management apps like CattleMax, PastureMap, Ranchr, etc. For us, we’re still pretty small and I was able to build out some Google Sheets that house all of our vital cattle management records. We have a sheet per animal with all of their detailed records, a linked sheet for an ‘at a glace’ summary of our active herd, a breakdown of calves by year, summary of our standard health program, hay inventory, semen inventory, beef sale records/locker dates, notes about our pasture management and herd rotations, and a list of all important vendors like our vet, backup vet, hoof trimmer, ultrasound tech, locker, and nutritionist. With these records all in one place, they are easy to find and we can access/edit them from any computer or phone. We also use Google Drive to store marketing materials, purchase agreements and invoices, photos of our cattle and photos of dams/sires in our pedigrees for easy access.
  • Camera Monitoring – Ok, so while this isn’t JUST an app, being able to monitor our animals (particularly during calving season) right from my phone has been a HUGE benefit. We still check our animals multiple times a day, but being able to check in as often as we like from any location has given us peace of mind, helps us monitor cows in active labor without being intrusive, and allowed us to monitor newborn calves to make sure everyone is up and nursing without being a distraction in the barn. There are so many camera options to chose from and they very a lot based on budget, range and functionality so I won’t touch on that here but any WIFI enabled camera system will have a mobile app available.
  • Freezer Alarm – Last but not least is actually a ‘wish list’ item for me. When we purchased our first quarter of Highland Beef we knew the investment going into our freezer was too big to not have it protected. In Iowa we get at least one large blizzard every few years that knocks out power and there is always the possibility that a freezer could stop working anytime. We purchased a digital freezer thermometer and shows us the internal temperature of our chest freezer without opening the lid. While this is great, we’ve since come across options for a Bluetooth enabled device. For less than $50 it will not only give you the internal temperature, but track the temperature history so you can see how consistent your freezer is (essential for good meat quality), send alerts to your phone for temperatures outside of a certain range, and as a Bluetooth device it will still work even if your WIFI is down.

Now, this is by no means an exhaustive list…just a few simple, cheap and efficient apps we use to better manage our cattle operation. I’m all for working smarter, not harder and having these resources at my fingertips definitely qualifies. Have additional apps on your on your ‘must have’ list? Send them our way!

How To: Ordering Bulk Beef

Ordering beef in bulk has always been an economical way to purchase beef, know where you food is coming from, and to support your local farmer. The recent pandemic brought to light even more reasons why buying local is the key to future food security. When your freezer is stocked full, a few kinks in the grocery store supply chain isn’t nearly as troublesome.

But how do you get started? First, talk to you local farmer! Here at Glory Oaks Farm, we butcher our steers in the Fall, when they are between 27-29 months of age. Our beef is available to order as a whole, half or quarter animal. Our butcher processes quarters as ‘split sides’ so you get equal parts front and rear quarters to ensure each quarter has an equal amount of prime cuts.

The Process:
Once we have confirmed your order and quantity, we deliver the animal to the locker on our pre-arranged butcher date. They are slaughtered and then hung for apx. 14 days. Once we deliver your animal to our butcher, we’ll email you your final invoice. It will include the amount due for your beef (based on a $/hanging weight) and an estimated pick up date. You’ll then place your order for how you’d like your beef cut. Our locker uses an online order form, where you can see all of your cut options. You’ll select the number of steaks per package, thickness of your steaks, weight of roasts, pounds of ground beef per package, and which cuts you prefer out of each section. You’ll also let them know if you’d like to keep soup bones, short ribs, heart, tongue or liver and how you’d like the trim pieces processed (ground beef, beef patties, beef sticks, summer sausage, jerky, etc.). Once your beef has been cut according to your order, you’ll get a call from the locker to arrange pick up. Your processing fee (based on a standard $/hanging weight, plus any additional for specialty items you selected) will be due upon pick up directly to the locker. The meat will be pre-frozen, but we recommend you bring a few coolers to transport, depending on weather and length of your drive. It’s that easy!

Live Weight – the weight of the live animal on the day it’s processed
Hanging Weight – the weight after the animal has been slaughtered and gutted at the locker
Cut Weight – the weight of the actual cuts of meat once cut, trimmed and wrapped

The Math:
1000lb. Steer = apx. hanging weight of 620lb.
order of 1/4 beef = apx. 155lb hanging weight
155lb hanging weight = apx. 117lb cut weight
155lb x $5.00/lb hanging weight = $775 (paid to Glory Oaks Farm)
155lb X $1.20/lb processing = $186 (paid to Ventura Locker)
Total Cost: $961
Cut Weight = apx. $8.21 per lb. While this is higher than your average grocery store hamburger, remember…that is your price for every steak and roast too! Comparing to Walmart’s pre-packaged ribeyes (gag) which are currently $12.97 per lb…it’s a steal!

Ok, you’ve ordered your beef…but how much room do you need to store it? Beef can last up to one year in a freezer, as long as a consistent temperature is maintained. A chest freezer is our favorite for that reason, but many prefer an upright freezer for easy organization and access. For the size of a freezer, a standard recommendation is one cubic foot of freezer space for every 35-40 lb. of beef. A quarter will easily fit in a small 5-7 cubic foot freezer, and a half will need about 8 cubic feet of space.

Heat Stress Prevention

When most people think of living/farming in Iowa they picture the cold Winter. We’re ‘lucky’ here, in that we seem to have the potential for both brutal Winters AND wicked Summers. Right now, we’re in the midst of a true Iowa heat wave. It’s a running joke that experienced farmers will tell you ‘the heat isn’t that bad, it’s the humidity,’ and they’d be right!

It’s not enough to watch the forecast for the temperature when it comes to cattle, especially our cold weather loving Highlands. Recently, I stumbled up on the USDA’s heat stress forecast maps. These take into account not only the forecasted temperature, but also humidity, wind speed, and cloud cover and gauge the risk for heat stress in our animals.

Today, we’re in the DANGER zone and have taken a few additional measures to help protect our Highlands from heat stress. We’re monitoring our animals closely, and already have them in our pasture with ample access to shade while they graze. Air flow is good and our waterer can easily keep up with an increase in consumption by our herd. We also make sure to feed our steer (the only one currently on feed) during the coolest parts of the day, to avoid the extra heat generated by his rumen processing feed. On extra hot days, we also have a sprinkler we set up in the pasture that can be rotated to various shady areas. Our cattle LOVE IT!

Jade enjoying the sprinkler on a hot Iowa Summer day.

Some may argue we spoil our animals, but taking the best care of them we can is the only way. Fingers crossed for a break in this heat wave soon, so we can get back to watching the calves frolic in the sunshine!

Round Steak and Gravy

I love to cook and find new ways to utilize our many cuts of beef, but I am not one of those people who can look in their refrigerator or pantry and magically put a meal together….I’ll leave the recipe creation to the professionals. This one is courtesy of The Tipsy Housewife.

One of my biggest struggles when purchased our first quarter of beef was we used up our favorite cuts quickly and were left with others that I just wasn’t sure how to cook. Cue me searching Pintrest for ideas! Luckily, I stumbled on this recipe and it has been a staple for our family every since.

Round Steak & Gravy by The Tipsy Housewife –

4 to 6 slices of Round Steak
2 pouches of onion gravy
2c. hot water
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
2 T of butter

Melt butter in a skillet and sear the round steak, apx 2-3 minutes on each side. Sauté onions and garlic in the same pan. Add all ingredients to a crock pot and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Serve over mashed potatoes and with a side of corn.

We love the crock pot version, but The Tipsy Housewife also gives instructions to make in an instant pot or oven. This is a great summer meal to avoid heating up your kitchen and even better in July with some fresh sweet corn!

Fly Control

I thought about a more fun topic for our first ‘real’ blog post, but we’re in the midst of fly season in Iowa and it’s top of mind. To be honest, we struggled with flies last year. That is why we decided 2021 we were going to WIN the war on flies! There are lots of opinions and discussions around fly control, many of them vary depending on your location, how tame your cattle are, and what your operation looks like. Here is what we’re trying this year:

  • Cattle Curtain – Probably the best invention ever! We purchased this in 2020, but didn’t have a great way to hang it to ensure the cattle walked through it on a regular basis. This year, we used an old arch gate that was part of a coral we weren’t using to mount the curtain. It is working like a charm! We can move it from pasture to pasture and make sure each animal passes through at least twice a day coming for water, etc. We fill ours with a mix of permethrin and hydraulic oil. It leaves the cattle a little greasy, but protected from annoying flies and reduces their risk of pink eye.
  • Pour On – at the beginning of the season (May for us) we treated all of our cattle with a dewormer along with their annual vaccines. That included protection from flies. As the Summer goes on, we retreat as needed with a cyfluthrin pour on that focuses on horn and face flies and is safe for lactating and pregnant cattle.
  • Minerals with Altosid – Our cattle have access to trace minerals year round. About a month before we start seeing flies, we switch to a mineral with Altosid. This prevents horn flies from breeding in the cattle’s manure, thus controlling the population.
  • Big Bag Fly Traps – Just add water and hang these bags anywhere where your flies congregate. These are probably one of my favorite parts of our fly control program, mainly because you can SEE the results and it is so satisfying! They do stink, so don’t put them in areas you love to hang out, or where there isn’t good airflow, but these have been a great piece of the fly control puzzle for us.
  • Last, and our (and our cattle’s) least favorite option is fly spray. While it works, the results are short lived, and most of our cattle have to be contained for us to apply it. A few (normally very mellow calves) even bolt in the opposite direction if they see us coming with it in our hands!

Welcome to Glory Oaks Farm!

Welcome to Glory Oaks Farm! We are Kyle and Katie Baker. We moved to Northwood, IA (Katie’s hometown) with our two kids (Harper and Tate) in 2018 to pursue our dream of farming while raising our family.

We often get asked…why ‘Glory Oaks’? The inspiration for our name came while sitting outside at sunset among a sea of beautiful oak trees one summer evening. In that moment, we had a feeling of GLORY….for our new home and our family’s future.

Follow us to learn about our family, farm, and the Highland cattle breed!