October 27, 2011
by Allan Nation
FAIRFIELD, Vermont: “I have been able to survive for 25 years on a small farm because I have always thought outside of the box,” Doug Flack said.
One idea Flack uses that is not found in most grazier’s box is the use of a dual-purpose dairy/beef breed of cattle. Flack’s dual-purpose breed choice is American Milking Devon.
The beef first cousin of the Milking Devon is known as the North Devon or Ruby Red Devon. Like most dual-purpose breeds, the Devon split into two groups early in the 20th Century.
The Milking Devon is thought to be the first English breed imported to the United States in Colonial times. While once common, the breed now is very rare as are all dual-purpose breeds.
“The Milking Devon was at one time actually a triple purpose breed,” Doug’s wife Barbara explained.
“They were used for milk, beef and for draft work. The Devon is one of the fastest walking cattle breeds and farmers really liked the way they could get over the ground.”
What Doug likes about his cows is that they can make 35 to 40 pounds a day of high butterfat milk from what he terms as “wild” pastures and do it with no grain supplementation.
These wild pastures are a volunteer jumble of white clover, Orchard, bluegrass and vetch. The pastures are Certified Organic.
“The lactating cows get the best and the steers the rest,” Doug said.
The cows lactate from mid-May until early November. They are milked twice a day in the spring and once a day in the late summer and fall.
One cow is 14 years old and still lactating.
The Devons are known for their heat tolerance but also tolerate cold as well.
The Flack’s dairy cows were out-wintered in the woods for many years without any problems but Doug became concerned about the nutrient transfer this was causing.
He now winters them under a large Canvas structure similar to a huge hoop house where he can capture and compost the manure.
Doug follows the principles of biodynamic farming and adds nettles, yarrow, chamomile, oak bark, valerian and dandelion to the compost to improve his soil. The farm is viewed as an organism with organ systems, physiology, economic, social and spiritual life liked to the whole of the cosmos.
The milk is sold unprocessed direct to 20 local families who come to the farm for it. The milk is sold for $7.00 a gallon.
At a conservative 600 gallons per lactation (5000 lbs divided by 8 lbs/gallon) this would be a gross income of $42000 per cow. In other conditions, Devons may yield more milk.
However, a portion of the valuable milk is made into butter and cheese for home consumption.
“We made the decision a long time ago that the first priority of this farm would be to feed us,” Doug said.
“If we didn’t need the income, I think a great advert would be `Flack Family Farms - Food so good we ate it all ourselves.’”
Milking Devon cattle are well suited to farmstead cheese because of its high conversion rate.
While most dairy breeds convert about 10% of their fluid milk to cheese, Gearld Fry said the Milking Devon can convert as much as 19%.
From the lesser quality wild pastures, the Milking Devon males produce a highly marbled meat when fully grown.
I made the mistake of telling Doug that one couldn’t finish animals on pastures as rough as his. He just smiled and took me to the store cooler to look at the meat.
I have to admit I was shocked at what I saw. The meat was as fully marbled as any I have seen and much would have probably graded High Choice to Prime.
“Dual purpose cattle are particularly well-suited to a small acreage farm because you can produce for two high-value markets without needing a separate beef cow herd,” Doug said.
“This allows you to make a significant income from only a handful of cows.”
At three years of age, he said the steers typically have a hanging carcass weight of between 600 and 750 pounds. They sell 50 16 ?? For $325 bringing about $2100 net.
They use a state-inspected abattoir which limits sales to Vermont.
Customers are encouraged to place and partially pre-pay for their orders in the spring for meat which is not harvested until summer and early fall.
The Flacks have been breeding American Milking Devons for over seven years, starting with a few exceptional milkers. Their main bull, Cosmos, was born on the farm six years ago from a milky mother; his milky sister also attests to his potential value.
Today, his daughters are showing excellent qualities. The bull, his sons and the cows have placid, intelligent personalities. We have been working with Gearld Fry and Ridgeway Shinn of Bakewell Reproduction Center.
Crossbreeding with Devons produces hardier, better grazing cows, and the lactations are longer than for typical Devons. Also, our bull carries the milk factor A2, which is of enormous importance in animal and human health (see A2milk.com). The Flacks have a small on-farm store through which they sell their grassfed beef, lamb and pastured pork products.
Lamb summer sausage is one of their hottest products in the green season.
Internships are integral to the whole farm and its focus on nutrient dense foods.
The Flacks also sell electric fencing supplies and hold on-farm schools and seminars. Personal farm tours are available for $30 an hour.
CERTIFIED ORGANIC LAND
Perhaps the farm’s centerpiece is a market garden. The Certified Organic vegetables from this are sold in glass jars as lacto-fermented vegetables.
Barbara said lacto-fermented vegetables are one of the richest sources of lacto-bacilli and enzymes. She said studies have shown that they help to maintain beneficial intestinal flora, improve digestion, aid immune function, and are associated with decreased allergies and infections.
She also makes and sells sea-salt sauerkraut, natural pickles and kim-chi.
Fresh and dried herbs that some use for medicinal purposes are another product. Currently garlic tincture for organic dairies brings significant income.
“The vegetables and herbs are why we have all of our ground certified as organic,” Doug said. “Recently we certified our Devon herd for sale to dairies.
“Our lacto-fermented vegetables are sold through natural food stores throughout New England. The organic claim helps in a faceless retail environment where the customer doesn’t personally know you.
“The meat products are not Certified Organic but our beef label reads `Grazed on Certified Organic pastures and fed no grain.’ This seems to satisfy our on-farm customers who know us personally.”
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