We make little mention about our animals in this produce share newsletter, but it is important to address the idea that cattle are a valuable resource at Elmwood Stock Farm. They not only convert solar energy into wholesome meat, they are a valuable tool in our vegetable-production toolbox. From nutrient cycling to weed eaters, the services they perform keep us from having to do it.
The momma cows grew up here, so they know every nook and cranny of the farm, probably better than we do. And there is no better place than the Central Bluegrass region to raise them. The hilly lands on the farm are maintained as permanent pasture, never to see a plow, because the erosion potential is too high. This wisdom has been handed down for generations, meaning some fields look just as they did decades ago. There is a large portion of Elmwood Stock Farm in pasture, and we are glad to have it.
To our farm-tour guests, these seem like idle grassy areas. These areas are far from idle, though. The roots of the plants that grow there year-round hold the soil firmly in place. These plants also convert solar energy into complex carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals though the photosynthesis process. The soils of the Inner Bluegrass have a balance of nutrients particularly beneficial to livestock that consume the forages grown on them. That’s why the horse industry developed in this region.
Our forefathers went into the cattle business, and the animals in the herd we have today are the offspring of those that came before them. For decades, the best young females have been kept back as replacement heifers, based on their conformation, disposition, and a whole host of intangibles of how their momma, grandmomma and daddy performed: good mothering, good milker, strong bone structure, and the ability to perform well in a grass-based system, to name a few.
Much is known about each individual cow; many stories can be told. They all have numbers, have their place in the pecking order, have unique quirks, yet collectively, they are managed as a herd. In the early days, Elmwood Stock Farm built a reputation for selling quality bulls to nearby farms as herd sires. Since the bull represents 50 percent of the genetics of a commercial cowherd, we are proud to have had a positive impact on other farms.
These are beasts, some well over a thousand pounds, that eat a lot. We have evolved in our thinking on how best to feed them. First, they are divided into groups based on their stage of life, which translates into their required plane of nutrition and annual reproductive cycles. Second, we move each group from pasture to pasture as they graze down the forage available to them.
Nursing and pregnant mothers get moved to fresh grass every few days. We do this with temporary electric fence systems that are a quick and easy way to divide up a field. The decision on where the fence goes is dependent on how big the paddock needs to be for two to three days of grazing, which is dependent on how tall, thick and lush the grass is. When the calves are weaned at 7 or 8 months, they go off as a group of their own and are given their own rotation of fresh forage every few days. As the weanlings mature, we often have several groups based on size and forage availability. The mature bulls hang out in lush, expansive bull lots, impatiently waiting the next breeding season.
There is a shared understanding within the herds as to how this rotation thing works. The cows are keenly aware when the field they are in is eaten down or picked over. When they hear the Kubota coming, even before they can see it, they begin moving toward the place they think access to their next paddock will be gained. We generally have the next couple of paddocks laid out ahead of time, so when it is time to move, it is as simple as rolling up the wire on a spool and allowing the group to flow into the fresh field. We gauge how aggressively they begin eating to see if we made them wait too long or, if they're not hungry, not long enough. This is a balancing act, as we want them to stay long enough to eat more weeds, but we do not want to compromise their nutrient intake. Either way, there is no need to herd the herd; they freely move on their own.So, how does all this impact your vegetable share? Winter hay feeding moves the nutrients to where they are most beneficial—next year's vegetable fields. The herd gleans the produce from the crop fields in the fall and destroy any weeds there that they do not eat.
If you get a bunch of cattle farmers together, the phrase “workin’ cattle” means herding them into corral to give them shots and stuff. At Elmwood Stock Farm, it means they are doing work to help us grow vegetables and convert forage into food. —Mac Stone
In Your Share
Heirloom Corn Meal
Coconut Curried Sweet Potato and Lentil Stew, Ambitious Kitchen
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1” cubes
1 tsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. fresh grated ginger
½ T. curry powder
¼ tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1¾ c. vegetable broth
¾ c. green lentils
¼ c. canned coconut milk
⅛ tsp. cinnamon
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot and half of the diced sweet potatoes. Sauté until the onions begin to soften and turn translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, curry powder, turmeric and salt. Sauté for 2 minutes longer, stirring frequently. Add broth and lentils, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover the pot, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer 30-45 minutes or until lentils are tender. While stew is simmering, make the coconut-sweet potato broth: Place a medium pot over high heat and fill with water, bring water to a boil and add remaining sweet potatoes. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and continue to cook for about 8 minutes, until sweet potatoes are tender and nearly falling apart. Once tender, drain water from sweet potatoes, and place them in a food processor. Add coconut milk and cinnamon, and purée until it forms a somewhat smooth consistency. Next add the sweet potato coconut purée to the stew, and continue to cook to thicken broth a bit. The stew is done when all of the lentils are tender and the broth has thickened. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Scoop into bowls, and garnish with Greek yogurt, if desired.
Kale-sadilla, adapted from Simply Recipes
Serve this Mexican-inspired meal with a cucumber, pepper and tomato salsa.
1 T. olive oil
⅓ c. finely chopped bell pepper
⅓ c. finely chopped onion
pinch of ground cumin
1½ c. thinly sliced kale (center rib removed before slicing)
¼ tsp. butter
¾ c. grated mild cheddar
Sauté pepper and onion in olive oil over medium-high heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with ground cumin. Add kale, and toss to combine. Cook 1 minute more on medium-high, then turn heat to low and cover the pan. Cook for 2 more minutes, until kale is cooked through and softened. Remove from heat. Heat a large cast-iron pan on medium-high to high heat. Spread butter over the bottom of the pan. Place a flour tortilla in the pan, and heat until you see bubbles of air pockets starting to form. Flip the tortilla over, and lower the heat to medium. Sprinkle tortilla with half of the cheese. Place a couple scoops of the kale mixture on one half of the tortilla. Fold the other half of the tortilla over the side with the kale. Press down with a spatula. When the cheese on one side has melted, flip the tortilla over to the other side. When the cheese on that side has melted, remove to a cutting board and repeat with the other tortilla and the remaining cheese and filling. Cut the kale-sadilla into thirds and serve.
One Pot Sweet Potato, Tomato and Kale Rice Skillet, adapted from ADashofMegnut
1 lb. sweet potatoes, cut into ¾“ cubes (about 1 cup)
1 t. olive oil
2 t. cumin
12 oz. kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz.) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 c. uncooked white rice
2 c. vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet, preheat oil over medium heat. Add the sweet potatoes and cumin. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until sweet potatoes are seared on all sides. Add chopped kale to the pot and stir until it is wilted. Then add in diced tomatoes and chickpeas and stir until combined. Then, add the uncooked rice. Pour the chicken broth over the skillet and stir until completely combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover pan with a lid and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20-25 minutes, until rice is fluffy and the chicken broth is mostly absorbed. You may need to stir one or two times throughout the cooking so that the rice doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot. Serve immediately.