Checking Cows

A Story from Polyface Farm

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When you patronize Polyface, it's not just a meal decision

You've embraced a sacred stewardship of life

When you patronize Polyface, it’s not just a meal decision; it indicates that you embrace a whole new meaning to some of the most common phrases in farming. For example, cattle operations utter the phrase “checking cows” nearly every day.

As commonly understood, this means roaming around vast acreages looking for cows, trying to find them. In a feedlot situation, of course, it means wading through a fecal pall of grain-fed cattle, jiggly fat and up to their briskets in poop. Oh, the stench.

But “checking cows” takes on a whole new meaning at Polyface. First, they’re all mobbed up in a small paddock—new every day—where we can find them and see them in a minute or so. No roaming around the countryside trying to find the ones hiding behind the bushes. They’re all right there in the paddock, like herding animals are supposed to be.

Second, we look at the grass. Because we move them every day to a new salad bar, we’re keen to see the state of the current salad bar. The conventional cattle guys wouldn’t know if the grass is too short, too long, weaker, or stronger if it stood up and slapped them in the face. But because we’re strategically and meticulously pruning the forage, we’re monitoring the growth down to the finest grass whorl.

Third, we look at the poop. Sheet cake means the forage is too rich. Cookies means it’s too fibrous. Pumpkin pie is juuuust right—round, mounded up on the edges, slightly sunken in the middle, with a little dollop where she squeezed off the last little bit. Yum. Adjusting the pasture rotation based on manure is just one of many re-calibrations we make to insure nutritional balance and vigorous health.

Fourth, we look at the water trough. While most herds in the country drink out of pooped-in ponds, streams and springs, at Polyface we use portable troughs with piped water. This insures that the water is both clean and proximate. Our cows don’t have to walk a mile to water; it’s always right there in the paddock. What a life; luxurious indeed. We check to make sure the water is at the level it’s supposed to be and that it’s clean.

Fifth, we check their contentedness. If you take time to listen and observe, with all those creatures standing there looking at you, they will let you know if they are happy. Their rumen (where they hold the grass they eat) is on one side, and should be filled out. They should be chewing their cud placidly, not pacing and bawling, acting disgruntled.

Sixth, we check their mineral. Over the many decades we’ve been farming, we have yet to find anyone who feeds enough minerals to their cows. In the wild, herds migrate many miles to a salt lick or other mineral-rich deposit. But in a domestic production model, the herds can’t walk to these natural deposits; we have to bring the deposits to them. Here at Polyfae, that includes seaweed (kelp), Sea 90 Sea Salt, and an organic supplement from Fertrell called Nutri-balancer, full of minerals and vitamins. Sometimes the cows eat it like candy and other times they don’t touch it for days. Since cows don’t watch TV they aren’t swayed by ads or celebrity endorsements; they just lick it when they need it and ignore it when they don’t. We put a lot of faith in the cows’ innate sense of need, something humans seem to have lost.

Finally, we check spark. That’s what keeps them controlled. The electric fence is our brake, accelerator, and steering wheel on that four-legged pruning sauerkraut vat. We can steer them across the landscape with the same precision as a zero-turn mower on a golf course, for the first time in human history. Very cool. Not very many cows receive that level of management; Polyface cows are royalty.

So when you eat that Polyface hamburger or enjoy that succulent roast, pat yourself on the back. You’ve embraced a whole different notion toward bovine management. It’s a system that grows soil, protects and enhances hydrology, and purifies the air like the bison did for millennia. With the most modern, high-tech infrastructure leveraging the most ancient herbivore logistics, At Polyface “checking cows” rises to a whole new meaning. Your patronage proves that you desire such stewardship too, so go ahead, take a bite, and smile into sacredness.

Thank you.

Joel Salatin