Tim and Sarah Haws started their Romulus, NY farm in 2001 with six chickens; hardly enough to keep them busy. “Both my wife and I were working off the farm, but we really enjoyed the farm,” said Tim. “Then we got a few cows, and now we have over 100.”
Tim says the first 10 years of operating the farm they named Autumn’s Harvest was pretty much bare bones, with animals all on pasture and no barn or equipment. “In 2006 I made the switch to full-time farming, and Sarah followed a few years later,” he said. “But the animals are still on pasture.”
How did the couple make the decision to make farming a full-time enterprise? Both Tim and Sarah were putting in long hours off the farm, and they agreed that Tim would stay on the farm full-time while Sarah continued to work off the farm. At about the same time, a friend of Tim’s was laid off, and Tim came up with the concept of an on-farm butcher shop. “My friend went to meat-cutting school in Cobleskill,” said Tim. “It was a perfect move ‑ he needed the work and I needed the help.”
Although the family raises several species of livestock, Tim is concentrating building the beef herd. “We’ve tried several breeds over the years, but our focus is on working toward 100 percent Murray Grey cattle,” said Tim. Murray Grey cattle, a naturally polled breed, were developed in Australia from a Shorthorn/Angus cross. Tim says Murray Grey cattle have excellent dispositions, are superior mothers, easy to work with and fatten efficiently on grass. They’re smaller framed than some other beef breeds, but well-proportioned.
Breeding is via both A.I. and live cover, with three separate bull lines to maintain unique bloodlines in cow families. “We’re trying to produce as much of our own stock as possible,” said Tim. “Heifers are bred to a calving ease bull via A.I., and cows are bred to one of two bulls for growth and frame.”
Since Tim and Sarah have young children, disposition in cattle is critical. Tim selects bulls based on docility and daily weight gain. One of the bulls that Tim had been using for A.I. is now at Autumn’s Harvest Farm. “His calves were 55 to 65 pounds at birth,” said Tim, noting that a fairly low birth weight is common in the breed. “On grass alone, the heifers were gaining 2.5 pounds/day and bull calves were gaining 3.0 pounds/day.”
Although the cattle are currently used for the beef market Tim and Sarah have developed, one of Tim’s goals is to be able to offer registered Murray Grey breeding stock within a few years. “The breed is kind of unknown in the U.S.,” he said. “The cows are nice and thick, and they grow well on grass. We sent one to a feedlot and it was the fastest growing calf in the feedlot.”
Tim strives to maintain a tight calving window. Last year, the herd had a 100 percent conception rate and a 45-day calving season. After spending the spring and summer on grass, calves are well-accustomed to grazing. Calves are weaned in December, and have access to either a barn or reserved grazing area where they are fed baleage. “Market animals are finished on grass, which is a combination of grass and baleage,” said Tim, adding that he feeds according to American Grassfed Association standards. “Cattle get a little bit of corn silage that is cut before the corn develops ears.”
Rather than sending animals for processing based on size or weight, Tim watches growth and condition. “On average, they’re 700 to 800 pounds,” he said. “We go by condition rather than weight.” He noted lighter calves are easier to manage at the slaughter plant and more marketable to customers.
In addition to cattle, the Hawses raise layers, broilers and turkeys. More than 3,000 layers are housed in 15 movable houses mounted on running gear with a heavy gauge wire bottom that allows droppings to fall through to the ground. “We follow the cows and do a rotation about once a week,” said Tim. “We move them at least once a week, but it depends on how fast the grass is growing and how often we need to move the cows.”
The 300 broilers are raised on the ground in moveable structures, and several thousand turkeys are also raised outside in hoop houses made with of hog panel arches. Some of the turkeys are marketed to a grocery chain, and others are sold directly from the farm.
The 20 sows at Autumn’s Harvest Farm are also raised on pasture. Hereford sows are bred to a Large Black boar, and Large Black sows are bred to a Hereford boar for a good crossbred piglet that grows fast. Tim says that he tried farrowing inside, but has had more success farrowing outside. “We have A-frame houses with wood chip and straw bedding,” he said. “We insulated the houses and the pigs have done well.” The best black gilts are retained as replacement and bred to a Hereford boar.
The on-farm butcher shop makes it a lot easier to provide cuts that customers request. “At one time, we were driving two hours to the processor,” said Tim. “It’s expensive, and we had to have appointments far in advance. It was difficult to gauge how many animals we would have three months down the road.” Now, animals are initially processed at a USDA facility, then Tim prepares the chilled primal or sub-primal cuts in his butcher shop for retail and restaurant sales.
The CSA available at Autumn’s Harvest Farm has helped Tim plan a steady supply of meat to meet customer demand. “It’s priced the same or less,” said Tim. “Sarah goes to the Ithaca Farmers’ Market and people want to preorder.”
Visit Autumn’s Harvest Farms on Facebook and on line at www.autumnsharvestfarm.com