by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
When Paul O’Mara says, “you can see there is no moss growing under our feet!” he is not kidding!
Quite the entrepreneur, he and his wife Cynthia (Cindy) have many irons in the fire and have diversified their farm to include many facets, of which the beef industry is only one.
The O’Maras recently hosted a tour of their beef farm, Endless Trails, Hubbardsville, NY for members of the Central NY Beef Producers to tour.
O’Mara explained how he and Cindy became involved in the beef industry, after initially building a worthy reputation around Canasota, NY, their primary residence, as a crop and vegetable production spanning 3,500 acres of land, over the past 42 years.
“Our operation owns and rents many farms around Madison and Onondaga Counties,” O’Mara explained. “Every farm we use has land that is better suited for grazing than crop production, so in an effort to better utilize the farms, we decided to try cattle ranching.”
O’Mara said they began their beef operation with five cow/calf pairs and the operation has blossomed to a herd of over 350 head.
“We have kept every heifer calf born on our farm to expand the size of the herd. All of our male calves are raised on the farm and than processed and sold directly to the consumer.”
O’Mara says they chose Black Angus because of “the excellent marketing done by the Angus Association (Certified Black Angus).”
Bulls are bought on “calving ease” statistics.
“We get all of our bulls from Trowbridge Farms.”
O’Mara’s have delivered about 100 healthy calves this year.
“I would say we’re probably at capacity now,” Paul commented.
Heifers are bred at 2 years of age, which Paul says keeps costs down and makes for a simpler, healthier situation all of the way around.
“I don’t like complicated. Everybody I know has had a problem with losing calves by breeding sooner. Keeping things simple has saved us money in the end.”
Marketing is done through Side Hill Farmers Cooperative, Inc., a cooperative of local farmers, that also has a retail store in Manlius, NY.
“There are plans to expand into wholesale sales of farm produce through a shared use facility, ‘Growing Upstate Food Hub, LLC,’ located in Canastota, NY,” said O’Mara.
Calving at Endless Trail is spread out over the year, which O’Mara says makes marketing easier for them.
About 130 of the cattle reside at the Endless Trails property.
O’Mara’s introduced Endless Trails farm manager, Chrissy (Breault) Claudio to the folks assembled for the meeting.
Chrissy has been with the farm for several months and comes from an equine background. She and her husband Cory, who worked previously as a contractor in Saratoga County, work the cattle farm as partners.
“She’s the cow boss,” Cory said with a grin. “Happy cows make a happy wife.”
The Endless Trails farm grazes nearly 200 acres of land and Chrissy says that she has received a lot of help from Troy Bishopp and the Madison County Soil & Water District, while gaining more valuable information by attending other CNY Beef Producers meetings with Dr. Mike Baker and Madison County CCE, picking up ‘tools’ for her informational ‘toolbox’.
“I learned a lot of tools from everybody!” she remarked.
Some of those tools include learning about rotational grazing and pasture management. Chrissy said she has received instructions on using a grazing chart that Bishopp has been credited with developing.
“The grazing chart helps to plan my life a little better.”
She advises to plan the chart out in pencil and then use pen to write in “what actually happens,” since life happens and things don’t always go the way you plan.
Pasture maps chart out the pastures by number making the information written on the chart easy to read.
Using gates and a chute to manage the herd has also been a positive learning experience for the couple, who discovered they could treat and vaccinate 130 cows in only two hours by using the set-up.
Chrissy and Ashely McFarland, Livestock Specialist for Cornell’s Central New York Dairy, Field Crop and Livestock team, discussed using the chute and compared thoughts from Dr. Temple Grandin’s method on using chutes to manage cattle; promoting safety and less stress to both animals and handlers.
McFarland, who noted that having a back bar and a head gate on the chute are desirable features, reported that in Grandin’s teachings, she advises using a full half-circle, 180 degrees, round crowd pen (aka tub), as cattle have a natural tendency to return to the direction they came from.
A single-file crowding alley is advised, providing an easy flow of cattle from the pasture into the chute, and when cattle come from the pasture, through the holding pen gate, a second gate behind the animals is also desirable.
Pens should be designed so you should not need to get behind the cattle, but are able to work from the sides, where they can see you. Maintaining cattle flow, with limited stress is optimal.
“The more you handle them, the better they are,” McFarland commented.
Head-gates with neck extenders on a squeeze-chute, are another desirable feature, as they extend and hold the animal’s head motionless while providing an injection area on both sides of the neck.
However, McFarland pointed out, as long as the quality (welding, etc.) of the chute and gates is good, other features can be added at a later date as your budget allows.
“Every farm has a wish list,” she acknowledged.
CCE CNY Field Crop Specialist Kevin Ganoe spoke to attendees about pasture management and focused specifically on identifying weeds such as Canadian Thistle, Bull Thistle and burdock.
“Identification of these weeds is critical for control.”
He noted that Canada thistle has creeping, underground roots and is not easily controlled, as young plants will pop up a distance from the mother plant, spreading and becoming established underground. Canada thistle is also spread by seed.
“Herbicides is one of the things we use for control. Spray patches as it comes into bud stage.”
Follow label directions closely.
For organic farms he advises, “Clip as much as possible.”
Bull thistle, he pointed out, is a biennial weed that reproduces by seed only.
Since biennials require two growing seasons to complete their life cycle, they are easier to control.
Burdock is also a biennial weed. “Keep it mowed,” Ganoe said. “Don’t let it go to seed.”
Chrissy says that the herd she manages seems to avoid the bedstraw in pastures at Endless Trails, where they are currently using a 14-acre pasture, with a 3-day rotation schedule.
Attendees suggested that smaller pastures, with less choices of “candy” to eat might encourage cattle to eat more of the less desirable plants.
However, Chrissy says, “The cows really like to voice their opinion,” and will keep up a vocal chorus when they want to be moved to fresh pasture.
“The cows have taught me a lot,” she admits.
One of the things she has learned from the cows that she says is important is to always have your fences in place before moving the cows. And that it is paramount to have all cows sorted and tagged.
“I will never have another cow we can’t identify,” he said. “Like all farmers, we learn from our mistakes.”
Chrissy says she uses spread sheets for everything and emphasizes the importance of documentation as another tool for the toolbox.
“I really like the tools I have learned from everybody and I really like the results I see.”
For more information on Endless Trails Beef contact Paul O’Mara at email@example.com.
Endless Trails Beef ~ adding tools to the toolbox
by Elizabeth A. Tomlin