by Dale Bliss
A thick winter coat comes in handy when you’re living on the range in Vermont and you’re a Belted Galloway cow.
In spring 2020, Alex Howe and Emily Dreissigacker were shopping for cattle when they happened upon a “great opportunity to buy a few Belted Galloway cow/calf pairs.”
The Belted Galloways were their choice for beef for multiple reasons. One of these reasons is they carry a thick winter coat for protection during those chilling winter winds. “Our land is on a northern facing slope that has pretty regular winds throughout the year so we knew we wanted a breed that was hardy,” Howe explained.
The size of this hardy breed was another reason for their decision. At Rowdy Cow Ranch, they graze their cattle the year round, thus needing a smaller size cow so the pastures aren’t torn apart when the soil is wetter than normal. They are grass-fed only.
Growing up on a farm in New Hampshire, then polishing his hands-on experience by studying ecological agriculture at the University of Vermont, Howe decided to keep the family tradition alive by forging ahead and transitioning with up-to-date methods by raising pigs, turkeys, chickens and geese at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center before he and Dreissigacker bought their farm.
Being a family farm, the whole family is called upon to help, especially when “a few more sets of hands are needed or we are in a crunch,” explained Howe.
Dreissigacker, Howe’s wife, received her degree in economics from Dartmouth. She never thought she would be farming until she and Howe met.
“We are constantly bouncing ideas around trying to find better options to make our system more efficient,” Howe said.
To keep progressing, Rowdy Cow Ranch decided to add their own state-inspected on-farm butcher shop and brought in pigs their second year.
Howe said they made the changes because “we wanted to be able to offer our customers a truly unique and better product.” These changes allow Rowdy Cow Ranch to dry age their beef and give them an opportunity to produce their own value-added products. “The pigs were an obvious choice given our decision to do the butcher shop since pork is really well suited to value-added products and complements the beef nicely,” he added.
Dreissigacker is in charge of the butcher shop. They offer all kinds of meats, including classic steaks, chops and roasts. Blue cheese, caramelized onion burgers, bacon burgers and maple blueberry breakfast sausage are more unique meats that can be found in their butcher shop. They also have an online store to sell directly to consumers. Farm pickup is available and they delivery locally every other week.
“We have started selling a few products in a local general store and are hoping to get into a farmers market this coming summer,” Howe said.
The ranch has an existing 10kW windmill and added an 11kW solar system to the barn roof to supply power to the butcher shop, freezers and work shop equipment in the 1880s barn that has been restored. They also use an electric fence based on solar power. Biodiesel is used to run the tractor. It is produced from vegetable oil waste from across New England.
Rowdy Cow Ranch is comprised of 80 acres owned by the couple, with an additional 50 leased acres. The ranch stays exceedingly busy during summer months, utilizing rotational grazing. The herd is moved daily on to fresh pasture. This intensive rotational grazing helps with erosion prevention, weed control, manure distribution, forage regrowth and fertilizing the soil. The pastures are rested before they are grazed again.
In winter, feeding is carried out through bale grazing. A bale unroller is used to make windrows of hay for the cattle to eat. This allows the manure and leftover hay to remain on the land and feed the soil. Even during winter months, rotation from one pasture to the next is kept up to ensure nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus from the manure is being spread throughout the whole pasture.
Rowdy Cow Ranch buys their hay from local farmers. Buying hay was more economical at this time than investing in haying equipment. This frees up time to work with the cattle and adds organic matter to the land.
Green Mountain Feeds supplies the non-GMO pig grower grain their pigs are fed. They are rotated from woods to pastures and given milk from a local dairy.
Looking to the future and consumer demands, Rowdy Cow Ranch is consistently adding new products to the butcher shop with more ideas to implement. Howe said, “We’d love to, one day, get to the point where we could do inspected slaughter on the farm.”