e58. Grazing on the Wild Side with Christina Traeger

In this episode, Christina Traeger of Rolling Hills Cattle Company shares her journey as a grass farmer from central Minnesota, raising British white cattle, hogs, sheep, and poultry on a grass-based operation. She discusses regenerative farming and innovative livestock management, including the processes of rotational grazing and bale grazing, which she has successfully implemented on her farm. Christina also talks about her experience raising unique Mangalitsa pigs and the challenges of running a farm as a single mom to three kids. She also touches on her experience with grazing cattle on DNR leased land and the positive impact it has on wildlife.

Books/Resources Mentioned:

  • Man Must Measure by Jan Bonsma

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These transcriptions are automatically generated. Please excuse any errors in the text.

0:00:00 – Cal Hardage
Welcome to the Grazing Grass Podcast, episode 58.

0:00:05 – Christina Traeger
For beginners don’t quit your day job. There’s so much that you need from that income until you’re established, and that can take a long time.

0:00:14 – Cal Hardage
You’re listening to the Grazing Grass Podcast, helping grass farmers, learn from grass farmers, and every episode features a grass farmer and their operation. I’m your host, cal Hardeech. On today’s show we have Christina Traeger and she’s on sharing about her farm in central Minnesota where they do grass-fed, grass-finished British white cattle. They do hogs, sheep, poultry. She does have a very interesting way of using her reels for her polywire. Well, just listen a little bit. Later you’ll hear about it.

However, before we talk to Christina, 10 seconds about my farm. We are still in keving season here, which I did not anticipate being My cows were supposed to start and they’ve been really slow on keving And I’m not real sure what the cause of that is or was. At this point it’s when they kev, they kev, but I’ve had four kevs over the last three days and we still have a fair number of kev. I’m about halfway finished And I originally anticipated having everything finished at this time. It’ll be something that I look at and think about for next year. Otherwise, we have rain in the forecast again for this week, which is exciting. Hopefully you’re getting some of that if you need some. But enough about me, let’s talk to Christina. Christina, we will welcome you to the Grazing Grass podcast. We’re excited you’re here today.

0:01:45 – Christina Traeger
Hi there, cal, it’s great to be here.

0:01:47 – Cal Hardage
Thank you, Christina. can you tell us about your farm and operation?

0:01:52 – Christina Traeger
I am a fourth generation farmer in central Minnesota. I raise a variety of livestock on a grass based operation, including beef, hogs, sheep and poultry.

0:02:00 – Cal Hardage
And just looking at your website and what you said now, that means you’re very busy, extremely. So one thing to jump out and I mentioned this earlier to Christina for our listeners was you have British white cattle. Let’s just jump into the cattle. When did you get British white and why British white?

0:02:21 – Christina Traeger
Back in 1996, we bought this place And when we bought this place we had intended to get some cattle. So we started doing some research, seeing what was out there, and I found an ad in the newspaper that said for sale, for each steer, you know, special deal. And we were visiting with our neighbor, who was my cousin, and I asked her if we got a steer, if she wanted to show it And then we would process it after the fair. And she was all excited because her mom didn’t have any cattle at that time and it was something she was very interested in doing as a project. So together went to this farm to go see these animals and walked out into this pasture that had a single wire fence around it And these cows started coming towards us and we had no idea what to expect And we’re like, looking back at the owner going, they’re going to run us over. You know what’s going to happen.

And these cows came up to us and we were scratching them and scratching their calves and we’re like, okay, yes, they’re white, yes, they’re different, but we’ve got to get some of these because these cows don’t act like this. So we talked about the breed, we talked about what traits the breed had and was like why are these not more popular? Like the perfect cow, you know, they’re white, they can take the heat, they have the black ears, black skin, so they can take the sun and they get a nice warm coat so they can handle our winters. And of course, they’re from Europe, they’re from the UK and they have a really cool royal history. So you know, putting all of it together, they’re just kind of a really neat animal And as I’ve had them for 26 years now, they’ve really grown on us, we’ve grown with them, we understand them, we understand how they think. You know they’re more intelligent than regular cattle, so they’re actually quite a pleasure to have.

0:04:01 – Cal Hardage
When you were introduced to them in 96, did you already have cattle at the time? At the time we just had a few dairy steers Oh okay, So in 96, you bought a few cows also, or not a few cows, you bought that steer. When did you start buying some cows?

0:04:16 – Christina Traeger
The next year, this gentleman he was a snowbird so he would go down to the south for the winter. And he came back the next year and he let us know that. You know, we told him we were interested in buying some cows for him And then he said well, i’m actually going to have to sell my herd because we’re moving down south, because his wife couldn’t handle the winters up here anymore. Her health was such that she couldn’t do it anymore and he just had a few head. So we agreed to buy half of his animals right then, because that’s what we could handle at that time, you know, getting started. And then a year later is actually 1998 We actually got the rest of his cattle.

0:04:52 – Cal Hardage
Oh, very nice that that worked out really well And that’s one of those things. The opportunity Happened because you went out to do the other thing and the opportunity came back later on now, when you went over there, you said a single wire fence, was he rotating them?

0:05:08 – Christina Traeger
It’s a single hot wire fence, you know, with little push-in metal posts, with the little galux.

0:05:14 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes. so when you brought him home or start getting your few cows Tell us about that process Did you immediately start rotating? Did you do the electric fence? How did that go for you?

0:05:26 – Christina Traeger
when we bought this place We rebuilt all the fences and you know we were doing things the old conventional way. You know barbed wire and hot wire on the inside of that and you know We were constantly untangling it because it was always tangled up and shortening out and Had no concept of rotational grazing at that point. I grew up on a dairy farm. You know We open graze. We didn’t know that was a thing. We understood about crop rotation and you know land management doing cropping, but the whole getting into the grazing side of it was something I didn’t get into until the early 2000s.

0:06:00 – Cal Hardage
Christina, not to interrupt your train of thought, but just to give you some awareness of what I was doing, my neighbor just bought some cows that look very much like British whites And I just pulled up her Facebook page to see if they were in fact British whites in the world there’s about 30 different breeds that are white with the black ears and There’s a few different breeds in the United States with those colors.

0:06:27 – Christina Traeger
One of them is the white Galloway and you know there’s the belted galley way, which yes. We’re familiar with that look like the Oreo cookie, But there is a white Galloway too.

0:06:34 – Cal Hardage
But they seem to keep a little more hair than what a British white will oh okay, i haven’t found her post where she said she purchased a few, but she’s got a couple links on here to British white producers. So I’m thinking she purchased some British whites and That’s been within the last month and to be honest, i was gonna say, well, i have not seen any British whites around and I was like, oh yeah, she bought some. She purchased a breed that looked like that. Now I’m spending too much time looking now, but that’s very interesting.

0:07:07 – Christina Traeger
There’s getting to be more of them here and there all over. You know There’s a lot of areas where they’re like what’s a British white? you know That was our, our thing at the county fair the first years. You know We were do what we would, my kids were showing and people like, what are these? I would spend all day talking myself Horse, just explain the breed and over, over and over. But you know we got a lot of people excited about them and for a while There was more British whites in Minnesota than other states and there was more members in other states And it’s been kind of a toss up between Minnesota, Oklahoma and Texas. Three states have a lot of British white cattle But there’s a big herd in New York, There’s a big herd in Alabama and you know our herds pretty good size. There’s a lot of huge breed association but you know what’s growing.

0:07:50 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes, And you mentioned a little bit about its history.

0:07:53 – Christina Traeger
You want to share a little bit without its history the British whites got to the United States when before the war, when Churchill sent them over here he sent five cows in a bowl. He also sent the lipizana horses and he sent another breed called the ancient white parks, and those are similar to a Texas longhorn but they have the white pattern like the British white does. They were sent here because if Hitler had invaded that, his thing was to take their national treasures And because the British whites were considered a national treasure, they were concerned that if they were invaded the cattle would be wiped out, even though they had started the process of Selling some of them all for that, because they were owned pretty much exclusively by the English royalty up until the late 1800s.

0:08:36 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, the white park is the ones that were pretty much Feral on these big estates that they started managing. The British white same color pattern But built differently were more royalty animals.

0:08:52 – Christina Traeger
Yeah, the British whites were more used for Adult purpose. you know milk cow, beef cow, oh, yes because they had been domesticated three times. So they were more docile, i think, than the, than the parks were, i don’t know enough about them.

0:09:06 – Cal Hardage
I just know a little bit here and there, but I think it’s very interesting. I do think they’re pretty cattle and One of my herds are Corrientes and I just love my Corrientes, their color patterns and stuff. The buyers at the cell barn do not and that’s where I market mainly. Right now. We’re working on changing that. I get so much enjoyment out of those colors, those calves that pop up, the different colors I have, so I enjoy the different color patterns in cattle and that British white pattern. I really should know the genetics behind it.

0:09:44 – Christina Traeger
British whites white patterns pretty dominant. There’s another breed called speckle park. They have Basically three main color patterns. They used to not have any blacks in the registry but I think they’re starting to allow some blacks.

0:09:58 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes, now on the British whites. Are they a closed herd or Hardbook, or is it open hardbook?

0:10:04 – Christina Traeger
at this time. The association has chosen not to close the herdbook, partly because There’s a lot of people who are still in that process of breeding up, where they want to cross them with angus or herfords Or let me see or whatever they have, and then be able to register those camps and kind of build a herd up that way Instead of just having to go out and buy all true red genetics. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just different and you get the influences from other breeds. But you know you can breed them pure and you know that seems to work quite well. You know we’ve been able to purify our herd over a long period of time. You know we had some crossbed but we had some pure reds too and we’ve been able to Create the right kind of cow for our environment, which is kind of what grazing is all about right.

0:10:48 – Cal Hardage
Figure out what works for you And expend those numbers. Thank you for going down that. A little bit about British white a little bit. Let’s get back to your story. So you purchased some British whites in the late 90s but you didn’t. You were introduced to rotational grazing or more Reginity practices in the 2000s. How did that come about?

0:11:09 – Christina Traeger
I got divorced in the early 2000s and in that process I gave up all of the farm equipment because at that time you know you need split things, you have to split things and I wanted the cows I wasn’t giving up my cash Yes so we had to decide how this was gonna go and and so I decided that I was gonna Try a different path and try to do the grazing route.

Because I had the cows, i had a means of producing an income for myself. When I bought the farm back, we started rotational grazing. At that point, you know, working through the NRCS, regenivated the land to take that crop ground and seed it down Into something that was a considered an improved pasture, and then from there it kind of grew because we started renting Pastures and built into something that has grown quite a bit from my few acres very good when you Started that process.

0:11:59 – Cal Hardage
How’d you start it? Did you just go buy some poly braid or poly wire at the time?

0:12:04 – Christina Traeger
We actually got a grant through the NRCS because at that time they had the equip program and, being a female producer I’m considered historically underserved, so I qualified for some extra stuff which helped us put in permanent paddocks.

Oh, okay my whole place here has Seven paddocks that we never did split to make 14. We intended to split them all in half But we just never got it done. And you know, 20 years later We still haven’t done it. But the cattle are only here for a few months a year. They come home in November, december, and then they leave again the beginning of May, and so there’s very few head of cattle out of the farm. I have the notties that don’t stay in the fence, or you know ones that are stragglers calving, or you know problem children everybody has a few of those and you know the ones that you know, the steers that don’t want to stay where they’re supposed to be, stuff like that They they end up staying here where I can supervise them a little bit more.

0:13:02 – Cal Hardage
So they’re wintered on pasture.

0:13:03 – Christina Traeger
We winter them on the pasture, we rotate them from section to section doing bale grazing, which is something I learned more about in 2009 at conference that was put on by the FSA, usda and then the NRCS and a few other organizations, and this fella came down from Canada. His name was Steve Kenyon. The first day was all about grazing and the second day He actually taught us about how to figure actual cost of production, and that has served me very well. I’ve been able to teach a lot of people how to figure their actual cost of production, because there’s so many things people don’t even think about it.

0:13:42 – Cal Hardage
You learned about grazing management and bale grazing, so you do bale grazing on your home farm or home place to keep your cows out all winter. Tell us what that bale grazing looks like for you for me We actually Unroll bales.

0:13:58 – Christina Traeger
I have really hilly land here. My place is called rolling hills, is extremely hilly and It’s not big mountain type hills but there’s a lot of elevation change from one end to the other. There’s nothing flat here except for a couple cement slabs. We actually go on top of the hill where the nutrients have been depleted from washing down the hill over the years And we feed on those hills to build the soil back up and actually improve the way the grass grows on those areas. So it’s different than doing the grid style. You know some of the other ones that other people do for me. Those just don’t work. We end up with too much waste And you know some people will argue no, that’s not waste. It’s waste because the grass will not grow there the next year and when we bale graze there is Literally less than a five-gallon pail of hay left for bale and the grass comes even nicer in those areas. You can see a strip.

0:14:50 – Cal Hardage
And when you mention about your hills and stuff I’m not sure we covered this earlier. Where are you located?

0:14:56 – Christina Traeger
We’re in central Minnesota, about 20 miles west of St Cloud, which is easy to find out of Matt. Our panks are kept on pasture. We have a couple paddocks for them and we rotate them back and forth. It’s not a real heavily wooded area like some people do the woodland grazing. I don’t have enough wooded areas to put them that they would stay, So we do some grazing with them and they tear everything up. That’s just pigs. I raise Mangalita pigs. They are a Hungarian breed and they’re a large hog. They’re not a lean hog So they’re not for everybody. But if you like, cross them with Berkshire sows. You’ll be very happy with the fork.

0:15:34 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes, and why did you pick that breed?

0:15:37 – Christina Traeger
British late is one of the best flavored breeds there is for beef cattle and that’s been proven. So I wanted a high end breed to go with that. Because I do farm to fork, my animals are sold directly to the consumer and then our breeding stock is sold directly to other producers. We don’t do much with sales barns and stuff like that, so our customers do and the buyers at the sale barn are very familiar with my herd because we’ve been doing this a long time We don’t have to worry about getting dinged for the color or anything. But when it comes to and then of course we’ve got other big cattle companies up here that do farm to fork grass-fed beef. So some of our breeding stock goes to producers who are producing for them. Oh yes, the Mangalita pigs. Because of their wonderful flavored pork, their fat tastes exactly like butter. We raise them that way and then I do them organic no corn, no soy.

0:16:29 – Cal Hardage
So are you giving them any feed, or are they finishing completely on grass?

0:16:33 – Christina Traeger
Pigs and pole tree can be produced on grass, but they get 80% of the nutrition from the feed you feed them.

0:16:40 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, they require a little bit more.

0:16:42 – Christina Traeger
The feed I get in comes from regenerative farmers mostly people that are like me, that have do no till, or I try to find farms that are into getting into organic. So I’m not certified, but we use feed that comes in that transitional organic category to support those people. That’s the kind of people my customers wanna support, so of course that’s who I’m gonna buy my stuff from.

0:17:09 – Cal Hardage
Right, which makes sense. On your hogs are you faring them out or are you buying feeder pigs and raising them?

0:17:16 – Christina Traeger
Everything is for over finish here. I don’t buy any feeder pigs. I don’t have very many. I just have one sour right now. We’ll have two again next year. Mangalitas grow a little bit slower, but some of it’s management, so getting that nutrition just right. you gotta feed them that 18% up until they’re 100 pounds and then drop them to 16% after that, or you just won’t get the growth out of them. And make sure there’s no fly scene in it, because pigs won’t grow without lysine. It’s kind of like ducks need niacin, pigs need lysine.

0:17:46 – Cal Hardage
And on your pigs? are you faring out in pasture?

0:17:50 – Christina Traeger
You’re on the side and we have a couple of huts that we feral man, and then when the little pigs are big enough to stay in the fence, then we turn them loose.

0:17:58 – Cal Hardage
And what kind of fencing do you use for your hogs?

0:18:00 – Christina Traeger
The training area has like hog panels all the way around And then once they’re broke to that there’s a hot wire on the inside of it, So that works really well. And then those same fences dub as our poultry and sheep pastures. They kind of get moved around. The chickens, the laying hens are, you know, old kicker rack, hay wagon, So they’re off the ground And then that moves around and the sheep can get underneath it for shade And you know it just hooks up to the skin loader for wheeler and we could move it.

0:18:32 – Cal Hardage
And on your poultry. you mentioned laying hens there Do you also grow some meat chickens?

0:18:37 – Christina Traeger
Yep between 1,000 and 1,200 a year.

0:18:39 – Cal Hardage
And how many layer hens do you have?

0:18:41 – Christina Traeger
Right now I’ve got about 100. I’ll keep up to 200 or so.

0:18:44 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes, you talked just a little bit about your layer hens and their mobile coop that you’re using For your meat chickens. Are you keeping them in a tractor, i assume?

0:18:54 – Christina Traeger
Yeah, i’ve got them in tractors right now. I’d like to have a schooner, but I don’t have flat enough land to run a schooner on. I would love to have a schooner, it would make life so much easier.

0:19:04 – Cal Hardage
It would, yes. So what are you using for your structures, or what model?

0:19:08 – Christina Traeger
My tractors are designed similar to the way salatans are. I use two by fours instead of one bys because I want to be able to pull them with the skid loader or the four wheeler to move them And because we’re using our hay lot, which used to be a desert. When we first moved here, we had a gravel pit and we closed that gravel pit and it was the barren desert. So we had this desert and that’s how I actually fixed that land. I used the birds. We just ran the chickens over it one rotation and the grass started growing. It was like a total miracle.

I had fed the cows in that area, so they had stomped it in the mud and tried to stir it up And in the spring, when it was really muddy, we’d have them in there so that they would push their poop in and everything, and it still wouldn’t grow anything And it took running the chickens across it And now we have to actually graze it two or three times a year plus, with the birds run over it, and it’s absolutely insane how it works. And then with the turkeys, because we run turkeys in a little bit taller tractors. I built tractors that are three feet tall And my rule of thumb is when the turkeys can look over the top at me when I dump their feed. They’re big enough.

0:20:14 – Cal Hardage
For the turkeys, are you growing multiple batches? You shooting for just that holiday market.

0:20:20 – Christina Traeger
We actually graze one batch of turkeys because they take 20 weeks. I get them early and we actually butcher them in either late September or early October, because after that we start getting freezing at night and what happens is we end up with a bird that has thin skin, and a thin skin bird is a dry turkey when you cook it. If we butcher them early and put them in the freezer, we don’t have that problem.

0:20:45 – Cal Hardage
That makes sense. Yes, now one thing. Obviously you know I have a little bit of fascination with breeds. I’d already asked you earlier about the cattle. Are you using specific breeds for your layers, for your meat chickens and for your turkeys?

0:20:59 – Christina Traeger
The layers. We change breeds from your tier. So this year we got Rhode Island Reds, we had Cinnamon Queens before. By having a couple different breeds, you know we get a new breed each year. You know always the top layer type breeds And then we have a few Americanas for the green eggs. But that helps us identify how old those birds are just by the color of the bird. And then, as far as turkeys go, we do raise some heritage turkeys and then a lot of your broad breasted varieties. So the people that want those 25 pound turkeys can get it.

0:21:32 – Cal Hardage
In addition to your cattle, your hogs, your layers, your meat chickens and your turkeys, you have sheep as well.

0:21:38 – Christina Traeger
I used to say no sheep, no goats, no exceptions, And my kids about died. When I bought sheep Everybody said, well, when are you gonna get goats, mom? And it’s like no thanks. So what caused you to buy some sheep? The customer demand.

0:21:51 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes.

0:21:52 – Christina Traeger
The customers kept asking for sheep for lamb, and so I looked into it and I started doing some research and found a breed of sheep that was better tasting or they were bred specifically for the flavor of their meat not necessarily the size of the wall or anything like that. So I ended up with Catadan sheep and their hair sheep, and they were developed in Maine, so they’re kind of a cool breed, and then we’ve been crossing them with Tunis, which is one of the breeds that was used to create the Catadan breed. But Tunis is a wool sheep So some of the hairy ones will be kind of wooly hair. So some shed and some don’t, but it’s a nice terminal cross.

0:22:33 – Cal Hardage
So you’re crossing using that tunis as a terminal cross, because of their carcass or their meat they’re carrying.

0:22:39 – Christina Traeger
You get a little bit bigger sheep As a processing cost the same no matter what size they are. So you know it just makes sense to try to get a lamb that’s just a little bit bigger.

0:22:48 – Cal Hardage
It does. And when you talk about customer demand and you mentioned a little bit earlier about farm to fork let’s talk about how you’re marketing all your meats.

0:22:58 – Christina Traeger
Between the online presence and we’re working on expanding on that to do shipping. We haven’t been doing a lot of shipping, just kind of as a little bit here and there, but we’re actually finding so many people that have food allergies that it’s kind of become a need that we need to be able to ship stuff to them to get them something that’s safe. Corn and soy allergies are getting really bad. People with histamine intolerance, with autoimmune disease. Some of the things I produce are safe for them, so getting it to them is getting to be kind of an important piece in the puzzle.

0:23:31 – Cal Hardage
Oh yeah.

0:23:31 – Christina Traeger
And then hopefully reduce my workload a little bit.

0:23:34 – Cal Hardage
Have you always just sold from your website, or do you sell some other ways too?

0:23:38 – Christina Traeger
We actually have been doing farmers markets for the last 14 years And I’ve went from doing as many as seven markets six days a week to now I’m down to just doing three markets. So right now I’m doing Thursday, saturday, sunday.

0:23:52 – Cal Hardage
Are you trying to convert your farmers market customers to be more online and not necessarily at the farmers market, or are those a separate customer base for you?

0:24:04 – Christina Traeger
It’s kind of a building on the customer base. I’m very adamant to go into grocery stores stuff like that because you lose that face connection, because when people come to the farmers market they’re buying from you And if my kids are there and I’m not there, they’re not going to buy because I’m not there, even though they’re my kids And they know they’re my kids. So my kids are adults. But it still creates kind of a break. That makes it challenging And I learned that 10 years ago I couldn’t send my kids in my place so that I could take care of the farm things or put the animals back in if they were out or go build fence or whatever. So is a challenge.

0:24:44 – Cal Hardage
You know, i really hadn’t really thought about that aspect. I know it’s about building relationship, but I know when I go to the farmers market there’s certain people I talk to and I almost always talk to the same people each time. So that’s an interesting observation you had that I hadn’t thought about. Now, when we think about a farmers market, do you have some advice you would share with others doing the farmers market?

0:25:08 – Christina Traeger
You really have to have a good personality to do it and to be genuine and stuff like that. It bothers me when producers are selling stuff that they didn’t produce and they’re saying is theirs. You see it and it happens at every market And it’s like if you had hands, you would know this.

0:25:25 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes.

0:25:25 – Christina Traeger
You know? just as one example, you know, if you had chickens, you would know the answers to these questions. Why are you asking me?

0:25:31 – Cal Hardage

0:25:31 – Christina Traeger
So you know some of those things kind of. They tip you off. You know it’s no different than meat or anything else.

0:25:38 – Cal Hardage
Let’s talk about some challenges you faced through your journey with any of your species and how you overcame them.

0:25:47 – Christina Traeger
Probably one of the biggest challenges I had was being a single parent, being a single parent with three girls and having to raise them and do all this and work out of the farm and then transitioning into the farmers market scene While doing all this other stuff. So that was probably the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced and I made it.

0:26:06 – Cal Hardage
When were you able to make that transition to farming full time?

0:26:10 – Christina Traeger
Did it over the course of about a year and a half, so it was like do or die. It wasn’t an easy transition. It was the backing of my family behind me saying you know you need to be doing this. We understand it would have been a lot tougher than it’s been.

0:26:24 – Cal Hardage
That family support is so important in anything we do.

0:26:27 – Christina Traeger
Yeah, definitely.

0:26:28 – Cal Hardage
Just a personal note. my family is all close, but my wife’s family lives multiple states away, so that just creates a different dynamic. that is not the same that my family can provide And, like you said, not everyone has that support system in place.

0:26:45 – Christina Traeger
Yeah, my one daughter lives overseas, her husband’s in the military, and she misses her family support. Her two sisters have kids too and they can call me up and I can stop doing what I’m doing to babysit The grandkids. Some of the grandkids are big enough to help now, so the oldest one’s nine, so the little one is just three months. So in time I’ll have a lot of helpers. I had all daughters and I have all grand sons.

0:27:13 – Cal Hardage
Start promoting. You know they can get in shape by coming out and helping you do stuff.

0:27:18 – Christina Traeger
The oldest ones go with to the market sometimes and they’re getting to be good little salesmen. They love visiting. Oh, very good. The customers love the boys. They ask about them all the time. It’s so cute.

0:27:29 – Cal Hardage
As you look to the future, what do you see for your farm? What are some goals you have in mind?

0:27:35 – Christina Traeger
I’ve kind of gotten to the point where I’m as big as I want to go in the meat business Because I’ve maxed out what I can. I didn’t have to sell any of my steers to other farmers or anything like that anymore. I’ve maxed out And now I’m kind of looking at with the online market. will that include me buying cattle from other breeders that I’m close friends with? that we all have the same genetics. That could happen And the door isn’t closed. I’m just figuring out how we can market it properly, because I’m not going to market those as my cattle. We’ll be marketing them as a group and how to differentiate because I want them to get the credit and the support they deserve.

0:28:15 – Cal Hardage
Right and that transparency to the buyer.

0:28:18 – Christina Traeger
I live with integrity and all of my customers know it. They’ll do sugarcoat things. I’ll beat around the bush. That’s not my gig.

0:28:25 – Cal Hardage
On your Instagram you have some interesting real polywire holders, So can you tell us about those?

0:28:34 – Christina Traeger
I actually use Garden Hall’s Reels.

0:28:37 – Cal Hardage
That’s what I thought they were. when I saw them, i was like wait what For?

0:28:41 – Christina Traeger
me. I can strap it on the back of the four-wheeler and tie it to the main fence and go, and I can throw the posts off as I’m going. I can pull it tight on a corner, i can go back and put the posts and clips on and I’m done.

0:28:54 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes.

0:28:55 – Christina Traeger
Because a lot of the land that I’m on is either rocky or hard as a rock, so you have to get off and literally pound every post in. You can’t just push them in the ground off the four-wheeler and never get off.

0:29:06 – Cal Hardage
And one advantage that I see immediately. That’s always a little bit of a headache for me. I’ve got a reel running over to some netting that I’m using for some goats, because I love goats, but boy, they’re a headache Anyway. So I have a post stuck in the ground to hold that reel off the ground so it doesn’t short out. It looks like from your Garden Hall’s Reels. You just set those wherever you want them And they’re not shorting out because that wire is not touching the ground.

0:29:36 – Christina Traeger
Correct. The only challenge we have is if a bear or a calf tips it over, which does happen on occasion.

0:29:42 – Cal Hardage
How much wire can one of those Garden Hall’s Reels hold?

0:29:46 – Christina Traeger
Smaller Wholes Reels are better because they can take a little more abuse. The bigger ones can’t take as much abuse. They fall off the four-wheeler once and they’re broke. So the smaller ones are a little bit better. But I used the quarter-inch wire in heavy woods where some of the areas we graze are wildlife areas And with that there’s a lot of deer, there’s a lot of brush and it’s not so much about the cattle.

They don’t really mess with it. A lot of times we don’t even turn it on. But the animals see it, they know it’s there and they respect it because they think it’s hot. That alone is enough to keep the cattle in as a visual. For them It’s a hypervisibility wire because it’s thicker and that we can get about 3-a-s of a mile on it. I use the higher tensile one because they make a cheaper one. That’s only got like 300 pounds of tensile strength. I buy the 600-tensile strength ones because we ought to be able to put some tension on them when they’re a mile long. And then a lot of our fences aren’t straight. They’re winding and weaving through the woods and stuff. So as we make these fences, nothing’s ever perfect in straight and square. We don’t have that open prairie land to mess with where we’re grazing. When we do those, you can get maybe three quarters of a mile on one of those bigger rolls. Those little reels are great for eighth mile runs, but when you’re fencing thousands of acres it’s a whole different ballgame.

0:31:09 – Cal Hardage
And I think this is a good segment into our overgrazing section, where we take a deeper dive into one of your practices and find out a little bit more, and we’re discussing a little bit of grazing on the wild side, almost.

0:31:25 – Christina Traeger
Our first experience with it was back in 2014. We started grazing for the state DNR and it was an open prairie pasture. That year they didn’t want us to cross fence it at all, they just wanted to open graze it and I was kind of adamant about cross-fencing it, but they didn’t want to do it. So we opened it. It was for a quarter section and we put two semi loads of cattle out there and they were out there for about four months And about halfway through we invited a journalist who was writing openly that this was a bad thing and why are they grazing wild land and stuff like that? So when I heard that this guy was dissing on it, i told the wildlife manager. I said get him out here. I said I promise you I could change his mind in 15 minutes and it took about five. We showed him what we were doing and how a cow pie causes there to be higher nitrates, which allows that grass to grow and makes a perfect place for a duck to have a nest. That was the first thing I showed him. He was sold. That’s all he needed. He just needed a reason. This particular pasture is a waterfall production area. There’s a lot of ducks out there and I have found nests on old cow pies from the year before.

From there we started grazing for another DNR area that wanted to add some forbs to that pasture, so we used the cattle to graze it down instead of burning it. The neighbors happy because they were dealing with the smoke. One neighbor wasn’t sold on the whole idea because there was cows next to his animals. But we ain’t gonna place everybody in that’s, that’s okay.

So then that led us to finding a project for US Fish and Game, and that project is actually a silver pasture project. They’re working on controlling the underbrush and a certain type of oak tree can’t handle the pressure, like another type of oak tree that they want to support. So there’s red oak and there’s bur oak in that pasture and it’s considered oak savanna, and so we’re grazing those areas and my cows being British white, they still have their wild instincts. With their wild instincts they will actually browse as well as graze, so we can put them into bigger areas and they will eat the underbrush as well as the grass that’s growing in these areas and it’s actually improving the habitat in multiple ways at the same time. The wildlife managers last year I talked to two of the head guys and you know this was after a third year grazing there. They said that they loved having my cattle there because my cows do exactly what they were hoping they would.

0:34:12 – Cal Hardage
Very good, as I think about your silver pasture and you’re grazing it. Are we talking thick underbrush or the tree spread out? How can you describe that a little bit more for us.

0:34:25 – Christina Traeger
There’s areas where the grass doesn’t grow under the trees because it’s so heavily wooded, and there’s areas where you can be five feet from a cow and not know what’s there.

0:34:34 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes.

0:34:35 – Christina Traeger
There’s a lot of variety in there, and then we also, during the drought we had two years ago, the cows were able to get out into the cattails and because it was so dry they went way out into the cattails, because about 30% of this pasture is cattails and they had a hay day out there.

0:34:52 – Cal Hardage
So will cattle graze cattails.

0:34:55 – Christina Traeger
When they’re young, they love them. If they can get to them, they will eat every last one. They’re high in protein and they’re very nutritious, and the cows did extremely well. I ended up with a lot of twins, which they had to be from the better nutrition they were getting, because they were getting to stuff they couldn’t get to otherwise. And then, of course, this year we had several feet of snow, so all of that’s all under water.

0:35:18 – Cal Hardage
So is it likely that will not dry out enough this grazing season, but you may be looking at it at a different grazing season.

0:35:26 – Christina Traeger
They are actually draining the water off because this, this wildlife area, is a bird sanctuary. March until the end of August it’s in sanctuary, so during that time people can’t go in there, and then it allows for the birds to have a safe place to be. The cattle don’t bother them at all. There’s sandhill cranes and different kinds of birds in and amongst the cows Cowbirds sitting on their head.

0:35:53 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes.

0:35:54 – Christina Traeger
It’s so comical you’ll see four or five cows with a bird on its hand. When we’re out checking our cattle, we have special permits to go in there and take care of them and stuff. But we don’t wander anywhere where the cattle aren’t unless we’re suspicious that something is out.

0:36:06 – Cal Hardage
Well, that’s very interesting. How did you come across the DNR leases or working with them?

0:36:14 – Christina Traeger
I saw the fences go up so I started making phone calls to find out who was in charge. The western part of the state. There’s a lot of state and state federal land out there too. They have contracts online. You have to meet a bunch of criteria to even qualify. If your bid gets accepted, then you start working with them directly. A lot of times landowners that are adjacent to that land will end up with those contracts because they’re closed. It’s easy for them to check the cattle. Some of the projects not others might be that you have to let your land rest while you’re grazing their land to kind of apples to apples. So some of the land we rent. I’ve got several hundred acres that will graze after the end of August when the cows come out of the big pastures. So we’re paying rent on those pastures to leave them set And that extends our grazing until we get too much snow.

0:37:04 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, that’s really going to help you out. When do you typically start getting too much snow to graze all those others?

0:37:10 – Christina Traeger
My British White Cattle will graze through about a foot of snow. It has a lot to do with. is there enough nutrition in the grass to keep them grazing? Usually about mid-October is when our growing season ends And from there on everything just kind of drops off. So there might be a lot of forage out there, but if you don’t supplement them with alfalfa pellets or something, they’re going to start starving.

0:37:34 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, very good, christina. moving to our famous fork, our first question is what is your favorite grazing grass related book or resource?

0:37:45 – Christina Traeger
I found that, working with Steve Campbell and Steve Kenyon, i’ve learned more from those two guys without a book. The book Man Must Measure was written by Jan Bondsmuck. It’s not necessarily so much about measuring the cattle themselves, it’s about measuring the environment and getting animals that are adapted to your environment. So those have been probably the most instrumental people that I’ve ever worked with.

0:38:12 – Cal Hardage
I imagine. so Steve Campbell and Steve Kenyon, tremendous resources there for you. Our second question what tool could you not live without on your farm?

0:38:22 – Christina Traeger
Probably portable fences.

0:38:24 – Cal Hardage
You don’t have a lot of equipment to choose from, so that’s good.

0:38:27 – Christina Traeger
It’s tough to do anything without portable fences And I got to have my skin loader. My skin loader is used for mowing pastures, for plowing snow, for feeding hay, moving things around. It gets used every single day. Electric fencers don’t buy a cheap fencer, Don’t do it.

0:38:45 – Cal Hardage
What kind of energizer are you using?

0:38:47 – Christina Traeger
I have five Parmax 12 fencers The one’s in the TAN case. After seven years I finally killed a battery in one. They never die, they work. They work year round. They work in the winter when it’s cloudy for days. Unless you got a dead short, you ain’t going to slow it down. I have a Speedrite solar fencer. That’s a little bigger one That’s got a little more snart for some of the bigger sections that we graze Or if we’re going to be grazing when we have snow or when it’s really really wet and there’s a lot of wet pressure from the foliage being wet, because there’s times of the year when that’s going to be better. So let’s go a little bit bigger batteries and stuff to go with it.

0:39:24 – Cal Hardage
Okay, Christine. Our third question What would you tell someone just getting?

0:39:28 – Christina Traeger
started. For beginners, don’t quit your day job. There’s so much that you need from that income until you’re established, and that can take a long time. I didn’t quit my day job right away either. I wanted to, but I couldn’t, and you got to be willing to work 20 hours a day, and if you’re not willing to work that hard and sacrifice literally everything, you ain’t going to get there. Beginners have an access to a lot that nowadays that I didn’t. It’s come a long way in 20 years And learn common sense.

0:39:57 – Cal Hardage
Excellent advice. Excellent advice. So much you said there is so important. I still work a day job. I would love to quit it. I’m not big enough to do that yet, but one of these days. And lastly, Christina, where can others find out?

0:40:12 – Christina Traeger
more about you. I have the website RHCCCattlecom It stands for Rolling Hills Cattle Company And then I have Facebook, christina Trigger. And then I also have Instagram, which is Christina Trigger.

0:40:26 – Cal Hardage
You can hop over to show notes and just click on it. Can you get there if you’d like? Well, Christina, really glad you jumped on here with us and shared about what you’re doing.

0:40:35 – Christina Traeger
Thank you for having me. It was exciting and fun.

0:40:37 – Cal Hardage
You’re listening to the Grazing Grass podcast, helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers, And every episode features a grass farmer in their operation. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and want to keep the conversation going, visit our community at communitygrazinggrasscom. Don’t forget to follow and subscribe to the Grazing Grass podcast on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube for past and future episodes. We also welcome guests to share about their own grass farming journey. So if you’re interested, fill out the form on grazinggrasscom under the Be Our Guest link. Until next time, keep on grazinggrass.

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