e63. Humble Beginnings & Rapid Growth with Caleb Schenk

In this episode, Caleb Schenk from Deer Run Acres shares his journey from starting with two Dexter cows and a bull to managing a successful farm. He discusses the challenges of pasture management, dealing with high snowfall, and the different forage options in Erie County, Pennsylvania. He also highlights the importance of water management and shares practical techniques like trench digging and the use of Plasson connectors. Caleb shares his experiences with fence-building methods, raising pastured pork, and the significance of hiring a consultant for farming ventures. He also shares the challenges and benefits of bail grazing and winter hay feeding. The episode provides valuable insights for anyone looking to navigate the intricacies of farming and pasture management.

Books/Resources Mentioned:

  • Humane Livestock Handling: Understanding livestock behavior and building facilities for healthier animals by Temple Grandin


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

0:00:00 – Cal Hardage
Welcome to the Grazing Grass Podcast, episode 63.

0:00:05 – Caleb Schenk
Every single ecosystem for every single farm is always different.

0:00:10 – 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 episode, we have Caleb Schenck. He comes on sharing about his journey producing 100% grass-fed beef and pastured egg production. In 2017, he started with two cows and a bull and now they have over 90 head of cattle, 170 egg layers and they’re managing over 200 acres.

I think you’ll enjoy it. First, instead of the 10 seconds about my farm, we’re going to talk about the grazing grass community. We have made the decision to move the grazing grass community to a Facebook group. I have some reservations about that, but I think overall, it’ll improve access for everyone and it will be a good move. If you’re currently a member of the grazing grass community, you will receive an invite for the new community on Facebook and if you’re not, we encourage you to join it. You can search for Grazing Grass Community or go to facebookcom. We help to see you there and provide a platform for your questions, for our communication, for building our community. Next week, we have some exciting news to announce as well, but let’s talk to Caleb today. Caleb, we want to welcome you to the Grazing Grass podcast. We are excited you’re here today.

0:01:51 – Caleb Schenk
Thanks, for having me. I appreciate it.

0:01:53 – Cal Hardage
Caleb, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your operation?

0:01:57 – Caleb Schenk
Sure, yeah, my wife and I we started Deer Run Acres, which is our farm, back in 2017, there’s always a little bit of give and take in a marriage and I decided that I wanted to get cattle one week before we were due with our second child. That was an interesting experience, with trying to get fencing set up and then, of course, the cows running away two days before she was due and it was a disaster, but a great way to start and a great way to strengthen your marriage anyways. So we’ve got two daughters, hazel and Eden. They’re eight and six right now. My wife and I we also, besides for owning our farm, we own an interior design and product sales business for kitchen and bathroom modeling, and then we also, just this last year, started a Airbnb rental on one of our farm properties for basically an added income for the farm, for resiliency, really. But there’s a whole, just lots of stuff that we do and that we get into. Grazing and grass-fed beef and pasture-raced poultry, egg layers, that is, are the main things that I do.

0:03:20 – Cal Hardage
Well, let’s go from there. Let’s talk about that decision to get some cows in 2017. Did you have experience with cows? Did your wife have experience?

0:03:30 – Caleb Schenk
Nope. So my wife grew up in the city. Well, suburbs, erie, pennsylvania, is a very small city. It’s about 250-ish thousand people, so it’s not big by any stretch of the measure. But she grew up in the city, both for parents or school teachers. She did grow up on a dairy farm but she hadn’t been around that and her you know her grandparents, my wife’s grandparents, didn’t have the farm anymore when we met. But growing up, my mom was also raised on a dairy farm and when I was younger we lived in the country but we didn’t have any farmland or anything We had. I think four acres is what my parents owned at the time.

I did work for my cousins on a conventional dairy operation which basically was just doing hay in the summertime and milking cows. Yeah, all the fun jobs They did square bales. I think everybody that’s done farming for conventional farming with square bales just knows the horrors of it. It’s, you know, 120 degrees in a haymow. You’re sweating like crazy and then you finish that up and you got to go be patient with cows for three hours as you milk them And it’s just so. Needless to say, i hated it. Yeah, i did not enjoy one bit of it And I, you know, i never thought that I’d get into animals, and when we got married, we were living in the city, in Erie, and my wife tells the story.

I don’t remember it how she came home from work one day We had our one year old daughter at the time and apparently I was just pacing like walking laps around the house and she’s like what are you doing? And I said we need to get out of here, i can’t live in the city anymore. And about six months later we’d found a house, we’d sold our house and we’d bought a place with 33 acres out in the country. And you know what it was. I just got this feeling in my in my mind. It’s like you know, i need to get some animals, i want to get some cows.

And so I started trying to figure out stuff And you know, the first book I came across was grass fed cattle, which I know has been mentioned on your podcast before, but I mean it’s a great book and started doing fencing plans and trying to do water plans. And here’s this. I mean, sure, i grew up in the country, i grew up around animals, but I didn’t know the first thing, and so set up some small and got a few animals and from there it grew very quickly.

0:05:38 – Cal Hardage
Now I believe you said you purchased two cows in a bull.

0:05:42 – Caleb Schenk
Yeah, well, it was a, it was a heifer, a cow with a calf, and then, a few months later, we got a bull.

0:05:49 – Cal Hardage
Oh yes, And did you start out with dexter’s?

0:05:53 – Caleb Schenk
I did, yeah. So I wanted something that was small. My wife was being the shoes from the city. She’s like I don’t want big, scary animals. And you know, i’d heard of dexter’s in the past that they’re, you know, pretty docile and they’re smaller. I mean, as it turns out, i wouldn’t say dexter’s are more docile than any other breed of cattle. It depends on how you raise them. That’s really what it comes down to. And sure are they small? Yeah, absolutely. You know, a full-grown cows only 800 pounds at max. Your bowls are a thousand eleven hundred if they’re huge. So they’re, they’re easy to handle. Because of that You don’t have to be as Cautious. I guess I shouldn’t say that, but you feel like you don’t have to be as cautious when you’re working around them because they’re smaller, you know and when you brought those in, you said you’d already set up a few pastures.

0:06:42 – Cal Hardage
Did you immediately try rotating them?

0:06:45 – Caleb Schenk
How did that go? Well, as I said, they ran away. So That was my plan. My plan was to start rotating them right away. What I had set up is I had a three acre pasture set up and I I divided it into 28 little tiny paddocks, all set up with permanent wire and lanes, and it was a disaster. I Didn’t know anything. I mean this was back in 2017. There was no YouTube channels about using reels. I guess I didn’t look at enough books or something. I only read that one, you know, the grass-fed cattle book and her grass-fed beef, and so I tried that and I mean it worked by Number one. 28 paddocks is not really enough. They’re permanent, so it’s rigid. I couldn’t adjust it, i couldn’t slow them down, i couldn’t speed them up. I mean it was is crazy. I mean I think I had that pasture graze down to nothing by September 15th and then it’s feeding hay until the next May.

0:07:43 – Cal Hardage
I mean it was the learning curve was strong with that one, but we made it through it is, but you but you illustrate a point that’s been brought up So many times you just gotta get started. you don’t know what you don’t know, and Until you get out there and start doing it and in books and we talked about books and resources All the time, and there’s tons more out there now, like you’d mentioned Yeah, but until you’re out there doing it and I’ll be honest, i’m not very good I’ll do something better tomorrow. I try each day, but you, you’ve got to get started And I think that’s one of those, one of those essential features of it get started, then you’ll learn correct because can think and overthink it.

0:08:27 – Caleb Schenk
And The fact of the matter is too. Is that I tell people now is that Every single ecosystem for every single farm is Always different. It doesn’t matter if it’s my neighbor down the road or if it’s somebody in Missouri or whatever it is. You know, context is king. I mean, people talk about that all the time and you can’t. You can’t say enough about it. If you’re not willing to jump in Headfirst with both feet and make it work and figure it out, it’s not gonna work. And so you can read as much as you want, but you just got to get started somewhere, like you said.

0:09:01 – Cal Hardage
I agree 100% yeah, i get that action in there. So when you purchased the Dexters, was your goal to produce grass-fed beef at the time?

0:09:12 – Caleb Schenk
Yes, well, my first goal was to have a family milk cow, my intention, and I’m getting much better at this, but I always try to bite off way more than I can chew because I don’t recognize my fallibility Guilty, as charged. Yeah, so You know, at that time I was working 60 hours a week as a, as a sales and training manager at a furniture store and Then to try to take care of kids and try to take care of a house and try to be a husband And then try to do all that other stuff and milk a cow, for I mean set up, milking, clean up every day. You’ve got an hour into it. It’s like where does that time come from? So I mean that I did that two milk shares for the calf, you know, with a cow and And sold that cow because I just was like I’m not, i’m not doing milk anymore and somebody else that wants to do milk Can have a trained milk cow now.

0:10:03 – Cal Hardage
Oh yeah, there you go. Yes, Your Dexter’s you you start with your rigid Paddock design had some growing pains there. Tell us a little bit about your evolution to where you are now.

0:10:16 – Caleb Schenk
First winner, obviously with just the four animals, found out that I needed way more pasture. I mean, three acres obviously is not enough. I mean, that’s the thing, if people are listening to this podcast that you know Want to get Dexter cattle or have Dexter cattle. They eat just as much as other cows, like People talk all the time Oh, you can have a Dexter and only give one acre of pasture per cow And it’s like no, you can’t, not if you’re trying to do it right, unless you want to feed hay eight months out of the year. So anyways, that spring, the next spring, after feeding all that hay out, bought Three more bread heifers and a couple steers and started adding to the herd and we had calves. So The four animals the first year turned into 15.

I’m a little bit choked up today because the the wildfires in Canada are blowing smoke over us right now And it’s holy cow, it’s bad. I mean I was out on top the hill today Putting in some shut-off valves in my buried water system And I mean I couldn’t even hardly see my house, which is only a quarter mile away. It was, it’s terrible, anyways. So second year we got into 15 cattle and I fenced in a total of About 15 acres that year. So I still hadn’t learned my lesson for more than an acre per head, but it kind of grew from there, and So that was 2018. Then in 2019 I fenced in an additional 25-ish acres and then we ended up buying 50 more head, 30 cows and 20 steers. So again, i hadn’t learned my lesson about having enough pasture, and right around that time I bet I learned about Greg Judy and YouTube started coming out with, you know, regenerative ranchers and whatnot, and you know He talks all the time about leasing pasture and it’s like oh, i have all sorts of pasture around here that nobody uses. By the spring of the next year, i doubled my pasture size from essentially 40 acres up to about 85, and that’s when things started getting a lot better.

You know you’re getting 30 calves on the ground every year. Your herd grows so fast and you start oh yes, you know your butcher and tons of animals. There’s tons of turnover and you just need a lot of room to to expand and grow. I mean with that all the ground around here where we’re at in in Edinburgh, in Erie County, pennsylvania.

This used to be huge dairy country and I don’t know what it is. It’s the feeling that I have is that a lot of the dairy farmers around here They didn’t put a lot back into the ground. You know there’s there’s no lime in these pastures. They’re incredibly degraded.

That’s been another really big struggle is just trying to find Innovated ways to get the cattle enough feed, enough quality forage so that they can grow, maintain, breed back every year. So it’s that that’s kind of the growth and and the really the biggest struggle was was finding good quality feed and finding out How to feed them properly. So, and I guess I should say on top of that, i mean, being that we started this farm, that we don’t ever put our animals in barns. You know That’s another learning curve that you’re trying to get through is is being in an area where we get 150 to 200 inches of snow every winter and finding out how to manage your herd through that incredible stress on them as well, using, you know, natural tree cover and different types of hay to feed at certain times so that they can they can produce more heat inside their Rumens when we talk about.

0:13:52 – Cal Hardage
So you mentioned where you’re located. Let’s talk about your Topography there, what kind of forages you have available.

0:14:00 – Caleb Schenk
We’re a little bit hilly but most of the ground around here is very, very flat. In terms of the soil, type is Just straight hard clay. Once you get through, the most of the pastures only have or had when I started, about two to three inches of top soil in it most, and then it was hard Pack clay underneath. That You have Good water retention in the clay. But a lot of times it’s hard for those forages to utilize that stuff because they don’t put ribs down into that hard clay. It stays up in the top soil and so Originally our summer slump was horrible.

Most of the time most farmers around here pretty much only have cool season grasses. I mean, here we are at the end of June and, as I was, you know, talking to you just before we started, it’s like we had 70 degree days for the last 10 days. That was our top temperature, and so your, your warm season grasses aren’t growing. Your cool season grasses are growing. Well, coming up here in July We’re just going to have an incredible explosion of heat. It’s going to be 85 90 For the whole month, all the way through August, and your cool season grasses aren’t going to grow at all.

So I mean in terms of general forages, what we get the the most success from is is fescue. Is is awesome, you know. It grows year round. It stays green in the wintertime. I love fescue. If we got a lot of orchard grass, timothy, those are kind of the big ones, but then what really fills in the pastures are lots of forbs being plantain dandelions. Curly dock is another one that grows here and there and in the cows eat it. You know they love it. So Kentucky bluegrass, ride grasses, those things, i mean pretty much everyone has them, but Jordy, of those like I mentioned they, they really are the cool season grasses.

0:15:44 – Cal Hardage
Fescue is kind of the one that crosses over and does well most of the time and when you Started grazing your land and then leasing that land, have you added any Or broadcast any seeds or no, tilled anything in or yes, i can’t say much of its worked.

0:16:03 – Caleb Schenk
What I will say is worked is frost seeding clover while bale grazing is an Incredible way to get legumes in your pastures. You know, i’ve tried. I tried no tilling in some oats and rye grap and annual rye Didn’t really take it all. Honestly, it was extremely expensive and not a great return on investment. I mean, maybe if I paid more attention to, you know, making sure my pH is perfect and and Getting it in at the exact time of the year, it probably work. But I can’t say that.

I believe in my context that it would Did. It would pan out. We have such an incredible spring flush. And then the other thing to be aware of is like where we are in Erie County, pennsylvania, we get about a hundred inches rain every year. I mean we are so far from brittle. It’s unbelievable. I mean, the biggest thing I don’t I don’t have to worry so much about drought ever. I have to worry about making sure I can stockpile enough forage for the winter time So that I can still move the cattle quickly and not pug my pastures. I mean that that’s the hardest thing is because We just get so much, so much rain, and I’m certainly not complaining about it. I’m very grateful for it, but it’s but. Having to learning how to deal with all of your unique Challenges on your farm is difficult and it takes it takes time one thing on that much precipitation How is that Structured throughout?

the year. A lot of it comes in the winter time. I mean when I said before 150 to 250 inches of snow, i mean 10 inches of snow in general equates to one inch of rain. But in the winter time we don’t often have that snow actually on the ground. It’s pretty rare when we have more than a foot and a half two feet, because it comes in a fit and fury off Lake Erie And then we get a warm spell and it rains and it melts. So most of our precipitation comes, i’d say, probably October through May. Five to ten inches every month. In the summer I was having some tractor time cleaning up some pastures on some lease ground with a brush hog and We got three inches of rain in 30 minutes. You know it’s just a deluge.

0:18:25 – Cal Hardage
I’m so glad we have a cab tractor makes it much nicer get caught out in that.

0:18:30 – Caleb Schenk
Yeah, so most of the time I mean most of the rain is in the winter time, which is exactly when I don’t need it, exactly when I don’t want it, because wet cows with cold wind is not a fun situation, right you mentioned earlier and, of course, we’ve talked about the water.

0:18:45 – Cal Hardage
So you have a lot of water coming down, but getting water to animals is always an issue. So how are you watering your cattle?

0:18:55 – Caleb Schenk
Our main property, the one we originally bought in 2016? that is, a 32 acre pasture, is what we own and Originally I just ran just polyethylene pipe one inch polyethylene pipe on the surface of the ground to pipe it to three different parts on the farm and then from there, i had basically Originally I had rigid lanes that ran back to the water points and then when I cut off the cows With my poly braid on reels, i would just raise the wire up and they’d go underneath it and they’d run back. You know they’d go back to the water. That worked Okay, but the problem is 50% of your manure goes right to your water point. It’s not in your pasture where you actually want it feeding the grass, and so you just have this massive dead space Around your water troughs where it serves no purpose. It makes flies. You know You have horrible fly problems because you can’t get the animals away from the manure ever.

In 2020 yeah, 2020 rented a skid steer with a Trencher and I actually trenched in almost 5,000 feet of waterline On our main farm here, and the nice thing about that is off of our farm. We have an additional 30 acres here, but we have another additional 25 acres that we lease That I was able to run the water points right up next to and along those pasture lines, so that way I put in multiple. You’re familiar with the plasson connectors.

Yes the full flows? Yes, so I pipe those in under the ground. Everything’s down 40 to 36 inches to be below frost line. And then I have the, a six inch Schedule 40 PVC pipe riser. Essentially that comes up to the ground surface and I’m able to basically reach a hose down in that hole and Plug it into the plasson Quick connector so that way I have cold water. That’s not warm, cows don’t like warm water. And that was the other thing that I always struggled with with the, with the water piped on the surface Is when they’re drinking 100 degree water they’re miserable.

But then, because they’re piped in everywhere, i’m able to constantly be moving waters with them, so that we don’t have fly problems because we’re constantly moving the cows ahead. And Secondly, we don’t have dead space. Thirdly, all the manure goes in the pastures instead of just around the water trough. There’s no loafing, i mean, for a hundred head herd, 90 head well or somewhere in there. You guys know how it is. We water the whole herd with just a 25 gallon trough, essentially with a Job valve plugged into it. So yeah, that’s what we’re doing on the main farm, and it’s all, of course, uphill too. So our farm is, our house is down on the ground and it’s like man, i wish I would have put an inch and a half pipe up that hill. It would have helped a lot more with the pressure, but it’s fine.

So then, on the other farms that we graze on, we have one is a creek that goes through it, and so at the creek we generally try to fence them out of the creek, but we leave some access points to it And the creek.

I’ve only seen it go dry like three times since we’ve lived here, so it’s very rare that that happened. It did happen one time last year, but I just didn’t graze it when I don’t have water. Over there, a different farm, we have a big pond in the center of it, and what I did is I put a solar system together to not only power the fence with a speed write 6, 6j charger, but also I put on a timer switch connected to bilge pumps down into the pond, and for that 25 acre pasture I was able to build two water points off that pond And the timer switch basically just overflows the tank once an hour And the water flows back to the pond at an area where the cows don’t walk in it, essentially. So you’ve got two water points on 25 acres. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best that I can do without pressurized water in that system situation. Or, you know, i could always get a trailer and tote water around, but that’s a lot of work.

0:23:04 – Cal Hardage
Let’s talk a little bit about that pump you put in the pond.

0:23:07 – Caleb Schenk
Put together a system and I overbuilt it. to be honest, i could have got away with probably 200 watts of solar panels, but I put together 600 watts of solar panels, putting it into a deep cycle marine battery, through a solar charge controller obviously. And then from there, amazon, they’ve got like these. I think they’re like $12 or something. It’s just simple. It’s called a JVC timer switch And in there you can program it to turn on for a set amount of time, up to 24 different periods in a day.

So essentially every hour I just turn it on for about 10 minutes, and what works great about that is you’re able to even keep it frost free in the wintertime. So it turns on the water to overflow. but to explain the water system coming from the bilge pump it’s just a $20 bilge pump off Amazon. If they go bad I can just climb out in the pond with my waders on and switch it out. It’s not a big deal. You know you’re electric while you’re out. there is not gonna go bad, but anyway. so you put the bilge pump about 24-ish inches down in the water so that way it’s not gonna freeze in the wintertime at least in my climate it’s not. And then also, you’re not getting the muck from the bottom of the pond, you’re getting the clean water in the center.

So then from there the pipe goes to the shore and at that point you’ve got to dig down. So I took a guy with an excavator, came and he dug some trenches from the edge of the pond and we buried the water line 36 inches deep at the edge of the pond all the way up to the tanks. And so at the tank the water level, essentially when it stops pumping, it drops back down in the water line to the level of the pond, which at that point is like four feet below the soil, so it’s frost-free. I mean it cannot freeze. There’s no place ever that that thing can freeze in the wintertime. And so it just comes up, goes into the tank and then you just have an outlet port on the side of the tank. On the downhill side, hopefully you can have it protected by some wires or you can even put, you know, a four-inch drain pipe down back to the pond, so that way it keeps the water out of the way, so you’re not creating a mud situation.

0:25:22 – Cal Hardage
You described it there. But I’m like how do you keep it from freezing, even every hour, pushing it through, but it’s draining back into the pond. You got the right elevation on stuff so that all the line’s able to drain out.

0:25:35 – Caleb Schenk
Basically, essentially, this is the pond down here. This is your tank up here. You dig a trench down at the level of pond, so your pipe is down here. Okay, so it’s 36 inches or more below the ground level here, So when the water drains down the pipe, it drains back down to the pond level and it can’t freeze.

0:25:56 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, wonderful. Now did you build a cage around your pump? I didn’t haven’t had issues with it, yet I’m asking I need to do something like that on my lease properties? I’m just overthinking it. Tell us a little bit about the way you put up your fences perimeter as well as your internal, and just a little plug. I think I saw on your website You’re doing timeless fence, timeless pose.

0:26:22 – Caleb Schenk
Yeah, Yep, so timeless is the fifth and final version of the type of fences I’ve tried to build. So first fence I ever built had wood H braces and It was a three wire fence with just T posts and then your standard T post insulators on them. They came into donut insulators on the on the H braces, the corner post. There H braces Do not work. In my context We have all clay soil and I explained all the water that we get in the winter time. So what do you think happens to all those H braces that first winter? right out of the ground. So my next version was trying to go well, if H braces won’t work, and, by the way, i concreted them in with rebar and everything like oh yeah, concrete pops right out of the ground. It was terrible.

The next thing I tried to do was going all T posts and using Oh, i can’t even remember the name of them. They’re like an aluminum clip wedge lock, i think that’s the name of them, or they go together with T posts. The wedge lock works Well, except it’s just expensive. I mean you’ve got five T posts, you know, and then your wedge lock anchors, which I mean it’s like a hundred dollars a corner in. No, maybe not hundred, maybe like 70 or 80 dollars a corner putting them in, and that’s even expensive. Sure, it’s about on par with building an H brace. It’s easier than building an H brace. But then you have to contend with making sure you have the insulators just right, because you have your braces coming down for those wedge Lock corners and your wire sometimes touches them, sometimes doesn’t. It’s like it’s just. There’s nothing worse than having your wire touch a T post and grounding your full system And you cannot find it because you’re trying to search around 30 acres because I didn’t know about fall finders at the time. I know about fall finders now. They’re great, anyways.

So that was, that was version number two. Then version number three Was upgrading to an inch and a half fiberglass sucker rod and just pounding that in and then Using a duckbill earth anchor. They put tension on the fence. In that way You’re supposed to be able to apply like 4,000 pounds of pressure to them. Well, the problem again in my soil I could not get them deep enough. I mean I would have had to stink and get a jackhammer to get them down there. I mean pounding away with a t-post driver and a sledgehammer on those earth anchors. I just can’t get them down into my into my clay soil far enough. So that was version number three. Version number four then went.

Well, if the duckbill earth anchor doesn’t work, i wonder if I can just drive a t-post down. So I took a four and a half foot t-post and If this is your, my pencil here, sorry for listeners You got your pencil which is your post, you know your corner post and post whatever it is. And then you take a t-post and you drive it down at a diagonal 45 degrees, about two, three, four feet behind The corner post. Then I was able to attach a guy wire to the top of that t-post Right before driving it all the way into the soil So that t-post is buried six inches. That drove in my situation. So I’m able to get a t-post in that worked. So that was essentially version five.

Now that I’m a time limit, i upgraded a timeless. I just use the timeless H posts and Now I can build completely insulated fences using my anchor with the t-post and essentially I can get a corner in for 50 bucks That. There’s no cheaper way to do it in my opinion. That’s gonna hold up as long, look as nice and never have a situation where my fence can ground out. So I’m a hundred percent sold on timeless t-posts I didn’t like because deer go through them. They break. You know your fence is dead. Wood is just too hard if you don’t have tools.

So then I tried pasture pro posts from Ken Cove, which they’re just almost too flexible. They’re gonna bend and they look terrible. They don’t have any rigidity to them. So then I tried going with fiberglass, with half-inch fiberglass. Those are fine, except the clips that hold the wire onto fiberglass are horrible. For deer country, which is where we’re at. I mean, it’s no. If I went out to my pastures I probably have 30, 30 deer in one of my pastures out here. I mean, they’re just all over the place So they knock the wire off the fiberglass rods. So it’s like, well, i need something that’s gonna hold the wire in.

And then I saw Greg Judy at that point talking about timeless. I’m like, well, what the heck timeless is? that’s great. There’s already holes in them. For me I don’t have to do anything in there. Semi rigid, let’s try them out.

And I tried some out, fell in love, found out There’s no. There was no dealership in my county for timeless. So I applied to do that and I’m a timeless dealer. I wouldn’t go back. I mean I put in 72 acres of fencing last year. If I’m I mean calculating this on retail costs for everything buying a 32 jewel Cyclops charger, going all out with it with how I install my fencing, it cost me less than a dollar 25 a foot To install 72 acres three wire. I mean I could have put a four wire in. That’s not gonna cost that much more. So yeah, so that’s what I do. I mean, generally we install either two or three wire perimeter fence for the cattle. We use all timeless, timeless H posts for corners that are anchored in the ground using a guy wire To the T post. And then you’re generally we’re using five, five or five and a half foot inch and three quarter posts from timeless.

0:31:46 – Cal Hardage
I just purchased a few timeless posts. Well, greg Judy’s grazing school, i purchased a few up there to try. Okay, i’ve got some pasture pro and I’ve used fiberglass rods for corner posts, which on my straight runs and if I’m able to do straight runs, fiberglass at the end I’m good here. Except I’ve noticed those pasture pro posts just are not rigid enough. I hook a poly wire to it and run it a eighth of a mile and I stretch it too tight and my pole was leaning. Then I’ve got one pole where the elevation change. That goes up over a pondam And I’ve got to get up there. The cows don’t bother it. So I’ve been lazy about it, but I’ve got to brace that up so it will stand up straight, know exactly what you’re talking about.

0:32:34 – Caleb Schenk
That’s why I switched to timeless, because you don’t have that. They stay straight going through ditches. You know, because you go to a ditch, say you got to cross a creek with your perimeter fence. It’s like one on the top, two on the bottom, one on the top and you know pasture pros, they bend. Fiberglass bends, t posts are fine, but you’re gonna, you know, first flood comes through It’s gonna rip that T post insulator off. The timeless solves that a hundred percent because everything’s right there. They’ll bend over if they need to. I mean, they’re great. Drop a tree on that fence line, as long as you catch it within a couple weeks, and you cut the tree off, your fence pops right back up And all you have to do is go to your you know your strainer and tighten the fence a little bit because obviously your wires Gonna stretch a little bit right. But it makes management so much easier having posts That can handle the use and abuse of not only your farm But also of all the wildlife that’s out there and all the crazy things that can happen with floods, with trees, you name it.

And then for interior fencing It’s just a single wire for cattle. You know we do have some pasture raised pigs, pasture pork. We do a little bit, but for that I just stick another poly braid around the bottom to give them a two wire For where they’re at at the time. But yeah, interior fencing paddocks We split them about. I try to make pastures about 15 acres with perimeter and permanent, and then from there I subdivide to give the cattle one to three to four acres a day. It just depends on what the forage level is and and what their needs are you mentioned some pastured pork.

0:34:03 – Cal Hardage
So what are you doing with pork? How long have you been running some pigs?

0:34:08 – Caleb Schenk
We’ve been doing pigs for five years and it just in our market for what I can sell pigs. It’s very hard for me to sell pigs at my pricing. I mean essentially, if we’re just talking bulk pricing, not even, you know, doing USDA individual cuts, we’re averaging. I try to get $5 a pound before butcher costs because that’s really where I need to be to be profitable at it and it is Horse. It’s so hard to sell them. I mean it’s hard to sell 10 pigs a year.

We’re kind of gonna stop back, stop doing that, just because People don’t realize that when you raise pasture pigs if you want them to be mostly forage fed, it doesn’t matter what breed you have, you’re gonna be raising them for a year. Then because of that your feed cost doesn’t go down, it actually almost doubles, you know. So if you raise a pig in a barn you can raise a pig for $350 of just feet, but raising on pasture you have an entire year into them and probably Probably about $500 a feet is what I found, just to get them to market size and it’s like it’s a great product. It tastes awesome. I will eat no other pork than pasture raised pork, but my pasture it. You know my grass-fed beef makes money. Pasture raised eggs make money. My pork profit center is a lost center. So we’re kind of getting away from that And we tried to start out with Idaho pasture pigs I Their litter sizes are very small.

They’re so docile, which is great for handling in them, but horrible when you’re trying to Pharaoh. Pharaoh and Sheds on pasture. They lay on their piglets and they’re like I had to squealing piglet, no big deal, killed half your litter that night. I don’t want a Pharaoh in Farrowing crates, you know. So it’s just we think we’re probably gonna be mostly closing out on just because I can’t. I can’t find a way in my situation to make it work without a ton of labor into it. I mean, i’m already working with our other business, working the farm, being the sole caregiver for our kids, because my wife works 70 hours a week running our other business And it’s like, yeah, pastured pigs is something that’s I’ll leave to other people. I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on it.

0:36:14 – Cal Hardage
You mentioned there something I think is impressive. You’re realizing that and you’re saying, hey, maybe that’s not something we should be doing in the future. We need to to get back to our beef and our eggs and we’re good there. We’ve got enough other irons in the fire. My wife’s always after me because I have too many irons in the fire and I’ve talked about reducing some of those. I’m just always like, oh well, I really hate to. So I think that is a very mature decision to say, hey, this is not working for me, and taking that as a business, looking at it from a business viewpoint and not another viewpoint. Oh, I like doing that. So I’m just going to continue. To be honest, that’s where my goats are. I like the goats. I’m not making enough money with the goats, but I like them. And my wife says maybe they should be on the shortlist to go somewhere else.

0:37:10 – Caleb Schenk
I hear they taste like lamb, even if you butcher them when they’re old.

0:37:14 – Cal Hardage
I enjoy lamb, My wife does not so much. You know that philosophy of eat all you can and sell the rest. I just can’t eat very much by myself.

0:37:23 – Caleb Schenk
Yeah, it’s always a problem.

0:37:25 – Cal Hardage
Caleb, it’s about time we move to our overgrazing section And for our overgrazing section, we take a little bit deeper dive into what you’re doing on your operation. And today I think we’re going to talk about bell grazing and winter hay feeding, And if someone is getting as much snow as you are can do it, that means a lot of other people can too.

0:37:48 – Caleb Schenk
It’s definitely something that took a lot of time. I mean, the first year we had our cattle, we tried to keep them basically in a sacrifice paddock and feed hay across of feed gates. And I mean mud covered, cold cattle Doesn’t matter if you keep the wind off of them, they’re miserable After that. First, that was when we first got the herd to a large number. You know, after that first winter it’s like we’re not doing this again. We need to keep our animals on pasture and be able to move them so we don’t get inundated, that we don’t get the cattle inundated with mud. And so the first year we tried to do bale unrolling. Well, i quickly found out it’s not great when your ground is soaked. You know, if you have clay based soils it’s almost impossible to unroll hay unless the ground is frozen. So we started two years ago setting up bales and doing bale grazing. And it’s a little bit, you know, i’d love to get to the point where I have enough hay to waste that I can just open the cows up to a two weeks worth of hay and just let them go at it, because if I do, if you do that, you have to feed them an additional 30, 40% because they waste so much and they lay on it, which is fine because really it’s not waste. So I apologize about saying that, because the whole point of bale grazing is that you’re probably going to lose 30% of that bale to the ground. But it’s okay, because give it a year and a half and that pasture is going to produce three times what it did before.

At this point what we do is we set up and I’m excited for this next year because I finally have some people balers that are going to be using sysiltwine on my bales. But anyways, in the past we set up the bales and we generally use netwrap is what’s available around here. What’s hard about that is trying to have these bales set up, move your polywires so that you open up enough bales. Generally two bales is what we go through two, four by five bales a day and then having to roll that four by five bale to get the netwrap off. So this next year I’m excited because about 70% of our hay is going to be sysiltwine wrapped. Cross my fingers that I can just let the cows go at it, not have any issues, but it might be a problem, we don’t know. We’ll find out. It’s not hard to take that stuff off. But yeah, i mean that’s made such a difference. So as a testament to this, i have an 11 acre paddock that two years ago I bale grazed the whole thing on And your conventional farmers.

You know it was a very dry spring for most people. I know a lot of the countries even in a drought right now we went through in May. We had the fifth longest period ever in Erie County with no rain 21 days, oh crazy.

0:40:35 – Cal Hardage

0:40:35 – Caleb Schenk
But anyways, i mean that’s just. Everyone around here is like oh, you know, the hay is going to be horrible this year or so on So far. So a guy bailed this 11 acres because I’m finally in a position where I have way more forage than I need because of bale grazing, and so he bailed this 11 acres and he got almost three times the amount of bales off of that As he did from other 11 acre paddocks in the midst of a spring drought. You know, it’s just a testament that it’s like when you add all that organic matter to your soil and you give it a couple years to come back, frost seeds and clovers in there, which is what I did there And it holds so much water that your drought proved to a degree. I mean, that’s really, you know, i guess, kind of the thing that just blew me away the most. It’s like the soil out here is wet, playing on, taking that hay that got cut off it and feeding it right back on that same exact pasture, so we’re not moving the nutrients around.

0:41:31 – Cal Hardage
Very nice. Now, when you set up your bales for bale grazing, what kind of did you set them up on a grid? What kind of spacing did you use? Varys?

0:41:41 – Caleb Schenk
I mean, honestly, I’m not even so much paying attention to that as I’m paying attention to what areas of the pasture I think need the hay more. I mean, I try to make sure there’s at least about 30 feet in between the bales So that way when you set up your polywire around it there’s enough space for the cattle to kind of loaf around that bale and not be knocking a polywire over, because that’s happened before Probably. I’d say about 30 feet is what I try to try to space, just to make sure that they’re not going to try to eliminate as much as possible The chance that a polywire goes down.

0:42:13 – Cal Hardage
And you mentioned quite a bit just in a real short span about bale grazing. But if someone was out there thinking, hey, I’m going to try bale grazing this year, you have some words of wisdom for them.

0:42:24 – Caleb Schenk
If you’ve never done bale grazing, make sure you have different areas that you can move the cows to that you’re going to be able to get them out of, say, a big snowstorm coming. So, for an example, this last winter, right at Christmas time, december 23rd through the 27th, we had a crazy polar vortex where there was winds whipping through at about 30 miles An hour nonstop, sustained 20 to 30 miles an hour, and it was negative two. So wind chill factor is negative 30. And that sustained beating on cattle in an open pasture is not going to work. I mean you’re going to lose calves.

I mean, for us, we don’t wean our calves, we don’t separate the herd, it’s one herd. So you’ve got your young ones, you’ve got your old ones, you’ve got your steers, everything altogether, and your young ones are going to suffer and you’re probably going to lose some if you try to force them to stay out there. So for us, we have different areas where we can get hay close to it so that when we know that weather is going to come, we can set up the bale grazing for them at that point. So that’s what you know, i guess. I’d say be aware of. Don’t be so rigid that you’re going to set up your whole entire maze of bales on your farm for the whole winter And then weather changes and you’re like crap, what do I do? Make sure you have some second plans for when, when inclement weather comes and you got to get a windbreak for your cattle.

0:43:51 – Cal Hardage
Great advice. Great advice, caleb. it’s time for us to go ahead and move to our famous four questions. Same four questions we ask of all of our guests. Our first question is what is your favorite grazing grass related book or resource?

0:44:08 – Caleb Schenk
One I’d say learning about holistic management. Holistic management hub from the Savory Institute whether that’s I mean up here in Pennsylvania, it’s going to be. Eli Mack, down at Mack Farms, is starting Regencylvania, which will be a savory hub. That’s going to be an incredible resource for people. The other resource is really, if you have time, watch some great Judy videos. I mean I’m sure that’s been said a hundred times. I mean he has so much invaluable resources put on YouTube.

The biggest thing that changed on my farm from him is really just like leasing go out and make friends with people and then you know to elaborate on that leasing thought a little bit.

And you know kind of look into Greg Judy but also Steve Kenyon up at Greener Pastures Ranching. I was down at the polyface grazing I don’t know if it wasn’t grazing school, it’s the grass farmer gathering at polyface this last fall and Steve Kenyon was down there and you know talking with him and something that he brought up was you know what are your resources? What are you rich in? Are you rich in the ability to talk with people, because that is invaluable and that helps you get leases all the time. So and then really the last one, that’s kind of changed over the last well, six months, as I’m going into building a handling facility for our cattle so that we can separate things out a lot easier is doing humane livestock reading humane livestock handling by Temple Grandin. It’s just, it’s fantastic the things that you’d never think of until reading that book. So if people are thinking about different ways to handle their livestock, especially around sorting livestock, read the Humane Livestock Handling book by Temple Grandin.

0:45:54 – Cal Hardage
I agree That’s an excellent choice of choices there, but I really enjoyed that Temple Grandin book as well. Our second question What tool could you not live without on your farm?

0:46:06 – Caleb Schenk
The tool that makes that I use the most would be a side by side, we have a Kubota RTV 900. I mean, that is just awesome because it has a diesel, it’s reliable, it’s powerful, it’s got a lot of torque and it carries a ton in the bed. So for my step in posts, you got minerals with you. We feed, you know, apple cider vinegar all the time to the cattle, so it takes totes of that. It’s just an invaluable tool, i’d say. My favorite tool, though, would be the steel combi unit. I don’t know if you have one of those, but if you’re looking to clear your fence line, get yourself a steel combi unit so you can put a scythe or a star bit blade on it. That’s a good tool.

0:46:46 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, very good, very good. I always love it when we get some new answers on here. You know it’s really easy to go with some of these tried and true. You know polywire gives us capability to do so much without it, but I love getting some other answers that I don’t think about on here. Our third question what would you tell someone just getting started?

0:47:08 – Caleb Schenk
That’s kind of what I tell people. I mean, obviously, as we talked earlier, it’s so important to just jump in with both feet, but jumping in with both feet has probably cost me close to $200,000. Oh yeah.

0:47:21 – Cal Hardage
Well, if you’ve got someone there telling you, jump in with both feet here as opposed to over there.

0:47:26 – Caleb Schenk

0:47:28 – Cal Hardage
Yeah, it could go a little better.

0:47:30 – Caleb Schenk
I mean there’s so many resources in the regenerative farming movement in. You know grass-fed cattle, you know how to produce that it just makes so much sense to hire a consultant. I mean they’re not that expensive $75 an hour. Have them come out for three hours, walk your farm, talk, have them put together a plan. You might have 500 bucks into having someone say this is where you should start. These are the things to pay attention to. This is the type of fencing you should build. This is where your water points are. I mean, it’s so easy.

I know Joel Salatin said it a ton of times. You know all his experience building polyface farm. Now, when he leases these new big farms, they’re able to go in there and make it a flourishing enterprise within a year instead of 10 years, just because they have experience. So hiring a consultant is really what I do. Tell people that you need to get someone that knows what they’re doing to give you a plan and to help you develop a plan for your specific context, Because you can’t just go on YouTube and watch all these videos and think that you can just implement what somebody does on their ranch to your ranch. It’s not the same.

0:48:40 – Cal Hardage
And lastly, Caleb, where can others find out more about you?

0:48:44 – Caleb Schenk
Follow us on Facebook or Instagram, dearrunakers LLC. We also have our websites wwwDearRunAkerscom. Those are really the best places to follow us. You know, i’m always willing to take a call and talk through stuff with people done it many times, so be more than happy to help anyone on their journey to developing a successful farm, because we need so many more of those in America these days or worldwide really that farms that are resilient and that can produce food that’s healthy.

0:49:19 – Cal Hardage
Well said. Yes, caleb, really enjoyed conversation with you today. Thanks for coming on and joining me.

0:49:26 – Caleb Schenk
Yeah, thanks for having me.

0:49:27 – 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, felt the form on grazinggrasscom under the be our guest link. Until next time, keep on grazinggrass.

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