Monday, March 26, 2012

Tracking the Porterhouse

Honestly, if it weren't for family, I'd have far less to blog about. Not too long ago another well intended but highly misinformed family member commented about our dairy/ beef operation. When they asked me, "How are things?" and I commented "Busy" they said, "It can't take that long to throw a few bottles to some calves can it?" And I said...nothing, because it's not their fault really.

Unless you live, eat and breathe our farm like we do, you can't possibly understand what's involved. To folks who see the nicely presented  Porterhouse Steak in it's vacuum packed, clearly labeled, certified organic package it might seem a simple enough process to raise a beef or two.

Truth is, it takes some time, and a large amount of paper, because I LIKE paper. I like charts, I like calenders, I like tables of information  and I LOVE clipboards to hold the paper that holds the information. And have you seen some of those really cute paperclips with the molded flower petals? Love those too.

Granted, I could keep it all organized on the computer but I don't trust computers any more than my parents trusted answering machines. Which is why they jumped up to answer the phone no matter what they were doing. And I do matter what they were doing.

The process from calf to steak goes like this on our wee farm. Calf is born. Information about the birth is recorded in the cow log book or on a piece of paper towel, whichever is handiest. The info about the calf is transcribed in my "Calf Book." The info about the mama is recorded in the "Big Cow Book" 

For the next 2-3 months while the calf is bottle fed twice a day by us, we also record any illnesses and organic treatments. In addition we record when it is castrated, ear tagged and the date it is weaned from the bottle and turned into a its first group pasture. We have to be able to prove that each dairy/beef animal is on pasture at least 120 days a year for organic certification.

Then the animals growth is recorded in the Big Book by Keith. There he records first heats, breeding's, first calving, any health issues as an adult animal and anything else that strikes his fancy.
Sometimes he writes his wish list for Big R in there but don't tell anyone. Around 18 months of age or 1000 pounds, whichever comes first, appointments are made for the locker and the real paperwork begins.

I will first consult our waiting list of customers and contact them. And I will record when I contacted them and HOW I contacted them. If they are ready for beef their name is recorded on my master meat sheet. Then , if there is any meat left to sell I will post it on Facebook and or in our farm store.

Customers will call or email me and then send in their deposits which are recorded in our Quicken computer fiance system and on the invoice that gets sent out after the meat is picked up by the customer. I also record all important customer info like address, email, phone, locker date on my "Pending Orders" log.

The animals are loaded for the locker the night before since it is a 70 mile trip one way to the main locker we use and must be at the locker early in the morning. I copy all the customer names and phone numbers onto our "Locker Instruction" sheet. Keith gives this sheet to the locker plant staff so they know who will be calling them with cutting orders, or they use it to call those customers who forget to call the locker. Like me sometimes.

Later that day I will call the locker and get the animal weights, which I record on MY copy of the Locker instruction sheet. Since we charge our customers by the hanging weight in pounds, I need this info to generate an invoice. I also record the exact animal ID number, and customer name on my Locker Activity Log.

This way I know when the animal has gone to the locker and when I can expect it back . After I know the meat is ready at the locker for customer pickup, I complete the invoice , print a copy and mail it to the customer. But, not all the meat is sold to customers. Some meat comes back to our store (to be sold direct to customers who come to our farm or to be packed at a later date and delivered to one of the four grocery stores we serve)  and must be given a lot number for tracking. These lot numbers are handwritten on each and every package , by Keith or I, as we put the meat away in our store freezers. Some weeks we put away 400 packages of meat.

Yes, we tried a stamp, the ink smeared, so we went to back to the permanent marker. It's time consuming but it works.

In the store, we record by hand, each piece of meat sold and the price. We do not have a computer in our store or even an electronic cash register. It's just not in the budget at this time. So its all recorded on a carbonless Sales Order Form, just one more piece of paper. At the end of the day (or after 2-3 days depending on what else I've gotten tied up with) all the sales slips are hand carried into the house and recorded in our Quicken system. (We've tried to get the pet Turkey to take the sales slips up to the house but turns out he really is as dumb as he looks)

Please, don't get me wrong. We chose this way of life and we enjoy it almost all the time, we just wish our families would keep some of their thoughts to themselves sometimes. What do they think this is ? A free country?


  1. I'm exhausted just reading about it.

  2. I'm afraid to ask...Are the calfs castrated like the little piggies?

  3. I think in general, people are clueless about anything except their own little world, unless they've walked that road themselves. Makes me appreciate what goes into our food though.

  4. As Leigh says above, people have little idea about all the paperwork that goes on in farming. My neighbours are up till all-hours filling in papers.

  5. I don't know. It just doesn't seem like enough to me.

    Heh heh.

    I'd definitely try to get a goat in on taking the receipts up for you. They seem more responsible. Turkeys are too flighty. :)

  6. I just love ya, lady!! You make my day by telling me about yours:))

    Our little family member thought you were raising elephants (the pig pic on your side bar) and has raised you to yet a higher "cool" farm-wife status. She will never wear her Southside Pork Ranch tee-shirt again without first double checking if they really are pigs or elephants.

  7. That was a very interesting and informative post. I had no idea all that was involved in running your kind of operation. You certainly deserve a lot of credit. It's such a shame that ignoramuses -- especially those that are related -- don't have the intelligence to just ask what is involved in the work you do -- instead they would just prefer to be jerks.

  8. Oh, how this brings back the memories! Dad ran a purebred herd, so we processed only the culls. The record-keeping revolved around birth weights, weaning weights, cow weaning weights, feed ratios, back-fat indexes. Length. Height. Colour. Sales to other countries as live cattle. Man, it's exhausting just thinking about it. And I loved every minute of it. And I miss it!!!

  9. I get pretty much the same thing. People think because I stay at home and don't go out to work, I sit around eating bon bons and watching soaps. Those that know me, ask if I ever have time to sleep.