In this episode of The Grazing Grass Podcast, Cal talks with Ethon Pawlaczyk of Black Swamp Cattle Company. We discuss his journey from row crops to grass-based cattle and poultry. We also discuss free-choice minerals, and he recommends a new book to the pod.
What is Grazing Grass Podcast?
Helping grass farmers learn from grass farmers. Topics include rotational grazing, multi-species grazing and discussion about grazing systems. Each episode features a different grass farmer.
Cal: Welcome to the Grazing
Grass podcast, episode 46.
Ethon: Every year that you delay,
that is basically interest that
you'll never be able to get back
on your experience and education.
Cal: 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 Hardage.
On today's show.
We have Ethon Pawlaczyk of
Black Swamp Cattle in Ohio.
Ethon is leading a change on his
family farm from row crops to
grass-based cattle and poultry.
I think you'll enjoy
hearing about his journey.
You may have noticed that we've not
released a episode for quite a while.
We are excited to get started again and
have some great episodes lined up for you.
Also stay tuned after our talk with Ethon.
To hear about a new project for me.
However, before we get to Ethon.
I'm excited to share the news of
a new podcast by August Horstmann
called Grazed in America.
August was a guest on
episode 15 of our podcast.
I encourage you go back and
listen to it, if you have it.
Also look for his podcast this week.
The first episode of Grazed in
America is dropping this week.
Should be available where
you consume podcast.
But give him a little bit of grace
because sometimes getting podcasts to
all the distribution channels takes a
little bit, but it should be available.
And if you can't find it, hop over
to his Facebook page for Grazed
in America and let him know.
Let's talk to Ethon.
Ethan Pawlaczyk, we wanna welcome
you to the Grazing Grass Podcast.
I think I said your last
name better that time.
That was good.
Cal: All right.
Can you tell us a little bit
about yourself and your operation?
Ethon: So I am a third or fourth
generation farmer, depending
on how you want to define that.
And I'm in northwest Ohio about 20
minutes outside the city of Toledo,
and we focus on raising grass-finished
beef and poultry raised out on pasture.
Cal: So you've been around
agriculture for a long time.
Ever since my family came from Poland
to the United States and like the
early 19 hundreds, they've been
farmers in the family ever since then.
And I actually still live in the
house that the original family
came to and started here in Ohio.
Cal: Oh, that is very nice.
Now you said grass fed, have they
always did grass finish products?
In fact, I'm the first one to
get back into animal agriculture.
It's been row crop here for
most of my family, ever since.
We've started, back when they first
came, they had some horses just for,
doing the work and maybe had a milk cow.
But ever since the mid 19 hundreds,
things have moved towards grain and
conventional, what you would consider
conventional agriculture ever since then.
Cal: So growing up it was
mainly a grain or crop farm.
Ethon: Yep, yep.
We would raise soybeans for about
seven years, and then we would have
one corn crop, and then we would raise
soybeans again for about seven years
and then have one corn crop until it
got too expensive to plant corn when it
was at like $500 an acre to plant it.
And then we just quit doing corn and only
grew soybeans for about 14 years until I
took over most of the farming operation.
Cal: And at that time, did you
continue with row crops or some row
crops, or did you stop all of it?
Ethon: I continued doing row
crop for a little bit cuz it's
the only thing that I knew.
And I heard some stuff about cover
cropping and I was interested in that,
but didn't really do too much with it.
And then eventually I came across
a YouTube video talking about this
guy who was raising cattle on 1600
acres with no tractor and no barn.
I'm sure you've heard of him, Greg
Judy, and I couldn't be, when I read
the title, I couldn't believe it.
I didn't know you could grow
or raise cattle without a
barn or without a tractor.
Didn't make any sense to me.
So I was really interested in the video.
And when I watched it, it changed
the whole way that I looked at
agriculture ever since then.
Cal: So how did you, or once you
saw that video and you're like,
wow, is this something I can do?
How did you progress from there?
Ethon: So the first thing that I did
was just kept researching and trying
to figure out, is this guy just
full of it or is this a real thing?
Is this even possible?
I did a lot of researching when I
was going to college and was up all
night trying, supposed to be doing
homework, and I would be watching
YouTube videos about different types
of farming and things like that.
And then once I got an understanding of,
oh, I think this is a real thing, then
I made the first, what was for us a big
step, which was going to one year of cover
cropping and then seeing what that did.
And then eventually moving towards
purchasing some cattle to bring
back onto the farm and try to
do management intensive grazing.
Cal: About what year was this that
you did your cover crop experiment?
Ethon: The cover crop experiment was in
2019 and it was pretty easy to convince
my family to do it because it was a year
where we had a lot of flooding and so
nobody really planted anything at all.
And I said, Hey, if I buy this,
I pay for all the seed and
do, pay for everything myself.
How about we try this
and see what happens?
And then that's what I did and it was,
we just didn't do anything with it.
We just left it go fallow or I think
that was in 20, 20 18 actually.
And then the year of 2019 we did another,
there was our last soybean crop and
they were actually some of the best.
Soybeans that we had and
since I had been involved.
And so with very minimal fertilizer.
And so I was like, oh man, this seems like
there's really something going on here.
Cal: Oh yes.
So you grew soybeans in 2019.
Did you plant some cover crops after
that or what was your next step?
Ethon: the next step was yes, I was
gonna do some cover crops in the row,
crop fields, and then in the cover crop
mix that I had behind our house, I mixed
in some fescue and some red clover.
And I thought, you know what?
I'm gonna try to get this ready
and see if I can try to get calves.
And if I can't, then we can always
just disc it up and spray it.
And who cares?
It won't be a big deal.
But then eventually I was able to
convince everybody that if we just
try it on the small piece behind
our house, it's about nine acres.
And if we just tried having a couple
ahead of cattle back there, then maybe
we could see what what all that was.
And if it was no good, then we could
sell 'em and just go back to doing
it the way we were doing it before.
Cal: And it sounds like to
me that went fairly well.
The biggest thing was I remember that
fall we were sitting around, it was
like end of September, early October,
and we were sitting around and we were
just sitting at our bonfire and we were
like, oh my gosh, we would we should
be working on a combine right now.
But we didn't have to because we
didn't have any soybeans to pick.
It was just cows out grazing.
So then we were like, wow, this is.
Actually really nice.
You don't have to spend, three weeks
trying to get a combine up and running.
Cal: While I have not done row
crops, I can associate that
with our haying machinery and
when we used to be our own hay,
Was always quite involved in, and we
never had the best equipment, so it
always required a lot of work on them.
And we're not a super big acreage farm.
I guess I should have mentioned
that in the beginning.
But when you spend a month or so getting
a combine ready to run it for two days
nonstop, and then you're just like,
all right, now I'm done with that.
It really kicks your butt when you
spend all that time getting everything
Cal: Oh yes.
Ethon: and then you
don't really even use it.
You just have it for a little bit.
Cal: You mentioned
there about the acreage.
How many acres are you running.
Ethon: When we were doing row crop, we
had we started, it was like 200 acres.
That was before I got involved.
And then everybody starts selling land
to build houses on and things like that.
And when I took over, we had about 40
acres left and then some other folks
started to sell off what we had for that.
And then now that we have, what we have
for grazing is about 20, about 25 acres.
That's what we have for grazing right now.
Cal: Oh yes.
Yeah, and that's the size that
makes it difficult to keep all
the machinery up and going.
Ethon: Yeah, exactly.
When I got started, when I took over the
books and everything that, that first year
where we were doing all the conventional
stuff, I looked at what we were making
per acre, and it was $140 loss per acre.
And then that was also a nice kick to
be like, okay, we need to figure out
something else or another way to do this.
And when you're losing money per
acre, that's when you're glad
you don't have a lot of acreage
Ethon: Yeah, . Yeah, for sure.
It's, it hurts, but just not as bad.
Cal: You are right.
So you got, so you did your
experiment with just a couple of
head you said about nine acres.
How many cows did you put on it?
Ethon: We started out with one bull and
one cow and her calf, so it was just,
I guess two and a half animal units.
And we, I got the bowl since I was,
since Craig, Judy was the one that
I had learned everything about.
And the biggest thing that I had to sell
everybody on was having tame cattle.
Something that we weren't gonna have
to worry about getting busting out of
fences or coming after somebody when
you got in the yard or into the pasture.
Ethon: I was like, okay, if I'm gonna buy
a bull it's gonna be from somebody where
I trust that I can go into their herd
and I'm not gonna have to worry about
getting trampled or anything like that.
So that's when I called up Greg Judy and
I said, Hey, I'm, if I need to talk to
you about getting a bull and and we did.
And that was a really cool
experience, going to talk to him
and looking at his operation.
And he gave a lot of pointers and
really helped me and my brother along.
and telling us some stuff that, that
maybe some people might have known, but
we didn't know about before we got going.
And gave us some ideas, challenged
us on some things, and then sent us
off with his bull and the reason that
even with only one cow that I wanted
to have a bull was I don't have any
of the working facilities or handling
facilities or anything like that.
And so I didn't want to
try to do any kind of AI.
I didn't grow up around cattle.
A bull can tell when she's in heat a
lot better than I can, that's for sure.
And it, it costs more money
to keep that bull and feed
him and everything like that.
But to be honest, one of the most
amazing things that I saw was when we
got the bull first, and when we had the
cow out there when we brought her out
there, that bull actually showed her,
not to go through the electric wire.
Kept her from running through
electric wire and then also showed
to use the mineral feeder and all
that kind of stuff and kind of took
all the training work out of me.
And he did all that, which was
surprising and was cool to see.
And yeah so that's why even with only
starting out with just that one cow
decided yeah, we're gonna get this bull
and hopefully it's worth the investment.
Cal: Now, when you chose a cow, at that
point were particular on what breed?
Or do you just mainly look for
something that's pretty docile?
Ethon: I was hoping to get a South
Poll cow, like everybody in the United
States right now, but they're impossible
to find and they're crazy expensive.
And after I spent all that money
on that bull I didn't have a lot
of money left over to buy cows.
We actually talked to Greg about that
when we were there and we were like,
what do you think about getting some
cheaper cows and trying to breed up
with the bull that we were getting
from him and we talked about, what to
look for and all those kinds of things.
So I actually just went for something
that was more local, that I could
get affordably and I got lucky.
There was a guy, he was an older
guy in his seventies and he was
just trying to get out of beef.
He needed to have a shoulder
replaced and stuff like that.
And his wife didn't wanna take care
of the cows while he was recovering.
So he got rid of, he was getting rid
of cow calf pairs that were bred and
was getting rid of 'em pretty cheap.
So that's what we ended up
going with for the first cow.
And that's why
Cal: Oh yes, very good.
And yes, you highlight a issue.
South Poll females are pretty expensive
and in short supply, it seems.
It costs almost to buy a cow or a heifer
as it does to buy a bull from most places.
And that doesn't make a
lot of economical sense.
If you're gonna buy, even if
you're buying one, it doesn't
make a lot of economical sense.
But if you've got a mid-sized herd,
I don't know how anybody could switch
over to full South Poll like that.
Cal: Yeah, it does make it, or I
would think it'd make it difficult for
those cows to be profitable real fast.
But course everyone has a different
situation, so they're doing a
better job than me probably.
Ethon: and Me Too.
Cal: So you got that bull out there and
you mentioned that he was used to your
electric fence and your mineral feeder.
Cal: about your infrastructure
that you had in place for
the, for your cow and bull.
Ethon: So we have three wire
high tensile electric fence.
Used a Stafix battery energizer
with a 50 watt solar panel on it
with a deep cell marine battery.
With 50 watt, that's enough to
keep it running all the time.
Even during the winter when you
have those a lot less sunny days.
We tried 30 watts, cuz that's what they
tell you on the website or whatever,
but it's not enough not enough juice
to keep it going during the wintertime.
And so we have a three wire round.
We use the timeless fence fence posts
for the perimeter and then for the,
we do the temporary fencing, O'Brien
step-in posts, the powerflex poly braid.
And then we have some Taragate reels,
and then we have some old the Leord rolls
because Taragate reels are not cheap.
Cal: No they aren't.
They're pretty nice,
but they're not cheap.
Ethon: Yeah, they are really nice.
But for the price of one terra
reel, you could get 10 leord reels.
I had, I only had two Taragate reels,
and then that was like my Christmas
present, every year I'd get another reel.
And then since I've started having
my brother help me for when I'm
going for my day job he spends
a lot more time moving them.
And so he was a lot happier with
having those Taragate reels than
he was with the Lee cord reels.
So since I'm asking him to go
and do all that while I'm gone.
I thought I better pony up and
get a couple more of those,
so then a lot easier for him.
Cal: Now the timeless fence or
timeless posts, they look really nice.
In fact, signed up and got a sample,
so they sent me a, just a few
inches of T post so I could see it.
And I know Greg Judy really
promotes him on his channel.
Are you pretty happy
with the timeless post?
Ethon: Oh yeah.
I mean they're great.
They're super easy to install.
They're super light.
You can carry around a whole box
of 'em and not feel like you're
gonna be dead by the end of the day.
They hold up really well.
They don't break.
They're better than the fiberglass posts.
They're just the fiberglass dowels
cuz they don't break in the sun.
You don't have to paint 'em,
you don't have to drill 'em.
Cuz we have a couple of
those and those are a pain.
And as far as compared to metal t-posts
you just don't, you don't have the risk
associated with grounding out your system.
With those metal t-posts just because
it's timeless, they're fully insulated.
And for the price, when you figure
in buying a T post and then all, if
you're gonna put in a three or five
wires, all the insulators on a T post,
it doesn't come out to be all that
much more expensive on a timeless.
So I've been pretty happy with them.
We had a tree fall down on one and they
didn't break, just bent right over and
then got the tree off and came right
back up just like they talk about.
So yeah, I've been very
happy timeless Fence posts
Cal: What kind of spacing did
you use for your timeless.
Ethon: We did about 50
feet where we could.
. We have some like little ditches and
some little rises and things like that
where we had to use a little bit more.
We actually have a, I don't
know what we call a pretty good
sized hill behind our house.
And so then you had, you gotta do
every two or three feet or so, like
when it's really on that incline.
But yeah, we did about 50 feet
we could get away with, and we're
pretty flat compared to most places.
It's not South Dakota, but it's a
lot flatter than Nebraska or any
place like that when you look out.
Cal: Oh yes.
You also mentioned your mineral feeder,
and we hadn't talked about this.
I don't think I saw it.
So I'm curious, are you using
the individual minerals and
feeding them or do you have a
different type of mineral feeder?
We do the cafeteria style 18,
Cal: there's the word cafeteria style.
I knew it was out there.
And that works really nice and you
would think that it is just goofy,
like how are the cattle gonna know
what's what and pick, what they want.
But it's pretty amazing, I had some soil
soil sampling done before we got the
cows on, and when you look at what's
missing in the soil and then you look at
what they're eating out of that mineral
feeder it's literally exactly what
we're low on our soil sampling test.
Phosphorus grow soybeans, that's the
number one thing that they suck out of
the ground, and that's the number one
thing that they go after in that feeder.
And with all the tillage and roundup
and fertilizer that we've used, it
makes the makes the soil really acidic.
And so the acid neutralizer is another
thing that they hammer all the time.
They've never touched the the basic
neutralizer and they've they're not a big
fan of manganese either for some reason.
But sodium and phosphorus and
that acid neutralizer man,
they put the hammer on it.
And when they, once it gets wet, then
they go after the copper, to help with the
parasites and worms and things like that.
So it's pretty amazing.
When you look at based off the different
times of the year and different
conditions, what it is that they're
going after it it's pretty surprising
and really opens your eyes on.
What you might be missing when
you're using a pre-made mineral mix.
Cal: that's on my, I don't know
if I'd call it my short list, but
it is something for me to try the
cafeteria style minerals, because
right now I'm using a pre-mixed
One thing that's caused me to shy away
from the cafeteria style is either I
have to buy a mineral feeder that can
do that, and those are expensive and I
don't know of any local, so I've gotta
ship it in or I've gotta build one, which
it doesn't look to be terrible to build.
like you had mentioned ago with your
off the farm job, you got a, some
give and take there and probably
if I just get in gear and do it,
I'd have it done, but I haven't.
No, they are expensive.
There's no doubt about that.
And that's why I made
my own and I got lucky.
Had a bunch of scrap wood laying
around and a bunch of old screws
from some previous projects.
And so I was able to throw it together.
Just looking at how they look
and figuring, okay, I've got
this much wood, this is how big
a cow's nose is so I should be
able to get in this size of a bay.
And I just made it that way and got lucky.
But the one thing if you do make your own
the one thing I'll say is you still have
to spend the money to get the what is it?
The conveyor lid.
The conveyor belt lid
Cal: wondering what you had put on top.
Ethon: At first I tried to use a
horse stall mat, which worked pretty
good for about two or three months.
And then after that, two or three months,
then it just started to fall apart.
And then there would be water leaking
in there, and then you got, it fills a
whole mineral thing and then the cows
won't eat it because it gets gross.
So then you gotta clean all that out
and it's costing you all that mineral.
So that's when I contacted the
Free Choice Enterprises and got
the conveyor belt from them.
And that's what I ended up
having to put on the top.
And since I've done that, then
it's been sealed up, doesn't
get wet, and works really well.
But yeah, you still have to put the
money in on that, and it's still not
cheap, but it's better than if you have
to throw away two bays worth of mineral
twice, then you've paid for it already.
Cal: Oh yes.
And that brings me to my next question,
just going on this mineral tangent,
purchasing those minerals, and you're
working with a small number of head.
So you're purchasing quite
a bit and storing it.
How do you store it to
keep it in good shape?
We have my dad and my uncle have
a landscape company, and so we
have a big barn for all the mowers
and equipment that they use.
And I just made a box outta
wood, and that's where I throw
those minerals in when I get 'em.
It used to be from free choice.
If you bought 500 pounds of mineral,
then the shipping would be free.
The last time I talked to 'em though,
they haven't been able to get their
drivers back on the road, and so
they don't offer the same deals.
They help with shipping,
but they, it's not the same.
It's not free.
. I still try to buy about 500 pounds
worth and I just look and I like, I
know I'm gonna need phosphorus, so
then I buy a hundred pounds worth of
phosphorus cause I know I'm gonna use it
and then I'll buy a hundred pounds worth
of sodium cause I know I'll use that.
And then I'll just look at whatever's
low and get one bag of that and
fill out whatever's missing.
So that, that's how I manage it.
And it's pretty easy to store 'em
as long as you're keeping 'em dry.
And the reason I put 'em in a box
is because I had 'em on a pallet
and when they were just sitting on
a pallet mice were able to get into
'em and mice will get into anything
and just make a mess out of it.
So after we that, that's when I
started putting them in the box.
So then just keep the mice out, make it
a little bit harder for 'em to get it.
Cal: About how often have
you had to order mineral
I that's really.
As we talk about that for listeners,
that's really subjective to what
your cows are eating and how
many cows you have going to it,
but just to get a feel for it.
Ethon: Yeah, I've in two
years, I've bought about three
loads, so about 1500 pounds.
But I haven't used 1500 pounds.
I guess it, I have a lot of the
onesie twosies that are still
sitting there waiting to get used.
But the phosphorus and things like that,
that I run through all the time I've
used a couple hundred pounds of that.
And I will say when your animals are
grazing is when they'll eat the most
amount of mineral, is what I've found
anyhow, is that when they're grazing, they
really will hit those minerals because
it's whatever's deficient in your soil.
they need to get after whatever
it is that they're missing to
fill in their nutritional gaps.
And so if you're buying hay from somebody
who either puts down phosphorus or potash
or whatever on their hayfield, then
they're not gonna need as much cuz it's
gonna be there in the actual forage.
But when they go back to grazing in
the spring, when things are a little
more moist and then the mineral
content and the grass is lower
anyhow, then they really start to
put the hammer on on those minerals.
Cal: Oh yes.
So you, so let's jump back
to your journey a little bit.
I appreciate you humoring me and going
down and talking about those minerals.
That's something, it's on one of my
short lists to get there at some point.
I haven't, I don't have a timeframe yet,
but I can see how it would be beneficial.
just a lot of money, so it's
always a toss up in my head.
You got your bull and you got
your cow and getting started.
What did you, how did you go from there?
Ethon: We took, I ended up
getting the bull and cow the bowl.
I got Labor Day of 2020, so May 31st.
And then I got the cow about five days
later, the cow calf pair and then I grazed
them on what I had and which wasn't a lot
because we had very poor, very dead soils.
We have a lot of Sandhills where
we have very low moisture content.
Most of the topsoil that was on
those, and they're not really even
hills, they're just higher points
in the field and all that topsoil
has gone down into the low spots.
And so we were grazing through hardly
anything when we were up there.
And then just trying to rush
into those low spots where we
could get some grass again.
And then supplemented hay for
them throughout the winter.
And when we came back around that
following year in, in May I was going to
need to take the bull off of the cow.
And I don't have a pen or a corral or
anything like that where I could lock him
up in for a couple months or whatever.
I ended up buying a buddy animal a jersey
steer from eastern Ohio cuz that was the
only place was selling 'em at the time.
Cuz it's really hard to find cheap
steers in the springtime . It's very
hard to do not the time to buy cattle.
But I needed them.
So I went to eastern Ohio to a
dairy and was able to get that
jersey steer and bring him back.
And initially the plan was to leave the
cow and her heifer calf back at my place.
And then I'd take the jersey and the bull
to this other property that I was able
to get was about five acres so I could
have 'em over there for a couple months.
But the heifer calf out of that
cow calf pair was so rank and
nasty and just uncooperative.
She is, she had a lot of Brahmin in them
in her, and I know a lot of people like
Cal: Oh yes.
Ethon: And I'm not saying that
anything bad about 'em, I'm just saying
they're not for me, that's for sure.
Cal: Oh yes.
Ethon: so she wasn't very cooperative
and she actually jumped the fence when
we were trying to get her in a trailer.
And so what we ended up doing was taking
the steer in the cow together and we had
already determined that we were gonna
harvest that heifer for beef just because
we didn't want to breed her back just
cuz she was so flighty And rank the bull
and that heifer stayed back home and then
the cow and that steer went over to the
other property for a couple months until
we could bring 'em back together again.
Get her bred . So that was
in May throughout the summer.
And then I was in talks with somebody
with the metro parks in our area, and they
wanted to, they were talking about wanting
to try and do a patch burn grazing trial.
And the acres that they were
saying they're wanting to
do it on about 10 acres.
And so I was like, I'm gonna need a
couple more cows if I'm gonna, or a
couple more head if I was gonna try
and do that on top of what I had.
So then the November of 2021,
I got another cow calf pair and
then took them through the winter.
And now coming up here in about
mid-May, hopefully we will be
taking the cows and the steer calf.
Over to this patch burn grazing
property when we have to pull
the bull off of the cows.
And then we'll run them there for a
little while and then bring the bull
and that jersey steer back in with
them and try to get as much grass
as we can out of that new property
and manage the growth for them.
And then bring them back here, back to
our home place and the couple, or the
other property that I have up the road.
Cal: Oh, very good.
Tell us a little bit more
about that patch burn grazing.
In our area, I don't know if it's
like this, where you're from,
but we have a pretty big metro
parks program in the Toledo area.
And it's a pretty big entity and they
have quite a bit of property and they
focus on giving places for recreation
for people, but then they also focus
on bringing more natural areas that are
either in cities or if they're further
out in the country they're more of just a
native prairie places for ground nesting
birds and things like that is their goal.
They want to do this trial of burning the
native warm season grasses and then having
grazers like what the bison would've done.
And we're gonna use my cattle to
simulate that those bison and having
them come in and graze all of the
native, warm season grasses down.
Because as of right now they don't have
anything other than burning that they use,
which means they burn it in the spring.
and then all that grass
goes to senescence in July.
If you're lucky.
And then it just turns into a bunch
of brown twigs and sticks out there.
And so there it's of started
to take over the whole area.
And then you have this monoculture of
Indian grass or switch grass or whatever
it may be in that particular area.
And so they want to
prevent the monoculture.
They want to have more diversity,
they want to increase the bird
populations, both ground nesting
and any other kind of bird.
And they've found this area that
would be fairly easy to fence and
it's actually on a birding trail.
And so they wanted to see, okay, if we
bring in these grazers, what is that
gonna do for not only the grass and forge
species that are out there, but what
is that gonna mean for the birds and
the wildlife and everything like that?
We're gonna try it.
We're gonna see what happens.
I'm thinking that it's definitely gonna
increase the bird population cuz that was
the number one thing that we saw back at
our place when we moved from row crop and
brought in the cattle is one, you have
a lot more bugs and two, you get a lot
more birds because of all those bugs.
And so if we can keep all those native
warm seasons in the growth part of their
growth curve and not getting to senescence
and dying out, then we'll be able to keep
everything palatable for all the bugs and
bunny rabbits and everything like that.
And keep the cattle in good condition
and bring in a lot more wildlife for
them and just make everybody happy.
That's the plan.
Cal: I hope it goes really well.
It sounds good.
One question on it.
You said they found a area
that's fairly easy to fence.
How are you all fencing that and
did you say it's on a trail also?
So there'll be some human contact.
I pretty much told him to just
mimic what I'm doing at my house.
So high tensile electric
timeless fence posts.
Instead of three wires, we're gonna
do five because it's not behind my
house, so I can't watch 'em all the
time and make sure that the cows
are in and yeah, there are people
that are going to be in contact.
There's a, there's well in contact
there's a birding trail that's, it's
they're gonna have an easement, the
front of the fence and the road.
And then the birding trail is
on the other side of the road.
So people will be going down the road and
down that trail and be able to take a look
Ethon: At the animals that are out there.
But it's not that they're gonna
be moving through the actual
pasture or anything like that.
Maybe later if we can convince them
to fence in those bigger areas and
possibly work out a way to fence in
the trails and everything so we can
use the cattle in more areas then maybe
that's something that we could try.
But right now we're just trying to keep
it simple and easy and just prove out the
Cal: Oh yes.
Ethon: crazy spending all kinds of
money fencing everything off, yeah.
Cal: Very good.
I'm excited to see how that goes for you.
I hope it goes well.
Ethon: Thank you.
Yeah, me too.
Cal: in addition to beef cattle,
you all also have poultry.
Ethon: Yep, that's right.
We do pasture poultry.
We follow the kind of
the Joel Saladin style.
We have the that little low to the
ground chicken structure and we
move 'em every day sometimes twice
a day when they get really big.
Cuz if you got 80 birds in 120 square
feet, they'll tear up some pasture.
Especially on some of our spots that
are a little weaker in the sandier
spots they'll do quite a number on 'em
if you leave 'em there for 24 hours.
So we'll move twice a day once they
get to be about five weeks or older.
And we started out in
doing the non GMO grain.
We kinda went in whole hog with all that.
And then we raised some for ourself,
and then we sold what we had left.
Or we sold excess to anybody who we
could wanted to try 'em and wanted
to move to a pasture based diet.
Things like that.
Cal: Very good.
And is this going to be how many
years of doing the Pastor Poultry?
Ethon: Pastured poultry last year was
the first time that we had tried it.
I had been grow, or I had been raising
chickens since I was probably, I
wanna say eight years old maybe.
That was the livestock, if you
wanna call 'em that species that
I was able to get into, just cuz
they're not as much of an investment.
And if something goes wrong and you
lose six chickens that cost you,
$5 a piece, it's a lot easier to
handle than, losing one cow that's
$1,500 or $2,000 or whatever.
So yeah, I had done a lot of
work with poultry, but all
in the conventional style.
I'd raised broilers before,
conventionally and everything like that.
But the first, this was the, this
past year was the first year that we
did it in the pasture based model.
Cal: what did you find the
most challenging about it?
Ethon: The most challenging thing
was probably moving the water
and food to them in our pasture.
We probably could have made it easier
on ourselves if we kept them of in the
front part, but the area that needed
it the most was almost at the back.
So we, had 'em, we had 'em back there
and 80 cornish cross chickens eat
a lot of grain and if you're moving,
Cal: yes, they do.
Ethon: so unless you keep a grain
feed source with them all the time.
If you're walking, a thousand feet or 800
feet every day carrying a couple of five
gallon buckets that can be a real pain.
And they go through a lot
of water every day too.
If you're in July they'll drink
8, 8, 10 gallons of water.
You gotta fill their water twice a day.
And unless you have a way that
you can easily get water to
'em that can be a real pain.
And we used our cattle watering system
to fill their waters, but we still
had to bucket it from the cattle
system and then take it over to where
the little shelter was for them.
So there's still a lot of handling.
But yeah, they made a lot better
than bringing the water all the
way from back up at her house,
that would've been not fun.
. That's one thing I don't like doing.
I don't like moving water.
I really do not like moving water from
all those years of even doing poultry and
constantly filling five gallon buckets
and taking 'em out when we had all kinds
of laying hands and everything like that.
I don't like doing that.
So that's the number one thing that
could really beat you up if you got
super involved with a pastured poultry.
If you don't have a easy way of
watering them, that can really
wear you out after a little while.
Cal: Did you direct market very
many of the birds last year?
Ethon: Yeah, we did about somewhere
between three quarters, two thirds,
something like that that we sold.
Various people, some people that just
came to the website that I have and wanted
to buy some chickens, some people saw
on Instagram that we had chickens and
for asking if they could get some some
friends and family that had bought some.
We didn't sell all of 'em to people,
but we sold a handful of them.
And actually that is by far the
hardest part of it I would say.
Direct marketing it to people.
That is the most difficult part
of the any kind of pasture model
because you gotta convince people
to not buy it in the fancy package.
You gotta convince 'em to buy a whole bird
unless you take the time to part 'em out.
But it, man, it takes a long time
and it can cost you a lot of labor
if you have somebody helping you.
And then you gotta convince 'em that
they have to pay more than what they're
getting with all those amenities and
the fancy packaging and everything like
that, because you're giving 'em non GMO
grain and they're raised on pasture and
it, so when you gotta convince 'em of
all that stuff and then you gotta get
'em to come to your place to buy it.
So that's by far the hardest
part out of all of it.
Cal: Are you expanding chicken numbers
this year or continuing about the same?
Ethon: We're gonna try doing the same
amount of Cornish cross and then we're
gonna do about half of a shelter's worth
of the, what are they, the Freedom Rangers
or the Red Rangers, and then having some.
Freedom Rangers and having some
ducks with those freedom rangers
and just mixing it up and seeing if
people would be interested in trying
those other types of fowl as well.
But we're gonna keep that same amount
of the Cornish cross just because say
what you will about a Cornish cross
chicken, but they grow really fast.
They take less feed than any other
animal or any other chicken and
they're a lot easier to pluck and
all that kind of stuff than your
more quote unquote heritage breeds.
And people like 'em,
they like how they look.
They look like a nice juicy chicken.
They have a nice big double breast on
'em and, that's what people are used to.
And so that's what they want.
So you it's one less thing that you
gotta convince somebody try . Yeah.
Cal: And you're right.
People's used to seeing that form
factor in the stores and it's amazing
how fast those Cornish crosses grow.
Ethon: Oh yeah.
They, that's just, they're
race cars, , they go off of jet
fuel they just go fast fast.
Cal: Well, Ethon before we get to our
famous four questions tell us a little
bit about the future for your farm.
Where do you see and it going?
Ethon: The hope is that
we're gonna continue to grow.
That's the idea.
It's definitely a lot easier to
scale up with the poultry side of
things just because you need a lot
less land to run the chickens on.
But my goal is to increase the
amount of land that we can run
the cattle on, because that's,
I really like doing the cattle.
I love grazing, I love watching
them graze and moving 'em through
all the grass and everything.
We're gonna try to get more cattle
so we can raise more grass-finished
beef for people and just try to
increase our herd numbers if we can.
And that's all dependent on what we
can do with the land base and try to
grow, hopefully the this Park Patch
Burn and Grazing program so that we
can have a lot more access to land and
move forward with growing that herd.
Cal: Yeah, the access to land is
a tough one for everyone its seems
Ethon: I was just gonna say there's
no doubt that it's tough to get a
lot of access to land around us.
It's all row crop.
Unless you have a pig, a confinement
pig house everything around us is
corn and soybeans and sometimes wheat.
You just don't see cattle grazing.
And trying to convince people that
having cows grazing is not the
same as having them in a lot behind
the barn is another thing to try
and get 'em on their property.
And instead they just say, the tractor's
here in the spring and then they're
here in the fall, and then that's it.
And I don't have to worry about
anything and don't have to worry
about cows getting out and getting
on my front porch or whatever.
So it's just a lot easier to
sell people on just staying
the same with all the row crop.
And it's definitely a lot more to try
and convince 'em for their idea of
what cattle are and try to convince
'em that, no, that's not how, it's
not what you think, but yeah it's just
tough to move people in that direction.
Cal: yes it is.
Anytime you're doing something that's
not the same as everyone else or a
little bit different than what people's
been exposed to it takes a while.
Ethan, it is time for our
famous four questions.
Same four questions we
ask of all of our guests.
Yes, I did steal that off The Bigger
Pockets podcast, so don't tell them.
Our first question, what's your
favorite Grazing Grass book or resource?
Ethon: So it's very hard for me to decide
because I want to say any book written
by Greg Judy and his YouTube page,
but a lot of people suggest his book.
I was thinking about this and I think
if from the lens of cattle, a really
good book is Before You Have a Cow.
It's written by Teddy Gentry and Dr.
And it does focus on South Poll since
Teddy Gentry's the one who started it.
But the main focus is showing you that
the smaller framed easier keeping cow
is what's gonna make you money and
then showing you how and showing you
if you're gonna be breeding animals,
this is what you wanna look for.
These are the kind of things to expect.
And so if you're somebody who's into into
cattle already and are of thinking about
moving towards the more regenerative
path before you have a cow is a really
good book to convince you that, yeah,
I think this is a good idea with a
lot of the statistics and the dollar
values that they lay out for you.
And then I have another book if you're
interested in doing the pastured poultry,
whether that's egg layers or meat birds.
There's a book called Polyface Designs,
and that book is worth its weight in gold.
They lay out exactly how they make all
of their, or not all of their structures,
but their well known structures.
I tried making a portable pasture
poultry thing on my own, just knowing
what they looked like and just using
what I had and trying to do that.
And it was impossible to move.
It's just a huge pain.
And was it would never work.
I, there's no way I could have done it
for eight weeks moving those birds around.
But in about two evenings, I was able
to put together a Salatin style chicken
structure because they just lay it all
out there for you and you don't have
to think, you just buy what they tell
you to buy and you just cut exactly how
they tell you to cut and you throw it
all together and it works really well.
Yeah if you're interested in
moving towards pasture poultry,
that book is really good.
Cal: Yeah, they've taken care
of all that trial and error
and to a workable structure.
That is one of the books, I don't have
the, I've thought about getting this
hadn't, I don't know if it'd be super
beneficial, but I may have to get it now.
The other book you mentioned Before
You Have a Cow by Teddy Gentry,
and did you say Alan Williams?
Is he in that, on that book?
Cal: Yeah I've seen that book.
But for me, being around cattle all
the time and growing up with them and
running numerous cattle, not enough to
pay the bills, but, I run on some cattle.
I wasn't sure if that book
would be of value to me.
So based upon what you've told
me, it may be an interesting.
Ethon: Yeah, I think even if you are
familiar with cattle especially, if you
grew up in a more conventional model of
things, it's just a good way of convincing
you yeah, this is a way to move forward.
They have a lot, they have some,
a lot of tables and a lot of just
good little tidbits on showing the
dollar value of different forage
intakes and stuff for animals.
If you run a 1000 pound cow versus
a 1500 pound cow, everybody tells
you that you're gonna make more
money on their calves or whatever.
But then they show you based
off of what it's gonna cost to
bring that that cow to calf.
And then once it's calved to bring
that calve to market weight and they
just lay all that out and show you yes,
definitively doing it this way per animal,
you're gonna be able to make more money.
And on top of that, you're gonna
be able to run more animals.
It solidifies all those things that you
hear people say, and you may not have
all the facts and you're just like, oh
yeah, people like to run their mouth.
But when you go through they really
lay it out for you on exactly how
you can make more money and how you
can run more animals on all the using
smaller cows and, and things like that.
Cal: Very good.
What tool could you not
live without on your farm?
Ethon: Again, I'm gonna cheat
and say two different tools.
One is buried polyethylene waterline.
Like I said, I hate moving water around.
And on top of that, you can control
where your animals are so effectively
if you can move your water easily.
And having a pressurized water line
that doesn't freeze in the wintertime,
just makes it so that you can put
those animals basically wherever
you want and you don't have to worry
about things freezing up on you.
You don't have to worry about building
a lane back to a water point in the
wintertime, or even in the summertime
you can put that water exactly where
you want it, you can control your
animal impact and and you don't have
to carry it around even if you're
doing chickens and things like that.
Buried polyethylene waterline for sure.
And then the second one is YouTube.
There's so many things where I've been
even out in the pasture and I'm like
I don't know if I'm doing this right,
or maybe this isn't the right idea.
And then you can look it up immediately
and then not just have somebody
write it down and tell you, but show
you exactly as they're doing it.
And you can just learn everything so fast.
The University of YouTube is invaluable.
Cal: Oh, and it's just, and it's such
craziness of the things you can search
for and find video demonstrating it too.
It, I, I don't know if you can
find something that there's not a
video on , but that's my go-to.
If I need to figure out something, I
go watch a video on YouTube about it.
That's how I learned how to put
up an H brace was a YouTube video.
I knew what it looked, I knew what
it looked like, but then I didn't
know exactly how to put it together.
I'd never built one.
And then it just looked up making an
H brace for fencing, and then bam,
you got 10 videos that show you maybe
three different ways of doing it.
And you can say, all right,
this way's the best for me.
And then you can do it, and you can
just keep playing it over and over.
If there's a part where you're
stuck, you just bring out your
phone again and you watch 'em,
and then you're like, okay, yeah.
Now I know how to do it.
Yeah it's crazy.
Cal: That's so true.
Ethon, what do you now that you
wish you knew a few years ago when
you were starting on this journey?
Ethon: I wish I had known to just
start earlier and if you have an
inkling that you want move in a certain
direction to just go for it if you can.
And even if it's not going for it all
the way and I think still the way that
I started starting small was good, but
I think every year that you delay trying
something because you're not sure about
it, or maybe you're thinking if I do it
right now, then I'm not gonna be able to,
if it's going to grazing cattle, I'm not
gonna be able to get the cow that I want.
And every year that you wait,
the possible pasture benefits or
the establishment of the pasture
or the learning that you're
gonna get from running those
cows, if you've never ran cows.
Every year that you delay,
that is basically interest that
you'll never be able to get back
on your experience and education.
So it's one of those things that
just, even if you're not able to
do it exactly the way you wanted to
do it, if you can just get started
and try it out and what's the worst
that happens, that you don't do it.
Who cares . That's the biggest thing
is just I think starting early, even
can't do it exactly how you want.
Yeah, for sure.
Cal: Very good.
Lastly, Ethan where can others
find out more about you?
Ethon: So I have a website
I have an Instagram
that's Black Swamp cattle.
I post a lot of photos
and videos on Instagram.
I try to make 'em educational and show
how I'm doing it, why I'm doing it.
Sometimes it is just a good
looking picture of a cow.
But I do try to make it educational.
And then I do have a Facebook page.
It's Black Swamp Cattle as well.
Cal: Very good.
Now, one thing I find interesting
when I think about swamp,
I don't think about Ohio.
Cal: where did the name Black
Swamp Cattle Company come from?
Ethon: So where I'm from in Ohio,
northwest Ohio, right in the Toledo area
that is historically the black swamp.
So back when Ohio was just
becoming a state it was a really
big swamp that kind of took over
the whole greater Toledo area.
And it's an easy branding thing of
showing, this is a local, this is
where we're operating, is in this
Cal: Oh, yes.
Ethon: And so that's
where the name came from.
Cal: Oh, very good.
Because I saw the name and
then I was like, where's this?
So yeah, they in Oklahoma
history, we didn't talk about
the Black Swamp in Ohio.
A lot of people, when they think of
Ohio, they think of the Eastern Edge
and it's like the Appalachian Mountains.
But yeah, once you get kind of the
Western side, that's where it's all, a
lot more grain and that type of thing.
Cal: Oh yeah.
Ethon, we appreciate you coming
on and sharing about your
journey and what you're doing.
It's been a wonderful conversation.
Ethon: Thank you for having me.
It's great talk.
Cal: It was great to hear about
Ethon's transition from row
crop farmer to grass farmer.
And I'm excited to watch his progress.
I mentioned before our interview with
Ethon about a new project for me.
Actually there's two new projects.
But they're related.
We have started two more podcasts.
Yes, that's true.
We have started two more
podcasts called Grazing News
and the Grass Farmer Book Club.
Both are the result of me not
finding what I wanted out there.
Just like this podcast, a Grazing Grass
podcast came about because I wanted
to hear from grass farmers, doing
the work and how they were doing it.
And I couldn't find a
podcast providing that.
Grazing News is a short 10 to 15 minute
podcast that is released each Monday.
The goal of the Grazing News podcast is to
provide relevant news for grass farmers.
For example, we'll have upcoming events
that may be of use to grass, farmers.
As well as essential
resources for grass, farmers.
Also, we have a Podcast Roundup on
there, so you can know what's being
released in the world of podcast.
I for one, I want to listen
to all the podcast I can.
But, I am limited by my
time available to listen.
So what I'm hoping the Podcast Roundup
does is to let you know what episodes are.
We're just released or getting released
so you can make an educated decision
about what you want to listen to.
Now, if you've got time,
listen to them all.
I encourage that.
But I realize, you have limited
time, like I have limited time.
So I hope the Podcast Roundup will be a.
Beneficial segment for you.
And to be honest, I don't know where
this Grazing News podcast will go.
I have a few things in mind as I've
mentioned, but if you have something
you think would make it better
a suggestion to make it better.
Go over to the Grazing Grass Community.
And let me know.
If we have a segment on there and
you're like, that's a waste of time.
Let me know, so we can make
this be something useful for us.
There's one caveat there.
The joke of the week is not getting
axed because those are some good jokes.
I encourage you to give a listen.
And help me on this journey to
develop a resource for all of us.
The Grass Farmer Book Club is another
podcast to fill a need I have.
I'm an avid reader, but I would like
others to discuss the books I read.
Thus the Grass Farmer Book Club.
The podcast is organized into seasons
with each season covering a single book.
For season one, we are reading
Quality pasture second edition by
Allan nation, revised by Jim garish.
The first episode of each season will
introduce the book for that season.
As well as the reading plan
with weekly episode release to
discuss that week's readings.
The reading plan is built
around reading 10 pages a day.
While 10 pages isn't a lot.
It is enough for us to grow our knowledge.
In addition to the podcast, you can go
over to the Grazing Grass Community.
Click on grass farmer book club and
start a discussion there as well.
Hopefully it will become a useful
resource as we are building our knowledge.
I encourage you to subscribe
to a grass farmer book club.
If you're interested in reading or if
you just want to hear the discussions.
And also subscribe to
the Grazing News podcast.
And let me know how it goes for you.
You're listening to the grazing grass
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For those grass farmers who
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Until next time.
Keep on grazing grass.