Proffitt Family Cattle – Shelley Proffitt Eagan

subject: Livestock

Shelley Proffitt Eagan is a 46 year-old white female, and has been an owner and operator of Proffitt Family Cattle Company since 2008, that she owns with her father. Her duties include rotating the cattle in the pastures, baling hay, weighing, tagging and keeping records of the herd.  She also repairs and moves fences, sells the products and maintains the pastures. She graduated from a Charlotte high school and prior to working on her father’s farm, she lived in Colorado with her husband and two children.

In this interview Shelley Proffitt Eagan discusses her work as an owner/operator of a cattle company for the last 10 years in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Topics include how the farm began, methods used to raise cattle for slaughter, the process to become USDA certified organic, and changes they have made to the farm over the years.

She recounts their rotational grazing process as well as describes the types of grasses the cattle eat.  Shelley explains why it is important for the health of the cattle and the grass to rotate the herd. She recounts a memory from a few years ago when a farmer lost a cow because she ate toxic plants in his pasture, and discusses grass management.

Shelley tells of sexism from other farmers that she encountered when she began cattle farming.

Tape Log

0:00:34Shelley Proffitt and her parents
0:00:39The farm’s beginning
0:01:42How Shelley came to Kings Mountain to be a farmer
0:02:48Starting the grass-fed beef business and becoming the first in NC/SC to be certified organic
0:03:34The farm’s acreage and Shelley and Steve’s decision to downsize
0:06:02Herd size
0:06:36Shelley describes a day on the farm
0:08:49The struggle with caring for geriatric horses
0:09:26Current issues with a cow and her calf
0:11:14Juggling other farm chores while caring for a calf
0:12:47Recent meat shipment from the slaughterhouse and the usual process
0:14:24Pasture rotation and health
0:16:18Importance of rotational grazing for the health of the grass
0:18:12Nutritional needs of the mama herd
0:18:32Importance of rotational grazing for the health of the herd
0:21:16Cow boredom when not rotated enough
0:23:05Necessary to rotate the herd even with plenty of grass
0:23:54Story about the cows getting excited about moving to a new pasture
0:24:52Bulls, safety, and breeding
0:30:30Entrance of Shelley’s father Steve, and introductions
0:31:13Further explanations of how heifers and bulls are separated
0:32:20Steve explains how bulls are easier to manage without calving seasons
0:32:56Sharing bulls with another farmer, and the importance of a bull’s genetics on breeding
0:34:47Illness from plants, weed management
0:38:50Effects of past winter’s excessive rain fall on pasture soil
0:43:42Starting off in early 2000s prior to grass-fed and organic certification; changes in how they farmed
0:47:22Cows in feed lot living a miserable existence; changing farm model for humane livestock treatment
0:49:41Health benefits of grass-fed, organic beef
0:50:19 “the feedlot is the great equalizer,” Feeding cattle grain changes the flavor profile of the meat
0:50:53Differences in raising grass-fed vs feedlot beef
0:52:06Labor on the farm
0:54:00The life cycle of cattle, from calf to slaughterhouse
0:56:16Slaughter and certified organic practices
1:00:01Deciding which animals to slaughter and which to keep
1:00:09Strict requirements on certified organic beef
1:01:06How to decide which heifers to keep and which to slaughter
1:02:51Advice from a conference: get a meat handler’s license, a meat processor and go to farmer’s markets
1:05:14Selling meat at a farmers marker
1:07:38General farming misconceptions and agricultural ignorance
1:16:25Unique experiences being a woman farmer; sexism from older male farmers
1:19:43Future of the farm



>> Luanne Hoverman: This is Luanne Hoverman, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. And today is April 26, 2019. I’m interviewing Shelley Crawford Egan for the Queens Garden, oral histories of the Piedmont food shed. So give you a chance to introduce yourself. Tell us about your background, history of the farm, that sort of thing.


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Well, I’m the middle child. Parents even in profits. And about 20 years ago, my dad bought this land out here. Started off with about 100 acres. And he had been interested in cows as a young man because he grew up in the era when cowboys were the heroes of TV.


And so he always wanted to be a cowboy as a little kid. He was a baby boomer so he’s about 75 now, 76. And so he was finally able to retire and move out into the country, buy land, build a house and a farm and a young man came up and knocked on the door of the house and said hi my name is Paul or whatever.


I forgot his name now but he said I’d like to lease your land and put cows on it and dad said, well were gonna do business together. I’ll do it with you, can you teach me what you know about cows? Cuz he didn’t know anything about cows. At the time, he just had horses.


And that was kind of the beginning of dad’s learning about livestock and how to handle cows. I moved here about ten years ago with my family from Colorado. [COUGH] And my husband and I who had been living in the burbs out there. And one day my kids were arguing who was going to climb the one damn tree in the yard.


And I told my husband, I said it’s a sad state of affairs when the children are arguing over who’s gonna get to climb the tree. So we gotta get out of here, I can’t take it anymore. And at that time, I had been coming back here over the summer for weeks at a time staying at the farm with my parents and the summer of 2008, I was here for about two weeks.


I spent the entire time helping dad milk cows and do something [UKNOWN] on fun. And I went back and told my husband, Mike we need to move, dad needs help, you know how to handle animals and livestock. I’d like to get out of Colorado and be back in the south.


And land is cheaper, everybody in the south’s really friendly, you’ll love it. [LAUGH] So we moved back here that winter. And then sort of established private family farms at the time that winter and started slaughtering grass-fed beef, selling at the farmers market May of 2009 and it really just took off.


It is a huge customer base, a massive demand for not just grass-fed beef but really good grass-fed beef. We had farm certified in fall of 2009, USDA certified organic. We were the first certified organic beef operation in North Carolina and South Carolina at that time.

>> Luanne Hoverman: That’s impressive.


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Thanks, and we’ve been doing it ever since.

>> Luanne Hoverman: How many acres do you have?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: We recently downsized and we’re down to around 350 now. We had just this winter, this past fall and winter sold an additional 360 acre farm in Blacksburg, South Carolina, and that’s where we had our small farm there, but I was getting too old to mess with it.


I’m really not that old in the grand scheme of things. But it’s a really demanding job physically, and it’s a long drive down there, longer seeming and we were spread out. For the last ten years, we worked on four properties. It just takes a lot of grass to finish an animal, a cow and get them up to a 1,000 pounds or more on nothing but grass growing out of the ground, it takes a large amount of grass.


You can’t strain the grass pasture so the cows can’t spend a lot of time on it. So they need to be moving every couple days or as much as you can, that means that you have to physically be on all these farms. And not me just driving out there and counting cows and leaving, but maintaining the fence, checking the fence, calling cows, moving cows, be it horseback, foot, four-wheeler, whatever.


And spreading that across four properties, where there’s miles and miles of fence all combined, not people is a pretty physically daunting project. And I just got really tired the last summer. And I turned to dad, I had hauled cows every day for two weeks with minimal help. And I said, I am going to kill somebody if we don`t, we’ve got to downsize this space.


It just kind of got out of hand. Like one day we had 35 or 40 mama cows and then the next day, a couple years down the road, there’s 95. I mean, it just got big and a lot of work. That’s great. So now, we’re trying to raise as much meat as I can within the confines of this much grass and one other property about two miles down the road.


So between those two properties, it’s probably a little more than 350, 375, something like that. So two properties and as many cows as we can have born and raised up on nothing but grass within that amount of grass. That’s what we’re gonna do, that’s the new plan.

>> Luanne Hoverman: How big is your herd right now?


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right now we have, I got about 15 yearlings, maybe a couple more, 17 yearlings and then I got about 20 momma cows and then I got about 20 finishers. The mom cows, about half of them have a calf at their side. And before the next couple months, they should all have a calf at their side.


So 80 in total.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So a pretty manageable number right now.

>> Luanne Hoverman: What’s a typical day on the farm?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Well how do I say it that, wow you must get it so early and like my cow’s eating grass that’s growing out of the ground. And they’re ain’t nobody waiting for me to come around with a bucket of anything and that’s about how I am.


I’m not into eating animals that are raised up on corn and soy. And so my animals getting on that and the only time I have to get up really early is when I have to go to the farmer’s market. Those days are always long so they get down the barn and take care of the horses and get them dressed for the day.


And that would be, it depends on the time of year in the summer we’ve gotta get moving a little bit earlier if we wanna get something done because it’s hot. You cannot really mess with livestock in the heat of the day and summer period, they just will not come out of the shade.


So now every couple of Sundays we saw in way at a finishing herd and we got a, from wherever they are on the property that got to be gotten up, walked through pastures. They are with cane or cow alarm or with them on horseback or set up temporary posts to make fences and get them up to the round pen.


Out about a barn where the scales are and we’ll bring them in and around and sort out the one way along. Then look at the weights, look at the birthdays to see how old each one is and decide [COUGH] who’s going to slaughter the next day. We always have to do that the day before we go through the processor.


So that takes a couple people and a couple hours. First I usually schedule to do that in the evening hours the day before slaughter. So that might be 7 o’clock in the summer whenever the sun has gotten so it’s not so hot because I won’t be able to get them to come around in the middle of the day.


If somebody can’t do in the evening, we’ll do it early in the morning, so maybe we’ll get started at 7:00, 7:30, I try not to do that to my hired help on the weekend. On a Sunday but we always have to do that on a Sunday. But as far as what we do every single day, we go down to the barn, we bring horses in, we give them what they need, we let them move.


Our particular horses we’ve got, it’s just like a geriatric center down there for God sakes, I mean they’re all old and still rideable. But they are just generally useless and consumers, they give nothing back to the farm whatsoever. I wouldn’t mind getting rid of them just because half the time I’m messing with them, I’m thinking about all the other things I really need to be doing.


Like putting up a fence or checking a fence or opening gates and moving cows. So after we get them squared away then we go meet the needs of the cows, like today, we’ve got a calf down there, something’s wrong with the mamas udders. Her teats are blown out and not shaped in the right way, she’s got like one of four teats, [COUGH] even something the calf could latch onto and she’s about not quite a week old, she’s a day shy, this calf.


And over the last several days that has been going on there, and I’ve given her a bottle in the evening, and she’s been sucking a little bit better each day. But that sometimes is hard to do, because then you have to catch the calf, they don’t generally see a bottle and think, gee this is something I wanna put in my mouth.


And you gotta kind of like wrestle them to the ground and shove a bottle in their mouth and then hold it there and make them open their mouth. You’ve gotta, it’s not a natural thing that they do until they get that milk in and realize that this is a good thing.


So, anyway, whenever we were arriving this morning, looked over in the pasture and the calf’s laying there and the herd’s nowhere around. He’s not with the herd, she’s by herself, sun’s out, it’s hot, that’s a sign that something’s not right. So I came up to the house and got a bottle, drove back down there with my daughter’s boyfriend who’s a young, strong thing.


So [INAUDIBLE] snatched this calf and put this bottle in her mouth. So we did that, didn’t take but about 15 minutes, mama saw us messing with the calf and comes over and she was nice, though. She didn’t try to kill us or attack us or anything so that went smooth and that’s not always the case sometimes they really are trying to kill you if they see you messing with their calf.


And then we went and put the horses back up, we put the tack away, and checked the minerals. Open a gate for the mama herd needs to be moved, they’ve spend to much time on the one pasture. So, we open the gate so they can work their way into another field, sometimes we’ll call them.


If they don’t have calves on them, I’ll call them and that way I can kinda count them when they come through mostly and then shut the gate behind them. But right now I would not do that because they’ve all got little calves, so if you call them now, the mamas might come over and then leave their calf and you have to leave the gate open.


And then they end up spread across all these pastures, it’s just easier to open a gate, they’ll find it, and then they can bring their calf on through. And then once everybody’s over there, we go down and check on then we’ll shut them over. And then today, Friday, we’ve got farm store hours and meat came back from the processor today.


So every couple Fridays we get our beef back, the big refrigerated truck, that backs up to the garage door there and brings in a pallet full of meat and we [COUGH] pack it all into these freezers here. And then I display and the farm stores open from 12:00 to 5:00, somebody did just pull up that I don’t recognize, and then they buy meat, it’s a pretty cool process.


>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay, does the meat come from the slaughter or the processing plant frozen or is it fresh?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Well, today, it was fresh, cuz they just cut it yesterday but they put it in their freezer, and it’s only fresh because it wasn’t in there long enough. They probably cut it at the end of the day, Thursday, put it in the freezer in those boxes and so it didn’t have time to freeze all the way.


But I take it to the farmer’s market frozen, if people were adamant about having it fresh I do not commit to that and I’m just, I’m sorry you can’t have it fresh because to me it’s just I can’t guarantee it. I used to try and get them that when people would ask and I would have the processor they’d put some stuff in the freezer and some in the fridge and then either they would deliver me back one or the other but not both.


It just was too much risk and trouble and so I just tell them, if they happen to get here and still not frozen, then that’s great for them but I don’t make that as an option. See if this guy knows, hang on one second.

>> Luanne Hoverman: So I want to ask about the rotational process.


How it works? Why it’s important? How it helps the quality of the meat?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: As far as the moving them constantly?

>> Luanne Hoverman: Moving them, plus the fact that they’re eating the grass versus feeding them.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right, so they have to be, as far as the finishing herd goes, they’re handled in sort of different ways.


There’s the mama herd, they have certain nutritional demands, if they have a calf on they need to make milk, so those needs need to be met calorie wise, protein, carbs, all that. The finishing herd are the ones who I’m trying to put weight on them as fast as possible, so they need to be gaining weight every single day hopefully three pounds, four pounds at the best of times.


[COUGH] And when the winter might be closer to pound and a half, two pounds depending on what grass is in front of them. So in order for them to actually make those gains and meet those nutritional demands without corn or grain supplements for energy, they need to be standing in front of palatable, delicious grass that they want to eat.


But if I have them standing in like most farmers, where I’ve got them standing on a huge field and they’ve been there for two weeks, they’ve hit it they’ve been around to every plant around. When you first let a cow onto a certain patch of grass no matter how big it is they’ll come in and put their head down, smell it, everything is about smell to them.


They sample that and then they pretty much work the perimeter and then they'[ll go back and then they go back to that thing that was the most yummy smelling and the most palatable and they’ll take a bite off of that. So my theory and the ideal situation for the pastures is they take one bite off of the plants and then I’ve moved them after that, they’ve had the one hit on it.


Because at that point, they’re not damaging the plant, they’re maybe stimulating it to grow some more, depending on when the life cycle. Plant they’re eating it. Or they might be simulating root growth and depending on again if it’s already gone to seed or not. So what I don’t want them to do is be in one place for so many days that they’ve covered the entire pasture multiple times.


And when they do they’ll go back to their really tasty bit and they chew it down smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller, so then it’s damaged and set back on its regrowth schedule so long. Like they take one bite out of it, that plants gonna be ready to graze again in two weeks.


They take five bites and they eat it down to nothing, it could be a solid 30 days to 60 days before that plant has time to regrow, to be what it needs to be again. So if they go in and they spend enough time in a place, again, and this is why it means it’s bad not to move them constantly, is that so they’re setting back and they’re stunting the growth of the ones that they need to be eating, that helped them gain weight.


And then by doing that the ones that they don’t like, the weeds, they’re getting stronger because the competition around them has been set back. So the weeds are getting more nutrients and being certified organic I can’t go out there and spray those weeds. I have no, my only toolbox and tool against weeds is to mow them with the bush hog.


That’s land management, how I manage the moving of the herds. So if I leave them on there it’s just a couple days. I try to, we used to move them every single day, and there was a summer there where I moved them twice a day for about a month.


And it’s just there’s no point, my mother would be like, quit harassing the cows, just leave them alone. And I’ d be like, I’m not harassing the cows. [LAUGH] I’m trying to just put them in front of good grass. But the general rule is that if the grass is growing fast, we move the herd fast, if it’s growing slow, we slow them down a little bit.


But they shouldn’t spend more than a couple days really anywhere. The mama herd I might give them a little bit more time because if they just had a calf it’s kind of a lot to expect them to move with that to another pasture right away. Calves are pretty much within a couple hours of birth they’re able to get up walk but it’s stressful for them.


So it’s beneficial for the grass. Another thing it does is that it moves them away from those manure pads. If they are in a certain area of the pasture, they’re gonna poop and pee in that area. Then I can set up a wire, like a temporary electric wire on a spool we roll them up it’s like poly wire.


And it has a little fine metallic thread through a plastic wire rolled up on a spool and then I roll it out and hang it on these little plastic step-in stakes so I can create a fence in the middle of the pasture instead of giving them a whole pasture I give them a segment of it.


And then they’ll poop and pee in that area, urine has a lot of nitrogen, it’s good for the soil, there are newer pads are out there. In certain times of the year when parasites are active in the warmer months of the year, and you leave them in that pasture for a long time then they’re gonna be forced to graze once they’ve hit all the desired graze up close to those manure pads.


And they don’t like to do that and they shouldn’t be doing that, cuz then they’re gonna be more susceptible to ingesting those parasites and have worms. As an organic producer, I can not use chemical de-wormers on my cows. So, and that’s something that, for conventional cattlemen, they just cannot get their head around that you would not de-worm them.


It’s just not something that they just lived by that now because they’re gonna have 40 cows that are living on 40 acres. They’ll have them on this field one day, or this field for six months and then move over here for six months, and I just don’t operate that way.


My cows don’t get worms, I don’t make them graze in a way they’re susceptible to that, I move them off of that land. [COUGH] So another reason to move them is flies in the summertime. The flies they lay their larva in the manure pads and you can go out there and see the flies all over the manure pads in the heat of the summer.


That’s if the flies are getting to be a problem, I move them not just one pasture away but like 30 acres away, so that they are leaving the flies behind. It’s now clearly some of them are gonna come, but not a lot. So that’s another way, it’s a management tool.


It’s just moving them every couple days and getting them off of grass after they’ve had just that one bite, especially on the finishing, it’s better for the animal, it’s better for the land, it’s better for everything.

>> Luanne Hoverman: You mentioned it’s important to make sure that they have grass that they want to eat.


Now, as stupid as this sounds, can they get bored?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah, if they’re left in a place for a week, they’re itching to get out of there. Even if there’s like knee deep in great grass, they just, ours animals are used to moving around, they get antsy. And one way to keep them moving even in the winter when the grass may be isn’t amazing anymore, let’s say we’re still grazing in December.


They’re not getting hay yet because they’ll still have grass. A lot of times, I out here we can graze all year around because the grass will be growing as long as the soil is 40 degrees or higher. And in the south, where we are here, you can make it through a lot of the winter before that happens, right?


>> Luanne Hoverman: Mm-hm.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: But as far as the palatability goes, they’ve kind of hit it. After, we have, as far as the amount of space I give them, they have enough grass so that I know that they can get through the next 24 hours, probably 48 hours without being, feeling trapped at all.


And then the next step so, if I go out there you can see them, if I go out there like even, let’s say in heat, if they’re ready to go they’ll show up and start following me around. If we walk out there with a wire and those stepping stakes and start setting up the fence have to walk back and forth across the pasture several times while we’re putting stakes in and the line and I pull up the old fence, they’re following us up and down the line waiting for that wire to come up.


They know what’s about to happen and even if there’s a ton of grass back there they’re like, hey we’re ready to go. And they’re pretty easily trained by routine and calling and such like any animal might be when you reward them with something that they like, like fresh grass, even if the stuff behind them is fine.


I had the finishing herd out on this pasture that’s called Melissa’s pasture, cuz my sister Melissa used to live in the house on the other side of the pasture, and there’s so much grass out there it’s beyond what they could possibly make a dent in. The clovers this deep, there’s crabgrass, there’s fescues, there’s all kind of stuff out there, it’s ridiculous.


They can’t even scratch the surface of it, barely. So, but I need them to continue to be moving because the mama herd is gonna come behind them and kind of do clean-up on that pasture. And right now, the mama herd is like hitting hard where they are, I need like these guys gotta keep moving forward so that the mamas can keep going forward.


Does that make sense?

>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So even though they don’t need to be moved, they’re fine, there’s just a ridiculous amount of grass out there, I still gotta move them. So I went out the other day and pulled up the wire so they could have the second half of the pasture.


And they’re like running because they had been in the same spot for three or four days, so they were just ready for a different view. There’s zero reason, For them to leave [LAUGH] where they were but the prospect of new grass it’s just fun. And also, they gain better.


I noticed that they looked about the same and then after about two or three days in one spot, it prompts them to graze more. I could go out there and move them in the heat of the day and they’ll start eating, when normally they won’t eat in the heat of the day.


So I figured that gets one extra grazing in, do it when they would not normally eat.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, how does it work for your bulls? Because they have to kind of be separate, because they can get kind of aggressive, right?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: All bulls, you just have to watch them.


I always tell anybody that’s working with me, I know I don’t ever want to call anybody’s parents and explain to them [COUGH] why my bull hurt their child, or spouse or whatever. And I say do not ever forget that a bull has been bred to do one thing, and it’s not like give a crap about you or where you are.


So you always know where the bull is at in the pasture. If there’s bull that’s on foot in the pasture working in, you need to have access. You should not be out there without pickup trucks, especially if it’s a big 40 acre pasture or something. You should not be that far from the fence if you are on foot, you should have a cow stick or something like that.


That being said if I ever have a bull that looks twice at me, they’re dead, they go to the slaughter I’m done, there’s no second chances on that. That’s just not something I mess around with. I care too much about people that work for me and have family and that’s not a phone call I’m gonna make.


But we used to have about eight bulls about a year ago. Cuz we had so many animals. And we had been through at the time, there was a time, maybe 2014, when I found out after about four month window that my bull was not working. And a not-working bull means nobody’s getting pregnant during that window which means nobody nine months later is having calves for a four-month window.


Which means I got no one coming up slaughter age for a four month window between your staff and that-

>> Luanne Hoverman: Cuz there’s only a certain amount of time that they can breed.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: They’re real particular, they all come into season every 30 days until they get bred, a cow.


And I think a lot of times they’ll stay in. There’s more to that than I know. But I know that I couldn’t have him not working for that particular time period and we had a lot of cows then. So we went up to Biltmore and bought two big herd bulls who were mature and ready to to work.


They’re about three and a half years old, and they were half brothers. So I put them on there and they had the whole herd bred, within geez, 30, 60 days I think. So the lesson, the moral of that story was, that what we decided after that was that we would just start keeping bull calves and raising them up out of our own herd, rather than castrating all the bull calves and the steers.


We would keep a few that looked good at early times and just raise them up with our, and what we would do is when we would wean calves at six to nine months of age, we never weaned them younger than six, for sure. And I’d like to do it closer to eight, seven and eight.


We would keep taking him out of the mama cow and her genetics. We would keep a few of them when they were little and then when, the thing about bulls though is they like to start working when they’re six months old. And I can’t have them out there breeding with the other mom, then they’re interfering with my herd bulls who are trying to actually get work done.


Does that make sense?

>> Luanne Hoverman: Mm-hm.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Like they’re messing around with the big bull and the big bull is having to spend energy kicking them off whenever he needs to be breeding. So they need to be removed. So I would take the mamas and the young bull calves to a separate property and just have essentially a bull pen with their mama there.


Or you have to wean them a little bit earlier than you would. And the males are always the big babies, they take weaning worse than the heifers ever do, it’s ridiculous. So we kept our own bulls, we would have a bunch of the time and then we’d always put two in to work the herd and we’d get the breeding done at a time.


And that way, I didn’t have to worry about one getting broke and you can overwork them, I learn that was another thing we learned the hard way. You cannot put one bull on 50 cows year round. It’s just too much, they need to have a break. And then we start implementing calving seasons just for our own frigging personal sanity because when we had 90 cows we were calving year round.


And then, so we calve year round, which means that there was always somebody that now needed be weaned. And so then we’d have to work the herd and pull out the weaned calves. And that mean that there always had to be somebody that needed to be moved from one farm to another.


So after about four or five years, we decided to have two calving seasons, one in the spring and one in the fall, where we’d have two four months season. So we calve four months, be off two calve four months, be off two and so the bulls worked and we took them in and out of those herds, according to that.


>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Makes sense?

>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, now do the bulls graze all together like-

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Mm-hm.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Cuz I know you can’t, unless you’re trying to breed them, you don’t put the bulls with-

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: The cows.

>> Luanne Hoverman: The cows.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So they would be separate, so what I would do is when we wean the young ones, I always have bull pens somewhere and I could put my steers out there.


So what I would do is, when we would wean them all, wean everybody, I have the heifers went to one property. Let’s say the heifers as yearlings go to the Creek Ranch and there would be other heifers there, hey dad.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Hey, need any help?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: No, these are not customers, come in and I’ll introduce you.


>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: [LAUGH] All right I guess y’all can introduce yourselves. This is my dad, Steve.

>> Dad: I’m Steve.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Nice to meet you my name’s LouAnn.

>> Dad: How you doing?

>> Luanne Hoverman: I’m a graduate student at UNC Charlotte.

>> Dad: Okay.

>> Luanne Hoverman: And this is Mike, he’s my husband.


He’s also in the class. And we’ve been interviewing, the whole class has been interviewing area farmers, produce and livestock to get an idea of who supplies the Charlotte food shed.

>> Dad: Okay, we do a little piece of it.

>> Luanne Hoverman: I’m sorry?

>> Dad: We do a little piece of the food shed.


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: You wanna sit in dad you can contribute, we’re talking about bulls.

>> Dad: Nah, I’ll wait, I was just checking.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, you’re more than welcome.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I think that you should. Are you gonna take a nap or something or taking- Well, I will be taking a nap shortly.


[LAUGH] Well, they were just asking about bulls and how we manage them and stuff. So we would have all the heifers go to one farm and that meant all the steers would go to the farm where the bulls are. Because steers and the bulls can more or less not have any qualms with each other.


And we might keep one cow or two out there to get the bulls to keep them from standing at the fence fussing. And that would kind of give them something to do but we always said that any time you have a bull pen that every night at sundown there was a bull fight.


Cuz you can look out there right about dusk every night and they would decide it was time to just fight. And that’s just, we don’t know why, that was the way they live, that’s the way they do. So anytime we have a lot of bulls together, they just need to have enough space so that they can postulate to each other and move around without tearing up.


Any offenses or hurting each other. You would not put them into a tight space at all.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Is there anything you want to add to that, Dad?

>> Dad: Well, bulls are a lot easier to manage if you don’t want to have a calving season, or if you do have a calving season, like we like, in spring, then you got to find something to do with them whenever they’re not breeding the cattle.


And that’s the problem, you gotta have a place for them. It’s gotta be very secure, you can’t have any other cows around. Cuz they’ll break out and get to the other cows. And they are managable problems. And now we got a greater of an investment than we’ve ever had.


We just share our goal with another guy, that’s on our old farm down in Blacksburg. And if there was our goal [INAUDIBLE]. And he doesn’t have a calving season so he takes care of the bull whenever we don’t need him and then we bring him up here.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah and he’s got, we know it’s genetics cuz we-


>> Dad: We bred him.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: We raised his mama, and we bred him. And so we know what his calves looked like before. And that’s a lot easier than the other option. What a lot of guys do is they just buy a new one every year. Now, they use them for a couple months, however long they want their calving season to be and then they’d sell them off and you know it’s a sale barn.


>> Dad: We’re very particular about our bulls, [INAUDIBLE]. We wanna know what kind of calves they throw, if they can throw a small calf or a good calf. I know why I do that and yes, I would pay a lot of money for a bull. You can’t just go to sale barn and buy a [INAUDIBLE] bull.


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right, and the thing about, if you go to the sale barn you don’t know those things about how big their calves are gonna be, which is the most important thing to us. And we don’t wanna get some random bull that’s gonna make really giant babies, where we’re gonna have to go out and pull calves, or mamas might be in a potentially dangerous situation.


That’s just a lot of risk.

>> Dad: Yeah, we’ve found that it’s a far better life on the farm if your cows deliver their calves without assistance.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right.

>> Dad: If you have to keep pulling calves all the time, it can make your life miserable and create all sorts of problems.


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: All kinds of problems, yeah.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay, I wanna go back to the grass. Are there things that can grow in the grass that can make the cow sick?

>> Luanne Hoverman: Any kind of-

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah, there’s some toxic plants out there. As a matter of fact, a couple of years ago there was a real bad drought in this area.


In the late summer, early fall, it didn’t rain for two months. And I remember I read about where- Not one of our farmers but some farmer had lost a cow because she ate too much of something called perilla mint. And it looks like a basil plant, a sort of variety of basil and mint, smelly, and it’s got an off-putting smell.


And I’m sure that they only ate that plant cuz it was the last thing in that person’s pasture. And they were starving, that was a starving cow. Our cows would never be put in that position where they are forced to eat something like that. There are gonna be some toxic things out there, but there’s so much other variety of things that they won’t.


And then our healthy interest is that they’re not gonna eat something, more likely than not, that they shouldn’t. I don’t really know of other things that are true that toxic to them in this area. That’s the only one that I have heard about.

>> Dad: And one more common problem is the things that normally are fine for a cow, like fescue grass and other types of grass, normally are fine.


But with certain weather conditions, like a lot of rain and the frost-

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.

>> Dad: Make them toxic. Things that they normally eat, like fescue, fescue can be toxic in certain weather conditions.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right, yeah, there are certain weather patterns and conditions. There’s a particular fungus that grows in the seed head of fescues, infested fescue.


And if they eat a whole lot of it, it can be toxic to them. And some cows seem to be more susceptible to it than others. But if it doesn’t rain out here for months at a time, the only thing out there in that pasture is fescue. And it’s been the foundation of the cattle industry in the Southeast and that’s what will grow and it lives a long time in the winter.


It’s drought resistant, and pretty cold tolerant so we have to have it but it’s not likely to kill them. [LAUGH]

>> Dad: In our situation, the biggest problem we have with drought, because we’re certified organic, is getting the weeds out of our pasture before they can take it over.


Got test by poison.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.

>> Dad: So we’re constantly battling the weeds in any way that we can.

>> Luanne Hoverman: It sounds like maybe a small goat herd would be-

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I know, right? We’ll argue this. I’ve got a new little girl, Bailey, who’s helping us on the farm.


And she lives across the street, and she just loves all things farm and she has goats. So she was like, just let me know, I could bring him over here and tie him up, and I’m like anytime you wanna come tie it up I’ll understand. I guess she’s gonna put him on a leash or something and stake him nearby.


>> Dad: [LAUGH] I saw a picture of one her goats.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: [LAUGH] He’s like a bull horn [CROSSTALK] I know. I’m like, I guess you can just stake him into the ground and come back later [LAUGH]. Or they’re not gonna stand there and cry [LAUGH]. Are they gonna eat the weed?


>> Dad: We could goat answer for that you don’t have control it.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I’m afraid they’ll leave the property. Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid will happen is that we don’t have necessarily goat-proof fencing all over the farm nor do we care to go rebuild all of our exterior fencing for it.


>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, that makes sense.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: But there are, I have seen not certified organic operations but I know like the multispecies, whenever they move cows, and chickens, and sheep, and goats, they talk about, as far as weed control then that’s another method.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Grazing, I know an animal that’s gonna hit different things after the cows.


>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah,

>> Luanne Hoverman: How was this past winter cuz this past winter was very wet. And so, did you have any issues with the amount of rain? I’m sure, I’d like to think it helped people in lush pastures for the cows.

>> Dad: Yeah, the grass is growing along [INAUDIBLE].


The bad thing, they only real bad part is that, we just put them, in winter, slagging through mud puddles and mud holes and mud all over the place. And that just gets old. [INAUDIBLE] And the remnants of it is what they call in the pastures. It’s where the cows get on really, really wet soil and they weigh so much they press down the soil.


And it forces all the air out, so between that far apart, and it just creates concrete. So you can walk out there somewhere on the pasture right now and you can’t really walk across them [INAUDIBLE]. And it’s that concrete and it’s not gonna go away for a long, long time.


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So that that it’s just the day that everything is harder every- All the daily chores are harder- Dad, sit down. All the daily the chores are harder if it’s cold and rainy. You have to wear more clothes and so you’re wearing pretty heavy boots and heavy, heavy jackets, and the rain is like running off.


You know I mean it just makes everything more difficult, when its heavy raining, the cows, they’ll move fine in the rain that’s not so much of an issue but the stuff freezes, if it’s that way we couldn’t really get down the barn without four wheel drive, and you want to drive in the cold and rain because otherwise you are soaked before you can get down there, and at one point we had to haul the animals out.


It’s important that we make slaughter dates, you know, like I got to get animals, to even get them up. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to get them from the round pen and onto the gravel because the whole rig was just sliding. We’re talking about a 2500 truck and a 25 foot cattle trailer just sliding all sideways.


>> Luanne Hoverman: [LAUGH] Mh-hm.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So, yeah, in four wheel drive. The ground was so saturated. So what we decided to do was we backed the cattle trailer up to the round pen using the tractor. We have a four wheel drive tractor. It’s got 90 tires in the front, big 90 tires on the back.


And it has this special hitch attachment where you can put a ball. So you can carry, you can move something that uses, it’s like a ball hitch. And then if we couldn’t get out, then we could use the tractor to tow up it to solid ground. Set it and trailer down and then hook the tractor up.


But on the upside, we knew that it would be a bummer spring, from on the grass point of view because the ground water takes time. And the spring grass should just boom,which it has. That’s been nice. So there’s good and bad rain. In the summertime Years ago, it rained and rained and rained one summer.


And the road cropper people were just having a time of it. And the newspaper came out and said, well, how are y’all, what kind of struggles are you having in this rain? I was like, we’re growing the **** out of some grass out here, the cows were gaining, I mean, they were gaining three and four pounds a.


Which is remarkable on grass to do that in the heat of the summer. Because the grass was just kept growing. Just kept raining and we kept mowing it and the grass kept growing. I mean it was great, yeah. We were like, we’re fine. [LAUGH]

>> Luanne Hoverman: So overall you guys have being in business for about 20 years or almost.


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.

>> Luanne Hoverman: What kind of changes have you had to make over the years whether it be to how you practice or really anything. Type of cattle, has that changed?

>> Dad: Has what changed?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.

>> Luanne Hoverman: The type of cattle.

>> Dad: The type of cattle?

>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, like specific breeds.


Have you-

>> Dad: No, not really. I mean, we have changed a lot in twenty years on this farm, just because we wanted to make changes. But, if nothing, the environment of cattle farming, that never had changed. There’s alot of different ways to through a cattle farm and there’s still people doing it all kinds of different ways.


>> Luanne Hoverman: No, for example, I just realized. You became certified organic in 2009. So before that, were you basically using organic practices, you just didn’t have the certification, or did you change anything to get that.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Well that’s our initial run counts here, 2001 maybe, 2002.

>> Dad: 2000, 2001 [INAUDIBLE].


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So I would even say a few sentences about what you all did before. We were, he transitioned to grass fed in maybe 2005 or 2006 maybe because I got here in 2008 and there was already a herd you know a herd of that had nothing but grass and so you could probably have them in front organically two years before that but he did cow cap before that.


And also had a soccer operation.

>> Dad: Now we were using chemicals back then that we can’t use if you’re certified organic. So we weren’t really doing it organically. But we grass feed them as much as we can. But there were definitely approaches. We would find calves for awhile at the sale barn and raising them.


I got big 6,700 truckload of calves and it’s done way different than what we’re doing. We’ve been doing certified organic cow calf operation where we the calves are born and raised on our farm all the way to slaughter raise. We’ve been doing that quite a while now.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah, keeping the calves as opposed to, most farmers have enough land they can keep a momma herd.


They have a bull come and do the breeding. When the calves get old enough to be weaned they sell them to either another farmer that maybe has a stock in operation and doesn’t have moments but just has calves that they know at that point they banned selling the other weight.


But we keep our calves. We just separate them from the mom now so that she can start to get ready for another calf and then instead of moving those calves off the farm we keep them here. But we’ve, we’ve had a hard time to get you know the sort of our.


It’s easier to find access to those certifiers now than it used to be. When we were first doing it, it took, when we first started, six to nine months just to get a certifier who would come out here and not charge us $10,000. It was just really hard to find.


There wasn’t much organic meat anywhere, there was organic, And there were some organic produce. So that was a challenge finding our certifier, and then, we did look at our herd at that point and said you know if we’re going to do just grass, we probably want to have a certain kind of animal.


We don’t want really big frame animals that are gonna have to eat a ton. We’ve gone through different philosophies on having framing animals versus ones that are more efficient, and who are maybe not big mamas themselves, but can wean off a big calf. And that depends on if we’re selling.


I’m selling steaks at the farmers market, and I want that steak to be big and I don’t need a bunch of extra bones on the carcass you know versus if I’m selling wholesale like we sold at a whole foods market for a while and we were getting paid on a hanging weight on the side beef, when that has the bones in it, minus the skull.


And so I need to have a big hanging, heavy carcass. And so framing helps me out in that circumstance. And so in that case it would have been good to have some bigger, framier animals.

>> Luanne Hoverman: So I guess what I’m trying to get to is what made you decide to Make the leap to organic, to go to all that extra effort.


>> Dad: Something I wanted to know, and then Shelly sort of came and implemented it, I just got tired of the traditional role of the farmers. Small farmers like me, we have a cow calf operation, we raise them until they’re weaned and then we sell them off to a stockier somewhere.


A stockier operation which especially pays us cash and then from the stockier operation they go out in west cathedral and they spend the last three or four months of their lives in the feed lot out West where the life is just terrible for a cow. They’re shoulder to shoulder on a muddy lot.


They’re eating out of a feed trough all day.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Standing out in the sun. They got no shade.

>> Dad: They got nothing, they never see grass. They don’t have any-

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Just stand in mud.

>> Dad: I mean it’s just a miserable existence for like the last three or four months of their lives and it always bothered me that I was sending my calves off to a life like that.


So I started thinking about doing it in a better way and more natural way for the cow. And when Shelly came back here we started working on implementing effective changement. Of course when you do that then you gotta have some way to market the cow. When it’s slaughtered you gotta have some way to sell it or you can’t stay in business, obviously.


And I really didn’t have any way to do that until she started going to the farmer’s markets and that kind of thing.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah and so if you don’t, you know we retain ownership of our animals now, they don’t leave the farm until we take them to slaughter.


And the other ways, like he was saying, I used to say all paths lead to the combined animal feeding operation for most weaned calves. You can sell them to a stocker, but then he’s gonna sell them to the feed lot. And so we just didn’t want to be a part of that whole system.


And the way to do that is to sell the meat ourselves.

>> Luanne Hoverman: That’s understandable, sounds like it’s very much an ethical calling.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah and this is the kind of meat that we wanna eat and this is the kinda meat I want my family to eat. It just tastes better and so this is just something I always-


>> Dad: Yeah and it’s way healthier beef to eat. Healthier for us and the animal itself is also healthier. There’s been a lot of research done on that.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: There’s been a lot of scientific research on that, the fat profile is a really heathy fat, more omega three’s versus omega six’s and conventional meat is the fat that you should eat and it just tastes better too so that’s a nice plus.


Once you get used to having it and that flavor of the meat, it’s really, no other meat has flavor after that, it’s all very bland. And I would say that the feed lot is the great equalizer. You can take any animal, any cow from any genetic background, from any farm anywhere in the country, no matter what sex, or shade, or whatever they are, whatever’s been done to them before that and if you put them in a feed lot for six months and feed them all exactly the same thing, but the meat is gonna be exactly the same.


And that’s kind of the point of feed lots is that there’s zero difference in diversity that way, the chef’s don’t have to know anything about meat anymore.

>> Dad: And it’s the cheapest way to raise them now.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: And it’s so cheap. Yeah, you don’t have to have all of this land, that’s the big difference.


>> Dad: People, excuse me, people always wonder, very few people understand that’s why grass-fed beef, not to mention organic beef, this is grass-fed beef so much more expensive than conventional beef and it’s simply because you have so darn much land to raise a little calf all the way up to slaughter age on grass.


Now you have to have a lot of grass to move them around, got a lot of grass per calf. And in a feed lot, you could put 10,000 calves out there and it gets really cheap. And feed them corn and corn is so cheap because it’s raised about ten states in this country.


>> Luanne Hoverman: Not to mention it’s very, it’s more labor intensive. Because you have to keep moving the cows through the pastures instead of just putting them in a pasture for, like you said, six months, right?

>> Dad: Yeah the labor per cow is way higher.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Yeah, speaking of labor, what’s your labor force like on the farm?


Who works?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I got dad here. [LAUGH] And-

>> Dad: I’m not much help, but I’m a little help.

>> Luanne Hoverman: [LAUGH]

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: And then we’ve got a part-timer, we generally keep two part-timers that’ll be doing anywhere between 10 and 15 hours a week, maybe 20 hours a week in the hay time.


Whenever we’re putting up hay that’s real labor intensive hours, a time consuming task in the heat of the summer. Now this year, we’ve got another person selling with me at the farmers market and so, almost always have that labor with that, so they’ll be closer to 15 hours.


>> Dad: We usually have two part-time people and then some family help also.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah, we have the family who sort of vacillates between slave labor and, I do pay the teenagers because I want them to like the idea of farming and not be tormented even though I do often make them work, I will pay them to do that.


So that’s one of the nice things about having your own business is being able to hire who you want and people who we want to be around and people who are equally passionate about what we’re doing.

>> Dad: And we find good people because of the fact that we find people that really wanna do this, not just people looking for work.


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.

>> Dad: But we have great people working for us, both of them now and we usually do. The bottom is they’re always part time because they always have other jobs or they can’t afford to work here.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.

>> Dad: But we find people that looking for a few hours of work but they really like doing it cause they’re so much better employers that way.


>> Luanne Hoverman: Now I’m trying to get a sense of sort of the life cycle, if you will, of your beef. Like how long does it take going from calf to slaughterhouse?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: They’re typically, right now we’re slaughtering them anywhere from the age of 20 to 24 months, usually 20, 22 is ideal, 22 is really good.


What we have found, we used to slaughter them very young, we’ve seen kind of younger than that, but what we have found is that they can be a little bit older as long as they’re properly fat, which they just took out to be. And when I say fat, that’s also saying finished, which means, that finished means that they’re fat enough in all the right places that is going to make delicious meat.


That flavor and tenderness comes from them being fat. And so that’s really more important than age but typically we’ve been around 22 months.

>> Dad: Yeah, we rarely don’t ever go over 24 months.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah.

>> Dad: And the livestock, they spend about seven to nine months with their mama.


They just nurse from their mama and then they’re eating grass towards the end of that. And then we’ll wean them and we’ll send the calves out to our other little farm down the road here where there’s nothing but young calves and they’ll be there five, six months, and maybe a little more than that.


And then they’ll come back and they’ll be in our finishing corral here. We’ve got some over here in the southern pasture, and they’re big calves then, and we’ll finish them off there.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: So there’s three different places that they’ll be, in that the finishing herd that’s here, the last group that they’re in, those are the ones that, we’re weighing them, we’re constantly bringing up to the round pen, monitoring their gains.


We can see how much they’ve gained from the last time we weighed them. And we know how old they all are and generally which ones are gonna probably get slaughtered next. [SOUND] This is that customer. [SOUND] This is Shelly.

>> Luanne Hoverman: So I wanna go back to the slaughter process.


Which processing plant do you?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: We use Mays Meats right now. And that’s in Taylorsville, North Carolina. It’s about an hour and a half drive. Like 65 miles or something like that. It’s really not far. It’s pretty easy to get to, and they’re a family owned business. It’s been the same employees they’ve had up there for, gosh they’re like lifelong employees, a lot of people up there.


They got certified organic cuz I asked them to. [LAUGH] It took about three years for me to get them to get certified after we got the farm certified and my animals certified. I couldn’t claim it on the meat. I couldn’t have that stamp on the meat until the processor also got certified.


About the time I got our final audit, and the paperwork came through here, the woman who was in charge of all the paperwork out there, her father was entering the phase of really terrible painful death, long, drawn out death. And so she was just not able to help me with that at the time, so that kinda had to go back on a back burner for a couple of years until she was finally able to spend time on that.

And it was more complicated for them than I thought it would be. I really didn’t think there was gonna be anything different in how, for them, as far as being certified organic. But with Bayer, the documentation is more intense. And our animals, when we drop them off, they’re not supposed to physically touch any other animal up there.


They cannot be in a pen with any other animals. They can’t share water with any other animals, nothing. And so, generally what they they do is when I get there with mine, they take them down straight off the trailer. They don’t stand anywhere. They get off the trailer and then they’re into the kill shoot immediately.


So that’s great for me, because you’re talking about an animal who has spent their entire life on an open pasture. And then to be standing in a pen and in a building even if it’s a 20 foot ceiling, it’s still something they’re not used to.

>> Luanne Hoverman: And sounds like you don’t really want their last moments to be in a-


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yeah it doesn’t need to be stressful it needs to be calm, they need to be handled calmly. We don’t run our cows, when we’re sorting and weighing the day before, we train everybody that would work for us in that way, how to move animals, how to apply pressure via your body, how to back away.


So they need to be preferably walking anywhere that they go, no burning of extra calories. [LAUGH] So, occasionally they get excited about something running in their space, but they don’t encourage it. Yeah, they lead a really happy, a mellow lifestyle, occasionally you’ll get one that’s wild. I try to get rid of them out of the herd, the way to do that is to get rid of the mamma, crazy mamma makes crazy calf.


One crazy calf makes the entire crew crazy. And if they’re wild, well after I wean then away from their mother, if they cannot keep it together then they’re veal. So a couple of times a year or once a year or some years not at all, I’ll have veal, grass-fed certified organic veal to sell.


Which is super popular. But only if they are trying to kill me.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Okay, now, as a non farmer, I’m trying to understand how it works when you decide who you want to breed. Obviously big females, who to sell to the slaughter house, who you keep.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Right, well, we’re in a business of selling a need, so all of my steers, which are castrated bull calves, their whole purpose is to become meat, so they will be always finished that way.


It’s something, the only way that they will not become beef is if for some reason they won’t fatten out or that there’s some impediment to them being a good tasty product. Does that make sense? Like, maybe something befalls them and they get sick and they have to have an antibiotic, they’re out.


I generally will not keep them on the property at that point, because they’re eating grass and I cannot sell them as organic. And it doesn’t matter if they were three days old or three months old, I will not be able to slaughter that animal when they’re 22 months old, with the organic stamp on it, period.


Even though the antibiotics are long gone from their system. So that would be one way they would not go into the normal system. The finishing herd, once the heifers and steers are together in the finishing herd is whenever we start. And they’re getting older up in age, they’ll be here in the finishing herd when they’re anywhere from maybe 15 to 22 months old, maybe more like 17 to 22 months.


And I can see how they’re growing out and how they’re shaping up on the heifers. The heifers are any female that’s never had a calf is a heifer, and so I can see how they’re looking. Are they straight back line, how they fatten, how slick they are, what their temper is, their disposition.


And at that point I would decide on the females if I wanna keep her and make a mama out of her or if she’s just to become beef. And that will be determined on who her mother is, how she looks, and how many mommas I currently have, like do I need one?


Do I need to add some more? Generally in the past we’ve always added six or seven heifers to the herd every year. And when you do that you will end up with a pretty damn big herd pretty quickly. And we often did that at the expense of meat.


I’ve got one out there now that’s so pretty, I just don’t think I can bring myself to take her in. And I need some more mommas anyway. So what I really need to do is take her out of the finishing herd, cause she’s just out there getting really fat, and put her in with the mom cows now.


>> Luanne Hoverman: So I met, well I had sent you an email cuz I found your website, and then I talked to you at the Matthew’s Farmers Market. How did you get started with selling your meat at the farmers markets?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I went to this conference, back in 2009 in the fall, and it was just a panel up in Nashville, and there were some couple of guys on there who were selling grass-fed meat.


And they said you can do three things, they made it sound so simple. He said first you get a meat handler’s license, and then you establish your relationship with a processor, and then you take some meat to the farmers markets. So after I went to that I was like okay, we can do that.


So I called the NCDA. I’m like, hi, I’m Shelly, I need to get a meat handlers license. They send somebody down here to basically make sure that you can fog a mirror and you can get a meat handlers license, anybody can do it. They look at your room to make sure that you don’t have rats and dead **** laying around the freezers and that you don’t have butter beans in there with what meat you’re going to sell.


So a meat handlers license gives you a certification by the state to sell meat, and you cannot have killed it on your farm, unless it’s like under a couple chickens. And then the processing, they said call the processor and establish a relationship with the processor. So I called up to May’s Meats, I’m like, hi, I’m Shelly.


You haven’t met me yet. And of course they’re like

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Yay, don’t care about you. [LAUGH] Don’t know you. I mean, they don’t like taking seriously up there until I started coming up like we were out soldering. She’s four, five cows a month or something. We were up there a lot.


And I pay my bills on time. They went back. So [COUGH] did that. And then so when we finally got meat back from the processor, I mean we had never even had it before. I didn’t really even eat any beef before we started doing this. So I had no idea what it was going to taste like or what the difference between conventional meat and grass fed was going to be.


So after we got that first feedback here in the farm, we all set

>> [NOISE]

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Sorry, we just sat down we had like kind of a mixed grill with us strips and we all kind of looked around the table. We were like, okay, here we go and we were all just blown away at how much flavor it had.


We had never had anything like it. It was so damn good. I could not believe it. And I was like, this is fabulous. Then I went up to the farmer’s market that weekend with one cooler full of different cuts and the guy, Frank, it was the Charlotte Regional Farmer’s Markets.


Older guy Frank, he’s retired now, was the manager and he assigned me a spot, paid my ten bucks or whatever it was. And I sold all of the meat that I had in that cooler with a little poster on the table within an hour and a half or something, and it went really fast.


I just didn’t realize that there was that much demand for it. So I came back the next week to the farmer’s market, same time, and he said, no, I’m sorry, we’re full. And I was like, no, no, no. I need to be here, guys. There’s people going to be expecting me out here last week.


He’s like, well, we’re full, there’s no space for you. And I was like, okay, so it threw it around for a little bit. My mom was with me. And I found this sweet, little Russian lady who sells homemade bread at the market there, and she was at the end of the building.


And we up to her. And i said, we’ll pay your table fee if you let us share this space. And I’ll tell everybody to buy your bread. Now, our guest this one cooler, not gonna take a loss and she was really sweet. She let us do them. And then people came back about me the week before and they said, my god, and I first thought was [INAUDIBLE].


And these three people came up and said, that’s the best meat I have in my entire life. And I was like scared me to death but there was just not nothing else like it on market at the time. There was some other that the producers go. They weren’t really getting the animals fat at the time or they were kind of on some on cows for grasses and they just, it just wasn’t great.


But and something about the difference of the genetics or the grass of our animals. It was just so good. And they did a newspaper article about us in that fall. And then next thing you know they were there two people didn’t even land at farmers markets, Charlotte, it was amazing.


>> Luanne Hoverman: What are some misunderstood aspects of farming more general agricultural ignorance with the public?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Just the animal modification in general, not all don’t forms on animal don’t indicate sex. It doesn’t have anything to with bull or cow, or heifer, that’s a breed specific trait generally.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: All cows, you can milk all cows, that’s a fake one.


Even a lot of people, they ask if we have milk. I cannot milk for cows. They’re being cows and they’re usually different than dairy cows. We’ve had to milk cow one time to get some milk out of them, or end up had to be able to put it into a gate.


And it’s a fight. They do not, can’t get up mess with my cows. They’re just not tame like a dairy cow. I get that a lot. People want to come and see the farm. There’s not a lot to see. The grass is tall and scratchy. You have to wear clothes to have shoes, I mean, like walk out there.


They’re big, you can’t have your children skipping and run through the fields with cows. My kids can do that, but they know what to do. If something goes crazy and if you are going to start running around, they’re going to start running around. So there’s the general temperament, when having a big operation like that, they get a lot of animals that are, they just can’t handle them in that way, how they act.


Another misconception, we’re getting rich. That’s a good one. I can’t tell you how many people, it’s always men, come up at the farmer’s market, and you can see the wheels turning in their head that I’m charging $7.50 for a pound of ground beef. And they’re like, how many pounds of meat do you get off cow?


How many cows do you slaughter? How many cows you have on the property? And you can see they’re trying to add up how much money I’m making, with zero clue as to what goes on on the farm. As far as what it costs to bring this meat to the table.


From an animal having to get pregnant, be pregnant for nine months. And the calf’s got to to be at her side for nine months. Then the calf’s got to be moved around multiple pastures for the next 15 months, or something. And then I got to call into slaughter.


And I got to pay a thousand or it’s more than $1,000 for every animal that we slaughter. It’s $1.37 for every pound of meat that I sell that goes to that processor. It’s very expensive and then get out then put it in coolers on Saturday morning and drag it up to the farmer’s market into your alls table.


So there, you’d come out and see this house and think that this is all none of this is paid for about this land, none of these animals hardly. We pay our part timers and I finally get my truck paid for so dad’s never been paid for any of this.


I do pay my kids and I get a little something beyond my trite payment that the farm makes and that’s it. You can make money doing it, we tried for a long time to get really big, and then we made good money with Whole Foods, and then that went on for about a year and then, and then they wanted to lower the price.


And they went and found somebody else who would take a lower price and they then came back and pressured me to lower our price. And I was like, yeah, I give all the ****. No, not doing it. I’m just not going to work this hard and make less money.


We were working so hard to meet those quotas and process that many animals and I’m just like crawl into bed with my grocery store and they were like we can give you some loans and you can buy some more land cuz they kept saying what do we need they wanted more.


They wanted more and more and more and that’s like, yeah, we went down that road, and I’m not doing it again. I forgot what the question was, what were you talking about initially? Misconceptions, yeah, in the sense that, yeah, that we’re making a lot of money.

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Let’s see, I think the real, it’s that I don’t think the people think its easy now.


I think it’s very labor intensive but what I think that people maybe never think about, I wouldn’t call it a misconception but what I think to never really consider. And I maybe didn’t really think a lot about, until they got here, was the livestock. Anytime you have a regular job, you have a tick list in your mind every day of like what you want to get accomplished.


Any time you’re working with livestock, they also have their own idea of what they’re going to be doing that day that probably has nothing to do with what farmer wants to accomplish. And so any time we go do something with animals whether it’s move them from one pasture to another or load them onto the trailer and haul them somewhere.


Or feed bulls, put out minerals or whatever we need to do. They may or may not cooperate. And so you kinda firmly, when I first got here we were still learning how to do a lot of this stuff. And we could go out to try and get something done and get nothing done.


And spend hours in absolute frustration. And this really drove me nuts because, everyday we didn’t get something done, was more **** on the next day that needed to get done. Like that just put off and added on to the long list of **** we already had to get done.


Whether it was like broken equipment or livestock or weather, rain when we needed to be cut hay or lightning when he put the fence out. There’s just so many variables between livestock and weather led to a lot of frustration that you really cannot let just maybe make you crazy.


You have to release to that whole, I’m definitely gonna get these things done today mentality. You kinda have to be a little more flexible I guess. Cuz I would be like, my God, Dad, we’re getting so behind. He’s like, we’re never gonna, the list’s always gonna be there.


You’re never caught up. We’re never, never, ever, ever Is there a point where there’s not ten things that need to be done. It’s just a matter, I call it just putting out fires. We spent the first year just frigging putting out fires in one farm or another. How we said could we just keep everybody on the property, like, if you just don’t leave.


>> Luanne Hoverman: [LAUGH]

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Gosh and that comes from chasing cows, we’ve chased cows. We had a Shelby farm 200 acres out there and that was up along the Broad River. And there was not a fence on it when we first got the property. And the guy who had farmed it before said they never go across the river.


And we were like okay cool like forty nine cows out there. And Tanner went over there one day and he’s like, Shelly, I cannot find cows. And I said, Well just go down where they’ve been hanging out by a river down there and just call them. And keep looking.


You’re gonna have to find them. And so he called and called and called and called. He called me and he said, and he called me, and I could hear him in the background coming. And I said where in the heck were they? He said, they’ve been on the other side of that river and I mean a long way.


And it was not our property on the other side of the river. I don’t know what was over there, nothing but woods and then a road some other distance back. The whole damn heard had just been out there. It was crazy. So we had to go build fence.


Chase cows up and down Broad River with woman and this deep in the water with my phone in one hand up here trying to get them to go out of the river back up. And then I’m gonna have to go cut a fence, and get them to jump the fence to go back onto our property.


That’s the kind of thing that will wear you out. So there’s a lot of athleticism involved in keeping cows and being a farmer that’s something I did not anticipate. I don’t think people realize how you gotta keep physically and be strong.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Do you have any unique experiences from being a woman farmer?


>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Well there’s a lot of doubters at the beginning when I was doing this because, mostly with older people. Most people in our generation and younger see no reason why women shouldn’t be doing this or couldn’t. They also most of them have zero to no experience with farming also.


All the old man farmers, which are the only farmers I know, the old ones are all men. They were completely befuddled, you could just see the look on their face. They did not know what to say, or how to talk to me or anything. I mean, I used to speak at the local Cattlemen’s Association, and it’s almost like, I think they did not believe me.


A couple of them, I remember, they would say, they would look at me and be like, so what do you do? And I’d say I pretty much took everything that anything that needs to be done. That’s what I do. And they just furrow their brow and kind of shake their head.


And I was like I don’t even know where to start. I mean what am I gonna tell them? [LAUGH] You know I’m like, whatever you do, that’s what I’m doing here. And they’re like, just can’t. They’ve never, and that’s just been the limit of their experience. So there was that.


Had a processor issue one time. I think that was more of he was just a sexist to everybody. Not so much that I was in catle. But what I have found is that people spend even just, a minute talking to me realize that I know what I am talking about.


And I don’t have any self doubt about that anymore. Nine times out of ten when I’m talking to other cattlemen, if they seem a little bit, because obviously a woman who knows what I’m talking about, usually they’re the one that doesn’t know what’s really going on. They don’t know enough to know that I do know what I’m talking about.


So, but yeah, that’s only for some of the older guys that’s that an issue. I wouldn’t mind being 6’4″ and 280 a lot of days when it comes down to roll out of the ground bail of hay. Dad and I, he’s a skinny old man, middle aged woman so we’d spend more time than I would like around with equipment we can’t move or we’re having to do all these other steps to get something accomplished where if we were just a big strong man we could just pick it up and hook it up.


Or I have to wait for my young, strong buy come over and finish the task in the evening. So I could be more efficient at some stuff I need to get done. But yeah, and I don’t really have an interest in driving a tractor for eight hours in circles anymore, too old for that.


But that’s not male female, that’s mostly an age thing. [LAUGH] So it’s certainly a liability to be smaller.

>> Luanne Hoverman: Last question, Where do you see the future of the farm?

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: I think dad and I, as long as we are still here and able, which I expect to be long time we’ll keep doing this.


And we, I’m don’t expect to get any bigger, I’ve already done that. We’ve done it a couple a different ways enough to know what we want to do and what we don’t want to do. We might sell differently. At the end of the month, not having to go to the farmer’s markets if I could just sell quarters and halves from the store here that would be ideal and that would be a lot less work.


As much as I enjoy the markets, the continuity of them, the every single Saturday no matter what all year round kinda wears on the family. Kinda just tired, it’s just a long day, long drive. And then the only thing I think would change would be is if, once we’re no longer able to do it, if one of the kids wants to take over.


They can do whatever they want. I always tell them, you don’t have to keep doing this. You could turn this into frigging GMO soybeans if you want, I don’t care. It’s just whatever. You could raise 10,000 hogs or have a humongous vegetable garden. I don’t care. It’s land.


You could grown hemp. Whatever you want to do is fine with me. Figure out whoever is in charge and they should be able to make choices. But I’ve always said that [COUGH] dad will be doing this until he’s dead. And then, he’ll be 100 and I’ll be 75, and he’ll be like Shelly come on.


Let’s go get those cows.

>> Luanne Hoverman: [LAUGH]

>> Shelley Crawford Egan: Let’s get out of here. The answer is no. It’s just, we’ll always do that. So, no matter how old I get, I will always have to awlays be helping him.

>> Luanne Hoverman: [LAUGH]

>> Luanne Hoverman: Mm-hm, that was it.

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