Leland Long operates Long Family Farm with his sons Robert and Loren, and Robert’s sons, Ryan and Reed, along with much help from the girls Berta, Ronni, Stephani and Megan. The 200-acre farm has been in the family for 5 generations with the intention to be in the family for another 100 years.
In 1912, Claus Brower came to Maxwelton Valley from Holland, and worked for Charles Feek on what was then a dairy farm. In 1913, Harry Pontius came from Kansas, to work for Claus. George Long and his wife Nancy homesteaded in Montana where George died in 1925. Nancy and their three little boys, Lloyd, Joe and Paul moved west, picking fruit in Yakima which many others from Whidbey Island were doing to supplement their farm income. There, Nancy met Harry and came to Whidbey Island to be a housekeeper for Claus. Claus and Nancy were married soon after.
Nancy and the boys bought 300 cull chicks from Percy Wilkenson’s hatchery in Clinton, and the boys started their own farm. Over the years, it grew to 5,000 laying chickens and some cattle. Claus continued to farm next door with Angus cattle until his death in 1958. In 1958, the Joe Long Farm began a growth that eventually led to 130,000 laying chickens and over 100 descendents of Claus’s Angus cows. The oldest boy, Lloyd, drowned in Deer Lake in 1938, and the youngest Paul moved to Minnesota in 1967. Joe Long continued to farm until his death in 2005.
Leland, Joe’s son, returned to the farm in 1971 after graduating from Washington State University. In 1988, the farm dropped the chickens and kept the cows. They sold 800-pound calves at the auction in Marysville. Robert and Loren Long joined the farm from their school years on, and Ryan and Reed are eager to lend a hand.
The life of our beef cows begins with use of a bull for natural breeding. 9 months later, in late spring when the cows can be on pasture, the calves come. The males are steered with an elastrator band when they are a few days old, and both sexes are tagged so we can identify them. Their number consists of the year of their birth (“9” for 2009) and their mother’s number (example: the calf of mother 15 born in 2009 would be 915). This way, we can always put calves back with their moms if they get mixed up.
The cows provide plenty of milk to their calves through the summer. In the fall when the pasture is finished the calves are creep fed good quality forage. A creep is a device that allows the calf to enter a pen but prevents the cow from following. The calf is free to go in and out without its mother eating its feed. The calves have the best of both worlds, good forage along with access to the cow for milk.
Our winter forage is about one third corn silage and two-thirds grass silage. Silage is forage that is compressed to remove oxygen and then naturally ensiled, like our Sauerkraut. Grass/alfalfa silage has good protein but not enough energy for good growth. In this area corn grain is grown with corn seed having an 83 to 90 day maturity. By using 110 day maturing corn and then feeding cows the entire plant, not just the grain, we avoid the problem of unhealthy Omega 6 fatty acids in beef. The industry calls it “corn grass.” A corn plant is a grass that produces sugars through the summer, and only at the end of its life concentrates carbohydrates and oils in the grain. We harvest the corn while it is still too young for mature grain.
We wean the calf at about 7 months of age when it weighs about 600 pounds. Its second summer is spent on pasture, coming back to stored forage in the fall. The following spring the animal is two years old. The biggest calves can be nearly up to finish weight and are ready for slaughter at around 1200 pounds. We feed as much to the cattle as they want, which is a lot. Besides the silage, we provide a couple bales of hay for them to play with. They really seem to enjoy it.
Slaughter is the hardest part but we have found a respectable way that makes it acceptable with low stress to the animal. We run the herd through the corral with a truck parked at the loading chute. From the point of view of the herd, this is a normal process. During this time, two animals are shunted to the truck. The next morning the butcher comes with the animals in the truck parked by a high place with a clear shot. They usually pay little attention. One pop, the other looks up and within 10 seconds, the other pop, and it is over. Their adrenaline is not aroused, the ”lights” just go out. The butcher takes the halves for aging, cutting, wrapping and freezing.
We hope to create a video of our operation so all can see what we do. We continually make changes as we learn more.