Teaching on and off the farm
by Sonja Heyck-Merlin
The Caron family – parents Corinna and Jesse and their children Ashton, 18, and Abby, 15 – own Casa Cattle Company in Corinna, Maine. They’re a goal-oriented family, striving to farm together, to produce high-quality meats, to promote the Belted Galloway beef breed and to advocate for agriculture.
“Our farming started as a joint venture in 2007 with a neighbor to provide ourselves with some beef. We started with three animals, and we chose Belted Galloways because they look great in a pasture,” said Corinna. As the children grew, they were inspired by the livestock showing at Maine’s agricultural fairs and began participating. “Because of this, we bought some more Belted Galloways, and it snowballed into what we have today,” said Corinna. Their property is 18 acres, and they lease another 20 acres. The operation is no longer a joint venture. In addition to their farming enterprise, Jesse works full-time as an electrician and Corinna as a public school teacher.
Currently, they have 27 registered Belted Galloways; 18 are brood stock, leaving about 12 animals a year to sell as calves to 4-H participants or to raise as feeders. Ashton, a freshman in the animal science program at the University of Maine, is a keen student of genetics and the Belted Galloway breed.
Ashton said, “The Belted Galloway has a considerably smaller gene pool than larger breeds used in a commercial setting. We utilize artificial insemination practices to use genetics from all over the world. Our breeding program utilizes a multitude of AI sires, so that we can have a program that can keep up with our commercial competitors.”
Through this breeding program, the Carons strive to increase the functionality of the breed by selecting for skeletal structure, calving ease and maternal instinct. They’re also focused on producing calves that grow quickly and efficiently. To accomplish this, they’ve bred the cows to have larger frame scores that are more comparable to the Angus and Hereford breeds. They keep track of daily gain from birth so they can decide which genetics they want to keep.
Another goal of the breeding program is to produce cows and calves that are desirable for the breed. “We want genetics that can incorporate some of the advantages of the commercial breeds while keeping the Belted Galloway advantage of having a double hair coat, being extremely hardy and being able to grow on forages that are coarser than many cows will eat,” Ashton said.
Along with their breeding program is a set of management goals for their land and animals. One of their goals is to use their 38 acres of pasture, divided into six large, permanent paddocks, as effectively as possible. According to Ashton, the cattle are more likely to travel farther away from the water and shade when the forage quality is higher. This is why they made the pastures with higher quality forages larger.
In winter, the cows can access a 45-by-80-foot covered high use area, half of which is for manure storage. In the Carons’ opinion, Belted Galloways thrive during the cold months and put on more weight than in the heat of summer as long as they have access to appropriate winter forage. Since their land base is small, they purchase all of their winter feeds.
They buy a combination of first and second crop dry hay, first crop baleage and a small amount of wrapped corn silage bales. “During the coldest weeks, we utilize our wrapped corn silage bales that have more energy. When it’s milder, we use a mixture of wrapped baleage and the dry hay. We find that this is the most economically sound way to feed the cattle through the winter without losing overall production,” said Ashton. They also supplement winter forages with Maine-grown grains purchased from Aroostook Milling Company.
Using creep feeding, all calves have access to these grains from the time they are born until they are weaned from their mothers. “We have found that calves do significantly better, not only with their average daily gains, but with their overall health, when they spend the first six months on creep feed,” said Ashton.
Whether the herd is grazing or consuming stored feeds, the Carons believe that a mineral program is a critical management tool. They use two mineral blends – one specifically for cattle grown in the Northeast and one that focuses on reproductive health. According to Ashton, the minerals are important because a feeder steer spends almost a third of its life in utero. “It’s pivotal that the fetus not only grows well, but comes out ready to go,” said Ashton.
The Belted Galloways are the focal point of the farm, but Corinna and Jesse are in support of diversification, especially if it supports their children’s interests. When they completed the construction of their high use area and manure storage facility, they were looking forward to reclaiming their two-car garage on the back of their property. “Before we could do that, though, our daughter quickly took over the garage with some sheep,” said Corinna.
Similar to the beef, they started with three ewes but the number has ballooned to 21. Most of them are Southdown but they have some Hampshire crosses. Because they sell lambs to 4-H participants, they lamb in early February. 4-H participants can buy the lambs in the late winter, raise them through the summer and then have a lamb ready to bring to late summer or autumn 4-H livestock sales.
The Caron family is proud to be a food producer for their community, filling the freezers of their small farm store with beef, lamb and sometimes pork and broilers. They are also proud of their continued involvement in Maine’s 4-H community. Both Ashton and Abby to continue to show, and Corinna is the leader of the Penobscot County chapter. Under her leadership, the chapter has grown, and by using their farm, she is able to provide hands-on livestock training. One of Corinna’s requirements is that each year every child must give a presentation. For example, this year Abby is preparing a talk on how to care for a lamb. “It helps them be comfortable speaking with others, especially when it’s time to approach a buyer. We’re working constantly on speaking and developing a knowledge base on their chosen topic,” Corinna said.
Unfortunately, COVID has had a tremendous impact on the group’s ability to meet, to bring in outside guest speakers and to show and sell animals. When the Bangor State Fair was canceled in 2020 and then didn’t include livestock in 2021, many of her 4-H kids lost the market they had been depending on. Undeterred, Corinna organized and hosted the Penobscot County Livestock Show and Sale for the past two years. She said, “We hired judges and got buyers to come. I was determined that those kids weren’t going to be left with their projects.”
Corinna is committed to nurturing her children’s agricultural goals as well as the 4-H’ers. She sees it as a long-term commitment to her community and beyond. “When we’re done with this,” she said, “someone has to feed the world. It’s going to be these kids that took an interest and that we supported.”
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