Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TBF 090 :: Winter Preparations, Mud Boots, and a Hard Lesson Learned

**As I transition to www.TheBeginningFarmer.com I am quickly realizing I'm not as web savvy as I had hoped! In the meantime I will be posting here as well for those of you subscribed through RSS ... and hopefully will have that fixed soon.**


winterbootsWinter preparation will vary from climate to climate, but here in South Central Iowa it means getting ready for temperatures that can head south of zero, snow that can suck you into the ditch, and wind that seemingly will find it's way through all your warmest layers! Because of that in an ideal world I would head into winter with all of my preparations done and then just carry on the minimal chores needed for the farm and relax next to the wood stove. The reality though is that no matter how well I plan to prepare for winter I always miss something, or in the case of this year winter decides to sneak up on me earlier than I think it should arrive. Nevertheless I keep preparing for the short days, cold nights, white snow, and blustery winds. Below you'll find some of the things that I try to do as we prepare for winter on the farm ...
  • The Gathering of Firewood - This one might not matter to you, but for me it is how we keep our home warm and our expenses as low as possible.
  • The Watering of Livestock - Water tanks, heaters, automatic valves, and hoses! There is so much to keep track of and in working condition when the temperatures drop below freezing.
  • The Feeding of Livestock - Feeding in the winter often means working around deep snow, mud, and even roads that are impassable. All of that becomes even more difficult if you rely on a tractor for some of your feeding.
  • The Warmth of Livestock - Give the animals a place where they can find shelter from the wind and a dry place to bed down is always priority number one on any farm in the snow belt.
  • The Cleaning of the Farm - I love when we get six inches of softly falling snow. It is beautiful and even fun, but where I've run into problems in the past is when it covers up and hides things that I need!
  • The Gathering of Warm Clothes - The most important winter preparation in my book is gathering together all of my cold weather clothes so that I can stay warm doing all the other things on my list. If I can't stay out there and stay warm then things aren't getting done.
  • The Checking of Fence - If you use electric fence like I use electric fence, and you have snow, then you probably want to have the ability to shut down sections of the fence (or even individual wires) to keep it from shorting out in the snow.
  • The Maintenance of Equipment - There are now fully enclosed buildings on my farm where I can pull in equipment and work on it out of the cold and wind, so I like to have all of my equipment ready to go for the winter in hopes of minimizing my breakdowns.
  • The Monitoring of the Forecast - If there is a big storm coming I want to have all my hay in place, feeders filled, and plans made for taking livestock to the locker. That means keeping an eye on the forecast even if they don't have the best track record for accuracy.
  • The Enjoying of the Season - Winter is going to come to Iowa no matter what I do, so I might as well enjoy the snow as much as possible. And I do enjoy it!
What are you doing to prepare for winter? Is your neck-of-the-woods colder than mine? Warmer than mine? I'd love to hear how you prepare for the changing of seasons.

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Boots and Links Mentioned in This Episode:
As always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I'm thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn.

If you do enjoy the show, don't forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five star rating and review (by clicking the link). If you are an Android phone user you can also subscribe on the free Stitcher App.

It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show! I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with "The Beginning Farmer" and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

TBF 089 :: Dexter Cattle, The Big Bin Ordeal, and a Hard Lesson Learned

**As I transition to www.TheBeginningFarmer.com I am quickly realizing I'm not as web savvy as I had hoped! In the meantime I will be posting here as well for those of you subscribed through RSS ... and hopefully will have that fixed soon.**


The very first "farm animals" that we had while we still lived in town were chickens that we raised in our backyard. But, while still living in town the second "farm animal" that we began purchasing were our Dexter Cattle. Obviously we weren't able to keep them in town (the police even made us get rid of our chickens), but my dad only lived a little more than an hour away and had plenty of pasture, so that is where we began our herd. Before I knew it we had way too many Dexters because I had been finding way too many "good deals". At that time (around seven years ago) I was completely enamored with the Dexter breed, with grassfed cattle, and with having cattle as the center piece of our farm. Times have changed quite a bit and while we still do have our Dexters I am beginning to question their place on our farm. Not cattle as a whole, but the Dexter breed specifically.

While I very much appreciate the smaller size of Dexters, the tri-purpose use that they can have, the great flavor of their meat when raised solely on grass, and of course their stately looking horns ... there are somethings that are beginning to make me question whether or not they are the best fit for our farm. Over the years I have often had this thought pop into my head in regards to high price for breeding stock compared to the amount of meat you receive from each steer, but recently a few other questions have begun bouncing around my head and they have me thinking maybe it is time to shift my focus when it comes to cattle.

Generally speaking, while I do love my little Dexters the economic realities of wanting to have a wholly viable and financially sustainable farm has me question where they fit into the picture. I think the real question then becomes what are your goals for having cattle on your farm. Do you just want a small herd to provide a few steers for you, your friends, and a few customers? If that is the case then maybe they are a perfect fit for you. But, if you would like grassfed beef to be more than a small sideline to your business then I think you should at the very least consider other options ... or maybe even write-off Dexters completely.

What does that mean for this beginning farmer and for Crooked Gap Farm? Well, the jury is still out and honestly I probably won't be quick to make a decision on this one because I have quite a bit invested (time, money, and emotions) in even my small herd of cattle! I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Leave a comment below or join in the fun on The Beginning Farmer Show on Facebook.

Check out The Beginning Farmer Show on Facebook! 

As always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I'm thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn.

If you do enjoy the show, don't forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five star rating and review (by clicking the link). If you are an Android phone user you can also subscribe on the free Stitcher App. It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show!

I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with "The Beginning Farmer" and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

TBF 088 :: Building Margin on Your Farm, Winter Preperations, and a Hard Lesson Learned

**As I transition to www.TheBeginningFarmer.com I am quickly realizing I'm not as web savvy as I had hoped! In the meantime I will be posting here as well for those of you subscribed through RSS ... and hopefully will have that fixed soon.**

"Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating. 
Margin is the opposite of overload. If we are overloaded we have no margin. Most people are not quite sure when they pass from margin to overload. Threshold points are not easily measurable and are also different for different people in different circumstances."
At least that is how Richard Swenson, M.D. describes margin in his book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives (a book that I have not read, but does seem interesting). Of course I could talk a lot about the importance of building margin into your life, but I may not be the best one to speak on that subject because I do have two off-farm jobs currently and margin is my biggest struggle! What I want to talk about specifically today is the importance of building margin into the life of your farm so that it is sustainable physically, financially, ecologically, and on and on and on.

This is a topic that came to the front of my mind this past week when I was talking with someone about the low grain prices. They were lamenting the fact that the prices were low and how hard it was on farmers and even the agricultural equipment manufacturers. Of course I knew that when they were talking about farmers they were specifically referencing farmers that only raise grain (corn and soybeans). We talked about how John Deere had cut jobs and all sorts of other implications, but then I mentioned the fact that as a purchaser of grains the lower prices were a pretty good thing for me and hopefully will allow me to catch up a little after two years of higher prices.

All of this got me thinking. Of course I could spend hours talking about the problem of the lack of diversified farms in the United States these days, but we don't have that much time (or patience)! What I can talk about though is the importance of building margin on your farm so that when prices go up (or down), when the rains come (or don't), and when the sales are great (or they're not) you are prepared to survive. Building margin in the end may slow your growth or have other implications, but if you are properly building margin I think you will have a farm that can stick around because there will be money, resources, and a farmer that isn't burnt out!

What do you think? How do you build margin on your farm? Let me know in the comments below or join us on The Beginning Farmer Facebook page ... actually you should probably do that anyways :)

Check out The Beginning Farmer Show on Facebook! 

As always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I'm thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn.

If you do enjoy the show, don't forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five star rating and review (by clicking the link). If you are an Android phone user you can also subscribe on the free Stitcher App. It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show!

I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with "The Beginning Farmer" and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

TBF 087 :: Guinea Fowl & Rabbits on the Farm, Grain Bins, and a Hard Lesson Learned

**As I transition to www.TheBeginningFarmer.com I am quickly realizing I'm not as web savvy as I had hoped! In the meantime I will be posting here as well for those of you subscribed through RSS ... and hopefully will have that fixed soon.**

This past week I posted a "fall farm" picture to the Crooked Gap Farm Facebook page and there was a great question about the style of our pasture pens for the rabbits. Of course this had me thinking about the best way to describe them (video of course ... maybe you have heard about a coming Kickstarter project), but beyond that it got me thinking about the role of the meat rabbits and guinea fowl on the farm. Right now they both are important pieces because the rabbits are they way our son gets involved in the business and the guinea fowl provide sales of course, but there is also the fact that they do a great job eating ticks and bugs! As I thought about it though, if I was starting my small scale farm with the focus of building a sustainable business that does more than just support a hobby I don't think either of those animals would be ones that I would start with. Of course if you are wanting to get a start in town the rabbits would be perfect, and if a family homestead was your goal then you might enjoy the guinea fowl (if they don't annoy you too much).

The facts are that with both the guinea fowl and the rabbits there is a huge benefit because your starting costs are rather low, your time to return (as in when you sell the meat) is fairly short, and the learning curve is less steep than cattle. It is also true that in many locations rabbit and guinea fowl meat is probably an untapped market. That can be both a blessing and point of concern. Not that you can't market them, but there will be more work in educating customers on the benefits, cooking methods, and great flavor. As a point of comparison ... even if you are raising pasture based poultry or pork there will always be people willing to take a chance on a whole chicken, bacon, or pork chops.

What I'm trying to say is that they have a place on the farm, but if I was starting my farm from scratch again they would be in the long range plans rather than year one or two. Of course all of that being said, if I would have started with meat rabbits in town instead of egg laying chickens the police never would have called asking me to remove my chickens! With that in mind maybe rabbits are the perfect thing to start with if your beginning farmer journey begins in town!

Check out The Beginning Farmer Show on Facebook! 

As always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I'm thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn.

If you do enjoy the show, don't forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five star rating and review (by clicking the link). If you are an Android phone user you can also subscribe on the free Stitcher App. It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show!

I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with "The Beginning Farmer" and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

TBF 086 :: Farming Unfair Advantages, Non-GMO Switch, and a Hard Lesson

**As I transition to www.TheBeginningFarmer.com I am quickly realizing I'm not as web savvy as I had hoped! In the meantime I will be posting here as well for those of you subscribed through RSS ... and hopefully will have that fixed soon.**


TBFkickstarthogcart

If you've ever spent much time around children you have probably heard the phrase, "that's not fair!" In my eight years of researching my beginning farm and being a real life beginning farmer I have also heard that phrase from beginning farmers (myself included). In fact I've even heard it from politicians talking about agriculture when I visited them in Washington D.C. a few years back. What I'm trying to say is that it is very easy to fall into the trap of looking at my own farming situation and decide that it is unfair because others may have more land, more money, better markets, and a whole host of other things. I believe the reality is though that there is something about every beginning farmer (and experienced farmer) that is unfair ... the business world calls that an "unfair advantage".

On our farm we have the unfair advantage of buying a farm smack dab in the middle of an already successful Farm Crawl. Not every farm has something so great for marketing and not every farm can create an event like the one we are part of because you can't just pull 7 farms within 20 miles of each other doing a variety of forms of direct marketing. Another unfair advantage for our farm is my prolific love of talking about the farm. I'm not saying that I'm the world's best speaker or writer, but I do love to tell the story of our farm and I'm not afraid to share it with just about anyone who will listen.

My question for you is what is your "unfair farming advantage"? What are those things that set you apart from other farmers ... things that they just can't run to the closest farm store and buy? I would love to hear what your unfair advantage is ... what are you going to take advantage of on your farm!

Check out The Beginning Farmer Show on Facebook!

As always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I'm thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn.

If you do enjoy the show, don't forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five star rating and review (by clicking the link). If you are an Android phone user you can also subscribe on the free Stitcher App.

It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show!
I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with "The Beginning Farmer" and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

TBF 085 :: Farming Questions Answered, Updates from the Farm, and a Hard Lesson

**As I transition to www.TheBeginningFarmer.com I am quickly realizing I'm not as web savvy as I had hoped! In the meantime I will be posting here as well for those of you subscribed through RSS ... and hopefully will have that fixed soon.**



ScaredEthan.jpg

Over the past several weeks I have been teasing TBF Videos the next big thing for The Beginning Farmer, and last week as part of a "hidden track" after the closing music I mentioned an upcoming Kickstarter Project. We are getting closer to releasing our funding campaign, but I'm just so excited about the project that I had to share a few more details on the show today! There are some awesome rewards in the pipeline for being a backer of this campaign, we have a couple VERY cool "stretch rewards" if we can go above and beyond our goal, and of course if our project is funded successfully we will be producing The Beginning Farmer Videos! I can't wait to share the campaign with you, so stay tuned for more details coming soon. But, what really makes this episode cool are the four great questions that came in from listeners over on The Beginning Farmer Facebook Page.

On today's episode I answer questions about brooding chicks, learning about pork cuts, researching feed conversion ratios, and building farm websites. Of course great questions deserve equally well thought out responses so this episode runs a little longer than some of the previous ones. Along with my own thoughts I share quite a few links in my responses, so you will want to be sure to check out the links below.

Do you have thoughts on any of these subjects? Did I lead anyone astray? Join in the community below in the comments section!

Links mentioned in this episode:
As always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I'm thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn. If you do enjoy the show, don't forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five star rating and review (by clicking the link). If you are an Android phone user you can also subscribe on the free Stitcher App. It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show! I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with "The Beginning Farmer" and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

TBF 084 :: Five Reasons for an On-Farm Event, Farm Crawl, and a Hard Lesson

**As I transition to www.TheBeginningFarmer.com I am quickly realizing I'm not as web savvy as I had hoped! In the meantime I will be posting here as well for those of you subscribed through RSS ... and hopefully will have that fixed soon.**



P1010054The Farm Crawl 2014 has come and gone and this years event was record setting! Overall we are estimating the event drew over 2,000 visitors and that our farm had over 1,800 people touring the farm in a short six hour span! Those are numbers that are hard to believe and humbling all at the same time ... plus, they are very exciting. Now that I'm a few days removed from the event and looking back there are a few experiences that I wanted to share with you. First of all it was amazing to meet so many podcast listeners face-to-face ... and some that had even traveled quite a distance to visit the farm. Unfortunately because it was so busy I didn't get a chance to spend as much time chatting as I would have liked, but know that I wanted to. Another great thing from the day was great encouragement we received from so many visitors complimenting our farm and the products that they have tried ... I can't tell you how great it is to hear someone say that our pork chops were the best they ever had!


Above all though the biggest thing that I'm taking away as I look back on this years Farm Crawl is just how important it is to have on farm events for a direct marketing farm. The connections that are made, the marketing opportunities that present themselves, and the ability of the farm to tell it's own story are priceless. On today's episode of "The Beginning Farmer Show" I want to share some of my most important highlights, the reasons why I think you should consider an on farm event, and of course the multiple hard lessons learned from this years Farm Crawl! Links mentioned in this episode:
As always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I'm thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn.

If you do enjoy the show, don't forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five star rating and review (by clicking the link). If you are an Android phone user you can also subscribe on the free Stitcher App. It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show!

I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with "The Beginning Farmer" and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...
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