Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapter 3 Book Report

I am slowly making my way through my copy of "The Contrary Farmer" by Gene Logsdon, but with all my other new reading material (Stockman Grass Farmer) it takes more time to make it to the end of a chapter. The other day I finished up chapter three of the book. This chapter was titled "The Garden is the Proving Ground for the Farm", and I really see it as a great philosophical chapter. Actually, I see most of Mr. Logsdon's writings as great things to help me wrap my mind around the whys and reasons behind farming the way we are starting to and the way we are wanting to in the future. Sure, there are some practical pointers sprinkled throughout every single chapter, but it also speaks to the philosophy and reason behind those practical ideas.

I won't go into a lot of detail nor relate a lot of stories or antidotes from the chapter for you, but I will tell you that this section of the book made me think a lot about what I need to be doing, thinking, researching, and learning as I'm at a point in my life where I'm not on "the farm", but I'm trying to work towards "the farm". Mr. Logsdon writes about the impact of the backyard garden on the working farm of today. How the methods used by today's gardeners can become the large scale workings of tomorrow's farmers.

As I read this chapter, I kept coming back to a couple of ideas. There is a particular phrase that kind of sums up my thoughts on farming and part of my Christian world view in general. I believe that you have enough time (or money, or passion, or whatever) for whatever you want to have enough for. Meaning, if you want to farm then you will make time to get you closer to that goal instead of going to a ball game, sitting in front of the T.V., buying the latest gadget, or whatever it may be that will keep you from that goal. The second thing that kept popping into my mind in this chapter is that quote from my uncle that I have repeated here on the blog several times. "Reading is good, doing is better!" To me that statement basically says that sometimes you need to make things happen and learn from your experiences.

In light of those two thoughts, we have begun a few things over the past six or seven months to take us on baby steps to our farming. First of all, we decided to take our garden up a notch this year. It didn't mean that we expanded the size of what we were doing, it just meant that we decided to try and do things more effectively. Along those lines my wife researched companion plants that would help keep pests away and nourish the soil for one another. We also started collecting coffee grounds from a local coffee shop and composting our household scraps in order to increase the good organic matter in our soil, and we began raking up our grass clippings to mulch around the plants in the garden to keep moisture in and weeds away. Those steps seemed to improve things a bit over previous years and gave us lots of new ideas to try next year.

Secondly, we decided to throw caution to the wind and build a chicken tractor for the backyard. We have been blessed with a decent sized yard so we built a 8 ft. x 5 ft. or so pen that we move around the yard each day. At the most this past summer, we have had six older laying hens in it, and we have received as many as 35 eggs each week. This has been a great learning and doing experience on so many levels. We have been able to experiment with three different types of feed (the mixed feed that my uncle used was the best hands down), to see just how much room these birds need and how much the grass supplements their feed, and we saw how much the birds thatched and fertilized our lawn (just think if had been our pasture!). I have loved having these hens over the summer and have learned so much. In fact, I'm going to be building a winter spot for them and putting in some light to see if we can keep them laying at some level over the winter. Next spring we plan on getting some younger birds to experiment with and sending these off to someone's stew pot.

The final thing we have done this year is actually a rather large step. We decided that we wanted to get a couple Dexters to experiment with and learn about grass-finishing beef and then preparing grass-finished beef for the table. So, after much ... much ... much research, we decided to go with purebred Dexters. We went out and got ourselves a bred heifer and a steer to finish for next fall. These animals were going to end up living at my dad's farm where grass was abundant. Well, two turned into six ... and lo and behold six turned into thirteen. Now we have nine cow/heifers and four bull/steer calves. The reason this research/experience developed so quickly is because we believe there is a market for Dexters right now in our area of the Midwest (either as beef or breeding stock) and because land on the farm just came out of CRP opening up much more grazing land. It is practically as easy to take care of thirteen as it is two ... you just need bigger fences, more hay for the winter, and a few other things. We decided we had all of those things and went ahead with the beginnings of the Stoneyfield Dexter herd. From this we have learned and practiced so many practical things dealing with fencing, grazing, pasture management, forages, cattle health, and so much more. Plus, I have now roped the rest of the family into this whole dream of ours!

The point being is that we are taking these "garden experiences" and trying to learn and grow from them so that we can work at a larger level. We don't know when or where God will take us, but we know that we have a passion for His people, His creation, and bring both of those together in the beauty and wonder of all that God is.

So yeah, it was a good chapter and really made me think!


Rob said...

Did you have to do any training of your cattle on the electric fence or did they already know the drill?

What model did you use for your chicken tractor? Was it from the Chicken Tractor book or somewhere else?

As always, I enjoy what you're doing and am excited to watch your farm grow.

Ethan Book said...


Most of our cattle came from places where they new electric fence. Only a couple of the younger calves have had to experience it, but that only takes a time or two before the learn!

Hmm ... our chicken tractor model is from the scrap heap! No, I really didn't take it from book plans (although I have read Pastured Poultry Profits). I just made something I thought was movable and provided what I thought was enough room for six hens. We ended up with something about 4 feet tall (wouldn't have to be that tall the whole way, but it gave room for a roost and nest boxes) and about 8 x 6 or so. A couple pieces of tin for a roof and some wire and we were good to go. It has worked great, but if I did it again (which I may next summer) I might try to build something that weights a bit less. We used some plywood for part of the sides and the end along with 2x4's. It is stout, but maybe too heavy. Good learning process though.

I'll see if I can find the blog post that has the pictures. Or maybe you can search for it in one of the spring 2007 months (not many posts back then).

Anonymous said...

nov 10th 2007 you said uncles chicken mix was the best can you tell me what it is

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