Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Quality Pasture" :: Chapters 1 & 2 Book Report

I received my copy of Quality Pasture by Allan Nation (editor of The Stockman Grass Farmer) last week and have finally had a chance to read the first two chapters. It has been a pretty interesting read, but I have really come away with two points.

Point #1: Recently I have read a few books by Joel Salatin, Carol Ekarius, and Gene Logsdon all relating to pasture raising beef and other livestock. It seems that they all quote each other and other important figures in grass farming like Andre Voisin, but they all have different approaches to obtaining high forage pastures. I would say that Mr. Salatin probably believes less in inputs and more in letting the animals along with the natural work of nature do a lot of the work in creating quality pasture. Next, I think Mrs. Ekarius kind of tries to hit the balance there between the "natural" work and human manipulation through adding things to the pasture (fertilizers, etc.). Possibly I would put Mr. Logsdon third as he seems to be very interested in trying different foraging types on different paddocks in order to obtain the longest pasture season and a high quality. And, finally I would say (according to the first two chapters) that Mr. Nation has a high regard for adding things to the soil and the pasture to make them the most productive. It is interesting to read such a wide range of thoughts, but realize that they are all preaching the same sort of thing ... ruminents can be raised solely on pasture and at a lower cost of money.

Point #2: After reading the first two chapters I realized that I'm not very smart! I don't know very much about microbes, nitrogen, potassium, blah, blah, blah...! It seems like I will have to read this book a few times and then do some outside research to really understand it, but that also seems like a good thing. Like so many things in farming (putting up hay, plowing a straight line, etc.) creating a quality pasture is an art. And, since it is an art it is going to take knowledge, thinking, and creativity. These first two chapters have really piqued my interest and also made me think more about taking some Agriculture classes from ISU if I continue my Bachelor of Liberal Studies program.

All-in-all I'm glad that I picked up this book and I look forward to reading more. It has really given me a glimpse into the depth of creating pasture. Also, even in these first two chapters I am thinking about things we can do on my dad's farm to increase the quality and productivity (I'm going to be looking into winter rye...).

I'll try and post an update to my reading every chapter or two, so check back if you are interested.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Few Tractor Thoughts

Right now my dad's 160 acre farm is the home to a Minneapolis Moline M5 (53 HP), a 3 bottom JD plow, a disc, a harrow, a rake, and a pull behind sickle mower. We also use from time-to-time a New Holland baler, a JD drill, and a few other implements. The M5 is a nice tractor and can handle all those implements with no problem ... except it has no three point hitch and no loader.

So, when we were done at the auction and working on the fence we stopped to see a neighbor who will be selling Jinma Tractors soon. Jinma's are Chinese (yuk) 4-wheel drive tractors that are priced much less than the name brand counterparts. You can get a 35 horse tractor brand new for around $10,000 to $12,000. The other nice thing about these compact tractors is that you can get all sorts of implements for them. Some that would be nice to have around the farm would be the box blade, brush cutter, chipper/shredder, log splitter ... and above all ... the LOADER! I don't know how many times we could have used the loader around the farm and as we make a transition to making the farm into a working farm it will become that much more important.

Right now I'm doing as much research as I can and basically checking out the options. Once the neighbor has his up and running (the come in crates and take a little assembly) we are going to do some test drives also. For right now you may find this link about Chinese Compact Tractors interesting. Just click HERE.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fence Me In ...

For the past few weeks I have been receiving phone calls from my dad every day or two telling me about my cow that was out! It seems that the old (really old!) woven wire fence on the North side of the pasture wasn't going to cut it anymore because even our little cow could JUMP over the fence and get out. Yesterday we went down to the farm to put up our electric fence in hopes of curtailing "Cowdini" and to open up some more pasture for them. Along with the electric fence (we used the new solar fencer you can read about below), I also added a few more cattle panels around a couple trees in the old fence line to give some more shade for the cattle (when I say cattle I really me the heifer and the bull calf). It was almost a perfect day to be out and working ... well perfect for August in Iowa I guess!

Earlier in the day we attended a local estate auction. They had a little over two hay racks of house hold junk ... errr ... treasures and then some old equipment. Since it was such a nice day we didn't mind standing around and watching everyone bid on the junk ... err ... treasures while we were waiting for the equipment to sell. There wasn't much for equipment, but a couple of things caught our eye. We ended up getting a like new 100 gallon water tank, a five bottom MM plow (really that's for the uncle), a flare box wagon (will be good for going to get carbon material), a head gate, and a homemade wagon gear with a pile of junk and tin on top. Everything was going pretty well until they got to the tin. I was interested in the tin for building more chicken pens and for building a moveable shade pen. They started the bidding on the tin and didn't get a bidder (we wait until it hits 50¢ before bidding), when all of the sudden they decided to throw the wagon gear in also. Well, it wasn't all bad, because we got the whole shootin' match for $8.00. Now, I can mess around with that wagon gear and see if I can make a water cart, feed cart, or maybe just a utility wagon for hauling things around the farm.

It was a great day to be out at the farm and it was nice to get a few things done. I'll be posting pictures in the next few days of how the cattle are coming along. I think they are starting to look better.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Order is Placed...

So, awhile ago I discussed the possibility of getting a solar fencer for our rotational grazing system. My dad suggested those because some of the pastures we may start out on are quite a ways from electricity, and also because they possibly would work better for us than a battery system (especially when he is gone and the Amish are doing chores for us). I did some research and found quite a few people that couldn't stand them and just as many that absolutely loved them. I decided to give them a try. I ended up going with the Parmak "Deluxe Field Solar Pak". It is supposed to have a 25 mile range and is rated at 1.5 joules. You can read about it here.

I found the fencer for a decent price on-line at Jeffers Livestock. Since I was already ordering from them and they had free shipping, I went ahead and ordered another book, Quality Pasture by Allan Nation. Mr. Nation is the editor for the Stockman Grassfarmer magazine. It looks like a good book and also reminded me that I need to begin my subscription to the magazine. Maybe I can hold off until Christmas and ask for it as a gift.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Our State Fair is the Best State Fair...

...At least that is what the song tells me! Today our family had a chance to take in the great Iowa State Fair. It has been a couple years since we have been able to go so it was very nice to get back out there and see all the displays and the animals. One of the newer activities they have at the fair is a children's farm experience. The children get to go through the sequence of farming and learn along the way.They start out by picking up a seed corn hat (required apparel by Iowa farmers), a basket, and an apron (I guess that is to keep them from getting dirty). Next they go pick up a "seed" with the picture of the plant that it is for on it and a shovel so they can go plant their crop. After that, they go "harvest" a plastic toy of the crop they planted and place it in their basket. As they walk along the path, they come upon some "apple trees" where they can "pick" an apple and put it in their basket. Next they walk through a little grain bin to pick up a baggie of soy beans and corn and then continue on to the chicken coop where they gather an egg. After that, we walked over to the tractor shed where you turn in your soybeans in order to make Soy Biodiesel. Then you pick up a little gas can to fill up your pedal tractor and make a lap around the "field". After the tractor ride, you get off and walk through the sheep barn where you can pet a fake sheep and pick up your baggie of wool. Then you walk straight to the milk barn where you give your corn to the cow for feed and make your way to the milking parlor where you milk the cow! You pick up a milk carton there and place it in your basket. Finally, you are off to the market where you turn in the things you have harvested and produced on your farming trip. After "selling" your things at the market you get a dollar that you can go spend in the general store stocked with all sorts of treats!

Our kids had a blast doing it, and it was a good educational opportunity. In other news, Caleb (three years old) and I had a long talk about "his" farm last night. It seems he will have a blue house, red barn, Minneapolis Moline and John Deere tractors (gotta keep both sides of the family happy), some cows (Dexters), chickens, pigs, and more! I think he is ready to farm ... maybe now he can help me get a start.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rule #1: No Seedstock Anything...

I've been re-reading some of the farming/grass farming books that I have lately. I'm trying to put together some plans and goals for our farm. Yesterday I landed on the chapter entitled, "The Ten Worst Agricultural 'Opportunities'", in the book You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise by Joel Salatin. According to him, the number one "worst agricultural opportunity" is "Seedstock Anything". He goes on to say, "Leave the purebred business to the independently wealthy folks with deep pockets."

That quote kind of hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember reading it, but I also became pretty set on Dexters early on in my research because the foraging ability, size, and a few other things. Another quote from that section of the chapter states, "Unless a seedstock operation can be profitable on commercial prices, it is not really viable." I am not completely sure where Dexters land as far as commercial prices go, but I know that I chose the Dexter breed not because of seedstock opportunities. I chose them because I thought they could help me fill the freezer beef niche by offering high quality grass-fed beef that is healthy and will fit in your basement freezer. I did not, and do not intend to base my business only on seedstock, but I will admit that I saw that as a possibility because Dexters have a lot of appealing attributes for the "homesteading" type of families.

I am going to spend some time researching a business plan for my Dexters that can take advantage of all of their marketable traits ... whether it be beef, milking, oxen, or even pets. But, I do agree that only being in the seedstock business is something that will take a bit of money and time to build up the reputation of a high quality breeder.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

New Blog Link...

I just stumbled across this blog link for Clodhopper Farm
Clodhoper Farm
. I don't know who these folks are, but it seems like they have a nice farm thing going on. I'm going to put this over in my links section so people can check it from time to time if they would like. It seems like they are doing some of the things that I would like to be doing. I guess you could say they are a few steps ahead of me!

Finished Fencing...

Well, not exactly totally done ... but we did finish the basic fencing for the pasture. Our 1 to 2 acre pasture now is totally fenced in with cattle panels (because they were free). Even though I haven't decided what to do as far as a solar fencer, I decided to let them out on pasture so they could get to some fresh grass and ditch the hay belly. They loved the opportunity to roam, and I must admit that they look a little bit nicer when they have a nice green pasture as background. I meant to bring the camera for when I finished up my work, but I'll have to take some pictures next time because I walked out the door without it. Hopefully, our steer will start to bulk up a bit and get rid of his bloated hay belly now that he has some access to good grass.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Solar Fencers...

One of the key componants of managed intensive grazing is the electric fence used to seperate the temporary paddocks. A single strand of wire with easy step in posts will do the trick, but you need to have power in order to have a "hot" wire. My dad's farm (where our Dexters live) is not set up much for running electric fence. Right now the horses are out on pasture inside of an electric fence energized by a battery powered fencer. I had planned on going that route, but now I am looking into the possibilty of a solar powered fencer.

I've read good and bad about solar fencers. In fact you can read a little bit from my post on Homesteading Today by clicking here. A couple of the limiting factors to me are the initial cost and the reliability. A solar charger is going to cost anywhere between $130 and $500 (for the big boys). I don't know if I am in a place to lay out that kind of money right now, especially if realiabilty is going to be an issue. I have read of some people that swear by them and say they are just as reliable as any other battery operated fencer, and I have read that they are nothing but trouble.

I am going to continue my research, but I need to come up with something pretty soon so we can get these cattle moving around their pasture. I expect the grass will really take off with the 3+ inches of rain they received down there and the coming heatwave!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Cattle on the Book Farm

Who knows how long it has been since cattle have clipped the grass of the pastures at my dad's farm (probably over 20 years ago), but they are there now! Yesterday my dad and I went up to Grandma's Dexter Farm to pick up our cow and a bull calf (soon to be steer). We went with the idea of picking up Karen (pictured in posts below), but when we arrived he had a few younger and better looking choices for us. We ended up bringing home a 2-year-old heifer who is bred to calve in the spring. She is quite a bit younger than the other option, but she will also be a first timer this spring so that factored into the choice I had to make. After talking with my dad and deciding that we could make it work, we ended up bringing home RAD's Victoria (don't you just love registry names!). Oh, and a bull calf ... soon to be a steer ... and later to be supper.

These two have mostly been fed hay their entire lives (the bull calf probably his whole life) so I think they will start to fill out a little more and get a little shine back to their coat once they get on some good pasture. We are going to ease them onto the pasture so they don't gorge themselves on the fresh grass and become bloated. Right now they are in a rather small paddock, but it won't take much to get them out onto one of the pasture paddocks that will be divided by electric fence. I'm excited to have this little start going and to learn about grass-finishing beef and rotational grazing (I don't think we will be able to call it "managed intensive grazing" until I make it down on the farm).

Be sure to stop by next fall for some great grass-fed (or salad bar if you're Joel Salatin) beef!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Pigs and Berries

I must admit that out backyard chickens and impending (still!) dexters has kind of side tracked me from some of my initial farming thoughts and ideas. A couple of the first farming "ventures" that I began researching were pasture raised pigs and raspberries. Yesterday I found myself reading a post over on (check out the link on the left) about profitable farming ventures that some people are pursuing. As I read along, I was interested to see that there were people raising pastured pork and profiting from it. My initial thoughts on the pigs was that here is something that can reproduce up to a couple of times a year and grows out to finish weight rather quickly (especially compared to cattle). Well, that post brought me back to my original ideas ... pigs and berries.

During some of my work breaks yesterday and today I have been trying to find some articles and information regarding pasture raising pigs. Things like breeds, forages, shelter, farrowing, etc. It has been pretty interesting, and I have found some things to check out. One thing that I am really interested in is finding the right breed or cross for this type of system. Most of the time the "heritage breeds" come up when people talk about pastured pigs, so I am specifically looking for information and Iowa breeders of the tamworth, the large black, glouchester spot, berkshire, and maybe some more.

But, pigs weren't the only thing on my mind. The pigs brought the raspberries back to the front of my mind (Nice combo, huh? Stinky pigs and juicey berries). I remember reading that it takes about three seasons for newly planted raspberries to begin producing. I think I would like to plant some this fall if possible in hopes of getting a jump on that possible farming venture. We can start out small and then expand. I know one thing for sure ... if we plant berries and end up doing nothing profitable with them, I can count on my family to eat ALL OF THEM!

Any thoughts, ideas, info?
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