Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Business Plan?

Do you ever feel like you are out of your league. I'm a high school soccer coach at a school that doesn't place a lot of emphasis on a sport unless it ends with ball (football, basketball, baseball, and softball). We don't have the greatest equipment, but we make do with what we have. I know for a fact that when a team shows up at our place with matching warm-ups, bags, water bottles, shoes, and more my team feels like it is out of its league! Well, whenever I read about or start to think about a business plan I feel like I am out of my league.

But, I feel like a business plan is an important part of any farming venture that I want to be involved in. I want to have an idea of what I'm getting into, what it's going to cost, what I need to return, what I can invest in, and how much I need to sell. So, last night I did a little "googling" to see what I could come up with. Below is a section from an article about the 2004 Practical Farmers of Iowa Conference. If you would like to read the article in its entirety you can click HERE. Below I have copied the section that specifically speaks to farming business plans in general:

How to develop a workable business plan

When you run your own farm, you’re an entrepreneur as much as a producer. That means you need to understand business planning 101, said Penny Brown Huber, program administrator for Iowa’s Growing Your Small Market Farm Business Planning Program.

“Entrepreneurs are innovators,” Huber said. “They have a strong desire to create something new. They also have a vision of how their business will grow and a plan to make it happen.”

She presented these contracts between popular misunderstandings, and what she knows about farmers and entrepreneurs:

Myth: Entrepreneurs are born, not made.
Fact: Almost anyone can learn business skills.

Myth: Entrepreneurs are their own bosses.
Fact: Entrepreneurs work for many people, including investors, bankers, customers, employees, and family.

Myth: Entrepreneurs set their own hours.
Fact: Entrepreneurs work long and hard for their success.

Myth: Entrepreneurs love high-risk ventures.
Fact: Entrepreneurs look for ways to minimize risk.

Huber gave these steps, and comments, for successful business planning:

  1. The business owner assumes the lead in the business planning process. “You can’t expect an Extension agent or someone else to write your business plan for you.”

  2. The business planning process must involve everyone in the family and/or business.

  3. The business plan must reflect reality. “Interview other people already in the business to get their input.”

  4. Develop contingency plans for worst-case scenarios. “If you get sick, a building burns down, a hailstorm destroys your vegetable crop, or your livestock get infected with disease, you have to have a plan.”

  5. Set objectives and goals that are achievable. “Two to three strong, clear goals and objectives will really help you move along,” Huber said. “Your first goal can be, ‘I will write a business plan.’ Your objective can be, ‘I will write my plan by Dec. 1.’”

  6. Include innovative marketing ideas. “Developing recipes that feature the foods you raise can be a great way to promote your business.”

Once your write your business plan, review it often and use it as a guide.

I thought the article brought up some good points for a total business plan beginner like myself to think about. I don't want to make an extra long post here, but I will comeback tomorrow with some of my thoughts on the article. Let me just say the points that really hit home with me were numbers two and three. One of my major reasons for farming is the family aspect ... my family and the families that we will sell to. And, I am all about learning from the experience of others. In fact, that is what a majority of the posts on this blog of mine are about, learning from others. I would appreciate any thoughts on business plans in general or more specifically farm based business plans.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

King Corn?

Okay, this may be bordering on propaganda... but I just thought I would throw it out there for anyone's thoughts and responses. As I was checking out the new Movie Trailers over at I came across the movie titled, "King Corn". I didn't really know what to expect so I clicked on the link and watched the trailer. What I found was ... well, I guess you can say that it was interesting. Basically, it isn't so much a movie as it is a documentary about two guys from the east coast who come to Iowa (my state) to discover where all of this corn goes. Somewhere along the lines they end up growing an acre for some reason and make a movie about their experiences and investigations.

I watched the trailer, went to the website, and came away confused. Here I am living in a state that thrives on corn (and beans) and the subsidies that go along with it. My family members live off of corn, my neighbors do, my friends do, well ... basically a lot of people in Iowa do! But, does that make it the right way to farm? Does that make it the most healthy way to raise the animals we eat? Those are good questions to ask ... but when you ask those questions in Iowa ... well, let's just say they aren't popular questions.

There were a couple of red flags that popped up on my "propaganda radar". First of all "The Austin Chronicle" said, "As relevant as Super Size Me and as important as An Inconvenient Truth." I just don't know if I can trust anything that is compared (in a good light in this case) to movies by Michael Moore and Al Gore. It just grates against my world view! And secondly, it is mostly showing in large (mostly liberal) cities. I realize that is where it will receive the most welcome response, but it would ease my mind if it branched out a little.

Basically, I don't know where I stand ... I'm an Iowan. I eat lots of corn, I put ethanol in my car, I feed yummy corn to my backyard chickens, I really love corn! On the flip side, I am sold on pastured beef and God's creation of animals sustaining largely on pasture. So, what is an Iowa boy to do? I would love any thoughts on this movie or basic idea. It is something that really interests me as I look at a transition to the farm.

**UPDATE** If you check the comments you will see that the director for King Corn noticed my post. I have e-mailed him asking to keep me up to date on any Iowa screenings. Also, the folks from Sugar Creek Farm commented about a screening coming up at Iowa State University. You can check out the details by clicking on this LINK. Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Done on the Farm...

Well, on Saturday I was able to head down to the farm for a few hours. Really, it was just a time to unwind after a busy week and before a busy evening. I didn't really do too much work, but I was able to repair a little fencing, take some pictures, and walk around the farm inspecting some potential pastures. Plus ... I was able to talk with one of the Amish neighbors for about thirty minutes.

My main piece of work was to shore up the fencing a bit in the area where the cows are going to over winter. We had put up a cattle panel fence around roughly two acres of pasture (was plenty when it was built!), but we put it up quickly so some of the panels were attached to the posts and to each other with twine. What would we do without twine? On Saturday I just went around the fence and wired everything together so that nobody would be breaking any twine and getting out. It was a beautiful day and it was a wonderful time of work.

After I did that I just spent sometime walking around and inspecting the new cows. Remember, last week we more than doubled our herd size and I really hadn't had the chance to check out the new additions in full daylight because it was dusk when we picked them up and after midnight when we dropped them off. All things considered I think our new additions have brought up the quality of our herd. The two black 5-year old cows are very nice looking animals with some great lineage ... plus, they have great calves at side (one beefy bull calf and one nice heifer). Joanna, the cow with the bell, looks great for a cow that is 8-years old. At first I wasn't going to get her at all, but once I saw her I was really impressed. I'm hoping to get a few heifers from her. The last two new additions are a 20-month old cow and her young dun bull calf at side. She calved way to early (they didn't know she was bred), but delivered a healthy calf and she looks alright herself. Her mother is Bailey, which is one of the new 5-year olds. I think she is a little smaller than our heifer Victoria, but that may just be because she has been nursing her calf during a time when she would normally be growing.

If all goes well we will have six calves on the ground in 2008, which will give us a nice jump while we are building our herd. Plus, we will have the opportunity for at least nine calves in 2009. I'm excited about the way our herd is shaping up. We have five females that carry dun, so I would really like to find a quality dun bull.

After hanging out with the cows for a while I took off to go check out some potential pastures. I was waylaid by the Amish neighbor on the way and had to listen to him scheme about making money for himself off of my Dexters ... it was really pretty funny and nice to chat with him! We have about 20 acres that we can turn our cattle out to when we get some fencing up. I would like to get them out there this week so they have have some green grass before we really need to start feeding them hay. We had them in the small pasture this week so the Amish could do the chores easily. Also, I'm excited about the grazing possibilities for next year ... and the hay production possibilities!

It was a great day to be on the farm and really got my juices flowing. I am going to start putting a business plan together it he next few months just so I can begin to quantify some of my farming desires. I think this is an important step because I don't want to go flying into this farming deal without a plan. I know some of you are probably wondering if I already have ... but, I don't think so. The cattle we have now are sort of the test group. We can learn from them and sell them as seedstock if we decided to go a different direction. We will see what I can come up with.

Picture Descriptions From Top to Bottom :: Ethan standing with the herd; Kenosha and Bailey in front of the herd; Joanna, Bailey, and bull calf; Joanna with her beautiful bell; the Stoneyfield herd; Bailey, Joanna, Kenosha, and the heifer calf.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Today is the Work Day

You know how I went to the farm last week? Well, nothing that needed to be done was done last week ... and the things that were needed to be done are magnified now because we have more than doubled the Dexter herd. So, since I am living the bachelor life today I am going to head down to the farm to spend some time with the cows and do some work. I won't have much time so I will spend the day doing some fence repair and prepping their winter pasture for the cattle. If I have a chance I may working on fixing up a fence where we are going to move them until the grass turns brown. The weather is nice and it looks to be a fine day for working.

The picture I have put up with this post is of the farm. It is one hundred and sixty acres and includes everything inside the red box. There are three small ponds and a bunch of rolling hills and timber. Roughly, less than half of the land is pasture with the rest being timber.

The land needs some renovation, but most on the edges between the pasture and the woods. My dad test drives zero-turning mowers so the pastures have been mowed continually and what was once weeds comes up in mostly bluegrass and clover (except for the portion of fescue). It is almost like we have been rotationally grazing much of the land for the past seven years ... we were just rotationally mowing it! I'm hoping to use some live stock to clean up the brush areas on the edges of the woods and hopefully open them up a little bit from the multiflora rose mess that they are. Oh, and the arrow points to where the cows are now!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Tender Grassfed Beef

Sorry for the late posts this week. Normally I like to be able to put up my post first thing in the morning, but the next few weeks will be be very busy. This week I have been helping with The Power Team and have only been able to be home for a few hours each day. But, if I have enough energy to get out of bed tomorrow I am going to drive down and check out the new cows in the daylight, get some pictures, and do some work. In the mean time ... now back to your regularly scheduled post ...

I have slowly been making my way through one of my free back issues of The Stockman Grass Farmer. In the August 2005 issue I have been reading first there is an article about meat toughness and off flavors. It has a very interesting title, "Grass Feeding Does Not Cause Meat Toughness Or Off Flavors." Okay, so maybe it wasn't a real creative title, but it did get the point across.

Lately it seems like I have been thinking about and blogging about (it is interesting that I consider that a verb now) the walls I am facing or will face in my pursuit of a small family farm based around the pasture. This seems to be one of the walls. It has already come up when I talked with my dad, my in-laws, my friends, my family, and a few people who I would consider potential customers. Here in Iowa, and across the midwest I'm sure, there is a strong bias against grass-finished beef because it is so much different than the cultural norm. In fact, in Iowa it is almost considered un-Iowan to not feed cattle grain ... I mean if you are feeding them corn then you are supporting the local farmers! Well, I do fill up with Ethanol so that will have to be enough for me.

The article is written by Anibal Pordomingo and it brings up some very interesting points from personal observation. I will also point out that I have read a lot lately that points to tenderness having nothing to do with marbling in the meat, but all to do with the genes of the steer. Grass-finished beef doesn't have to fall to any of the stereotypes ... but you will need to be able to educate those that eat and purchase your beef. I do like the idea of educating people ... it is what I enjoy about being a pastor and youth pastor and it is what I loved when I was a history teacher!

So, here are some real reasons from the article why that steak may be tough:
  • Fast chilling...
  • Because of space and handling restrictions, some people work the carcasses warm and chill the cuts.
  • Few carcasses in a maturation chamber.
  • Stress prior to slaughter.
  • Cooking too fast.

And, here are some reasons from the article why that steak may be spoiled or have odd off flavors:
  • Chilling, freezing, thawing, and re-freezing.
  • Freezing too slow.
  • Dark cutters, stressed beeves.

You will have noticed that grass-finishing had nothing to do with the toughness or off flavors. Grassfed beef can be very tender and very flavorful ... hopefully these points will be some more ammunition in the battle against conventional Iowa wisdom.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Stockman Grass Farmer

This past week I received my first two issues of The Stockman Grass Farmer magazine. They were running a special (like all publications always are doing) where you could get two free back issues with your subscription ... so, these are my two back issues. I am very excited about getting this magazine because it will provide a new source of monthly information on grass farming and grazing in general. Plus, it hits the issue from all different angles.

For example, in the August 2005 back issue I received there is a sidebar article on the cover titled, "Surgeon Has Developed A Growing Heart Healthy Grassfed Beef Business." That title caught my eye right away because one of the many reasons I became interested in grassfed beef was because of the health issues. Last year I found out the details of what I guessed was the case. I have rather high cholesterol ... especially when you consider my age. In fact you can just about take my age and add a zero at the end and you get my cholesterol reading! I had read that there were benefits from eating grassfed beef so I started doing some research.

My dad would love nothing more than to feed our cattle corn ... he says it just feels like the right thing to do. But, from a financial standpoint and from a health standpoint and from a "God created cows to eat grass" kind of standpoint that just isn't the right thing to do and I am having to slowly convince him of that fact. I'm hoping this article will be another piece in the puzzle.

The article talks about Steve Atchley who grew up on a cattle ranch in Texas, but ended up leaving the ranch to become a heart surgeon. Later in his career he developed a hand condition that stopped him from being able to perform surgery. That is when he decided to take another approach to attack heart problems. It seems like his approach was two-fold. Yes, he truly believes that the grassfed beef is healthy for the heart, but two he believes that having a grassfed system is more healthy for the farmer/rancher. In the beginning of the article he says, "I could see first hand that the stress of commodity ranching was literally killing them," when talking about the farmers and ranchers he had as patients.

He went on to form a business distributing grassfed beef across the west. He has faced opposition along the way from the grain based folks and from the natural grain based farmers, but he feels that he is on the right track for the cattle and for the people that eat them.

"I was firmly convinced that you couldn't feed grain and have a heart healthy product," said Mr. Atchley.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sorry for the late post...

Okay, you know how I mentioned a special trip yesterday? Well, the pictures in this post give you an idea of what that was all about! Yep, we added seven new Dexters to the Stoneyfield herd today. Here is the run down :: two black five-year-old cows, one black twenty-month-old cow, and one dun eight-year-old cow ... along with those we have one black bull calf from Bailey (5 yrs), one black heifer calf from Kenosha (5 yrs), and one dun bull calf from Breagha.

I am pretty excited about adding these girls (and boys) to the herd because they are all pretty good quality. I will say that it was an adventure getting them ... first we got a late start because we had to look high and low and then low and high to find a part to refix the bearing problem on the trailer from the last trip. Then, when we got there to pick them up they weren't sorted from the herd yet. Let me just say the whole trip is a long story and it was a long day, maybe I'll write more about it later.

But, despite everything I'm excited about having five new girls on the farm. The four cows have all been exposed to the herd bull for around five months so we are hoping he caught them and we will have spring calves. If everything goes according to plans (see post from yesterday) we will have six calves on the ground this coming year and at least nine the following year. Plus these girls add some more diversity to the herd as far as bloodlines go. Two were breed in Colorado, one in Kentucky, and one in Missouri. Also, the two Colorado cows contain some Canadian breeding in their pedigree.

I am sorry for the shortness of this post and the lack of content, but it has been a very long day considering I made it home after 3:00 am and I'm running on four hours of sleep. The pictures aren't great, they were taken in a McDonald's parking lot, but they do prove that we went and got cows! Look for more pictures as soon as I make it to the farm.

P.S. You might notice from the first picture that the dun cow does in fact have a bell on a collar around her neck. Super Cool!!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men...

Well, I went to the farm with high hopes yesterday. But, there were two things which I forget to plan for. Number one... the weather! We have had an unusually wet fall in our part of the state and today was no different. So, we had to dodge a few rain drops. Number two... life doesn't like to run on schedules! My wife and I had planned to run some errands in Des Moines while the grandparents stayed at home with the kids. Things went longer than expected so we didn't make it home as soon as we had hoped. Subsequently we didn't make it to the farm until much later than hoped for. We did have a nice enough time to show of the Dexters and horses to my in-laws and I enjoyed being out in the pasture with my cows! But, no work was done.

On the positive side I'm excited about a couple of new reading materials I received and ordered. Today I received my first two back issues of the Stockman Grass Farmer magazine. I've looked at articles on-line and in a sample issue and it looks like a publication I will enjoy reading each month. In fact in the one issue that I have sampled so far there is an interesting little article about a heart surgeon who started a grass-finished beef business because he knows the health benefits first hand. Secondly, I ordered a copy of, "The Contrary Farmer," by Gene Logsdon. I have read many good reviews about this book and I'm looking forward to sampling it myself. I think it will be as much about the world view and thought processes as about the ins and outs of "contrary farming".

Finally, I'm heading out on a special farming related trip today. I'll post some info on Wednesday or Thursday. Let's just say I'm pretty excited about this trip!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Going to the Farm

Every once in a while (not nearly often enough) we have a chance to head down to the farm for a day. We make sure the chickens have feed and water, load up the family, and load up Sophie and head down for a day of work, relaxation, and fun. I love to be outside working at the farm because it is such a difference from my normal day. And, I guess I just plain enjoy hard work. When I was in jr. high, high school, and college I detasseled corn. It was hard, hot, muddy work but I absolutely loved it. Plus the pay was good. Also, in high school when others were enjoying a hot summer day at the lake or the pool I was putting hay up in the barn for the Mochel family. I just enjoyed the hard work ... period!

So, as we make plans to head down today (mostly to take my brother and sister home and show of our Dexters to the in-laws) I'm making a list of the things I would like to do in our short trip. Here is my list ...

  • Take down Shaklee Basic H to worm cattle

  • Set up new electric fence paddock for the cattle

  • Build covered mineral feeder to feed kelp mineral and salt

  • Discuss winter wind break for cattle with Dad

  • Pick up materials or pick out materials for winter chicken shed

I'll try and get as much done as possible, but there is never enough time when I am down there. Regardless of what I get done I know that I will have a great day and I'm really looking forward to it. Hopefully I'll have an update for you tomorrow, and maybe even some new pictures.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"Organic Transition" ... an article ...

Every once in a while I check out the articles and forums at just to see what is going on. You may remember I posted a link to an article a few weeks ago about a beginning dairy farmer who was getting out of the business because he just couldn't make it financially.

Yesterday I came across another article about a dairy farmer on the site that dealt with his switch from a conventional dairy to an organic dairy. You can check out the article, "CASE STUDY: Transitioning to organic : Spring Brook Farm", but clicking on the title.

The farmer in this article is not new to dairy farming. In fact while he didn't grow up on a dairy farm he has been working no them since he was young. An interesting thing is that he went bankrupt on his first dairy attempt, but he stuck with it because as he says, "it is in his blood." The article deals mainly with his transition from a conventional dairy (medications, corn silage, etc.) to an organic dairy that sells milk through an organic dairy cooperative. Most of his milk goes to Stonyfield (no relation to our farm) for their yogurt.

After my post yesterday about the frustrations of trying to go against conventional wisdom this article was a breath of fresh air. He was able to make the transition with out too much trouble, and he is finding there is much more value in farming organically. He finds value in the way he is able to raise his cows, how he treats the land, and through the checks he receives for his milk. Basically, organic was a stretch for him ... it is something that looked good and is now working even better than it looks.

Here are a few quotes from the article that really hit home to me:

“I started out when I was 24 lost everything when I was in my forties, and started all over again with nothing when I was 44. I could go manage a farm for somebody else, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do. Independence is a fierce part of it. I gotta do my own thing.”

“When I was a kid, and people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I always knew. I was driven,” Lyle says. “Things haven’t all been rosy. There have been a few detours, but I’ve stuck with it."

“I really don’t know why more farmers don’t go organic,” Lyle says, “especially small farmers who pasture. If you’re set up for pasture and you’ve got 50 to 100 cows, it makes more sense.”

You see, it can be done ... and in some ways if you are farming on a small scale you can do it better than the conventional farmers. Oh, the "it" I'm talking about ... I'm talking about supporting your family through the farm work and living and working together as a family.

Friday, October 19, 2007

New Blog Colors...

Okay, I have had a few people mention to me that the blog was difficult to read with the black background and white font. I decided I would switch to this one for a little while and see what people think. So... let me know if this is better, worse, or indifferent. I can try some other options if I need to.

Thanks again for everyone that checks out my blog. I update every day Monday - Saturday and just take Sunday off so there should always be some fresh content. I will continue to provide links or reviews to what I'm reading because that is how I'm building a lot of my plans and ideas when I'm not able to be "doing". Also, from time to time you will get updates from work on the farm.

Conventional Wisdom...

From Wikipedia:
Conventional wisdom (CW) is a term coined by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith in The Affluent Society, used to describe certain ideas or explanations that are generally accepted as true by the public.

Conventional wisdom is not necessarily true. Many urban legends, for example, are accepted on the basis of being "conventional wisdom". Conventional wisdom is also often seen as an obstacle to introducing new theories, explanations, and as an obstacle that must be overcome by such revisionism. This is to say, that despite new information to the contrary, conventional wisdom has a property analogous to inertia, a momentum, that opposes the introduction of contrary belief; sometimes to the point of absurd denial of the new information set by persons strongly holding an outdated (conventional wisdom) view.

Sometimes I feel like this is the toughest battle a beginning farmer will face. I realize that it probably is not the case because I really haven't experienced very much, but it is an obstacle that needs to be overcome.

While I have not really grown up on a farm, I did spend my weekends on the farm with my dad as a child and have been surrounded with farmers my entire life. As I begin to take steps towards creating a farm and a farm business I am running smack dab into the brick wall of conventional wisdom. In my search to create a farm that is profitable for my family and that will provide an income that we can live on, I kept coming back to alternative/outside-the-box types of agriculture. You know, things like grass-finishing beef, pastured poultry, agri-tourism, u-pick berries, premium priced meats, etc. I was encouraged about what I have read and the conversations that I have had with people that I have talked with. I have had talked with people who are making it work, I have seen toured farms that are doing it or that are almost there, and I have read many success stories.

Yet, whenever I talk with my family I run straight into the conventional wisdom brick wall, and it is starting to hurt. In not as many words this is the answer, "It works for some people, but that is not going to work here." That just kills me! And, what kills me even more is then people suggest doing conventional farming as the answer.

I need to prove that it will be able to work. I have tried passing along books with hi-lighted sections so people don't have to read the whole thing. I have related experiences I have had farm tours. And, I have passed along articles from and about people that are farming outside of "conventional wisdom". But, that is just regarded as "propaganda"!!!!

I am not broken, but I am frustrated. It is obvious that there are farms out there not making money, yet they aren't willing to try something different. I thought that these alternative farming methods and relational direct marketing were really starting to take hold ... in fact I was worried that I had missed the boat. I guess that not everyone is convinced yet, so maybe there is still room for me.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Salatin vs. Avery Debate

**Bloggers Note: I write my blogs ahead of time now so I can post them first thing in the morning, but yesterday I posted a blog that was meant to be posted today so that's why the titles and writing seem out of sync. Just so you know.**

Okay... I realize I'm going a little heavy on the Joel Salatin information lately. I don't want you to think that he is the only guy out there and that I'm totally locked in to his systems and mindset, but he does write a lot and put a lot of information out there. I promise ... this post and the next one will be regarding Mr. Salatin, but after that I will hit some other sources or talk a little bit about some things happening around Stoneyfield.

I came across this DEBATE between Joel Salatin and Dennis Avery who was the director of the Center for Global Food Issues when this interview occurred in July of 1999. By clicking on the link you can read the debate between Mr. Salatin and Mr. Avery as the answer questions from callers on a radio show. It is a very interesting read because they come from two very different view points. Mr. Avery is a supporter of high yield chemical farming while Mr. Salatin is all about locally based farming providing for the area surrounding the farms.

I think the biggest thing I saw while reading this debate was the huge difference of world view between the two men. Mr. Avery believes that we need to rely on science and high production models in order to feed the word while Mr. Salatin believes we need to change our production models and mind sets. I believe we need to change our world views in general so I did find myself siding with Mr. Salatin on many points. I think this is the greatest exchange in the entire article and really speaks to the difference between the two view points:

Host Jeff Ishee: Dennis and Joel, it’s certainly been an entertaining two hours and a fascinating conversation. I had four pages of questions, and I haven’t gotten to a single one yet, and I’m bound and determined to ask at least one question. What role do you think that government should play, both on the farm, and in agriculture overall?

Avery: I think government should be a player in the research game, and I think that the government needs to be very aggressive in making sure that American farmers get the opportunity to help contribute to feeding a larger, more affluent population that we are going to have in the year 2040. That means eliminating the trade barriers and opening the playing field to everybody.

Salatin: Well, I don’t believe that we should have a USDA. Period. All it is, is collusion with the multi-national corporations, and they stack the deck and create all this scientific information that’s biased and prejudiced. We don’t get good research. I’ve watched it for forty years come out of the cow colleges, the land grant universities. Virginia Tech figures out how to kill a bug, and the environmental scientist group at the University of Virginia figures out what else it killed. That’s basically the type of research we have. So, I don’t think there is any place for the USDA. We’d be a lot better without it at all. Turn it into a free market . . .

Avery: But then you’d have only the companies.

Salatin: Ah! But I can compete with the company. But I can’t compete with all the academic fraternization that occurs with the collusion between the bureaucrats and the companies themselves. On equal footing, we’ll compete fine. Privatize it, and we’re in business.

If you read the debate let me know what you think. I really enjoy reading these sorts of things. While I completely believe that doing is better than reading there is only so much doing I can do when I live over an hour from the farm ... so, for the rest of the time I'm trying to prepare myself for the marketing of the farm and part of that is knowing why I do the things I want to do.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Last of Joel Salatin for now...

Okay, I know that I've hit Joel Salatin a lot here lately (to be fair, I did have a lot of Allan Nation posts lately!), but this will be my last ... for a little while. If you click on this LINK you will download or be taken to a PDF of an article from the November 2002 issue of Acres USA. The article by Mr. Salatin is titled, "Balance Sheet Switcheroo :: Assests Become Liabilities in Industrial Ag." This is another, "shape my viewpoint," article that I found interesting to read. He talks about the culture shift in agriculture that has turned the historical assets of agriculture into liabilities.

In the article he lists 10 specific cultural shifts from assets to liabilities. Here are a few that I found especially interesting:

#1. Feeding ourselves used to be a matter of national pride.

Being a part of the farmers who feed the people in my area is definitely something I would be proud of! But, our agribusiness now likes to buy beef from South America rather than from our own back yard.

#6. Once upon a time, farmers and related agribusinesses hired their neighbors.
My favorite place to shop in town is our local Coast Hardware store. It is owned and run by an older couple that have made that business their life. When I go in looking for a part and I don't know exactly the size I need, they load me up with three or four and tell me to bring back the ones that don't work when I get a chance. That is the type of community that will make our country and our families strong!

#7. During most of America's history, farmers peddled their wares in town.
This is all about cutting out the middle man and bringing the profits back to the farmers. Think about those Cheerios you buy at the store ... how much do you think the farmer gets of that $3.00 box of food?

#10. The early American ideal of the gentleman farmer, the noble, landed yeoman, was once revered as a cornerstone of the true wealth in this nation.
We need to restore the cultural view of farmers, and the only way by doing that is creating relationships between the farmers and the buyers. Again, think about those Cheerios ... do you have a relationship with that farmer?

Another quote I especially enjoyed is this one:

One of the greatest assets on a farm, in my view, is the sheer ecstasy of life. The priceless enjoyment of life's spontaneity must now bow to the unrelenting predictability of mechanized life. What an unfortunate change on the balance sheet.

I encourage you to check out this article. Like the last couple I have posted it speaks to shaping your world view and why we do the things we do (or in my case ... what I want to do). But, I will tell you that it makes me want to farm and farm differently...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Farming and Business Week

Check out "A New Push to Make Farming Profitable". This is an article written about Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm from August 10, 2007. I know it is a few weeks old, but this is the first time that I have come across it. It is a pretty interesting article where he tells about some of the financial basics of his farm. I was pretty impressed that he makes $700,000 per year on his 550-acre farm. The one question I would have is whether or not that includes his book sales and speaking engagements. According to his website he charges $3,000 plus expenses for each speaking engagement ... that being said, I would listen to him whenever I had the chance!

I don't have the need to desire to gain $700,000 on the farm, but I do think that it shows what is possible. It is great to see his business plan getting publicity in a business magazine. His popularity is growing every year and there are quite a few people who are beginning to duplicate his model, but I still believe there is room for more people willing to do something different. I would like to know some more about his e-mail buying club. That seems like it would be something to pursue if we ended up on land near my dad's farm which is about 100 miles from a big city.

I will leave you with this quote from the article. I think it best describes some of my fears when it comes to farming and the land a family needs to farm...

"The growing demand from legions of direct customers has led Polyface to lease an additional 700 acres of pasture over the last three years. Salatin says the profits from the weekend-farmer seminars as well as sales from instructional books he's written "are allowing us to make the investment without having to resort to loans," which are another bugaboo of traditional farming."

The original 550-acres he started out with was in his family so he didn't have go out and buy land ... now he can expand his operation with money from speaking engagements. Hmmm... maybe I can turn this blog into my money maker to finance my land!

I would love to hear any of your thoughts on this article or experiences you have had hearing Mr. Salatin in person. Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Family Farming...

There are family farms, and then there are family farms... There are 1,000 acre plus operations run by a group of siblings in the form of corporation, and then there are 200 acre or less farms that are run by grandparents, parents, and children. They are both "family farms", but they are not alike. One is run like a corporation, while the other is run like a family. One may not include children because everything is done on such a large and grand scale, while the other may not survive without the children. One may be full of dangers around every corner from big machinery, grain bins, and more ... while the other just might be family friendly.

I realize that I may have just over-generalized things there, but I also know many people my age that grew up on the large "family farms" who never did anything farm related and couldn't wait to get off the farm so they could live in town and be closer to the things they enjoyed. And, in some senses their "farm" life was no different than a life of kid in the city. One of the many appealing things of farming to me is the family aspect. Again, I may be romanticizing things a little, but I envision our family working, playing, and growing together on a small sustainable farm. A safe place to raise our children where they will be surrounded by healthy hard work, the beauty of God's creation, and the family that loves them. I found an article by Joel Salatin from the June 2000 issue of "Acres USA" that speaks specifically to family farming. The article is entitled, "Creating a Farm Life Your Children Will Treasure :: Family Friendly Farming". You can read the entire article by clicking on the title.

It is a great article full of what I believe are very insightful thoughts. Here is one quote that really resonated with me and my desire to farm with my family:

"People kept telling me when Daniel was little, 'Oh, he's great now, but you wait, he'll be a pistol, you won't be able to control him, and all kids go through rebellion.' But they were all wrong; it doesn't get any better than this. And it's not because I'm a great dad, it's because we have time. People who say it doesn't matter how much time you spend with your children, it is just the quality -- it isn't true. All we have is time. If we can invest it in these kids and allow them to have projects that provide opportunities to praise them, they will develop team spirit and involvement in the enterprise."

I can't tell you how many times my wife and I have heard this same type of quote from people all around us ... at the store, among family, and at church ... instead of arguing we just shrug it off now, but hearing first hand experiences like that of Mr. Salatin just increase my desire to move to a farming life.

If you are thinking of farming or are farming right now with your family I encourage you to check the article out. Also, if the book is anything like the article I suggest looking at Joel Salatin's book, "Family Friendly Farming :: A Multi-Generational Home-Based Business Testament".

**Just so you know, the picture was taken by Pete Wettach. You can check out an amazing book of his photo's by clicking here ==> "A Bountiful Harvest"**

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Amish Neighbors

The rain today has me thinking about my dad's Amish neighbors. They planted five acres of alfalfa on our farm and it was cut on Wednesday. We haven't had good drying weather lately and this morning when I woke up it was raining. So, I thought of the Amish neighbors and their alfalfa sitting in the field ... in the rain ...

When my family moved to the area over 10 years ago there was not an Amish community. This group moved in about 5 years ago, with most of the original members coming from Wisconsin with lots of money in their pockets. They quickly raised the price of land in the area by offering large amounts to buy out people so the could live relatively near each other. It has been very interesting watching the Amish interact and live in their community.

On one hand we sort of regard them as a joke. The Amish in this community do very little farming or riding around in buggies. Most of them work some sort of construction job and have drivers that they hire to take them all over the place. In fact they have become so dependent on their drivers that they call them up when the only have to go a short distance. Which brings up another point ... they have phones ... not in their houses, but rather in little "phone houses" outside of their homes. It almost seems like the are marginally living the Amish way. When riding in the car they want to listen to Amish music, they buy the same junk food for their lunches that we do, and in this community they all have running water in their houses (no toilets though).

On the other hand though we have a lot of respect for them because of their community driven lifestyle. One example that I find very interesting is of a man who was having some serious financial problems. He wanted to start up a saw mill so we began taking out loan after loan after loan ... well, he had some problems with his partner so he decided to build his own mill a couple years later ... which meant he took out loan after loan after loan! One day we drove by his home and saw the beginnings of a large new building to house his saw mill. Two months later we drove by and nothing had happened on the work. I assumed that he had run out of money, but in reality the elders of the community had stepped in and taken control of his money. The community came together and paid off his loans and then the men (I believe there was three) that were in charge of helping him put together a plan for him to begin work before he spent any more money. Now, his new mill is up and going, and if the number of logs and the piles of cut lumber mean anything I believe he is going on the right path now.

This type of community is unheard of in our self-isolated 21st century world, but I have a feeling that we would be better off if we could take some advice from this Amish community. As my thoughts turn to building a small family farm that is profitable and provides a comfortable living for my family I realize that a community will need to be a part of the equation. I don't know how it will work out, but I know that a community will make life much better!

On another note... Bill Wilson of the One Acre Farm Blog sent me this LINK to an article by Joel Salatin that was original printed in ACRES USA. It is a very interesting article about promoting polycultures on the farm and I encourage you to check it out!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quality Pasture :: Chapter 14 Book Report

The final chapter of "Quality Pasture" by Allan Nation is titled "The Next Big Thing." This chapter is just a culmination of the thoughts throughout the entire book and gives one last example of a farmer that is doing things different from the conventional farming structure. Mr. Nation does realize that there are risks in going out and doing something different than the masses, but there is also a great reward. Also, there is a great comparison list of indicators for traditional farm success and quality pasture success. Things like traditional equals big tractors and monocultures while quality pasture equals no tractor and diversity. Or traditional is about producing beef and production per cow while quality pasture is about harvesting grass and profit per acre.

All in all it is a good wrap up for the book and acts as an encouragement for people to get out there and become grass farmers instead of cattle farmers or other livestock farmers. Also, you need to remember that this book was printed in 1995, so twelve years later we are probably further down the road to wide scale grass farming which means there will be more information out there to help beginners and seasoned veterans get started. I have really enjoyed reading this book because of the very technical details that Mr. Nation provides about growing very high quality grass. I would have no problem recommending this book to anyone interested in become a grass based farmer (remember how much I loved the last chapter), but would be especially helpful for someone living in the south or wanting to run a grass and grass silage based dairy operation. While I'm sure that it doesn't go to the complete depths of information, it is a great overview of the ideas and source of specific pasture management plans.

Now, I don't know what I'm going to read! At the moment I am re-reading Joel Salatin's book, You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise. And highlighting some of the most interesting parts for my own encouragement, planning, and learning. But, I'm also finally sending in my subscription to the "Stockman Grass Farmer" magazine which is edited by Mr. Nation. I think that will give me a new source of information each month and I'm really looking forward to receiving my first issue.

Don't forget, you can pick up your own copy of "Quality Pasture : How to create it, manage it, and profit from it" by surfing over to the Stockman Grassfarmer Bookshelf.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Quality Pasture :: Chapter 13 Book Report

I have to say, this chapter and the final chapter were probably my favorite of the entire book. The other chapters were full of interesting information, pasture ideas, and grazing plans, but the final two really hit at the heart of where I see our farming ideas going. Chapter 13 in Allan Nation's book, "Quality Pasture," is titled, "Multiple Species Grazing." Although the chapter is short it gives a nice overview of possible polyculture grazing and it's benefits.

The first option he writes about is sheep. I found this section especially interesting because my dad and I had just been talking about the possibility of bringing some sheep to the farm to do some clean up on old fence rows that need to be taken out or replaced. We were talking about the possible benefits of using sheep as our brush hog and workers and providing a bit of income also. But, Allan Nation mentions some other benefits of adding sheep to a rotational cattle grazing operation. Combining cattle with sheep cuts down on predator problems associated with sheep, they break each others parasite cycles, and there have been studies that show adding the two together increases the performance of both ewe and lamb weight gain while only slightly decreasing calf weight gain. This was encouraging for me and practically makes me want to jump in the truck and head up to the Colfax sale barn! (One other thing he mentions is the option to graze wool wethers, no need to go for weight gain)

Next he brings up the idea of pigs in the pasture. If you have read much of my blog lately you know that I'm extremely interested in this idea. One cool thing I found out from reading this chapter is that cow manure provides an excellent source of vitamin and mineral for pigs. It won't be the only source needed, but it is perfect because that will mean the pigs will be breaking up the cow pies and helping stop the parasite spread and speeding up the breakdown of the manure. There is a lot of great information about pastured pigs in this chapter (the Kerr Foundation research details being one), but since I have talked about pigs a lot lately I won't bore you with repeat information. I will say, that it is almost worth the price of the book for a beginner to be exposed to the ideas in this chapter. It just makes all the great pasture management information bonus!

The last animal he brings up is chickens. It is just a small section and he basically pats Joel Salatin on the back for the work he has done in this realm. I will say that reading it again from another source has practically sealed the deal for me. I now know that I'm going to be getting chickens for the farm next year whether my dad wants them there or not! I think the just add something to valuable to not have them (breaking up cow pies and eating the bugs), so I'll get some laying hens and just feed them a minimal ration ... no fancy laying ration. He'll get a few eggs if he wants, and I'll know that we are helping our pastures!

I believe combining animals so they work together for the pastures and the pocketbook is the only way to go. I realize right now we only have cattle, and chickens 60 miles from the cattle, but I also know that when we make the move to the farm we will start out diversified from the beginning. It may be diversified on a small scale, but it will be diverse so we can really learn what works best and see on a small farm can work! If you can't tell, this chapter really got me excited...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Quality Pasture :: Chapter 12 Book Report

I'll be hitting the blog with a few days of my chapter by chapter book review of Allan Nation's book, "Quality Pasture," because I finished up this week. Chapter 12 is specifically about pasture beef production. This was a fairly good chapter, but again it did seem to focus a bit on larger scale production instead small farms providing food for their area.

One of my favorite quotes from this chapter comes towards the beginning of the chapter. Mr. Nation says, "All pasture management starts with getting your breeding season in sync with your pasture." I think this is one thing that really resonates with me and just plain makes sense. We need to make sure we are following the system that God set up for the animals. God didn't create livestock or wildlife to have their babies in January in Iowa. It is cold, it is snowy, it can be muddy, and there is no growing forages that can give the mother and the baby the energy that they need. Also, when the calving season gets in sync, then everything thing else falls in sync. The cows are dry when the timing is right, the calves are weaned when the timing is right, everything can just fall in place with God's creation.

In this chapter Mr. Nation also outlines a few other business plans for grazing beef cattle. He suggests things like grazing cull cows (you can put some easy weight on them for the burger market and usually 50% are bred), raising stocker cattle on pasture, and finishing cattle on grass. He also mentions some systems of pasture beef management used in other parts of the world. It is interesting to see how few other places insist on feeding corn to their cattle in order to finish them. I think we are missing the boat and spending too much money on corn production for our cattle. God did make the digestive system of cattle different for a reason, and I for one am not ready to try and change God's system!

This chapter was a good overview beef production on pasture, especially at a larger scale. It provided lots of information on different systems and management ideas for beef production. I do enjoy contrasting this with other books I have read, I feel like it just broadens my knowledge base ... if just by a little bit!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Stoneyfield Dexters ... A Movie

While we were at the farm last week I took some video of our Dexters. This is my first attempt of putting up video on Blogger, so we will see how it turns out. I put this one at a pretty low resolution to see how well it works for people. If it loads okay for people with high speed (I don't think dial-up would work well no matter what the size) I may try it at a higher quality so you can see the cows better.

So, here it is a ... a little video of our Dexters hanging out around the farm...

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Farm Crawl

Sorry for the late post today, my brother-in-law is home on leave from the Navy and we had a chance to come up and visit him today. But, I did want to relate a few thoughts from my afternoon yesterday.

Yesterday was the Farm Crawl in Northern Lucas county and Southern Marion county (right in our area). You can check out the details of all the farms by clicking on the link, but basically there were five farms to stop at. A goat dairy, an apple orchard, a pumpkin patch, a CSA/Market Garden, and a farm that is in the process of getting everything up and running (they have a market garden, turkeys, pastured eggs, hay, and mules). The event ran from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm, but with church and everything else I only had time to stop at three places so I picked out the three I was most interested in.

First I stopped off at the goat dairy. They milk 12 goats in their new milking facility. The building has space for the goats to come out of the weather, a small milking room with a milking machine and a platform, a milk handling room, and the certified kitchen where they make the cheese. It was a very nice building and an interesting operation. They had some nice looking goats and some very nice fences! I wish I could have chatted with them about the possible profits of their business because I don't know all the ins and outs of the dairy business. I do know that they sell their cheese to people at the farmers market and through area businesses. One thing that turned me off a little is I did over hear that they had over $80,000 invested! Nice operation though...

The next stop I made was at Blue Gate Farm. The are market garden, CSA, pastured eggs, and honey farm and do business through multiple channels. A couple things about this place. I really appreciate the work they do there and everything looks really good. They have very nice gardens, honey bees all over the place, a high tunnel for growing, and some pasture raised laying hens. But, I did realize that this probably isn't the direction that I would like to go. I will say that this is probably the way to be the most profitable on the smallest area of land. The highlight of my stop at the Blue Gate Farm was the fact that I bumped into a Dexter owner there! In fact, I met Dan Thomas of Hazybrook Dexters whom I had just spoken to on the phone a couple days before. We are planning on going over to check his operation out in the next week or two, but it was great to talk Dexters and here some of his experiences and successes of raising Dexters. I'm looking forward to seeing his cattle and chatting with him about his bulls.

The final stop was at Coyote Run Farm. I probably enjoyed this one the most. I had a bit of one-on-one time with one of the owners of the farm and he was very candid with me and answered all of the questions that I had. Right now they are raising a market garden that they sell at the farmers market and through other places, pastured heritage turkeys, hay, mules (sort of), pastured eggs, and cut flowers. They seem to be making some money and they weren't totally spending away everything they made. They have hopes of adding some beef and other livestock to the farm once they get some of the pastures back in order. I would like to go out and work with them sometime to have some more time to chat and gain some experience.

All in all it was a great day, despite the rain, and I learned quite a bit and was encouraged by seeing farmers working towards profit in small family settings!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

So, Does Anyone Know What They Are Talking About?

I mentioned in the post below that we fenced in a new area for our Dexters, but we didn't put them in there yet because we needed a few more fence insulators and because we weren't 100% sure what the grass was in that pasture. The area that we fenced in just recently came out of CRP (Crop Reduction Program) and is almost completely covered with our unknown (to us) grass. Before I left the farm I grabbed a clump and yesterday morning I took it out to the extension office to see if they could identify it.

The believe that it is fescue. I know that horse breeders run as far and as fast as they can from fescue, and I have read information stating that the endophites in tall fescue are toxic and can cause problems with lactating animals, rate of growth, hide condition and other things so I started to do a little research. And, I must say after a little bit of research I am just as confused on the problems or un-problems associated with fescue. One thing I do know for sure is that the endophyte in fescue is what helps it stay growing longer in hot and dry conditions, but that endophyte is also the cause for concern to some people.

The first source I checked out was my book shelf. I remembered there was a small section about tall fescue in "All Flesh Is Grass" by Gene Logsdon. The first sentence of the section reads, "Fescue is a controversial forage plant in grass farming." No kidding! Here are a few other passages from that section that I found especially interesting ... or at least confusing!

"If it is clipped twice to keep it from going to seed and to keep it short and tender, it holds up better than any other cool-season grass for grazing in hot, dry summer, too."

"The livestock never prefer it to bluegrass or ryegrass, but they will eat it unless it gets long and wiry. In winter, they nose down through the snow to eat it. I'm told fescue is rough and tough to the animal's tongue and mouth when it is growing fast in June, but cold weather tenderizes the plant. Clipping must do the same"

"The main management step to avoid endophyte problems is to make sure that your livestock always have access to other grasses and legumes and not just infected fescue exclusively."

After I read that chapter I posted a question on a couple internet forums that I check out from time to time. On the Homesteading Today Forum I started this THREAD asking about people's thoughts on grazing fescue. You can check out the response for yourself, but they were somewhat favorable.

Next I checked out a few other websites after searching for information on grazing tall fescue on Google. Here are a few articles that I came across. They all seem to list some positive and negatives of grazing tall fescue, but I'm not sure if I have come to any conclusion. Of note, the third link below specifically talks about tall fescue in Southern Iowa (the area of our farm).

"Friendly Endophyte-Infected Tall Fescue for Livestock Production. This is a short article from the University of Arkansas.

A Tall Fescue Fact Sheet from the University of Georgia.

And finally, there is a short article from the Iowa State Extension titled, "Clip tall fescue seedhead in early June".

So, there is just a sampling of some of my research. I might remind you that my research has not lead to any sort of understanding yet ... so, I would appreciate any thoughts you have on the subject of tall fescue!

Friday, October 05, 2007

New Cattle in the Stoneyfield Herd

Yesterday we took a family trip down to the farm to check out the new cows in the daylight and to do a little work around the farm. I was able to help my dad mow a little bit of hay. Hopefully, weather depending, it will be baled on Saturday. It is not a very big section, but will yield around a 100 small squares and it has a decent amount of clover in it. Just a little more to add to the stock pile. If we are able to make some more we will possibly be able to sell some this winter. Also, we set up a new pasture for the herd, but didn't move them there yet. We will be doing it soon once we get a couple more pieces for the fences. All in all it was a good day.

As you have noticed I have added a few pictures of our new Dexters. The first picture (above) is of most of them in the lower part of our pasture. We close it up from time to time to let the grass come back a little bit, plus we had it closed the first night we brought the new ones home because it is enclosed with two strands of electric fence. We just thought it wouldn't be a fair fight with them not knowing where the fence was in the dark and all!

The second picture down is of A.A. Mandy. She is our ten year old cow and is bred, due to calve sometime this coming year. I am glad that we have her because she is an experienced cow, but at the same time she has her faults. That is part of the reason I have been trying to research bulls so much ... because we have plenty to improve upon!

The picture on the left is of our new 13 month old heifer, Billie of K&K. I really like the looks of her so far. I'm no expert, but when I look at her compared to some others I've seen I see some decent traits. Again, she needs a nice bull to improve some of her flaws in her calves, but I like what I'm seeing so far. I can see her sticking around Stoneyfield for a quite awhile if she is a good mother. Also, I like the slightly darker shade of dun that she is sporting.

Finally, this picture on the right is of our unnamed two and a half month old bull calf. I'm not sure what is going to happen to him yet. I do like his looks so far, and I believe he comes from some decent linage. Right now we are just going to let him grow and see how he develops. It is kinda fun having the little guy around and watching him in the pasture. I took some other photos and some video so you will need to keep checking back for those updates. I'll get to them sooner or later!

I'm also happy to see how well RAD's Victoria and our steer are coming along. They both seem to be filling out nicely and are really starting to get a nice shine on their coats. Like I mentioned, it was a very enjoyable and relaxing day. There is just some relaxing and quiet about being around these Dexters ... I really seem to like it!

We Were Experiencing Technical Difficulties!

I have heard from a couple people that things haven't been running very smoothly since I switched to my new domain name with the blog. I have since switched it back to the "pure" account so hopefully this will make things run more smoothly. Please let me know if you are still having problems and if things are working better now. I guess I will let you know when the new Stoneyfield website is available (hopefully in the near future as I'm working on the site design right now).

Sorry about the problems, and I hope you all make it back to the blog, because the pointers, tips, and help you have shared with me through this are amazing!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Quality Pasture :: Chapter 11 Book Report

Last night I finished reading the chapter titled, "Baby Calf Rearing On Pasture," from the book Quality Pasture by Allan Nation. I will admit that just by the title this was a chapter that I was interested in because I knew that I was going to be raising our calves on pasture and I thought this would give some great tips for having pasture forages that would be beneficial for the calves.

In reality I would say that this is the chapter that I like the least of what I have read so far. In this chapter Mr. Nation talks a lot about buying in dairy bull calves in order to raise them on pasture and grain to obtain a large gain before slaughter. He also talks about raising replacement heifers for the dairy industry. While I agree that both of these ventures can be profitable in the real world (and he does back that up with farmer testimonials), I'm not sure if I agree with it in principle. In my way of thinking a lot of the things he proposes in this chapter go against the idea of a small family farm (which is what I desire Stoneyfield to be). He talks about the benefits of setting up a industry in the United States like the have in New Zealand where a master contractor handles marketing to find dairymen looking for replacement heifers and then sub-contracts out the growing of those heifers. It seems like that is taking control away from the farmer and placing squarely back in the hands of a business or corporation. Again, I do not doubt that it can work and be profitable if you manage your pastures correctly, but I do wonder at the principle behind it. In one way it sounds an awful lot like some of the vertical ownership farm that we have now days. You know, the ones where the farmer owns the land, buildings, and buys the food, but a company owns the animals. And, if you don't have the right land, right building, or right food they will take the animals away from you... It just seems like a system that would only slightly fix the farming problems in America not bring about a needed paradigm shift.

I realize that we are never again going to be a country full of family farms proving all the food needs for the surrounding areas, but I do believe that it is something we need to strive for. I believe we need diversified farms around our communities not single aspect farms like those talked about in this chapter. Maybe I am a little too idealistic, but I believe that is what we need to work towards.

So, did I learn anything in this chapter? Sure I did, I have more understanding of pasture management and how to make a highly nutritious pasture for baby calves. But, more importantly I believe it has made me think about the "business" of farming and how I would like to see that "business" working. At least in my case...

**The picture above is of a little calf from Cascade Meadows Farm located in Oregon. You can check out their website by clicking on their farm name.**

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More on Choosing a Bull

This morning I read another article about selecting a bull. I have been mulling over this bull problem for a few days now, namely the fact that I'm going to need a bull in the next six or seven months. With that in mind I've been trying to read as much about selecting a bull as I can. One problem is that it is hard to find information specifically on selecting a Dexter bull.

The article I read this morning was titled, "What Does a Good Bull Look Like? Do You Know?" It just happens to be from The Stockman Grass Farmer and is by Allan Nation (the author of Quality Pasture). Mr. Nation talks about a visit he had in 2003 to a large ranch that seemed to, in his words, "be doing everything right." He was impressed with the steps they were taking to improve their herd until he came to their bull development area. The area was full of steer-looking bulls. Basically, bulls that looked more like steers than big, masculine, mature bulls. The man who was running the bull development said that he automatically culled any animal that was big in the shoulders because that would mean calves that were difficult to birth. According to Mr. Nation (who wrote the article) and Gerald Fry who was also at the ranch at the time that is wrong approach to take. Mr. Fry says that a good bull, "will look like a buffalo. "It will have a wide chest, a large head and big shoulders." This statement goes against much of the thinking in the seedstock world these days. The article again repeats the importance of having a quality bull to increase the level of your heard. While a good cow can make a clone of itself even if the sire of the calf is sub-par (something called cytoplasmic inheritance), a cow can never improve upon herself unless she is bred to a higher quality bull.

Another thing that I found very interesting in this article was this statement, "Highly masculine males create highly feminine daughters. The shape of a cow's udder is determined by the shape of her father's scrotal sack. Big shoulders on a male create a big butt on a female. It's the yin and the yang. Good males create better females." I have been told to look for big and muscular rear end on my potential bulls. According to this I should be focusing on the front end of my bull and not as much on the back end. If you are interested in selecting a bull I encourage you to check out this article. I found it pretty interesting even though it may have added to my confusion.

So, what do you think? Have any thoughts on what I should look for when selecting a bull? Especially a Dexter bull?

The Dexter Bull pictured above is Rainbow Hills Big Mac owned by Silver Maple Dexters. He is classified as excellent (91).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Selecting a Bull

With our growing Dexter herd it is becoming apparent that we are going to need a bull to breed our four cows next summer. We have two that will calve after the new year and then two that will be ready to breed whenever, so we are going to shoot for the summer to give us late March or April 2008 calves. I have been contacting different Dexter breeders in the area in an effort to see what is available, and I have found a few possibilities, but since I have never selected a bull before I decided to do a little research on the subject.

Initially I posted a question on the new Irish Dexter Cattle Forum. Olga from Impromptu Acres had a few good thoughts for me. She wrote, "I wouldn't buy a young calf; a sexually mature (around 12 month old) Dexter has more to judge him by. I would find a bull from a breeder with a large number of animals, whose animals exhibit consistency, and whose animals have the characteristics I'm looking for." Also, she said, "But generally, you look for a herd sire that's going to "fix" the faults of your cows in his offspring. I don't know of anybody who has perfect cows, but we should all strive for a perfect bull. That way the offspring is always an improvement." I think she made a lot of good points in her post and you can read the rest of them in the link. One problem that I am having is finding a mature bull and someone with a large number of cattle. But, I really appreciate the comment about having a perfect bull in order to improve the offspring of our cows. I believe this is something that I am really going to study to gain the knowledge to pick out that "perfect" bull. I have been looking at lots of pictures of Dexter cows and I do find my self thinking a lot of the time, "that is what I want my cows to look like."

HERE is another article that I read about selecting a bull. The author points out, "The choices you make impact your herd in next years calves and further down the line if you keep replacement heifers. If you're building your herd up the bull you choose can map the next dozen years - or make or break your program." This quote really hits home with me because we are looking to build our herd here at Stoneyfield and I realize this bull will have an impact on our following batches of calves if we are keeping back heifers to grow our herd. You can read the article for some other thoughts on selecting a bull if your would like.

On thing about selecting a Dexter bull is that you have a few other things to consider that you normally wouldn't have with other breeds of cattle. First of all you need to remember that the Dexter breed is only moderately popular and there aren't a lot of animals out there to purchase. Also, with Dexters there is always color to be thinking about. Most Dexters are black followed by dun and then red. The colored animals usually bring a premium when they are sold so it does behoove someone to have a bull that at least carries some color. I personally would like to have a dun bull, but we will just have to keep looking.

If you have any other tips on picking out a bull please let me know in the comments section. I need all the help I can get!

P.S. The bull pictured above is "Boxcar". He is a Legacy Dexter which means he comes from some of the older lines of Dexters and has many of the early Dexter traits. He is currently owned by the JAMS Hundred Herd and is possibly for sale if you are in the area and interested. I would be interested if I was in the area!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Quality Pasture :: Chapter 10 Book Report

I just finished up reading chapter 10 of "Quality Pasture" by Allan Nation. This chapter was titled, "Seasonal Grass Dairying". I knew from the title that there wasn't going to be a lot of specific information in this chapter that would be useful for any operation that I was thinking about at the time, but it was still a good read. Dairying seems to a be an art, kind of like baling or just about all farming, that takes a good amount of knowledge about animals, health, forages, and more. I'm not about ready to tackle that right off (did you read my post about the farmer who hit the end), but I did find a lot of interesting nuggets in this chapter.

The most encouraging thing I read was the examples from real life farmers who are making grass based seasonal dairies work. So often when you mention some ideas you find from sources such as Joel Salatin, Allan Nation, the Stockman Grass Farmer, and other books/periodicals you get the standard Iowa farming tradition answer, "well, that won't work for you or here". But, this chapter proved that there are plenty of guys out there that are feeding forages for their main feed and running a seasonal dairy for a decent profit. Plus, the get the benefit of a few months off!

Another interesting thing is how America seems to be lagging behind in terms of thinking outside of the grain box (or should I say bushel basket). One interesting piece of information comes from Carl Pulvermacher a Holstein grazier from Wisconsin.

"He said his 68 acres of pasture land currently grosses #1430.70 per acre ($1305.20 from milk and $125.50 from meat) compared to only $402 from his corn ground (162 bushels at $2.50 - grain is higher now - per bushel)." -Quality Pasture by Allan Nation (pg. 186)

It seems like sometime our farmers would catch on to things like that ... but, maybe I'm just missing something? Please let me know if I am!

The last thing that I found really interesting in this chapter was a list of cost cutters for most dairy producers. While it is geared for the dairymen I thought it would be just as important for a beef cattle producer:

  1. Get Your Breeding Season In Sync With the Pasture

  2. Stop Grain Farming

  3. Concentrate On Cutting Feed Costs

  4. Minimize Machinery Costs

  5. Increase Stocking Rate

  6. Be Realistic About Animal Genetics

  7. Don't Blame The Animals For Lack Of Profits

  8. Change As Fast As Possible

If you have any thoughts on these things I would love to hear them!
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