Monday, December 31, 2007

WTB: Livestock Trailer

Well, if you have been following the blog for awhile now you may recognize this picture. It was taken on our trip to Missouri to pick up some Dexters. On that trip we lost a bearing (which we fixed), but Grandpa's Trailer has a little more wrong with it this time! The trailer will need two new axles before we take it out on the road!

That is a pretty big problem ... but, it is magnified by the fact that we have a bull to go pick up in Missouri. So, I'm taking a shot in the dark here.

Do you have, or do you know somebody, or do you know somebody that knows somebody that has a livestock trailer for sale? We need a bumper pull trailer in the 12 foot to 14 foot range (I guess we could deal with a 16 footer, but we would like something smaller). Something that can haul two or three Dexters would be right up our alley! As far as height goes ... well, something between five feet or six feet on the inside would do, but I would consider something a little taller if the price was right.

I'm sorry to post such a boring want ad today, but this is something that we need right now. So, if you are in Iowa (or Missouri) or you know somebody that is with a trailer for sale just let me know! Oh, I guess a rental might work also...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Something to Think About This Weekend

Last night I started reading "Making Your Small Farm Profitable" by Ron Macher. This isn't going to be a full on chapter one book report, but there was one little section of questions that I thought would be good food for thought for the long weekend. These are questions that I have thought about before in different ways, but having them laid out before me really made me think. Over the next few weeks I am going to be thinking through them ... then maybe I'll share some answers!

  1. How much money do I need in order to live comfortably and support my family? $15,000? $20,000? $50,000?

  2. How long will it take to achieve this level of income, and will I be happy when I achieve it?

  3. Do I want to farm part time? Full time? Start part time and grow from there?

  4. How much money do I already have in order to start farming, and how much do I wish to borrow?

  5. What skills and resources do I have? Am I good wit livestock, or can I learn to be? Am I good with machinery, or maybe carpentry - to build hog houses or poultry houses? What skills do I have that I really enjoy? What skills am I weak in or do I really dislike?

Some of these questions are pretty straight forward ... how much is in the bank account ... while others get down to what you are willing to have and sacrifice and how much you really know. But, I think they are very good foundation questions as I work my way towards farming. It is important to put things into the proper prospective and not just look at farming from the "romantic" point of view. Farming will influence every part of your life so you need to look at it from every angle.

Just some food for thought this weekend...

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapter 10 Book Report

"Winter Wheat, Spring Oats, Summer Clover, Fall Pasture" ... that is the title of the final chapter in Gene Logsdon's book, "The Contrary Farmer". The main topic of this chapter is the role that small grains can play on the "cottage farm". As I have mentioned in other posts about Mr. Logsdon's book her runs a very diverse farm that includes livestock and a rotation of pastures and grains. Just as with the corn he isn't talking about large plots, but rather he plants smaller areas that he uses for hay and grains for his livestock.

Mr. Logsdon sees small grains as an important part of the contrary farm because they provide different sources of feed and bedding. If one crop doesn't work out then he likes to have back-ups ... that is the beauty of diversification. He spends extra time talking about wheat, oats, and hay in this chapter, but also touches on a few other small grains such as soybeans and rye. Each of these small grain crops has its benefits for the small cottage farmer that helps the farm ... if you have the right equipment (see last chapters report).

He likes the wheat because it can be planted in the fall which spreads out his work load and gives him the possibility of grazing for a short time in the fall on the new wheat field. While wheat is good Mr. Logsdon believes that oats is more important to the small farmer because it is higher in protein and other minerals and mixes well with corn for feeding. Also, the oats will provide you with straw that you can use as bedding. One interesting method for harvesting oats that he explains in this chapter comes Karl Kuerner, Jr. Mr. Kuerner lets his oat grains ripen just a little more than when you would regularly when making oat hay and then bales the oats. The result is bales that can be feed in the winter that includes oat grains ... either then animals eat the whole thing or they munch out the grains and the rest can be pushed in to their area for bedding (that sounds like something I would try for horses).

My Final Thoughts... All in all these last few of chapters on grain and farm equipment have really made me think about how I want to farm. While I'm not sure if I will be adding them all to my farming plan I believe it was good to look at things from the other side of the fence. Mr. Logsdon is really a "contrary farmer" ... he doesn't line up with the organics ... he leaves the pasture only stuff to the guys with more land ... and he is not anywhere near the conventional farmers. The reality of it is that if you are going to farm for a full-time living I think you need to think differently and this book has helped me do that. I would encourage you to check this "The Contrary Farmer," by Gene Logsdon ... especially if you are a "cottage farmer" who has other sources of income, but also is a farmer.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Gifts for the Beginning Farmer...

I realize that doing is much better than reading ... but, you can't put doing on a Christmas list (at least yet, maybe we have our own place then we can ask people to do stuff!). So, this year my Christmas wish list was littered with what I hope will be some good reading material. I only have one chapter left in "The Contrary Farmer", so these books arrived at the right time.

Here are three books I received this year:

  • Harris on the Pig :: Practical Hints for the Pig Farmer :: This book was written by Joseph Harris and first published in 1883. Some would look at the date and think the book was out dated, but I see that date and know that the book will be full of useful information. Mr. Harris writes about selecting breeds, building pens and buildings, feeding, and other interesting tidbits. The farmers of yesteryear knew what was going on and they raised their pigs on a diverse farm much like we intend building so I think this will be a helpful resource.

  • Dirt Hog :: A Hands-On Guide to Raising Pigs Outdoors ... Naturally :: You may be noticing a pattern here! I have read good things about this book and mediocre things about this book, so I will just have to see for myself. Just with all things in life I'm sure I can learn from it even if it isn't the most helpful thing ever written. It contains many of the how-to's that the Harris book does, but it also attacks pig raising specifically from the pasture based angle. It also includes information on marketing (which is helpful) and on selection and breeding. This book by Kelly Klober looks pretty interesting so I'm not sure which pig book I will read first!

  • Making Your Small Farm Profitable :: Here is a book by Ron Macher, the publisher of Small Farm Today magazine, about some of the nuts and bolts involved in making a profit on your farm. Of course it talks about marketing and developing markets, but it also talks about maximizing your net profit per acre and Mr. Macher throws out 25 principles he believes you should follow (you gotta have principles if you are doing a how-to book). I'm not looking for practical working farm knowledge from this book, but I do hope it adds to my knowledge base when it comes to the "business" of a small farm.

As with other books that I have read I will be giving a little book report after each chapter. I find this helps me retain more information and provides a resource for others who are thinking about adding these books to their libraries.

Oh, I guess I did receive one more farming related gift... a nice straw hat so I don't come home with many more sunburns on the neck. It's alway nice to try and keep the skin cancer at bay!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapter 9 Book Report

Okay, it is safe to say that I had slight problems with this chapter. But, I'm sure it is just a difference of view. Gene Logsdon is writing to the "cottage farmers" who have off farm jobs or other work from home jobs that aren't part of the "farm". Also, he does not favor a total grassfed approach or totally pastured system, but I think he agrees they can work. Basically, it comes down to this ... he is writing for people who are farming as a second job or farming as a first job and doing something else as a second job. With that type of set-up there is more money for the mechanical things ... by the way, this chapter is titled, "Cottage Mechanics."

He begins the chapter writing about farming ingenuity and the importance of the farm tractor and such. Pretty good stuff ... stuff that I generally enjoyed and agreed with. That being said, let me list the problems in had with this chapter:

  • A Pickup Truck

  • Hydraulically-Powered Bucket or Manure Scoop

  • Cultivating Tools : plow, disk, spike tooth harrow, and a spring tooth harrow

  • A Cultipacker

  • Weed Cultivator (tractor type or tiller)

  • Broadcast Seeder

  • Sickle Bar Mower

  • Hay Rake

  • Baler

  • Manure Spreader

  • Some sort of Grain Harvester (AC All-Crop pull behind)

  • Fencing Tools (stretchers and such)

  • Chain Saw, an axe, a peavey, two wedges, and a steel splitting maul

  • Tile Trenching Spade

  • Shovel and or Spade for weeding

  • Pitch Forks

  • Grain Scoop Shovel and Bushel Baskets

  • Lawn Mower

  • Heated Repair Shop

  • Pair of Pliers and Pocketknife

  • Grease Gun and Oil Can

I must say this chapter ... which includes a very long list (with explanations) of tools and implements needed to be a contrary farmer ... was very overwhelming to me. I looked at the list (which is what you see above) and felt like there is no way that I could ever get into farming full-time and make a profit. I realize that he isn't talking about getting these things all at once, but even acquiring them over time takes an outlay of cash that cuts into the bottom line. So, I took a second look at the list and thought a little...

I see where he is coming from on everything Mr. Logsdon puts on the list, but I think I'm going to work with less! He is thinking that many of these items can be purchased inexpensively at farm auctions (which they can) and that the can be used to do various farming activities (which is true). But, I think you can cut out quite a bit if you leave out a few things, which may be inexpensive by themselves but add up eventually. I think I would cut out anything related to growing grains ... except the broadcast seeder and maybe a plow. Also, think more about what you can get other people in your area to do for you. Besides the money aspect the thing that scared me about the list was, where do I put all that and how do I fix all that!

As I said, I understand where he is going with all of those things and totally agree with their viability for the "contrary farmer". I just think I need to look at more inexpensive and less tractor related methods as I work at being a beginning farmer.

One thing for sure ... this book does make me think and is inspiring. That is a good thing!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Christmas Pony by Clarence Hill (Iowa Farmer)

In my neck of the woods there is a "50,000 watt blow torch" of a radio station called 1040 WHO. Well, at least that is what their commercials say! You can here this station beyond the boundaries of Iowa and it carries local programming that I can only call, "pure Iowan" (and I say that with pride). One of the shows on that station that I grew up listening to is "The Big Show" which is the 90 minute farm show on from 11:30 AM until 1:00 PM and is hosted by Mark Pearson, Ken Root, and sometimes others ... but, on Friday is the real treat. On Fridays farm broadcaster emeritus, Lee Kline, makes an appearance at the end of the show to tell a story. Mr. Kline has one of those voices that just seems to sooth the soul and his stories often remind us of the days on the farm from years ago.

This past Friday he read a story by Clarence Hill who was a farmer from Minburn, IA. The story, titled "The Christmas Pony", was submitted to Farm Journal Magazine and was printed in December, 1954. It is a great Christmas story that really tugs on the heart. You must click on the title above to hear the story ... or CLICK HERE.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Poem for Your Christmas Eve...

It is always a good idea to take a break from things and focus on what is most important. What is most important to me is my faith, my family, and my relationships. So, for the next couple of days I wanted to share a couple of somewhat agriculturally related Christmas things. I hope that you enjoy them and have a Merry Christmas!

The Cowboys' Christmas Ball
by Larry Chittenden

'Way out in Western Texas, where the Clear Fork's waters flow,
Where the cattle are "a-browzin'," an' the Spanish ponies grow;
Where the Northers "come a-whistlin'" from beyond the Neutral Strip;
And the prairie dogs are sneezin', as if they had "The Grip";
Where the cayotes come a-howlin' 'round the ranches after dark,
And the mocking-birds are singin' to the lovely "medder lark";
Where the 'possum and the badger, and rattlesnakes abound,
And the monstrous stars are winkin' o'er a wilderness profound;
Where lonesome, tawny prairies melt into airy streams,
While the Double Mountains slumber, in heavenly kinds of dreams;
Where the antelope is grazin' and the lonely plovers call--
It was there that I attended "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."

The town was Anson City, old Jones's county seat,
Where they raised Polled Angus cattle, and waving whiskered wheat;
Where the air is soft and "bammy," an' dry an' full of health,
And the prairies is explodin' with agricultural wealth;
Where they print the Texas Western, that Hec. McCann supplies
With news and yarns and stories, uv most amazin' size;
Where Frank Smith "pulls the badger," on knowin' tenderfeet,
And Democracy's triumphant, and might hard to beat;
Where lives that good old hunter, John Milsap, from Lamar,
Who "used to be the Sheriff, back East, in Paris sah!"
'T was there, I say, at Anson with the lovely "widder Wall,"
That I went to that reception, "The Cowboys' Christmas Ball."


If you would like to watch a reading of this poem make sure you click on THIS LINK.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

King Corn ... No, Not That King Corn ... The Contrary Farmer

Yes, this post is about King Corn, but no it is not about the documentary that I have discussed so much lately title, "King Corn". Todays post happens to be about chapter eight in Gene Logsdon's book, "The Contrary Farmer." That chapter just happens to be called "King Corn" ... are you throughly confused yet? Well, this was actually probably one of my favorite chapters in the book yet ... and, Mr. Logsdon is talking about corn being king because it is a good thing! I should note, that this is a chapter that my dad would really resonate with. Since we have brought the cows to the farm he has mentioned a few times that it just seems unnatural to not be feeding them any grain ... almost un-American.

Well, Mr. Logsdon actually speaks highly of corn in this rather informational and practical chapter. I don't know where he lands on the idea of large-scale grain farming, but for the "cottage" farmer he loves the idea of having a small (1-5 acres) plot of corn. He loves the corn because it is reliable and in his own woods, "even a fool can grow it." Corn also has earned a place on his farm because it can easily be harvested by hand (no need for big machinery) when it is done in small amounts. But, his love of corn for the farm is best summed up by these words from the chapter,

"If nature, in her contrariness, dries up the pasture grass, I will feed corn. If she hurls hail on the corn, I will feed oats. If she blows down the oats, I will feed wheat. If she floods out the wheat, the grass will be lush."

Basically, he sees corn as a piece of the bigger picture on his diverse farm where everything needs to earn is keep whether through monetary value or plain aesthetics.

As I mentioned just a moment ago this is one of the more practical chapters in the book. Mr. Logsdon talks about how he prepares the land for corn, plants it, cares for it, and harvests it. In each of those little sections of they chapter I learned interesting little tidbits about how he still has a place for the mold board plow, how open pollinated corn can be used, how to harvest by hand, and so much more.

I must admit that after reading this chapter I'm thinking a little more about the place corn could have on a farm that we have. I'm not so sure that I will go so far as to say that I'm ready to feed it to my cattle, but on a small-scale it could be something useful for any hogs or chickens that we had on the farm ... and we plan on having both. Plus, I must admit the open invitation to use a plow (with a proper field rotation of course) and the opportunity to hand husk corn is almost a little to enticing to pass up.

I'm going to look into some open pollinated corn for this springs planting season. I know that I could get my dad to plow up some ground and put some corn in. I bet I could even get him to cultivate it if I let him drive his prairie gold tractor! But, more importantly I would like to experiment with it a little bit. Hey, if we could get any that would just be that much less that we needed to buy to feed the chickens.

I'll let you know when the corn picking party is!

**Greenfield Farms is a place that sells open pollinated corn if you are interested in ordering online ... Reid's Yellow Dent is what Mr. Logsdon mentioned ... I'm going to check around my area**

Friday, December 21, 2007

Gerald Fry on Bulls

The whole process surrounding our search for a bull has been very interesting and informational. I have learned quite a bit about what to look for and the signs and measurements that you can use to help choose your bull. I have really taken the old adage that the bull is half your herd to heart and I tried to find something that was more than just male. To that end I have had a lot of help from people in the Dexter community and folks that just plain know cattle.

One guy that I was pointed to quite often was Gerald Fry. He has a website called, Bovine Engineering, that has a lot of information about grassfed beef, selecting genetics, choosing a bull, and so much more. One article that John Potter recently pointed me to is this one titled, "A Well Balanced Bull and the Benefits of Masculinity". It is just a short article, but it is full of great information on selecting a bull.

Mr. Fry describes a well balanced bull with this sentence, "The objective for a well-balanced and functional bull is to get 85% of his cow's settled on first service and do that job on grass and or hay and maintain his body weight." This is something that I couldn't really judge as we picked out our bull, but it is something that I'm going to pay attention to in our future breeding. Mr. Fry also places a lot of emphasis on selecting a bull that is masculine. As I have mentioned in the past this is one thing that has been difficult as we looked for Dexter bulls.

According to the article a good bull will show its masculinity in its head, neck and shoulders. Look at things like the amount of muscle, the thickness of the skin, coarseness of the head hair, position of the legs, and more. A well balanced bull as described in the article will be a benefit to any beef herd.

I look forward to continuing to learn about selecting a herd bull so we can begin improving our herd through our breeding. Do you have any other links or thoughts on selecting bulls? Let me know if you do!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

It's Time to Think Outside the Box

Yesterday I mentioned in my post, almost in passing, the importance of "thinking outside of the box". Well, it is fitting that I did because this afternoon I was checking out the New Farm front page again and I stumbled across this ARTICLE titled, "On the Plains, there’s room outside the box" by Pete Letheby. It is a short little OP/ED article that gives a short summary of what the Switzer family from Nebraska has done.

When Adam Switzer returned to the family ranch they thought that the conventional cattle ranching of the area wouldn't pay the bills like in the past. Long story short, they looked at their land and tried to think of ways that they could use it to work for them. While they still run a cattle operation on their ranch they have built added an extra source of income ... a source that has become their largest. What started out as a couple of cabins has turned into 70 lodging units that is often full. They realized that they had more than just acres of range for cattle, they also had things that others would come and enjoy. They had prairie chickens (people like to watch them), they had spring-fed streams for canoing, they had wide open spaces for horse riding, and they had hunting opportunities. They thought out of the box ... beyond what their neighbors were doing.

So, what other "outside of the box" opportunities are there out there for farmers to boost their income. Agri-tourism is something that has been thrown out there a lot, but there can only be so many B&B's on the farm ... hunting places are starting to pop up around our area, but they don't always mesh with a livestock operation if you have limited amounts of land ... grassfed beef/pork/poultry is something that is growing and I see that as a great thing ... I think that capitalizing on new ideas is going to be the key of successful small-scale farmers in the time to come. Yes, grassfed and naturally raised is here to stay, and allowing people to come to the farm and experience where their food comes from is great ... but, what else can we do?

That is one thing that I'm thinking about a lot these days. In any future farming venture we do I would like our pastured animals to be the centerpiece, but we are beginning to think of other ideas. Maybe we could add Christmas trees, not open to the public, but as a bonus opportunity for our customers. Possibly an Amish market ... more than just a farmers market, but a place where multiple Amish gather together to sell their goods. How about becoming a respected breeder of purebred cattle (that is one direction I would like to go)?

There are a lot of "outside the box" ideas out there that are being done and that haven't even been tried yet. It is time to be creative and build on those ideas! Do you have any ideas...?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Good Farming is Like an Evolving Dance..."

I just have time for a short post today because the week leading up to Christmas is a busy time for me with Sunday service and Christmas Eve service and all the things that go along with it. Hopefully tomorrow I'll have a chance to share a little more. But, I did want to point you to an interesting article that I found over at the New Farm website.

"Striking a Balance" is the title of the article by Deborah A. Hyk and the subtitle is, "Family learns that good farming is like an evolving dance." There are a couple of reasons that I found this article especially interesting.

First of all the VanDerPol family is farming together as a family. Their son and his wife joined the farm in the 90's and they have been able to create enough income for them without buying up all the available land around them. These kinds of examples are especially interesting to me because the common thought in Iowa is that the family farm only can produce enough income to support one family so the kids have to leave the farm. With the kids gone and starting new lives without the farm when the parents retire there is nobody to take over ... what used to be a circle of land passing on to generation after generation has become a dead end.

The second reason I enjoyed the article is because they have made a transition from conventional farming methods to more pasture based methods and they have succeeded. I wonder what they would think of my post below and the idea that we can't produce enough on pastures. These success stories are not only great resources for finding farms that are doing things right, but they are an encouragement to me because it shows that it can be done.

Here are a few quotes from the article to pique your interest:

Initially, the VanDerPols decided to put pigs and sheep on pasture. Although Minnesota does not have a climate suited to raising hogs on pasture year-round, Jim noticed that even Minnesota pigs benefited from the seasonal pasture time. Weaned litter sizes were larger when the sows farrowed outdoors, he said; the sows were generally healthier, as well.

This was the first significant step away from a cropping system as a way to support livestock. The farm still includes crops as part of the rotation—alfalfa and orchard grass hay for two years between small-grain crops, with corn or soybeans as occasional visitors to the mix.

They also knew they wanted to keep the farm an intergenerational success. “I grew up here,” says Jim. “But I’m one of the last few still farming the family farmstead from the years when I was growing up.” Across Minnesota and across the country, farmers with large-sized acreage have acquired farms but haven't had an opportunity to pass them onto the next generation. Jim and LeeAnn wanted their farm to be one of the exceptions.

To make that happen, they needed to make certain their acreage was as productive as possible. Maximizing pasture clearly seemed to be the key.

“Our customers are people who appreciate the locally grown, environmental sustainability of our products—and they are folks who like the taste, as well,” says Jim.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Little More on "King Corn"

Ever since I found out about the documentary "King Corn" and posted THIS POST with some of thoughts I have been following the reviews and screenings of the movie as closely as I can. Recently they made a swing through Iowa and had a bunch of screenings in small and larger towns across Iowa. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend any of the screenings because they didn't venture far enough South in my part of the state on the right days, but I'm glad they had a chance to screen the movie in the "corn belt" itself.

One of the most interesting things is that they have been posting VIDEO BLOGS from their screenings with comments from audience members. I have had a chance to watch the videos posted and was pretty intrigued by some of the comments. I don't know if this is just because they selected certain comments, but it seems as they worked their way East from Sioux City and Algona to some of the prime farm land in the state (Black Hawk, Hardin, and near Grundy Counties) they encountered a little more resistance from the farmers. Of course they also made a stop in Cedar Rapids, IA which is home to some big (and really smelly) corn processing plants!

For some reason the comments from the people in Eldora really stuck with me. Eldora is somewhat my old stomping grounds and I still go up there quite a few times a year to visit our camp, the lake, and for meetings. But for whatever reason the folks there were a bit skeptical ... especially of the idea of grassfed beef. Here is a paraphrase of one quote from the video: "(Addressed to some guy off camera) could we feed enough cattle on pasture to feed the country without corn?" ... (guy off of camera answers) "No, not in this day and age."

That little exchange really got me thinking. Now I realize that I have no practical knowledge and that quite a few people will discount what I say because it comes from articles and books ... but, is that a true statement? I guess I don't really know ... maybe the "in this day and age" part of the answer is the qualifier because maybe it would be possible if there weren't people so entrenched in feeding and eating grain fed beef? You may recall my FIRST POST on Ultra High Density Grazing and then my FOLLOW-UP POST on the same subject. In the world of Ultra High Density Grazing there are people regularly grazing 8,000 pounds per acre and I have read reports of people doing up to 150,000 pounds per acre!!! Now this is some extreme rotational and managed grazing, but it is all being done on pasture and without grains.

So, is it currently possible to provide enough cattle for our nation solely using pasture? Maybe it is...

One more thought... One person mentions using grain towards the end to get the flavor and marbling. I will not comment on the flavor part, because grainfed and grassfed do have different tastes and I know that people will debate which is better, but about the marbling thing. I believe there is research out there now which is telling us that the tenderness (and that is one big reason people want marbling) doesn't have as much to do with grain feeding or fat content as it does with genetics and such. So, maybe that isn't a valid argument...

There is lots to think about when it comes to corn and all of its uses, benefits, problems, and so much more. I would love to hear what you think on this subject. Maybe we can draw Aaron in (who worked on the film) to give us some more insight from these Iowa screenings.

If you haven't heard about "King Corn" yet make sure you go to the website and check out the entire movie if you get the chance!

**Okay, I did have one more thing ... maybe this will balance out my take. I'm not sure if the lady at the end of the Eldora clip has everything straight either. I do think the government has too many regulations that tie the hands of great farmers who would like to market, but the selling the chicken to a neighbor thing and getting in trouble might be a stretch. I'm pretty sure with chicken you can actually butcher on farm a certain number of birds and sell them...**

Monday, December 17, 2007

We Found Our Bull!?!

Well, I think it is safe to let the cat out of the bag finally since I have signed a contract and sent out the deposit! After much searching, learning, discussing, and all of that good stuff I think we have settled on a bull for our herd. Finding a Dexter Bull that I was at least partially satisfied with has proven more difficult that I thought it would be. If you remember back in October I wrote THIS POST and THIS POST about selecting a bull. Both of those posts linked to articles and forum posts discussing the qualities and traits you should look for when picking out your bull. Things were more difficult because it just doesn't seem like there are a lot of good Dexter bulls out there ... I have a couple theories on why that is, but I won't get into that now.

So, here are a few requirements that were on my short list ... He had to look like a bull, not an old cow or plain steer ... He needed to be dun or carry dun genes ... He needed a decent background ... He needed to be old enough to work next summer and old enough to get a better idea of his looks ... And, he needed to be horned or dehorned. Well, I think I did pretty goods fulfilling those requirements and I may have even ended up a little better.

With out further ado let me introduce to you, SGF SANT Hershey! Here are the details ... The "SGF" stands for Spruce Grove Farms which is John Potter's farm in Michigan. Mr. Potter is a well respected breeder of Dexters and Dexter bulls and I had a chance to have a great conversation with him as I was learning about bull selection. In fact I would have loved to get a bull directly from him, but at the time I talked with him he didn't have anything that fit my bill. The "SANT" speaks to the year he was born and his sire who is Antares. Antares seems to be a pretty popular bull as evidenced by the 52 Dexters that he has sired! His dam is also out of Spruce Grove Farm's breeding so that is a plus. He is horned as you can see ... he is dun as you can see ... but, one little bonus that you can't see is that he carries a gene for red. So, if we had a cow that carried the red gene we would have the possibility of a red calf!

Hershey is about 20 months old so he will be plenty ready by next summer and we also have a decent idea of how he is going to turn out based on his looks right now. He has a nice set of horns on him so we will have to give him respect, but he also can be gentle and I have pictures of his former owners with their arms around his neck. Gentleness is one of the traits in Dexters that led us to bring them to our farm. All in all we are pretty excited about bringing him home and I'm really looking forward to the 2009 calving season!

He will be coming from Marian and Erik at Five Ponds Farm in Southern Missouri. They have be a joy to work with as we have gone through the whole process and I'm looking forward to meeting them in person when we get a chance to pick Hershey up (not sure when yet). If you are interested in Dexters, Navajo-Churro sheep, Red Wattle hogs, or even daylilies and hostas I encourage you to check out their website. They have a lot of neat things going on at there farm.

Hopefully in the next month or so I will be able to post pictures of Hershey at Stoneyfield!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapter 7 Book Report

Seven chapters down and only three to go. "Groves of Trees to Live In," is the title of this chapter in Gene Logsdon's book "The Contrary Farmer." I was really pretty excited to read this chapter because the forest areas are some of the places I love most on the families farm. Much of this book is about living a lifestyle and about enjoying the "farm" and our forested areas are they place that I enjoy going to in the fall and winter just to sit and listen and enjoy... I don't even know if I can put into words the enjoyment I have when I get a chance to spend some time in the woods.

But, Mr. Logsdon didn't only speak of the poetic beauty and wonders of the woods in this chapter ... He also spends time talking about how to manage your woodlot, start a tree grove, and cutting wood (or the art of cutting wood). It was actually a pretty good chapter and I will try to give you a brief overview in case you are interested in the book or in woodlots in general.

Managing woodlots is something that I have been thinking about lately. When we got to our farm around 15 years ago we had (and still have) two distinct wooded areas. We called them, "The Wilderness," and "The South Woods". At the time they were similar in that they both were overgrown on the edges with multiflora rose but were fairly clear on the inside. But, the Wilderness seemed to have older trees than the South Woods. Now after 15 years (and no cattle) the South Woods have become overgrown the entire way through and the Wilderness is still fairly clear. I don't have any well founded ideas, but we have wondered if the South Woods was clear when we got there because the neighbors cows had been running in them because of the poor fencing. Well, that is why I have been thinking about management, because it is something we need to think about doing.

Mr. Logsdon writes about a couple different pruning "programs". You can get a state forester to come out to your woodlot and they will give you a good plan to prune you trees so that you can possibly harvest a little bit sooner for financial gain, but Mr. Logsdon himself mentioned using a "leave it alone" method. On his farm we pruned one section according to the state forester and just left on area to its own devices. He says that after 15 years he can't tell a difference! By managing your woodlot you can find an extra source of income, food, and eat. I think this section of the chapter was a good introduction to woodlot managing ideas and I'm looking forward to researching a bit more on the topic ... oh, and using pigs in the woodlots from time to time!

The second topic Mr. Logsdon really hits on in this chapter is the idea of starting a grove of trees on bare ground. I must admit this is something that has never really crossed my mind, probably because in today's culture are about the here and now and starting a woodlot is about time. But, it is interesting that he advocates just letting the area go so that it can go through it's own natural progression. Of course planting some seedlings will help seed it up, but it is possible to have the beginnings of a nice woodlot after fifteen years. The majesty and overpoweringly big tress will have to be for future generations though! I think this sums up a lot of Mr. Logsdon's idea of "Contrary Farming" ... we need to let nature work for us and for itself in it's own progression. God did design things to take care of themselves in our woods and pastures!

I would say the last major section of this chapter is all about the simple joy of the woods ... specifically cutting wood! Not everyone would see cutting and splitting wood as a relaxing, peaceful, and joyous occasion, but really it is that and so much more. Mr. Logsdon doesn't give any revolutionary how-to tips or step-by-step instructions in this section on cutting firewood, but he does give a wonderful example of how to slow down and be impressed by your work and your surroundings. In fact I might even go out and split some wood today...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sheep on the Mind...

Lately I have had sheep on my mind and I've been trying to read and research a little bit about them. I don't know if my sudden interest has to do with my lack of knowledge on the subject or if it is because I have been reading "The Contrary Farmer" by Gene Logsdon who happens to raise sheep. But, whatever the reason is they have been on my mind as I think about ways to expand the farm, clean up some areas around fences, and control parasites in the cattle. My basic knowledge of sheep tells me that they can lend a hand in all of those areas.

The other day I went over to the ATTRA website to see if I could find some basic introductory information on sheep. What I found was an article titled, "Sustainable Sheep Production" (you can access and html version of the article by clicking on the title). As I said I was looking for a very basic overview and this short article is just that, but it did give me a few things to think about and process.

The first paragraph holds a couple of sentences that really support my current interest in sheep. The authors write, "Integrating sheep into a farming operation can contribute to the economic and environmental sustainability of the whole farm." And they continue a couple of sentences later, "The relatively small investment required, and the gradually increasing size of the flock, make sheep production a good choice for the beginning small-scale or part-time farmer." This really got my attention because I keep reading about the environmental impact that sheep can have on the farm, whether it is by helping to break parasite cycles or by managing pastures. But, the second sentence was pretty interesting also ... after buying our Dexters (and soon a bull, but more on that later) I'm ready for something that is less expensive and perfect for the "beginning small-scale" farmer. One think that I would really like to learn more about is the market for sheep, whether it be the conventional or niche market. I have been told my family and neighbors that the sheep market is pretty good now, but what exactly does pretty good mean?

On the subject of grazing sheep and cattle together the article through out this tasty nugget of information, "...multi-species grazing with sheep, cattle, and goats is useful in increasing pasture efficiency. It has been demonstrated that grazing sheep with cattle can increase meat production by 24% compared to cattle alone, and by 9% compared to sheep alone." Those are pretty drastic increases when you also factor in the possibility of more income with the added livestock. Also, I remember reading recently in Mr. Logsdon's book that you can keep one you and her lamb(s) for each cow/steer/bull you currently have without increasing your acreage. If you can sell for a profit I don't see why you wouldn't add sheep? Or, if you can sell and break even it may even be worth it when you combine the pasture management and parasite control benefits...

The rest of the article is pretty informational also from the basic, "I don't know anything about sheep," point of view. It briefly mentions the use of three strands of electric wire for fencing and the benefits and possibilities of pasture lambing and culling for good lambing ewes. One thing that I would like to research more deeply is breed/cross selection (besides how to raise them of course). The article has a short section on breeds and the authors state that in the U.S. four breeds make up two-thirds of the sheep. But, are those sheep well suited to pasture lambing and pasture living? I don't really know ... I do know that a large amount of the sheep raised in the U.S. come from rangelands in the West, so maybe those would have traits that are more adapted to living in the regions with less precipitation. That being said, as I have mentioned before I'm not ready to add any other purebred livestock as much as I would love to have heritage breeds. One breed association is enough to deal with!

I would love to hear from anyone with experience raising sheep ... especially if you are in the Midwest. Also, below are a couple of links to threads on Homesteading Today dealing with books about sheep and shepherding.

Good Sheep Books For a Beginner

Sheep Book Recommendations and Reviews

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Conventional vs. Organic ... An Article and a Debate

Recently on the Homesteading Today message board there was a THREAD debating (or possibly arguing about) an article titled, "Africa: Organic Agriculture Can Contribute to Fighting Hunger, But Chemical Fertilizers Needed to Feed the World." It appears the article comes from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and discusses exactly what the title implies (pretty creative title huh?). I'm not sure how many of the posters over on the forum took time to read the article or if they just jumped into to the debate/arguing because it is such a hot button issue.

One quote that was mentioned in the original post is this one from Dr. Diouf, "We should use organic agriculture and promote it. It produces wholesome, nutritious food and represents a growing source of income for developed and developing countries. But you cannot feed six billion people today and nine billion in 2050 without judicious use of chemical fertilizers." It is an interesting paradox that he throws out there. Basically it seems that organic is good for those that can afford to do it because you can possibly make more money, but for feeding the world chemicals are the key. I'm sure scholars, farmers, and wanna-be scholar/farmers (like myself) will be going round and round on this issue for quite a while. But, after reading the article and the comments on the message board there are a few thoughts that I had that didn't really come up. I will readily admit that I don't have much of a dog in this fight right now ... I don't have much knowledge ... and to be perfectly honest I don't really care from a moral standpoint whether people choose to use chemicals or not.

#1. One thing that Joel Salatin has mentioned in his books is that part of the research used to justify comments such as those from Dr. Diouf is flawed. Mr. Salatin asserts that their organic research means planting one field conventionally and then one field near it organically and comparing the results. There are two main problems with this type of experiment. First of all, most organic farmers will admit that it takes time to condition the soil and bring it back from all the chemical inputs it has become dependent upon so my just taking a conventional field and planting it "organically" you won't have taken the time to rebuild the needed organic matter in the soil. And secondly, sometimes organic farming is seen as leave alone farming and that just won't work. You still need to work the crops and do creative farming in order to produce your crop. So, there is one thought I had.

#2. In the debate/argument nobody seems to be citing real world examples. If you are a regular reader of my blog you may remember a post titled, "A Quick Saturday Morning Post..." from December, 1st. In that post I linked to an article about and gave a quick summary of Goldmine Farm which is a 2,000 acre organic farm in Illinois. Maybe that is the guy that we should be talking to?

#3. Now, I don't want to get in over my head here because I eat grain fed beef almost every week, eat lots of corn products, and fill up my vehicles with ethanol (because the word contains my name) every time they need gas ... But, could the problem be that we are trying to use grains like corn and soybeans for to many things that they aren't needed for? Would we need to farm with chemicals in order to get higher yields if we weren't feeding our ruminants corn and we weren't feeding our cars corn? I don't really want to go too deep in this subject because I could easily be shouted down by my own family ... but what if the only grain we grew was for human use? Not cattle use, not car use... Maybe the guy from King Corn who commented earlier on my blog will find this post and chime in on the subject.

Let me point out again ... I'm not saying I'm right, I'm not saying I have answers, I'm not saying I have experience, I'm not saying much at all ... What I am doing is throwing out a few thoughts for myself and other readers...

What if?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nature's Harmony Farm Q&A - Part 4

Okay, here is the final installment of my four part question and answer interview with Tim of Nature's Harmony Farm. If you missed posts you can check them out here: Post One ... Post Two ... Post Three. These last three questions are a little bit longer, but I feel like they are pretty informational so just make your way through the whole thing, and don't forget to check out Tim's website for more details and to read his great blog. Also, these question and answer interviews are something I would like to have from time to time. If you are working as a farmer or on the way to that and wouldn't mind being interviewed please let me know.

The Beginning Farmer - Tim, again thank you so much for your willingness to answer these questions and share your experiences with us! Here we go with the questions... As you came to a realization that you wanted to begin farming what sort of resources (books, publications, websites, conference, etc.) did you use to get started?

Nature's Harmony Farm - What haven’t I read or watched. Liz and I have totally immersed ourselves. Here’s a sampling.

Podcasts – We listen ever week to Deconstructing Dinner (highly recommended), Geek Farm Life, Cooking up a Story and Gardenfork (very entertaining).

Magazines – We subscribe to Graze, Acres USA, Progressive Farmer, Stockman Grass Farmer, Backwoods Home, Countryside & Small Stock Journal and similar publications. And we read them, cover to cover.

Web Resources – We’ve extensively used ATTRA (what a great site!), I frequently read and post on Cattle Today, LocalHarvest, and Weston Price. I use the University of Georgia and other sites if I’m researching something...thank you Al Gore for inventing the internet!

Blogs – There are too many to list. We maintain our own blog to let people know what we’re doing, ask questions and stimulate conversation, much like Ethan’s doing here on his excellent blog. If you’re into pigs, visit Walter’s blog at Sugar Mountain Farm...a GREAT resource and he’s great at sharing! I subscribe to over 25 blogs and have developed online relationships/resources via Cattle Today and similar sites. Find blogs that speak to what you’re interested in and get involved.

Farm Visits – I visited farms in Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina, North Carolina and Joel Salatin’s farm (Polyface) in Virginia. We spoke to everyone we could, were obviously influenced by some, but infused our own values and let that set our course. And, like driving a car, you can make course corrections along the way. I definitely recommend visiting whatever farms you can, and we’ll always be open to visits and to help others. No purchase necessary.

Conferences – We went to the Georgia Organics conference last winter and are going again in 3 months. We’re going to the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Conference next month in Louisville. We attended the Georgia Grazing workshop, as well as a six week Sustainable Agriculture School put on at West Georgia College.

Books – Ah, books. Yes, well, I started with the Joel Salatin series from You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise to his latest which I just finished called “Everything I want to do is illegal”. Right now I’m reading Grass-Fed Cattle by Ruechel. I’ve red Gene Logsdon, Wendell Berry, Andre Voisin, Storey’s guides to sheep, pigs and cattle, 5 Acres and Independence, Making your Small Farm Profitable, Charcuterie, Pig Perfect, Small Scale Livestock Farming, Living with Sheep, Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence by Murphy, Omnivore’s Dilemma, Botany of Desire, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral and countless other books. Liz has read some of these, but has focused more on gardening/preservation books like Stocking Up, The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable, Harvest, Keeping the Harvest, Carrots love Tomatoes, etc.

In the beginning, if you’re new to this, it all seems overwhelming. Later, some of it still does, but you start to migrate toward what you’re interested in. For example, when I read Stockman Grass Farmer, an excellent publication, I skip over a lot of talk about dairy cows unless I have tons of time (not lately). It just doesn’t catch my attention. Now, the articles on teaching cows to eat that’s a different story. It all starts to come together and get comfortable and the internet makes it great to have discussions like this where we can learn and share.

We find the time to do this by not watching TV. Maybe an occasional football game, but that’s it.

The Beginning Farmer -
You mentioned in a few other answers that you have background in entrepreneurialism and business. How do you think that will help you in your farming ventures?

Nature's Harmony Farm - Well, I really like this way of life as I suspect a lot of people do. Yet farming has a reputation that it’s hard work and you can’t make money. Why is that? Largely because farmers are disconnected from their customers or, as we say in the high tech world, “end users”. So they get squeezed. Business isn’t overly complicated. You need to focus on a niche where you can have an advantage and deliver a great product to your customers. We’re lucky that there is a swelling demand for naturally raised, grass finished beef, pork and poultry products. We’re also lucky that there’s just not enough land for the growing demand to be met, so a sustainable farm model can be realized. What’s the catch? Well, for one, you have to be comfortable with customer and marketing issues. You do have to find the customers, meet with them and build lasting relationships. The bigger catch, however, is you’ll need perseverance, because our governmental friends won’t make it easy. Want to sell raw milk to meet the growing demand for that? Sorry...our government (in most cases) says your customer doesn’t have the right to make that decision. Want to process your poultry on farm, like we’re going to do? Don’t look for clear legislation on this and be prepared to fight. Georgia like many states is a “Big Ag” state and legislation is supportive of the loud voices of big agriculture. Want to find a processor for your animals so you can sell retail cuts to your customers? Good luck...they’re few and far between, and the growth in the sustainable farming segment will further stress this supply chain clog in the near future. What about liability insurance if you’re selling products to customers? The list goes on. But that’s where business experience comes in. These are all just obstacles. They’re not “the end”. They’re just barriers. You just have to go over, around or below to win. If you have the passion, it’s worth it.

The Beginning Farmer -
This may be a pretty long answer, but you are starting to get livestock on your property. How did you choose the breeds that you already have and what are some livestock breeds or animals that you will add in the future?

Nature's Harmony Farm - We decided off the bat that we wanted to feed ourselves. That meant pork, beef, chicken, turkey, eggs and probably lamb. Since we would raise those for ourselves, we assumed others might want the same for their families so we committed to this approach. In some cases, breeds were important to us, and in others, not as much. Here’s an example. We really researched cattle and ended up with raising registered Murray Grey. Murray Grey because they are docile, have low birth weights, are fast growers, do very well on grass and in drought and have excellent tenderness and marbling qualities. The registered aspect gives us a second potential income stream as we can either sell the meat or sell the live animal to complement someone else’s herd. With pigs we researched the more rare breeds, because that felt right in the spirit of what Nature’s Harmony Farm is all about. We were very intrigued with the Ossabaw pigs, particularly after reading Pig Perfect and since they are from Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia, so we searched for and found breeding stock. The Ossabaw’s take twice as long to be ready for market as other breeds (about a year) so we’ll have to factor that into our pricing. We also selected Berkshires because of the excellent meat qualities. In both cases, there is virtually NO competition around raising those so it makes us unique. Differentiation is an important element of business planning. Finally, regarding turkeys, we opted to experiment with Bourbon Reds. We loved the story about them in Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the growth in popularity of heritage breed turkeys makes this a sound choice.

With chickens, we’ll stick to breeds that exhibit great productivity in growth and egg production, as long as they do well in a natural environment. Right now, we’re researching sheep, and are looking mainly at Katahdin sheep, as they exhibit great meat qualities and do well in Georgia.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Nature's Harmony Farm Q&A - Part 3

Today we are going to tackle part three of my question and answer interview with Tim of Nature's Harmony Farm in Georgia. If you just stumbled across the blog today I encourage you to check out "Part One" and "Part Two" of the interview to get a basis for these questions and answers. Also, in this part of the interview Tim took some time to answer questions from a couple of readers. I hope you enjoy the interview, and come back tomorrow for the final part of "The Beginning Farmer" Blog Q&A with Tim.

The Beginning Farmer - Tim, first of all thank you so much for being so willing share with me and anyone who has a chance to stumble across the blog. I just hope it is as much of a benefit to others as it is for me. Here is a multi-part question from "The Beginning Farmer Blog" reader, John. Tim, you made a pretty big cultural change (or are making ... editor) from having a high-tech career and income to farming. Looks like this kicked off in earnest in 2007 and will be in full motion in 2009. What do you miss from that former way of life? What did you do right? What would you do differently if you had to do it again?

Nature's Harmony Farm - Hi John. It’s a great question, and it’s one that I’m wondering how my answer today will compare to the answer I might give you in 3-5 years. Honestly, I don’t miss anything at all. What’s there to miss? I used to travel a lot...coast to coast every 2-3 weeks, and to Europe every 6-8 weeks. Now, you can’t get me to even travel for vacation. I don’t miss the board meetings, the sales calls, the servers crashing, the difficulty recruiting in times of growth and the process of cutting back in times of decline. I don’t miss being “the guy”.

Now I’m outdoors, using my muscles and observing nature. Sure, I still have corporate projects that I consult on, but find myself on the farm trying to figure out how to sell a ten dollar chicken instead of devising a new market penetration strategy for a client like I’m supposed to.

What I did “right” was I found something that I was passionate about. That’s crucial. I’ve always done the same thing in business, and I suppose that’s why I don’t really miss business. I was never just into the technology or the growth. I always put myself behind something I was passionate about. At this stage of my life, I’m passionate about humanely raising healthy food for our family and our customers, and helping others to feed their families great food.

If I had it do again, what would I do differently? So far, I like the choices we’ve made. They were well thought out and I don’t believe in a “right decision”. I believe in making a decision and then making it right. People who know me know that I describe some people as “Ready, aim, aim, aim, aim...” instead of “Ready, aim, fire”. I’m a “Ready, FIRE, aim, FIRE” kind of guy. But I have learned a lot in the last year, and if I had to name one thing I would have liked to have done differently I’d say that I would have paid more attention to the soil of the property I was buying rather than the location or lay of the land. I would have done a soil test first, better understood the forage capacity and factored that into my decision. As it turned out, we got lucky in that regard, as we have a great sod of fescue and Bermuda, and no chemicals have been put on the soil in over a decade. But I get no credit for that...we just lucked into it. If you raise animals, you need good grass and an ability to hold moisture, particularly given our drought. So I’d recommend looking closely at that.

The Beginning Farmer - Now a question from reader, Devin Rose. I have read Joel Salatin's books as well, and I recall in You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise , he recommends first leasing land and gaining experience for some number of years, then after that buying a plot of land, that way you know what to look for better, have experience without having sunk a lot of money into land, etc. So why did Tim buy land right away instead of leasing it?

Nature's Harmony Farm - Yes, Joel does make a number of recommendations like that. Joel has been a great spokesperson for the industry and has inspired countless people. But my recommendation is to listen to the essence of what he’s saying and not follow everything he says. For example, he says lease it first. I didn’t. I jumped in and have had no problem learning what I needed to know. But I’ve committed myself. I’m sure that Joel would agree that if a person was fully committed and driven, they’d find a way to succeed. Joel also says not to get involved in farming if you’re over 45. That’s a ridiculous thing to say, but the essence of what he was saying is that farming is hard work requiring energy and stamina. So does starting and running a business, yet some CEO’s and entrepreneurs are going strong at 70 and beyond (right Sumner Redstone?).

To answer your question, I bought land right away because I was committed to this, and by buying the land, I solidified (forced) that commitment. As an entrepreneur I learned that you can commit yourself to a strategy if you burn the bridge behind you. Then you have to make it work. And don’t worry, you will. The animals know what they’re doing. We need to listen and get out of the way.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapter 6 Book Review

The other evening I finished chapter six of Gene Logsdons book, "The Contrary Farmer". This chapter is titled, "A Paradise of Meadows". Like Mr. Logsdon's other chapters in this book it is part life philosophy and part practical knowledge. I enjoyed reading this chapter as the meadow places are areas that I find exceptionally beautiful and full of life ... kinda Mr. Logsdon's idea!

One quote that really hit home for me (not as much because it was new knowledge, but rather because it encourages me) comes from the beginning part of the chapter. Mr. Logsdon writes, "The reason controlled rotational grazing, or grassland farming, the older term which I prefer to use, fits the cottage farm so well is that this is becoming the most economical way to keep animals as the cost of annual crop farming rises." He goes on to talk about the benefits of the livestock doing the work, controlling the weeds, and harvesting our crops (grass, legumes, corn, etc.). One thing I feel like I need to remind myself each time I pick up this book is that Mr. Logsdon is specifically talking about what he calls "cottage farms". These are farmers that don't make their soul income from their livestock, crops, or other farm ventures. So, his type of grassland farming with slower rotations may not fit someone looking to raise their stock density in order to meet product demands, build up their soils, or create a product.

Another thing that comes out loud and clear in this chapter is Mr. Logsdon's love affair with bluegrass and white clover ... and I must admit that I think I'm starting to believe him! I first read his words on bluegrass and white clover in "All Flesh is Grass" a book that I have also read. His feeling is that bluegrass and white clover are such great pasture grasses/legumes because they almost always show up when you graze/mow a pasture for a period of time. And, I must admit that I have seen that on our own families farm. There is land that was a weedy mess of nothingness that all of the sudden is full of a variety of plants and lots of bluegrass and clover! We didn't seed anything, it just came on by itself. He does throw out a few other meadow (pasture) plants that he likes or has heard of others liking. Some that he includes are: birdsfoot trefoil, red clover, alfalfa, timothy, orchard grass, rye grass (although he wasn't as high on this as I have heard others speak), and more. This book chapter really did get me think about grasses, legumes, and weeds again ... this spring I would really like to have an extension agent or the like come out to the family farm to give us a run down of what our pastures hold.

So, here is your two second run down of the chapter: Meadows are beautiful places that hold wonderful wildlife, great memories, and a place to relax. They provide a great opportunity to raise your livestock as they were created to graze and at lower prices than conventional farming as long as you practice some sort of rotational grazing to spread the nutrients and force them to eat a variety of plants. And, meadows should be diverse and have plentiful species of plants ... maybe even different meadows in different environments on the farm with different plants!

When I read other peoples review of this book many of them said that is a book they like to keep on their shelf so they can read it once a year to make sure their heads are on straight. Now that I'm over half way through I can really appreciate that comment. It may not be full of details and systems of grazing, but it does help you keep your mind focused on the ideals of grass farming.

**For my other chapter reviews check out these links : Chapter 1&2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5**

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Nature's Harmony Farm Q&A - Part 2

Yesterday I posted the first part of my question and answer interview with Tim from Nature's Harmony Farm. Today is round two, so dig in and enjoy! Also, I'm going to ask a few follow up questions. If you have any you would like to ask, just comment in the post or shoot me an e-mail.

The Beginning Farmer - What are some of the sources you used when looking for your land?

Nature's Harmony Farm - Our criteria were to be within 2-3 hours of Atlanta and to have at least 50 acres. We used online resources extensively, such as, etc. We knew that we would have to generate some income from home and not have traditional jobs, so we looked at income opportunities such as getting into real estate, etc. We looked into that because everyone says that you can’t make a living just in farming. In the end, we decided to commit ourselves to farming and to find a way to make a living in it once we’re up and running. That requires us to direct market to consumers and restaurants, handle the meat processing and retail cuts and run the farm like a business. That was something that I did understand.

The Beginning Farmer - Do you have an overall plan for your farm as far as livestock, products, or management systems? What are they?

Nature's Harmony Farm - Our plan is to mimic nature as closely as possible. That achieve that, there are three things I want to focus on. 1) a multi-species animal environment, 2) a multi-species grazing environment, and 3) no artificial inputs into those environments.

1) Nature doesn’t raise just one animal. To achieve our goals (which include improving nutrient cycling, increasing topsoil and decreasing parasite loads) we could not have just cows, even if we wanted to. We have to have chickens (or birds) to follow their grazing patterns. It’s nice that a lot of people want farm fresh free range eggs and pastured poultry, and we will attempt to fill this need. But, really, we don’t have a choice. We have to do this to accomplish our larger environmental goals.

2) In our part of the country, lots of people grow Coastal Bermuda or another mono-culture species of hay. Mainly this is for horses. Closer to us, most farmers grow another mono-culture crop, cotton. While I appreciate that and love cotton T-Shirts it’s not exactly the best thing for the soil and requires TREMENDOUS inputs. I’m not interested in advising others what to do, especially people who have far more farming experience than I. However, to meet our objectives, we needed to NATURALLY encourage the growth of a multi-species grazing environment. Largely, this is accomplished by frequently moving animals to fresh grazing areas after they’ve uniformly grazed down the previous area. This is accomplished via portable electric fencing. Before you ask “how is using an electric fence mimicking nature?”, I’d like to suggest that the electric fence plays the role of the predator in nature. It keeps the grazers mobbed together for protection, and keeps them moving. We mimic that behavior.

3) Grazers have thrived LONG before our celebrated chemical creations of the past 60 years. There is nothing that traditional farmers put on their crops that I want in my body. Is it easier to add chemicals? Sure...there are times I’d love to reach for RoundUp. But there are other ways. One way is to mix the animals. Just as we feel the need for chickens to follow the grazers, we feel the need to mix sheep with cattle, as they have different grazing preferences. We may even add goats, although I think we may not need to. Another way is to manage the rotations so that the weeds don’t have a chance to shade out grass and inhibit growth, but rather are mowed down (by the grazers) which stimulates their growth and thickens the sward. Over time, other plant species come back and the goal of a multiplicity of plants should be accomplished. When it is, the animals will be able to thrive, and we’ll all be happier. All it takes is some patience and the ability to get out of the way.

Another thing we believe in and that we think is sorely missing is complete transparency. Anyone is welcome to visit our farm and see exactly how their food is being raised and what they are eating. We have nothing to hide, everything to share and lots to learn.

The Beginning Farmer - What are some of your short term goals and do you plan to work off farm for a while?

Nature's Harmony Farm - We will work off farm some for one year. Actually, I’m not sure we have to, but agreed to get the farm going, market some products in 2008 and commit ourselves full-time to the farm thereafter. We have already had more requests for product than we will likely be able to fulfill in 2008. So, why aren’t we fully committing ourselves to the farm? Because we must resist the short-term temptation to just “sell product”. I could probably sell a lot of grass fed beef next year, but if I did and culled too many cows, then how would I establish the size herd that our land needs for the above mentioned goals, and to supply the demand that will come in 2009 and beyond? We have more flexibility with pork and chicken, given the size of litters and/or length of time to harvest, so we’ll probably emphasize those products more this year. But it is important to keep in mind our larger ecological goals and not give in to the temptation to make a buck. I mean, if we were all about “making a buck”, I would have stayed in the corporate world.

**If you would like to read part one of this interview click here. Also, don't forget to check back next week for some follow up questions.**

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Q&A With Nature's Harmony Farm

I've got something a little different for today's blog... Recently I contacted Tim from Nature's Harmony Farm to see if I could conduct a question and answer series with him to share here on The Beginning Farmer blog. Well, I'm excited to say that he agreed to do it so for the next couple of days and possibly more I'm going to post some of the questions I asked and Tim's answers.

You can check the link to their farm website and blog above for all the details, but let me give you the rough sketch. Tim and Liz have done the urban corporate life for a while now and decided that maybe they wanted a place in the country that they could enjoy. The more they thought about it and the more they thought about the lifestyle and culture around them the more they became interested in raising livestock, growing food, and running a small sustainable family farm. So, the jumped right in. I mean they really jumped in and now they are really starting to get some momentum going. I encourage you to check out their blog for all the details ... maybe even work your way through all the posts over time because it is a pretty interesting journey. I hope these questions and answers will shed a little more light on their whole process.

So, without further ado...

The Beginning Farmer - Alright Tim, thanks for agreeing to take some time and share with us a little bit about Nature's Harmony Farm. I hope this isn't too overwhelming for you, but I know that I, along with others are interested to learn about the steps you are taking and have taken in the beginning of your farm venture. I guess the first question is what led you to farming? And, do you already have a background in farming?

Nature's Harmony Farm -
We started by not trying to farm, but rather we just wanted to “opt out”. Opt out of industrial food and not knowing where our food comes from or how it’s grown. Opt out of supporting inhumane treatment of animals. Opt out of contributing more than our fair share to carbon footprints by buying food (in restaurants and grocery stores) that had traveled 1,500 + miles to get to us. Opt out of forgetting our heritage and confronting the fact that, despite all of our glorious technological accomplishments, we did not possess basic survival skills that our grandparents had. Such as knowing what seeds to plant, how to raise and kill the chicken and how to can and preserve our food. We just became aware that we were part of the system and therefore part of the problem. We knew that we couldn’t change the system, but at least if we could change ourselves, maybe we could help others change as well.

At first we thought we’d have horses because we thought they were pretty, and in addition maybe raise enough food for ourselves. We were fortunate enough to buy 72 acres with 45 in pasture. We knew that we only needed maybe one cow and one pig for our food needs, but there was lots more land than we would need. We started reading voraciously, all of Joel Salatin’s works, but of course MANY other authors as well, in addition to reading the Stockman Grassfarmer, Acres, Progressive Farmer, etc. We visited farms in Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, North Carolina and Polyface farm in Virginia. We thought about the soil, how animals should be raised and our responsibilities, and all of a sudden, the idea of raising a few horses seemed pretty selfish to us. I mean, they would be there for our enjoyment and entertainment, but how would that benefit our community? In the end, we decided to have no horses, and to focus on more productive animals in the food chain.

So, we made the leap and decided to farm. And we approached this from a very different point of view from most farmers in the sense that neither my wife Liz or I have any farming experience. Nor did we grow up on a farm. I had spent the past 25 years in corporate America, founded an Inc. 500 international company and was a serial entrepreneur. The business world is one that I understand well, yet it was always impossible to explain to a 5 year old (or my mother) exactly what I did. We have all complicated the world too much. I longed to commit myself to something more fundamental AND more important. Farming felt good. Food was going in the wrong direction, in our opinion. And, Liz and I LOVE animals, and we wanted to know that any meat we ate came from animals that received GREAT treatment. Not just “humane”, but rather raised in a way that nature intended so that they, as Joel Salatin would say, could “express their physiological distinctiveness”.

The more conferences we attended and farms we visited, the more excited we got. And we committed to roughly emulating Polyface Farm (with some differences important to us) and bringing high quality food to our local communities. We knew this decision would not make us financially wealthy, but we sensed it would make us wealthy in every other way. So far, I think it has.

All of this has happened in only the past 12 months. A year ago, we didn’t even own the property. We’re moving fast because we are passionate and motivated.

The Beginning Farmer - What is the story behind your farm's name, Nature's Harmony Farm?

Nature's Harmony Farm - My wife Liz came up with the name, and it’s a good one. We discussed what we wanted to accomplish and we wanted our name to reflect that, rather than being named after a physical feature of the farm (such as Seven Maples Farm or something like that). More than anything, we care about the animals; how they are raised, what they eat, how they feel and how they are treated. However, I am adamant that we want to mimic nature. That means that if one of our animals, a pig, for example, gets a limp, I won’t call a vet. Neither would nature. Nature has a way of helping to make culling decisions, and our goal is to allow nature to happen to a great extent. But we have set the animals up in their natural environments. Pigs are in the woods with some pasture as well. Cows are on grass, and we are working hard to keep them on nothing but grass year round. We won’t even build a barn for them. Neither would nature. Chickens are free to roost, scratch, eat insects and wander.

When you get a mental image of this description, you may see why Liz thought of “Nature’s Harmony”. We just want to stimulate an environment where everything is working in harmony with nature.

We’re far from perfect at this, but are clear in our vision for what we want. We’re working hard to accomplish it, and have chosen this way of life over what we knew previously. I think it’s the best decision we’ve ever made.

**This is just part one of a multi-installment interview with Tim from Nature's Harmony Farm. In encourage you to check out our blog for more tomorrow!**

Thursday, December 06, 2007


Okay, not just any worms but rather internal parasite worms. Pretty fun subject huh? Well, yesterday I received my December issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer" in the mail and somehow after flipping through the pages the first article I read was about worms a.k.a. internal parasites. The article is by Allan Nation and talks about pasture-rotation system that was started on research farms in New Zealand back in the early 1940's. It is part informational article about the benefits of pasture rotation for controlling parasites in young calves and part, "this is how management intensive grazing really got started," article.

Research at the Ruarkura Animal Research Station in Hamilton, New Zealand led to a rotational leader/follower system in order to help control the parasites that were killing many of the countries dairy calves. Despite the use of wormers the calves were having problems both in the short term, and in the long term because they were not building resistance to the worms. One of the researchers, Dr. C.P. McMeekan, says that internal parasites are a normal part of a pastured animal's life and that they can develop resistance to them if they are constantly challenged by them. The problem was that either the calves were dying because of overload or the were having problems in the future as the parasites became resistant to the wormers and the cattle hadn't built up the strength to combat them.

Their dairy calves were allowed access to pasture early and could even be weaned on to grass as early as eight weeks according to Mr. Nation's article. Once on the grass the rotational system began. The researchers found that parasites live on the bottom two inches of the plants in the pasture so the obvious solution to them was to not let the calves graze at that level. In order to accomplish this they divided the pasture in to paddocks (here is the history part) so that the baby calves could graze ahead of the cows. Once they had that separation accomplished the next step was the rotation. To keep the calves from hitting that bottom two inches they would rotate them daily ... and daily or at most every other day ... is the key.

They found out that their research and system worked. The calves still had a parasite load, but they could deal with it partly because they system fought them and partly because they were eating such high quality forages. Thus, rotational grazing was born ... or something like that.

The pasture rotations will also combat parasites if you are running different types of livestock through the pastures because that helps break the cycle also. It is a pretty fascinating topic because really what it all goes back to is how the animals were created to function. Now we are just trying to capture what they did on their own and do it in a controlled environment.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Annual Plow Day...

For the past few years my Uncle has hosted a plow day at his farm in central Iowa, and this year was no different. Everyone readily admits that they aren't plowing because they have to, but rather because they want to. While I realize the mold board plow isn't really the greatest tool to be using anymore it does have it's place, and doing these plow days are almost like doing an reenactment.

The fields where we plow are the fields that my Grandfather farmed (and plowed) and the tractors that my family uses at the plow day are Minneapolis Moline ... just like my Grandfather used and sold. So, it is really about slowing down and appreciating our history ... which is a very important thing to do. It is great to spend time with my family and the neighbors that have also farmed in the area for years. In fact the farming knowledge at these gatherings is almost intimidating.

We had a great day for plowing. It was cool, but there wasn't any snow like last year so the plowing was easier and the crowd was bigger. There were plenty of Minneapolis Moline tractors there (most owned by my Uncle), a few John Deere, a few Farmall, a Cockshutt, and various other colors. I enjoyed hearing the sound of the tractors working under load and the men standing around eating and enjoying the fellowship of farmers. Last year I spent a lot of time taking pictures and shooting video for a little movie I made for my Uncle, but this year I spent most of the time plowing and didn't take any pictures. Because of this I had to wait until my Uncle had a chance to send some pictures!

It was an enjoyable day and I encourage everyone to check out a local plow day around them. It is like experiencing a piece of history and celebrating the hard work of those that came before us. In case you are wondering I spent most of the day driving a Minneapolis Moline M5 with a three-bottom plow and a Minneapolis Moline M670 Super with a three-bottom flip over plow. The flip over plow is mounted on the three-point hitch and you just flip it over at the end of the pass and turn around so you don't leave dead furrows or have to go in a big pattern. It was pretty fun!
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