Monday, June 30, 2008

Making the Farm Pay

With the rising costs of just about everything farm related (land, fuel, feed, fencing, etc.) I think it is important to look for more ways for the farm to make money than just the livestock or produce. This is something that I have written about before on the Beginning Farmer Blog and it is also something that I have read as much about as possible. The latest little article comes from the June issue of the Stockman Grassfarmer. The main article is from the "Women's Work" column and deals with samples, but there is a small article on the same page titled, "Charge For Experiences, Give Away Your Products".

Of course they aren't talking about charging for a hay ride and then giving away a half of a pig. But, there may be an opportunity to charge for a fall festival and then serve up plenty of burgers, dogs, produce, and whatever else you have ... free of course. The idea is that you get people to come out to the farm for something else and then you expose them to the great food that you produce. I like the theory!

One thing that I have learned from my time writing for the Epi-Log is that there is a huge gap between the farmers and many consumers. As many statistics point out most people are quite a few generations removed from the farm and they don't have much understanding of farm life or farming in general. But, what I have also learned is that there is a desire by many people to get to know the farm better and the farmers also. Maybe this is an opportunity to charge for the experience and give away some product.

An idea that we have kicked around from time to time is Christmas trees. We love the experience of going and cutting down our own tree and have always thought it would be enjoyable to have a tree farm, but with only 40 acres I don't think we want to use much land for Christmas trees. So, my wife had the idea that we could have a small Christmas tree grove for ourselves and our customers/friends of customers. This way we could have one or two days during the holiday season where we invite the customers and their friends out for a winter day on the farm full of food, fun, and of course Christmas trees. We could charge for the trees, give away some food, and gain some new customers.

Diversifying your farm these days means more than just have a 7-year crop rotation or pigs, sheep, and cattle. Today I think it means you need to come up with more ways to make the farm pay.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Global Food Crisis and Small Farms

So, what is the deal with the food crisis? Is it real ... is it something that can be fixed ... is it just a scare tactic made up by certain groups ... is it caused by our growing ethanol industry ... what exactly is the deal?!? This current/impending food crisis is something that I'm hearing a lot about lately on the news and in the blogging world. People are talking about it because of the food shortages in third world countries and because of the rising food costs here in the United States.

Yesterday I ran across the video below on one of the blogs I frequent. It looks like I'm a few days late posting it, but it was still an interesting video because it features the head of Compassion International talking about the food crisis. I love what Compassion does and have supported it various times, but I'm still curious about the food crisis ... is it something new in the third world countries, or has it been around and the same for quite a while.

The other thing that pops into my head when I see news reports on the food crisis is what small farms have to do with a lack of food. Should we have more small farms? Should the small farmer sell/rent their land to bigger farmers who can farm "more efficiently"? Can the small-scale farm make a large impact in a food crisis?

Those are all questions that I don't really have concrete answers for, but I would be interested in hearing what you take on the matter is. One way I do believe small farms can help the problem is through organizations like Gospel for Asia. This organization offers us opportunities to buy farm animals (chickens, rabbits, goats, etc.) for people in developing places so they can produce food for themselves and for sale. This is an organization I love to support and think they have a great model!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Have You Ever Built a House?

One time in 9th Grade Shop Class I built a dog house sized house out of balsa wood and glue. Well, I guess I should say that my group and I built the house. I did get to take it home though ... where I'm pretty sure my friends and I smashed it! But, now we are inching ever closer to building our own house. I think if you would have asked Becca and me eight years ago if we would be building and house and starting a farm all at the same time we would have said you were crazy. We have always wanted to live in the country on a quiet road with some animals for fun, but back then something like this wasn't even on the radar.

We have been married for just over seven years now, and during that time we have lived church owned property for just of six of those years (we lived in an apartment for around 10 months). But, judging by the stack of wood and equipment that we saw at our farm on Wednesday night we are going to be living in our own place very soon.

This is pretty exciting stuff because we are carving our farm out of nothing. I often tell people that we are like the original homesteaders coming to Iowa and building their lives on bare piece of ground, because that is just about what we are doing. Except I think that maybe those early Iowa settlers had a little more building (and farming) experience that I have!

So, have you ever built a house ... or even more specifically have you ever built a house out of a pole barn? That is what we are going to be doing for the foreseeable future (with the help of family) and we would love to have any tips or hints that you have!
**A little update on our boar: After talking with our builder yesterday we found out that they were at the farm until a bit after five on Wednesday and he was still in his pen when they left. They did mention that he was panting heavily, but he had plenty of shade and water and even cool mud. We got out to the farm around seven that same evening so he couldn't have been out very long at all. Basically he was able to bend up the cattle panel between the fence posts (spaced 4 feet apart). I think there must have been something medically wrong with him, but we will never know for sure. Still hard to swallow...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Yesterday Good News ... Today Not So Good

Well yesterday was the day of good news. The farm really seemed to be changing into a bare piece of dirt into something! But, today I have less than exciting news ... in fact it is news that I didn't really want to share. I was at the farm yesterday morning at about 6:30 AM to feed the pigs, then again at about 10:00 AM to show the builder where we want the house, and then we went out as a family at around 7:00 PM to see what progress was done. That was when I noticed that the new boar had escaped...

Apparently he got his snout under the fence and just went at it until he was out. Of course it is probably not the first time a boar has broken out of pen, in fact it isn't even the first time a boar has gotten out of a Book farm pen (our family has hogs off and on for a long time). So, right away Becca jumped in the truck and I jumped on the tractor to begin the search.

I didn't have to go far because only about 250 yards from the pen I found him laying in the ditch ... dead. Becca drove up and down the road for about 30 minutes looking for any sign that he was hit, but didn't find anything. I followed his tracks up the ditch to the point where he went in (it is about a 6 foot drop at about a 60-70 degree angle), but couldn't find many tracks through the pasture because the ground was pretty hard.

The first thought is that he got hit, but I couldn't find any sign of that on the road (no blood, no hoof prints, no breaking marks, nothing). After that I guess there could have been any number of things, but by the time we found him and got him out of the ditch it was so late that I didn't think we could get him posted and it would be too late today. It really looks like he just laid down and died ... maybe?

This certainly is a learning experience and something that I will have to keep with me for the future, but it is also part of living on the farm. I will learn from it and move on...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

When it Rains it Pours...

That could probably be the motto of the Midwest lately with all of our rain/flooding. And usually that phrase is used in conjunction with bad news. But, today I'm using it for good news ... it just seems like everything is coming on all at once and it is really starting to pour!

After church on Sunday I spent the afternoon starting on the fencing for the pigs. Then Monday morning I got up pretty early to finish up the fence, fix a flat tire on the truck, unload our hog hut and feeder from the stock trailer, met my dad at the farm to get his mower, mow about one acre of the field for our building area, plow the garden, till the garden, and on and on! Bright and early Tuesday the pigs arrived and I got them settled in and then went back to the farm in the afternoon to put up a single electric wire around the inside of the hog fencing. It was a busy few days, but there is not a lot of activity out at the farm.

That is all good news, but the best news came this morning after I got home from feeding the pigs. I had just sat down to type my blog post when I received a call from our builder. He wanted to go drill the holes for the posts! So, I had to hop back into the truck and lead him out to the farm. Unfortunately we couldn't stick around and watch them work, but we are planning on going to look at our holes later this evening.

It is really exciting to see so much work getting done at the farm because we have spent so much time planning. Hopefully in a week or two we will have our home framed up in addition to the pigs, the garden, and the equipment that is already there. Now, if we could just get the electric company to put in a temp. service (not likely) and finally get the water guys out there we would be good to go.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Late Post...

Sorry for the late post today. As you can see from the picture below we had a busy/early morning. I will update this post later this afternoon with more details!

Here are some of the details on our new pigs. A few weeks back I saw an ad on Craigs List for "pastured swine". This of course caught my attention, but even better was the fact that they were only about 12 miles from our place! I called the farmer and told him I was interested in a few of the feeder pigs ... but, found out he was really wanting to sell the 8 pigs, the sow, and the boar. I went down to check them out hoping that I could just some feeders.

Well, once I go there he mentioned that he really wanted to sell them all and that he had some people coming to look at them. Normally I would have just said thanks, but I can't ... but, I really like the fact that these pigs where a Hampshire and Tamworth cross. As you may know the Tamworth is is listed on the ALBC list as "threatened". I drove away that day and began thinking about the different possibilities.

Finally I figured out a way to get it all together and those piggies showed up on the farm today. So, as of now we have halves and wholes of pasture raised (soon to be back on pasture after learning the joys of electric fence) Tamworth x Hampshire pork. These should finish this fall (October/November) and should be plenty tasty (I know I can't wait!).

If you would like to throw out a name for our new Tamworth boar you can check out my latest Epi-Log post and offer up your suggestion.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Farm Update and This Weeks Plans

It has been awhile since a farm update, so I thought I would fill you in a little bit and then share some of the plans for our busy week.

The Update:
  • Not much as progressed on the building front, other than spending a lot of time on the phone (thanks Becca) trying to get everything lined up.
  • Hopefully we will close soon on the building loan, if all the lenders ever take a break from their vacation to work.
  • Our Dexters seem to be doing okay, but I'm not impressed with the grass that is in the new pastures we are using this year. We set up some new fence at my dad's farm and I really can't wait until they get to our place.
  • I started putting in some new fence for the pigs that will be coming soon ... more on that in the plans.
The Plans:
  • My dad and family are going to be gone for the next two-and-a-half weeks so I get the mower that they are testing. This is going to be a win/win for both of us. He gets some hours on the mower (thus some money) and I get a lot of mowing done that I have been waiting to work on.
  • This week I plan on getting the rest of the fence posts pulled on the farm and the last of the brush cut out of the fence lines. Then we will be ready to tackle the fencing.
  • Yesterday I got most of the fencing done for the new pigs (expect pictures tomorrow) and will finish a little up on Monday. This is just a temporary spot until we get all of our exterior fencing up, but it will be cattle panels with electric running inside ... plenty to keep them in.
  • We are going to get the house location staked out so we can hopefully have some electricity at our place once they start building.
  • Finally, I plan on messing around with the garden out at the farm. Getting it ready this year has been impossible with the weather, but maybe we can transplant a few things and start a few things also.
A lot to do and it is only going to get busier, but we are mostly enjoying every minute!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Small-Scale Pig Raising :: Chapter 5 & 6 Book Report

Well, I'm tearing my way through this book! Actually the chapters are fairly short, which I tend to like because it makes it easier to knock out a section each night. But, I'm also working through it pretty quickly because I think it is a pretty good read. I also think that it helps that it is about something other than grazing or cattle. I have been hitting the grass-fed cattle books pretty hard for quite awhile no so this is a change of pace. It will probably make me more interested when I pick up "Grass-Fed Cattle" again.

Chapter five of Dirk van Loon's book, "Small-Scale Pig Raising" deals with selecting a pig. Mr. van Loon writes mostly about selecting a pig for your own home pork, but also includes a few paragraphs on buying pigs for breeding. This is something that I was somewhat ready to read, although I already have our pigs picked out, because it dealt with what we are dealing with right now.

Of course he is specifically talking about "small-scale" and in this case that means two or three pigs. This is a perfect number for the family that is looking to provide meat for themselves and maybe to sell in order recoup some of their feed money. This is the number of pigs that I was looking to buy, but that isn't what happened (more on that next week). The chapter is full of great information for the beginner and I am beginning to understand why Walter Jeffries recommends this book so highly.

In Chapter six the topic is pig handling. Again, it is full of a lot of good information for the beginner including stuff about transportation (think small-scale and people without stock trailers) and moving on the farm. I do like the section where he talks about using the tail of the pig to direct them where you want. I believe we are going to be a farm that leaves the tails on our pigs.

Overall my impression of this book is very good and I think it is perfect for someone who doesn't know much about pigs. It puts everything in good practical terms and makes it all seem doable. Pigs is one area where I have the benefit of a little prior knowledge. For much of my growing up life we had pigs on the farm and I was able to help out quite a bit, but there is still a ton of good information for everyone!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Joel Salatin Inspires...

This morning I came across this video about the Jondle family of Abundant Life Farm. He was a computer programmer for something like 25 years before his wife came across Joel Salatin's book, "You Can Farm". So, they talked it over and decided farming was something they were interested in making a change. The whole family ended up moving to Polyface Farm for almost half a year in order to learn from Mr. Salatin himself.

They started with no farming experience and now they are going strong. I guess if anything it is encouraging to see what is possible if you really focus and sell yourself out to the goal. One thing that I should probably admit though is that I wonder who much capital they went into their new farm with. I suppose they probably had more money to work with than a young beginning farmer, but I'll just look at the glass half-full and believe that it can be done!

So, enjoy this video and let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pasture For The Pigs

I am getting dangerously close to being able to announce that we have pigs on the farm, but I can't quite do that yet (keep checking back for more details soon). I have been reading as much on the subject of pigs as I can get my hands on though and I'm starting to get pretty excited about the possibility of pork for the family and for customers. It looks like we will have plenty of pork available this fall, but more about that later. For now I would like to share an article from the University of Missouri Extension titled, "Forages for Swine".

This article is from about fifteen years ago, but the information included is timeless. I would say that the authors, Howell N. Wheaton and John C. Rea, give a fairly unbiased assessment of pasture management for pigs. They take time to through out both the positives and negatives and seem to favor confinement farming in some circumstances (I don't really agree with that), but they also give some great information on what forages really work for pigs.

I think this is a good basic resource for those of us interested in pasturing pigs and I will certainly be turning to it next year when I begin to do some seeding on the farm. I would love to hear from any who is or has pastured pigs ... especially if you are planting certain grasses or legumes for your pastured pigs. Hopefully I can give some more first hand information very soon...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Breaking the Conventional Mold in Crop Rotation

One of the many great benefits of being a member of the Practical Farmers of Iowa is that they have their own e-mail List-serv. The e-mail list has hooked me up with potential customers, been a good place to go to when I'm looking for help, and has also been a good source of great research. That was especially true last week when an e-mail came through with a PDF of an article titled, "Benefits and barriers to perennial forage crops in Iowa corn and soybean rotations". I suppose it is more of a research paper than an article, but it was great nonetheless.

I haven't had time to tackle all of it yet, but I will share a couple quotes and thoughts from the introduction:
  • Basically, things changed around WWII (which has been discussed here a lot). Before that most Iowa farms were very diversified in crops and livestock and had multi-crop rotations in place. Those rotations included forages, something not seen these days.
  • Between 1950 and 2004 corn and soybean yields have just about quadrupled. Way to go crop specialists! I assume that means that the amount of money the farmers are making is also increasing...
  • But, that is not the case. First of all the number of Iowa farms during that same time period has dropped by more than 50% and the net income per farm (after inflation adjustment) was actually 9% lower in 2001 than it was in 1960. I'm not sure if that changes with $7.50 corn or not, but I'm guessing it doesn't because all the inputs have also jumped sky high.
It will be interesting to make my way through this paper as they explore the environmental and financial impacts and benefits of switching back to an intensive crop/livestock rotation. They are also going to look at socio-political things that prevent farmers from making the change (I'm really looking forward to that section!).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Centralization of Cattle Finishing

Of course "The Stockman Grassfarmer" is a little biased when it comes beef finishing and The Food Institute for Food and Development Policy of Oakland, California may have an agenda (don't we all), but the article from them in the June issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer" does cause me to wonder. It makes me wonder if the small feedlots (which aren't very small) can survive, it even makes me wonder if the big ones can survive, it makes me wonder if feeding the ethanol byproducts is a good idea, and it makes me wonder what will happen to our food system in the future if we continue down the path of industrialization and centralization.

According to the article there are seven pounds of waste byproduct from each gallon of ethanol made, also 46% of the byproduct (they call it waste in the article) goes to dairy cattle and 42% goes to beef cattle. This is just anecdotal, but my uncle told me of his neighbor who only feeds eight bushels of corn in finishing with the rest be dried distillers grain (the byproduct/waste). The article reports that by the end of this year the ethanol byproducts will replace one billion bushels of corn in the livestock industry (they make sure to mention that they are tax-subsidized byproducts).

I guess the ethanol plants are feeling the pinch of high grain prices just like everyone else (even with their subsidies) and so are looking for more ways to make money. The newest thing is to combine feedlots with ethanol plants. A new plant in Nebraska has done just that by adding a 28,000 head feedlot and other new plants are planning on adding even larger feedlots.

If this trend continues the ethanol plants will not only be subsidized to produce gas, but also to finish cattle. This would be a major step in the continued centralization of the agricultural world and could effect generations of farmers to come. On the other hand it just may open up more opportunities for locally finished grass-fed beef...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Small-Scale Pig Raising :: Chapter 3 & 4 Book Report

I have pigs on the brain recently! Mostly because I hope to have some pigs on the farm within the week and have been getting things ready for that. Hopefully I will soon be able to tell you about our new Hampshire x Tamworth pigs, but for now I will just report on this great book by Dirk Van Loon which came highly recommended by Walter of Sugar Mountain Farm. I would say he is a very innovative pig farmer, so I was really looking forward to getting into this book. And, I must say it has been worth it so far.

One thing about this book is that it is very practical. It does not spend a lot of time talking about the "evolution" (not a big fan of that word) of the pig or the social/political reasons to raise pigs on a small-scale. Mr. Van Loon just gives plenty of great how-to advice for the complete beginner. While chapter three is about the history of pigs (from the standpoint of domestication), it is told in such a way that it gives great working knowledge to the beginning pig raiser.

A couple of the most interesting things I found in the third chapter were the discussion of pigs as land clearers and the historical information on swineherding. Pigs have natural plows attached to their head, and because of they they are naturals at clearing the forest. One great quote from the book comes from Mr. Zeuner (an expert on domestication). He said, "Pigs prepare the way for man, both in regard to pasturing - for the pig can be followed by sheep as happened in the Bronze Age in Northern Europe - and in regard to agriculture." We plan on allowing our pigs into the forest, not so that we can wipe out the woods, but so that we can clear some of the thick undergrowth. I am looking forward to seeing what they can do.

The other interesting section was a short couple of paragraphs on swineherding. In days gone by each household would have a few pigs in a yard pen. Then each morning a swineherder would go through town and herd all of these pigs to the woods for feeding ... bringing them back in the morning. Can you imagine each house in town having that now? Well, not in Knoxville because we can't even have chickens!

Chapter four is the essence of the practical knowledge in this book and I couldn't even begin to share all I like about it without rambling on for quite awhile. But, there is tons of great "how-to"/"this is what you need to know" in this chapter titled, "Behavior and Form".

I have only read five or six chapters so far, but I think I'm beginning to agree with Walter of Sugar Mountain ... this is the book you need to check out if you want to have pigs on a small-scale.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oh, What a Wet Spring!

I just thought I would take a few pictures to illustrate why work has been progressing so slowly out at the farm. As always you can click on any picture to see a larger picture.

On Wednesday I had to go out to the farm to meet a guy from the power company (he didn't show, but the water guy did) and saw a road closed sign. Like any gawker would I went and checked it out. The picture on the right shows why the road was closed. Usually there is no water near this road, but this is a pretty unusual spring. You can also see a vineyard if you look closely in the upper right. There are six acres of grapes planted there and the owner plans on using the huge round barn he built there to host clients. I plan on making sure they have a good supply of fresh Iowa grass-fed beef and pastured pork!

After taking the picture above I told my wife that it was smooth sailing on the rest of the road to the farm. Well, at least it was on Wednesday... But, as you can see from the picture on the left we couldn't cross the bridge that is usually there. It is no big deal because there is another way to the farm that is of equal distance, but it does give a picture of the flooding. From the high point on our road would could look out over thousands of crop acres that are flooded. I guess that is why 80 plus counties in Iowa have been declared disaster areas.

Finally we made it to the farm. As you can see from this picture on the right it is going to be awhile until we can finish working up the new garden! I think I will just end up putting some pigs in there and letting them do some work and then come through with a tiller. Maybe we can get some fall crops in ... and possibly some corn. I guess one positive is that some of the old fence posts will be easier to pull out now.

One thing is for sure. I am very thankful that this is the extent of the flooding that we are having to deal with. So many of our friends and families are having to deal with so much loss. You can check out this link to our local radio station. There are some pictures and if you scroll down there are some videos from the Lake Red Rock Dam ... there is some major water moving there.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Just In Case You Missed It...

(A very quick post today ... the last day of Vacation Bible School ... but, at least this one is earlier in the morning)

On Tuesday (after reading the article I posted on Monday) I asked the question, "Are You Willing to Pay More?" over on the Epi-Log. I had a decent response, and the consensus was that people are willing to pay more to a point. Click on the the question above if you would like to read the posts and comments.

One thing that popped into my mind is this question ... Does local have to cost a lot more? Does grass-fed have to cost more? I think it needs to cost a little bit more, but I do not believe it needs to cost twice is much. If we really want to take local foods and pasture raised we need to be as competitive as possible. Then the quality product and the price will become a selling point.

The one reason people said they didn't buy local is when money wouldn't stretch far enough ... but, I think we can get around that...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Fields Are Slighty Damp...

(Okay, sorry for the late post again ... VBS is really messing with my schedule)

I guess the fields are a little more than slightly damp ... most are drenched and many are flooded! That has a few possible impacts to the row crop farmers. First of all there are still a small number of fields that haven't been planted yet and the mud/flooding isn't helping in that regard. Secondly, the water covered fields can/will hamper the yield. And finally, because of the extreme flooding many farmers will have to replant their fields. All of the water and flooding has led to corn above $7 a bushel (check out this article).

Of course $7 corn is a good thing for the farmers who have their crops in and aren't going to have to replant, but it doesn't help much for those that have to replant or the livestock farmers. And, because our farms have become so focused on a single type of farming (row crops or hogs or cattle ...) the pain is going to be felt by everyone ... including the consumers.

Because of higher grain prices we are also going to see a drop in the cattle/hog numbers which will in turn cause higher meat prices. So ... farmers will feel it ... packers will feel it ... and consumers will feel it. But, does it have to be like that? What if our cattle were grass-fed? Would that make a difference? What if our farms weren't so specialized? Would that make a difference.

Check out the article and then lay your thoughts on me!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Localvore ... is it a Good Thing?

(another late post ... but, there are only two more days of VBS!) I have to admit that I am a talk radio junky. Even as a high school student I would have talk radio on in the car as I drove around town, then when my friends would get in I would have to quick change it over to FM. Pretty much my radio flips between 1040 WHO and 1460 KXNO. I listen to Jim Rome, The Big Show (farm), Rush Limbaugh, Van and Bonnie (local), and Steve Deace (local) all depending on my mood at the moment. But, I like most talk radio ... except for Dr. Laura! I can't stand her voice for some reason...

Anyways that is a long introduction all to say that I heard Rush Limbaugh talking about "localvores" (or "locavores") on his show yesterday. This is not the first time I have heard him bad mouthing the movement, but this time I decided to write about it. If you have listend to Mr. Limbaugh for any amount of time you know what he is about (and I do agree with him quite often), but this time I think he is missing the boat on the "localvore" movement.

Basically he hates the idea because of it's ultra-liberal/enviromental wacko basis. While I do agree that much of the movement is founded on the idea of lowering food miles, cutting back on fuel use, curtailing the use of GMO's and pestacides, and so on I think there is a very strong open market/capitalist angle that should be talked about.

I must admit that the reason that I am such a big fan of the local foods idea isn't because of gas, oil, pestacides, factory farming, food problems, or anything like that. The reason I think it is such a good idea is because it just makes the most sense. I understand that you can't grow everything everywhere, but why not diversify your area the best you can and make the most of that. Here in Iowa would could provide a HUGE amount of our own food from the local communities and it would in turn open up more business opportunities for the people of the state. It just makes sense...

That is the line of reasoning I take when I have conversations with people about local foods, grass-fed beef, or anything else along those lines. Many of the people start talking about feed prices, gas prices, and other ecological reasons. But, I always turn it back to the idea that local, grass-fed, and small scale is the way the world was created. Cows have four stomachs for a reason ... a seven year crop rotation works great for a reason ... pigs have built in plows for a reason ... this stuff was created in a certain way for a reason!

I think being a "localvore" is a good thing. Sure there are plenty of energy reasons that it is, but just from an economic/capitalist/creation standpoint I think it makes the most sense for the animals, the consumers, and the farmers.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Late Post ... But, Interesting Article

Wow, this is one of the latest times I have posted (except when I just forget to put it up). It is Vacation Bible School week at the church and I have been crazy busy (especially after the weekend) getting things ready and trying to coordinate it all. Hopefully things will continue to slow down a little ... but, I doubt it. So, that is my sob story on why this is a such a late post. But, I did come across a really interesting article that I wanted to share.

According to the article, "New Research: Consumers Willing to Pay More for Locally Produced Food", the average grocery store consumer is willing to pay a little more for locally grown foods. And, at the Farmer's Market they are willing to pay almost twice as much as the would for the same food at the grocery store (I assume they are talking about the bigger Farmer's Markets, not the dinky ones like in my community). I find this news very encouraging and it also backs up what I have been experiencing and hearing.

Although the researcher found that people are more willing to buy local food he wouldn't go as far as saying that people should only eat local food. I would say that most people would agree with that assessment, but I do know of some that believe we should go local as much as we can ... even if it means not having some foods available at certain times.

Since this is just going to be a quick post I'm not going to take the time to throw out all of my thoughts, but I do have a ton. In fact, I think this would be a good thing to bring up on the Epi-Log ... to see what other consumers think. If you have a chance to read the article I would love to hear your thoughts! So, read the article and leave a comment...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Monday Farm Update...

Well, I managed to receive about 10 hours of sleep this weekend! The churches in our community banded together to host a 7 hour music festival on Saturday and let's just say I was busy! But, it was fun and the local bands along with the headliners, Addison Road and The Afters, were awesome. Hopefully it will be a yearly thing, and hopefully I will be able to find other people (besides myself) to be the roadies! A box truck for the stage, one for the sound, one for the lights, and of course each bands gear ... yep, that is enough hauling/setting-up/tearing down for one weekend. With that in mind (my lack of sleep), here are some bullet points from the farm.
  • Today is our seventh wedding anniversary! It has been an awesome seven years and I'm looking forward to many more. Without the love and commitment from my wife our dream would not even be possible. I love you Becca...
  • It is the 9th of June and we have already had 5 inches of rain for the month. And think, we are the dry ones compared to parts that have had 10 or more.
  • The farm is wet, wet, wet! And since it is wet, wet, wet ... not much has happened building wise. But, we are looking to get our temporary power in soon and our rural wanter line onto the property this week or next (depending on their schedule).
  • The farm is now a used machinery home. We have the tractor, the haybine, the rack, my uncle's plow, and the latest addition ... our green (faded) barge box.
  • Pending our pick up (once our temporary fencing is in place) we now have a Hampshire sow, a Tamworth boar (pretty excited about that), and their 5 week old offspring. We will have halves or wholes of pasture raised pork for sale fallish or so!
  • Because of the above point we are going to put up a hog panel fence around our garden area (see point below). Hog huts and feeders are on the way once we go and get them.
  • I plowed the garden are on what most resembled a dry day. It was sod ... it was wet ... my tires are old ... it isn't pretty ... it is now something like a lake ... but, it is somewhat done. The pigs will help a lot and then a tiller will finish it off. We hope to get some stuff in it for at least fall crops.
I'm tired, but Vacation Bible School is this week. I pray it goes well, we continue to make progress on the farm, and I get some sleep!

the picture above is from this weekend ... that is the afters

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Saturday Morning Video

This is a crazy weekend for me because the churches in our town are hosting a seven hour music festival. We had to set up a huge stage last night, we are about to go set up the sound and lights, and then we will be tearing down until who knows when ...

With that in mind, here is a video with a few words from Joel Salatin. Enjoy...

Friday, June 06, 2008

Thoughts on Farming and Public Perception

Lately a few blog posts have led me to think about farmers and public perception. First of all I wrote a post for the Epi-Log titled, "What You Need to Become a Farmer". The just a few days later I ran across a post titled, "Oh, you're a hobby farmer!", on the Nature's Harmony Farm blog. Both of those posts touched on different aspects of public perception in regards to farmers and also about what other farmers think about new or unconventional farmers. I think this is something (just like farm appearances) that we need to be thinking about, so below are a few of my thoughts.

  • That hobby farmer question comes up quite a bit in the unconventional farming world I would guess. I have heard it a lot along with the similar quote, "So, you're going to have an acreage and stuff." A common public perception is that if you are don't what is the convention in the area than you are not farming, no matter how full-time or profitable it is.
  • One thing that Nature's Harmony does (and many other direct marketing farms) is encourage people to come to their farm. This will help with some of the "hobby farm" quotes, but it is important to remember that if they aren't interested in your farm or the way you farmer they probably will never change.
  • When I was working on the post linked above for the Epi-Log I did a little research and found that in 2004 52% of all farmers had off farm employment. So, logic would then ask ... "are 52% of Americas farmers hobby farmers?"
  • But, in that same post and others that I have written for Epicurious people have commented on how much the appreciate what the farmers do. This isn't something that I hear very often, but maybe it is more common than I know...? But, what it does tell me is that there are people out there that care about their food and the farmers that produce it.
  • Which leads me to my last thought. How do you get more people to care about the food they eat. Of course it is an education thing and that will only happen with some initiative from both the consumers and the farmers.
So, what can farmers do to help change the public perception (both from the farming community and the consuming community)?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Small-Scale Pig Raising :: Chapter 1 & 2 Book Report

I must admit that lately I have had a pretty short attention span when it comes to books. I don't really think that it has anything to do with the quality of the books, but rather it has to do with the ebb and flow of my interests at the moment. I started out working through "Grass-Fed Cattle", then I couldn't find it one day so I switched over to "Dirt Hog", and then last night I had pigs on the brain again so I decided to pick up "Small-Scale Pig Raising" by Dirk van Loon. This book came highly recommended by Walter Jeffries over at Sugar Mountain Farms, so I was really excited to read it.

This book was published in 1978 so some of the economical figures that it gives are a bit off and I think it could easily win the greatest cover ever award (see the picture above), but if the rest of the book is anything like the first two chapters I think I will enjoy it very much. It seems to be written from a very practical point-of-view and easy to read.

What I really liked about the first chapter was Mr. van Loon's answers to the question, "Why Raise a Pig?". His first reason was because they can be a low risk/short term investment into livestock. With my Dexters I have to wait a long time before they finish, a long time before they calve, and I have to pay quite a bit for them. But, with pigs I can buy them for less money and finish them out fairly quickly. Along with that there can also be lower costs in fencing and shelter. Mr. van Loon also mentions lower feed costs, but that may not be true at this point.

The second chapter mostly covers the wild pig and the emergence of the domesticated pig. It was just a short chapter, but it was interesting to read some of the back ground and differences between the two. Understanding a domestic pigs wild brothers and sisters helps understand what makes a pig tick and what their social structure can be like.

As I mentioned pigs have been on my brain lately so it was good to read the first couple chapters of this book, and they are shorter chapters so that is nice when the days are longer and we are so busy. But, the reason that pigs have been on my mind is because I have been searching high and low for some feeder pigs. I thought that I had some located, but it looks like that isn't going to work out now ... so, if you know of anyone in Iowa or Northern Missouri with some pastured pigs or even just outdoor conditioned I would be interested in hearing about them!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Keeping Up Appearances

In each issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer" there is a column called, "Women's Work". I always take time to read it, and it is always full of good information (not just for women). But, I have never taken time to comment on the column on the blog. Today that is going to change because I just read the article from the May, 2008 issue by Carolyn Nation (Allan's wife). The article is simply titled "Appearance" (this could possibly be the shortest title ever in "The Stockman Grassfarmer") and was a pretty good read.

In this article Mrs. Nation was specifically talking about clothing appearances. Not when you are out doing the chores, but rather when you are marketing, working at a farmer's market, hosting farm tours, doing interviews, or any other public event. She relates many tips that she has picked up from other farmers and her own experience. Some of the things mentioned are ... dressing like your customers, making sure your clothes are clean and spotless (who wants to buy food for a dirty person is the idea I guess), if you have employees having them dress alike (even simply) is a good thing, and of course having simple clothes with your farm logo.

I am all about dressing for success. When I worked at the boarding school I was hugely in favor of the transition to uniforms for many reasons, one being that it seems that many people just plain take themselves more seriously when they are dressed neatly. So, I do think it pays to look professional (but still farmerish) when you are out promoting your farm.

But, as I read the article my mind also wandered over to the idea of keeping appearances on the farm in general. How important is it that your farm fits the mental image of our customers? I think it is very important, but that doesn't mean you need the white picket fence and big red barn. I believe the biggest thing is that things look neat, not that things look perfect.

I do not believe we need to have the perfect painted buildings and weed-free yard, but I don think that when a customer drives up to the farm they need to see something that makes the feel comfortable, that makes them feel safe. Remember, many of the things direct marketing farmers are using to market themselves relate to the relationships they can build with their customers. So, appearance does matter ... to an extent ...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Grass-Fed Cattle :: Chapter 4 Book Report

It has been a really long time since I have posted a chapter report from Julius Ruechel's book, "Grass-Fed Cattle". But, that doesn't mean I haven't been reading, rather it just means that I have been jumping around quite a bit from book to book or article to article. I'm not sure if it is just because I'm looking for certain information at times, if I just to care for this book as much, or if so much of what I have read so far in Mr. Ruechel's book is a repeat of much of the information I have read in other sources. I'm going to say that it is the later of the reasons, but that isn't to say that there aren't chapters that I'm looking forward to ... because there are!

Anyways, this chapter is titled "Grass and Grazing" and it takes time to cover things like the rumen, ideal grazing intervals, soil health, and even different grass variates and pasture renovation. Each topic covered is very important in the realm of grass-fed cattle, but most are ones that I have covered a time or two on this blog and that I have read about in other books. But, the last little section on pasture rejuvenation was especially interesting to me ... mainly because that is a process that I am working through right now (and planning for).

Mr. Ruechel writes,
"Changing your grazing management inevitably improves old pastures, even without reseeding or overseeding (laying grass seed onto an existing turf) because it creates an environment that makes desirable plant species more competitive and restricts competition from less-desirable grazing plants."
The other day while I was at my dad's farm I found that to be completely true (and it is pretty cool also). For most of the time my family has owned our farm much of the pasture ground has been enrolled in the CRP program, but in 2006 and 2007 all of the land came out. While it was in CRP we weren't allowed to mow the entire plot, but you could mow the fence line or a path (or something like that), so since my dad test drives lawn mowers he always keep the fence line mowed (or could you call it grazed).

Now we have the Dexters out on some of the CRP ground that just came out last year and I just want to say the grass is horrible! When it is about 10 inches or more taller it looks like a thick stand of grass, but once you clip it down to about 6-8 inches you can tell it is very sparse and doesn't grow very well. We were told that it was fescue, but I don't think it is. But, in the 5 foot area that was kept clipped for the past 5-6 years there is white clover, red clover, and three or four different types of grasses, and it is very thick and quick to recover.

This pasture improved because it was managed and we didn't even need to buy seed or till anything under to do it! Now that we have the cows there we can have them do it for us (until some of them come up to my place to do the same thing). Of course at some point we may want to overseed some different grasses or legumes, but it is impressive what can happen when you let the pasture and the cows do their thing!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Some Updates From Around the Farm

Even though soccer is over and weekly youth group meetings are on break for the summer the next couple of weeks (and probably after are going to be crazy busy). And since today is a rush, rush day I thought I would just take a couple minutes to give an update on the farm.

  • If you follow along on my Epi-Log you may have noticed we had a surprise calf born on Memorial Day. She is a little dun heifer and is pictured in this post. It is great to have another dun calf this year and equally great that it is a heifer. But, it isn't a perfect situation ... you can read about it on THIS POST.
  • I was down on my dad's place yesterday doing some fencing and putting the cattle into a new area. I love to see them on fresh grass and it is pretty cool to see such a big herd (well, big for me). We are now up to 20 Dexters.
  • The reason I drove down yesterday was to take my dad the baler I bought. We have about 20 acres of grass/clover hay down there that is ready to go as soon as the weather cooperates. Hopefully it will be soon!
  • On Saturday I went and bought a barge box wagon. This will come in handy as we finish clearing out the old fence row, but the barge box will probably end up coming off of the wagon gear. Once the building is starting to take shape I plan on putting on a hay rack.
  • Lord willing our building will start going up in three weeks or so. We still have some site prep to do and we need to get our drive and electric in, but it feels like we are getting closer
So, that is just a sampling of what is going on at Stoneyfield. Hopefully the work just keeps picking up in intensity as we start seeing more changes out at the place!
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