Saturday, January 31, 2009

Getting Out of the Pig Business...

Well, we aren't actually getting completely out of the pig business, but for the time being we may be taking a break (hopefully a short break). Thanks to a bunch of great people who were interested in our pork we are going to end up processing all of our pigs (minus the mister). Two will be going to customers freezers and one is going to be ground up into ground pork and ground Italian sausage for the End of Month Meals program that we have at our church (serves almost 200 meals each night during the last week of the month in the winter).

But, since we are going to be virtually pig-less pretty soon I am beginning to think about the next set of pigs. While I was mostly pleased with this batch (minus a few small things) the Hampshire in the cross isn't something that I'm totally interested in having. Lately I have been going through phases where I was against purebred livestock and then I am for it. Right now I am for it to an extent...

Way back in 2007 I wrote about a couple of heritage breeds that I was reading about at the time and now I feel like I'm in the same boat again ... not really know what to get. This is what I'm sure of at the moment. I would like to get purebred stock right now, maybe just a bred sow or two if possible, and possibly a few feeder pigs to have for the summer grilling season. I am not sold on any bred for sure, but I'm beginning to realize that it will have more to do with what is available rather than what I want the most.

Another thing that is a huge requirement right now is getting hogs that are currently being raised the way that I want to raise my hogs ... outside on the pasture. I would like to buy from a farm that is practicing pasture farrowing and finishing so that I have a better chance of getting pigs that will work with my system. Since I want to start small I think I can go ahead with the purebred stock.

A few breds that are bouncing around in my head now are: 1.) Red Wattle - Somebody should probably convince me one these, 2.) Gloucester Old Spot - I have heard these are the ultimate pasture pig, 3.) Tamworth - This is probably one of my favorites right now, and 4.) Berkshire - Should I jump into the growing popularity of this bred?

I would love to hear your thoughts/votes/breeders close to me!

P.S. There is one half still available if you would like some pork. Just shoot us an e-mail if you would like more details.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Once-A-Day Milking

Even though I'm mostly interested in "None'ce-A-Day" milking (I don't really want to be a dairy farmer) I read the cover story of the February issue of "Graze" with great interest. The title of the article is, "The economics of once-a-day milking", and it deals with the experiences of veteran dairyman Cliff Hawbaker and his transition not only to once-a-day milking, but also a little bit of no-grain dairying. That is what I love about "Graze" so far ... they go straight to the source and it seems like the articles are just straight forward, "here is what is working and here is what isn't working," kind of stuff.

Like I said, I'm not really interested in running a dairy (or even having a milk cow at this time), but what I can respect and what I actually love to read about is someone who is going against the grain and against conventional wisdom. In a time when there are dairies moving to three-a-day milkings and souped up cows the fact that Mr. Hawbaker is transitioning to a seasonal, grass bassed, and once-a-day dairy farm is really against the grain.

But, from reading the article it doesn't seem that he is doing it because he has a deep desire to have grass only cattle or because he is trying to reach a specialty market. The reason that he has changed and is in the process of changing is because he wants to make better use of his time and resources so that he can make more money! I guess maybe bigger isn't always better. The other thing that Mr. Hawbaker said he liked about the seasonal/once-a-day milking is that he has time for family and his partners have time for family also. That isn't to say that they aren't plenty busy, but rather you can work your schedule a bit more when you only have to milk once.

Of course there were plenty of numbers and figures in the article that didn't make a lot of sense to this non-dairy guy, but between and around all of that there were some great insights on making the transition from conventional dairy to un-conventional dairy and all the while continuing to sell to the conventional market. It hasn't been easy for them and while he bought more land to begin an all new grass based herd he is also transitioning his old herd to the new system.

They have had trouble with dry weather and the lack of organic matter in their soil from the years of conventional farming, but even still he thinks this is the best fit for him and his farm. I love his attitude!

If you want to read a little bit about Mr. Hawbaker and his seasonal/once-a-day dairy farm I did find this online article. Any of you with dairy experience or thoughts want to comment on this?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Quick Hitter

Yesterday was a busy day and today proves to be equally as busy with lots of running around and some things that I really need/want to get done on the farm. So, with that in mind I thought I would just throw out a quick hit blog post today. Actually, what I thought I would do is share a website that I learned about on the first day of our "Grow Your Small Market Farm Workshop". Our teacher said that she would try and pass along good sites and this one looks like a winner.

The site is called the, "Agricultural Marketing Resources Center", or AgMRC for short. To steal a line from the website, "The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center is an electronic, national resource for producers interested in value-added agriculture". I must admit that I have stumbled across this site in the past, but never spent much time exploring it. This week I have looked at it a little bit and it looks like a great place to go for information.

One cool link I found right away on the front page was to an article about conducting local market research. If you are direct marketing I suggest you check it out.

So, that is my contribution for the day ... But, I would love to hear what some of your favorite ag related research sites are!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Learning From Pigs, And More...

In yesterdays post I focused on some of the more difficult aspects of raising our first batch of Stoneyfield Farm pigs. Today I wanted to take a look at some of the better things that we learned/did/experienced. Overall this first batch of hogs was a pretty good experience all the way through finishing them out and even the sales (we still have two that we could market if you are interested). And, I can easily say that we learned A LOT! Here is just a small sampling of the good things and what we did right:
  1. All though these crossbred pigs may not have been my first choice we did luck out in that we were able to find Tamworth x Hampshire pigs close to home. I was really excited to get the heritage Tamworth into this pigs and I was thrilled with the way they finished ... well filled out, but longer and leaner like a Tamworth. Now if I could just find some purebred Tamworths (gilts and a boar) close by then I would be set!

  2. Raising hogs out on dirt and in the grass really does work. With the use of a single strand of electric we were able to effectively strip graze our pigs from time to time and allow the access to all kinds of good things. They proved to be very hardy as long as they had shelter and made it through the coldest days (-20ºF) without any problems. Once our exterior fencing is all in place I look forward to really getting them out on the farm.

  3. Thankfully we were able to find customers who were interested in our pork. Hopefully we can continue to work with them in the future and build on a customer base in our own area. I am excited to know that the pork is going from our local beginning farm to local families that we already know and those I'm sure that we will get to know. To me that just seems like a great system.

  4. I think the biggest thing that we learned from these pigs though is that if you let them be pigs they are pretty good at being pigs. We made sure they had shelter, food, and clean water ... they made sure they grew and stayed happy (and they did seem pretty happy).

  5. Finally, if I were going to be completely honest I would have to say that raising our pigs outside is probably the one thing we have done best since we begun. We had the benefit of starting out with a very few and having things set up for them when they got here. Like I said, we made sure they had what the needed and we let them grow. That isn't to say that there wasn't problems or setbacks (see yesterdays post), but all in all I really enjoyed raising pigs on a small scale.
Those are some of the good things. Our biggest question now is where do we go from here. We have kept back two gilts that we could use for breeding stock. They were the best two of the bunch that seemed that have the best traits we were looking for (consistent gain, good health, intelligence, and more). But, on the other hand they are not purebred and from time to time I really buy into the benefits of purebreds. Also, I'm not sold on the Hampshire in their blood...

So, that is all to say that if you are interested in a half (or splitting a half with someone else) just let us know and we will set up a processing date :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What Have I Learned

In the comment section of my "Dirt Hog :: Chapter 2 Book Report" post Mike and Rich asked similar questions about what I have learned by just jumping out and raising pigs and what was different than I expected from when I was planning it out in my mind and on paper. I thought those we such great questions and important things for me to think about, so here is a whole post dedicated to just those thoughts!

So, since it is always better to finish on a good note I thought I would start out with the bad. Here are some of the surprises and difficulties we faced raising our first batch of pigs:
  1. We had everything ready. A spot for the sow and the piggies and a spot for the big 'ol boar to hang out until he was needed. Even though we didn't have running water on the farm yet we had it covered with our 300 gallon water tank that we pulled out from town. Despite all of our planning we lost our boar just a couple days after getting him home. He got out and I'm still not sure what led to the death ... it was pretty sad that it happened literally about a day and a half after he arrived. That was difficulty/bad thing number one.

  2. Feed cost wise the timing wasn't perfect and we bought our pigs just as commodity prices started to skyrocket. This really wasn't a huge difficulty because the same thing was happening for everyone, but it did make things different than what I had imagined "on paper". Also, I don't think we switched the ration to a lower protein content early enough. Not a huge deal, but it may have saved us a few bucks in the end. That was difficulty/bad thing number two.

  3. Pigs are ornery! I can't say that I didn't know that going in because I had experienced it on the farm as a child, but I do think I had forgotten how ornery they were. When the water tank got low enough the liked to knock it around like a toy, when the were done eating they liked to flip around the trough like a toy, when I went in to fix something they liked to rub their beautifully muddy noses all over me! That was not really difficulty/bad thing number three ... and now that I think about it... it kind of is funny :)

  4. They get big quick and lift gets busy. This problem is really a problem that came about because of all that we were trying to do. Our pigs really were ready around November and we should have and could have sold them then. It would have saved feed money and been a good deal all around. But, because of how crazy our life was with the move and the construction it just didn't happen. We knew we had customers interested, but we just didn't make the time to get everything lined up and by the time we did it was deer season.

    Deer season in Iowa means some lockers shut down all processing except for deer. That meant we weren't able to secure our processing slot until this past week. Like I said, this was really poor planning, but we have been able to work through it with a great batch of customers ... That was difficulty/bad thing number four.
Other than that there were a lot of things that we learned and some great things that came out of our first batch of hogs. But, I think that really should be a post unto itself. Check back tomorrow for the good of what we learned and experienced with the first Stoneyfield Farm pigs.

Monday, January 26, 2009

"Tilling the Soil of Opportunity..."

That is the title of our text book (actually a big binder) for the "Grow Your Small Market Farm" workshop that we started this past Saturday. If my first impressions are any indication we are going to learn A LOT in this class and come out so much better (as far as farming business goes) because of it. Our teacher has been leading this workshop for nine years now, so you can imagine she has a pretty good idea of what and how to teach the lessons. It also means that she has experience in a diverse array of farming opportunities available in Iowa. I am going to look forward to each class (except for the early mornings!).

Here are a few of my thoughts after three hours of class:
  • I was amazed at the diversity of people and farms represented. There were people ranging from almost 72-year-old market gardeners to young singles with and without land at the moment. There were people there that were already "doing" the farming thing and those that are hashing ideas out in their minds. We were one of the few livestock farms represented and I think the only (or one of a couple) that were interested (and slightly doing) grassfed beef.
  • It is great to hear a teacher say things like, "you will save money" or, "profitability is the only option". I can tell that she has a lot of good advice to pass along and I already appreciate her passion for small farm businesses.
  • How wonderful is it to be around like-minded people. We were able to hear about what other people are already doing and what they hope to do. Plus, we had opportunities to share about our farm. And, to think this is only the first class. I know that by the end we will probably learn as much from the other class members as we will from the teachers.
  • If only I had had classes like this when I was in college ... maybe then I wouldn't have taken such an extended sabbatical from college (I did finally receive an A.A. degree).
So, there you have it. Just a few thoughts from the first day of class. We even have some homework this week and we are supposed to begin working on our mission statement. Good stuff ... good stuff indeed!

P.S. The above picture doesn't really have anything to do with the class, but we received a nice clean dusting of snow and I couldn't resist taking a picture of our dun polled heifer Tabitha.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dirt Hog :: Chapter 2 Book Report

Wow, it has been a long time since I have done a chapter book report on the blog. It isn't that I haven't been reading lately, rather it is just that I have been reading books that I didn't feel the urge to report on after each chapter. But, now I have picked up "Dirt Hog" by Kelly Klober again and I wanted to share some thoughts after each chapter. You might think it weird that I'm starting out with chapter two, but in reality I already did a report for chapter one ... way back on May 14, 2008! You can take the link to check out my thoughts from way back when.

Chapter two is a looooong (70 pages or so) chapter titled, "Housing and Fencing", and probably should be broken down into a couple of reports because there is a lot to think about in this book. One thing that I am finding is that even though I know that I won't be employing every concept this book is making me excited about pigs ... plus, there is the fact that we just took five to the locker so they are on the brain.

The very beginning of this chapter actually doesn't start out with the nuts of bolts of housing and fencing, but rather a short discussion of getting started. One sentence really piqued my interest ... "I am a firm believer in doing all your early farming on paper." I totally get what Mr. Klober is saying here because he goes on to talk about six things that you really need to look at, but one thing that I am continuing to learn is that at sometime you just need to jump.

For quite awhile I farmed on paper. I read books, I talked with people, I did research, and I wrote stuff down. I learned a lot! I studied a lot! And, when the rubber met (and is still meeting) the road I found that there is so much that you can only learn by doing. So, there are my thoughts on that...

Much of the next portion of the chapter deals with farm layout in relation to range hogs. I believe many of the set-ups that this book is talking about are more permanent than I'm going to focus on, but there is a lot of good information on fencing, watering, and feeding. Also, there is a good bit of information on electric fencing.

So, there you go. We'll call that part one of my chapter two book report...

Friday, January 23, 2009


Well, I can't tell you how excited I am to say that we have finally taken our first livestock to the processor. We decided to go with the Milo Locker in Milo, IA because of the good things we have heard about them from different sources. It also was nice to find out that they have "state inspected days" so we can sell individual cuts in the future and that they process poultry if that is something we want to give a try on a small scale to begin with.

But, that is really another story. Today's story is about how we loaded up some livestock from Stoneyfield Farm and traveled the country roads (it is pretty much gravel the whole way) to the metropolis of Milo. Those of you that have loaded pigs before know that the process is a little more involved than that. You know, the expression "pig headed" just didn't come out of nowhere.

Thankfully my dad (who has loaded countless thousands of pigs) was able to come up and help us get everything figured out. Plus, he was able to bring a couple of sheets of plywood that made the whole process just a bit easier because it helps when the pigs can't see daylight on the other side of a barrier.

My wife and I were thankfully able to get them all sorted and put the ones we were taking with us in this nice little pen I put up in the morning. You can see that the process didn't make anybody to wild because they were all laying down in the sun in a matter of minutes. But, I know that it would have taken both of us ALL DAY to load if it wouldn't have been for my dad.

All in all things went very well and I am very glad to have less pigs on the farm ... for the moment. I think it even made my dad think about having a few pigs around again. When he put his last contracted load on the trailer he was sure that he was done and confident that he never wanted to smell like that again. But, today maybe he opened up a little to the idea of some "range hogs".

**I'll give a taste update in a couple of weeks!**

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Going Back to School

Well, after encouragement from Kelli at Sugar Creek Farm and the folks at Blue Gate Farm (along with other great reviews) we have decided to take the plunge and attend the Grow Your Small Market Farm workshop. We had considered attending last year, but the timing just didn't work out. This year there may be a couple of classes that I have to miss because of work, but we decided there would never be a better time and this was a class that looked like it would help a lot!

The class meets each Saturday from January 24 until April 11 and after that until October there is one-on-one help at each of the farms. Finally, you end the year with one last meeting in December. Through out the weekends workshops we will be covering everything from business plans to tax stuff. I'm especially looking forward to the sessions on marketing, business plans, and of course the chance to meet with other farmers in similar situations as us.

From talking with the teacher, Penny Brown Huber, it seems like the greatest part will the the one-on-one time when she comes to your farm and helps you take stock of your resources and your business plan. It will be great to have have someone with experience on small farms to come out and take a look at our place and our plans. Also, I'm sure that we will get plenty of help hashing out some of the questions that we have.

So, this Saturday we are back in school ... hopefully I enjoy it more than the last classes I took on a college campus. I'm sure that I will!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chicks By the Book...

I love my wife! When all these crazy farm ideas started hatching in my head and we began talking about buying 40 bare acres and building a house/farm she was okay with it. When we talked about having wood heat (kind of dirty bringing all that wood into the house) she was okay with it. When we discussed the possibility that we would have to move into the house before it was done she was okay with it ... as long as it had a working bathroom! And, when it was her birthday a bit over week ago I knew that she would love getting "The Encyclopedia of Country Living" by Carla Emery.

So, after I posted my question about chicks the other day I got to think, "Duh! I bet my wife's new book has information on raising chicks". I was right! The book had information on breeds, mail order companies, how to start chicks, brooders, feed, water, and so much more. I have combined all of that information with all of the great information that I received from you all (the readers) and the added bonus of having a wife that raised plenty of chicks and chickens as a child (what can't she do!).

I think I'm going to spend the next couple of weeks seeing if we can get everything cleaned out to do this properly. It isn't an issue of having the space or the right equipment, but rather the fact that we have boxes stored where we would put the chicks. Maybe getting chicks would be a win/win situation. The house would get a little closer to being completed and we could have a beginning to the end of store bought eggs (our chickens are pretty much old and on winter strike).

There is still plenty to think about and get ready, but it would be nice if we could add some egg layers to the farm. One thing that I do have a question about though is specific breeds. After doing a bunch of reading last winter I kind of had my heart set on Barred Plymouth Rocks, but I'm finding that they are a bit difficult to find (at least in the three Iowa hatcheries I know of). Beyond that we would like some of the standards. What are some of your favorite brown egg laying breeds and are there any heritage breeds you are especially fond of?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More on Agritourism

While I was checking various blogs on Sunday evening (something that I love to do from time to time) I came across an interesting post on the "Living Off Grid" blog about agritourism. This caught my attention because it is something that we have thought about in the past (for a future project). My thinking was that it would be a great way to connect my love for interacting with people to my love of the farm and sharing it with others. So, I decided this was a post that I needed to read...

The post, titled "Using Agritourism to Finance Your Life in the Country", shares some nice links and few examples of people that are already doing it. Of course as you can see from the title the main thrust of the post is to share another way for people to get onto some land in the country (instead of waiting for retirement).

In our case it wouldn't so much be a "financial center-piece" for the farm as much as it would be another tool in the business and marketing plan (by the way, I see this as a LONG way down the road kind of thing). One of my passions is sharing the simple and quite beauty of God's creation with other people. We live in a world that is running too fast and I strongly believe it is important that we take time to get outside and away from all the things we feel we need to be "entertained". I think agritourism would be a great extension of my passion.

And, there is another angle ... it would be a great tool to get people interested in having a connection with their food. Obviously if someone wanted to take a vacation at a farm they would have a desire to get to know farm life and would be open to seeing what goes into bring food to the table. I guess you always have to be marketing...

Anyways, check out the post and let me know what you think of the whole agritourism scene. Is there anything like that around you? Have you ever been to an agritourist farm?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Picking Up Chicks...

How is that for a title? That is the kind of post title you get when I have a lack of sleep from spending the weekend in cabins with high school kids and the time to think about a title because of a late post! But really, we are thinking about picking up some chicks and I would love to gather some advice from those of you that are more chick inclined than I am. More specifically, I would love to know how it would work to raise them in the situations that we have available.

We can start them in our mud room which is insulated and warmish (60's) if we leave the door open. Of course we would have as many heat lamps as needed and plenty of fresh newspaper or bedding or whatever you need. Does that sound like a location that would work as a brooder?

The next question then becomes where do I put them next? Or more specifically how long do I leave them in there? I would love to get them as soon as we can so that we have some new chickens laying this summer, but I'm not completely sure what we can do with our facilities. I suppose the next natural transition we would have on the farm would be to take them next door to the storage area which is not heated, but is of course completely out of the weather and the wind. We can have heat lamps over there also.

How long does it take until we can have them outside? As you can see I'm pretty clueless when it comes to these things. All of the chickens we have had so far have been already laying so we didn't have much to worry about. I would appreciate any of you answers or ideas that I missed.

Oh, one more thing ... I know that our bloggy friends at Sugar Creek Farm order from Hoover's Hatchery in Rudd, IA and of course there is Murry McMurry which is also in Northern Iowa. Does anyone have thoughts on either of those places?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Beginning Farming...

There are lots of good ways to begin farming. You can find rental land, start small with low input cost operations like gardening and poultry, hook-up with a retiring farmer, form a business plan and put it to work, find an apprenticeship and really learn the task, and even get a job on farm so you can pay the bills and learn at the same time.

Then there is the way we decided to begin farming … Save up money through frugal living and sacrifice, purchase cattle (even more than you planned), find bare ground and buy it, buy pigs when you weren't totally ready, purchase a 50 plus year old tractor, build a house when you have no building experience, not get as much done as you had hoped to be done, and learn by tons and tons and tons of mistakes.

I would recommend one of the options from the first paragraph rather than the way we did it. This winter has been tough in so many regards as we have tried to scratch a farm out of nothing and continue our full-time ministry work. We have lost more of our Dexters than I could have imagined, things that I thought would get done didn't, our pork didn't sell as well as we had hoped (but we are blessed by people who are buying some), and now the tractor sits dead (most likely really dead) in the middle of the field.

It's hard … really, really hard! Just when I think the cattle are taken care of one gets sick and we have to hurry to try and nurse it back (it doesn't always work). And, just when I finally break down and buy a brand new bale spear to make the job just a little easier I totally clobber the tractor and the engine seizes up.

Like I said, it's hard … really, really hard! Yet my son still thanks God for the "wonderful" day (the same days that cows die or the tractor gives up it's life) at prayer times and even though I want to quit and give up there is still a desire for me to farm. My advice though would be to go about it a little differently than I have…

Friday, January 16, 2009

Double Duty

"Peter Arnold wants his concrete to do double duty." That is the tag line of this months cover story in "Graze" magazine (it also happens to be my first issue). Anyways, Mr. Arnold's concrete in this case is dealing with his milking parlor and other things that you tries to utilize as often as possible. Basically he didn't want to put up a great structure that only had one use ... it had to be more that just one thing. Which got me thinking...

What all do I want to do with a building that I put up on this farm, and more importantly how much can I cram under one roof (realizing that not everything should or could go in there). So, what I did was come up with a list of what I would like a building to be. I would love to hear your thoughts or additions to my list.
  1. Hay Storage: This is probably the number one priority because if I'm going to make small squares I'm going to need a place to keep them out of the weather.
  2. Deep Bedding Feeding: I have described and discussed this a lot and after my last round, with the help of you all, I came to the realization that doing that in a back lean-to wasn't going to work. So, now I'm thinking of adding a third 16x24 bay for the winter cattle feeding area. That should allow me to get the tractor in because it would have 12 foot side walls.
  3. Equipment Storage: Not all of my equipment needs to live inside all of the time, but it would be nice to have a place where I can park the tractor, baler, and a whatever else out of the weather. Plus, there is something to be said for having a place to work on equipment.
  4. Livestock Stall: There are plenty of good reasons to have a stall in a shed where you can put an animal if need be. Some place out of the weather and relatively warm would be nice.
  5. Feed Storage: I haven't really decided how this one would play out yet, but there is a need for storage of pig feed and chicken feed (and may more) on the farm. Having a dedicated place would be a good thing.
There you go ... just a few of my ideas. What can you add to the list?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Love/Hate Relationship...

That is the kind of relationship that I have with my Farmall 450 tractor. When everything is working great I absolutely love the thing. I love the sounds it makes, I love the power that it has (enough for us now), and I love the time that it helps me save. As you can see from the picture above the new bale spear on the back helps get the bales up to the Dexters quite well. Before I had this bad boy I was dragging them up with a chain. It got the job done, but most of the time it would take a couple tries (and a couple times of flipping the bale over) to get it where I wanted it. The downsides were that I couldn't set them end to end like I have now (for a windbreak) and that the twine would get torn up and I would spend a while picking up the hay that was left behind.

But, there I times when I hate that old Farmall. So far I think I have replaced about half the hydraulic hoses and the same amount of hydraulic connectors and fittings. The lights don't work, from time to time the float sticks on the carb, I think my starter is beginning to be suspect, there is a like in one of the loader cylinders, the battery box (which the seat is attached to) is rusting out, a couple of the gauges don't work, and the power steering still isn't up to snuff yet.

Although, I can live without the lights, a tap on the carb and the starter usually fixes that problem, so far the leak isn't too bad on the cylinder, the battery box hasn't fallen apart ... yet, the oil pressure gauge and the battery gauge does work, and I can muscle the steering around. Those are just things that I have on my spring/summer repair list (remember that I said one of my goals was to become more mechanical).

Really though, it is just part of the life when you are working with 50 plus year old equipment. A newish tractor would be nice, but there is only so much you can afford at one time and I'm thankful (most of the time) for the tractor I have. In fact I think I'll go to bed tonight and dream of spring garden work with the tractor... At least that will be a warm dream!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Southern Farming...

Okay, let me preface everything that I'm going to write by saying this, "I love Iowa and would never ever in a million years want to live anywhere else but in this state. I love the people, I love the land, and I even love the weather! But..."

I am tired of cold and snow and doing the chores in said weather! I guess it isn't so much that I'm tired of the weather (it is supposed to be in the - teens this week) and doing the chores outside as much as it is that there is so much I want to get done and I can't get things done. Add to that the fact that we don't have everything set up yet and we have been dealing with a couple sick Dexters.

You can see from the picture above that we have a little dun calf and our red heifer Jasmine hanging out in the storage part of our house right now ... just on the other side of the kid's closet. The little bull calf was having a tough time and we brought him in to help keep him warm and put some energy back in that little body. Jasmine came in for moral support and extra body heat.

One thing that I was able to get done today (even though it only reached a high of 3º) was to build a bale windbreak on the edge of the pasture. Last night I broke down and bought a three-point bale stabber for the tractor and was finally able to move the big round bales with ease. Now we have some permanent windbreaks that won't blow down when the wind changes directions. Also, I am able to wire the portable ones in place and we are set for cold winds out of any direction.

Hmm... must be nice farming down in Texas right about now. Of course I don't think I would like it so much when it is over 100º. In fact I know I would hate it! So, I'll just keep trucking along and get done what I can get done because I wouldn't trade this place or this life for anything.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Holistic Herd Care

One of the most interesting presentations I went to at the Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference was the workshop by Will Winter called, "The Art of Raising Drug-Free and Healthy Livestock". Mr. Winters had about three hours with us on Friday afternoon, but I'm thinking thirty hours would have been better for me! He had lots of great information ... some of which I caught and lots that flew over my head while I was digesting other information. I took lots of notes about things to look up later though, and I'm beginning to work my way through them. Here are some of the homeopathic/holistic medicines (I'm not sure what they call them) and other things that he spoke about:
  • Rescue Remedy: If you go to this website you will find that Rescue Remedy is like "yoga in a bottle". I'm not sure what exactly that means, but Mr. Winter uses it when he is shipping or working livestock, trying to calm livestock, and even to help lower stress in people. Sometimes these things sound too good to be true, but there was a lot of positive feedback about this one ... maybe I'll check it out.
  • Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide: This is one that he recommended for livestock suffering from shipping fever. He said it needs to be the strong stuff (35%), but that you only add 8 ounces to every 1,000 gallons of water. Should be interesting to look into this one a little more.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: I know a lot of different people that add ACV to their livestock water tanks and to their own diets. I'm not exactly sure what it is all about, but there is a book that tells a lot of the story titled, "Folk Medicine". It is also supposed to help lower cholesterol ... do you think it does that for bovine also? :)
  • Desert Dyna-Min: One of the commenters mentioned that they keep this one around at all times and Mr. Winter spoke very highly of it. They described it as the bouillon cube of minerals for cattle. We are talking about 2 to 4 ounces per day, but I'm not sure how they feed this ... maybe someone can chime in.
  • Hemocel 100: This is a product by Agri-Dynamics (same as Desert Dyna-Min) that he likes to give to sick animals as a rumen starter. The companies website touts this one as a dairy supplement as well.
Of course most of those things are something that you add when there is trouble or to prevent trouble. The biggest thing that I got out of this workshop was that holistic herd care has as much or more to do with preventation as it does with treatment. Mr. Winter spoke a lot about soil health and forage quality being key to a holistic approach to care ... but, that does take time.

I would be interested in hearing anyones thoughts on the ideas of holistic vet care and herd health as it is something that is really starting to interest me.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Saturday at the PFI Conference

Saturday at the Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual Conference was just as great as Friday, but in a different way. Of course because of the snow and the wind I woke up in Marshalltown and didn't have as far to travel to get to the conference, so in a way that was nice. Once I got there I had a great day attending the keynote by Joel Huesby, a session on the new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a great lunch containing all Iowa food, my session on websites and blogging, a great little discussion with other beginning farmers, and finally a cluster group on alfalfa and grass mixes. It was a great day filled with lots of information! So, instead of detailing everything I just thought I would share some of the notes I took and then take time to disect things later.
  • Here is the first thing I wrote about the CSP session, "apply through the NRCS". But, after that and lots of questions and discussion from the group I started writing things like this, "this is pretty confusing ... not sure if anyone will ever get it" and this, "there seems to be a disconnect on what is in the 2008 farm bill." That is not to say that it wasn't informational, but rather that things are so confusing that there were many different interpratations represented in the room. It kind of made me dislike governmental bureaucracy a little bit more.
  • "EQIP: more interesting than CSP". Water systems ... inside fencing ... frost seeding clover in released CRP ground ... wind breaks ... need to find out about this.
  • "Iowa Micro Loan Foundation: not ready yet, but very soon."
  • "72 dpi for photos intended for the internet will help dial-up users view your website more easily"
  • "Hmm, Kelli Miller had a quote on the 'Grow Your Small Market Farm' display that was about me! I guess I should attend those classes." (By the way, it looks like we will be signing up)
Like I said, those are just some thoughts and quotes from my notes. Even from that sampling I can tell how useful these two days were for me. Besides the notes I made many good contacts and picked up a bunch of great information. The way that I summed up the weekend for my wife describes it best I think ... "I learned a lot this weekend, and I also learned what I need to learn about". Basically, I did pick up a ton of information and then I also jotted down more information about things I wanted to research. At least I should have good blog discussion fodder for a while now!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Day One of PFI Conference Report

Day number one at the PFI Annual Conference ... Great! I gotta say that I really enjoyed my first day at the conference from the workshop to the food and especially the "King Corn" guys. In fact the only down fall for the event so far has been the weather. After getting out of the conference at 9:40 PM I found the snow and wind a bit greater than I expected. I drove a little ways and decided that driving as slow as I was would mean about 2 1/2 hours until I got home. So, I decided to stay in Marshalltown and pony up for a hotel. But, everything else was great.

Here are a few bullet points from the day:
  • The workshop I attended led by Will Winter, DVM was great. I ended up taking a few pages of notes ... most of which I didn't completely understand. But, the reason I wrote down all those notes was so I could go home and do a little more research. Mr. Winter is a Holistic Veterinarian who only works with natural remedies and of course focuses on prevention more than anything. I wrote down words like: Desert Dyna-Min, Hemocel 100, Rescue Remedy, Selenium, and so much more. I feel like I have the beginning of an understanding!
  • There are a lot of interesting vendors and what not in the Exibition Hall. I'm kind of shy when it comes to going up to people I don't know, but I have had some good conversation in there and collected some good information. Hopefully I'll have some more to write about from what I looked at there.
  • The food is good! Local chili, local cornbread, local ice cream, local milk ... what is there not to like. I can't wait for lunch today.
  • I have recognized a few faces that I have seen around before at things like auctions and field days. It is great to know that there are others out there who are and are willing to think differently about farming.
  • The highlight of the day without a doubt though was the "King Corn" guys (specifically Aaron and Curt). If you have been following the blog for a long time you might remember that Aaron found my post and started interacting. He had a lot of great stuff to say and really opened my eyes to what the film was about and the possibilities. I had hoped to met him soon after that, but our paths never crossed because of one thing or another. Well, we finally got to meet! And I'm happy that he remembered me ... honestly I never would have expected him to. I had a good conversation with him and also was introduced to Curt. One more cool thing ... it seems that Aaron has opened a grocery store in the Brox that sells food "that you know where it came from". Check out the website for Urban Rustic.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Gettin' Me Some Education...

Today I take off for the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) annual conference in Marshalltown, IA. I'm pretty excited for a couple of reasons. First of all, this will be my first opportunity to attend a the PFI conference and it will also be my first farming conference of any sort. I had hoped to go to quite a few others, but they all landed smack dab in the middle of a youth event. The second reason that I'm excited to attend is that I will have a chance to share some of my thoughts about farm blogging (and I will get to learn more about website design and such). Hopefully I'll be able to share a little bit and encourage others to start blogging about their farm life and work.

But, my little session isn't what I'm most excited for. I am most excited for the different sessions and speakers that I will get to see. I thought it would be fun to share with you all what sessions I'm going to, and then when it is all said and done I'll report back on some of the things I heard, saw, and learned.

On Friday afternoon there are a set of workshops that you can choose from, and this was probably the most difficult choice I had to make when it comes to what I am going to attend. There is one called, "Fledgling Farmers" that features some farmers that started their farms from scratch and a person that helps beginning farmers find land. That sounded pretty interesting, but since we already have the land I thought I didn't want to hear what I should have done (just kidding). Instead I decided to go with the workshop titled, "The Art of Raising Drug-Free and Healthy Livestock". This session will discuss a holistic (from the animals to the soil) approach to herd and flock health and is led by Will Winter who works with Thousand Hills Cattle Company.

The rest of Friday evening features different food and gatherings until 8:00 PM when we get a sneak peak at a new film by the "King Corn" guys. You know I can't wait for that!

Saturday morning will find me attending the keynote and then in the session titled, "The New Conservation Stewardship (Security) Program". Since I have written about this a couple of times on the blog I thought it would be good to get some more information on the program and see if it is something that would fit a farm like ours. It should be pretty interesting.

In the afternoon I'll be working with another farmer on the session called, "Cyber Farmers: Using Websites and Blogs". As I mentioned I'm really looking forward to this ... mostly because I think there will be a lot for me to learn.

After that session there will be some time to meet with other farmers and then a sort of "what the attendees want to know" session where they will tackle some of the topics that people ask about. All in all it sounds like a great two days!

Now all I have to do is make sure I schedule in the time to finish my sermon for Sunday...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Livestock Guardian Dogs?

I have always been a medium sized dog kind of guy. The first dog I picked out was an English Springer Spaniel ... a nice medium sized dog. Probably my favorite dog ever was Brandy, a Blue Heeler cross ... a nice medium sized dog. When we got our first dog as a family (just last year) I picked out a Treeing Cur from my dad ... a nice smaller medium sized dog. But, my wife has always liked big dogs! She likes labs and anything bigger than that because of the sense of security that they can give.

So, now that we are out on the farm and there are times that I come home after dark she would like a dog around that is a bit more imposing than a 20 pound cur. I guess I can't say that I blame her. But, if we are going to get another dog for the family it would be nice if we got one that would also help with the farm (right now the best our dog Sophie can do is act as my "chore buddy" when I'm out working). With that in mind I have begun researching some of the breeds that are commonly called Livestock Guardian Dogs. They seem like a good type of dog to check out if we are looking for something to help protect the home and the animals.

So far my research has been limited to the internet (here is a nice site I found) and one phone conversation that we had with someone selling some Great Pyrenees cross pups (3/4 Pyr). What I have found on the internet is pretty good stuff and a lot of satisfied owners, and the person we talked with the dogs for say also had a lot of nice things to say (they raise them with their sheep). But, I would love to hear some more first hand knowledge from people that own LGD's or have been around them.

What do you like about them? Are they good with kids? How do they do with strangers (relatives and such)? How do you go about training them to guard the livestock and the people? Hopefully someone out there has some ideas...

**Also, don't forget that we still have wholes and halves of pork left that will be going to the locker in a couple weeks. Let us know if you are interested.**

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"A 50-Year Farm Bill"

That is the title of an opinion piece from the New York Times that frequent commenter Yeoman passed on to me the other day. You can check out the article for yourself by taking this link, and I do strongly encourage you to check it out because it is a very interesting bit of right that gives a thinking type of person a lot to think about. I thought I would take a few moments today to share a few of the quotes that struck me the most and then add a little bit of my opinion that that of the authors, Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson.
"The extraordinary rainstorms last June caused catastrophic soil erosion in the grain lands of Iowa, where there were gullies 200 feet wide. But even worse damage is done over the long term under normal rainfall — by the little rills and sheets of erosion on incompletely covered or denuded cropland, and by various degradations resulting from industrial procedures and technologies alien to both agriculture and nature."
-Yes, we did have a lot of rain in Iowa last summer (not just June) and it did cause a lot of soil erosion. I saw pictures from around the state of huge washouts, I drove over roads that lost half of themselves down stream, and I even saw little waterways on our completely grass covered farm grow in size. This loss of top soil is something I find myself thinking about a lot as I drive the seven miles into town for work and see bare fields on either side of the road.
"Civilizations have destroyed themselves by destroying their farmland. This irremediable loss, never enough noticed, has been made worse by the huge monocultures and continuous soil-exposure of the agriculture we now practice."
-I think this is an interesting comment about civilizations destroying themselves by neglecting their topsoil. In fact I would go out on a limb and say one of the man reason that it hasn't destroyed our American civilization yet is because we have a lot more land than many earlier civilizations and because our Midwestern region had seemingly unending topsoil when we got there. But, all you have to do is look towards the Eastern part of our country and understand why many farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries were willing to live on the edge of the wilderness where they had to fear for their safety ... because the land was being used up in the East.
"Industrial agricultural has made our food supply entirely dependent on fossil fuels and, by substituting technological “solutions” for human work and care, has virtually destroyed the cultures of husbandry (imperfect as they may have been) once indigenous to family farms and farming neighborhoods."
-The further we get into our farming journey the more I become keenly aware that we are destroying "the cultures of husbandry". Really the old adage that there is nothing new under the sun is completely true when it comes to farming. The thing is though that we have just about lost what really worked and so it seems like people are coming up with lots of "new" ideas for farm management. Remember ... grass-fed isn't new, organic isn't new, natural isn't new, and extensive crop rotations aren't new!
"And with an increase in the use of perennial plants and grazing animals would come more employment opportunities in agriculture — provided, of course, that farmers would be paid justly for their work and their goods."
-This quote just really struck me because I often wonder how many people out there don't understand that many farmers/ranchers are underpaid for the work that they provide ... and I could even go so far as saying for the security they provide our country. I do like the possibility of increased employment opportunities in agriculture!
"We need a 50-year farm bill that addresses forthrightly the problems of soil loss and degradation, toxic pollution, fossil-fuel dependency and the destruction of rural communities."
-Come on, do we really think we are willing to look that far into the future?

Of course there is a lot more that I could say, but I think this is enough for now. I do encourage you to go check out this short piece and report back with some of your thoughts. If nothing else it should make some good discussion.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Good 'Ol Pork For Sale

Here is a little self-promotion for your Tuesday morning. If you are in the vicinity of Central Iowa and would love some great small-farm raised pork just let us know.

Happy New Year from Stoneyfield Farm! What a year last year was. We were able to purchase land for our farm, we built our house and are now living in it, and we have brought our livestock to our farm as well. Things are really coming along!

Since you expressed interest in our meat, I thought I would update you on how it is coming along.

Our Dexter cattle are now at the farm and are adjusting to their home. They are growing well and are enjoying the hay made from our land. We are looking forward to spring when the pastures green up and we can start our rotational grazing with them. It looks like we should have a few steers ready for sale near the end of the summer.

Our hogs have been enjoying the farm a bit longer than the cows. They arrived here in June and are now ready to head to the processor. If you are interested in purchasing pork, here is a little more information on them:

The pork that we have available this winter is “Old Fashioned Pork”, just like Grandpa and Grandma used to have. Our pigs are kept outside free of confinement houses and have not been fed or given antibiotics or hormones. They have been allowed to live the way pigs were designed to live - rooting up the ground, wallowing in the mud, and relaxing in the sun. They have been fed a varied diet of soybean meal, ground corn, and ear corn (corn still on the cob) with access to grass and hay from time to time as well.

We will be selling our hogs by the whole and half (or by smaller portions if there is a group you would like to go in with). The pricing for our “Old Fashioned Pork” is as follows:
-Purchase of hog = $1.00 / pound on the hoof (live weight) to be paid to Stoneyfield Farm

-Processing of hog = $0.60 / pound hanging weight to be paid to Milo Locker

The hogs we have this winter are around 250 lbs. The hanging weight should be somewhere around 175 lbs. Depending on which cuts you choose, you would then end up with around 123 lbs of meat if you purchased a whole hog. (Let us know if you would like a worksheet that helps you see what cuts you can have.)

This would equal around $2.89 per pound of meat consisting of your choice of cuts. Please keep in mind that the price per pound might vary depending on the individual hog and which cuts you choose.

We have a processing date reserved at the Milo locker, and the meat should be ready to be picked up the first week of February. We will need to finalize our order for this processing date this week so if you are interested in purchasing pork, please let us know within the next few days. If you would rather have a hog processed at a locker closer, please let us know so we can make arrangements. (Processing charges may be different at other lockers.)

If you have questions or would like more details, please feel free to call or e-mail. If you would like to purchase a whole or half of “Old Fashioned Pork”, please let us know within the next few days.

Thanks again for your interests in our farm and our products. We pray you have a wonderful New Year!

Ethan and Rebecca Book
Stoneyfield Farm

Monday, January 05, 2009

Working on Our Building Plan

I don't know if you can tell or not, but when it comes to making a decision I usually take a long time and mull things over A LOT! That is what is going on with our shed/barn'ish building plans at the moment. I figure you only get one chance to put up a big building (I'm not really into tearing things down) so I better make sure that we have the right placement, the right design, the right price, and of course the right idea. So, here is what I'm thinking ... I would love to hear your thoughts on the plan.
  • Right now we are looking at building a 24' x 32' building with clear span trusses and 12' side walls. The building would have walls on three sides and be open across the front to the South with two 16' bays. I am also going to ask the building how much it would cost to add another 16' bay making it 24' x 48', but money is an issue so we will have to see.
  • Off of the back of the building I would like to add a 16' lean-to that will continue the pitch of the roof. This should give us about a 7' or 8' side wall on the lean-to and this area would ideally become a winter feeding area for our cattle. We would be able to throw down hay from the main area and feed the cattle in deep bedding much like Joel Salatin writes about and does. The lean-to would also mean that all of the main area could be used for storage.
  • One of the questions we are facing is how much we are going to hire done and how much we are going to do ourselves. As of now we are planning with the same builder who put up the building for our house because we are comfortable with him and pleased with his work, but we aren't sure how much to have him do. Initially we were going to have him frame up the building and put on the roof. That would mean that we would add the lean-to and the steel for it and the sides. The thing we need to figure out is how easy it would be to add the lean-to after the building roof is done.
  • Another question that I have been thinking about is what all we are going to add to the interior or around the shed. What I mean is that I would like to run electricity out there so we can plug in our fencers there and also have lights. It would also be great to have a water hydrant out there for watering livestock, and I have even been thinking about installing a freeze proof cattle water thing (something like this one).
So, there are some of the plans. There are more things that are bouncing around in my head, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Either things from experience or ideas that pop into your mind.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Yep, that is the word that best describes our mood on the farm right now. Since the beginning of this blog I have had so many joyful things to write about, but today devastated is all that I can come up with.

Yesterday evening we lost our herd sire Hershey (the picture above says a lot about his temperament). I'm not exactly sure what happened, but for the past three our four days things went down hill quickly. We called the vet, had the vet come out, administered some antibiotics, covered him with blankets, hand feed him alfalfa cubes, and built a tarp tent around him with an electric heater to get his body temperature back up (it was only slightly low). But, it seems like each hour we got weaker starting at about midnight two nights ago (or something like that).

We are having the vet do some checks to see if they can find a reason for his passing, but the vet says these types of things aren't always an exact science so we will just see what happens. I know one thing, I miss the big guy and knew that I would as I spent some late nights with him these past few days.

I believe he has most of our herd bred (except for the fall calvers), so I know that Hershey will live on at Stoneyfield (he also has at least one more progeny kicking around). But, that doesn't make this day any better. I am going to see about having our two cows AI'd or something and then we will begin a search again for another bull.

I will offer this perspective though ... last night when we put the kids down for bed and they did their prayers my son prayed, "Thank you for this wonderful day". "Wonderful" is about the last word I would use to describe a day like this, but maybe the eyes of a four-year-old can see something I can't. The vet did think the rest of the herd looked very nice, for what it is worth. We will press on... and continue...

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Beginning Farmer ... Goals 2009

Yesterday I reviewed last years goals and how well I did on accomplishing them. All in all I would say that I did a pretty fair job on last years goals, and I know for sure that we are further along the farming path now than we were a year before (buying a farm and all). But, as you look over my goals for this year and compare them with last years goals you will see a bit of a difference ... basically this years goals are bigger! And, I guess they are a bit more physical in nature. I still plan on reading as much as I can and consuming all the information possible, but there is just a lot of physical work that needs to be done on the farm. So, here are my goals.
  1. Fence in the Farm: This one has to be done there is no way around it. And, it needs to be done as soon as possible. Once we start moving into spring I'm going to get a jump on the exterior fencing because I know that it will take awhile with soccer coaching going on. But, hopefully with the help of some friends and neighbors we can knock out about 3/4 of a mile of fence in no time.
  2. Put up a Shed: I'm about "this" close to getting this one done. Really, we just need to pull the trigger and go ahead with it because I have the plans picked out and the location picked out. If we can just make sure we have the money picked out we are good to go. In case you don't remember, my plan is to put up a 24x32 (or something) building with 10 ft. side walls. It will have clear span trusses and will be open on the front. Off the back we will be a 14-16 foot lean-to in order to have some extra room. Hopefully we can use a building like this for a little bit of everything.
  3. Become a Better Mechanic: I can vividly remember my dad encouraging me to sign-up for auto mechanics class in high school. Unfortunetly I can also vividly remember not doing it because none of my friends took that class. Now that I have an old tractor I'm beginning to wish I had those skills! So, this year I would like to learn my way around the tractor a little more and get that girl really working on the farm.
  4. Become a Builder: During 2008 (with a LOT of help from friends and family) I became a house builder. And while a bit of the house stuff is spilling over into 2009 I hope to become a builder of many things this year. I would like to build a rolling hen house, a woodshed, a water wagon, and so much more. I'm actually looking forward to this type of building though because their will be a little more tolerance for things that come out crooked.
  5. Share Farming With My Family: The greatest thing about our farm is that it isn't just my dream, it is actually something that we have all grown to love and appreciate. This year I want to continue to share the farm with my family (extended family also) and help instill the values and joy that can come with farm life. It is my prayer that our farm is a blessing for all of our family and all that come and check it out.
There you have it, goals for 2009. As I glance back over them I see a lot of work and learning, but really ... I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Beginning Farmer ... Goals in Review

Last year on the first day of 2008 I took some time to write out some goals for the farm. You can check the link to see what was on my mind last year, but all in all I think I did fairly well considering our circumstances changed drastically when we decided to buy 40 acres and build a house! Today I thought as we take the first step into 2009 I thought I would take a look back at my 2008 goals and see how I did. Then tomorrow I'll share with you the goals that have been kicking around in my head for 2009 ... they are quite a bit different than last years!

2008 Goal #1 - Read Six Farming Related Books: I'm not sure that I made it through six complete books, but I did come pretty close this year in the reading department and I'm sure if you counted in all of the magazine articles I read that it would exceed my goal. This was a good goal for me though because I broadened my reading a bit this year and I feel that I really started to develop my ideas on many subjects.

2008 Goal #2 - Begin Rotational Grazing: Yep, I probably failed miserably at this one, but it mostly has to do with the fact that most of the cattle spent the year at my dad's still. We did end up make five different pastures that they rotated through, but the results weren't that great. Once the fence gets up at the new place it will happen this year.

2008 Goal #3 - Add Another Dimension to the Stoneyfield Livestock Operation: I can easily check this one off of the list because we added the pigs. Everything hasn't gone as smoothly as we would have liked, but what does? In this coming year I wouldn't mind adding some hair sheep, but we really need to focus on getting everything else up and running first.

2008 Goal #4 - Expand Our Backyard Laying Operation: Thanks to the city of Knoxville this one was nixed very early on in 2008. But, then we moved so it was all good. We haven't actually added any birds yet, but we are thinking about getting some laying hens from an Amish egg guy. He is rotating out the flock and you can get them for 75¢ each. I can't argue with the price on that one.

2008 Goal #5 - Build a Stoneyfield Website and Expand the Blog: I think I can say check and check on this one. Thanks to the help of my wife's cousin we now have a website and in a way I expanded the blogging by writing over at the Epi-Log (even though my time there is done).

Check back tomorrow to see what goals I have on the brain for 2009, and I pray you have a blessed and wonderful beginning of the year with friends and family!
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