Saturday, February 28, 2009

Organic Farmer of the Year...

Through the Practical Farmers of Iowa ListServ I received an e-mail today that was a press release announcing that Iowa farmers Tom and Irene Frantzen were just named Organic Farmer of the Year by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Of course this is of interest to me because of the Iowa connection, but it is also interesting because Mr. Frantzen is the one I wrote about a little while ago in regards to the pasture farrowing huts.

Here is a brief description of the Frantzen farm:
The Frantzens manage a diversified farm. They grow crops for animal feed on more than 300 tillable acres, and sell soybeans as a cash crop. Their farrow-to-finish hog operation produces 600 head for market with 40 brood sows. They also keep 50 beef brood cows. All slaughter animals are certified organic and marketed through Organic Prairie Meat Company.
I have had the opportunity to read a couple of things about Mr. Frantzen and his farm and it sounds like he has a pretty neat and unique thing going on (read here or here). But, one of the most exciting things in my mind is that he is doing it in my neck of the woods.

I don't know if it is too late to sign-up for this, but the Frantzen Farm will be featured in virtual "farm tour" sponsered by various organizations. You can get the informantion by taking this link, and on that .pdf brochure you can find some contact information on how to sign-up. I know that I will be watching!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Who is Right?

Here is another article that you can chalk up to the "it depends on how you look at things" card. From the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University we find the article, "Boom for Whom? Family Farmers Saw Lower On-Farm Income Despite High Prices". This report seems to run contrary to the findings from the USDA about the 2008 crop year and how the high commodity prices effected farmers. As you can guess from the late post today I don't have a lot of time, but I encourage you to check out the report.

Here are a few quotes I pulled out. I would love to hear your thoughts.
"In 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated net farm income of $89.3 billion, up slightly from the previous year’s record and 50% above the average for the preceding 10 years."

"2007 was a banner year for major crops, with prices significantly higher than they were in 2003, when we last examined this data. Between the two years, corn prices increased 87%, soybean prices rose 47%, and wheat prices jumped 91% in nominal terms. So how much better off were the higher-sales family farms? Quite a bit, as it turns out, but not from farming. Total household income was up 23%, from $59,623 to $73,260, but the entire increase came from off-farm income, which jumped from $30,375 to $47,245 and accounted for 64% of household income. Still, with total household income reaching $73,260 (in nominal terms), 108% of the U.S. average (well below the 128% that USDA farm sector averages suggest), one would have a hard time characterizing these farmers as well-off."

"Who did well, then? The largest commercial farmers were the only family farm subgroup in the USDA survey to show a net increase in income from higher prices in 2007. Very large commercial farms (family-owned operations making more than $500,000 in gross sales) saw a 46% jump in net income from farm sales, from $130,263 to nearly $189,547, easily compensating for their $12,196 drop in government payments between the two years. With off-farm income dropping only slightly between the two years, the 21% increase in total household income, from $220,971 to $267,130, came entirely from on-farm income, thanks to high prices."
There is a bit more in the article, but those are some interesting numbers that they are throwing around. Like I said, I'm sure it just depends on how you look at things ... but, who is right?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Oh, for a Tractor...

...My kingdom for a Tractor! Well, maybe not my "kingdom" for a tractor (if I gave up the "kingdom" I would have no need for a tractor). But, there sure are plenty of times that I wish my tractor hadn't given up on me (probably from user error) and that I had it to help with chores. In fact I was just thinking about the humor in the fact that way back when I wrote, "What is a Farm Without a Tractor". At the time of writing that we barely had a house plan let alone livestock or fencing work on the farm ... now, we've got cows (the pigs are all gone) and plenty of work to do!

While the tractor is out of commission the handiest tool on the farm has become the combination of my power and our garden cart. I've used it to haul hay to the heifer calves that now have a place of their own, to clean out the indoor pen where I put animals when they need it, haul wood to the door, take trash out to the road, and so much more. Those are all things that I had used the loader for at various times ... now it just takes a little more time.

Probably the biggest place that I miss the tractor is when it comes time to move in a new big round bale. I have to wait until the ground is frozen so that I don't get the truck or the bale stuck (it has happened). As spring comes on in greater force this is going to be a bigger problem, but we will just go to plan "b" which means feeding round bales by hand over the fence into the round bale rings.

I have been working on a tractor solution though. So far my cousin has been able to figure out that he can't find the exact cause of the engine problem. It is stuck that is certain, but nothing seems out of place or torn up. I guess this could be a good thing, but I'm still looking at plenty of other options.

I have located a few Farmall 450's that range in price from "doable" to "you've got to be kidding me". One nice thing is my search for another 450 is I think I have found that if I got a completely different tractor I could part mine out for at least a salvageable amount of money. Another thing I'm doing is scouring the classifieds and the online places looking for used tractors. So far I have found a couple candidates in the form of an Oliver 1855 and 1750 along with some smaller John Deere's. But, we will see what happens.

The biggest problem though is it just isn't a good time to have to go tractor shopping. There are so many things on the farm that need done and they all cost money! I might just end up seeing how long I can go without a tractor, but then I would have to figure something out for hay...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No Niman in Niman Ranch...

I had recently heard that the founder of Niman Ranch, Bill Niman, had left the company after some financial troubles (had to sell some ownership to keep afloat) and difference on practices with a new group on board. Until yesterday I didn't know much about the story (either how Niman Ranch begain or Mr. Niman leaving), but thanks to the Practical Farmers of Iowa Listserv I was able to read this article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

What was most interesting to me was the story behind the beginnings of Niman Ranch. Basically Mr. Niman was a guy not from the farm (I can kinda relate) that ended up deciding that he could raise high quality food. He initially bought 11 acres and started out with a few animals before grabbing a partner and jumping up to 200 acres and cattle. The beef was really the beginning of Niman Ranch, but all I have ever heard about here in Iowa is the pork side of things. You really should check out the story if you want to know the complete background.

Anyways, it sounds like Mr. Niman was an idealistic kind of guy who didn't believe in hormones, only partially in antibiotics, and hated the ideas of feedlots. His goal was to raise high quality beef that was great tasting and humanely raised. To that end he set up his own special finishing system (I don't really know much about this) and Niman Ranch beef had to go through that farm to receive the Niman label. The pork system wasn't like that...

The Niman Ranch model is an interesting story. I have known a few Niman pork producers and even had some Niman Ranch pork (or what would have been Niman Ranch pork) and I think it has been a very good outlet to farmers that are willing to jump on board with their rules. In fact I have heard quite a few farmers change their farm over from a conventional crate farrowing system to a pen farrowing deal and outdoor raising and really love the change.

Here is the most interesting thing that I got out of this article. There are really a lot of different ways to skin a cat ... or be sustainable (depending on your definition of the word). Some would call the Niman model not very sustainable because it still included shipping Iowa pork all the way to California, while others would say that it was very sustainable because it allowed some smaller scale pork producers in Iowa to stay in business and raise pigs in a pretty good way.

The farmers that work for Niman Ranch don't have to worry about the marketing, but they can still raise pigs without building the latest and greatest steel hog facilities. I like what I have seen from some of the Niman producers ... some of them have farms like my grandfather had...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dirt Hog :: Chapter 4 Book Report

Sorry for those of you that are bored with "pig talk", but I have some catching up to do because while I'm writing a chapter three report I'm actually reading chapter six! Plus, as I make my way through this book there are lots of things flying through my head about how I want to run our farm and why I want to do things the way we are and are going to do them. This book is full of information ... some that is helpful ... some that is above my head ... and some that is great for beginners and more than beginners alike.

Chapter four is really about swine herd maintenance and covers everything from health to breeding and more. One of the first things that this chapter covers is how to keep track of animals and keep their information in order. It was interesting to read his thoughts on this because I had just seen someone's system that they used. He talked about the pros and cons of ear tags and notching and the importance of having an information card to go with each sow and litter. As we get deeper into the world of pigs this is something that I'm going to have to tackle.

Another section in this chapter that I really liked was the part about outdoor farrowing. It appears that the author farrows out on the "range" in huts spaced about 100 to 150 feet apart. His system is to check on the sows that are close to farrowing first thing in the morning and then once more in the evening. Other than that he says that he just has to rely on the genetic selections that they have made. I love to hear about how people are making outdoor farrowing work because I believe that it is a system that can and does work.

Beyond those two topics it his long chapter is full of tons of information. If you haven't noticed yet ... I like this book quite a bit. I believe it is a good book for a beginner like myself to read. It doesn't have everything you need to know, but it is full of great information. Plus, it is really getting me excited about range hogs!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dirt Hog :: Chapter 3 Book Report

Wow, I just realized that I'm reading chapter six in "Dirt Hog", but I have only written two chapter book reports. I have some catching up to do. But, that is okay because it seems like lately this has become the "Beginning Pig Farmer" blog. Really, that hasn't become our main focus ... rather it is just what I happen to be reading about a lot lately. I will admit though that after going through our first batch of pigs that I am beginning to think that they are the ideal animal for a beginning farmer like myself to start out with. Of course you can always go with chickens because of the low overhead, but if larger livestock is your goal pigs are a great way to start out.

Now, back to the book report ... Chapter three deals with selection of your pigs (covering everything from feeder pigs to gilts and sows to boars) and even has some general information about the different breeds out there. I have to admit that this chapter was a little overwhelming because was so much information and I once again realized how much of an art it is to be a very good livestock farmer. But, I did appreciate everything in the chapter even if it will take years for me to learn by trial and error.

As an aside, another thing that has popped into my mind as I'm writing this is that Kelly Klober (the author) seems to have a vast amount of knowledge when it comes to pigs. Much of that knowledge, I'm sure, has come from being around people that know the art of a selecting and raising a high quality swine herd. It is great to be able to have it written down in a book, but I will say that I wish I had a mentor like him around to show me and help me as I muck my way through the pig world!

Mr. Klober goes into great detail on some of the things that you need to look for when selecting pigs, especially pigs destined to become "range hogs". One area that he talks about being very important are the feet and legs. Those legs are going to be very important for a pig that will be outside and have the need and chance to move around. In a confinement setting it is not as big of an issue, so some breeding has taken away a good leg on each corner of the pig.

He even writes about the type of tail to look for when selecting. Mr. Klober says that large tail with the base well up on the body can be a good indicator of ham size and carcass length. This is the kind of knowledge that I'm talking about!

The chapter covers a lot of other information (too much to write about today) and then ends up with a short description of various breeds within the three major categories that he talks about a lot through out the book ... White Breeds, Red Breeds, and Black Breeds. It was nice to see the Hereford breed mentioned though because that is one that we are looking at closely now.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A2 Milk Does the Body Good?

Let me just say that this has been an amazingly crazy week. One that has seen the sudden death of one of our church friends (who helped finish the house), our pastor end up in the emergency room again (this time with internal bleeding), another church friend had three stints put in on Wednesday, and while doing my first funeral one of the ladies from the church fainted in the basement kitchen (the ambulance came for that one). Needless to say I am worn out, but I still have a sermon to write, an all day class to go to, and of course plenty of chores around the farm.

I said that not as a complaint, but rather as a way of introduction to this post ... a kind of excuse for the lameness of this Saturday post!

A2 Milk: I don't know much about it, but I know now that you can test for the A2 genes through the American Dexter Cattle Association (by way of Texas A&M). You can read all about A2 on the A2 Milk website (it seems that someone has trademarked the whole deal). It would be interesting if any of our cows carried the A2 genetics, but I think I'll wait to test...

**One last thing. I just wanted to thank everyone for all of the great comments, encouragement, teaching, opinions, and everything else that has been contributed to this blog. We are nearing the 500th post (I have something planned) and I cannot believe how far our family has progressed. One thing is for sure though ... I wouldn't be nearly as far without all of the great help that I receive from all of those that have shared!**

Friday, February 20, 2009

Crates, Pens, Huts, or Pasture?

As I was sifting through some threads over on Homesteading Today I came across an interesting thread about the very question I posted in the title of this post. The original poster obviously raises on quite a bit bigger scale than I do and it sounds like he had recently tried some pen farrowing after being used to crate farrowing. The conclusion he comes to is that at his farm he is better off with crates and maybe some turnout pens because he doesn't like the loss of pigs.

I think there are some valid points brought up on each side of the argument. Here are some of the interesting comments from the thread (of course you should check out the whole thing):
  • "Part of my decision to use pens was that the farrowing crates are so upsetting to people and I have so much business traffic through the farm, I'm over that now.... hate me!!!!! I'm not goin to watch pigs die to be green and PC...."
  • "I think there needs to be an open discussion on why crates are inhumane but low weaning averages are acceptable... low weaning numbers = high piglet mortality.... 100% surival should be the goal....... 95% should be a reality."
  • "Keeping hogs in a barn has much higher overhead costs than pasturing. You've got the barn cost, upkeep and maintenance, labor, etc. I'm willing to accept up to 20% mortality due to my lowered inputs."
  • "These pens are the same pens that have been used in past generations, when litters were just smaller....In the US the number of weaned pigs has gone up by 3 in 10 years..... I just don't think, the modern genetics of sows can keep up their numbers in pens...."
  • "Pig mortality is a trait that can be bred away from. If you have an inattentive sow that lays on pigs, cull her. Keep the sows that don't lose pigs, and keep their daughters. One mistake that I think the farming industry as a whole has made for years is being production driven instead of profit driven. Higher weaning numbers or higher finished pounds does not automatically equal higher profits. How much did your inputs have to go up in order to gain the higher production? If you can wean fewer pigs and finish fewer pounds with dramatically lower inputs, profits may very well be higher than with the higher production numbers."
So, what are your thoughts? I just watched an online farm tour of a pasture farrowing farm that runs 15 or 16 sows per acre. They farrow in huts (the huts are moved inside a hoop building in the winter) and he does lose about 2 per litter or so I believe he said. Despite the losses this is the way he has been doing it for a long time and this is the way he wants to continue because it works best for his farm (the pastured pigs are part of his crop rotation). He mentioned that he can make $2,400 per acre with his pasture farrowing operation when he has pigs in the fields.

As I just mentioned, I would love to hear your thoughts on this debate. There were some interesting points made on either side of the issue. I do have some strong opinions, but I just thought I would throw the information out there and see what everyone thinks.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Thing About Grassfed Dexters...

...They won't come to a bucket of grain! Yep, that is one of the downsides to the grassfed cows we have because they just aren't to interested in the sound of grain in a bucket. And, grain in the bucket would have come in handy last night for an hour or more after 10:00 PM when we were out trying to round up our new cow, heifer, and bull. Let's just say it was dark, our flashlights were failing fast, and of course it had to be cold and very windy! But, when it was all said in done all three of them were in a pen. There was just one problem...

All three of them ended up in the main lot where the rest of the cows and heifers were. This would not be that big of a deal except for one little thing. There were four heifers in there that I did not want bred because they were too young. We did the very best that we could, but finally we had to give up after only getting three of them cut out and into a small pen in the corner (I will move them tomorrow). What I wouldn't have given for a lariat last night!

As if that wasn't enough ... I still had a funeral message to prepare. So, if you are of the praying inclination I wouldn't mind if you lifted me up today as I do my very first solo funeral for a man in our church that has been a big help to us. He was one of the great group of men that came out and worked on the house to get us in a finished building before we had to move. His help with the drywall and mudding was invaulable and a true expression of what the Church is supposed to be like.

Nevertheless, the bull is now in with the cows. I guess we will see what Hershey didn't get covered and then I will make sure we have a building up year for bad season calving. Actually, I'm going to think about pulling him out this afternoon. What I really need to do is just weigh the pros and cons. The pro of course is that I would actually get some 2009 calves out of the cows that I know are not bred. The con on the other hand is that it just pushes back my attempt to get on a spring calving schedule back another year for those cows.

We'll just see what happens...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Stoneyfield Farm Vision

**The post is late today ... if you didn't notice. Our pastor has again decided that he needed some time in a hospital bed and so I have been spending time in Des Moines and doing a bit more at the church. He is having internal bleeding in his left leg and it has swollen to almost twice the size of normal. They are going to take him off of the blood thinners, but that also brings up a couple other problems ... we are praying God will continue to work.**

Back to the farm... One of the main outcomes of our class that we are currently taking is that we will hopefully end up with a business plan (if we do our work). Part of the plan is a mission statement and vision statement. I thought it would be a good idea to get some more feedback on those, so I'm posting them today for your critique and thought.

Mission Statement:

To raise grass-fed livestock outdoors on pasture to provide anti-biotic and hormone-free meats to our customers, while at the same time, building strong relationships between our family and community.

Vision Statement:

The three most important areas of focus that directly impact our farm is our:
  • Faith
  • Family
  • Friends
We strive to raise our animals in a way that reflects how they were created and to manage our land in a way that benefits nature. We desire to work together as a family while cultivating strong family ties and values in our children. Because of this, we plan on remaining a small family farm and do not wish to become a large producer. And finally, we value friendships and building community and hope our customers will come out to our farm and many new friendships will be formed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


A little over a week ago we brought home our first pig from the locker. The thing I loved most about bringing it home (at the time) was that it was so much easier to load for this trip than the trip the pig took to the locker! This time I just threw some boxes of white paper wrapped piggy into the back of the Expedition and off I went. No pushing, no mud, no mess, and no problems! But, the actual best thing about bringing the pork home has been eating it. Here is what we have had so far.
  • Pork Chops - We had to start with the Iowa gold standard first, so we started with a couple nice red butterfly pork chops. The color was amazing and the taste was even better. Two chops was enough for the entire family at supper and then I had the leftovers for lunch the next day. I can't wait until we have pork chops again, but I do need to make sure I save some for the grill.
  • Cottage Bacon and Regular Bacon - Next we had a breakfast night at supper so along with our scrambled eggs and fresh bread we had bacon ... of the regular variety and the cottage variety which comes from the shoulder instead of the side. Both were wonderful and it was great to have bacon that tasted like something! Later on we had some cottage bacon on our pizza ... that was amazing!
  • Ham Steak - On another night we had one of my farm meal favorites. Ham, corn, baked potatoes, and bread. I have to admit I was a little nervous about the ham because a lot of that taste has to do with the cure, but this was some great ham. In fact we have had a few different people comment on how good the ham was. I loved the taste and I loved the tenderness.
  • Pork Tacos and Pork Spaghetti - We didn't have any beef in the house, but that wasn't a problem because we had nice little packages of ground pork. In both cases we friend them up in a pan and then made our meal. The first night it was spaghetti sauce and the next night it was taco meat. I suppose this was a little out of the ordinary, but it actually was pretty good. The biggest plus was that I didn't have to go to the store for ground meat though!
  • Sliced Sandwich Ham - Just about like the ham steaks, but just smaller slices. We had this for lunch after our class up in Ames. My Grandma just steamed it for a bit and then we put it on some toasted buns. This will be a great meal for a quick lunch.
  • Pork Shoulder Roast - Sunday morning my wife put a three pound roast in the crock pot before we headed to church. When we came home a few hours later we were greeted to a very pleasant smell and some tender and juicy pork roast. The whole family enjoyed this meal and we still have some in the fridge for later.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies - You are probably thinking I'm crazy now, but it is true. Just last night we made chocolate chip cookies with pork lard instead of Crisco. Thanks to one of my wife's friends (and a pork customer) we had a jar of freshly rendered lard to add to the recipe. I will admit that it seemed a little odd, but they taste great. In fact these are almost healthy chocolate chip cookies because we have some our nice outdoor/pastured pig lard in them, oatmeal in them, and freshly ground wheat instead of white flour. Of course the key word there is almost...
There you have it. We still haven't had a chance to try the Italian sausage or the breakfast sausage yet, but they will get their chance soon enough. In fact, I think there may even be a couple of other cuts we need to test out. All in all there has been some great eating at Stoneyfield Farm lately!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Looking For Homework Help...

As you may know, if you follow the blog semi-regularly, we are currently taking the "Grow Your Small Market Farm" class up in Ames. So far we have had four classes (I had to miss one, but I was able to listen to a recording) and each one has been a treasure trove of information. But, besides the classes each week we have homework that deals with creating a business plan for your farm and so much more. I have found the homework thought provoking, interesting, and even difficult at times ... and I love it! But, I do need some help (that is nothing new when it comes to me and homework).

In a session coming up pretty soon we are going to have a guest speaker focusing on things like brochures, advertising things, and farm logos. That is where I could use some help. Above is a what I guess is our "text logo". It is something that my wife's cousin did for us when he made the website and I think it is great. But, what I would like to have in conjunction with that is some sort of "image" logo. Something like the one for Sugar Creek Farm, Caw Caw Creek, the grass for Prairie Lakes Church, Nature's Harmony Farm's circle logo, or even Polyface Farm's tree to an extent.

You know ... I want something fun, fresh, and hip that reflects our pasture raised beef, pork, and poultry. A pretty tall order huh!?!

Of course we are fooling around with a few things, but I'm always open for suggestions. If you have any ideas no matter how silly you think they are I would love to hear them. All I know is that if we just rely on my artistic ability we are in trouble...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Portable Swine Farrowing Buildings...

Here I go once again ... I'm looking for some advice or some first had experience when it comes to farming. This time I am specifically looking for information regarding outdoor farrowing in portable huts. I'm interested in everything from portable huts for sale to building plans for portable huts. I just want something that is good at keeping everyone snug as a bug in a rug ... If you know what I mean!

But, before I hear your thoughts on the subject I will share a few plans that I have come across through a bit of online research:
  • E-Hut Plans: This one is number one on my list because it is from a Practical Farmers of Iowa member and they are using it in my home state. The link includes building plans and pictures of them out in the "wild".
  • Niche Pork Production: This is a .pdf file of a publication that may or may not be from Iowa State. It has some more permanent structures, but if you scroll down it includes some more plans very similar to the E-Hut.
  • Port-A-Hut: These metal structures are made right here in Iowa and we have been using one of their huts since we got our first pigs. They are nice little huts, but some might like the flexibility of building their own.
  • Raising Pigs on Pasture: This is a nice little publication from SARE that includes some on farm research from folks that pasture farrow. No building plans really, but some good information.
  • Outdoor Pig Production: Another good article that has information and pictures of various types of huts. Everything from homemade to plastic to metal.
  • Portable Farrowing Houses: The last link here is from the Midwest Plan Service (online) and includes some basic plans for a few different types of houses.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hard Times on Chicken Farms...

I can't say that this is surprising, but I do feel for the farmers and the families...
"A chicken housing crisis has cropped up in the U.S., and it's producing some of the same bleak results as the human one -- foreclosures, lawsuits and devastated homeowners.

In the wake of last year's bankruptcy filing by poultry giant Pilgrim's Pride Corp., hundreds of farmers suddenly find themselves unable to make mortgage payments on their pricey chicken coops.

To cut costs, Pilgrim's, the nation's second-largest chicken company, has terminated contracts with at least 300 farms in Arkansas, Florida and North Carolina. Under these contracts, farmers receive a set price per pound for raising chicks supplied by Pilgrim's until they are ready for slaughter. The company turns the birds into nuggets, wings and other food."
Those are the opening paragraphs from, "Farmers Face Empty-Nest Syndrome Amid Chicken Housing Crisis," in Thursdays edition of "The Wall Street Journal". The article by Lauren Etter looks at the situation that a few families are currently facing after losing their production contracts with Pilgrim's Pride Corp. Their contracts gave them birds, feed, and a buyer if they built chicken houses to the companies specifications.

The draw of course to this sort of production is the fact that you know that you will have birds (not all the time I guess) and that you receive an agreed upon price (if they give you birds of course). The downside though is that most people that jump on these deals have to throw all their eggs in one basket (no pun intended) in order to get the financing to build the big buildings needed.

Once you lose your contract though you are left with a really expensive building (they cost more than $200,000 according to the article) that doesn't offer much resale value you or even income generating potential. And, as far as I know there are not many markets for an independent commercial chicken producer to sell at these days because Perdue, Tyson, and Pilgrim's own most of the commercial chickens in the country.

The thing is that the chicken industry probably isn't the only place that sees this "housing crisis" from time to time. I'm sure it exists in the commercial hog world where huge confinement houses are built when prices are high and then are hard to keep going when prices drop. I'm sure the same thing happens in dairy and crops as well.

I see at least two problems working here. The first problem is the fact that the poultry industry in the U.S. has become vertical. Farmers are growing someone's birds and they don't have much say in the operation. The second problem is diversification. If you are a chicken farmer and you lose all of your chickens ... well, I think you lose all of your income.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Putting Up Some Fence

No, I'm not putting any fence up just yet (and my plans may take a step back if we get the snow they are calling for on Friday), but we have settled on a bit of a fencing plan. We are in need of about 1/2 mile of exterior fence along two sides of our property that borders the road and then a diagonal line of fence along the woods. Of course we could have just put up straight shots around the entire property, but that would have taken to many hours on a bulldozer so we are going to just fence along the woods.

Thanks to Gary at PowerFlex we now have a plan that goes something like this... On the exterior fence we will have six strands of hi-tensile wire. There will be wood hedge posts at the corners, around the turn of the property, and anywhere there is big terrain change. For line posts we are going to go with 1 1/4" x 66" PowerFlex posts (we could and we might go with the 1 5/8" bull posts) spaced at about 30 feet. I'm not exactly sure on the spacing of the wires, but will check with Gary to see what he recommends for the livestock that we have/will have.

Along the woods we are going to use three wires (and some gates most likely so I can do some flash grazing in the brush) and the 1 1/4" x 60" PowerFlex posts. There will probably be some hedge posts thrown in along the line at the major bends and such. I like the idea of the three wires because it allows us to be a bit flexible down there.

As far as interior fencing goes I think we are going to go with some of the Management Intensive Grazing basics. We will have some tread-in posts, wire or polybraid, and some reels for quick setup and tear down. At this point we aren't going to do much in the way of permanent interior fencing so we have some time to really understand our pastures.

This bad boy of a system will be powered by a 6 Joule fencer (most likely a Stafix brand) that ought to provide a shocking mental barrier to our livestock.

I've got to tell you that I am very thankful for the help that they have been at PowerFlex and I really get the feeling that their product is as good as their service. This spring (if it ever completely comes) I'll have a good series of posts on the process and lots of pictures. So, stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Fought the Mud...

...And I Won! Yesterday you might remember that the Expedition and the stock trailer were stuck in the mud. But, it was more than just that because inside the stock trailer were three new Dexters for Stoneyfield Farm. It was getting late and we were too far from where they were supposed to be to rig something up, so I just threw a bunch of hay in the trailer and bedded them down for the night. But, today I finally scored a point against the mud!

When I came home from work today I decided I was just going to try and get the truck and trailer on the gravel. I figured if I could do that I could figure something out. So, after a little slow going I was on firmish ground and I thought maybe I could make it to the pen if I took a run at it driving towards it instead of backing up to it. My plan worked and with the help of a cattle panel and a 16 foot gate all three of the new Dexters are in place.

So, you may be wondering why three new Dexters and why now? Well, we are going to need a bull this summer and if I have learned anything over the past couple of years I have learned that it is somewhat difficult to find a decent bull when you need one. So, when I saw this group for sale at a good price I jumped at the opportunity. I figured it was best to at least have something.

This was a package deal though, so I came home Monday (after about 7 hours of driving) with an almost three-year-old bull and cow along with their 7-month old heifer. While he isn't the greatest Dexter bull ever he is a decent looking bull and will work for our herd. The cow and the heifer also have added something to the herd.

I am beginning to think that I want to focus mostly on the dun or red cows mostly for heat resistance and the way they look. So, this summer (maybe after calving) I'm going to sell two black cows and keep these two dun cows. This will help with the money we just spent and will also bring us closer to the dun/red herd I'm looking for.

One more thing ... none of these three are registered yet. That means they don't have names! Do you have any good suggestions?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wind and Mud 4 ... Ethan 0

Some of you may remember reading about the total destruction of our chicken coop (my wife wrote about it also). That was a time when the weather got the best of me. I am sorry to say that good ol' Mr. Iowa Weather is at it again and is trying to pitch a shutout. The destruction of our first coop was point number one. Now I will recount the next three points that Mr. Iowa Weather has scored on me lately...
  • Point #2: A couple of weeks ago I had to drive the church van out here because I had no vehicle in town. It was no big deal really and since the ground was frozen solid I decided to park in by the pig pen in the grass so that it wasn't in the way. Well, when it came time to load pigs I needed to move it ... there was only one problem with that idea. The temperatures had decided to come up and the frost had decided to leave the ground. That all lead to the big blue van being stuck in the mud ... and it is still there!
  • Point #3: 'Ol Mother Southwind (not to be confused with 'Ol Mother Westwind or the Merry Little Breezes) has decided to rear her ugly head again. So far the newly built chicken coop is still standing, I built this one lower to the ground, but I did end up having to screw down the top in hopes of keeping it connected to the structure. The biggest thing the winds have done this time is spread our stuff ALL over creation. What fun!
  • Point #4: Did I mention that it was muddy and that the big blue church van is stuck. Well, you can now add our big green Expedition and the really old stock trailer to the "stuck in the mud" list. The worst part ... there are three new Dexters living in the back of the trailer at the moment (more on them tomorrow ... hopefully). It was getting dark so I didn't have too much time to assess the situation, but from the looks of it she may be stuck until I can get some help. For the time being I took lots of hay and water to them and made that old trailer as comfortable as possible. On the bright side, they have a spot out of the wind.
As for me ... I have zero points. Everytime I go outside it seems like I come back in muddy, frustrated, tired, and stinky. Hopefully I can score a point or two pretty soon. Even if the weather beats me this time around I would like to score some points for team moral.

**By the way, that isn't my tractor picture above. I just found it on the web and thought it fit the topic ... although I kind of wish my tractor was "stuck" like that one instead of being "stuck" the way it is :(

Monday, February 09, 2009

Things on the Way Out...

I don't have much time today, but thanks to a blog that I follow quite a bit (Take Your Vitamin Z) I have a neat little link for you ... "24 Things About to Disappear in America"
Here is the most interesting thing that they say is on the way out,
1. The Family Farm
Since the 1930s, the number of family farms has been declining
rapidly. According to the USDA, 5.3 million farms dotted the nation in
1950, but this number had declined to 2.1 million by the 2003 farm
census (data from the 2007 census hasn't yet been published).
Ninety-one percent of the U.S. farms are small family farms.
There are still a lot of family farms percentage wise, they are just bigger. At least that is what I get out of this. One other thing though ... I think they just released the census data. I may even have a link if I dig around.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


I'm not going to say that I know a lot about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), but I will state the facts that I know… It is made from corn … Okay, I guess I really only know one thing about if for sure. But, I have read about it in the past and it was mentioned in the movie "King Corn" as one of those things that have helped lead to the spread of diabetes in the U.S. At least that is what some believe.

Yesterday, thanks to the great members of Practical Farmers of Iowa, I saw a short YouTube clip that takes a shot at HFCS and their recent attempts at boosting their public image. If you have a T.V. (which I don't) you may have seen commercials (I hadn't) from Corn Refiners Association promoting the good things about HFCS, especially when used in moderation.

Our good friends from "King Corn", and I say that with truth since I have had a chance to meet Aaron Wolff, decided to make a spoof of the Corn Refiners Association commercials. I think they did a pretty good job and the commercial is pretty funny. It also gets a point across.

I will say this about HFCS… Like I said, I don't really know anything about it, but that doesn't stop me from believing others who do know more about it and it's ill effects. That being said, if the Corn Refiners Association says that it is just fine for you in moderation I wonder how it is for you in excess. And, if it is bad for you in excess then this is all I have to say…

High Fructose Corn Syrup is really hard to get away from! So, unless you are looking out for it and keeping in mind how much you are taking in… Well, like I said … I don't know much about it.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Think on This...

"Visitors to our farm are often amazed when I tell them we haven't planted a seed in 50 years. No plow, no disk, no planter, no nothing. And yet 50 years ago we could walk the entire farm without stepping on a plant -- that much dirt was between the pasture plants. We grew thistle like a crop, picked buckets of dewberries, and could have cultivated broom sedge seeds as a cash crop. None of those plants can be found today in our pastures."
-Joel Salatin
That is a quote in an article by Mr. Salatin from my sample issue of "Acres U.S.A.". I'm pretty sure I have read the article (and posted on it) before, but I'm not sure if it was just on the Acres website or if "Stockman Grassfarmer" also ran the same article. Either way it is an interesting article about the move that Polyface farm has made towards high density mob grazing of taller pasture swards.

When I read the article this time though this particular quote jumped out at me. I know the reason that it did is because I have thought, and discussed with different people, about the possibilities of seeding in clovers or other things this spring to add to our pastures. But, I think Mr. Salatin would advocate just going with what we have, and by the sounds of it we have more than he did starting out.

What we have now is a mixture of native prairie grasses and switch grasses along with plenty of other invasives in the form of thorny bushes and weeds. Most of these things are warm season grasses and I am a little worried about how they would hold up under a managed intensive grazing system through the year. On the flip side, there was an area that we mowed and in that area I found a few plants of both red and white clover.

Anyone have thoughts on Mr. Salatin's quote and the way they built their pastures?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Just a Farm Update...

Life on the farm has been a bit busy around here lately. Between work at the church, family, and regular winter chores we are sure to keep busy, but when you add in all the spring/summer planning we are going through now and the homework from the GYSMF class there isn't a lot of down time. Lately I have been able to finish our makeshift chicken coop that will get us buy until we are able to build an eggmobile type of structure, finalized some exterior fence plans with a ton of help from the guys at PowerFlex Fencing, and how can I not mention the fact that we are taking in three of our last four pigs to the processor tomorrow. The only piggy left is the boar ... we are just going to try to sell him either to an individual or at the sale barn.

But, one of the most enjoyable things that I have been doing is splitting wood (you can see a bit of my stack in the picture above). Thanks to some great church friends we had a bit over 5 pickup loads of wood dropped off this winter and it was a big help because of everything that we had going on while our Senior Pastor was in the hospitial.

Mostly we have been burning the chunks that didn't need to be split because they were they were on top of the pile and of course took the least amount of work. But, now we are down to the bigger stuff and I have been spending a little time each day out there chopping away with the splitting maul and axe. I don't even know where the maul came from, but my wife found it in the wood pile one day. Someone must have felt sorry for me when the saw my little axe!

I do love cutting wood. I love being outside in the fresh air ... I love smelling the wood all around me ... I love the sounds of the cows, pigs, chickens, and more as I chop ... I love the tired feeling I get as I'm working ... and I love to see the wood fly apart in two pieces. Of course the wood doesn't always fly apart in the picture perfect way. That is what happens when you have some elm mixed into the pile!

Pretty soon I'm going to hit the woods again and build up more of a supply for this year and next. I'm looking forward for those times again...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

What Are You Reading?

**Maybe you are wondering why there is a picture of C.S. Lewis on a farming blog. Keep reading and it will make sense.**

Hopefully I'll have a chance to share a farm update tomorrow. But, really life has been kind of bland on the farm lately with winter chores and such. The most exciting thing I'm doing right now is whittling away the massive 5 truck loads of wood that we have been gifted with this winter. But, more on that tomorrow. Today I want to talk reading material...

I don't remember if it was something Joel Salatin said, or if it was someone else. But, the gist of the quote was this, "I can tell everything I need to know about a farmer by looking at the books on their shelf and the magazines lying around". I thought that was an interesting thought and since I'm a guy that loves to read I thought it was a pretty truthful quote. You know what they say, "You are what you eat," and I think the same is true for what you read.

Here is what I've been reading:

"Acres U.S.A." - I just received my sample copy of this publication in the mail yesterday and I have enjoyed it so far. They make a specific "sample issue" so some of the current events stuff is dated, but it seems to be a publication full of good information. Plus, it covers everything from organic crops to grazing. Hopefully there will be some money in the budget for this sometime soon ... maybe after my birthday.

"Dirt Hog" by Kelly Klober - I'm still making my way through this book and I have to admit that it is a pretty good read. Maybe the only semi-bad thing (really it isn't bad at all) that I have thought so far is that he seems to be a little more uppity when it comes to pigs than I am. I don't really know how to express it, but maybe it is just a matter of scale thing since right now pigs are just a small part of our small operation. Nonetheless it is a book full of great information!

"The Future of Forestry" by C.S. Lewis - Yep ... I'm reading poetry! Actually there is a band out there by the same name that I just ran across and while I was reading up about them I found out that they got their name from a C.S. Lewis poem. That meant I had to look up the poem! I think it is a pretty profound piece of writing really, and even very applicable to the small farm that we are starting and the reasons behind what we do. Just check out these two lines and then I hope you will read the rest ... "Tarmac's laid where farm as faded, Tramline flows where slept a hamlet."

Now, I want to hear what you are reading! Give me some good ideas of what I should check out next, or let me know what you think of my latest selections.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What About Broilers?

A couple weeks ago I asked for your thoughts on getting some chicks ... specifically some chicks that would eventually grow to be a new laying flock for the farm and at the same time do a bit of pasture sanitation for us. But, laying hens haven't been the only kind of fowl running through our Stoneyfield Farm discussions lately because we have also been talking about guineas and, as today's title suggests, broiler chickens. So, I thought I would throw the topic out there for discussion.

My biggest question is this: What do you raise for broilers? If we were to go ahead with some this were we are talking about doing a very small amount, mostly for ourselves and a few customers that are interested, but I'm not really sure what to get when it comes to ordering chicks.

I have read Joel Salatin's book, "Pastured Poultry Profits", and I know that he (and others) are successfully raising the Cornish X Rocks birds because they have found that that is what the consumers want. But, I'm just not totally convinced on this "franken-bird". It almost looks like a chicken on steroids.

I was able to find this discussion over on the Homesteading Today message board dealing with just this question and I notice that there are quite a few people that raise things other than the "super bird". Do you guys have any suggestions for breeds/crosses/specific places to order from? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, February 02, 2009

What Good is a Farm Without a Tractor?

That is a question that I asked on the Epi-Log a while ago. At the time I was just getting a tractor for our farm and I really didn't ever have to find out what life on the farm would be like without a tractor. But, now I am going to find out ... through personal experience! Yep, our tractor is officially broke and as of yesterday it is officially off of the farm. We are now going to assess the tractor and then figure out what step is next.

The worst of it all is that I was just really beginning to get the full winter potential out of the tractor because of the bale spear we bought. That spear really helped with the winter chores and would have been even more helpful as we transition from winter to spring. It is just so much easier to lift a bale off the ground and haul it rather than dragging it through the mud with our Expedition.

Anyways, this is what I know is wrong ... the engine is stuck ... really good. We have taken the pan off and checked underneath and now that the tractor is off the farm (it is at my cousin's where we can work on it inside) we are going to be able to really tear into and hopefully find a problem. If all goes well it won't be the worst case scenario and it will be something that can be fixed for less than $1,500. But, it could be really bad!

So, this is what I have come up with for possible solutions:
  • The engine is stuck, but things are torn up so much that we can do a partial rebuild and not spend our lives away.
  • The engine is stuck really bad and isn't worth fixing so we find another Farmall 450 engine and put it in the tractor. There are a couple other engine options we could look for also (400, M, etc.)
  • The engine is stuck really bad and isn't worth fixing so we find another Farmall 450 tractor. Preferablly we find a narrow front tractor with a drawbar. That way it may cost a bit less and then we can swap over the wide front, three-point, and the loader. Eventually selling off our current tractor bit by bit.
  • The engine is stuck really bad and isn't worth fixing so we borrow my dad's Minneapolis Moline M5 and pray that the loader and thee-point can be cobbled to fit it. I would have to swap the hydraulics ever time I wanted to use the three-point or loader, but it could work. There is a little bit of mechanical work still to do on the M5 though.
  • And finally, the engine is stuck really bad and isn't worth fixing so we cut bait and run ... errr ... we just by a completely different tractor. In buying a new tractor we piece out the current Farmall 450 and sell everything by the part. The wide front, three-point, and loader are all worth more by themselves than the complete tractor would be.
So, there you have it. Tractor problems abound on our farm. I will keep you updated on life without a tractor, but for now I have to jump in the SUV and go take a bale to the cows...
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