Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rules For Farming...

So, now that we have been beginning farmers for a little while now I thought it would be a good time to share some of the "rules for farming" that I have learned (most often by doing it the hard way). I would love to hear some of your rules that you have learned over the years so that I can make sure to follow them. In my experience if I would have "known" these rules to start with I could have saved myself a little frustration (most of this will be tongue-in-check). So, here they are:
  1. Never Make Plans: Coming up with some goals and general deadlines is nice, but I have found that on the farm my plans never work out. Everything takes longer than I think it should and if by the grace of God I'm getting something done on time then without fail something will break!
  2. Use Two People When Needed: I cannot count the number of times that I have tried to do a two person job by myself only to realize how much pain it causes me. Take yesterday for example ... I needed to move in a big round bale for the cows and this is a good job for two people, but I didn't want to wait for my wife. So, as I drove the tractor in ... the cows ran out. As you can imagine it ended up being a two person job anyways (a longer one at that).
  3. Consider the Wind: Maybe this rule only really applies to me because I live on a hilltop with no trees, but it seems like I am always misjudging the power of the wind. It has blow away tin, knocked over the chicken coop multiple times (and destroyed it once), blown hay in my face, and even toppled me over a time or two. Now whenever I build something I like to think about what impact the wind can have on it.
  4. Watch for Mud: Stuff gets stuck ... 'nuff said.
  5. Be Future Minded: This rule really applies to us because we are starting with a blank slate, but really it fits all farmers (or non-farmers). One big thing we have been trying to keep a handle on is what we want the farm to look like 10 and 20 years down the road. That doesn't mean that we won't change our minds in the future, but it does mean we want to be at least thinking about the possibilities.
So, there a few of my "rules for farming". What can you add to the list?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sheep Shearers...

In the March, 18th issue of the "Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman" there was a front page article titled, "For Iowa sheep producers, a good shearer is hard to find". It was a pretty interesting article that pointed out that there are only 14 sheep shearers listed on the Iowa Sheep Industry Association's website. Many sheep farmers are finding that 14 shearers just aren't quite enough for the 9th-largest sheep producing state in the country. One could even venture a guess that with some people switching to hair sheep that there are less people practicing the art of shearing wool. Nevertheless, the article made me think...

I know that people across the country are always looking for ways to stay "on the farm" or even close to agriculture and maybe sheep shearing is one of the ways to make it possible. The man that was chronicled in the article said he will shear about 800 sheep in one week and travel between 1,000 and 1,500 miles! That is a lot of sheep and a lot of driving and I think it says that if you know what you are doing you could possibly add a nice cottage business on the side to your farm.

Of course if you were to think about becoming a sheep shearer there is always this to consider, "I've heard an eight-hour shearing day can be compared to running a marathon". This may contribute to the reason why there aren't as many sheep shearers and that there are a few that have semi-retired because they just can't handle the long days and traveling anymore.

As I see it there are two things that could come out of this article. First of all, someone could learn the craft/art (that's what it is) of shearing and and another dimension to their farm (on a part time basis). Or secondly, this could just be another reason for some farmers to switch to hair sheep ... then they don't have to shear!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fresh the Movie...

You would think that as much as I surround myself with people interested in a different way of doing agriculture and the wonders of local food that things like this wouldn't slip by me unnoticed. But, again ... I have found that I'm a little behind when it comes to the current documentary events. The latest agri-documentary that appears to be coming this spring is called "Fresh" and you can watch the trailer above.

As far as I can tell it features Joel Salatin and other innovative farmers around the country, along with some of the other familiar faces that show up in these types of films, and tries to show the need for change in our agricultural systems. It looks like it could be very interesting. I just hope they took a page from the great guys of "King Corn" and are not too heavy-handed in their delievery.

So, is there anything else that I am missing?

Friday, March 27, 2009

I Overheard a Converstaion

Last Friday I stopped at the tail end of an auction just to see what a few things were bringing and because I was in the area. I wish I had been there the whole time because some of the stuff selling would have come in really handy, but really it is probably for the best because then I didn't spend any more money. There was one very interesting thing though that happened at this particular auction. As I was standing next to a small 12 foot tandem Case disc I overheard a conversation between two farmers ... I found the conversation very sad. Here is what I heard:
Farmer #1: "This is a nice old disc, it reminds me of the old days of farming"
Farmer #2: "Yep, this probably came to the farm the same time as that (John Deere) 530 along with that three bottom plow and two-row picker."
Farmer #1: "Those were the good days when a guy could get started in farming with this smaller equipment."
Farmer #2: "It would probably be better if it was still like that, especially for the younger guys. The young guys can't even get into farming now because it costs so much."
What are your thoughts on that conversation? Whenever I hear things like that I am always amazed at that there are so many farmers out there that realize our system isn't the best, but it is like we are so deep into it now that there is no hope of digging out. I for one do think a guy could do it with a small line of machinery if only they had the land base paid for ... but, therein lies the problem.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Hurried Life of a Beginning Farmer...

Let me start by saying that the life of any farmer is extremely busy, especially in seasons where the farm work needs to be done on time. But, with that being said the life of this particular beginning farmer is becoming insanely busy as we come into spring and all that goes with it. Managing time is probably one of the most important aspects of any farm, and that is especially true of farmers who are starting out, continuing to work a full-time "town job", and figure out how to do everything else along the way. My schedule has ballooned because of all of that, plus the fact that soccer season has now started, there is/was the big push to finish the inside of the house, and because we are starting completely from scratch.

(After my faith and family) My work at the church has to come at the top of the list because it is my passion and the lively hood for our family. After that I do have a certain amount (because of a contract and a commitment) obligation to soccer which usually takes about about two-and-a-half hours each weekday. Then there comes the farm/house work ... the daily chores, the fencing that must go up to get the new pigs in, the fencing that must go up to get the cattle out on pasture when the grass greens, the planning that needs to be done as we build a farm out of nothing, and so much more.

I often find myself wondering, "What in the world are we doing. Why did we think we could get 40 acres of land with nothing but trees and grass and make it into a working farm ... people just don't do that very often ... especially people without very much money". But, after I get done thinking that I immediately realize how passionate we are about doing what we are doing.

To me that is one of the pieces of success (not the only piece). And, maybe that passion and excitement about what you are doing and the way you are doing it is something that is missing from agricultural and our world in general. Others have said (and I have repeated it often) that, "you have time for what you want to have time for and money for what you want to have money for."

I realize that isn't true in all situations (I might want 80 more acres owned free and clear, but I don't have money for it and no matter how much I cut back it wouldn't happen for a long time), but there is a great principle there about looking at the priorities in your life and meeting those needs above the desires of the world.

For me that means that I'm going to make time for my family and our farm ... no matter what earthly sacrifices it takes. And, as I do that I grow a deeper appreciation for those farmers and families that settled in Iowa years and years ago.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Work Continues

I don't have much time to write today, but for those of you are that are interested I thought I would share some of the things that we are wrapping up in the house this week. Finishing these projects is all part of our beginning farmer journey as we try to carve our farm out of this wide open piece of land (it feels especially wide open this week with the high winds we have had). Although I'm beginning to think that a sod house like some of the early Iowa settlers built the first year on their land might have been a bit less stressful (when it came to the finish work).

Anyways here is what we are finishing up (with the help of family of course):
  • Tile is going up around the bathtub ... this will be a huge improvement over the shower curtains we had surrounding the tub.
  • A ceiling and walls have gone up in the mudroom and there is even paint on the ceiling now!
  • The trim for the mudroom is mostly painted.
  • The outside lights are up and working.
  • And, the thing I'm most proud of is that there is now a three switch, an outside light switch, and two working outlets in the mudroom. The picture above shows the connection I had to make to get everything working. I'm not sure if it is now the pro's would do it, but it works and I got all those wires jammed in the box ... I'm happy!
The loan rate is now locked in (pretty good timing) and I would say that the projects should begin wrapping up soon. Of course there is still plenty to do outside around the house (front porch, insulation around the concrete slab, concrete at the mudroom door, and the storm shelter), but once the inside is close to finished I will feel a little weight fall off of the shoulders.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Find This Interesting...

My in-laws are at the farm this week helping us (doing most of the work) finish up the last few inside projects before the newly instituted loan deadline. What that means for me though is that I now have a couple new issues of the "Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman". Below you will find some quotes from an editorial that I found rather interesting. I have left out a few words so as not to give away the subject right away, but it might work to put the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in the place of the missing words...
"Several ??? groups, and the lawmakers who support them, are using the passage of ballot initiatives as launching pads to impose even stricter rules on how farmers care for livestock."

"While the proposed rules are always couched as better for animals, the long-term goal appears to be placing burdensome and unreasonable restrictions on livestock farmers."

"That would raise costs and reduce production of meat and other animal products, ultimately making those products less available and less affordable for consumers."

"That, in turn, would help to promote the goal of many of the ??? groups..."

"In the end, these groups truly want Americans to throw away a food system that is the envy of the world because it provides abundance, wholesomeness and diversity at an affordable price."
Now, if you haven't figured it out already this editorial writer is talking about specifically about the humane livestock laws (or whatever they are calling them) that have recently passed in places like California. But, I think all of those quotes could have easily been referencing the much talked about NAIS ...

Why won't the Iowa Farm Bureau, and other organizations like them, speak out against the NAIS loudly? It is set-up to trample on the rights of farmers and citizens of the United States just as much as this legislation that I have seen them right about alot in the pages of their publications...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Work Begins...

My posts will be a bit more sporadic this because we are in the final push to finish the house on the inside. It wasn't exactly our idea or go on a big "finish the house" kick this week because it isn't exactly the right timing (soccer practice begins) or weather (it is absolutely pouring right now), but the bank that bought our loan from Wells Fargo decided they wanted it done because we were living in it. In fact they wanted it done by the 30th of March. So... today we begin the big push.

Honestly there is not a lot to do, but with the dead-line looming and the promise of lots of rain it is a bit overwhelming. Our project list includes finishing the wiring in the mudroom, putting plywood on the ceiling and walls of the mudroom, tiling the bathtub, and putting up just a couple pieces of trim. Besides that there are a few other wiring projects that need to be finished up and we need to put in the air conditioner.

Thankfully my wife's parents are coming to help because with chores, soccer practice, and work at the church I don't think I could even come close to getting it all done! There is one thing that I know though ... I will be glad when it is done. For whatever reason I feel less overwhelmed by the mountain of things to do outside. Maybe it is because the outside things don't take as much craftsmanship?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Fighting the NAIS Battle

I think one of the best things that could happen in the fight against the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is that consumers would become as outraged as the small farmers are across the country. I admit that to the average consumer something like the NAIS probably sounds like an idea that is best for everybody, but if you dig down deep it to what the system really entails you will find that is far from the truth. To that end I asked my friend, Michael Y. Park, over at the Epi-Log if he could do a post on the NAIS.

I think he came up with an excellent and very informational post on the subect, and the comments afterwards are equally interesting. Take the link above to check out his post and whenever you come across some good NAIS information pass it along!

Friday, March 20, 2009

What Next?

Okay, if you follow this blog with any sort of regularity you know that I recently finished reading Dirt Hog: A Hands-On Guide to Raising Pigs Outdoors....Naturally by Kelly Klober. Right now I'm working my way through "Harris on the Pig" and "Small-Scale Pig Raising", but I'm interested in taking a break from the pigs for a little bit and branching out. In the past I have come to those of you that take time to read the blog for all sorts of tips and advice, so once again I'm coming to you ... What are you reading now or what would you suggest.

Here are a few things I'm looking for in a book:
  1. It has to be agriculturally related.
  2. The book could be about agricultural history, grazing, agricultural philosophies, how-to, etc. Just no pig books for the moment because I already have those.
  3. Maybe something from an author I haven't read yet. Of course if there is a can't miss book out there from an author I have already read don't neglect to share it with me.
  4. I'm looking for a book that you consider a "must read" for every farmer.
  5. Can't miss publications are also good. Right now I'm really interested in an "Acres" subscription, but would love to hear what others read from cover to cover.
  6. And finally, I would be interested in reading something outside of what we are doing now on the farm (beef, pork, poultry). Something that would give ideas for the future of our farm.
So, there you go. What suggestions do you have for me this time?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Beginning Famers and Old Hands...

If you are a beginning farmer, a wanna-be beginning farmer, or farmer that has been around the field and then some I ran across something interesting through a link over at the New Farm website that you need to check out. It is an on-line resource (in .pdf format) called, "The Greenhorns Guide For Beginning Farmers". At this point it appears that it is co-written by a few beginning farmers, but they are also looking for some old hands to share in the writing process and offer up their expertise. Take the link above to check out the on-line book or go directly to their website (the book is over 1.5 mbs).

After a quick browse of the table of contents and reading a few pages I have to say that this is a very intriguing project and one that I hope can take the next step (whatever that step may be). The online book really is a clearing house of information for the beginning farmer no matter what stage you are in. In fact as I was glancing through it I really wish I had come across this about two years ago because I think it could have saved a lot of head-aches and late nights scouring the internet and worry about whether or not we could pull this off.

The book contains links to everything from loans and grants to mentors and internships and also offers up some words of advice from history and a few beginning farmers. I like the idea of having so much information in one place because it helps people find out about opportunities that they only dreamed would exist.

Not only that, but it looks like this whole "Greenhorn" thing includes a film documentary and more. I encourage you to check it out and share with them if you are a seasoned farmer!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Big Blue is Here...

This morning I received a call that they would be delivering our new Ford 5000 tractor and this afternoon it showed up ... ready to work! Of course I had to take the obligatory, "New (to me) Tractor and Proud Owner Wearing Dealer's Ball Cap" picture as you can see above. After that I shut it down and let the kids take a turn at the wheel pretending to drive. Once all of that was out of the way I just drove around a little trying to get used to everything and hooked up a few implements to the three-point hitch just for kicks. Before the night was over I put the loader bucket to good use and cleaned out a stall that we had set up in the storage side of our house for a calf that we wanted to keep a closer eye on. So far, so good.

Here are some of the details of our new tractor (if you are interested in this type of thing). This particular Ford 5000 was made in 1967 (I believe) and is an 8-speed diesel tractor with around a 60 h.p. engine. It has the loader as you can see and the three-point hitch which will come in handy around the farm with a few implements and my new three-point carry all (machinery auction this morning). Other than those details, I just know what I read about this particular Ford model and try to learn as much as I can.

Also, as I mentioned in my "Tractor Shopping" post, this tractor has recently had an engine overhaul. This was a big selling point in my book because of the lack of mechanical abilities that I have. That overhaul included: a new crankshaft, 2 rods, 4 ring sets, various new bearings, new gaskets, a new clutch, a couple new hydraulic fittings, new hoses, new filters, and a few odds and ends. On top of that they did a once over and fixed a couple things at the dealer.

My hope and prayer is that all of this adds up to a tractor without MAJOR problems. I completely understand that there will always be something on a tractor of this vintage, but if we can stay away for the biggies I will be a happy camper. If not ... I'm buying a horse and buggy and selling all the vehicles :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How to Level the Playing Field

I just have to say this first thing ... I really enjoy each issue of "Graze" that I receive and read the entire publication cover to cover in the first few days. The articles are great and are often written by farmers who are out there trying to do things differently. There are also many thought provoking things in each issue. One of those things that made me think recently was Jim Van Der Pol's column titled, "Why unions are important to small grass farms." I will read anything with a title like that!

Like I said, it is a pretty interesting piece, but more than that I think it is an article that will make you think about your farm, the farms around you, the food you eat, and your core values. If you don't believe that there could be a very thought provoking article in "Graze" then just read this opening sentence, "For some years now I have been answering the question about a good and fair farm policy by saying that we need a decent universal health care system."

That sucked me in big time! Mr. Van Der Pol's basic premise (as best as my tiny mind can understand) is that we need to level the playing field, especially in the world of farm products that need processing (livestock, etc.). He uses his own farm as an example because they raise livestock and direct market to customers using a local small processor who pays his employees a decent wage for their work. Because of that he contends that his products have a wide gap between conventional products produced in a feed lot and processed at a large processing plant with cheap labor (can't disagree with that).

The conclusion that he has come to is that small farmers can no longer take a hand's off approach to the government. He writes, "the fact of the matter is that if we are not willing to grab the government and use it, then it will be used against us by those more powerful than we."

While I can't wrap my mind around universal health care or a union of small grass farms I think there is one thing that I take away from Mr. Van Der Pol's article. I agree that we can not just stand idly by and let others "grab the government" to use against us (see NAIS), and although I don't like the idea of using the government I do think we can work with the system and use it to make the changes that need to be made for our country and our farms (without creating more government).

My inspiration actually comes from across the pond. If you haven't seen the movie "Amazing Grace" I encourage you to check it out, but what I think we can learn from England is how William Wilburforce (and others) worked in vain for the government to end slavery, but it wasn't until they started playing the game (I don't think that means unions and universal health care) that they were able to win the fight.

What do you think? Are unions what we need to get changes in the broken system, or should we realize that working outside of the system is going to be best in the long run? Good questions to think about...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dirt Hog :: Chapter 8 Book Report

This chapter is the last in Kelly Klober's book, "Dirt Hog" and it kind of serves as a summation of the book and encouragement to get out there and raise hogs on the range again. I appreciate what he had to say about the 21st century range producer, "Yours is the business of not exactly reinventing the wheel, but rather of redefining hog production for a new day and a new role in agriculture." As I have become more and more immersed in the "un-conventional" agriculutral world I am seeing so many great examples of guys that are doing exactly that ... they aren't reinventing anything, but they are gathering knowledge from generations of hog production to make it work in their own environment and farm goals.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when you are producing hogs outdoors is that you don't have to produce for the markets that every else is producing for and you don't have to play the game of super high numbers. I like the analogy that Mr. Klober uses ... three sows a year producing two litters of 8 pigs each would give you 48 bucher hogs. Take those 48 buchers and make them into whole hog sausage sold somewhere between $2.00 and $2.50 per pound could give you between $14,000 and $17,000. Of course you have to sell that sausage, but it is about thinking differently.

Finally, Mr. Klober hits us with one of the most important points of this whole book. Hogs need to be a part of the complete picture, not the entire picture itself. In an agricultural world that has recently built itself upon the ideas of specialization and big size the idea of a completely diversified farm is being lost. But, the farmers that I have had the opportunity to meet over the past year or so that seem to be enjoying life the most and farming in line with their family and farm goals are the ones that haven't thrown all their eggs in one basket. They are the guys that don't have the biggest and the latest and greatest, but they are able to weather the ups and downs and enjoy what they are doing.

If you are interested in taking pigs outside and letting them live and grow on the grass then I would recommend "Dirt Hog" to you. It is not a book for a complete beginner as far as the "nuts and blots" of pig farming go, but it is a great starting point for the experienced and beginner alike.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Just a Little Shopping...

The New Holland dealer a couple towns to the south of us was hosting an open house for the 40th anniversary this week and since there was free food (and homemade ice-cream) I thought it would behoove me to at least go down and celebrate with them. Really the food was good, and it was the reason that I waited until Friday to stop by, but the real reason that I wanted to go down was because there were three tractors there that I was mildly interested in. I did not plan on buying from a dealer because I usually figure the dealer price isn't worth paying.

The three tractors I was interested looking at included two John Deere 4020's (the best selling JD ever I believe) and a Ford 5000 (pictured above). Like I said, I knew going down that they were more pricey than I had planned on spending, but I just thought I would take a look ... remember we are talking about free food! One 4020 looked pretty nice with good tires and a good John Deere 148 loader while the other 4020 left a little be desired, but was still probably an average tractor. It just so happened the nicer one sold earlier in the day, which probably didn't effect me too much because I know for sure it was out of my price range.

So, my dad and I went over and looked at the Ford 5000. In my extended family there have basically been two brands of tractors on the farm for the past 60 plus years. With a couple exceptions they were Minneapolis Moline and John Deere. That is all to say that my dad didn't have a lot of experience with Ford tractors and I of course had none. I did do a little research before hand though and found that they made the 5000 model from 1965 until 1975. That is a decent run for a tractor model.

I decided to investigate the Ford tractor a little more and went inside for a sit down with the owner of the dealership. He was able to give me more information about the Ford 5000 and this tractor in particular. It seems that this tractor had a complete engine overhaul (new rods, new crank, new bearings, etc.) this past December/January and was is pretty good shape. The loader on the tractor is nothing special, but might be a slight upgrade over the one I had on the Farmall 450.

Long story short ... We now have a blue tractor (well, it will be here in a few days). I know I could have bought a tractor for less, but I also know that with this one I have the bill showing everything that was done (totaled over $4,000) and the benefit of a 90 day warranty. Plus, I purchased it from a dealer that has been around for awhile and that my neighbors have dealt with for years. I understand my mechanical limitations and hope that the extra things that have been done on this tractor will pay off for me in the long run. I did a pretty good once over on the tractor and don't think there is anything that I will have to repair or replace right away.

I'll keep praying this works out :) And post some pictures when it is delivered. I already know plenty of projects that it will get used on!

Friday, March 13, 2009

You've Got to Be Kidding Me!

After my post earlier this week on the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) I decided it has time that I took heed of my own advice (along with the advice of the comments) and made sure I stayed up-to-date on the happenings surrounding NAIS and all of it's cronies. The first thing I did was to read through some of the posts I missed at NoNAIS.org and make sure I'm following it daily. It was my daily reading that lead me to this post and this link from the National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association. If you don't ever read another link I offer up on the blog you MUST read this one!

It would be great if I could file this information in the, "Crazy ... Unbelievable ... No Way This Could Happen in America File", but with the money of large corporations behind it I fear that it is an all too real danger. When you combine the information in this "White Paper" from the NICFA with the very real legislation in our government right now (HR 875 check out that link ... there is commentary on the bill and a link to the bill itself) you can see why there are so many small farmers outraged at what is going on ... and I hope there is just as many consumers that are outraged!

Here are a few tidbits form the NICFA "White Paper". Tell me why I shouldn't believe this and why I shouldn't be outraged ... please tell me (it would be so much easier if I didn't think this was a problem).
"During this economic downturn, when small farms are the fastest growing agriculture sector, these expanding sources of employment and local food production would fail. At the same time, taxpayer burden would increase to pay for government agencies to oversee and enforce NAIS."

"The monetary and time costs to implement NAIS are prohibitive for any but the largest industrial livestock producers. Small farms, that make up the vast majority of agricultural holdings, could not comply and sustain their operations."

"The USDA’s claim that “modern” technology will enable 48-hour traceback during disease outbreak is untenable. In reality, NAIS will not prevent disease because it does not address the cause of disease. Traceback can help track the movement of disease, but if a cataclysmic foreign animal disease outbreak occurred, NAIS will not improve on the current system for containment and quarantine."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dirt Hog :: Chapter 7 Book Report

"Anyone who is serious about outdoor production should focus on breaking the pattern of dependence on the practices and products that have cast such a shadow over animal agriculture of late. You cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear, nor can you create quality pork out of a stress-laden and severely driven confinement situation." That is what Kelly Klober had to say in the opening paragraphs of chapter seven (Herd Health) in his book "Dirt Hog". It may not be a popular statement in some circles (each to their own and stuff), but I think it is very thought provoking and even a bit insightful.

In this chapter Mr. Klober tackles many issues related to swine herd health and what a hog farmer should know how to do, but I thought that it was interesting (and encouraging) that he began the chapter by discussing the overall (almost holistic) benefits of raising hogs outdoors and like people used to. He is not opposed to advancements in medical care or knowledge, but he it does seem to think that those needs can be greatly lowered when you take the pigs outside again. I tend to agree and experienced many of those same things with our first batch, and was also able to see it on other farms through the recent online farm tours that I was able to watch.

I should also point out that Mr. Klober seemst to think the middle of the road (yet natural) way of production is best. He writes that he is not sold on "organic" yet (although he doesn't define it so much), but part of that is because he wonders how "organic" acres of cropland can be in the Midwest. Also, he cites the lack of availability of feed as an issue. I agree those are both points to ponder, but it doesn't write off organic.

That discussion is not all this chapter is about though. I found a lot of good information in the sections on necessary skills (castrations, injections, taking temperatures, processing baby pigs, and knowing when to call a vet), simple restraints, health care supplies (having them in one place and close by), and what to think about and watchout for through the life of a pig on the farm. All in all, I think a book expanding on the basic ideas in this chapter would be worth its weight in gold (and gold is pretty pricey now).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

And the Winner Is...

...Jilann... She selected "Making Your Small Farm Profitable" by Ron Macher. This is a book that I read a little over a year ago and enjoyed very much. Here is what I wrote about the book after finishing it (you can find all my chapter reports at this link),
"As I have mentioned in some of the "chapter reports" it is a little different than some of the books by Gene Logsdon, Wendell Berry, or Joel Salatin. While all three of those writers include many practical tips and advice in their books they also include many philosophical thoughts behind the reason to do things certain way. Mr. Macher doesn't get into some of those areas and sticks with the basics. Things like what livestock or crops to choose, what to consider when buying machinery, how to set goals, and so on."
Congratulations Jilann! Send me an e-mail through the link on the right and I will get your book sent out to you.

Let me also just take this opportunity to again thank everyone for following the blog and getting involved in the conversation. Your help and encouragement has been invaluable! Over the past couple of years I have gone from dreaming about the farm while sitting in an office to attempting to "do farming" and all the joys and struggles that go along with it. I wouldn't trade it for the world despite the set-backs and difficulties.

I set out to make this blog a little journal of my research, events, and questions... It has become so much more than that thanks to everyone he has taken the time to comment and teach. Again, thank you so much and stick around for the next 500 ... I'll probably be here!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rainy and Muddy Farm Update

**Don't forget to go and sign-up (by commenting) on my 500th Post Book Giveaway contest. I know way more people read this blog (and participate) than have signed up, so get on over there and have a shot at winning a free book. It's just my way of saying thank you to everyone who has taught me, encouraged me, corrected me, and helped me along the way!**

Now, for the farm update. As you can see from the image above I went with a stock rain picture. That is because I have been spending as little time outside as possible because it is just plain awful out there. I don't have any numbers to back this up, but I would guess since Friday we have gotten at least two inches and probably more like three inches of rain ... with more to come. That is a bad deal no matter where you are, but in our muddy construction zone it makes it almost unbearable out there. We are getting the kind of mud that steals your boots when you go for a walk!

The one nice thing about the rain is that the temperatures have stayed above freezing for a while now. This is great because it means I can use a hose again to water the cattle without having to drain it and because we have been going through way less wood. One fire a day is about all we need anymore if we keep above or close to the freezing mark for our low (although I see that is supposed to change).

But, there is big farm news! Except this news is happening inside the house. Thanks to the help of my father and mother-in-law we now have about 99% of the trim up inside (except for something that can't be done until we build a bit more). Windows are trimmed out, baseboard is down, and the upper closets have one-of-a-kind doors. This is all wonderful and makes the house feel like it is about finished.

Beyond that I finally got around to do a few electrical projects that I have been putting off. I put in a couple outlets that were missing and put up some lights that I had been being lazy about. All of this adds up to one great thing ... we are just that much closer to closing the loan! What a relief that will be.

From a philosophical standpoint though, the work that was done here the past few days has really encouraged me. The help we have had from family and friends is what has made our farm possible, and I believe it even gives a glimpse of what we sometimes call the "simpler" times. In fact, listening to the rain without the distraction of the television (we still don't have one) as I sit in a house that I know is only here because of other people humbles me and gives me great hope ... hope for my family and hope for the future of this farm.

Monday, March 09, 2009

What is Up With the NAIS?

I have received e-mails from multiple people asking me to write about the proposed/being forcefully implemented National Animal Identification System (NAIS). What I am somewhat embarrassed to admit is that I really don't know much about NAIS or what is going on with the bill other than what I read when I pop over to NoNAIS.org. The thing about it is that the NAIS legislation is coming from many different directions (from what I can understand) and that there are farmers (big and small) all over the board on the issue (most likely because not everyone understands what it is all about.

So, this is what I would like to do. Since I'm not really up-to-date on the ins and outs of NAIS and how we can help prevent it (because I do believe it is very harmful to the small farms and the rights of Americans) I would like to hear from you. Can you share any insight into the NAIS fight or the current events surrounding the issue? How about suggesting someone to interview on the subject (Mr. Jeffries???)? Is it being implemented in areas around the country to some degree? I would love to hear personal thoughts and information!

In the meantime I suggest you head over to NoNAIS.org and read up (just as I'm doing). This is one of those deals where we need to work togother to stay informed on the issues and take a stand for each other (farmers and consumers alike).

**In case you missed it, you should check out the previous post for information on the 500th Post Book Giveaway**

Saturday, March 07, 2009

500th Post Giveaway!

Lord willing this Wednesday will be my 50oth post on The Beginning Farmer blog. These posts have spanned almost two and a half years and for over the past year or more I have been posting six times each week. My posts have covered everything from our hopes and dreams to the struggles of starting our farm and learning as we go. But, in the midst of all my words something great happened ... people started reading and then they started sharing and commenting. I have learned so much from everyone who has taken time to e-mail me or comment on the blog and I am very thankful for that.

So, in honor of the 500th post I have decided to give a book away. I know that the people who read and comment on this blog are all over the place in terms of being farmers, wanting to be farmers, and there are even some consumers that just want to be me informed about the food they eat. With that in mind I'm doing a giveaway with a choice ... a choice of which book you would like to receive (I should also disclose that it will probably be a used book, but still in good shape).

What you will need to do is comment on this post (if you receive this through a feed you will need to click over to the blog) and tell me which book you would like if you win. Then on Wednesday morning around 8:00 AM I will use a random number generator to come up with the winner from the comment list.

Here are your choices (take the link to read about the book):

Friday, March 06, 2009

Dirt Hog :: Chapter 6 Book Report

Really I should have probably titled this post, "The Exchange of Knowledge". But, since I want to make it easy to find my chapter reports I left the "Plain Jane" title up there. This chapter really was a good chapter though ... especially from the standpoint of encouragement. The author, Kelly Klober, dealt specifically with the marketing of the dirt hog in everything from direct to to the consumer to seed stock. I say that it was encouraging though because Mr. Klober was very upbeat about the opportunities out there for the outdoor producer. Just don't go to this chapter looking for specifics because it is just one section of an entire book ... the ins and outs of marketing dirt hogs could cover a book in and of itself.

Anyways, the reason I thought, "The Exchange of Knowledge", would be a good blog post title is because that is what popped into my mind when I was reading one of the little vignettes in this chapter. This particular one dealt with a few of Mr. Klober's reflections from some of the first hog sales he attended and how the youngsters (as he was at the time) tried to pick out a gilt that would suit their goals. The words painted a neat picture of the time and place, but there was a single question lingering in my mind...

Where am I going to learn to have an eye for "just the right gilt" such as the one that he was developing at the time with the help of his family and neighbors? I believe the ideal path for a beginning farmer, similar to me in background, would be to pull up stakes and just apprentice at a farm for a year or so. Of course you would want to work with someone that is farming as you would like to farm, but the main think would just be to gain as much of that "art" that an experienced farmer has.

Of course that "ideal" situation of aprenticeship is much more difficult when you have a wife and three kids to support. Because of my family (and I wouldn't take this journey without them) we have decided the best way to learn is to do, and then pick up as much "old timer" information as we can along the way.

I may have mentioned this before, but I think it is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Last year we bought my dad's family a subscription to "Countryside Magazine". After reading a few issues he commented on how some of the how-to articles were doing things the hard way, or that they took so many trials and errors to get to and end that he could have told them about. My thought was, "This is exactly what I'm talking about!" Of course they took a long time to solve a problem that an old farmer could have done in a jiffy, but that is because there isn't enough knowledge being transfered...

Anyone have the magic bullet to help keep the knowledge surrounding the "art" of farming alive?


Thursday, March 05, 2009

How to do the Fence?

Our fencing alongside the road is easy (a relative term I know) and pretty much straight forward. It is mostly a straight line, except for around the corner, and the slope isn't too steep most of the time. The problem that I'm having run through my mind right now is how I'm going to do what I'm calling the interior/perimeter fence (the stuff in red above). Ideally we would just do the high tensile all the way around our 40 acres (there is the remains of a fence left), but that would require a bulldozer ... fill dirt ... and more money than we can afford. On top of that it would also mean there would need to be some cooperation with the neighbors.

With all of that in mind my idea is to have something semi-permanent going along the tree line. I would like it far enough away from the trees (I think) so that I can get a tractor along the outside for wood cutting and I would also like the ability to flash graze cattle and hogs inside the woods. That would mean some sort of access through the "semi-permanent" fence.

When I e-mailed back and forth with the guys at PowerFlex we talked about using a three wire fence. I think that is a good idea, but I'm wondering about posts and such. If I followed the general contours of the tree line there would be lots of bends ... which could equal lots of wooden posts. The idea of putting in a bunch of wood posts down there when I only wanted it to be semi-permanent didn't excite me.

I guess the other option would be to put in wooden posts and make as many straight runs as possible. Then put in some gates and we are set. Anyone have any thoughts on this or have you worked through a similar situation? I open to all ideas.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Skinny on Hoop Buildings?

After listening to and watching a few virtual farm tours of various swine operations here in Iowa over the past three weeks I have have seen and heard quite a bit about hoop buildings. These particular farms were using them for winter farrowing in huts, bred gilts, and finishing pigs for market. In most cases bedding was used (sometimes deep bedding) and there was even one farm featured that had in floor heating running under the concrete where he placed the huts for winter farrowing. Everybody seemed to have a slightly different design within the basic hoop framework, but I would say that everyone was pretty well pleased with the hoops.

All of this led me to think, "What is the skinny on hoop buildings?" I assume there is some initial cost savings involved because there is less steel and wood involved and maybe there is something to the design that makes it work well. But, why else are so many hoop buildings popping up ... especially for livestock feeding? Is money the main issue here?

I tried doing a little google research, but I didn't come up with a lot in the way of price differences. I did find this .pdf file about the cost of putting up a hoop building for cattle feeding, and this article about the cost comparison of a conventional confinement hog building and a hoop building. In the case of the cattle feeding hoop it was really big and seemed really expensive to me, and when it came to the confinement building vs. the hoop building the research used concluded it was almost a wash.

The reason I ask all these questions is because we are looking at building a livestock feeding building (as you probably know). Should a hoop building be on the research list? I'm not so sure because I don't know how it would work out as a multi-use building, but I want to make sure I cover all of my bases.

I would love to hear any thoughts...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"Oh for Two", or "How Not to Buy a Tractor"

That is my score right now when it comes to finding a tractor. Of course I have been looking for another Farmall 450 or at least a good complete engine, but so far I have yet to find any that I can look at right now or that fit my bill. In the meantime I decided to look at a few other tractors. Specifically I wanted to look at tractors that I could buy and use some of the stuff from the 450 if I wanted/needed to. I'm talking about swapping over my brand new tires, the three-point hitch, the wide front end, or even the loader.

My most recent tractor search took me to a very nice looking Farmall 560 that had a narrow front end and a loader. I drove the tractor and really liked everything about it (except there was a little hydraulic leak up front). The only problem is that with all of the projects we have coming up (plus the need of a new washing machine) and taking into account the problems I have already had I was a little gunshy and didn't buy right away.

I looked at the tractor on Saturday and by Sunday evening I decided that it was a good enough deal and something that would work great for our farm. So, I called up the guy ready to tell him I wanted to buy ... except someone had already decided to buy it earlier that day. Yep, I was a bit disappointed.

As soon as I got off the phone Sunday night I started scouring TractorHouse.com, TractorShed.com, and IronSearch.com (this was like the 400th time I had scoured those sites). In those searches I came across another 560 with a loader and a wide front. It seems like this tractor had been listed forever as I had come across it quite a few times, but I thought I would go ahead and try and find out more about it.

Since I didn't figure the dealer was open at the time I sent an e-mail. After not hearing back all day I decided to call in the late afternoon. Yep, you guessed it ... sold that day (pending pick-up)! I couldn't believe it...

Now we are back to square one ... last evening I searched those same sites again looking for tractors within a 250 mile radius. I didn't really come across anything in our price range, so I guess I'm going to keep looking.

On the plus side, I did find some large round bales of grass/alfalfa and I'm off with a friend from church to pick them up today. Sorry for the rambling post, but just thought I would give a little farm update.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Dirt Hog :: Chapter 5 Book Report

Chapter five of Kelly Klober's book, "Dirt Hog" deals with the ins and outs of pig feed and the feeding of pigs. The chapter is appropriately titled "Feeds and Feeding" and includes a good deal of information on different types of feeds and feeding plans from everything from the lactating sow to the growing pig. One quote that I particularly enjoyed from this chapter went like this, "I would also challenge the argument that farmland is now to valuable to be used for mere livestock production. Poppycock!" This book of course was copywrited in 2007 so it may have been written an bit before our latest commodity price hikes, but despite that I think it is a very valuable quote (although we must remember that commodity prices didn't stay at those highs.

Mr. Klober goes on to enumerate why he believes that raising livestock on "valuable land" is still a viable practice, but I think I could some it up in just one sentence. The basic idea is that yes you can create a lot of commodity crops on good land and you can grow a lot of pork in a confinement building, but when you add in all of the handling/infrastrucure/input costs you might not come out ahead. I obviously haven't run the numbers on this and don't have a clue what those numbers would be like if I did run them, but I do think there is something to be said about having livestock add to the nutrients of the soil on the farm.

But, back to the feeds and feeding parts of this chapter. Here are some tidbits that I really found useful:
  • With 15-20 finishing hogs per acre you can save between 800 and 1,000 pounds of grain and 500 pounds of protein by having them on pasture.
  • Good pasture access should be considered a plus for lactating sows and they probably should be kept on their regular ration so they maintain the best condition during lactation.
  • "About 10% of a growing hog's nutritional needs can be met by good legume pasturage."
  • Mr. Klober likes to use a 14% to 15% protein ration for growing hogs on pasture no matter their weight.
  • One acre of corn that is "hogged down" can support 10-15 hogs to butcher weight assuming that they have enough mineral, protein, and water.
These are just a few things from the chapter that really jumped out at me. I must admit that I am pretty interested in the idea of "hogging down" some corn. Especially if it is open pollinated corn!

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