Thursday, April 30, 2009

Muddyfield Farm

I'm thinking about changing the name of our farm. Originally we named the farm Stoneyfield because that was what President John Adams called his farm and I am a huge early American history kind of guy. But, after last springs constant rain and the multiple inches of rain that we have had recently I think a name change may be in order.

So, for the time being our farm is now "Muddyfield Farm". It is actually a good description for the farm. In fact if you take a look at the picture above you can see the muddy ruts created when the tractor was stuck a couple weeks ago. The sad thing is that the valley where the tractor was stuck is even muddier now!

I'm just hoping we dry up enough in the next couple of weeks to get my projects done. The garden is plowed, but the rains came before I could get it disced and tilled. The front yard needs to have some dirt added and raked up so we can plant grass. I need to pull about 20 more old fence posts so I an get on with the fencing job. We need some solid ground so we can start our pole building project. And, I wouldn't mind the sun everyonce in awhile!

There is my farm update for the day ... it is muddy on Muddyfield Farm.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More on N1H1 (Swine Flu)

I had a few more thoughts this morning as I was reading this article on the swine flu outbreak and thinking about the comments from yesterdays post. As I said yesterday I thought it was only a matter of time before there was a connection made between confinement hog houses and the flu outbreak, regardless of whether or not the connection was real. And, I am not the least bit surprised to see that there are countries out there that have placed restrictions on American pork because of this outbreak.

High density corporate confinement agriculture is beginning to get a bit of a black eye around the world. All you have to do to realize this is take a look at all of the laws that are being put in place to change the way confinement farming is done. And, all of this is happening despite efforts of conventional agriculture groups to let the public know that their way is the best way for the livestock, the farmers, and the consumers.

But, there is one thing that is missing I believe. Sure the average consumer doesn't appreciate the smell and look of large confinement buildings. They don't like the thought of pigs being raised tightly packed together in pens. And, they are even willing to pass laws by a significant majority (sometimes) to restrict the use of crates and other things in farming.

What is missing though (I think) is the majority of people willing to pay a higher price for humanely or naturally raised pork. Until that happens they can pass all the laws they want and restrict confinement buildings in their areas, but confinement agriculture will not go away. And, each time there is an outbreak like this one (regardless if it is related to confinement buildings) the large confinement corporations will take the blame and pork prices will fall impacting farmers big and small.

At least those are my rambling thoughts this morning...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Swine Flu

I figured it would just be a matter of time before I found an article looking into the link between the Swine Flu and confinement agriculture on the front page of one of the news websites. And, that time came this morning for In an article titled, "Swine Flu's Ground Zero? Residents Point to Farm," from the Associated Press we see the connection being made by a community of people somewhat close to Mexico City. Their contention is that they have been experiencing problems for a few months now because of hog confinement farm located about 5 miles north of their town.

The article is full of the townspeople blaming the farm, the farm saying that they were doing everything up to snuff, health experts saying that it could be the cause, and agricultural people saying that there are no signs of sick pigs in Mexico. Really the article gives no conclusion either way and just throws out the possibility that this is the case.

What really hit me though was this quote from the farm manager, "All of our pigs have been adequately vaccinated and they are all taken care of according to current sanitation rules." I do not know if the swine flu outbreak in Mexico was caused by confinement farms (I wouldn't be surprised if it was and I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't), but to me this statement says a lot about our culture.

We have become a culture that wants to do enough to get by and then no more. We no longer love to follow the spirit of the law, but are content to just stick to the letter of the law. Our business models very often factor in quality of life and benefits for the community, they only look at the bottom line.

And, when those ideas are applied to a farm with 15,000 pigs spread out between 18 confinement buildings I think we can have some problems. What happened to the idea that we wanted to do things as best as we could ... provide the best jobs ... the best work environment ... the best pigs ... and the best pork?

What is your take on the Swine Flu outbreak?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Two is Better Than One

One thing that I have found out about our Dexters is that when it comes to electric fence two wires seems to be better than one. A couple years ago when we were putting up the first fences to contain them out on pasture we just put up one wire low enough that both the calves and the cows would hit it ... the cows jumped over. Then we raised the wire about bit to keep the cows in ... and the calves walked under. Of course this was our main perimeter fence (there was a perimeter fence, but we didn't want them wandering that far) so we decided to go with two wires.

Last week I decided that I was going to let the five heifer calves out on some grass near their winter pen. I strung up one wire all the way around and gave them a nice sized area with plenty of grass. After about ten minutes they were walking though the fence ... and getting a little shocked. So, yesterday between rain showers I went outside and added a second wire to their fence and it seems to be working!

I do believe that once we have the perimeter fence up, and our wires have a little more juice going through them, we will be able to go back to a single strand to keep them in their area for the day. Then it won't matter so much if the calves wander away because they will have a pretty good reason to come back and we can set the height to keep the cows in.

As always I'm learning as I go by trial and error ... I seem to focus on the error.

**I would have posted a picture, but it has been raining practically non-stop for the past few days so I didn't make it out with the camera. Hopefully tomorrow.**

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The John Deere DB120

Have some spring planting to do? Need to put in your field of open-pollinated corn? Got 40 acres that you need to get planted quickly? Do you need to get that 40 acres in quickly? Why not try out the new John Deere DB120 planter. It is a 48 row planting machine that is 120 feet wide (30 inch rows) and that 40 acre field you need to plant ... well, that should take about thirty minutes and you might even have some time to spare when it is all said and done. On the flip side of this whole planter deal, I was recently give a one row garden planter (similar to this one). And, I was pretty excited about it.

I actually don't mind this huge planter on one level because it is made by an Iowa company (not John Deere), and I don't really want to go on about other things related to the fact that it exists. I'm sure John Deere is making it because there is a need and I hope things go well for them with the sales. But, what is mind boggling to me is this...

The cost (that I was able to find online) is $345,000. I saw that and then I really started to think ... $345,000 ... Wow, I could buy 80 acres of pasture with a house and buildings, some livestock, some equipment, and other things I need to build a small farm. In fact if I diversified that small farm and did some market gardening along with livestock through direct marketing I could also probably make a living for my family.

Imagine the 10,000 acres of land that many of the farmers buying this planter are farming split up into 200 acre small and diverse family farms providing food for their communities. That would be 50 family farms ... I think that would be pretty cool, but I'm sure that there are plenty of people out there more intelligent that I am that could show me how it just wouldn't work...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Can't Keep Up...

How many hours are there in a day ... all I know is that there isn't enough this time of year. All of the responsibilities are starting to add up, and there is still a ton that needs to be done on the farm. But, there is some good news. The storm shelter is being installed today, of course that also makes more work in the form of building doors for it and doing some landscaping around it. Oh well... Here are some pictures from around the farm.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Equipment for the Small Farm

This morning I was checking out the Practical Farmers of Iowa website to see if they had any information up on this year's field days (they didn't, but I'll keep checking). But, I did find an interesting workshop, in Fairbury, Illinois, sponsored by the Illinois Farm Beginnings program. The workshop is on Saturday, May 23rd from 10:00 AM until 2:00 PM and it is all about equipment for small farmers. According to the description at this link they will talk about how the small farmer can us old and new equipment in creative ways and how you can even do it inexpensively.

I doubt that I will be able to make it to this event considering that it is about 300 miles away, but if you happen to be in that area it might be something to check out. It does bring up a good discussion question ... if you feel like discussing today?

What are some pieces of equipment that you feel the small diverse farm needs to get going, and are there any creative ways that you can use older equipment? I know one thing for sure, if you keep your eyes open and look for the smaller equipment (horse drawn or otherwise) you can often find a good deal ... or even better pick up something for free.

So far on our farm we have the tractor, small plow, haybine, rake, baler, post hole digger, two barge boxes, two hay racks, and we are in the process of picking up a small disc (that needs a little work). With this equipment that we have acquired for a relatively small amount of money (excluding the tractor) we will be able to provide our own hay from the farm, set up fences, work the garden up, do general work around the farm, and even save some feed bill money by buying corn directly from the field at times. I am pleased with our small line of equipment.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Farming Soccer Coach, and Free Stuff

By the end of this week I will be half way through the soccer season (it really is going quickly). Of course that means that we are not that far away from summer and their is still a lot of work to do on the farm ... stuff that I wanted to get done during the "spring". So, I'm going to have to ratchet up the work level a bit and take advantage of all the sunny evenings that don't include a soccer game. With that being said, one thing that you need for just about every project is materials. During our last class of the Grow Your Small Market Farm program our teacher pointed out a great site to locate some stuff that could come in handy on the farm.

The site is through the Iowa DNR and is actually a waste management site that contains listings of all sorts of stuff that businesses (of some sort) are needing to get rid of. She said most of the time the stuff can be had for next to nothing or even for nothing. You can check out the link above and see for yourself what is available, but I have found some good listings for pallets and dimensional lumber that I want to check out.

Of course I also you Freecycle and even Craigslist, but do you know of any other sites like this to help reuse materials. It seems that something like this would be a farmers best friend!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Couple More Movies...

While looking up a movie preview yesterday I found a trailer for a new movie called, "Food, INC." As described on the Apple Quicktime site this documentary, "lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that’s been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA." As you can see from the trailer below it appears to be an interesting movie that includes a few of the usual suspects when it comes to this type of film (Joel Salatin and Michael Pollan).

My one hope is that comes across as well as "King Corn". I think those guys did an excellent job of putting together a documentary that was not heavy-handed or forceful in it's agenda. They were able to present the facts and build a persuading argument through them. Hopefully "Food, INC." is able to do the same thing! (As a side note you can watch the opening of the film here)

On a related note while looking for "Food, INC." clips on YouTube I ran across another documentary titled, "Shall We Gather at the River." I couldn't find as much about this film, but it is along the same lines as other "food and farming" documentaries coming out now. You can watch a trailer below.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Plow Day 2009

I would say that the fall is the time of the year that most people get out the plow (the ground is usually much more dry), but since there were piggies living in the spot that I wanted to plow I had to wait until the spring (and a dry week). As you can see from the picture above, the stars aligned last Friday and I was able to get the two-bottom plow in the ground and turn over the dirt in the old pig pen.

Not only did I plow up our garden spot, but I also went and hit the neighbors garden spot with the plow. I was amazed at the difference in the ground between our two spots. Ours had some decent black dirt (and composting manure), while the neighbors was sod being turned over for the first time and it was almost completely clay. And, the two spots weren't much more than a quarter of a mile apart. Although, by the bricks we found after turning of the dirt at the neighbors I wouldn't be surprised if that spot had once had an old shed or if it was even the garbage pile at one time.

The next step is to hit it with a disc and then come back with the garden tiller if it still needs to be broken up a bit. In the future we won't have to do as much work, but since this is a first year garden and because it was hard-packed by the pigs it needs a little more tillage to break it up. After all that is done we get ready to plant sweet corn ... I can't wait!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Cows are Out ... Again!

Yesterday morning they didn't have school in town so I was able to have soccer practice in the morning at 9:00 AM. I look forward to days like that because then I can get soccer in and move on with the day. But, this particular day practice came at just the wrong time ... just before I was ready to start the phone rang and my wife told me, "the cows are out ... again". I told her to try and keep them on the farm and that I would come home as soon as I could. Luckily only three were able to make the escape, led by the new bull of course.

Being completely honest, our fence really isn't the best but mostly it has been good enough. Rather it has been mostly good enough until the new bull showed up. He likes to test fences and find the weak spots. He has led many revolutions!

Anyways, back to the latest escape. On my way home from soccer practice I was happy to find out that Becca had gotten the two cows back in and that only the bull was still out. He was just contentedly eating grass down in the valley. When I pulled into the drive ... out walked my wife in her muck boots holding a baseball bat (you have to have the proper accouterments when working with a bully bull).

This time though he was very easy to work with. I walked down to the valley, circled around behind him and basically walked him up and into the pen. It was actually pretty surprising! But, I decided that maybe something should be done to stop this from becoming a daily thing so I stopped by the farm store and picked up some poly wire and step-in posts. Now we can put a hot wire around the inside of the pen ... and reacquaint them with electric fence.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Passionate Essay...

I found this over on Allan Nation's blog:
"The Japanese government said agriculture is one of the few industry’s that could provide much needed jobs in the current economic environment and has earmarked $10 million to send 900 young, unemployed workers to farm training schools. So far, there have been ten prospects for each slot. Each candidate must write a passionate essay about why they want to be farmers to be considered. "
Mr. Nation's post continues on to say that 2 out of 3 Japanese farmers are over the age of 65 and that one Japanese economist believes that if that trend isn't reversed. Of course if Japan's agricultural system goes like ours here in the U.S. they won't need to replace all those farmers they are losing because the farms and everything else will get bigger. But, that is a discussion for another day (I don't have the energy to think about it now).

What really hit me after reading that quote was the essay thing. If I had a 10% chance to getting the farming job and had to write an essay in order to secure the position that I passionately wanted what would I say?

Would I talk about the family that I need to provide money for (which may be one of the top things in Japan at the moment)? Would I discuss my love for the land and the food we eat? Would I make sure to touch on the importance of keeping food production in our own country? What exactly would I write about...

I think that thought is an interesting one, and probably it is even one that all farmers (or beginning farmers) should think about from time to time. One big thing of mine is that we need to work in our passions, so if I cannot be passionate about farming (and the way I farm) then I don't think I should farm because I probably won't be as successful as someone that is completely sold out on what they are doing.

My question to you ... What would you write in your passionate essay?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Blue is Back...

I just thought I would give a quick farm update this morning before I head out for another crazy day. I have lots to catch up on at work today and then a Junior Varsity/Varsity soccer double header this evening. Should be a busy day! But, there is good news to report on the farm so I thought I would take a second to share a little before I hit the dusty roads to town.

The Pigs are Being Pigs: Really, that is about it. They are eating, lounging around, sleeping, and really not rooting up to much (which is nice). I really like the temperament of these pigs and especially of the sow. They had been worked with to a point and were fed daily by hand so they are used to people being around. I think they will make some nice pork!

The Cows are Being Cows: They are still in the "lot" right now eating hay because the fencing isn't up yet, but the grass isn't totally around yet either so that isn't a huge problem. I have been toying with the idea of letting them out during the day into an electrified paddock to see if they will trample down and eat some of the tall grass ... we will see.

The Chickens are Being Chickens: Really we only have three chickens right now and we only know where one is laying at the moment. But, since she is laying consistently we have enough eggs to get by. It is nice to see them out in the cow lot flipping over cow pies and digging around though, and that only serves to get me excited about getting more. Hopefully we will take a trip north soon (to my uncle's) to expand the flock.

Blue is Back: I am happy to say that our "new to us" Ford 5000 tractor is back from the shop as of yesterday and I am ready to put her to work. It seems the folks at Belzer Equipment did a good job on the repairs and I know that they were very good to us on the bill. When it was all said and done they fixed the lights, put a new seal kit on the steering cylinder (the reason it went in), replaced the temperature sender, replaced the fuel pump, adjusted the pump timing, and a replaced a couple other small things. Between that and the engine overhaul I think we should have a pretty good tractor! I know there will eventually be something that wears out again, but at least we know we have some things fixed up!

Other than that, plans are going well for the various projects that need to be done this spring. We have the storm shelter deal all figured out and are just waiting for some dry ground, I'm waiting on a bid for our shed, fencing things are coming together (I just need to carve out some time), and we are enjoying spring days on the farm as a family (when we are all home together).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Today is my sons 5th birthday. It is incredibly hard to believe that he is turning five, but I'm sure that he will keep reminding me all day long (he is pretty excited about the day). One thing that I do know though is that I am very blessed to have him in my life and can't imagine life any other way. In fact one major part of our move to the farm and the idea behind building a farm is because we want our family to experience all that the farm has to offer (everything from work to play).

My son is already a great helper around the farm. He helps water the livestock by turning on the hydrant, he helps feed the calves hay with me, he loves to carry wood, and he is the best buddy a dad could have when out doing chores.

With all of that in mind ... I'm off to spend the day with my little guy ... I'm sure he won't be little for much longer!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Farmer's Forum

I thought I would do a little promotion today after getting an e-mail from Tim over at Nature's Harmony Farm. He has started a "Farmer's Forum" (take the link to check it out) that is an online message board for those interested in asking questions, sharing ideas, and discussing various aspects of diverse farming (everything from sheep to marketing and processing). If you would like to read more about the idea behind the new forum check out this post on the Nature's Harmony Blog. And, then go and check out "The Farmer's Forum" and get involved.

I think it is a nice idea and I hope that it is something that will be utilized. Of course the best resource is always going to be face-to-face conversations and experiences with those doing the things you are interested in (and living in your area), but with the busy lives of so many beginning farmers (see yesterdays post) I think an online forum such as this one can be a great addition to the greater "community". I for one am going to make a point to participate ... and ask a lot of questions!

In fact there is already an interesting discussion going on over in the "Free-Range Pigs" section of the board about "Choosing Hardy Breeds". For those of you that have been following my blog lately you will know that pigs are on my brain at the moment, so this is one that I will be following.

So, get over there and join the discussion if you would like!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Learning to Say No...

One of the things our "Grow Your Small Market Farm" teacher told us at the beginning of the first class was that she wanted us to learn how to say "NO".  Maybe it is learning to say no to lowering your prices, maybe you need to say no to adding operations to the farm, or probably you need to learn to say no to all of the outside activities.  I think I need to really learn how to do the last thing because I have found that saying yes often leads to time away from the farm and from the work that I need to do.

Case in point ... I'm writing this at 10:30 AM instead of having a post ready by my usual 8:00 AM each day.  I think this will become the "norm" over the next seven weeks or so as we make our way through the soccer season.  We will be working hard to fit in everything that needs to be done in the day (feeding, watering, work, family time, etc.) and then trying to squeeze everything else into that schedule.  The everything else includes the major fencing project, garden work, and the building of our shed.  I think we can do it ... if I can learn to say "NO" from time to time.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Blogging From Class...

So, I don't have much time for a post today because I'm blogging in class at the moment (this is what college kids probably do every day). This is the last class for the season, but we will meet together one more time at the end of the year to catch up on everything and learn about what has happened at the various farms throughout the summer. We aren't done with everything yet though, our teacher will be meeting with us one time in the Summer to help us with a project related our farming business ... we'll learn more about this today.

With that said though, I need to get back to class. But, I do want to point you to the "Grow Your Small Market Farm" website and encourage all of you beginning or current farmers interested in growing your farm to check out this class. It is a can't miss opportunity!

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's More than Farming...

"Business success or not, Warren pledges to fight to the very end. This, he says, is more than about one individual's business. It's about the individual farmer's right to obtain a better price for a better product. The battle, Warren asserts, is about everything from the future of American liberty and justice, to the health and well being of its people. "This isn't about what we're doing now," he emphasizes. "It's about where we're going. It's about providing better milk and a better future for our children."
The above quote comes from the cover story on the April Issue of "Graze". The article is titled, "Bringing Back That Old-Time Milk Flavor" and tells the story of Warren Taylor and his Snowville Creamery that produces grass-fed milk. Mr. Taylor's plan is an ambitious on that included a brand new milk processing facility and a commitment to what he calls, "Same Day Dairy". Things are off and running now and even though they have not met their sales goals yet you can see from the above quote that he is still serious about the idea.

What this article (and the above quote in particular) really made me think about though is what is our purpose behind what we do. Do we do things because we honestly believe in them and the goals and methods behind them, or do we just do things because that is the way that they are done in our society and we want to keep up with society?

That is a big question in all of my life at the moment and I think it is completely applicable to our farming ventures. Why have I decided to raise grass-fed beef? Why do I want to raise pigs on pasture and farrow in huts and larger pens? What is the point behind all of this direct marketing if I could just go through the markets that are already there?

There are many answers to those questions, but I think Mr. Taylor answers them pretty well in the quote above. It is about my values and goals. And, it is also about the belief that I can be paid a competitive price for the work I do on the farm. But, the main thing I want to remember as we work towards our farming goals is that it is not about me. If it was ... well, then I don't think I should be doing it.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

R-CALF and the NAIS

I can't say that I know much about R-CALF (which stands for, "Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund"), but while looking for something else on the "Big Show" website I ran across a post that said that they were offering an alternative to the NAIS legislation to Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. Of course this piqued my interest because the thought of an alternative (especially if it is a good alternative) is something that I can get on board with. Of course I haven't had time to scrutinize everything yet, but I will provide some links for your perusal.
  • Here is the official R-CALF website. You will find lots of information on this site, including their "About" section.
  • This is a link to the .pdf of their "Eight Point Alternative to NAIS". On the surface it appears to add power to current rules and regulations instead of trying to fix a system by adding another completely confusing system on top of it. If that is the case then I could get on board.
  • Any good organization will have a FAQ section. You can check out the R-CALF FAQ at this link ... it says they have 12,000 members nationwide, not to bad for only 11 years of existance.
  • And finally, this link will take you to a page of various media from and about R-CALF and their doings. It looks like there are some interesting articles to check out if you scroll down a bit.
Like I said, I would love to hear your thoughts on their alternative to the NAIS. Is this a step in the right direction?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Benefits of Large-Scale Agriculture...

You will notice that this is a fairly late post today. It was a busy morning that included a trip to check out some storm shelters ... something that is important to think about during this season of the year! Since it is so late in the day I can't take too much time blogging today, but I would like to share a link to a recent article from "Feedstuffs", which is "a weekly newspaper for agribusinness". The title of the article is, "Large-Scale Structure has Benefits," and you can read it for yourself by taking the link above.

Here are a few of my favorite (I use that word loosely) quotes from the article:
  • "ANIMAL agriculture's structure has changed "dramatically" in the last 20 years as cattle feeding and hog and poultry production have transitioned to fewer but larger operations, but the change has benefited sustainability, producers and consumers, according to Dr. James MacDonald, chief of the U.S. Economic Research Service's (ERS) Agricultural Structure & Productivity Branch."
  • "However, he acknowledged that the impact also has included decreased competition and intense concerns related to air and water pollution."
  • "As for size, he said the "midpoint" for a typical dairy in 1987 was 80 head, whereas today, it's 550 head; similarly, feedlots went from 17,500 head to 35,000 head per yard, hog operations went from 1,200 head to 30,000 head and chicken complexes went from 300,000 birds to 600,000 birds."
  • "MacDonald said the fewer-but-larger trend also applies to packers/processors, with basically four major buyers of fed cattle, two to four major buyers of hogs and a handful of chicken integrators that contract production with local farmers. However, he said the marketplace has remained competitive."
I suppose it is an interesting point and I guess I can't really argue with many of the facts that are stated in the article. What can be argued though I believe is the suppositions that the article comes to ... such as the statement that says large-scale agriculture is more sustainable. What do you think about this article?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Something is Missing...

When we got home from class this past Saturday afternoon I decided it would be a good idea to go get a little wood to keep the house nice and toasty as we got what I hope is our last little dash of winter cold, wind, and snow. With that in mind I plugged in the tractor to get it warmed up and went to finish up some chores and get my wood cutting supplies. After about thirty minutes I came back to the tractor, put everything in the loader, and hopped on ready to go do some manly wood cutting. What happened next was not part of my plan...

I put the tractor into second gear and let out the clutch while turning the steering wheel to the right so as to avoid the van parked in the drive. There was one major problem ... the steering was not working and before I could get the tractor stopped the van stopped it for me! This pretty well sums up my last few days. After backing away from the crunched van I was able to muscle the steering wheel the other way and head out to the timber to get my wood. Needless to say, the steering never came back and I found a puddle of fluid underneath the front end of the tractor.

Since I purchased this tractor from the dealer it has a 50/50 90 day warranty and yesterday morning I decided to test it out. I called up the salesman I bought it from and he said he would have a guy out there after lunch. I was not able to be home then because of the back load of work in town (did I mention it has been a tough few days), but when I came home the tractor was gone. Thankfully the took it back to the shop to check it out and get everything working.

Now, I need to decide if I'm going to bite the bullet and pay them to fix a the tach and the temperature gauge. I suppose I will at least call and find out how much it would cost. Hopefully things will dry out this week and I will get the tractor back when I'm able to get some work done. Whatever happens, I'm just glad I ended up with this dealer and at least a partial warranty! It is nice to have them helping out because I know it would have taken me a long time to fix this ... if I even could.

Monday, April 06, 2009

How Does Your Grass Grow?

I am getting very close to the point of needing to decide what I'm going to do with our pastures this early spring (if we can get rid of some mud). Last fall we baled seven or eight acres on top of the hill and you can see some green starting to take off (that is very exciting to see), but the rest of the ground is still covered in last falls tall grass (switch grasses and more). The decision that I face is whether or not to let the grass grow up through last years growth or to go out with the bush hog and take it down mechanically and then bring the cows on as it grows.

If I were to intensely graze the pastures as they stand right now I am guessing there would be some benefit in turning out the cows on it. The cows may benefit by having some extra roughage that could help combat bloat from the early grass. But, it is also a possibility that the land would benefit also by having the cows there. Maybe the hoof action and the eating would help work last years tall grass into the ground as some good carbon material...

On the other hand I think there could possibly be some benefits from mowing down the tall grass. One possible plus would be the fact that they old grass would be chopped up and taken out of the way allowing more sunlight to reach the ground and the new growth. Then when the cows were allowed into an area they would potentially have more green grass available. Of course there would also be the side benefit of having some ant hills knocked down, which is something that needs to happen if we are going to bale different areas.

I am wondering what your thoughts on this issue are? Should I just head out and graze it ... maybe even now? Or, should I knock it all down and then let some good growth occur before putting the cows out onto the pasture? As always ... thanks for the help!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Two More Classes...

This morning we are off to our second-to-last session in the "Grow Your Small Market Farm" class. I have not been updating very much about this class, but let me just say that it has caused us to look at the farm in a completely different way and we are excited about that! Now, we just need to catch up on our business plan work and get farming.

But, since it has been a busy week I don't have much time to post today. I just thought I would share the above picture with you. When I got home from soccer practice tonight it was just such a beautiful evening on the farm that I spent some time hanging out with the pigs and enjoying their sounds. I have to admit that I think red pigs are pretty cute...

Friday, April 03, 2009

What Worked ... And What Didn't

With the new pigs on the farm I thought it would be a good time to share some of the things that we will be changing with this group. All in all we were pleased with the way that we raised them and will follow much of the system as before, but there are a few things that will be changed. Most of the changes are just are a part of the continued journey to the place that we would like our livestock systems to be at. But, some of them are really based on what I didn't like about the first group.

Change #1: The most obvious change that we have made is a location change. This change was based on a couple of things. First of all the original pig pen was meant to be turned into a garden, I'm not completely sure if that will happen this year because we ended up keeping the pigs longer than we wanted to and thus we didn't have a chance to prepare the garden last fall (spring mud is not good for the plow, disc, and tiller). But, we also moved them because we wanted some fresh clean ground for them. Hopefully our perimeter fence will make an appearance soon so that they can have that clean flesh ground more often.

Change #2: At least to begin with I'm going to be feeding the pigs twice a day (we will see how that goes) by hand instead of with the bulk feeder. I would like to them to get a little more used to me being around and amongst them in hopes that it would help with loading and moving in the future. But, it also allows me to try some different things with feeding.

Change #3: I am going to be building a feeding platform on skids soon (once I get some oak from the sawmill). I still want my feeding area to be portable, but the place where they eat is a place that gets torn up the most so I would like to try this out for a while. Also, it would be nice to build a slightly bigger platform for the water (another place that gets really torn up).

Change #4: Since our new sow is due to farrow in June we will need to have an adequate farrowing hut for her. I have researched many different hut plans and I can't say that I have come to a conclusion yet, but she will have something more than a steel hut (unless I can find some English style huts ... I may use one of those).

Those are a few of the major changes that we are going to make. There will be others though I am sure because we are still learning a lot (I don't see the learning subsiding anytime soon)!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Safe and Sound...

*Today's post is a couple hours later than usual, but I'm still trying to catch up from the long day that was yesterday ... a 5:00 AM wake up, a pig pick up, soccer practice, and youth group (back to back to back) took a toll on me and I'm trying to catch up with my work.

But, as you can see from the picture above the piggies are all safe and sound in their new home. In fact it looks like they decided to sleep in today because I snapped this picture after 8:00 AM. I am really pleased with the way the pigs look and how they have grown. The Berkshire and Hereford cross is something that I'm very interested to watch grow, and of course taste. There might even be a chance that one of the gilts (four gilts and one barrow) gets to stay on the farm. If I can find a Tamworth boar (or semen) it is a three-way cross that I would be interested in trying out.

The sow though is probably the most exciting part because she is bred to a purebred Hereford boar and this June will give us our first litter of pigs born on the farm ... and they will be purebred Herefords. She is very easy going and nice to work with and I aim to keep it that way be feeding her and the pigs by hand instead of using the bulk feeders (at least to start with on the pigs).

Of course all these new pigs mean one thing ... we will have pork available this summer and then probably again in the fall/winter. If you are in the area and would like to get on the waiting list just shoot me an e-mail.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Picking Up Piggies...

This is a day that I have been waiting for, and today it is finally happening. Today I'm going to pick up a bred Hereford sow and 5 pigs from her first liter that are Berkshire crosses. I would call them feeder pigs (and I could have called them that earlier), but I believe the better word for them right now is shoats. I am excited to see what these pigs are like and how the finish, but I am most excited about the bred Hereford sow. She is bred to a Hereford boar so we will be getting some thoroughbred (I've been reading a lot of "Harris on the Pig" lately) pigs from her first liter. Who knows ... maybe some of the gilts could be the foundation of a pig herd on our farm.

But, picking up the pigs is the easy part. The real work was getting a new spot ready for the pigs and getting it all fenced in. Our garden was going to go where last falls pigs were raised (we will see if that actually works out) so we needed to find a new spot until our perimeter fence is put in place. I had to tear down the old pen, which was much easier because the ground is rather soft (pulling posts out was easy), and then set up the new fence. I'm all about working smarter, so I am using one side of the cattle lot as the new pig pen and then I only had to set up three sides.

Everything is ready now and before soccer practice this afternoon I will have some new pigs on the farm. Hopefully all will go well and I will have pictures tomorrow!
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