- When you've never farmed before there are lots of little things that you would never think about. After a couple years in I'm still finding those little things and I count on finding them as long as I farm ... it's an unpredictable game.
- You have to have shoulders like a rain coat so that things will just roll off of you. There are ups and there are downs ... and when you start from scratch there will be plenty of downs.
- Slow down. I don't like slow, but you need to slow down regardless ... unless you have enough capital to just force things along.
- Cold weather just plain stinks ... period ... end of story.
- Don't paint yourself in a corner ... that means a lot of things at different times, but I think it's an important lesson!
Friday, December 31, 2010
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
- Even though the days are going to get colder and I'm pretty sure there will be more snow there is one positive that I can hold onto. Since it is now officially winter the days will begin growing instead of shrinking! According to this calendar I should gain 45 minutes of daylight between the January 1st and 31st. Despite the cold and snow that I know will come over the next month the extra daylight is something I can get excited about! If I'm wrong about this ... well just don't tell me and let me live in my dream ...
- Despite the rogue sheep that keep getting out (although with some extra posts they seem to be staying closer to home) I'm pretty pleased with the way they have been adjusting to the farm and handling the winter weather. There haven't been any super snow storms yet or week long cold snaps, but the wind has blown and it has gotten pretty frigid. It just seems like they sheep flock up and hang-out when the weather gets bad ... and they are doing well. I'm hoping this apparent hardiness is something that sticks with them throughout the winter and carries on into the lambing season. That would be just very nice thank you very much ...
- I have hay and straw and I think maybe ... possibly ... hopefully I have enough. I know that I have enough straw on the farm now to last the winter (although I'm not really set-up to use it yet) and with 47 plus bales of hay on the farm I'm thinking it might be enough. Honestly I'm not quite sure how much hay I will need, but I have enough hay for the initial bales I purchased to get through December and then the 47 bales I just purchased to make it until grass shows up. They're heavy and tightly wrapped bales and I think they will be enough, but with the sheep now and the uncertainties of winter weather I guess I'll just have to see how it lasts. On the whole though I'm glad to have it and relieved. Last winter it was a constant search and battle for hay ... hopefully that will not be the case this year.
Monday, December 20, 2010
- While I'm not very convinced that the last tree will ever fall in England (or anywhere for that matter), or that the country will be covered with concrete from shore to shore I do get the concept. I understand what Mr. Lewis was getting at. I think I've mentioned this before, but my mom spent 36 years teaching grade school in Waterloo, IA. The same Waterloo, IA that is surrounded by farms in every direction, is the home of multiple John Deere factories, and holds a yearly event called Cattle Congress! But, as the years progressed in her teaching career her students lost the connection to the farm, and even basic knowledge of the farm. My old toy tractors became her teaching tools! It isn't so much the reality of farms going away that is scary, but rather the connection with them.
- In the middle of the poem the students are asking, "What was a chestnut?" and "What was Autumn?" Think of those questions in farm terms ... Is it possible that we could get to a point where children would ask, "Where does bacon come from?" or "What is a farm?" The story of the farm needs to be told. The Farm Bureau is saying that the farm story is needs to be told and local farmers all over the country are saying the story needs to be told. That is probably one major thing both the small-scale/local/natural/direct-marketing farmers and the large-scale industrial agriculture farmers can agree on.
- But really, I think the reason I ended up on this poem again is because the farm kind of has me down lately. I feel like I'm getting knocked backwards more than I am even taking baby steps forwards and it frustrates me. And so with my farming heart in that state I ended up on a poem about forests and concrete and England ... and for some reason I was a little renewed and a little more excited about the farm. But, I still don't know what it's all going to look like in six months ...
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Since the hose was frozen I had to go with the back-up plan which included a couple of 5 gallon buckets and a walking back and forth me! Even by brining the hose into the house it wouldn't thaw out in time and I needed to get water to the animals so buckets it was. The thing about using buckets is that roughly ten gallons at a time isn't enough for the cows. They can have that all gone by the time I get back so for the first 10 or 20 trips (I made a lot of trips) it was just getting enough there for them to drink. It is nice to see that they have a nice system worked out for getting water though. Basically it goes from biggest to smallest with the sheep all hanging out together until it is just the littlest calves at the water tank.
The good news on the frozen hose front is that it is supposed to warm up the next couple of days, so I'll get that all taken care of and be back in business! I just need to make sure I'm staying on top of things and getting it all drained out. In completely and totally unrelated news I think I am finally ready to make the jump into the world of trucks!
In the past I have written about wanting or thinking about getting a truck many times, and each time there is usually someone who is surprised that I've been farming without a truck for this long. Well, I'm not sure if I want to farm without one any longer and I'm ready to get rid of the Expedition and step into a truck ... a cheap truck ... an inexpensive truck ... a reasonably priced truck ... You know ... one closer to $3,000 than $5,000!
I do have a couple requirements though. It needs to be a 3/4 ton truck and it needs to be four wheel drive. Other than that I'm pretty open. Ideally it would be a long bed and an extended cab, but I don't think that is going to happen in my price range. So, what are your thoughts on a truck that will be for the farm and for my daily driver. If you could only have one (long bed or extended cab) what would you choose? I would love your input ... and if you have one for sale let me know ;)
Friday, December 03, 2010
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Right now there will be two t-shirt options available. The first choice is the "Pioneer Farming" t-shirt. This shirt is "smoke" in color and has the phrase "Pioneer Farming" on the front with the pronunciation and a definition stating :: "See Crooked Gap Farm". "Pioneer Farming" is a fun little phrase that I started to use when describing the farm because of the way this farm was started from scratch ... plus it's a good conversation starter.
The second shirt available is the Crooked Gap Farm "Where a Pig is a Pig" shirt. This t-shirt comes in a color called "Caribbean Blue" and has the state of Iowa with the farm location along with the phrase "Where a Pig is a Pig". This fun shirt states the plain fact ... on this farm a pig is allowed to be a pig in the pasture, in the mud, and all around!
Both shirts will cost $20 each plus shipping and handling. I will be ordering them soon and keeping them "in stock" as it were, but I would love to have an idea of interest and a general amount of sizes I should order. If you would like to place an order just send me an
e-mail with the shirt(s) you would like and the sizes.
**FYI :: The dotted lines are not part of the shirt, just part of the design site ... And, you can click on the pictures for a larger image of the design.**
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Monday, October 04, 2010
Dear Crooked Gap Farm Friend,
One of the major commitments of Crooked Gap Farm is to the customers and the people that have been an encouragement along the way. Because of that, we are looking for your advice and input. We are passionate about providing healthy and delicious meats by raising animals the way they were created to be made. This means that the cattle are grassfed and raised on pasture. It means that the pigs have their babies outdoors, and that they have a chance to root and be a pig. It means that the chickens can roam the pastures and clean-up after the cattle. I am very appreciative of our customers and friends who value these commitments and ideals!
Late this summer, however, we encountered a change that made the things that were starting to seem known about our farm unknown. My full time job of 6+ years at the church became a 20 hour a week job. In order to fill in some of the financial gap, I took on an additional 40 hours in the NAPA department at the farm store. This gave me 60 hours of town work plus the work on the farm.
Because of the changes in my job, not only are finances tighter than they were before, but I also have less time to take care of the livestock, maintain the farm, and cut firewood for the house. Plus, it is important to keep the family sane as well! Finding time to take care of everything has already become a challenge, and I know those challenges will continue as winter comes on and the days become shorter.
The first thought is that this is the time to back away from the farm and sell off the livestock. To maintain at the level we are at is not profitable enough considering the limited time that I have on the farm right now.
On the other hand, having my job at church cut to 20 hours gives me an opportunity to take a risk that might sound a bit crazy considering our situation ... to jump in to the farm completely and to grow and expand it. That expansion would mean buying in more animals over the winter and spring to have more available during the market season, including pork, beef, lamb, and poultry.
If that is going to happen though I’m going to have to think outside of the box. I’m going to have to be more creative and try and build some operating capital to fund the expansion and the extra feed and facility costs over the winter.
This all leads of course to my “big ask”. In one sense, I’m asking for your thoughts as customers on the direction of Crooked Gap Farm at this time. If the farm is going to continue, it is going to need the support of all of you who have supported it through its beginning stages. Would you like to see us stick around and grow? Would you like to purchase grassfed lamb and pastured chicken along with the pork and beef you may have already purchased from us? If that is the case, let me know.
And, another part of the “big ask” is would you help me think of ways to raise some of the capital needed to grow? Maybe you would be interested putting a down payment on a half hog, lamb, or chickens. Maybe you would like to reserve first crack at the limited amount of grassfed Dexter beef that will be available later this fall and next year. Maybe you have an outside of the box idea that could help the farm. Whatever it is, I would love to hear your thoughts!
One thing that you could do right now though is spread the word about Crooked Gap Farm if you have enjoyed our heritage breed meats. Please feel free to share this letter or our contact information with any friends or family that may be interested in our farm. We will have more pork and eggs available this fall and hopefully some ground beef if we can clear out some of our very limited freezer space (hint, hint). Our customers are the best advertisement we could have, and we would greatly appreciate your help.
So, there it is ... the current situation of Crooked Gap Farm in a very small nutshell. I want to thank you all for the support you have given over the past couple of years and all the encouragement that I have heard. This past summer was a summer of learning and growth on the farm. Even with all of the challenges I can look back and see progress, and that would not have been possible without you. If you would like to come out to the farm and see what is going on, please feel free to contact me and set up a visit. I would love to share our passion and vision with you in person!Ethan Book
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
So far I've only had her four a couple days, but I've used her to build fence, move the water wagon, feed hogs, move the chicken trailer, check for shorts on the fence, and even ride around for fun! I'm thinking this will be one of those things that I'll wonder how I ever lived without! Plus ... did I mention the 425 is blue!
Now, if You didn't know that I bought this four-wheeler then you should subscribe to me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/crookedgapfarm
Friday, September 10, 2010
Captain, who works on the Stihl side of the store, was nice enough to take the video for me. As I mentioned in the video, I think this saw will get me through the winter, and many more to come.
Thursday, September 09, 2010
- Throughout the summer Crooked Gap Farm was represented at the Living History Farms Farmer's Market. Although the market didn't quite have the numbers I would have hoped for it did provide a great place to learn about selling and working with customers at a farmer's market. I was able to meet a lot of great new customers and learn what does and doesn't work when you are running a frozen meat stand outside. I'm not sure what is in store for the farm next year when it comes to farmer's market, but I think it's safe to say that I will have some sort of presence at a market in Des Moines ... at least part time.
- Rotationally grazing the Dexter cattle has been wonderful and having the chickens follow behind has been really cool to watch. I still have a lot to learn about rotational grazing and because of some of the life changes I'm not able to do it exactly as I'd like to, but the results so far have been great. The herd (small herd) is being moved at least once per day and I can already tell a slight improvement in the pasture as the grass grows back. The overabundance of rain though this summer did hurt things a little and make it difficult on the ground that I seeded in the spring, but all in all I'd call it a success.
- I'm loving the pigs. When I started out a few years ago I pictured the Dexter cattle as the centerpiece of the farm, but now after living it out for a couple years I really love the idea of having the pigs be the focal point of Crooked Gap Farm. I like working with the pigs and am really excited about the possibilities that are out there for pasture/wood lot pork. Right now there are three sows and a boar and I think there is room for some slow growth as the demand grows (and it is growing faster than I can keep up with).
- Changes are happening. Recently I began working only part-time (20 hours) at the church that I have been working at for the past six plus years. This was a huge change in my life and it required some big changes on the farm and more. The biggest thing is that I now have a 2nd "town" job working on the NAPA side of the local farm store in town. So now I'm working 20 hours at the church and roughly 40 hours a week at NAPA. I'm still fleshing out how all this can work with the farm as well, but I'm confident we can survive the changes.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
- Probably the thing I love most about setting up at the market is the chance to interact with people. Not everybody I talk to purchases something (it seems like I chat with a few vegetarians each time), but it does give me the opportunity to share the farm and the reasons behind the way I farm. Plus I figure that each person I talk to gives me just that much more experience.
- Setting up a display that catches peoples eye when all you are selling is frozen meat (that is hidden away in coolers) is a bit difficult. I think that we have a nice table with plenty of pictures and information, but we have a lot of people just wander by or others that stop but don't realize we have pork for sale! Hopefully some of that will be remedied by a new ten foot long vinyl sign that I'm having made. I am open for suggestions though!
- Farmer's Markets have a lot more crafts than I would have guessed. Our market is small and in only it's second year, but there are a couple knit/sewing vendors and sometimes even three jewelry vendors. Plus, you have to remember there are only 17'ish vendors set up now. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, just something I didn't realize.
- I think I'm coming to realize that garden produce is important. So far there hasn't been much available at the market and I think that keeps some people away ... even though I have great pork for sale each week! It will be interesting to see how things shake out as the garden harvest begins.
- The Living History Farms is a very cool place featuring the agricultural history of Iowa in a hands on sort of way and with small-scale working farms. With that in mind I think this market has the potential to be equally as cool. Because they have staff on site they are able to offer pretty cool demonstrations and there has even been live music on two different Wednesdays. One thing to look forward to that I believe the blacksmith will be making an appearance this summer.
- The biggest thing that I've come to learn so far is that I have a lot to learn! A lot to learn about marketing and setting up, but also just about the best way to go about things at the market. The best way to fill the coolers ... the best way to add up the purchases ... the best way to handle the transactions quickly ... and so much more. Plus, I've also learned it's nice if you don't forget stuff :: I'll work on that ;)
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Friday, May 07, 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Monday, April 26, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
- When selecting your puppy pick out one of the puppies that comes to you right away. When it comes to a guardian you don't want a timid dog.
- As soon as they get their puppies on the farm they are put with the sheep. That is where they are fed and that is where they sleep. To get the sheep used to the dog they sometimes place them in a pen right next to the sheep so they get used to them being near.
- Another way to bond your dog with the sheep is to place the pup in a pen (Mr. Judy uses an electro-net pen) with an old ewe and force them to bond. Then when you place the dog out with the entire flock there will already be a connection.
- Don't let the dog bond with you. We purposefully let our dog bond with the family because we wanted a family guardian dog. But, in doing so Jack hangs out around the house most of the time protecting this area. For a livestock guardian a pat on the head each day and a "good job" is probably enough.
- Mr. Judy made a neat little "feeding pen" on skids to allow the dogs access to a self-feeder, but keep the sheep out of the dog food. This is a really good idea!
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
- There is clover coming up in quite a few places. In fact it is the only thing that is growing on the clay that covers our septic filtration area.
- There really was a lot of bare ground in the pasture. In some places the switchgrass stand had just become very thin and in other places the brush had gotten so think that it shaded out all the grass. That was especially true in the area where I mowed down the brush yesterday.
- The lack of quality grass and the bare ground was kind of depressing at times.
- I have no idea what I'm doing! Yesterday while I was taking a break from the tractor I tweeted, "Ever feel like you're doing something, but not sure if you're doing it right? I do ..." I knew that seed was leaving the drill, but if it will ever grow ... of that I'm not sure!
- Warm season grasses are just that ... warm season. As I look at my pasture I don't see the lush green that surrounds the farms around me ... oh for some lush and thick grass. It will come in time.
- I'm excited about the possibilities of mob grazing ... if ever there was a farm that could use some good microbe management this is it!
- Now ... I'm praying for grass to grow!
Saturday, April 17, 2010
"It is a true treat to watch them graze in the pasture. They walk along at a steady pace with their heads bobbing just enough to take in the top 2-3" of clover or whatever their target may be. They graze at lightning speed, just taking the best tender part of the plant as their snout passes over it."