Thursday, September 30, 2010

Expanding What's Working

As I think about expanding on the farm and adding more livestock the most obvious enterprise for me to grow is the one that is working the best. Right now there is no doubt in my mind that my most successful venture has been the hogs. When the first thoughts of farming started flying through my mind I always envisioned grass-fed beef being the centerpiece of the farm. The realities of growing a herd of grass-fed beef and getting everything up and running have made me realize that maybe that my Dexters will have to take the back burner for the time being. The pigs (and the pork the provide) have been filling their traditional role as the "mortgage lifter" on the farm, and to tell you the truth I really enjoy raising them!

As I work through the process of adding more pigs to the farm I have decided that I want to attack it from two different angles. I would like to add more breeding stock (sows), but also add some feeder pigs so that I can have more finished product when the next farmer's market season roles around. Doing both of these things helps me build not only for the near future, but also for seasons down the road. Of course there is always the option to just buy feeder pigs and finish them, but I like the idea of having control of my livestock from farrow to finish and I think my customers appreciate that as well.

This past year I sort of committed myself to the Hereford breed. Right now I only have one Hereford sow, but my boar is a Hereford and he will share the benefits of the Hereford breed (good mothers, great taste, easy going, etc.) with the entire swine herd. I would like to add a couple of more Hereford sows, but I'm also interested in exploring other breeds and trying different crosses. That is where the above picture comes in to the equation ...

Those three are Tamworth gilts and I will be bringing at least one to the farm in the near future. The Tamworth is a lean bacon-type of hog that I have been wanting on the farm since I started, so to say that I'm excited about bringing a gilt to the farm is a bit of an understatement. I plan on experimenting with some Tamworth x Hereford crosses and also using AI to add a few more purebred Tamworths to the farm.

Plus ... don't they just look extra cool with those "stand-up" ears!?!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Expanding on Expansion

Yesterday I wrote about my desire to see the farm grow and expand in the near future. Right now I'm in super planning and thinking and figuring mode. I'm trying to plan what needs to happen on the farm in a physical sense as far as structures and fencing goes. I'm trying to think of ways to expand the farm and what I feel comfortable adding in a short while. And, I'm trying to figure and pencil out what this all looks like on paper financially as I build up and then what sort of sales can and need to happen if I do build up. On one had it is very exciting and I'm kind of just having fun with the idea of throwing myself in a little deeper. On the other hand though the task seems nearly impossible and completely daunting!

One of the ways that I'm trying to contradict that is to try and rekindle some of the early passion I had for the farm. It is not so much that the passion has dwindled recently, but rather it has been pushed to the back of my mind with my new and improved busy work schedule (at least 60 hours of town jobs per week). I'm still passionate about raising animals on grass and connecting with customers how are also passionate about the food the use to fuel their lives. But, that passion has been pushed to the back burner for a while now.

The field day that I hosted back in August (you can read about it here) was one of the first things that helped bring that passion back to the front of my mind. Having others here on the farm that are farming or are thinking about farming really got me excited, and telling them about my farm helped me remember some of the reasons that I started in the first place. It was encouraging to talk to others and hear what they thought of the progress the farm has made up to this point. It helped me focus on what has been accomplished rather than on what hasn't been done.

Reading and blogging (and tweeting) are things that I'm doing again to help me keep that focused passion for farming. About the same time that I stopped blogging is about the same time I stopped reading about farming. I don't know how much those two are related, but I do realize that it was probably about the same time that I began to feel a little overwhelmed by what wasn't done ... and sometimes overwhelming feelings paralyze me!

But, I'm reading again and I thought it would be a good idea to start out with the first farming book I read ... one of the ones that really made me think that a farm was a realistic possibility. So, I grabbed "You Can Farm" by Joel Salatin off the shelf the other night and started in. It is good to go over some of the ideas that I had one I was just starting to think and dream about a farm and also evaluate whether or not I've strayed from some of those original thoughts and ideas.

Of course all the passion, dreams, and excitement don't add up to a successful business. That is why I'm trying to look at things from every angle I can possible think of as I look at the ins and outs of expanding Crooked Gap Farm. Oh ... and I'm praying ;)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Expansion ...

When I first had the farming dream I began the best way that I knew how ... by reading! And I tried to read as much as I could ... books, magazines, online articles, research papers, and internet forums. I tried to gather as much information as I could and I started to plan and dream and dream and plan! As I look back on this farming adventure I realize that was an important step ... not only to help me gain a little bit of "book knowledge", but also to help give me the courage to jump in. Eventually though I just needed to jump in and start instead of talking about it and writing about it ... that is how I ended up on the farm. I just jumped in!

Now, I feel like I'm getting to the point where I need to jump again. I pleased with the progress that I've made and I like the direction the farm is going, but I'm beginning to feel that I'm at a place where I just need to jump again. Either jump back from the farm a little bit (do more homesteading rather than "for sale" farming) or jump a little deeper in and up the ante. I've spent much of the past year or two writing about and thinking about the "next thing" for the farm and now might be the time to take those steps ... to jump in like I did a few years ago.

With that in mind I'm looking at expanding the livestock operation on the farm by adding more pigs and hopefully hair sheep in the very near future. I would like to stick with the Hereford pigs for the most part so I'm looking along those lines, but with the sheep I'm going to have to really look and see what is available (Katahdin, St. Croix, etc.). More livestock will also mean that I will need to make more sales, so I'm beginning to plan for that as well.

Just as there was a lot of work to do when I jumped in there is a lot of work to do if I want to take the next step. I'm in the process of putting together my new work list and getting the farm ready for an infusion of more ... more everything! I'll take some time over the next few weeks (as time allows) to detail some of those steps that I'm working on. One thing is for sure though ... I'm not going to bring anything to the farm unless I'm ready to have it at the farm! That is one lesson that has come through loud and clear.

Okay, I'm sort of back to blogging again (on an "as possible" basis), but if you would like to keep up-to-date on the farm and my farming misadventures be sure to follow me on Twitter @crookedgapfarm. As for the blog ... make sure to subscribe on the right to receive the latest post in your e-mail inbox.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A New Worker ...

Last Friday I picked up a new worker for the farm ... she's a hard worker and goes most places that I ask her to go. And, on top of that she is my favorite color! I call her the 425 ... and she's a Polaris four-wheeler. She's a bit older, but is a huge help getting around and getting things done quickly (which means a lot with my new schedule).

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
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Big Day :: New Chainsaw

To say I've had bad luck in the chainsaw department is a bit of an understatement. So far I've had two auction special saws die on me and now fall/winter is coming. So today at work I bought a saw ... a Stihl MS260 with a 20 inch bar to be exact. As you can see from the video below it really does work! It just took a little to get it going for the first time.

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.
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Thursday, September 09, 2010

What Can I Say?

Things will always change. Sometimes they will change because you want them to and sometimes they will change even if you don't want them to. In the end the consistent reality is that things will change. Lately my life and the life of this farm have been changing and because of this my drive and passion for writing (and in some senses the farm itself) has waned a bit. Now though I'm beginning to feel that the writing aspect of the farm needs to and can begin to make a reappearance again. Since the beginning of my blogging experience the writing has a done a lot to help fuel my passion and creativity on the farm and that is something that I would like to recapture a little. So ... we will see what happens next.

A good place to start though is to catch up a little with the on farm activities and life changes ::
  • 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.
Those are just some quick hits from the farm lately. Of course a lot more has happened in my absence from the blog and I'm sure more will come out as I continue to get back into the writing swing of things. But, there are also some farm ideas and thoughts that I'm looking forward to fleshing out in thought and words ... and hopefully if anyone is still out there reading ... in interaction with you!

Thanks for your patience if you wander across this post ;)

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