Monday, January 17, 2011

The Cost of Farming ...

I've been thinking a lot about the cost of farming lately. Today it was on the front of my mind because I placed another feed order and picked up some cracked corn while I was there ... a 50 lb bag of cracked corn is now up to $6.30. That is a considerable amount more than the $4.25 or so that I was paying the the middle of 2010. Of course that is only one part of the cost of farming. Besides feed there is water, electricity, mineral or other supplements, and on and on and on!

But, the costs don't stop with just the livestock care on the farm. It seems like everywhere I turn I am buying something. Part of that is because everything on my farm is here for the very first time ... that means that I have a lot of first time expenses. For example I just went and purchased a bunch of heat lamps. There will be times that I need to replace one or two at a time in the future, but I won't need to buy a bunch at once until I expand or add to the farm in some way. The reality of it is though that having a farm means having an inventory of certain things on the farm ... no matter how low input your farm is. You'll always need bolts, nuts, screws, nails, fence staples, tools, wire, twine, water tank plugs, hoses, extension cords, and of course the list is endless!

The one cost though that I've been thinking about the most though lately is the intangiable cost of my labor. Running a farm, beginning a farm, or just working on someone else's farm can be mentally and emotionally exhausting (as can about any other job). But, when I combine my farm work with 60 hours (or more usually) in town and special weekend youth events that pop up fairly regularly my time becomes more precious.

It's the intangiable's like time and when that time takes place (meaning I do a lot of work after 10:00 PM that really starts to add up. But, I'm committed to the farm. I'm committed to the idea that something special can happen on 40 acres ... I think that I can work out a system that produces great meat and restores the pastures and the soils ... I think that it will work. But, there is and will always be a lot of "costs" associated with farming.

If I ever wrote a book for beginning farmers I think some of the "costs" is something I would cover. What are some of the "costs" you experience that sometimes get overlooked?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Crazy Times ...

It has been a little crazy on the farm lately and it doesn't seem like it will be slowing down much this week. In fact I would say that it has even been crazier than normal (if there is a normal). Because of that I haven't had a time to sit down and update the blog much lately, so I thought I would just hit some bullet points of farm happenings ...
  • Since I need to keep my chin up I just thought I would be positive and mention that I'm really loving the sheep. They are all staying in their home now and they are a nice hardy flock willing to eat whatever hay I give them and do well on it! This past week I put two big bales in on the same day and all the cows and sheep attacked one bale until it was gone. The cows wouldn't go over to the other, but the sheep were going to town on it. I put a new bale in for the cows and the sheep still kept working on the other bale ... I love the sheep now!
  • It seems like winter has really set in now. We don't have much snow (yet), but the ground is frozen pretty solid and I was having a hard time putting in steel posts this past week (see next point on why I was doing that).
  • About two weeks ago now I was able to find some bred sows for sale. That was just the motivation I needed to finish up the different pig areas and clean out the lean-to in order to use it for farrowing. Needless to say I needed to pound in some posts ... see the post above for how well that worked ...
  • I realized I would like to drive in about 20 more posts. I'm not so sure it will happen (see previous two points).
  • I picked up two Tamworth sows and two Berkshire sows. They are all bred to a Tamworth boar and should be farrowing soon. By that I mean the three others that didn't farrow in the trailer will be farrowing soon! Yes ... that's right ... my pigs farrow in the trailer ... I guess I should try to figure out a better system than that! So far it is working out though and she has eight pigs. The funny thing though is that since there were four sows in there I had to figure out exactly which one the pigs belonged to. There were no visible signs, so I did the next best thing ... I milked all four of them and only found one that would give any milk. That's who the pigs are with now ...
  • Oh ... and tomorrow I'm hiring one of my past youth group kids to build some hog huts with me ... outside in the cold ... late into the night. It's okay though, he is a tough kid!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Second Shift Farming

I've decided that for the time being I'm going to call myself a second shift farmer. Although lately things have be running dangerously close (and fully into) the third shift. But, I will feel better about myself if I just keep thinking that I get it all done in the second shift ;) Of course I realize there are many second shift farmers out there, but it does really become more noticeable in the winter because of the ... DARKNESS!

This week I've been using my late nights to work on winter farrowing set up for some sows. I was able to use the tractor the past couple of nights to clean out the old deep bedding from the shed. Then I put up some panels in front of my hay feeder for the cattle (I'm feeding all round bales this year so it wasn't being used). I did this because I didn't want them crawling in there getting stuck. I will say though, that the most fun part of the project was pounding in some posts into the frozen ground ... but, it needed to be done.

Once I had that all done I spread an entire straw round bale around in the area and took in my first a-frame hut. The idea is to have the huts lined up against one wall with deep bedding in them and around them. With this set up I'll be able to put a heat lamp in each hut and with the deep bedding I think it will provide a nice farrowing environment for the sows. I know one thing for sure ... it will be better than they've had the past couple winters here!

I work about the same amount of time outside each night, but tonight was one of those nights were I could look out and see my accomplishment. Those kind of nights don't happen very often, but I'm always glad when they do.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

January 2, 2011

Dear Diary,

Today was not so bad outside. The sun was shining for the most part and although there was a little more wind than I would say is ideal the temperature was nicely hovering around the freezing mark. I am glad to report that today ... finally ... just in time I'm sure ... I moved the pigs outside to their new hut and winter area. Plus, I filled up that new house on skids with lots and lots of fluffy straw so they could burrow in for a nice winter sleep. Now ... if I could just get a good water solution figured out ...

Yep, that's what I did this afternoon. The grower pigs are moved outside and the shed lean-to is ready to be cleaned out ... hopefully with the skid loader from work. As I said not everything is done. I still need to get a better water system figured out and I want to make a platform for the bulk feeder, but it is a start ... a much needed start! Hopefully this week I can bring home a couple 4x6's and build my platform to put the feeder on. Having the feeder on skids means that I will be able to drag it around easily and the area right around the feeder won't get bombed out. I'm not exactly sure if I need it or if it will work, but I want to give it a try.

One thing I did notice tonight as I surveyed the farm while draining the hose is just how portable my farm is. I have four permanent structures on the farm :: the house, the perimeter fence, the shed, and my loading corral. I will say though that my loading corral could easily be dismantled with the tractor and loader so I'm not sure if I would count that one. I like the ability to move and change things as the farm grows or changes. Of course there will always be a need for larger structures (like the shed), but the ability to move things around sure is nice.

Right now I'm trying to figure out how to make a movable brooding house. I'm thinking of doing something along the lines of my hog shed on skids except that I would put in a plywood floor in the brooder. Does anyone have any thoughts on the brooder? Should I think about insulating the floor and possibly the the whole thing? Lots to think about these days ...

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Frozen Stuff ...

Marion County's largest NAPA and Knoxville's best Farm and Home store were closed for the holiday today (it's the only NAPA and only Farm store ... and I work there). That meant I had the whole windy day to work outside on the farm and hopefully catch up on projects that I have been slow to finish. I had a rather long list, but realistically I had a couple of things that I wanted/needed to finish up today. But, most of all I was excited to do chores in the daylight because I was beginning to forget what that was like.

So, as soon as I went out I started feeding pigs and getting ready to water the cows and then everyone else. Yesterday I had brought the hoses in to thaw (after breaking the plastic threads off of one) so I was set ... or at least I thought I was set. I hooked up the one good hose to the hydrant and then hooked up my "back-up" hose to the good hose. I went and put the end into the cattle tank and turned on the hydrant ... nothing! After some investigation I found that for the first time ever my hydrant was frozen ... crazy!

I brought both hoses back inside just to be safe and then attacked the hydrant with boiling water. It worked right away and I ran in (literally) to get the hoses and set everything back up. This time when I turned on the water I could hear it flowing, but my heart sank as I also saw the water flowing out of my "back-up" hose like a sprinkler all the way down the line. On a positive note if I need a soaker hose for the garden next year I have one ...

Did I mention that Knoxville's best Farm and Home store was closed for the holiday? Well ... it was! And, Walmart didn't have any hoses out (not a surprise). All of this led me to the church to borrow a hose which I promptly took back to the farm and hooked up ready to go ... oh wait ... that hose is frozen as well. I guess that shouldn't surprise me because I'm pretty sure I was the last one to use the hose way back in August when I was filling up water balloons.

Anyways ... to close up this long story ... I took that hose inside and let it thaw out (there was a lot of ice in there). And, instead of finishing up the chores in daylight ... I watered the livestock in the dark just as usual. Moral of the story? Have good hoses ... nice ... thick ... metal ended hoses! Drain them very well, and if your water hydrant is frozen try boiling water first. If that doesn't work, my all knowing (I'm serious he knows everything!) uncle told me to pile up straw around it and light it on fire. That would have been so cool ... but it was a bit windy ;)
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