Wednesday, August 21, 2013

TBF 024 :: A Hoop House for the Farm, Updates and More, and a Hard Lesson Learned

Have you ever been at the point in your life ... or your job ... or your farm when you were standing on the edge of taking a huge leap up the mountain or just continuing along at the same level? Well, that is the point that we are at now at Crooked Gap Farm. At this point we have reached our maximum when it comes to keeping pigs over the winter and farrowing in the winter. This limitation has an impact on the number of pigs that we can have available for the beginning of the farmers market season, and whether or not we can sell whole/half pigs in the spring. The good news is that the amount of pork that we are selling and can sell (we have a healthy waiting list now) is always increasing and I am confident that we can raise more hogs and sell them through direct marketing. I am less confident though that we can raise more pigs with our current set-up.

This brings us to a big decision ... do we take that big leap up the mountain or just continue at our current pace and look for small efficiencies. I have come up with two possible solutions that I feel comfortable with at this time for our farm.
  1. Utilize the woods year-round. This would entail running water lines down to the woodlot paddocks and figuring out a way to make sure that we can get feed to the pigs when it is muddy or when there is deep snow. This idea would mostly likely cost less money than option number two
  2. Build a deep bedding hoop house. This option would provide the most protection from the elements for both the sows and the growing pigs. There is also a possibility that the building could be used in the off-season (spring/summer) for things like brooding turkeys or something along those lines. Of course, this would be much more expensive than some water lines and waterers ... especially when you think about concrete, electrical, wood, and water.
The big question though is really what all farm decisions come back to ... money! We are very excited about how the farm is growing, but it is time to figure out what it means for us to take the farm to the next step ... and how we are going to fund that step.

If you have an input on the topic be sure to leave a comment below or send us an e-mail.

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(if you are interested in the music in this episode check out my brother's record label, Historic Records) 


Rich said...

We had an unusual storm in March that started out as heavy rain and then turned to ice. I had cows calving at the time and that combination of ice, mud, and newborn calves resulted in two dead calves the next morning.

I planned to build some sort of portable windbreak to put in that pasture so that if I got another storm like that (I still need to build it, and had honestly forgotten that until I heard you talk about not having a natural windbreak up by your barn and house), the cows could get out of the wind and rain up in a dry spot instead of down in a low muddy spot. The irritating part is that those two dead calves could have easily paid for the materials to build a decent sized windbreak if I had built it last year.

There's a page about portable windbreaks at:

There are number of different windbreak designs, but there is a slanted windbreak that looks like it might work for sheltering pigs.

Something like that might work for your pigs until you decide to build your hoop house, and after your hoop house is built it could easily be reconfigured to work as a windbreak for your cattle or sheep. Or, you could move it down to the woods to give a little extra shelter for the pigs down there.

On the subject of windbreaks, I've been reading about silvoculture and have been thinking that long term, I'd like to plant some sort of honeysuckle windbreak so that I could provide some grazing and shelter for the cattle.

I've read about cattle grazing trees like honeysuckle before, but never thought it was feasible until last summer's drought.

I've got a pasture that has always been covered with honeysuckle, and I've fought a losing war to get rid of it. Last summer, when I put the cattle in that pasture they seemed to really "slick up", which caught my attention. So I watched them close, walked all over that pasture, and finally figured out that they were eating the honeylocust. I did a little searching and reading, and figured out that I was a nitwit for trying to get rid of all that honeysuckle.

So now I'm on a mission to manage that honeysuckle, and also plant some in other pastures for both the forage from the leaves and the production of the seeds which are almost as valuable of a feed source as the forage.

Now I wish I had started planting a windbreak of trees a number of years ago, so I wouldn't have to build a portable windbreak before winter.

Rich said...

I just noticed that I typed "honeysuckle" when I meant to type "honey locust".

If anybody is reading back through these comments and decides to try to follow any of my musings, it might be better if they actually plant honey locust instead of honeysuckle.

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