Wednesday, December 11, 2013

TBF 041 :: 7 Winter Farming Lessons, Pioneer Farming, and a Hard Lesson Learned

One of the things I say about our farm (and it's on one of our t-shirts that we have for sale) is that we are doing "Pioneer Farming". The reason that I say that is because we have sort of built this farm from a blank slate that was basically a prairie and a little bit of woods. It almost felt like we were out there homesteading just like the Iowans that came before us, except that we had a few benefits that they didn't have ... things like gas, electricity, power tools, chainsaws, tractors, trucks, cement floors in our house, and other little things like that. But, as this winter starts off with a little more cold than usual I am reminded of our first winter on the farm five years ago and I'm thankful for just how far we have been able to come. I was also reminded of my childhood reading of Laura Ingalls Wilder's book, The Long Winter and her tales of a horrible winter spent on the plains of the Dakotas in 1880/81. After pulling out our copy and reading some of her memories I think our first winter wasn't so bad after all ... that was really some pioneer farming!

Nevertheless I do have some tips for handling winter on the farm, especially when it comes to livestock ...
  1. Don't bring livestock to your farm for the winter if you aren't ready for them.
  2. High quality feed for your animals is a must.
  3. The combination of cold and wet can really be the worst.
  4. Water hoses can freeze even if you think you completely drained them.
  5. Windbreaks or shelters out of the wind are very important for your livestock.
  6. Know your neighbors, because you may need some help this winter.
  7. Have a good winter fence (preferably not electric unless you have a plan for shorting).
What are your favorite online resources for farmers? Comment below or send us an e-mail.

The Beginning Farmer ShowAs always, I want to thank you so much for listening and supporting the show with your encouragement and reviews on iTunes! I am continually working to produce a better show, and I'm thankful for all of the listeners sticking with me as I learn. If you do enjoy the show, don't forget that you can subscribe on iTunes and leave a five start rating and review (by clicking the link or the image on the right). If you are an Android phone user you can also subscribe on the free Stitcher App. It is so very encouraging to know that people are listening and enjoying the show!

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

1 comment:

Rich said...

My only experience is with wintering cattle in OK.

A few years ago, in the middle of a drought by sheer dumb-luck, I managed to rent a farm that I use to graze cows in late Fall/early Winter after their calves are weaned.

It's primarily native grasses (big bluestem, little bluestem, etc.) that I let grow all summer before I move the cows on in mid-October. After the grass goes dormant after the first hard-freeze, I usually also feed them a couple of pounds of cubes each day.

I usually pull them off before Christmas, since I don't want to haul hay to them if there is an ice storm. The stocking rate figures out to about 2 acres of grass per cow and I don't rotate them, but if I strip grazed it, I think I could get through the entire winter on about the same stocking rate.

This last week, we had snow for about a week and they look as good or better as a group of heifers that I'm feeding hay to closer to home (and it's a heck of a lot less work to check them each day, get a head count, and then feed them a few cubes, compared to feeding hay to those heifers).

If I moved my calving season around a little, I think I would seriously consider just grazing dormant pasture over the winter with dry cows.

Besides that, I usually try to use a modified version of bale grazing where I place bales in feeders about 30' apart (or about 40-50 bales per acre) to improve my pastures. If I only put out a day or two's worth of hay at a time, the pugging is usually kept to a minimum (dry winters also help with the pugging).

I also have bermuda grass growing in the areas that I feed hay, and bermuda responds to any pugging in the winter by thickening up in the following summer, so bale grazing might not work as well for other people.

I've also had good results by drilling wheat into my pastures in the fall, and then grazing that wheat in the spring. Winter rye or ryegrass might work even better, but I don't want to risk contaminating my wheat fields with what are considered "weeds" in wheat.

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