Sunday, September 30, 2007

Grandpa's Trailer

Yesterday was the day that we headed to Missouri to pick up our two new cows, one new heifer, and one new bull calf. We left Knoxville around 8:30 am with our family to pick up the trailer and get on the way. It was going to be a nice drive on a nice day with a stop at a picnic spot for some food and fun and then off to loading up the new additions to our herd. As we were pulling out of the farm, I mentioned to my dad that this was kind of cool, because I was the third generation of Books to use this trailer to pick up livestock. My Grandpa had the trailer made by a technical school in the late 60's and he, along with my uncles and my dad, had used it ever since. It was great ... it was nostalgic ... it was BROKEN!!!

When we stopped for lunch I noticed one tire on the left side was a little crooked ... not a good thing! Well the short of it is that we threw a bearing on that side, we had massacred the hub, and it was Saturday afternoon in sleepy Bethany, MO. Every shop we stopped at said that we weren't going to find any help on a Saturday, until I went back to O'Reilys the second time. That time a clerk was up front that new of a trailer dealer about 10 miles away that might be able to help. He had the pieces, my dad have driven over with tools, and at about 5:30 pm we left the side of the road and finally headed down to the Anderson's Farm to pick up our Dexters. You can see from the picture that it takes a lot of thinking to replace a bearing ... especially when you don't do it very often!

But, that is enough of that. You can check out my WIFE'S BLOG for more details. I don't really want to think about it any more!
I was really excited to pick up these Dexters because it would grow our herd by four, it would add some color to our herd, and the ten year old is bred to calve this coming year (which means we will have two calves in the new year). Since we didn't get them to their new home until around 10:30 pm, I wasn't able to get any pictures of them in the new pasture, but you can check them out in these two pictures that were taken while we stopped to check the hubs (not a perfect fix, but it was a fix).

In the first picture you see (going from top to bottom we have Ginger and her calf, then Billie the heifer, and finally Mandy the ten-year-old cow. In the second picture you can get a nice close up of Ginger. She may be a little more short-legged than Mandy or our other two heifers. Some Dexter breeders really like the short ones. I think they all look pretty good right now, and I'm looking forward to seeing them in the daylight on their new pasture! My dad tells me that they blended in with the two that we already had, and they are all hanging out in the pasture together. Hopefully we can drive down this week and check on them. There is always work to be done on the farm so we would have a good reason for going!

Friday, September 28, 2007


When I registered in the American Dexter Cattle Association they asked me what my farm name was. Well, I thought to my self ... "I don't have a farm, how can I have a farm name!" So, I told them that I didn't have one yet, but that I would come up with one soon. In the registered purebred livestock world you must have a farm name to identify animals bred on your farm. For example our heifer's name is RAD's Victoria because that is where she was bred and born. There was no hurry for us to come up with a farm name because we won't have to worry about having our name in front of a registered animals name until spring 2009.

That being said, I wanted to come up with a farm name anyways. I am sort of particular when it comes to things like farm names or names in general. Case in point, it took me over a month to come up with a name for our new puppy so we just had to call her pup for awhile. I wanted a name that had meaning, that didn't sound weird, and wasn't really tied to a certain place because we don't even know where our farm will be located. Also, because I am very passionate about history in general and America's founding history in particular I wanted it to be a name with historical significance. I thought through quite a few names, but couldn't settle my mind on anything.

Last night as I was trying to fall asleep I had a thought. Why not name my farm after John Adams' farm. John Adams was a founding father, he loved farming and agriculture, and he had a small farm that he personally worked on rather than a huge estate with many slaves or lots of workers. I grabbed my John Adams biography by David McCullough and started searching. It seems that President Adams originally named his farm, Peacefield. That seemed like a great name, but I wanted to see how many people were already using it ... I guess a lot of people had the same great idea that I had because there are quite a few "Peacefield Farms" out there. But, I remembered reading something about President Adams' later in life changing what he called his farm in journals and personal letters. It seems that later on, among other names, he began calling his farm, "Stoneyfield". A quick internet search came up with not much. Just some yogurt company that spells it without the "e".

So, Stoneyfield it is. I like the sound of the name ... it sounds, "old" ... it is simple and isn't tied to a certain farm ... and, it has great historical significance. Hopefully we can use this as our farm name now and in the future.

Not much farming or research in this post, but now that we have a name maybe I will think of setting up some sort of advertising or marketing for the calves and such that we will have in the spring. Maybe we could even sell some of our eggs using this farm name?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hog Tractors or Hog Dozers?

One of the reasons that Dexter cattle were so appealing to us was that they were great foragers and browsers. In fact I think I had my dad sold on the breed when he talked to a breeder in our area of the state that said they will even eat multiflora rose. Well, our farm is over run with multiflora rose so my did really liked that idea. One of the goals of our farm is to reopen many of the places that have been over taken by brush, junk trees, and cedar trees. In one section of the farm we have what we call fingers ... these are little grass ridges with very small valleys (20 yards wide maybe) full of brush and trees. When we first moved there these areas weren't especially overrun, but now they are a tangled mess that you can barely walk through. The thought of clearing them and keeping them clear of the brush and ground cover is very daunting.

But, I have come across a couple of interesting articles that talk about using pigs as clearing instruments. It is not like we can just let the pigs come in and clear it all up, but it seems that if we went in and did some manual clearing, selecting some trees to harvest and some to leave and knocking down some brush, we could then send in the troops ... err ... pigs to finish up the job and help turn those messes into savannah type ares.

In an article titled, "Virginia grazier Joel Salatin finds pigs can profitably create pasture from cut-over forest lands" from The Stockman Grass Farmer Joel Salatin is doing just this sort of thing to reclaim some areas that he has logged. The article says that Mr. Salatin's, "oldest pig pastures have volunteered into a mixture of perennial ryegrass and crabgrass. He doesn’t know where the seed came from and said the pig pastures are the only paddocks on his farm with perennial ryegrass." There is another upside to his pastured pig model ... he profits about $3,000 per acre selling this hogs directly to his customers. His pig pastures are about two acres in size and are split up into eight smaller paddocks with around 40 pigs in each pasture. The paddocks are divided by two strands of electric fence powered by solar fencers.

Another article I ran across the other day as I was reading the Homesteading Today Forums was an article by Joel Orcutt titled, "Hog Tractor (How To)". This is an interesting article that speaks to these "hog dozers" on a smaller level than Mr. Salatin. In this article Mr. Orcutt talks about using movable pens to eradicate weeds or prepare areas for gardens or other types of plantings. Again, the principle is the same ... the pigs will root up the area, spread manure, and prepare a seed bed.

This is something I am going to be discussing with my dad. Maybe we can get hogs on the farm a little more quickly with a model like this rather than waiting until I am out in the country. I do like to eat pork you know!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sugar Creek Farm / New Links / Updates

I try to spend a little bit of time each day researching farming, reading about farming, practicing farming (doesn't happen as often as I would like), or planning in my mind and on paper. I that I have come across quite a few neat blogs and websites that are very helpful. One blog that I have been checking out a lot lately is the Sugar Creek Farm Blog. Sugar Creek Farm is located about three hours north of where I live here in Iowa and I have enjoyed reading about their work. They are doing a lot of things that interest me so I have found a lot of good information reading back through their blog. You can check them out by clicking on the link above or by looking at the links section on the right. (The image pictured on the right is their logo)

Another link I have been looking at lately is the Farm Crawl website. The Farm Crawl is an event that I heard about through the PFI. On October, 7th from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm five area farms will be open to the public for tours, questions/answers, and sales. These farms are all within about 15 minutes of our town so I'm looking forward to checking out something very local. You can click on the link above or on the right to get all the details, but I'm really interested in checking out the goat dairy, and the 110 acre farm that is being rebuilt to profitability through great farming practices!

Another blog I check out often is, Northern Farmer. They are located in Minnesota and have a love for farming, faith, and family. I have enjoyed reading many of their posts and I encourage you to check out the link if you find this blog interesting.


Just a couple quick updates. First of all I mentioned a few days ago that we were going to pick up some new Dexters to add to our herd. Some of you may be wondering why I have posted pictures of them at their new farm ... well, that is because they haven't made it yet. In order to move livestock from state to state you are supposed to have a certificate of health for the animals and the vet wasn't going to be able to check them out until this coming Friday. Because of this we won't be going down until Saturday, which will be fine because we are going to make it a fun family trip. Look for new pictures of our herd next week. Secondly, I have added a few links and rearranged a bit over on the right side, so check that out.

And, finally ... the main reason that I'm running this blog is for my own benefit. I'm a sort of a visual and thinking learner, so it helps me digest information if I can write it down and check back through it from time to time. Since I was going to be writing it down anyways I decided to put it out there for everyone to check out. As you have noticed it is mostly random thoughts and links to other information that I have found useful. If you enjoy reading this blog feel free to pass it on to others who you think would enjoy reading also!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Quality Pasture :: Chapter 9 Book Report

This chapter is titled, "Stored Forages", but it easily could have been called, "A Little Information About Nasty Hay, and an Intense Look at Silage." But, I guess that title would have been too long! Really, it was an interesting chapter, but I was surprised how quickly Allan Nation, the author, dismissed baled hay. He believes that hay is a good option in more arid climates (West?), while it may be a poor choice in moist or humid climates that receive decent amounts of rain.

I don't know if it is a little bit of, "conventional Iowa farmer", in me or what, but I don't know if I would write off hay so quickly. That being said, I do understand the benefits of silage, and if you are set up for that it can be slightly easier to harvest and store (although I absolutely love making hay, not that that is a good reason to keep doing it). Approximately two pages are dedicated to hay in this chapter, and the rest is dedicated to silage.

The conclusion that kept coming to my mind is that if I was doing a grassfed dairy on any scale or if I was keeping large herds with lots of land and capital, I might investigate silage more. But, in my part of Iowa we can get a decent small square baler, mower, and rack for a reasonable amount of money. Granted you will need a building to store the hay in, but in reality those buildings don't have to be anything overly special.

One interesting point that he mentions a few times in this chapter is that it would probably be more cost effective to have a contractor do all of your silage making rather than owning your own equipment. This will be an interesting thing to pencil out in the coming months and years, but I do see some benefit for this type of thinking.

So, does anyone have any thoughts or experience with silage? This really is something new to me, so I would like to learn and understand as much as I can.

Monday, September 24, 2007

More Thoughts on Pigs

This morning before I started work, I decided to do a little more research on hogs. I already knew that the tamworth is a good option for a pasture based operation, but I wondered what else was out there. I read about a couple of interesting breeds. The first one is the Ossabaw Island Pig (pictured). I came across this one because I decided to check out what pigs they raise at the Living History Farms, which is a living museum here in Iowa dedicated to farming and Iowa's history. The Ossabaws are related to some of the earliest pigs brought to America by the Spanish and probably came about as pigs escaped farms and became feral. The really interesting thing is that these pigs remained mostly isolated so they have many of the early traits that lend them to pasture living. You can read more about them by clicking on the link above.

The other breed I read about this morning is the Large Black. Like the name implies, these pigs are black. But while they are large, they really aren't big pigs like some of the modern breeds. They are known for their hardiness and good foraging abilities along with their tasty hams. (That is a good trait!) I came across this breed while searching for information on pastured pigs.

If you would like to watch a four minute video about Caw Caw Creek Farm, a well known pastured pig farm, just click on this LINK which will take you to an article and video from America's Heartland. It is an interesting video because this is a guy that does pretty well raising pastured pork and selling to individuals and restaurants. I'm not sure if I would use his feed mix though unless I thought it would make me the big bucks!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Tamworth Hogs

Even though Dexter Cattle are on the front of my mind I have also been thinking about hogs quite a bit lately because they have a much quicker turnaround than cattle. Oh ... and I really like pork! While we won't be adding hogs to the farm until we actually make it to a farm I would like to do some research so I had an idea of what I would like. Because of my love of history I like the idea of using heritage breeds, but the reality of it is that heritage breeds are actually usually more hardy than our modern breeds. And, hardiness is a great trait when you want your animals to forage and live on the pasture. I will do that with my cattle and I would do that with my hogs.

So, today I was doing a little research on Tamworths. Tamworths are medium sized hogs that originated in Ireland (same as Dexters oddly enough). They provide lean meat which is a plus for health conscience people like me (gotta love high cholesterol) and are know for their good nature and excellent mothering abilities. Another thing that I found in my research is that the don't root up the ground as much as other breeds which makes them great pasture animals. I also came across some great information about their ease of farrowing on the pasture.

My family has raised their fair share of hogs, but it was always in a conventional set up and it was never very fun. I am really interested to learn about raising hogs on pasture ... who knows it might actually make it enjoyable!

Here are few links on Tamworths that in checked out today.

#1: Kingbird Farm is located in New York state and the have a bunch of different organic operations going on. The neat picture of the Tamworths going out to pasture is from their farm.

#2: Foot Steps Farm is located in Connecticut and they raise and sell grass fed pork, chickens, and turkey. They have some great information on some "Heritage Breeds".

#3: This Site is an overview of the Tamworth breed from Oklahoma State University. Just some good basic information.

Friday, September 21, 2007

So ... Yeah ... Well ... Umm ...

Do you know how some people say that too much of a good thing is bad? Well, I guess that I decided to test that theory out... On Monday we are going to load up and go get some new Dexters (two cows, one heifer, and one little bull calf). If the saying is true I'll let you know next year, but for now we are increasing our Dexter herd from one heifer and one steer to two cows, two heifers, and two bull/steer calves!

The great thing about these that we are going to pick up is that they are dun in color. Dun is somewhat more desirable in the Dexter breed just because it slightly more rare than the black Dexters. Plus, I really like the look of the duns, especially when they have horns like the heifer does. The two cows have been dehorned, but they should throw horned calves.

Speaking of calves. The little bull calf is quite the looker, but he is the brother to the heifer and son of the younger cow so we haven't really decided what to do with him yet. We will see how he starts to fill out and then decide what to do. Possibly we could keep him as a herd bull for part of the girls or trade/sell and pick up a different bull. I would like to get a bull with some color (red or dun) to improve some of the selling value of breeding stock.

I would like beef to be the centerpiece of our Dexter herd, but I also realize there is still a market for seedstock in the Dexter world so having some color helps that aspect of the possible business. Right now there are roughly 160 Dexters in Iowa so we are slowly becoming one of the bigger herd owners.

So, we are adding to the Dexter herd even though our Dexters will be over an hour away. Hopefully it will help rejuvenate some of the pastures at my Dad's place and will give us a good start on a pure breed Dexter herd. The first picture you will see is of the 4 year old cow (the mother of the bull calf and the heifer). The next picture is of the 13 month old heifer. The third picture is of the 10 year old cow that is breed back to a red polled bull (also somewhat desirable). And, the final picture is of the 2+ old bull calf from the 4 year old cow.

I think they will be a nice addition and we can use them to help get things get going!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Quality Pasture :: Chapter 8 Book Report

Yesterday I finished reading chapter eight of "Quality Pasture" by Allan Nation. This chapter was entitled Climate and it's Effect. It was a pretty interesting chapter dealing with temperature, precipitation, and more. As with other chapters it spent a decent amount of time discussing applications with grass based dairy operations, but I also noticed a slight focus on the southern part of the United States which makes sense because I believe he is based in Mississippi.

One thing that I found especially interesting in this chapter was his discussion of shade. Mr. Nation's contention was that shade is not always needed. He spoke about the ability of cattle to adjust to climates when they are given time and the fact that it is still the same temperature under the shade as in the sun. He believes that you either need to have plenty of spreed out shade for your entire herd or none at all. Another thing he points out is that if you are going to use trees as shade devices they should have all branches trimmed twenty feet up. This will make the shade move quite a bit during the day and will force the cattle to spread out during their day. Another interesting idea he gave was to give cattle multiple small breaks of grass during hot days. His contention is that cattle will forget about the heat if they have enough tasty food.

He also gave a lot of great tips for drought management. The thing about a drought is the question isn't if, but rather when it will happen. He writes about needing to have a drought plan in place early on in your Management Intensive Grazing progression. It is important that you begin building up a stockpile of stored forages right away because feeding hay in a drought instead of letting them to continue to eat down your suffering pastures will help those pastures bounce back so much more quickly when you finally do get rain.

I'm looking forward to the last few chapters of this book. I have continued debating in my mind the differences between Mr. Nation's high input methods and the lower input method of Joel Salatin. The more I read the more I appreciate the ideas of Mr. Salatin and I can't wait to put them to work and see some of the results with my own eyes ... that being said, I think my dad will be putting some lime down this fall or winter in order to jump start some pastures for the animals and for our hay. We will see how that goes for our farm.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Sissy Farmer ... aka ... Joel Salatin

Here is an interesting video featuring Joel Salatin of "Pastured Poultry Profits" and "Salad Bar Beef" fame. There is some pretty good stuff in this little clip (8:28 long) about building forgiveness into your farming system (or flex). I hope you enjoy it and can grab some kernels of interesting information from it!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Are You an Artist?

Do you know how to paint a beautiful picture? Can you mold a lump of clay into a wonderful sculpture? Are you able to take an amazing landscape portrait? Do you make art with your music and your voice? Well, I don't really know much about any of those, but I do know one thing...

Baling Hay Is An Art!!

Now, before you think I am absolutely crazy let me explain... First of all you need to know when is the perfect time to cut the hay. This isn't something that goes by calendar or clockwork, it is an art to know the perfect moment to cut to get the perfect hay. Secondly, you need to know when to rake and how to rake your hay. This isn't something that you do a certain number of hours after the cutting ... it is an art ... it is a feeling. Next you need to bale your hay, which means you have to set the tension just right, make the bales just the right size, and make sure you get all the hay into the baler. Finally, comes the most artful part of the art of haymaking. You need to stack the bales onto your hayrack and then into the barn. Getting them in an orderly manner is no pell-mell operation. You must know just where to place each bale so all your corners are tied in and the rack is ready to go down the road ... oh, and it helps if you can go six or seven levels up! Then into the barn it goes.

We stack our bales on the sides so all of the stems are sticking up and down instead of stacking them in the normal way. We do this because that is the way grandpa did it ... no, really that is the way grandpa did it, but it also helps the moisture wick out.

Yesterday we baled around 600 fifty pound small square bales of grass hay down at the farm. It was a warm day and lots of hard work. Even though I'm sore now I enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed the warm breeze ... I enjoyed working as a family ... I enjoyed the sound and feel of the tractor and baler ... I enjoyed the scratchy hay ... I enjoyed the art (I guess I should say I enjoyed learning the art)

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Long Road...

Today I'm not talking about the long road to becoming a farmer (although it seems endless), rather I'm talking about the long road to the farm! As I mentioned before, our cows are located over an hour away at my dad's farm in Southern Iowa. It is a great place for them to be because there is plenty of pasture, and he needs something to eat down his grass in places. But it sure is a long ways away when we have to go down and do something (put up fence, build shelters, take down wormer or minerals, and to bale hay). Having a full-time job that already takes a lot of time away from the family and then adding in work days down on the farm on the few days off that I take makes it pretty tough.

I have joked quite a few times about wanting to put our cows in the backyard (we have a big yard), but everyone reminds me that it is against the law. I wasn't ever serious, but I think people wonder if I really am since we already have the chickens in town! Ideally I would love to find a place where we could do more farming near where we work and live now, but that just isn't happening yet so we have to make do with the opportunities that we have.

You will always have time for whatever you want to have time for, and right now we want to make small amounts of time for working on the farm away from home ... I just hope it doesn't last forever!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Baling Hay Soon...

Well, one of the bummers of not living on the farm (or near the farm for that matter) is that you don't get in on all of the fun. In this case I missed the cutting of the hay. We have not made any hay yet this year because we haven't been able to get schedules and equipment to meet up at the same time, but now we are ready to go. This past Thursday and Friday my dad got all of the hay cut (well, all that we will need) and this coming Monday we will rake and bale it. We only have two Dexters right now, but we may end up with as many as 800 or 900 small square bales. I think that should be enough! In fact we probably will be able to get a cutting of alfalfa this year yet because of the warm fall they are predicting and another cutting of grass hay that has recently come out of CRP. We will practically be living in hay!

With the the over-abundance of hay, it is making me wish that we had some more cattle to feed. If only I could find somebody wanting to unload their Dexters. But, we are probably better off with just our two considering we don't live near them.

I do wish that I was able to be more involved in the day-to-day operations, but I guess all things will come in time. At least I pray that is true. Look for a report Monday night or Tuesday from the baling.

Edit :: Well, there is one sure fire way to predict rain it seems. Cut your hay! There was no rain in the forecast this weekend, but there was some next week so I urged my dad to get the hay cut before the rain ... today rain ... out of no where ... well at least to the weather man it was out of no where! My dad's Amish neighbor told my dad that it would rain today and of course he didn't look at a forecast. He just knew it would rain because we had a frost last night. I guess you learn something new all the time. Oh well, we still have some stuff still standing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Iowa Family Farm Featured in Stockman Grass Farmer

I'm going to be signing up for a subscription to The Stockman Grass Farmer magazine soon, so I was searching some the articles featured on their website and I came across this article titled, "Iowa farm family converting from crops to pasture based enterprises" by editor Allan Nation. It is a pretty good read about a family farm that converted from conventional Iowa farming to pastured sows, grass finished beef, and lambs.

The interesting thing is that it was a plan of conversion that they were slowly working on until their area suffered from a drought and another grass finisher was looking to unload some steers because of his suffering pastures. It didn't take them long to realize they could put those steers out on the green corn that the family had (which was certified organic). Long story short ... they are now doing something different than their neighbors and they are succeeding!

Click on the link above to read this great article and leave a comment if you would like.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Quality Pasture :: Chapter 7 Book Report

Yesterday I finished chapter seven, 'The Competitive Edge -- MIG', in Allan Nation's book "Quality Pasture". I found this chapter very interesting and informative and will probably have to reread it multiple times so I can digest all the great stuff! I'll just run down some of the highlights of this chapter.

Mr. Nation begins the chapter talking about some of the benefits of Management Intensive Grazing. Of course one of the biggest benefits is the higher stocking rate and pasture gain that you can get from having a MIG system in place. But, he also quoted Keith Milligan, of New Zealand, on his list of benefits. Mr. Milligan adds that MIG produces, "a better return on total investment, a lower labor input, a general conservation of the environment, and a much increased sense of peace of mind for the grazier." I think everyone will find these benefits appealing! Just so you know the experts believe MIG could raise your per acre production by 20% to 40% or higher if you can be flexible with your stocking rates according to the season.

He mentions some of the critical things for MIG: subdividing you pastures by geography, having access to clean water, using portable electric fencing, stockpiling forages for late fall/winter/early spring grazing, and spring pasture management to reduce damage to the pastures. He admits that this is a very rough and quick overview of MIG, but it is a great starting point to some of the more technical aspects. I think one of the things I learned in this chapter is that MIG is more than just moving your cows from chunk of grass to chunk of grass.

I'll leave you with this little chart from page 128 of Mr. Nation's book Quality Pasture. This list gives some different enterprises and average returns per acre. Very interesting stuff and made me think about my possible center piece operation.

Goats :: $50-200
Beef cow/calf :: $50-200
Pigs :: $150
Beef stocker :: $150+
Beef finishing :: $200+
Ewe lamb :: $400+
Dairy sheep :: $500+
Lamb finishing :: $1000+
Dairy beef :: $1000+
Pastured poultry--
eggs :: $30-50
meat :: $1000+
Seasonal grass dairy :: $900-2000

So, there is some food for thought! I do like the last three sentences of the chapter, "As Burt Smith said, 'The best way to learn to swim is to get in the water and start splashing around. Nobody ever learned to swim by just reading a book about it.' Are you reading to make some waves?"

Hmm... am I ready to make some waves? I think I am, but what will my next step be?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

"There Is No Money In Farming"

Those were the words I heard from someone the other day. As far as I know this person has never farmed a day in his life and his family really hasn't been in farming either, other than living in agricultural areas. The interesting this is that they went on to say, "unless you have a lot of land and money to begin with." If someone said this to me about other areas of work I would probably believe them and just move on. But, I think there is money in farming. Not from a get rich standpoint, but from an enough to be comfortable with standpoint, and I think there is enough enjoyment for a person with my personality to make farming worthwhile.

So, is it true that, "there is no money in farming?" Well, yes and no. There may be no money in conventional Iowa farming, but what if you are unconventional ... what if you think differently ... what if ...

Edit: Bill reminded me, in the comments, of THIS POST from Homesteading Today about different money making opportunities on the farm. It is a great post full of ideas, facts/figures, and so much more. If this topic interests you then you need to read the posts. Thanks Bill!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Practical Farmers of Iowa

I've had a link to the Practical Farmers of Iowa website over on the links menu on the right for a while now, but I just wanted to point out this great organization. The tag line for their vision statement say, "Healthy Food, Diverse Farms, Vibrant Communities." (check out their entire vision statement by clicking on the quote) The 'Wild Country Ranching' field day I attended earlier this year was supported by the PFI as well as the Farm Crawl that I will be attending on October, 7th. They host field days with a wide range of topics all over the state of Iowa and are a source of so much good on-farm research and information.

The Practical Farmers of Iowa was birthed from the farm crisis that crippled the Midwest in the 1980's. According to their website in the eighties, "Evidence of the negative ecological consequences of current farming practices was mounting; the collapse of commodity prices called into question the economic sustainability of agriculture; and the demise of thousands of farms was draining the vitality of rural communities." The PFI is helping farmers in Iowa connect with each other to share ideas, success, and marketing ideas. I encourage everyone to check them out.

Practical Farmers of Iowa Website

Monday, September 10, 2007

Quality Pasture :: Chapter 6 Book Report

Just a quick little report on the last chapter of "Quality Pasture" that I read. This chapter was entitled Pasture Irrigation. While I do not doubt the effectiveness of irrigating your pastures ... I do not believe it will ever be a thing that I do. Of course it is needed much more in dry locations, but it is also probably more effective for grass based dairies. The chapter also contained a short section on managing ryegrass which was interesting. Ryegrass is something that I would like to research a little more in the future if I ever think about seeding or over-seeding some pastures.

All in all, I think this chapter gives a much more input intensive approach to grazing. I would like to keep my inputs low (much like Joel Salatin discusses) so that my profits will stay higher than conventionally raised beef.

Next up: Management Intensive Grazing

"The Meatrix"

I don't remember when I came across THIS or how I found out about it, but it is pretty funny. It is a spoof of "The Matrix" dealing with confinement dairy, beef, and poultry. I don't know where I stand on all of the content. While I strongly disagree with the confinement production model from a health and financial stand-point I'm not openly opposed to it. That is probably just because I'm an Iowan and I'm indoctrinated into the confinement system. I do believe that there are people doing limited confinement operations and doing them well, you just don't find very many.

So, check out The Meatrix and tell me what you think!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Quality Pasture :: Chapter 5 Book Report

The title of this chapter is, "Quality Pasture For Warm-Temperate And Subtropical Climates". The title kind of sums up the lack of real practical application information I found in this chapter. I don' think you could call Southern Iowa "Warm-Temperate" or "Subtropical" unless you were comparing it to Northern Iowa!

But, there was still plenty of information for me in this chapter. One of the more interesting things that had me thinking was the section of this chapter that discussed the profitability of a seasonal dairy. This was interesting not because I'm interested in starting a seasonal dairy, but because the article that I linked to a few days ago about the farmer quitting mentioned that in order to survive you will need to have a year round dairy. Now, Allan Nation was speaking of seasonal dairies in the south and the author of the previous article was in the north, but it is still an interesting counterpoint. Most pastured dairy information I have read focused on the benefits and profitability of a seasonal dairy. I think the biggest problem with the farmer that was having to shut down is that he took himself so far into debt to get his operation up and running quickly. Maybe if he had taken more steps his end would not have come.

Much of the rest of the chapter deals with different pasture forages that can be used in the south for year round grazing, but it does emphasize that you will still need to have mechanically harvested forages even in the south. Even though the weather is warmer down there you still will have a fall slump before the winter cool season forages get going.

I am thoroughly enjoying this book mostly because it is increasing my knowledge (little by little) and it is giving me a sense of what is possible on a farm ... specifically on a smaller farm. I think there are great opportunities in Iowa for someone who is willing to study their pastures and and really become grass farmers instead of the old standard row crop farmers!

The next chapter is on pasture irrigation. It will be interesting to see what that is all about, but what I'm really looking forward to is chapter 7 about Management Intensive Grazing. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dexter Beef

If you have followed this blog for a while you probably know that I am especially interested in Dexters for their good foraging abilities in order to raise grass-fed beef. I came across the "Dexter Cattle Australia" website that has some interesting information on the quality of the beef. Here is a quote that really backs up some of the reasons that I selected the Dexter,

"Dexter beef is second to none. Individual cuts of meat are about two thirds the size of other breeds which is perceived as a more acceptable option in a health conscious society. Whole sides of beef are just the right size for the home freezer..."

You can check out the entire article here. Just click on the "News/Media link for the information

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Farmer Hits the End ... For Now

Nope, not me! I can't hit the end yet because I haven't even started yet, but I didn't come across an intersting article over at the New Farm website. New Farm is a farmer-to-farmer website from the Rodale Institute and features some interesting articles and a sparsely used forum. I check it every once-in-a-while just to see if they have any new articles on the front page.

A few weeks I came across an article entitled: "The end of farming for me, for now". (Click on the article title to read the entire thing) Basicall this guy started out with goal and a vision to farm full-time and he headed out to do it. In the article he lists four major problems he had and does a little explaining of his downfall. It really is a great read and has given me a wonderful perspective of the things I could be facing if I reach for this vision. So, just check out the article and leave any thoughts if you have any.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

In Case You Didn't Notice...

...I have been wanting to add a picture to the header on my blog for a little while now, and I finally figured out how to do it! It's not like everyone else didn't know how to do it, but I'm still pleased with it. I need to do a bit of tweaking still so everything is readable and sized correctly, but it will work for now.

Every time I have gone down to my dad's place, I have tried to take pictures of the cattle so I can feel a bit like I'm down there when I'm working on my comptuer (they are my background image). Here is the picture that I made the header from. If you scroll down more you will find some more pictures of our bred Dexter heifer and our Dexter steer.

"Quality Pasture" :: Chapter 3 & 4 Book Report

This continues to be an interesting read, and as I read more and more I continue to believe that I know less and less! I have noticed Mr. Nation bringing up dairy cattle a lot in his analogies and stories, but this was to be expected because I read that on a few reviews. Dairy cows require a higher level of forage to continue to produce high levels of milk so this information is important to dairy grass farmers, but the higher quailty forage surely doesn't hurt the beef producers.

This chapter is specifically about year-round grazing in temperate climates, and he discusses different plans and grasses/legumes that would be practical to use in this climate for year-round grazing. Grazing your animals through the entire year is an interesting concept and is one that I am somewhat familar with through "All Flesh is Grass" by Gene Logsdon. To me it seems like it would take a lot of inputs (seed and soil amendments). I don't know how the numbers would work out, but I question if it is just as economical, or more economical, to make hay during the spring/early summer flush when your grazing can't keep up with the pasture growth and feed that hay durining the winter months. Also, by using a hay shed type of feeding system like Joel Salatin does I think you may also be able to save more nutrients rather than them hitting a potentially frozen pasture.

There was some interesting information about promoting clover growth among your pasture grasses. The grass can easily outgrow the clover so it is important to keep the grass clipped so the clover can thrive. Another thing that has come up in this book, and in "All Flesh is Grass", is the idea of feeding standing corn (green ... and by the way corn is a grass) along with brassicas (rape, kale, turnips, swedes, and cabbages). These are all interesting ideas, but I don't know if I am ready to tackle any of them just yet. I think they would be great if I wanted to stock the pastures at a higher level than would be expected even with excellent pastures, but really there is no reason to go to all the work if I don't have the animals to harvest all of this exceptional food (Mr. Salatin says that a lot).

The great thing about reading a book like this is that it gives me a glimpse into all the possibilities and gives me hope for the small farmer ... even in Iowa ... the king of corn, soybeans, and really BIG green and red tractors!
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