Friday, November 30, 2007

More Ultra High Density Grazing...

After I my post on Ultra High Density Grazing a couple weeks ago I noticed by way of e-mails and such that quite a few people were stumbling on to this blog while searching for information about the topic. This may be the "next big thing" in grazing ... or maybe it is the "big thing" right now. I am not an insider in the grazing circles yet so I don't know where it stands as far as wide spread acceptance. But, I do know there are quite a few people out there looking for information and I know that I have had a tough time find a lot of information about it. So, I though I would blog again about Ultra High Density Grazing and see if the community of people that read or stumble onto this blog could give some more insight into the subject.

Krystle commented on my first post and mentioned that Greg Judy (author of "No Risk Ranching") is switching to Ultra High Density from Management Intensive Grazing and because of that switch the are becoming more profitable. Also, someone else commented or e-mailed clarifying my understanding of the subject. It is interaction like this that makes learning about grazing so much easier!

Basically, if I understand correctly, Ultra High Density Grazing is placing a high number of cattle on a small space so that they eat down the grass fairly quickly (maybe leaving around 30% forage?) then moving them to the next paddock. I believe we are talking about two or three paddock moves a day because of the high stocking density. Sometimes is this also called "mob grazing". It seems like the basis for this practice comes from imitating the large herds of American Bison on the plains of the Midwest and West. Those large herds would move through an area eat it down quickly and then just keep moving. If only paddock switches were that easy!

I think it is a very interesting idea. Those that are doing it are falling in love with it, from what I understand, and they are really increasing the carrying capacity of their land. After reading a little about Ultra High Density Grazing a few thoughts and questions do pop into my mind. First of all, I think if you are really going to take advantage of this method you will need to have a good source to sell your beef to. If you are selling directly to the consumer I could see easily over producing for your market and then having to dump some animals (unless maybe you are doing something along the stocker lines?). Also, I think I would have to experience and learn from doing MiG grazing before I tackled something like this. Another question that pops into my mind is what about dry seasons. If you have a much higher amount of cattle than your normal MiG or continuous grazing stocking numbers what happens when you have a dry summer? Do you have to dump cattle, should you be irrigating anyways, are you going to have to feed stored forage? That also brings up another question ... what about winter? Is this a better system for stocker cattle on large ranches or can it work on smallish farms also?

Ultra High Stock Density Grazing is a very interesting topic and I would look forward to learning more about it. If you have anything to add, correct, or discuss please make sure you leave a comment ... also, if you have some good links or books make sure you let everyone know about those!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hansen's Farm Fresh Dairy

While at one of our three Thanksgiving parties my wife's Aunt shared with her about the milk that they buy that is from a local producer. (On a side note, everyone seems to be telling us about things like this now that they know the direction we are going so it is kind of cool.) The milk comes from Hansen's Farm Fresh Dairy of Hudson, IA and the dairy has a pretty cool story behind it.

According to an article I found over on the Iowa Farmer Today website they have a 150 head dairy herd that supports five families ... yep, you read that correctly ... FIVE FAMILIES! The dairy farm has been in the family for a while, but as each child graduated school they went out into different fields of work and worked hard just like the family has always done. Somewhere along the lines though some of the siblings decided they would like to get back to farming but they knew that 150 dairy cows would not support five families, so they would have to do something different ... something value-added ... something unconventional!

They family decided the needed to sell their quality milk directly to the consumers, so with the their own determination and help from the inspectors (see you can get them to work on your side from time to time) the were able to build their own creamery from the ground up. They now sell their whole and skim milk (along with other items) at area stores and a few local eateries. The command around $3.00 per gallon (not bad in todays milk market) and say that they are, "going back to the way milk is supposed to be," according to Brent Hansen.

While they are not an organic or naturally certified dairy they do not give their cows any hormones to increase milk production. Mr. Hansen says, "It is important to us the cows have the least amount of stress possible. We could push them harder — feed more grain or give growth hormone shots but there is a cost to that, and for us it's not worth it. Plus, there is much consumer concern." It sounds like they are really tackling this from right direction and making it work (I wonder if they would every consider having a grass only herd?)

A final encouraging thing about their dairy is that they are getting back to the milk is supposed to taste. They do not homogenize their milk so there is a cream line in the bottle. According to the Hansen's all it takes is a little consumer education (and I'm a sure a taste test doesn't hurt) that all you need to do is shake the bottle up a bit and you are good to go.

This is pretty exciting stuff that is happening right here in Iowa. I encourage you to check out their site linked above and the article that I mentioned. If you would like to read more about their farm you can check out the links below.

Agri News Article

Waterloo/Cedar Falls Courier Article

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Organic Farmers Share Tips...

This past week at a Thanksgiving party I picked up an article from the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman (November 7, 2007 issue) that my father-in-law had been saving for me. It was just a short article about a conference that took place in Sioux City, IA, but it did give me some encouragement to see what is happening in my state when it comes to unconventional farmers.

The speaker at the conference was Kim Alexander who currently lives in Texas. An interesting thing about his story is that he had previously lived in Iowa and his family owned farm land. He was not able to farm on the family land because the family decided to put it into the Conservation Reserve Program (new at the time). I don't know all the details, but the article says that he then learned of Joel Salatin and his principals on "growing food people want to eat and how to direct market our farm products" so he decided to grab hold of those ideas and put them to use on his Texas farm. I wonder to myself why he wasn't able to stick around here in Iowa ... maybe this is an illustration of why it is so difficult for young farmers (even those that have farming in the family) to get started in farming. Oh well, he is a making a go of it in Texas (although I'm glad I'm up here in Iowa!).

It sounds like he is doing the Salatin thing all the way around. They have a 40-head cow/calf herd, 2,000 broiler chickens, 1,400 laying hens, 300 turkeys, and a custom poultry-processing operation (that is a good value added option). It is pretty exciting that his family (mom, dad, and eight children) are making a go of it on the farm, but it is even more exciting and impressive that they are doing it on 300 acres of land ... that they don't own! Check out what Mr. Alexander has to say about that: "We rent and lease, for $100 a year, from the city people who go out and buy this expensive $7000 an acre land and then haven't a clue as what to do with it."

That is pretty exciting. The one hurdle that most people always point to is the high cost of land and the lack of availability. I have heard lots of people criticize Mr. Salatin because they believe his ideas don't translate to other farmers because he started out with a serious amount of land. But, the Alexander family started out with nothing ... in fact they might have had a chance at family land, but ended up doing it on their own. Mr. Alexander said in the article, "The shortage here isn't land, it's the shortage of warm bodies who know how to husband the land."

They market their chickens and eggs to local grocery stores and white table-cloth restaurants, but they do other things to make their farm profitable that are slightly more "outside-of-the-box". They collect used vegetable oils to fuel their trucks and build their own equipment for the farm. What an encouraging article for me. Sometimes I wonder if the farming idea is even possible, but when I read articles like this I get another burst of energy and continue to push on.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapter 5 Book Report

Last night I finished reading chapter five of Gene Logsdon's book, "The Contrary Farmer". The chapter was simply titled, "Water Power", and was what I would consider a more philosophical (like the whole book) chapter than a practical chapter. But, it did bring out some good points to consider and Mr. Logsdon gave a big plug for living in the Midwest ... which made me happy!

The opening paragraph sums up the theme of the chapter:
"As an agronomist what plant nutrient is the most important, and you will be treated to a short course on nitrogen, phosphorous, potash, and a host of trace minerals necessary for plant growth. As a farmer that question and he will unhesitatingly answer: water."
Water is a very important part of your farm. It is important for your crops, it is important for you livestock, and one could argue that it is even important for you lifestyle (ponds, creeks, fishing, sitting and watching, etc.) Mr. Logsdon touches on all of those important things in this chapter along with touching on some ways for the "Contrary Farmer" to make money from their ponds, creeks, or marshes.

As I mentioned he makes a great plug for my homeland, the Midwest. He concludes that the reason America is such a great agricultural country is not because of anything we have done as people, rather it is a combination of a large amount of wonderful soil and just the right weather. It is like those two have combined in a perfect storm to create amazing farming potential. But, he admits that he often hears of people who say that the would rather farm in the West or the New England area. Mr. Logsdon presumes that this is because the Midwest is considered the corn belt and that it is not to be taken over by "cottage farmers", as he calls them. Well, I say take over the Midwest "contrary farmers". Let's make this perfect storm of land and weather work for us!

According to Mr. Logsdon water is a major thing to think about when you are choosing your farm. Is there too much water? Not enough water? What are you going to do with the extra water? Where are you going to get water if you need it? Those are all things that need to be thought through when you are purchasing land. He discusses the usefulness of tile in your fields and also the wisdom of just letting land go to wetland if there is no way tile can drain it out. That is one thing that the conventional attitude in the Midwest has done. We have tried to drain everything so we can plant corn and beans everywhere in perfectly straight lines, and then when the rains come we fret and worry about the flooded wetlands in our fields!

A couple of interesting things that he touches on that could be useful for the "cottage farmer" are the uses of wetland marshes and the importance of mulching. I have known the importance of mulching to help keep water in. In fact we tried to make sure our garden received plenty of mulch this year and we would like to do an even better job next year. Whether we are selling produce or just using it for ourselves the garden will be a very important part of our farm, so it is important that we make it as successful as possible.

But, the idea of using wetland marshes for income was something I hadn't thought through all the way. Of course I know that they can be beautiful things to look at with their diversity of plant and animal life, but Mr. Logsdon also throws out a couple ideas for making them profitable if you live in the right climate. Who new that you could grow cattails and sell the seed heads to fancy restaurants? Also you can collect the rhizomes and make flour from them. Of course you may have to create a market for that! Wild rice is another option if you live in the right climate. Maybe you couldn't raise enough to market, but enough to add to your families table would be a good thing. If have have spring fed ponds or creeks Mr. Logsdon tells about a "contrary farmer" he knew that made some side income from growing watercress. He goes on to mention a whole host of other ideas that could provide a possible side income or food for the families table: waterlilies, bullfrogs, snapping turtles, muskrats, mink, ducks, duckweed, peat bog products, milkweed, and even crayfish. As you can see there are quite a few possibilities ... you just need to think unconventionally!

I believe the overriding idea in this chapter is the importance of water for practical applications. But, Mr. Logsdon also writes about the beauties and wonders of water on the farm in general. Maybe his thoughts are best summed up with this quote, "Without a pond, a farm is sort of like a village without a church." I too enjoy living by the water and seeing the beauty of creation that it brings. Water provides so much life and enjoyment on the farm I can't imagine living anywhere in the country where it is scarce!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Winter Chicken Shelter ... An Appeal for Help!

Okay, this isn't as much as an informative blog, although I will include a couple of links to other helpful blog articles, as it is a plea for help! When we originally brought our chickens home we had thought that we would just keep them through the summer and fall and then make them into stew (or somebody would). But, we have decided that it would be a good idea to try and keep some layers over the winter to experiment and learn. Right now the hens are just in their normal movable pen, but as the temperatures drop and the snow flies I realize it is time to do something winterized ... or slightly winterized.

We would like the girls to keep laying a little bit over the winter just because... We have become accustomed to the eggs each morning and if we are going to be feeding them it would be nice to have something from them. I have thought about a few different ideas for a winter house (each of which include a light bulb or heat lamp), but I haven't really decided on anything. First I was just going to use some OSB I scavenged, some tin that we have down at the farm and some 2x4's to make a lean-to off of our shed. We would then attach our movable pen to give them a little room outside. It seems like a good idea, but then we would have lean-to that wouldn't really be used the rest of the year.

Another idea that we had was to park the pen in the garden and just slap some plywood all the way around (or most of the way) in order to close it up a bit from the wind and cold air. This idea seemed okay, and we could move it if we needed to, but I just thought it wouldn't work very well for bedding or provide much room for the hens.

Then my wife stumbled upon Walter Jeffries' post on his blog, Sugar Mountain Farm, about their "Winter Hen Coop". It is a pretty impressive structure (if practical is impressive ... which I believe it is) that also works as a summer coop. I like the idea and I think I could use a couple of cattle panels to make my frame. Possibly I would just tear apart my present coop in order to make this one because I think it would lighter and easier to move in the coming spring. Also, I love the idea of putting a base of hay bales around the bottom for warmth, bedding, and food. You can also read more about adding a sunroom by reading this POST.

So, do you have any great ideas? We are going to get some new hens in the early spring, but just wanted to winter these over in order to gain experience and keep a small supply of eggs coming in. Oh, I should also probably mention that we are talking about five birds right now, but it has been as high as six.

I look forward to hearing from everyone!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Book Farmers vs. the Deer

This summer we decided to take a major step (at least a major step for us) and get a Dexter cow and a steer. The thinking was we could get a start, albeit a small start, on a herd and have a steer to eat and learn how to cook grass finished beef with. Well, somehow those original two turned into thirteen in only a few months. With the growing numbers we needed to add pasture for them and we did, after a trip to Illinois that doubled the herd size something more substantial was needed.

Thirteen Dexters on the farm led to a new pasture of about seven acres of good grass and clover. The cattle love being in there ... when they are in there! We have had a couple of breakouts lately and it wasn't because we did a poor fencing job or because the fencer couldn't keep them in. Nope, we are having a battle against the deer on the farm. Or, to put it more clearly, the deer are having a battle against the electric fence on our farm!

Since Dexters aren't known for their height our fences aren't real tall and a deer could easily hop right over without even thinking about it ... unless of course they didn't see the fence coming and they blew right through the fence bending posts, stretching wire, and knocking off insulators. It happened once, then it happened again, and well .... then it happened again! Only the first two times did the cows get out, but it is safe to say that the deer are winning this battle.

The fence being there is a new thing for the deer so maybe they will get used to it, but when we get started in full force in our rotational grazing the fence will be in a new place all of the time! Possibly it is a seasonal thing because the deer are really on the move now with the crops out and the hunters running around the woods. Of course there is always the chance that this will just be a battle that we will continually face since we live in "deer rich" Southern Iowa.

I guess we will learn over time if there is any effective tricks to help those deer see the fence before the decide to be play red rover!

Friday, November 23, 2007

New Grassfed Beef Ad?

Okay, the credit for this one goes completely to Steven, who is a regular reader and commenter on The Beginning Farmer Blog. He pointed me to a recent "King of the Hill" episode that aired on Fox titled "Raise the Steaks". I believe you can watch the episode by clicking here. You will have to select the episode "Raise the Steaks". If you can't get it to work that way just surf over to, click on "watch full episodes online!" in the upper left corner, then select "King of the Hill" and the episode. If you are having problems just let me know. As Steven mentioned I'm not completely sure who long it will be posted, but you should check it out. If you only have 15 minutes then check it out anyways, it is worth it ... as much as watching TV is worth it ...

The question my wife had while watching the episode was, "who paid them to make this episode?" So true, so true! I doubt anyone paid them to make it, but it is one serious plug for grassfed beef and naturally grown produce. They talk about the superior taste, the better life for the animals, the poor conditions of feedlot cattle, and so on. If you remember my post about "The Meatrix" it will seem like they used those movies as research material for the episode.

Another great thing about the episode was that it was fairly clean. Only one curse word I believe and really nothing else bad. They farmed was shown to be very intelligent and caring, but the people that ran the co-op were stereotypical hippies. I felt like the treated everything well for the most part and I do believe this will be some good advertisement on some level.

So, make sure you check this out if you have the time and let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I am Thankful For...

As I mentioned the other day, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. So, today I thought I would just take a moment today to remember what I'm thankful for.
  • I am thankful for my God who has given me the promise of eternal life not because I have done anything, but because he has drawn me into His love.

  • I am thankful for my wife who has stood by me for over six years and has supported me in all that I have had the opportunity to do. She supports me in my ministry, she supports me in my farming endeavors, and she supports me in our marriage.

  • I am thankful for my children who are a wonderful source of joy and a beautiful picture of childlike faith. They help me see the wonders of God.

  • I am thankful for my parents and family. They have helped me become the man that I have become, the parent that I am, and the passionate follower of Christ that I strive to be.

  • I am thankful for my church. The body of believers worshiping and working together for the glory of God is an awesome thing.

  • I am thankful for my friends. For the enjoyment that they provide, the support they give, and the example of followers of Christ that they are.

  • I am thankful for my cattle, my chickens, and all my hopes and dreams of the farm. I pray that I will be open to where God moves us as a family.

  • I am thankful for my country that allows me to worship in the open and not hidden in fear. For the soldiers and others who have and are protecting my freedom and life.

  • I am thankful for the snow that is flying as I right this and the wonders of God's creation.
We have so much to be thankful. My prayer is that you will take time today to recognize how much we truly have to be thankful for. It is a tradition at our house to read President Washington's first Thanksgiving Proclamation. I encourage you to check it out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Thanksgiving Meal...

With Thanksgiving less than one day away my thoughts have turned to the holiday. I must admit that Thanksgiving is probably my most favorite holiday. As a Christ follower I sometimes question whether or not Easter or Christmas should be my most favorite, but I realize those should be celebrated each day. With out those two we would have no hope, but I digress... So, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As much as our culture tries to commercialize every holiday they have had the most difficult time with Thanksgiving. About the only thing they have been able to add to the holiday is a parade and some football. Really, Thanksgiving is mostly an afterthought with most retail stores. Yes, Thanksgiving is great!

We all know about the Pilgrims ... we have been taught since our childhood that they are the reason we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is almost as if we were taught that every November there has been a Thanksgiving celebration since their first little meal, but that is not the case. For some decent information (not perfect information because it does come from the internet) check out this LINK. And don't forget the first national Thanksgiving holiday proclamation made by George Washington:
"Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country...for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed...and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually...To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best."
But, enough of the history. Let's talk about the Thanksgiving meal! I'm a pretty plain guy when it comes to food. I'm not a big fruit or vegetable guy, but I am working on it. My perfect Thanksgiving meal would consist of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn (or preferably corn casserole), fresh bread, green beans, and pumpkin pies. If you wanted to get fancy I guess I would take some stuffing and maybe some carrots and celery, but not much more than that. Oh, except for maybe a ham if a lot of people were going to show up! So, as I was thinking about the good meals I will be eating in the days to come I realized there is quite the possibility that we could raise/grow most of our Thanksgiving meal. How rewarding and tasty would that be?!? So, I did some searching and I came up with some links to get me (and you) thinking about a home raised/grown Thanksgiving meal.

Lets start out with the TURKEY because it is the main deal. Click on the link to read an article about heritage turkey from the New Farm website. I was wondering if I could raise a couple in the back yard next year ... hmmm, I wonder how much poultry my yard can support? If nothing else I guess I could try and persuade my dad and family to raise some for all of us down on the farm. Just some poultry fencing, feed, and water. I think I even could find a good local source for heritage birds!

Next we have to look at the garden stuff. The corn, potatoes, pumpkins, and green beans. This will be the easiest to do because we already have the garden, we just need to make room for the goodies. This year we had success with fall green beans and slight success with the pumpkins. We can easily build on that. We did not plant corn or potatoes this year, but could do so if I really wanted to. The key with those is that we keep them mulched and composted to combat the walnut tree problems in the soil. The only question I have is, how do you make cream corn? I need cream corn for the corn casserole (along with butter and sour cream and corn bread mix, but we can sneak those in from the store), and I think the corn casserole is very important. Here is a LINK on growing good sweet corn. A LINK to an article about growing organic potatoes. A LINKto an article about bean varieties. And finally, a LINK that tells you how to make a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin not from a can.

What is a Thanksgiving meal with out some bread or rolls to sop up the gravy and to use for sandwiches at supper time? I used to be a store bought white bread only guy, but since my wife has begun making our own bread I must admit it is growing on me. Check out this LINK on baking whole grain bread.

Now, I realize that I might have to buy some sour cream and butter (I'll get the egg from the chickens) to make my corn casserole. Of course I could always start milking the Dexters ... But, I started to wonder what else would make this meal from the "farm". How about some whole grains for all the breads and possibly for the stuffing? Check out this ARTICLE by Gene Logsdon from an issue of Mother Earth News circa 1978! If you are really serious about raising your own grains you can even try and find an out of print copy of his book Small-Scale Grain Raising.

Will it happen? I guess you'll have to check out the blog next Thanksgiving season to find out ... I for one hope we can make it work because I see it as another step in the farming direction.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Four Cutting-Edge Tools for Profitable Beef

There is an article in this months Stockman Grass Farmer that gives the four cutting-edge tools for the grazier who is interested in making a profit. So, since I figured that was most graziers I thought I would list them along with a few thoughts today.

#1. Year-Round Grazing

This seems to really be a hot topic right now in grazing circles. Since I'm new to the scene I don't know exactly how long it has been out in front of the public, but I know that it is being written about a lot in various periodicals, taught at the seminars, and discussed on the message boards. One year ago, as I began my research, I thought year-round grazing was for some people, but it was not needed to run a great grass-fed operation. While I still won't go as far as saying it is needed, I am beginning to come around to see all the benefits to the farm running a management intensive grazing operation. One interesting fact from the article stated that Canadian graizers have found that beef cattle will dig through 16 inches of snow to find forage. I don't know when the last time was that we had 16 inches around here, but it wouldn't happen that often. Plus, there are alternative crops and methods out there. I believe this is another tool that the farmer can use to reduce his production expenses and grow his income.

#2. Grass Finishing
Okay, I thought this one was not as much "cutting-edge" anymore. I realize that it still hasn't met wide acceptance, but frankly I don't know when or if that will ever happen. If it did happen it would mean there was a large social (what people will accept for their meat) and political (the big farm lobby) shift in America. But, even thought it is not widespread I still don't know if it is as cutting-edge as the other "tools" mentioned in the article. That being said, I do believe it is the only way to go if you are going to run an unconventional farm ... and if you desire to run a farm that will support you family. One thing I really agree with from the article is this quote, "No, it is not easy to finish cattle on grass; and yes, you have to be an aggressive marketer to sell your product." It's not a slam dunk thing, maybe that is why it is still considered cutting-edge.

#3. Irrigate Pastures

This one may be a more regional "tool", but I do hear of an increasing number of people that are doing it in all parts of the country in order to combat dry spells and keep high forage quality in front of their animals at all times. I think possible it is more of a factor with people that are going to finish their animals year-round, and I'm not convinced yet that that is the way I would like to go. What it does do is all the farmers to concentrate their stock in smaller areas because the forage is always at an even quality of growth and nutrition. My biggest problem with irrigation is the monetary investment that it will take. I believe that you really must be grazing and grass finishing on a LARGE scale in order to make it pay, and that is not the way that I desire to go.

#4. Ultra-High Stock Density Grazing

I hear more and more about this each week as I read and research, and I'm just beginning to learn all of the details and ideas. When I first started learning I thought that normal management intensive grazing stock densities were "ultra-high", at least when compared with conventional wisdom, but now they are taking it a step further. Many compare this to what the American Bison would do on the plains before their near extinction. Basically you jam a lot of animals into a small area and let the mow it all down. In theory they will eat every plant around because it is what is available, and then you move them out before damage is done and don't allow them to return until the plants have had time to recover. The people that are using this method, sometimes called mob grazing, are finding that they have, "healthier soils and plants, increased soil organic matter, and most of all, a phenomenal increase of carrying capacity of the pasture," according to the article. Maybe this is something that needs to be combined with irrigation? I don't really know, but I would call it "cutting-edge" there is no doubt about that.

So, there you go ... four cutting-edge tools for the grazier. What do you think? Would these tools take your farm or the farms around you to the next level? Well, the author Bob Scriven seems to think so and he does throw out some good ideas!

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Few More Thoughts...

On Saturday I posted a quick little summary and link to an article about Misty Brook Farm in Massachusetts. The article came from the New Farm website, which I check periodically to see if they have any articles of interest up. I don't know exactly what it was, but this article really struck a chord with me and got me pretty excited about farming possibilities. Maybe it was the success they have had, maybe it was the way they were doing things, maybe it was the type of things they are doing, or maybe it was something else. All I know is that the article made me pretty excited so I thought I would share a few things that I really appreciated.

To me, the opening sentence speaks volumes. "To start with something small and build it up is a skill that many possess but few have the will to cultivate." I have never really thought about it exactly like that before, but it does seem to make a bit of sense. Many people have the tools and skill to get something going and grow it into something great, but what they don't have is the will (passion, desire, strength, faith, whatever...) to see it through to that great growth. Brendan Holmes and Katia Clemmer started out with some great things. They had an education (I'm working on that), experience (slowly finding some), and a pitchfork ... wheelbarrow ... and pickup truck (got it, got it, and would love to have it!). But, the greatest thing that they had was the perseverance to stick with their farm, set attainable goals, and work hard. Those last three things are not always easy for everyone to grasp. As we contemplate a transition to a farm life and work, I believe those intangibles, perseverance, goals, and hard work will be the most important thing we can have.

Another point that came across loud and clear to me in the article is that this couple did not start out as "landed gentry" wanting to make a move back to the land. They began by renting land, losing land they had rented, finding more land to rent, and then adding rented land as their herds and operations grew. So often I hear people putting down authors like Joel Salatin, Allan Nation, or Gene Logsdon because they believe the only reason those people are able to make it work is because they have large outside sources of income or they inherited all the land that makes it possible for them to land in the financial black. But, this couple didn't have any of that to begin with. In fact if you read the article you will see that they had to persevere through a few land difficulties. They were able to do it, and they were able to succeed.

One of the last things that I really took away from the article is how diversified they have become in a short while. Their farm produces beef, veal, raw milk, raw cream, pork, lamb, and vegetables. Plus, at their on farm store they sell another local farm's poultry. They have a small hay operation to provide for their livestock, they use a couple Morgan horses for some of their equipment work, and they are doing all of this while adding a new baby to the family. While this all seems like a romantic picture of the farm life, I think it is an equally beautiful picture of what is possible when you tackle a farm business in the correct way. I have a feeling they will continue to succeed because of the intangible that they possess and because of the way they have diversified their farm and not put all of their eggs in one basket.

If you want to find out more about their farm, or if the pictures on this post and the one below intrigue you, I encourage you to check out this LINK. You will have to scroll down to until you see "Misty Brook Farm" listed, but then you will find their address, number, and e-mail address. If you are in their part of the country I think you should check them out!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Must Read Article...

I don't have much to say other than ... You Must Read This Article! Basically it is about a couple that desired to farm and went about it in the right ways. Because they decided to take it slow and not encumber themselves with debt they are starting to see their farm and provide a living for their family. It was a very inspiring and at some levels practical article that you should all read.

So, check out the article titled, "A vision of Misty Brook : Positive perseverance enables a young couple to live out their dream." over on the New Farm website and let me know what you think.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapter 4 Book Report

I finished up chapter four of Gene Logsdon book, "The Contrary Farmer", the other night. So, I thought I would give you some of my thoughts on the chapter titled, "The Peaceable Kingdom of the Barnyard".

In this chapter Mr. Nation kind of gives a run down of animals that the cottage farmer (his phrase) should consider, and how they should consider raising those animals. He points out that chickens should probably be the first choice (was for us), then maybe some sheep, a family cow, some pigs, and then maybe some sort of specialty animal like raising pets for sale or focusing on a minor breed. He has a few practical tips and antidotes in each section of the chapter dealing with the livestock, but it is not a how-to, beginners guide, or production model type of chapter at all.

A couple things I appreciated from the chapter were his mention of minor breeds (I have a place in my heart for our historical minor breeds) and his thoughts on a new type of family cow. Mr. Nation proposes that there is a alternative to the historical family cow that was mostly used to supply milk and possibly labor for the family. He realizes that milking isn't something every cottager (again, his phrase) will have time to do because he is assuming that the farm is just a piece of the puzzle, possibly even a small piece of the puzzle. So, he feels that the family cow should now become a vessel for raising beef for the freezer. Mr. Nation's cow calves in the spring and then the calf is butchered in the fall. He never weans the calf, never cuts it if it is a bull calf, and never has to worry about stored forages because the cow and the grass will supply all of the feed needs.

That is a pretty interesting concept and something I think would work out great for someone who was trying to add some self-sufficiency to their life, but the barnyard tips and thoughts in this chapter seem like they are most intended for someone who maintains a full-time job, but lives in the country.

Last chapter Mr. Nation talked about gardens being the proving ground for farms. And, I believe that is how I view this book. It puts forth a lot of great ideas that he is doing on the small scale of his 30 or so acres, but it isn't providing the nuts and bolts, or even the philosophy, behind a full-time agricultural farm. Mr. Nation does not refer to himself as a farmer as much as he refers to himself as a cottager (I thought those were people who stayed at lake houses in the summer). He writes at home and does a few small-scale farming things on the side to provide for his family and add some extra income. Which always makes me think ... I wish I could write!

To be honest I was a little less impressed with this chapter, but that doesn't mean that I didn't like it. I just think that I had higher hopes for the book after all of the positive reviews I read. That being said, the next chapter about water does seem pretty interesting and I'm sure will have lots of good thoughts.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More Thoughts From Allan Nation's Editorial...

Yesterday I wrote some of my thoughts on Allan Nation's editorial from the November, 2007 issue of "The Stockman Grass Farmer". It was a long essay on the issue of scalability in the business of farming and it really made me come to two conclusions. First, I realized that this was an important issue for the farmer that wants to make a profit in the every changing farm economy. And secondly, I was reminded how important the "business" side of farming is. Farming is not just a romantic pastime (at least the way I would like to do it), but rather it is a business that takes thought and planning so you can come out ahead. In fact, it is a business that possibly takes more thought and planning because you have all the things going on in the business side and all the things happening on the livestock/crop side. I've got a lot to learn, but I feel like I am truly on my way now.

But, scalability wasn't the only topic he wrote about in the article. He also brought up a book that he had recently read titled, "Small Giants" by Bo Burlingham. This is not a farming book at all, it is purely a business book. I decided I really respect farmers (or farm writers) who branch outside of just the nuts and bolts of agriculture and try and bring in new ways of thinking from the business world.

According to Mr. Nation the gist of the book is that most advice on running a business is, "written by and for employees of public corporations, which have low capital costs and a stockholder mandate to grow as fast as possible." It is all about growing quickly and then selling off parts of your business because you have grown so quickly.

The alternative according to the author of the book are businesses running at what he calls the "human scale". Businesses who decide to grow slow and concentrate on their profit margins run on the "human scale". Businesses who do not require outside investors, mega-lenders, or stockholders run on the "human scale". Businesses who want to keep their business private and under their control run on the "human scale". And when I think of the ever-changing agricultural markets these days and the corporate structures creeping (or busting) their way into farming I think the "human scale" is the only scale that successful farmers can work with.

Check out this quote from Mr. Nation. "But, if your goal is a pleasant life in the country, you need to concentrate on creating as much margin per unit of production as possible." Think about that! If you have a wide profit margin on a few units produced you will be able to self-finance your farming business and expand (or not expand) according to your desires.

The way you get those wide margins is by combining low production costs with higher sales or marketing prices. I have always understood this concept and it is why I have put so much effort into researching grass fed beef, year around grazing, alternative crops, u-pick fruits and vegetables, and so much more. If I wanted to farm like everyone else in the state, even if I found a farmer that would let me transition into his farm, I would have to work the off farm job so that I would have enough money to be able to get the loan that would allow me to buy that piece of equipment that I needed to keep up with the ever-changing agricultural world. Did you follow that? Well, I barely did and I wrote it!

I decided early on that I needed to work on this farming idea slowly. I know that I need to get all of my information and ideas together as much as I can so that when I start to grow I will be able to keep up with it. I know that I cannot become attached to lenders and debt or I would probably never get out. I know that I have to find the different markets and productions models so I can have this wider profit margins. It does seem daunting, but I believe it is the only way that I can attack my desire to be a farmer.

There is more to farming than early morning chores, wet dew on the grass, and cattle chewing their cud under a big old tree in the pasture (although that sounds very inviting). I believe successful farmers that aren't doing things on a corporate level are some of the most intelligent artists out there! They have to be an artist because so much of farming is an art of knowing just when to do things and just how to do them, and they must be intelligent to compete in a world that feels like it needs super-size everything ... including their farms.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Scalability in Farming

Allan Nation's editorial in the November, 2007 issue of The Stockman Grass Farmer was rather interesting. The article dealt with the issue of "scalability", something I have never heard of, regarding business and farms ... or the business of farming. In the beginning of the article Mr. Nation says, "Currently, in the USA the top one percent of income earners earn almost 70% of the total taxable income." I found that statistic very interesting. Not that I'm opposed to it, I think it is just the way things work out, but it was interesting nonetheless. He goes on to write that, "the difference between the top and the rest is that the high income people are all in "scalable" professions.

Basically, with all of the technological and social advances we have had you can reach masses of people with no more effort than it takes to reach a smaller amount (Mr. Nation draws this example from Nassim Nicholas Taleb who wrote, "The Black Swan"). That is what scalable can look like ... reaching masses with the same work of reaching less than masses, but more money involved. I believe the idea of scalability really got going with technology companies because they are all about reaching the masses. But, according to Mr. Nation's editorial most of those technology companies only last 10 years because of the intense competition they face. You may come up with an idea, but that doesn't mean you will be the one to profit most from it. Just take my beloved iPod from Apple ... they weren't the first on the scene with an MP3 players, but they are the ones who are profiting.

Okay, so that is the gist of scalable business (or at least as much as I can comprehend and explain without making my brain work on overload at this time). But, what does scalability have to do with farming and why in the world is Allan Nation writing about it in "The Stockman Grassfarmer"? Well, he took this concept and compared it to farming, specifically he compared it to Management Intensive Grazing (MiG).

MiG has been bouncing around the agricultural circles for many years (Mr. Nation says for over 25 years in fact), yet has never really found broad acceptance. According to Michael Porter, a Harvard professor, businesses that have long profit runs (like MiG examples have) are often the most difficult to get into but very easy to get out of. Mr. Nation believes that the thing that makes it so difficult to get into MiG isn't the cost of land or the cost of cattle or the cost of anything ... in reality it is the negativity associated with trying new ideas!

He mentions a survey by the University of Missouri that states that most farmers agree with the soundness of MiG in principle, but they can't change the way that they are already doing things. I believe it is just human nature because you see that in every profession ... even in the church.

Mr. Nation proposes that we should be developing farms that are, "a 'hybrid' production model that will allow us to minimize labor per unit of production (be scalable) while remaining in a non-scalable industry (minimal competition)". He brings up a great example from an article by Joel Salatin in the September issue of the magazine. Mr. Salatin wrote about expanding his grassfed beef and pastured pork operations because they were more "scalable" than his pastured poultry side of the farm. Think about it, it takes only a little more time to move 100 steers through a gate than it does to move 10 through the same gate ... but each carton of eggs he sells takes the same amount of time to package regardless of whether it is 10 dozen or 10,000 dozen eggs.

So, according to Mr. Nation what does this look like in a practical sense to someone running, or thinking about running, a MiG system. First of all, make the animals do the work for you. Let them self-harvest the forage and have them self-feed throughout the year (see post below). Secondly, manage as few herds as possible. Try to get your cattle in to one or two places so your time isn't used moving from place to place or setting up fence in multiple pastures. Make your time work in your favor. And finally, as Mr. Nation puts it, "stop buying Band-aids"! Fly problems, pinkeye, worm susceptibility can be eliminated through genetic selection according to Mr. Nation, so do that instead of spending all of your time running cattle through the head gate.

He concludes with a few other thoughts from the business world that I found interesting, but I think I'll save those for another post.

What about you readers? What do you think of this scalability issue? Any business folks out there that would like to speak to this, because it is obvious that business is not my strong suit...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Corn and Grassfed...

From time to time I have eluded to the fact that my Dad and I don't always see eye-to-eye on how we envision the farm being run. My Dad grew up on the farm and while he agrees that we need to market our own beef, pork, or whatever he is having a hard time imagining farming with out planters, plows, combines, and grains. Plus some tractor seat time just for good measure.

Well, I may have found the answer. When reading through Allan Nation's BLOG this morning I came across a post titled, "A Corn Plant for Grassfed Beef". You will have to scroll past the first couple of articles to get to it, but it was an interesting read for me because I could see its usefulness in our part of the country.

Here is the main idea from the article,
"Illinois research has found that when tropical varieties of corn are grown in the Midwest, the corn plant does not normally flower or produce grain. Instead, the plant concentrates sugars such as sucrose, fructose and glucose in its stalk and leaves."
The University Illinois is researching this plant for its ethanol applications, but it could have a couple of large impacts on the grassfed grazing community also.

Number one, it would be a great source for finishing grassfed steers in the summer. It would give them plenty of growth nutrition to add the weight at a high enough rate for finishing, and according to USDA rules the cattle would still be grassfed because they ate the corn before grain was produced.

And, secondly it would work wonderfully as a winter stockpiled forage. In the tests the plant grew as tall as 16 feet. I think there would be plenty above the snow for grazing in the Midwest! This winter feeding ability could lead to raising completely grassfed grazing beef year around. Cutting out the hay is a major labor saver and if my Dad got to plant a little corn in the meantime it would just be a bonus.

This is just in the research phase right now, but it would be worth following. If you have any experience with cattle grazing corn stalks before it goes to grain I would be interested in hearing from you.

Christian Agrarianism?

The above phrase is one that I come across quite frequently as I read and research about farming in an unconventional way. Some people talk about it as if it is a movement sweeping across the nation (I'm not sure I want to be a part of a movement because movements always come and go), some people are calling it a way of life (a way of life is a good thing ... but I would rather just call my way of life a Biblical worldview with Christ above all and through all and in all), and The Deliberate Agrarian Blogger says, "it's all about repentance and redemption" (those are two words I can get along with). So, what is "Christian Agrarianism"?

The reason I'm thinking about it today is because I ran across the blog post linked above and found it very interesting. I do have a hard time trying to attach the word "Christian" to something in order to make it more holy. Things like Christian author, Christian band, and Christian artist make me kind of wary. It is almost like if we place "Christian" in front of the occupation or thing then we will automatically make it more appealing to other Christians. I believe that as a follower of Christ, He should influence everything I do ... not just the "Christian" things. So, if that is the case, then Christ will influence my farming. But, does that mean that I need to label myself as a "Christian Agrarian" and sell at a "Christian Market" only to "Christians"? No, no, and no. And I'm pretty sure that isn't even what the Christian Agrarians are saying, but I do see it as a possible outcome, just like we now have our own publishing houses, music labels, clothing lines, and so much more.

I thought one quote from the blog post was possibly a good description of Christian Agrarianism,
"God is clearly moving in the hearts of many of His people in this day. He is leading them away from the bondage of a centralized, industrialized, materialistic, soul-deadening, God-hating, earth-destroying world system. He is leading them back to the land, back to simplicity of life and faith in Him, back to something that was almost lost in the shuffle of the industrial era."
If this idea of Christian Agrarianism interests you .... or even angers you .... allow me to breakdown this quote for a moment and give a few thoughts.

"God is clearly moving in the hearts of many of His people in this day."
Okay, that is just obvious. God does work in the hearts of people to conform them more to His likeness through repentance and redemption. I'm down with that statement!

"He is leading them away from the bondage of a centralized, industrialized, materialistic, soul-deadening, God-hating, earth destroying world system." Wow, that is a loaded sentence! Let me just speak specifically to myself here, because I think that is a rather large generalization, and I don't know how complete it is. I believe God is always drawing me away from the bondage of anything. He desires me to be away from the bondage of the world - period. He did not create me for this world, He created me for eternal life with Him, so of course He desires me to be apart from bondage. But, on a more practical note I don't know if I want to be part of a people movement at all. I do want to get away from a materialistic world, and I wouldn't mind it at all if our world was de-centralized. Does that make me a Christian Agrarian? I'm not really sure!

"He is leading them back to the land, back to simplicity of life and faith in Him, back to something that was almost lost in the shuffle of the industrial era." Obviously God isn't leading everyone back to the land ... there were plenty of cities in Biblical times, but He may be leading certain people back to a connection with His creation and His people when it comes to agriculture. There are things that were almost lost in the industrial era, but that doesn't mean that it is a completely bad thing. I can see God's hand working in the industrial revolution, and I can also see people messing up God's creation during the same time ... so, what does that mean for me? Basically, I am down with simplicity in life because that allows me to focus more on my God and my family. I believe for me that means a move to the country, but not for everyone.

So, what is my final verdict? Right now I am in full-time ministry because I believe that is where God has called me and placed me. I would like to be able to live a farming life because I believe that God has given me a passion and drive for that, but I am going to work inside of His will and timing. I don't really want to take on a label though. I would like to be a farmer, doing things the way I feel passionate about doing them, and doing everything from a the standpoint of Christ preeminent in all things. Whether I am moving chickens, working cattle, growing crops, being a leader in my church, or playing ball with my family. It isn't about placing the word "Christian" in front of what I do, it is about placing Christ at the center of my life and doing things well for His glory.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pigs or Sheep?

The question running through my mind lately is this ... Pigs or Sheep? What should the next addition be to Stoneyfield Farm. Even though we are not on the farm yet and have no definitive plans of when that will happen (if ever), I would like to see us, and the us in this case means myself and my dad, take steps in the direction that I would eventually like to end up. Maybe it just means I help with the research, marketing, and ideas or maybe it means I'm there working on the farm everyday. Either way, I'm beginning to think about what to add to the farm, if anything, in the spring.

On one hand, we have talked quite a few times about bringing some sheep to the place. Either ewes or wool wethers or market lambs. We don't really have a clue as to what we would do when it comes to the sheep. In fact, between the two of us our knowledge of sheep is practically nil. The one thing we have going for us is that my uncle (dad's brother) has quite a bit of experience with sheep so there would be some help close by. One of the positives of sheep is their browsing ability and the help they would give in cleaning up old fence rows that criss-cross the property. We would like to clean out a lot of these areas that are over grown in order to replace fence or put up more effective fencing. In this case, we would be using the sheep as a labor force. The other reason we are considering sheep is because they are a great animal to follow cattle on pastures because they are a dead end host for the parasites (and cattle the same for sheep). It would be nice to have this tool in our arsenal. We just need to continue to research this idea. We are planning on going to a few sales in the area to see what the market is like right now, and I would like to find some cattle people who are also raising sheep, or vice versa.

Pigs ... can't live with them, can't live without them! Pigs are kind of a sore subject in my family. In the late 80's, when the hog market was high, we had a lot of pigs on the Book family farms, and they all smelled really bad. Once the market dropped we got out, but it was never a really enjoyable thing having that hog lot on the place. Obviously we would be doing things quite a bit differently this time, but the stigma still exists. On the plus side, we have personal experience with raising hogs from farrow to finish. Of course, this knowledge is in the more conventional setting, but it still would apply. I like the idea of adding pigs because there are some areas that I would like to reclaim to pasture or savannah as I have previously mentioned, and because I really like to eat pork. I figure if I'm going to raise food I better be passionate about eating that food also! Again, there is still much research to be done, but maybe we would feel a bit more comfortable going into this animal than any other ... if we can get past the stigma!

If you are interested in reading some more about pigs, pasture, and the combination of those two things, I encourage you to check out this THREAD over on the Homesteading Today forums. I had initially asked about different heritage breeds that people were using in their pasture situations, but it also brought up a lot of good thoughts on pastured pigs and breed selection.

So, Pigs or Sheep ... Do you have an input?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapter 3 Book Report

I am slowly making my way through my copy of "The Contrary Farmer" by Gene Logsdon, but with all my other new reading material (Stockman Grass Farmer) it takes more time to make it to the end of a chapter. The other day I finished up chapter three of the book. This chapter was titled "The Garden is the Proving Ground for the Farm", and I really see it as a great philosophical chapter. Actually, I see most of Mr. Logsdon's writings as great things to help me wrap my mind around the whys and reasons behind farming the way we are starting to and the way we are wanting to in the future. Sure, there are some practical pointers sprinkled throughout every single chapter, but it also speaks to the philosophy and reason behind those practical ideas.

I won't go into a lot of detail nor relate a lot of stories or antidotes from the chapter for you, but I will tell you that this section of the book made me think a lot about what I need to be doing, thinking, researching, and learning as I'm at a point in my life where I'm not on "the farm", but I'm trying to work towards "the farm". Mr. Logsdon writes about the impact of the backyard garden on the working farm of today. How the methods used by today's gardeners can become the large scale workings of tomorrow's farmers.

As I read this chapter, I kept coming back to a couple of ideas. There is a particular phrase that kind of sums up my thoughts on farming and part of my Christian world view in general. I believe that you have enough time (or money, or passion, or whatever) for whatever you want to have enough for. Meaning, if you want to farm then you will make time to get you closer to that goal instead of going to a ball game, sitting in front of the T.V., buying the latest gadget, or whatever it may be that will keep you from that goal. The second thing that kept popping into my mind in this chapter is that quote from my uncle that I have repeated here on the blog several times. "Reading is good, doing is better!" To me that statement basically says that sometimes you need to make things happen and learn from your experiences.

In light of those two thoughts, we have begun a few things over the past six or seven months to take us on baby steps to our farming. First of all, we decided to take our garden up a notch this year. It didn't mean that we expanded the size of what we were doing, it just meant that we decided to try and do things more effectively. Along those lines my wife researched companion plants that would help keep pests away and nourish the soil for one another. We also started collecting coffee grounds from a local coffee shop and composting our household scraps in order to increase the good organic matter in our soil, and we began raking up our grass clippings to mulch around the plants in the garden to keep moisture in and weeds away. Those steps seemed to improve things a bit over previous years and gave us lots of new ideas to try next year.

Secondly, we decided to throw caution to the wind and build a chicken tractor for the backyard. We have been blessed with a decent sized yard so we built a 8 ft. x 5 ft. or so pen that we move around the yard each day. At the most this past summer, we have had six older laying hens in it, and we have received as many as 35 eggs each week. This has been a great learning and doing experience on so many levels. We have been able to experiment with three different types of feed (the mixed feed that my uncle used was the best hands down), to see just how much room these birds need and how much the grass supplements their feed, and we saw how much the birds thatched and fertilized our lawn (just think if had been our pasture!). I have loved having these hens over the summer and have learned so much. In fact, I'm going to be building a winter spot for them and putting in some light to see if we can keep them laying at some level over the winter. Next spring we plan on getting some younger birds to experiment with and sending these off to someone's stew pot.

The final thing we have done this year is actually a rather large step. We decided that we wanted to get a couple Dexters to experiment with and learn about grass-finishing beef and then preparing grass-finished beef for the table. So, after much ... much ... much research, we decided to go with purebred Dexters. We went out and got ourselves a bred heifer and a steer to finish for next fall. These animals were going to end up living at my dad's farm where grass was abundant. Well, two turned into six ... and lo and behold six turned into thirteen. Now we have nine cow/heifers and four bull/steer calves. The reason this research/experience developed so quickly is because we believe there is a market for Dexters right now in our area of the Midwest (either as beef or breeding stock) and because land on the farm just came out of CRP opening up much more grazing land. It is practically as easy to take care of thirteen as it is two ... you just need bigger fences, more hay for the winter, and a few other things. We decided we had all of those things and went ahead with the beginnings of the Stoneyfield Dexter herd. From this we have learned and practiced so many practical things dealing with fencing, grazing, pasture management, forages, cattle health, and so much more. Plus, I have now roped the rest of the family into this whole dream of ours!

The point being is that we are taking these "garden experiences" and trying to learn and grow from them so that we can work at a larger level. We don't know when or where God will take us, but we know that we have a passion for His people, His creation, and bring both of those together in the beauty and wonder of all that God is.

So yeah, it was a good chapter and really made me think!

Friday, November 09, 2007

New Pasture for the Stoneyfield Herd

I absolutely love to read. I have enjoyed reading my entire life, and not a day goes by without me reading. I usually am working my way through a couple books and magazines at the same time and take a chance to read whenever I need a break. But, as much as I love to read about becoming a farmer it was so great today to actually get down to the farm and do something!

Yesterday we went down to do some much needed work. With the expansion of our herd, our pasture that was wonderful for a heifer and a steer was not nearly enough for a herd of thirteen strong. We had kept them in the smaller lot and fed them hay since we brought the new ones home because my family was going to be gone and the Amish neighbors were going to be doing the chores. We just wanted it to be easier for them to water them and such and not have to worry about them getting out. But, today was the day to go out and expand the pasture. I would say that we encompassed about seven or eight acres of land to go along with the one and a half of the other lot. They are connected with a lane right now, but I plan on closing them out of the lot and building a water wagon so that they can just stay in the new pasture. There is actually room for the pasture to expand out there so hopefully they can winter in that area. Also, I think it is a good place for them to calve because there are some trees that they can get into to get out of the weather, and it is one of the more dry areas of the farm.

Our fence is just a single wire electric fence with rebar posts every ten paces or so and t-posts at the corners and on top of hills. There is a five-strand barbed wire fence on one side and a woven wire with one barbed wire at the top on the other side. I'm pretty confident this single wire will keep them in (it's at Dexter nose height), but if they do decide to get out, there is a lot of room for them to roam before they hit our boundary fences. Plus, where they are, the grass is literally greener on the inside of the fence because we let that grow since we knew we would be fencing them in there and had mowed the rest. It goes up quick and seems to be effective!

All in all, it was a beautiful fall day to work and my only complaint was that we didn't have enough time. With the farm over an hour away and a job that does require my work here, I didn't have as much time as I would have liked. I had hoped to also build a pen to wean off one of the bull calves (soon to be steer) and the black heifer that came from Illinois. It wasn't going to be my ideal weaning set-up, but I don't want those calves on their mother all winter long so I will have to make do with what we can. The bonus of having them weaned is that the family can spend more time with them and get the heifer calf used to being handled. I plan on turning her out with the bull (that doesn't live here yet) next summer for a spring '09 calf.

One bonus from today is that I was able to give my dad a list of materials I need to build our chicken shed for them to winter in. We thought we would try and keep our chickens over the winter in our backyard, but we need to build a permanent structure for them to keep them somewhat warm and put a lamp in so they will lay a few eggs hopefully. He is making his way through on Saturday so I should be able to get started on that next week.

I put up a couple pictures with the post today. The first picture is of our little dun bull calf and the new black heifer (no name yet). For a while I was thinking of letting the little boy develop a little since he was looking sort of beefy, but now I'm thinking he might be short-legged which can be a bad thing in Dexter bulls. I may have him tested just to find out if he carries the unwanted gene found in some short-legged bulls. The second picture includes the two mentioned already and a couple candidates for freezer camp in the future!

Like I said ... it was great to actually be doing yesterday!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Break From Your Regularly Scheduled Blogging

I would like to take this time to take a break from my regularly scheduled blogging. Most of the time I post about recent articles, books, or periodicals that I am reading dealing with pastoral farming (grassfed animals, sustainable agriculture, etc.). From time to time I also post happenings from our beginning farm ... things like trips to work with the cattle, the happenings of our backyard chickens, or contemplations on alternative farming in general. But, today I would like to take a break from all of that and talk about good 'ol commodity farming!

Yesterday my family (wife, son, and daughter) and I were all invited to join a friend from church for a few rounds in his diesel guzzling, corn acres eating, commodity crop combine. It was a John Deere if you are scoring at home. We made three rounds through his field averaging about 160 bushels or so per acre with most of the corn coming in around 16% moisture (I know that because of the little computer screen). My little boy (3 1/2 years old) absolutely loved every minute of it ... especially when he got the opportunity to drive.

And, I have to admit that I loved it also. I know that on one level it is a flawed system. I know that I desire to become a full-time farmer and there would be no way for me to play the rules of the commodity farming game unless a bunch of money dropped in my lap. But, there is just something completely rural Iowan about riding in a combine on a crisp fall day with you son and watching the rows of tall corn disappear before you. There is just something comforting to my soul watching the grain pour out of the combine auger and dump into the wagon only to make it's way to an auger and up into a brand new shiny bin. I love the sound of the tractor, the smell of the crop being harvested, the enjoyment of watching a farmer bring in his harvest at the end of a season, and the crisp beauty in the air. There is just something about it...

But, even though I love all of that I couldn't help but think how this farmers life would be different if he didn't live the commodity farming lifestyle. Sure he has some great new equipment. Farms about 400 acres of row crop land. Bales large round bales and runs a 100 head cow/calf herd. But, he as to do that in between shifts at the police department where he is a full-time officer. What if he was grazing all of those acres and cutting hay and silage instead? What if he was using a management intensive grazing program for his cattle? What if he only had those two old Oliver 1655 tractors instead of the new green machines (or maybe just the new 4wd John Deere with the loader)? Would he have to be holding down a town job just so he could farm?

Thanks for indulging me for a day. I promise that tomorrow I will jump off the commodity farming wagon and post cows eating grass or pigs rooting up small trees in a pasture or sheep following after cows ... you know, something unconventional!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Grassfed Beef Year Around

If you keep with my blog regularly you will know that I recently subscribed to "The Stockman Grass Farmer magazine. While I haven't received my first current issue, one of the bonuses of signing up when I did was that I could get two back issues. So, I'm working my way through those right now. The great thing about the articles in these things is that they are pretty much timeless.

On the cover of the February 2005 addition is an article about a farm in Maine (yep, that's right I said MAINE) that provides grassfed beef year around. This is the type of article that really catches the eye of a kid from Iowa that grew up thinking you needed to feed corn during the winter months if you had a chance of sending an animal to slaughter while snow was on the ground. But, Roger and Linda Fortin of Little Alaska Farm are sending four finished beeves to a processor each week from their snowy southeastern Maine farm. According to the article, they used to raise grainfed natural beef but decided to go all grassfed so they could continue to get the premium for their beef that was slowly slipping away in the "natural" market.

Mr. and Mrs. Fortin pasture their animals from May until mid-October and then feed grass silage over the winter months. Their pastures are a mix of Orchardgrass, Timothy, and white clover that comes up on its own. I thought it was funny that the article mentions that chicken manure is their main fertilizer ... hmmm, why not just raise pastured poultry and not buy in the fertilizer! Anyways, most of their 100 cow herd is Red Devon, but they do buy in yearlings from neighbors that use their Red Devon bulls. They selected this breed because of its easy marbling on grass (still gotta conform to the standards of the beef grading industry).

They sell their wholesale beeves to Hardwick Beef (a grassfed beef distributer) when they are between 20 and 28 months old and have a carcass weight between 600 and 650 pounds. They get $1.75 per pound from Hardwick Beef, and all their carcasses need to grade at high Select to low Choice. In order to get the needed daily weight gain to produce the marbled beef, they have to supplement their wilted grass silage with 6 pounds of citrus pulp (available in their area because of the dairy operations) per head per day.

The cool thing about the Fortins is that they also have an on farm store that sells their beef by the cut along with their pastured chicken eggs and pastured pork (I really need to get some pigs!). They are doing all of this on 220 acres that they own and 120 acres that they rent, so it is not like it is a huge operation. Another interesting fact about their article is that their town is only 900 people strong so they really rely on the tourists coming from Portland, ME 60 miles away to bring them business. This is something I have often thought about if we ended up near my dad's farm because there is a growing tourist opportunity there.

I gleaned a couple key things from this article. Number one, I love the fact that they are trying to get away from their wholesaling by creating their on farm store and expanding the product available there ... gotta love the pastured pork and chickens (although I think they could easily add meat birds and then buy less poultry manure for fertilizer). Number two, I was surprised at how long they take to finish their beef. I assume that is because they are grassfed year around and because they finish all year long, but it made me wonder if I'm off on wanting to finish my Dexters between 16 and 22 months. I'll just have to investigate a little more. Finally, I just love the way they have transitioned from commodity based system to a farm that goes full circle with calves being born on the farm and sold in the store. That is a place that I would really like to end up. I wonder if I could start out that way?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Contrary Farmer :: Chapters 1 & 2 Book Report

Last week I received my copy of The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon in the mail. I have already read All Flesh is Grass, which he also wrote so I was looking forward to starting this book. It came highly recommended by everyone that has taken the time to read it so I couldn't wait to see what nuggets of wisdom it contained.

Mr. Logsdon is probably one of the better farm "writers" out there these days. He writes in a style that is very enjoyable and entertaining. Even if he didn't tell you it would be evident that he is a writer first and a farmer second. I contrast that with Joel Salatin, who seems to be a farmer first and a writer second. Mr. Salatin writes great and very informational books, but they don't have the "story telling" in them that All Flesh is Grass and The Contrary Farmer have.

In the first two chapters of The Contrary Farmer, Mr. Logsdon deals with work and pastoral economics. A quote from the first chapter that seems to sum it up the best is this:

"Nevertheless, there is much work associated with even a small cottage farm like our thirty-two acres. Making that work enjoyable is a kind of calling, I think. Not everyone is cut out for it, although I am sure that there are thousands of people going through life dissatisfied (I was one of them for a while) because they do not know that they were born to be nurturers - farmers. Sometimes, as a compromise, they become gardeners, and that's okay too. "

In general, I would say that in the first chapter Mr. Logsdon is writing about the romantic side of farm work. He writes about the enjoyment of farm work, the purity of the culture in the farming country, and beauty and depth of creation (although I'm not sure he believes in the Creator). I can see from this chapter why so many people said that they read the book once a year when the just need to refocus their minds and remind themselves why they are farming.

The second chapter of the book deals with "Pastoral Economics", which is something I haven't heard much about. Mr. Logsdon has a great quote from the 1940's by a guy from England named Lord Northbourne. Here it is,
Mechanical efficiency is all very well -- it is good, but life can be sacrificed to it. Mechanical efficiency is the deal of materialism, but unless it is subservient to and disciplined by the spirit, it can take charge and destroy the spirit. In life, though not in mechanics, the things of the spirit are more real than material things. They include religion, poetry, and all the arts. They are the mainsprings of that culture which can make life worth while. Farming is concerned primarily with life, so if ever in farming the material aspect conflicts with the spiritual or cultural, the latter must prevail, or that which matters most in life will be lost ... Farming must be on the side of religion, poetry, and the arts rather than ont he side of business, if ever the two sides conflict.

Farming is an art ... Farming is poetry ... and while I don't believe farming is a religion, I know that it is all about the beauty and wonder of the Creator our God. I do believe that if you separate farming from those things we all miss out. The farmers miss out and the consumers miss out because we are losing all that is important. The health of our food, the connection to our food, the beauty of our lands, and so much more are lost if all we are concerned about is the mechanical world.

Mr. Logsdon seems to be most attracted to farms like his. A small "cottage farm", as he calls it, where the main income isn't derived from the farm but rather from another on farm business. You know, maybe a writer who is also a farmer, or a welder who is also a farmer, or a mechanic who is also a farmer. He seems to believe these types of cottage farms are really the essence of pastoral economics. And, let me tell you ... if I could write I would be all about it! He writes about needing to look at our profits differently. For example, if he breaks even on his wool and lambs he still profits because they maintained his grass. Or, if he puts some beef in the freezer he profits because he doesn't have to purchase it. Plus, selling directly to the consumer (maybe a wool spinner in his case) brings him double the profit. He even talks quite a bit about the Amish in this chapter and the success they have had with pastoral economics (although I would think they are getting away from that in our area).

There was one quote near the end of the chapter that I didn't particularly like. Mr. Logsdon said, "Most people drawn to farming do not like selling and so are not good at it. Much better to connect with someone who understands and like selling and let him or her make some money too." I get what he is saying, but I believe that it isn't entirely true. And, just like you aren't born an entrepreneur but you can become one, I don't believe that you are born a salesman ... but you can become one. I think the farmer being the salesman is the connection that is missing. I do understand his principle and believe that it is true to a point, but I believe the farmer needs to be making those great connections with the customers. Then everyone wins.

So, what do you think of my take on the first couple of chapters? If you have read the book, do you think I missed the point? Let me know what you think!
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