Wednesday, December 31, 2008

As Your New Ag Secretary...

It is about time that I actually take a few moments to throw out some ideas of what I would do if I was the incoming Agricultural Secretary. It is safe to say that many of these things have been mentioned in prior comments, but I think that says a lot about the similarities I have with a lot of this blogs readers when it comes to agriculture. Oh, and as your incoming Ag Secretary I would like this photo to be my official picture for all press releases :)
  1. One of the first things I would try to do would be to make a major over-haul of the current farm bill. By major I mean that I would cut out the "social programs" from the farm bill and allow it to focus completely on the nuts and bolts of farming, not the distribution of food (and other peoples money) to others. If this were done I would hope that people could look more objectively at some of the things in the farm bill that actually apply to farming instead of focusing on the social components.
  2. After that was taken care of I would take a major look at the current subsidy system and the incentive programs. Not only do I believe that we need to phase out our current love of paying people to own crop land, but I also think we need to look at the ramifications of paying people not to farm. There are lots of good programs that have a lot that can be beneficial (see the Conservation Securities Program), but there are too many loopholes in the programs that we have. For example, our land had been in CRP for 14 years. At the beginning it was seeded down with native grasses, which was great, but in the subsequent 14 years nothing has been done and because of that it has even begun to suffer a little.
  3. Here is the big pipe dream, but I would not allow larger seed companies and packers to influence policy. They are going to only be looking out for themselves (as they probably should), but we need a government that hears and sees all sides of the story. Like I said, this is a bit unlikely, but it is what I would do.
  4. I would build a program for agricultural education to be taught in schools. I know that our schools have enough to worry about already, but at some point our students need to learn where food comes from and how it is produced. If we can again have educated food consumers (I believe we did at one time) than agricultural policy and support will probably change for the better.
  5. I would require staff to have a intimate knowledge of life on the farm, not just fiscal principles. I wouldn't go so far as saying that they had to be farmers (I don't want to be closed minded), but I do think it wouldn't be too much to ask that they at least spend some time with farmers and get to know their needs, wants, and desires.
  6. Oh, and one more thing... I would give all of you guys positions in my office so that I would know that I at least had some people willing to think, and think outside of the box!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Busy and Broken Down Update...

Life on the farm has been crazy for the past few weeks (it's been crazy for my blogging also). Between the super cold temperatures, the unseasonably warm temperatures, the time spent driving back and forth from the hospital to visit my friend/pastor, the Christmas season, and everything else going on it seems like we have had little time to come up for air (or consistently make a blog post). So, I just thought I would share "A Busy and Broken Down Update".
  • First of all, thanks for all of you who have been praying for my friend/pastor/boss and his family. He is doing amazingly well and is so far beyond where the doctors thought he would be that it is almost unbelievable ... almost ...
  • Because, of all the time that I spent at the hospital, at work, and in between my wood pile has slowly dwindled over the past three weeks. I have been going out and cutting a couple of hours at a time just to keep enough wood around to get by, but my stack hasn't exactly been growing. But, thanks to a great church friend and his buddy we now have two nice pickup loads of wood! That is a big relief.
  • As I mentioned we have had some extremely cold snaps and even a couple of really warm days over the past few weeks. That is kept us on our toes making sure all the livestock are comfortable and we didn't make it through completely unscathed, but they all have plenty of shelter/water/food. It does seem like there is never enough time though.
  • Because of everything that came crashing down all at once my shed plans kind of came to a grinding halt, but it is still in my mind and I am encouraged to see steel prices making their way down. In fact in a recent Menard's flyer you could get steel for $69 a square. Hopefully we can make a decision in the near future one way or another.
  • Now for the broken down part ... besides my body lately ... As I took the tractor out across the pasture on Friday to cut enough wood to get us through a night I slowly watched my loader bucket drop to the ground and hydraulic fluid stream out of the fitting on the cylinder. It was not what I wanted to see (especially sense this is the second set of cylinders I've had), but I put the tractor in reverse and started backing to the house. Until I ran out of gas! So, I quick hooked up a hay rack to the SUV, cut up couple logs along the fence row, threw a bucket over the tractors muffler and left (we had to get away for Christmas parties). The tractor is still sitting there and I haven't had a chance to look at it yet... Anyone know of a cheap cylinder repair guy in my area :)
  • Oh, and one more thing. On Christmas day my dad brought up one of my round bale feeders to put in with the Dexters. This was a great thing because it makes feeding out the round bales so much easier (and less wasteful). Of course there is only one problem now ... I need a tractor to put in another bale! Hopefully I can get something figured out tomorrow.
Such is life on this beginning farm ... at least for the moment.

Friday, December 26, 2008

What Would You Do?

That is the question that Yeoman posed in the comments of my "A New Secretary" blog post. I think it is a great question ... such a great question in fact that I wanted to move it to the front page so that everyone would be sure to see it. I would love to hear all things, from just a little thought to something that may have been kicking around in your head for awhile. It is one thing to know that there is a problem, but if we can come up with some workable (or even pipe dream) solutions we are better off.

So, here is Yeoman's question:
If you (dear reader, and Ethan) were appointed Ag Sec, what would you do.

We'll presume (a big presumption) actual support from the President, and Congress.

So, if you had the reins of power, in ag, what would you do?
There you have it. The question has been posed and now I'm sure we would all love to hear some thoughts. I'll kick in with mine pretty soon.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Christmas Pony

I can't really come up with anything better than this for Christmas day. I love the story and I love the way Lee Kline tells it. So, here is last years Christmas day post...

In my neck of the woods there is a "50,000 watt blow torch" of a radio station called 1040 WHO. Well, at least that is what their commercials say! You can here this station beyond the boundaries of Iowa and it carries local programming that I can only call, "pure Iowan" (and I say that with pride). One of the shows on that station that I grew up listening to is "The Big Show" which is the 90 minute farm show on from 11:30 AM until 1:00 PM and is hosted by Mark Pearson, Ken Root, and sometimes others ... but, on Friday is the real treat. On Fridays farm broadcaster emeritus, Lee Kline, makes an appearance at the end of the show to tell a story. Mr. Kline has one of those voices that just seems to sooth the soul and his stories often remind us of the days on the farm from years ago.

This past Friday he read a story by Clarence Hill who was a farmer from Minburn, IA. The story, titled "The Christmas Pony", was submitted to Farm Journal Magazine and was printed in December, 1954. It is a great Christmas story that really tugs on the heart. You must click on the title above to hear the story ... or CLICK HERE.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Whew ... We Made It!

Just a quick little update from the farm today, and then I'm off to get things prepared for our Christmas Eve Service. But, I'm glad to report that we have made it ... well I guess if I wanted to be technical I should say that we have almost made it, but the end is in sight. It has been a crazy couple of weekends (and a bit more), but by the grace of God all of us have come through unscathed. And what is this "it" that I'm talking about you ask? Well, I'm talking about...


Here in Iowa, as well as plenty of other places I'm sure, deer season is a pretty popular occasion (especially shotgun season). And, if you drive around the state of Iowa for any amount of time you will realize that it is pretty much needed because we have quite a few deer that like to live the good life and get fat on all of the corn in our fields. But, when they open up the shotgun seasons hunters come out of the woodwork.

Some hunt solo, some hunt in with a buddy, and quite a few like to join up in big ol' groups and tromp through the woods blasting any little deer that moves. Actually I guess I should say that they plant a few guys at one end of the piece of ground their are hunting then everyone else goes to the other end and starts walking though (and making as much noise as possible) to scare the deer towards the waiting shotguns at the other end.

If that is the way people want to hunt, that is perfectly fine ... when I go deer hunting I like to hunker down under a tree near a spot I know they will come, but then again I always miss them when I shoot (I have other excuses ... like the fact I use a flintlock smoothbore). The thing that makes deer season interesting on our farm is that we own a little 40 acre chunk in the middle of a ton of land owned by one guy. This means there is a large group hunting every which way all around us.

I stayed close to home during both the first and second shotgun seasons, except for once when I needed to cut a little wood because I knew some cold was coming. And, like I said we made it safe and sound ... although there were times when it sounded like a battle outside! So, now that everyone is done with their shotguns, I'm going to go and take my somewhat-trusty flintlock fowler out there and sit under a tree (hopefully on a day when it snows).

I don't really care if I get a deer, I just want to experience the relaxation of hanging out in our very own little piece of woods.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A New Secretary

With a new president comes all sorts of new things ... including a new Secretary of Agriculture. And, just this past week we found out that Mr. Obama's choice would be ex-governor Tom Vilsack of my own state (the great state of Iowa). I didn't catch much of the farm news this week, but from what I did hear it seems that they were fairly pleased with the choice if for no other reason than the fact that he is from Iowa and so he would be intimately concerned with the "needs" of today's Iowa farmer. On the other hand, there are plenty of people out there that are less that pleased with the pick.

Michael Pollan said, "a good day for corn. Less good for eaters." And, Allan Nation (editor of The Stockman Grassfarmer) wrote, "This ends the speculation that a 'sustainable ag' candidate might get the nod and the appointment is a major coup for Big Corn and the ethanol industry." In fact you can read more of what Mr. Nation had to say by checking out his blog.

What I know about Mr. Vilsack is that he was a two-term governor in our state who only ran for two terms ... after that he had a short lived run for the presidency. I also know that he actually isn't a native Iowan (he was born in Pittsburgh) and that he spent his time most recently as a lawyer among other things. I do know though that he is probably acutely aware of the workings of big agriculture and the ethanol industry in Iowa and beyond and seems to be a helper in the cause of bio-fuels.

It seems that some of the organic organizations aren't very pleased either because of the way he has reached out to the GMO crowd and the ethanol industry. In fact after a little wiki search I found out that the Organic Consumers Organization (never heard of it) thought that Mr. Vilsack was a poor choice, "particularly as energy and environmental reforms were a key point of the Obama campaign."

If we have any sense of history we know that the Secretary of Agriculture does have a lot of power to shape our country (see Earl Butz) if they are allowed to do so. I'm not quite sure what Mr. Vilsack has in mind, but it should be interesting ... at least he is an Iowan ... well, sort of.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Made in the USA

Wednesday I posed the question to you that Michael Pollan asked in his book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". I think that is a very interesting question and like I said, one that could go many ways, but the way that I like to think about it is this ... what would our country (or any country for that matter) look like without farms?

If we ever got to the point where we imported all of our food (not going to happen, but let us just be hypothetical for the moment) just take a second to think about what the countryside would look like. I bet we would probably see sprawling cities, McMansion's for the wealthy, slum areas for the not wealthy, and lots and lots of pavement. Of course we would still have our "wild areas" that we go and visit to get away from it all, but most Americans probably wouldn't have much connection at all with the land ... and none with the food they eat.

But, go beyond what things would "look" like and think about how an import only food system would effect our society at large. Actually, I don't think we have to do much imagination on this one, just check out how Americans have gone up and down with the price of gas and oil the past few years. If our food was mostly imported just as our fuel is than think of the drastic price swings that could hit everyone.

And one more thing... Think of the basis of this country. Like it or not our country was founded as an agrarian society with strong ties to the land and all that it could produce for the people here and those to come. I really believe that those ties to the farm (or plantation or whatever) that our founding fathers had is one of the many things that drove this country to success. If we just began importing it all ... well, then I think we would be forgetting what got us this far.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Back In the Saddle?

Well, after no post for a few days in a row ... I think God decided it was time that I take a break ... I hope to be back in the saddle again and posting regularly. Despite all of the time I have spent running back and forth to the hospital things have carried on at the farm and I've had to carve out time each day to make sure the chores are done and the livestock are taken care of. All of this takes a bit more time during the joys of an Iowa winter, but thanks to the help of my family we are getting along just fine.

One thing that I have been think a lot about lately is a question that Michael Pollan asks in his book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". He questions, "...why should a nation produce its own food when others can produce it more cheaply?" I thought that was an especially interesting question and one that has answers I believe that effect every part of American culture from defense to social concerns.

Like I said, I'm just beginning to get back in the saddle, so I don't have a lot of time. But, what would your answer to that question be? I'll take some time to expound a little more tomorrow...

**Pastor Jim Update** For those of you thinking of and praying for Pastor Jim and his family I just wanted to let you know that things seem to be going very well. We still have a long road ahead, but the signs are promising and his mind is as sharp as ever it seems. We are praying that he can move into a regular room today and that his blood pressure stabilizes. Thanks for all of your prayers and thoughts!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Only Corn

I just have time for a little mid-afternoon post today, but I heard something that caused me to think on the radio on the way to the hospital today (check the P.S. for an update). What I heard was Ken Root from WHO's "The Big Show" comment that a couple of years ago people were telling him that they didn't want to plant beans ever again. I'm sure this thought process had a lot to do with growing ethanol market (at the time) and the rising corn prices. But, it also has something to do with everything that is involved with the yields and the growing of corn.

Now for the but ... If you plant corn on corn on corn on corn (you get the idea) you are going to have some serious soil nutrient problems. In order to fix the nutrient problem you are going to have to apply a lot of chemicals and what not (again you get the idea). This brings you into a vicious circle that can only be solved by rising grain prices because you can only assume that input costs are going to continue to rise, especially if you use them more and more.

Despite all of the potential problems there are still probably going to be farmers that plant corn on corn this year because there is a possibility for good prices in the future because of dry conditions, debt, and the somewhat stronger position of the dollar compared to a few countries. Ahh, the global market at work! It is an interesting position that we are in right now and even somewhat scary ... what do you think?

Now for the P.S. Today is a good day for Jim (and Laura and the rest of us!). He had the vent removed and has been able to talk a few words and even kiss his wife!!! We have a long ways to go, but today is just a very happy day in the waiting room. In fact we are even talking about the possibility of moving to a different waiting room ... something to look forward to!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

If You Want...

If it is your thing I know we (my pastor's wife and family) would appreciate your prayers. Our pastor (you can check out his picture at the link) suffered a few strokes and they were on both sides of his brain causing bleeding in both sides. He went through a 4 plus hour surgery yesterday and the doctor basically said that, "it went as well as they could have planned". But, there is a long road ahead with concerns of brain swelling and so much more.

I've been around the hospital quite a bit, and have only gone home long enough to catch a few hours of sleep and do the chores. But, I do have some more thoughts after reading a bit more of "The Omnivore's Dilemma". Hopefully I can get this until later today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No Time Today...

Sorry, but today is going to be the first day in a long time that I won't be able to throw up a post of any kind. Yesterday our pastor (I'm the associate pastor if you didn't know) went to the emergency room and ended up in Des Moines with some complications. He seems to be improving slowly, but there still isn't a lot that the doctors know yet about the how's and the why's.

I was up there until early this morning and then I came home for some sleep and to do chores. Now, I'm headed back up before the rush of Wednesday night activities takes over. If it is your thing I'm sure we would all appreciate some prayers for Jim.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

What Do You Want Them to Know?

I think that there are a lot of misconceptions about various jobs. In fact I can't count the number of middle school or high school students that have asked me what exactly I do all week as a "youth pastor". Farming seems to be one of those occupations where misconceptions exist, or even better, people just have a plain lack of knowledge about it. On one hand I could argue that this really isn't that big of a deal because people probably have a lack of knowledge about what a lawyer, doctor, or teacher does. But, on the other hand our entire country used to have a pretty intimate connection to the agricultural world so a lack of connection is a departure for our country.

Let me give you an example of that detachment. My mom teachers 2nd grade in an Iowa "city" of about 60,000 people. This "city" (it is a city by my standards) is the home of "Cattle Congress" and multiple John Deere manufacturing plants. But, when she teaches the "farm" unit to her students and brings in all of my toys it is like she is showing them a foreign world. Not that they should be intimately acquainted with all things agricultural, but these kids in a "city" surrounded by agricultural don't have any connection with the farm.

So, since I'm in the midst of reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and am in the middle of the section where Mr. Pollan spends a week at Polyface Farm I have had one question that keeps running through my mind. If there were just a couple of things that I could let the average food consumer know about farming and where their food comes from what would it be?

Would I want them to know about the care and work that goes into producing high quality food ... would I want to share with them about the difference in production practices that various farms are using across the country ... would I want them understand some of the food/farm policy that drives much of food prices ... what exactly would I want to share with them?

So, I pose the question to you. What are a couple of your main things about our agricultural world that you would like everyone to know?

Monday, December 08, 2008

A Couple of Pictures...

Since our Dexter's were the first piece of the puzzle that we began putting together a few years ago I just wanted to take a second today and let you admire them! This whole thing, which is now Stoneyfield Farm, began because I had high cholesterol and we heard that grassfed beef was a good option. From there I began researching and came across Dexters (good forage converters) and we decided to take the plunge.

At that time taking the plunge included buying one bred heifer and a steer calf. It is also important to point out that at that exact moment we were living in town (a town that doesn't allow chickens) with no real prospect to move to the country, but we knew that it was the direction that we felt like we were being led so we jumped out on the limb. Now, as you can see from the picture above we have gone a little deeper into the Dexter world ... and that is only about 1/3rd of our herd!

Below is a picture of RAD's Victoria. She is the little heifer that started it all for us and I must admit that she is still one of my favorite cows (there is a dun heifer that is my favorite, you can check out a picture of her at my Epi-Log. Victoria also happens to be one of our most photogenic cows, thus the picture of her. I hope to get up some better pictures of Hershey this week, but you have to sneak up on him or he will be right beside you mooing!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Update on an Outbuiding...

I thought I would just take a few moments to give an outbuilding update. If you have been following this blog any over the last couple of weeks you may have seen that we are considering building shed/outbuilding yet this year. We have looked at everything from carports, to carport like barns, to hoop buildings (I just checked on those a couple days ago), and of course a post building. Each one of the options had their upsides and their downsides, but I think we have come to the conclusion that if we are going to build that it is going to be a post frame.

So, I called the same guy that built our house to get a quote. He had one of the best prices when we were searching around for the house and I certainly loved his work. This is what we had him give a quote for:
  • Option #1: 32x24x12 post frame building with trusses and steel on the roof and three sides. The building will have two 16 foot wide bays on the front.
  • Option #2: 32x24x12 post frame building, but with steel only on the roof. It would be framed as if it was going to have steel on the three sides like the first option, but we would put the steel on at a later time.
He came up with the numbers and it appears there is a little more than a $1,500 difference for a building without wall steel. If we are able to swing it that is what we are going to go with, and here are my reasons:
  • First of all, putting the steel on the sides is something I feel comfortable doing and even though it will only be saving a few hundred dollars it will still be money saved.
  • By not having him put steel on the sides, and the back especially, it will be very convenient to add a lean-to off the back next year. Since we went with a 12 foot side wall we can add a nice sized lean-to and still have a 7 or 8 foot sidewall in the lean-to. This would be nice for implements, wagons, or livestock.
  • Even though the building would be wide open to the wind it does give us something under roof for the rest of the winter and we could throw up some wood in one corner or something to keep the snow out.
  • And finally, by going through the same builder that did our house we have the option and choice to match the colors of our building if we want to. I'm not sure if we will, but the option is there.
Now, all we have to do is make sure we have the money to do it! I'll report back to you on that...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Playing Farm...

"It looks like I'm playing farm again, just like when I was a kid ... except this time everything is way more expensive!"
That (or something like that) was my quote to my dad today as we gazed out across seven of our Dexter cows and our herd bull ... on our farm for the first time. What started out as, "We are just going to get a bred heifer and a steer and do a one year experiment", has in a short time (about a year and a half) become a herd that will take three trips to bring here and another trip to bring the equipment. Sometimes I sit back and think it is cool, other times I'm a bit amazed, and sometimes I think about admitting myself to the crazy house... But, all in all I'm very excited that we are beginning the big move and bringing our herd home.

Thanks to a lot of help from my dad we were able to put up the fence we needed (in used cattle panels and old posts that we got from Becca's uncle) earlier this week and then finish up a little today. On Tuesday we pounded posts into wet and mushy snow. Today we pounded a few more posts into dry and blowing snow, but thankfully the snow has acted as insulation and the ground was still very soft underneath.

It was nice watching them all come out of the trailer and check out their new digs ... even though they are a little small. It will be a good area to feed them over the winter and a nice sacrificial area that we can allow to get torn up a bit in all of the freezing and thawing of a Southern Iowa winter.

Now my son and I will have a few more chores to do in the morning, but I think he is just as excited as I am!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Looking to Upgrade My Saw

It is time again for me to appeal to all those great minds that read this little ol' blog. In the past whenever I have been thinking about getting something or doing something the input and feedback I have received has been tremendous, so I thought I would just throw it out there again. This time I'm looking to upgrade my chainsaw. Since we heat our house almost completely with wood this is a very important farm tool and I would like something that will get the job done, last, and of course it has to be something that I can afford.

Currently I have a Stihl 009L, like the one pictured above, that I picked up at an auction. The price was right and I knew I needed one so I jumped on it. This particular saw has a 40.8 cc engine with a 14 inch bar and seems to get pretty good reviews by the tree trimming guys. In fact it has worked alright for me cutting up firewood so far, but I know this is a saw that is meant for limbing and not felling trees or cutting lots of firewood.

Here are what I believe are some of my needs:
  • Mostly I am cutting dead wood that is still standing with the ocassional downed tree depending on its state of rot. I would say the biggest tree I have cut so far was about a 10 inch diameter, but I know there are bigger ones to be had.
  • I'm going to keep my 009L around, but I wouldn't be opposed to trading it in if I could find a place to do that. With that in mind I would like a saw that I can use in lots of different applications
  • I want a saw that is easy enough to handle with good balance.
  • I want a quality saw that can take some serious use in the fall and winter.
Those are just a few of the things that I thought would matter in my search. As far as brands go, I have researched Stihl (that is what my dad has had for 20 years ... one saw), Husqvarna, and Echo. The only dealer that we have in our town is Stihl, but I do know of a Husqvarna dealer close by and an Echo dealer that isn't too far when it comes to service issues.

I have to admit that I'm very impressed with my little 009L. It starts up in two or three pulls and now that I have a new bar it cuts nicely. As I mentioned my dad has been using the same Stihl for over twenty years now and it is still going strong. His saw has been dropped, left in the rain, and run over by a truck. But, it has only been in the repair shop a couple of times and has cut a lot of firewood for the house.

What do you guys think? Are the Stihls of today as long lasting and tough as my dad's old 02-something and my 009L? Are there any other particular brands or models to check out? Any other great chainsaw shopping advice?

Thanks a ton for any help.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Firewood and a Follow-up

Some times I write my posts the night before so that I can get them up early. Sometimes I write the in the morning because I don't have time the night before. But, today is one of those situations where I didn't have time last night (because we were putting up fence) and I don't have a ton of time today (because I need to go cut firewood). But, I will say that it is a perfect day to cut firewood ... it is a bit windy, but the snow is falling and that is my favorite time to be in the woods.

Before I head out though, I wanted to take a few seconds and follow-up on yesterdays post regarding Allan Nation's wheat cost/price blog post. If you haven't had a chance yet I encourage you to check out the comments because there was a lot of good discussion in there. Including some evidence that the numbers might be off a bit from the real world ... or at least some peoples real world.

The most interesting thing I gleaned from the comments though was a great realization of how much the system has changed. It was mentioned a few times in the comments about different crop/livestock rotations that farmers use or have used in the past, but I know in Iowa those have mostly left. What I'm not sure of is the system of corn and bean buying only lead to them leaving or if it was the other way around.

For example, many farmers here in Iowa (even in the best black dirt central Iowa land) used to have a good rotation of alfalfa, beans, corn, and maybe even some wheat or oats. Many of those same farms had cattle also and they would graze their corn fields after harvest or rotate to a pasture now and then. Things have changed now. Most farms rotate every other year between corn and soybeans (and nothing else). They have moved the cattle off the farm so they no longer winter graze their corn fields (plus, they have taken down a lot of the fences so they could plant a few more rows).

We have gotten to the place that if a farmer wanted to raise and alternative crop (anything besides corn and beans) they might have to drive a ways to sell their crop. This makes crop diversification very difficult, and I'm not sure how this sort of system would even be fixed...

Anyways, just a few thoughts from yesterdays post. Thanks so much for the great discussion! Now, I'm off to the woods...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Are the Wheels Falling Off

This morning as I was searching around some of the websites that I like to read for good blogging fodder I found a November, 21 blog post by Allan Nation (on his blog). The post was titled, "A Wylie Coyote Moment In the Wheat Belt" and you can read it by taking the link above and scrolling down a little bit. The thrust of the article is about the falling wheat prices, but Mr. Nation can't resist a little prophecy about the corn market. Here are a few especially interesting quotes from the post.
"Currently, the input costs to grow this winter’s wheat crop are estimated to be around $6.00 a bushel, but elevators are only offering $3.17 for it. This apparent sure loss has not slowed America’s wheat farmers as they start to plant this year’s crop."

"According to one Oklahoma banker, growing this year’s crop will probably make them poor. He estimates that half of the net worth of his current farmer customers will be lost in 2009."

"Watch for a Farm Bailout bill in 2010."
Since in am ignorant in the growing of wheat I was wondering if someone could enlighten me on the "hows and whys" of wheat costing $6.00 a bushel of input costs. I'm not disagreeing with the number, I just don't know what goes into a wheat crop like I do corn or soybeans. But, one thing is for sure, I do understand why the wheat farmers are continuing to plant wheat even when the prices are so low ... because that is what they have been told to do and that is the only agricultural system they know.

I assume that many of the wheat farms are large scale mono-crop type operations and they probably are tooled up enough to just switch operations on the fly. Because of that they just plant wheat and some may even plant more ... because that is what our government wants.

As for corn having the same fate and the 2010 Farm Bailout Bill ... Well, I'm not sure what will happen with corn, but I do know that corn closed at $3.32 yesterday which is darn close to the break even point. As for a farm bailout ... what more could they do that they don't already do in the 2008 Food Stamp ...err... Farm Bill?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Just Had to Share This Picture

This is what our farm looks like now. Not exactly what I had planned because it does slow things down a bit, but what are you going to do. The most surprising thing actually is that I had no idea that we would receive so much snow! When we lived in town, and had high speed internet, I was constantly checking the whether reports and radars. On top of that I usually at least caught some television weather. But, now that we live out in the boonies with slow internet and no TV I was kind of surprised when I woke up Sunday morning.

Being surprised by the weather isn't a completely bad thing though. It would have been nice to have a little more preparation done, but on the other hand I think it is good to flow with what the weather decides to give us from time to time. I know one thing for sure, it will slow my outside work down a little bit for some time, but that will just give me more time to work inside.

I do hope it melts and dries out though...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Farm Update

I hope everyone is enjoying their Thanksgiving weekends and focusing on the THANKS as much as possible. We are keeping busy with visits from friends and a party for our newly three-year-old daughter, but there is plenty of work still going on at the farm. Since I haven't done a farm update in a quite awhile I decided to take just a few moments and paint a picture of what is happening.
  • Inside the house we have been living with the floor down in most of the main living area. But, that all changed this week as we took three evenings (after the kids went to bed) and finished up the main area. Now we just have one bedroom, part of the hall, and a couple of closets left. It wouldn't take that long to finish except for the fact that we have to move a lot of boxes out of the way to get to the areas that need to be done.
  • I'm continuing to work on "project clean up the farm" (or whatever I'm calling it at the time) and have been sorting through the wood to see what I can burn inside, what I can use again, and what will just get thrown on the burn pile. Since the birth of our new little boy I haven't had a chance to empty the "trash" trailer, but I should be able to carve out a time this week.
  • I've mentioned in the past that I was helping out a neighbor with his harvest and I did buy a wagon full of ear corn from him. I'm going to pick it up today (if all goes well). I'm pretty sure the animals will appreciate this.
  • Cutting firewood (and splitting it) has been a chore that I've down a couple of times each week since we put in the stove. I really enjoy doing this and checking out different parts of the farm. I have purposefully been working as far from the house as possible because that is the area that I see the least.
  • The pigs are fat ... and ready to be butchered ... if you want one shoot me an
  • We still don't have our Dexter herd here, but we did make a step in the right direction by finally going over to get some of the cattle panels that I purchased. I think we are going to end up making a fairly big cattle panel lot for our cows this year so we can feed the hay that we baled on our place. It isn't ideal, but with so much else to do the fence just isn't getting done yet.
  • I think we are beginning to lean towards the pole building idea. I have asked the guy that built our house to put a bid together for a 24 x 40 foot building. It would be open all the way across on one of the long sides and have two 20 foot bays. He is going to quote me for the entire project (steel all the way around) and for what it would cost if it just had steel on the roof. I'm guessing we'll go with just steel on the roof this year and make do if we go ahead with the project.
Things are busy and we really are still kind of in the construction stage so that slows things down a bit, but I really love our life out here and wouldn't trade all the little troubles that go with carving a farm out of the top of a hill for anything! Thanks again for sharing so much great advice and encouragement for the course of this blog ... everyone has been a huge help.

Friday, November 28, 2008

More Thoughts On "The Ominvore's Dilemma"

Since this is such a late post today ... and probably a short post ... I thought I would just take a few seconds to share some more thoughts from my reading of Michael Pollan's book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". I am about half way through right now and and reading through his chapters about his time at Joel Salatins Polyface Farm. It is pretty interesting to see his take on Polyface and the way Mr. Salatin farms.
  • Mr. Pollan's investigation and writing about current industrial farms was very interesting. I feel like he was conflicted, just like the folks he interviewed, on whether or not industrial organic agriculture was a departure from the ideals of organic. My simple assessment ... money does have a way of changing things!
  • I have never been in a Whole Foods, but after reading about them in this book and online at the Epi-Log I'm pretty interested to check one out. Seeing organic microwaveable food is something I just have to check out. But, if what Mr. Pollan writes is true they have industrialized just as much as the industrial organic farms.
  • Mr. Salatin is a pretty cool farmer ... but, I wonder if he tells the same stories over and over and over! The quotes from this book are the same as I've heard him say in speeches, interviews, and his own books. This isn't a judgment on him ... rather just an observation that I have heard or read him a lot!
  • This book is a pretty good read, but I'm glad I started out reading a lot of more practical application books that contained a little philosophy. While this book does a good job of painting the overall picture I really appreciate being able to look at it somewhat objectively ... at least I hope that is the way I can look at it.
So, there are just a few thoughts on "The Omnivore's Dilemma" ... sorry for the late post, but we are having a great Thanksgiving Weekend!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

Last year I took some time on Thanksgiving Day to write out some of the things that I'm thankful for. Since that time a lot has changed in our lives and I pray that my thankfulness has grown because God has continually showered our family with blessings. One year ago a farm of our own was still a dream ... no it is a dream in progress and I thank God everyday for the way that he has led our family. Here is are a few of the things that I'm thankful for this year. Also, don't forget to read George Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation.
  • I am thankful for my Savior and Creator who continually reminds me of his power and majesty through all that he has made.
  • I am thankful for my wife who is always there for me and supports me along all the crazy paths life takes us. Her love is an overflow of God's love and her help and prayers truly are a blessing to me.
  • I am thankful for our new baby boy, his big brother, and of course his big sister. Those three are an amazing blessing to our family and add the joy of the Lord to our lives.
  • I am thankful for our church and the ministry that I am able to be a part of there. For the people who have brought us in as part of their family for over four years now and the help that they are always giving us (remember, if it wasn't for them I'm not sure if we would even have all the walls up yet!).
  • I am thankful for the little slice of land that God has brought us to and the stewardship for it that he has laid on our hearts. The beauty of the hills, trees, wildlife, and silence all give me a greater appreciation for the wonders of this creation.
  • I am thankful for pigs, chickens, and little Dexter cows/bulls/steers! This past year we have watched our herds grow and expand and we have learned a lot (with much more to learn). It is such a privilege to be able to raise such great food and all of the experiences that go along with that.
  • I am thankful for our friends who have helped us build, move, learn, and so much more. True community is a special thing. I love seeing the community of Christ come together.
  • I am thankful for a country that allows me to worship my God and be so blessed. I pray that his hand works in my life and the lives of others so that people around the world can know the joy of this blessing.
  • And, I am thankful for the hopes and dreams that God has laid on our family's heart. He continues to open doors and move us in His direction ... I pray that we will always be open to his leading.
I pray that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving wherever you are and that you take some time to reflect on the blessings in your life!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Birthday Little Girl...

Deciding to farm for us was about more than just food and land, it was also about our family and the life we want them to have. So, today I just wanted to take a second and say "Happy Birthday" to my little girl who is turning three! In fact I can really see the farm starting to grow on her because for quite awhile now she has emphatically said that she wants her cake to have a cow, a pig, and a chicken ... so that is what she is going to have.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I will share a more about what I'm thankful for then. But, today I am thankful for my little girl. For the joy she brings my heart as she bounces around like only a little girl can. For the smile she has as she sits on the tractor and pretends to drive. For the funny faces that she makes. For you cute little size that just makes you want to pick her up and give her a hug. And, for the way that she shows the love of God to our family every day.

So, there you go ... Happy Birthday Little Girl!

P.S. I do realize this picture has nothing to do with my daughters birthday, but I really liked it so I thought I would throw it up. You can check out my Epi-Log later today for a little more back story.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Something to Shoot For...

As I spent yesterday afternoon hauling wagons of ear corn and loading them in to the corn crib for our neighbor/friend/church member I got to thinking about feed. More specifically I was thinking about how nice it would be to be able to grow our own livestock feed. Of course we don't have nearly enough land to do that right now, but I do think it is something that I would like to look at in the future.

There are a couple of different ways to look at the feed question. One angle is that it doesn't pay to raise your own feed because someone else who has the equipment and is specialized can do it at a lower cost and more efficiently. Also, having the equipment and maintaining it can also be a drain on time and money. One the other hand though I can see quite a few benefits to raising our own feed (by the way, I'm pretty much talking about pig and chicken feed).

If we were able to raise everything here on our farm we would have complete control of what our animals are being fed. In fact, we would know that from the time they were born on the farm until they needed to move on what it was they ate. Also, I could see it as a good thing because we would be keeping all of the nutrients here on the farm ... in a sort of cyclical way. Having that kind of control would be a good thing I believe for both us and any customers.

But, I do see the time/machinery argument. I think the key would be to have a 1950's line of equipment. For example, the guy that I was helping out yesterday used a small line of equipment that included a four row planter and a two row picker. This is the same equipment that he has been using (except for the fact that he started with a one row picker) for the past 30 plus years. In that time he had a milking herd and beef cattle, but did everything he needed to do with a older and smaller line of equipment. Maybe he would have liked to upgrade with the times, but he realized he didn't need to.

What do you think? I know there are many holes in my "dream", but it was just something that was on my mind as I was driving and unloading...

Monday, November 24, 2008

"The Ominvore's Dilemma"

As I may have mentioned recently, in a comment or something, I have begun to work my way through Michael Pollan's, "The Ominvore's Dilemma". I had read many articles by Mr. Pollan (including the "Farmer in Chief" piece), listened to videos, and read various other things by him and about him. But, this is the first time that I have attempted to tackle his most popular piece of writing. When I'm reading some books I like to do a little "book report" after each chapter, but with this bad boy I thought I would just throw out some thoughts from time to time. If you have read the book I would also love to hear what you conclusions were!
  • Mr. Pollan is an evolutionist. There is no doubt about it and it is evident about every other page. I am not an evolutionist and I get kind of tired of reading "this evolved" and "that evolved". I feel like if things evolved one way than they might as well just evolve to the industrial agricultural model, but I don't really want to debate evolution ... plus, he is entitled to his opinion just as I am. One thing though, I can really see the work of creation through much of what Mr. Pollan writes.
  • I always find it interesting to hear the thoughts of an Iowa farmer. It seems liket he guy that Mr. Pollan intervied and spent time with is cut from the same cloth as the farmer that was featured some in "King Corn". But, I know that not all Iowa farmers think like George Naylor ... at least I think so. Mr. Naylor (along with Mr. Pollan) make it seem like corn is grown because to change would be too difficult ... I guess that may make some sense.
  • Just like many others that read this book I am continually surprised at how much stuff corn finds a home in. They always say on "The Big Show" (WHO Radio) that Iowa farmers are feeding the world ... and that truly is the case, but not in the way that some would like to believe. They are doing it through super-duper processed corn, not the idealistic way that it is sometimes portrayed.
  • This is the first time that I have heard about the Federal Granery and the New Deal agricultural policies. I must admit that my ultra-conservative upbringing, leanings, and beliefs makes me cringe at the metion of New Deal projects, but it is an interesting thing that I would love to learn more about. I think understanding the agricultural policy history of our country will help me have better picture of what I understand today. Any thoughts on this subject...
  • Finally, I would be interested to read/hear some contrasting views. I think it would be cool to have a debate between Mr. Pollan and an big agriculture proponent. I have heard some Iowans speak of Mr. Pollan almost as a curse word, but it is always good to hear both sides of the story. I do appreciate the research that Mr. Pollan offers up though!
Remember, if you have read the book I would love to hear what you think!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

One Little Regret...

When ever you have a building project you are go to second guess yourself every now and again. You know, little things like, "should I have put that wall there" or "how is this layout going to work now". On our farm there have been times that we second guessed ourselves, but I believe for the most part we wouldn't change much and I know we are completely happy with what we have ... and are in the process of finishing.

With all of that said though ... I do have one little regret. One little thing that I wish I could go back in time and change, even though in order to change the one little thing it would have taken a few more steps. What is that little thing you ask?

A Construction Dumpster!!!

When we began our building project and the post frame guys came out to put up the house, we didn't even have a rock drive. Part of the reason for no drive was just because we didn't get on top of it, but also we were didn't really want to trash it right away with big cement trucks and other huge delivery vehicles. Since we had no drive or parking area we had no place for a truck to come and drop off a construction dumpster. In hindsight we probably should have put in a drive.

What started out as a small pile of mostly wood and a little steel from the builders grew over time until it actually became two separate garbage piles on either side of the house ... all because we didn't have a dumpster. And as if the piles weren't bad enough there is one little thing to add to the mess. We live on a hill, and it has been pretty windy this fall! So, now we have two huge trash piles of wood, steel, drywall, flooring, general trash, insulation, and so much more ... that have begun to blow around the farm and get caught in the tall grass (of which we have plenty).

But, I'm beginning to take care of the problem with my "Operation Take Out the Trash". On Tuesday (before we went to the hospital to have a baby) I filled the livestock hauling wagon with as much garbage as possible and separated all the wood and other burnable things. Now we plan on bring in one or two little dumpsters to fill-up with the light stuff (insulation, plastic, etc.) and I will probably fill up the wagon again after a trip to the landfill.

Basically, I want to get the outside cleaned up so before everything is covered with snow and ice. Then I can concentrate on the big projects inside...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Really, This Does Have Something to Do With Farming...

"A saw a few minutes of news last night while dining at the mall to celebrate my niece’s half birthday. (God forbid a television not be on at all times in all places.) A smart looking guy in a suit used the words “economic crisis” more times a minute than a thirteen year-old says “like.”
That was the opening paragraph of Shaun Groves' (musician/Christian/blogger) blog post the other day. He is pretty much spot on in the assessment that people are saying "economic crisis" a lot these days, in fact I have even found myself writing about the past few days. But, it is what he had to say after that opening paragraph that really got me thinking about the farm ... our farm in particular.
We, we’re told, are having some major financial problems ... But iPhones are selling like, um, iPhones. And so are Apple computers - now accounting for 25% of all money spent on computers in the U.S. And they aren’t cheap. I know. I’m using one right now.

And most of us - wouldn’t you say? - are still buying soft drinks, snack food, texting plans, cable, vitamin water, and lots of other stuff that’s hardly essential too. We’re not exactly living like people in the midst of an “economic crisis.”
Mr. Groves also linked to the blog of Seth Godin, who is some sort of marketing guy that I've never heard of.
Marketers taught well-fed consumers to want to eat more than we needed, and consumers responded by spending more and getting fat in the process.

"Marketers taught to us amplify our wants, since needs aren’t a particularly profitable niche for them. Isn't it interesting that we don't even have a word for these marketing-induced non-needs? No word for sold-hungry or sold-lonely...

Thirsty? Well, Coke doesn’t satisfy thirst nearly as well as water does. What Coke does do is satisfy our need for connection or sugar or brand fun or consumption or Americana or remembering summer days by the creek...

People don’t need Twitter or an SUV or a purse from Coach. We don’t need much of anything, actually, but we want a lot. Truly successful industries align their ‘wants’ with basic needs (like hunger) and consumers (that’s us) cooperate all day long."
There is a lot of truth in what Mr. Groves and Mr. Godin both say. Each has a little different take on the subject (and in truth the "economic crisis"), but I believe both are relevant to farming ... especially beginning farming.

First of all both bloggers, and especially Mr. Godin, do a good job of explaining what we Americans are really like. We really have done a good job of transforming things into need that really are wants all along (television, cable, pop/soda, name brand stuff, pre-packaged foods, etc.) and so when we hit what may or may not be tough times in the economy and we begin to cut back on the "wants" there really is a lot more that we could cut back on. As I have mentioned before I experience that often in the ministry.

But, these shift of things from wants to needs has also be a part of the changing face of agriculture. Since the time that our society began creating and marketing the "cool" things I think we may have seen a decline in the amount of money we are willing to pay for the needs. What I mean is this ... take food ... it is pretty darn near the top of the needs category, yet no matter how important it is to our lives we don't really want the price of food to get in the way of the cool things we want. So, we have created a system that makes food really cheap ... but not really good for us.

Why else did it make me think of farming, or more specifically our farm? Well, because the things that Mr. Groves is talking about are the things that will make or break our farm (because we are starting with nothing). As we begin our farm, and as followers of Christ we seek to live Christ-like lives, it is important for us to live like we are in an "economic crisis". Not that we are fearful of the world around us, because really there is no reason to fear, but rather because it is all about good stewardship.

We desire to be good stewards of the livestock and land that we have, well than we should also be good stewards of the "stuff" that we have. We need to make sure that we are taking care of the needs and then look for ways to cut down on the wants. Just as good land stewardship is good for our farm and those who live around us, good life stewardship is good for those who live around us and beyond.

I really do encourage you to check out both of the blog posts that I have mentioned today. I found them very thought provoking and even encouraging. Oh, and one more thing ... if you want to see an "economic crisis" don't look here in the United States. Even in times of "economic greatness" there will always be those facing a "economic crisis" of some sort here in the U.S. But, if you really want to see what "economic crisis" is we need to look beyond our own borders ... that is just my opinion though and my opinion, so you can take out of it whatever you would like.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Alway Can Use More Help...

With all the work that needs to be done around our place I can always use a couple of extra hands. That is why I'm so excited to announce that we are the proud parents of a new baby boy, Isaac Daniel! He was born Tuesday night without many problems and we are planning on going home today. My wife did a great job as always and is recovering very well ... she is a great mom.

So, now I will have another set of hands to help me with chores and follow me around the farm ... and I have to admit that I'm really looking forward to it! More to come later...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Good Time to Be a Beginning Farmer...

I do believe that it is a good time to be a beginning farmer, but I actually want to take it one step further. I think now is a great time to be a small-scale diversified crop/livestock beginning farmer (or veteran farmer). I have mentioned before that I'm not real big into letting myself fall into the trap of an "economic downturn", but on the other hand if everyone wants to have one than I may not have a choice. That is why I think it is such a great time to be a diversified farmer. Here is why I think that...

Lately I have enjoyed checking, not because I have any vested interest in the stock market, but rather because I love watching the price of oil fall (it is down to $53.92 as I type, but I'm sure it will change). Since I have been checking the oil every so often I have also checked out some of the articles on the page. One such article I read was this one, "We'll Be in Great Depression 2 by 2011". I can't really comment at all on any of the things that Mr. Paul B. Farrell has to say, nor do I really want to, but his article does make me appreciate the farm.

As I have read through American history of the Great Depression (especially Iowa's part in it) and seen documentaries like, "The People in the Pictures: Stories from the Wettach Farm Photos" I am constantly reminded that the depression altough still painful for many farm families wasn't nearly as bad as it was for others. In fact many of the Iowa farm children of the depression era talk about how they didn't really even know there was a "financial crisis" (to use today's term).

Why were the effects of the depression lessened for those on the farm? Because they had the bounty of the farm to provide for their families! Of couse the same wouldn't be true for all of today's farm that have moved to the industrial specialization side of agriculture, but for the diversified farms...

Today's diversifed farms (like ours is working towards) would be able to supply the family with beef, pork, produce from the garden, eggs, fruit, and even milk if they needed to. So, even if it may be a bad time to start a farm from an "economic crisis" point of view, at least we will have some food to eat if it does become Depression 2. But, I'm not saying that it will...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

At the Neighbor's Farm...

Last week I received a call from one of the guys at our church who lives out on a farm. He told me that he need to clean out his wire corn crib and was wondering if I wanted the ear corn that was still left in it. Of course whenever there is the potential for free feed I'm interested so I jumped on the opportunity. Well, yesterday it was finely dry enough for me to go over and get the corn so I hooked up the barge box wagon to the back of the truck and headed over.

I'm very glad that I was able to go over and get that corn because it will be nice to have, but also for a few other reasons that are less about the feed. First of all it was nice to be able to lend a hand to a friend, brother in Christ, and neighbor. They actually live on the same road as we do, except our two portions of the road are not connected! I didn't save him a ton of work, but it was nice to be able to spare a couple hours in the morning to help get the job done more quickly.

The other great thing about helping out was that I was able to hear some great history. The farm that this family lives on has been in the "home place" for over 150 years now. His great-grandparents moved out from Pennsylvania in 1854 (or 56, I can't remember exactly) and had a land grant of 160 acres. That first year they built a log cabin and would soon after build a L-shaped house because they needed the room for their 13 children. When they arrived much of the land was wooded and they cleared out what they needed as they needed it. He also mentioned that his grandmother would tell them about the Indians in the area that would take clothes from the laundry line!

Around 1917 they built another house, which is the one that stands today, and moved into it (I'm not sure if someone continued to live in the original house). And now, over 150 years later this same land is still being farmed by the same family. Not farmed on a large-scale by any means, but they do raise some cattle and this year he planted 20 acres of corn (the reason the bin needed to be cleaned out).

Today he is planning on picking corn with his two row New Idea picker. If I can't free up some time and get a new belt for the power steering pump on my tractor I would love to go help out by pulling some wagons for him. I have a feeling that there is a lot to be learned over at that farm ... including some more history.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Art of The Woodstove

One of the things that I love about being a beginning farmer is that so much of what I'm learning and doing is an art. That doesn't mean that I'm always successful or that I get everything done the way I would like it to be done, but I do appreciate the fact that our farm life is so much more than a bunch of ordered steps. In my case I have experienced and grown up around much of what we are doing, but never have been the "one" doing everything. I would just lend a hand here or there and often observe. Now, I am having to learn how to be the artist...

Case in point. Burning wood in a woodstove is an art. You might as well just throw away that instruction manual or better yet, just use it to start a fire (just kidding). But, really it is an art form to get a good burning fire in a stove. Each stove is different, each home is different, each chimney is different, and even every log is different. You must learn how to make all of those pieces come together to make the picture.

I am slowly learning our stove and the wood. Getting a good hot burn with the stove full open is easy, but finding that perfect long burn position is taking some getting used to (and the manual was worthless for this). Nevertheless it is in the low thirties outside right now and really windy, but in our house it is 73 degrees and rising! I will admit that there is a great sense of satisfaction in knowing our house, that was built by a community of our friends and us, is being heated by the wood I cut this afternoon on our farm!

Hopefully at some point very late in my life I will be an accomplished artist that can pass on a little bit, but for now I'm enjoying learning the art from those around me.

**P.S. Our walls aren't yellow ... they just look that way in the picture.**

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Looking for Some Reading Suggestions...

It's a Saturday, and a very busy Saturday at that (it's the annual Harvest Dinner at church)! So, I thought I would just take a second today to pop in and throw out a request. If you read yesterdays post (and others about "Harris on the Pig") you will know that I'm just love that book and the fact that it is book that was written over one hundred years ago. So, with Christmas coming soon and my families looking for list ideas I was wondering if anyone knows of any good agricultural books that I should check out. Something from at least the 18th or 19th century.

Also, thanks for the responses from yesterdays post about feeding boiled feeds to pigs. If you haven't yet, you should check out that link that Rich posted. Not quite as old as the book by Mr. Harris, but it looked like some interesting reading if that is your kind of thing.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Who Knows About Pig Feed?

I am just about done reading through, "Harris on the Pig" and I have to say that it has been quite the read. The depth and detail of the study of different breeds, raising techniques, on farm research, and even more has been very enjoyable. Plus, you have to add in the fact that this is good historical knowledge that that has been tested over time (not saying we need to go back to all of it). What I'm trying to say is that it is a good book for the small-scale pig farmer. It may not have all the practical applications of other books, but the tidbits that you can glean are pretty cool.

But, there has been one thing that has been running though my mind as I read through this book. Often the book talks about boiling or cooking the feed. In fact in the chapter about piggeries and pig pens almost all of the buildings included a boiler. I know that boiling the swill/house waste is was a practice used to kill germs and what not, but that is not the only application Joseph Harris talks about.

The book also mentions many different times about boiling the feed, whether it been peas or oats or corn or what ever. I understand how they would do it, but I am wondering why the would do it? Can anyone enlighten me on the story behind this and if there are many people doing it today? I would love to hear about it!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Are Pigs That Smart?

Here is a lighthearted post after yesterdays "thinker". I ran across this neat little video blog over at the Sustainable Farm website. It doesn't really have a ton of practical application other than proving the point that pigs are pretty smart and can take care of themselves when give the opportunity. Although I'm not quite ready to place the intelligence of a pig over myself...

For those of you with slow internet (like myself). This is a two-minute video that took about 4 or 5 minutes to load on my computer. I just paused it and then let it load.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oprah, Starving Families, Chickens, and California's Prop 2

When my in-laws were here this past weekend they dropped off another supply of back issues of the "Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman". As usual I began skimming through them from the oldest to the most recent (I especially enjoy reading the old long range weather forecasts and seeing how they fare). In the October 29th issue there was an especially interesting editorial from Laurie Johns of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. She was writing about Oprah, the California Proposition 2 legislation (which passed), food. Since you can't view this article online I'll pull out a few interesting quotes.
"The world's population: 6.7 billion. The number of hungry people in our world today: 923 million. Oprah's daily audience for her TV talk show: 7 million. What it would mean for Oprah to realize that starving children are more important than chickens: priceless."

"Oprah is utterly under the spell of the charismatic, Armani-suit, blow-dry-hairdo-wearing Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) spokesman Wayne Pacelle."

"While Oprah opined plenty about the feelings of chickens, she thought little about the hungry children who seem to be growing in numbers. Look no further than your local food bank to see the need; foreclosures, job losses and a tough economy have tripled and quadrupled the demand at food banks across the nation."

"The simple truth is: Iowa livestock farmers care about their chickens, hogs, cattle, and livestock"

"Pacelle claims he can look in the eye of a chicken and know what it is feeling. I would suggest he visit a local food bank and look in the eye of a hungry child whose mother was turned away because their shelves are bare. Her food stamps can barely cover a meal a day for her family, much less "cage-free" eggs. Choices are hard. Times are tough. Families struggling to make ends meet need food on the table, not politics shoved down their throats."
So, there you go ... those are the highlights from the article. Now, here are my thoughts:

-First of all I don't really care for Oprah and here "religion" or whatever she is about for the moment so please do not take anything I say as a defense of her.

-Secondly, how many of the 923 million hungry people in the world today live in the United States? I'm not trying to be critical, I am just curious about that statistic because I believe that the people in the United States have it pretty good compared to some places...

-Also, what is with the crack on the blow dryer? When I was in grade school all the way through Jr. High I had a blow-dry-hairdo! Does that make me a bad person :)

-Okay, now for the real stuff. If you haven't heard of Prop 2 yet, then check out the link to read all about it. Basically it says that chickens, sows, and veal calves need to be able to stand up and turn around (that is a very simplistic explanation). I am not really sure where I come down on this issue. On one hand I don't really mind the spirit of the law, but on the other hand my political nature mostly opposes silly governmental regulation. I do not think it is a bad thing for a chicken to be able to get up and move around a little bit, but that would change the way factory farming is done ... at least until they find a loop-hole.

-Each side likes to take shots at each other on this issue and I think both are crossing the line a little bit from time to time. I do understand that the lines may be growing at food banks, but I also heard today that in Iowa (I realize this is localized, but the editorial is also in an Iowa publication) giving is actually increasing at local food banks. I guess that the people are realizing there is a need and they are responding. I will tell you one thing, I like that a whole lot more than I like more food stamp funding in the FARM BILL!

-I do not disagree that Iowa livestock farmers care about their livestock. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I don't know of any.

-And lastly... I really do agree with that last quote that I posted above. Families don't need politics shoved down their throats. But, I hope that goes both ways. Just as the large farms don't want government regulations holding them back the small farms or sustainable farms or local farms (whatever you want to call it) should be free to do business as they desire and let the customers decide. Again, I don't know where I fall on everything, but there are plenty of people out there that don't want agricultural subsidy politics shoved down their throat. Or maybe they don't want corn-based ethanol politics shoved down their throat. Or maybe they don't want a confinement building opening up next door politics shoved down their throat.

I totally agree. A human is WAY more important that a chicken! Although I would also argue that a Gospel for Asia chicken is pretty important to a human life ... maybe even more important than egg factory legislation in California?

So, read those quotes and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Life on the Farm: Really Fast, But Still Slow

**How funny ... on a day when I was talking about how really fast life on the farm is, but still slow I scheduled the wrong day to make this post! I actually wrote this Monday night and then scheduled it for what I thought was Tuesday ... the 12th ... I guess I'm just a day ahead this week. Anyways, sorry for the super late post.**

Now that we have owned the farm for over half-a-year, been building since the summer, and have now actually lived here for about three weeks I have an observation. Life on Stoneyfield Farm is plenty fast, but actually slow. By fast I mean that we seem to be doing a lot of stuff whether it is working on the house, working with the livestock, planning for what we are going to do next, cutting wood, or even catching up on church work. And by slow I just mean the general feeling of life. But, let me break it down a little more...

When we lived in town and my office/youth center was connected to our house it was pretty difficult to get that "separation" from work feeling. I would pop back and forth between work and home all throughout the day and even into the evening from time to time. It seemed like I could never get away (although it is hard to completely get away in ministry). Plus, there was just a general dissatisfaction rumbling around in my brain because of where we were living.

Don't get me wrong we were blessed to live in the house and I really do believe that God set it all up because when we moved here we would have never been able to buy and build a farm and the church wasn't really at a place to have the youth center at the church building itself. So, it was great for beginnings. The beginnings of our family in Knoxville and the beginnings of our youth ministry at NCC.

But, now that I am going on with my fifth year here and we are expanding our ministries at church it really did seem like it made sense to move the youth to the church and move the family to the country ... we really wanted to be in the country, and God opened the doors in His timing.

Anyways, back to the fast but slow stuff. Our life is still plenty busy with church, youth group, activity day, school events, and now the added time of driving to town. But, even with everything that is going on it still seems like life has slowed down a little bit. I think it is because I (and we) can change gears from time to time which brings some refreshment back to my life.

I love the fact that I can put in a good days work at the church planning events, working on messages and studies, and meeting with students. But, after all of that is done I can come home and feed the pigs, cut firewood, or do any number of chores. Even the work on the farm is still work it is a change of pace and I think it helps keep me fresh on all fronts.

So, there is my simple observation ... life on the farm is really fast, but still slow. Of course it probably helps that we haven't hooked up the T.V. and the fact that we have slower internet keeps us off the computer a bit more.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Some Agricultural History For You...

Since tomorrow is Veterans Day (or Armistice Day) I thought I would post this interesting article from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Mostly they talk about the duck hunters who lost their lives in the awful Armistice Day Storm of 1940, but they also mention the huge impact the storm had on farm life. I can't even begin to imagine what this would have been like! So, enjoy this interesting article.
By Lowell Washburn
Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Imagine this. A powerful fall weather system had just topped the Rocky Mountains and was careening eastward toward the Mississippi river. At the same time, a huge Canadian cold air mass was sliding down from the north, while warm moist air pulled up from the south. Call it a Weather Bomb, Widow Maker, Perfect Storm, whatever. Any way you looked at it, the atmospheric brew spelled trouble for the Heartland.

But no one was looking. The year was 1940. Primitive by contemporary standards, professional weather forecasting was something that most folks put little stock in. In fact, according to the National Weather Service’s own data, no one was even in the building at Chicago’s Mid-west Weather Headquarters during the late night hours of November 10, 1940.

During the wee hours of the following morning, the systems’ combined energy unleashed a storm of unfathomable fury. Barometric pressures plunged to some of the lowest ever recorded, reaching a record 28.92 inches at Charles City. By then, the storm had already begin to cut its thousand mile wide path of death and destruction. Within 24 hours the system would become the most famous and disastrous blizzard in U.S. history. A storm without equal, it is remembered as the day the winds descended, the heavens rained ducks, and duck hunters died.

For mid-western waterfowl hunters, the fall of 1940 was warm and uneventful. And as the doldrums continued into the second week of November, hunters were becoming impatient. Cocking an eye to the North, they watched and waited. Sooner or later the inevitable cold fronts would arrive and birds would move south. For those willing to stick to their marshes, the annual ‘Big Push’ would be a sweet dream.

On November 11, 1940 sportsmen got their wish. But the day was not what gunners had anticipated. Instead of realizing their “sweet dream“, hundreds of waterfowlers suddenly found themselves plunged into a horrific, Stephen King-grade nightmare. Temperatures plummeted from near 60 degrees to below freezing, and then into the single digits --- all within a matter of hours.

By the time it concluded, the storm had dropped more than two feet of snow, buried vehicles and roadways beneath 20-foot drifts, killed thousands of Iowa cattle, and destroyed incalculable amounts of poultry --- including more than a million Thanksgiving turkeys. All told, the storm claimed 160 human lives. At Winona, Minnesota the city bus barn became a temporary morgue as, one by one, the bodies of frozen duck hunters were retrieved. Since many hunters were from out of town, identification was delayed until bodies thawed and pockets could be searched.

On an island near Harper’s Ferry, sixteen-year-old Jack Meggers was one of the hunters who fought for his life that fateful day. A retired Iowa game warden currently living in Mason City, Meggers, now 84, has spent a lifetime on the water. Today, no outdoor event remains more deeply etched in his mind than the morning of Nov. 11, 1940.

“It was Armistice Day [now called Veteran’s Day] and we were out of school,” Meggers begins. “Me, my Dad, and two brothers headed out to an island at Harper’s Ferry. One of the things I remember most is that, just before the storm hit, the sky turned all orange. It’s hard to explain, but I remember that it was really strange.”

The big winds arrived suddenly recalls Meggers, and with the wind came ducks. Not just a flock here or a flock there, but rather hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands. It was a scene seldom witnessed. A scene that in terms of sheer magnitude, will never be repeated.

“We’d never seen anything like it,” says Meggers. “When the ducks arrived, they came in unending waves and they came in all species.”

“Those ducks were all flying about this high off the water [his hand indicates around waist high] and they were all doing about 90 miles an hour with that wind,” he continues.

The Meggers party lost no time in taking advantage of the astonishing flight. But although waterfowl continued to pour down in unending supply, connecting with the wind driven birds presented a major challenge, recalls Meggers. The boys concentrated so hard on the task at hand, that none of them seemed to notice [or care?] as the winds began to attain hurricane force.

“All of a sudden, Dad said, ‘ Grab the decoys --- We’re getting out of here.’ But we were throwing an awful lot of ammunition into the air, and none of us wanted to quit. The sky was just full of ducks,” says Meggers. “Finally Dad said, ‘Grab the decoys NOW or we’re leaving without them. That‘s when we began to see how bad it [the weather] was getting.”

Meggers’ Dad had made the right call. In addition to raging winds and unfathomable legions of ducks, the storm had also begin to deliver pelting rain which quickly turned to sleet, then heavy snow. Visibility dropped to near zero as hunters all up and down the Great River struggled --- many unsuccessfully --- to return to shore.

“It was really rough. By the time we finally made it to the shoreline, you couldn’t even see the shoreline,” Meggers recalls. “By then, the combination of snow and wind was just incredible. Our group made it back. But not everyone did.”

An island away from where the Meggers party hunted, a father and two sons were equally mesmerized by the arriving swarms of waterfowl. Lured into staying beyond the point of no return, their shallow draft duck boat proved no match for the wind and waves. As visibility and daylight faded, the hunters found themselves stranded.

“The oldest son was a college athlete,” Meggers continues. “When things started getting tough [probably the onset of hypothermia] he told his younger brother to jump to stay warm. Every time the younger kid quit jumping, his brother would punch him. The Dad and older brother died on that island. The younger brother just kept on jumping through the night. They rescued him the next day. His legs were frozen hard as wood below both knees and he lost them. He was the sole survivor of his group.”

“That kid was 16, same as me,” says Meggers. “I’ll never forget what happened that day on the river.” A short distance downstream, four more hunters died during the night on an island near Marquette.

For as long as he can remember, Clear Lake’s Max Christensen has been an avid waterfowler. Today, it seems more than a little ironic that Christensen nearly missed out on history’s greatest duck hunt.

“I still remember nearly every detail from that day,” Christensen begins. “I was a high school senior when the November 11 snowstorm arrived in Ventura, Iowa. I lived on a farm and we hadn’t even had a frost yet. The livestock was still in the fields and all the poultry was still outside.”

“I got on the bus at eight o’clock, wearing just a light jacket. The bus driver was Max Millhouse, and I always sat right behind him because he liked to talk about hunting. As we got closer to school every cornfield had little cyclones of feeding ducks. The closer we got to Clear Lake, the more we saw. There were so many ducks that it was almost eerie.”

“By the time we arrived at Ventura, I had already decided to head back home. There were just too many ducks in the air to be in school. Max [the bus driver] suddenly announced we was going with me.”

“When we got back to my house, the storm was coming up fast and my folks were trying to get the chickens inside. We helped, and so instead of being in trouble for skipping school, I was a hero.”

“With that finished, we went to a nearby 30-acre marsh,” said Christensen. “It was already snowing when we got there, and at first we didn’t see anything on the slough. I thought --- ‘Oh No, the ducks left.’ Then we saw something move, and suddenly realized what was happening. That slough was completely covered in ducks – so many that you couldn’t see any water or make out individual birds. We started shooting, and it was something. Every duck on that slough was a mallard. You can‘t even imagine what it was like.”

“The storm really picked up and Max announced that he was heading back while he still could. I went to a different marsh closer to home and kept hunting. I don’t think it would have mattered where you went that day, every place was full of ducks. They were everywhere.”

“The snow finally got so bad that I had to take my ducks and walk for home,” said Christensen. “A school bus came down the road, but it couldn’t make it in the snow and had to turn back. Before leaving, it dropped off 17 school kids at our house. They had to spend the night.”

When Christensen entered his farmstead, he was informed that a Garner dentist by the name of Doc Hayes had parked in the yard and then walked to a nearby marsh. Since he hadn’t returned, the hunter was feared lost. Tossing caution to the winds, Christensen immediately launched a daring rescue.

“I knew I had to try and find him,” relates Christensen. “I was young and didn’t think of any danger. I had a good idea of where Doc would have been hunting and started up a fenceline that led from the buildings. I don’t think I could see more than 15 feet in front of me, that’s how bad it was.”

“I found Doc Hayes on that fenceline. He was just standing there, stuck in a drift. He couldn’t move. When I got up to him, he started crying. ‘I thought I was dead,’ he said to me. I took his gun and a big bunch of ducks and we started back. I told him to step in my tracks. I broke the trail, and our tracks would disappear almost instantly.”

“When we got home, my Dad and all those school kids were already in the basement picking my ducks. I don’t know how many mallards were down there, but it was a lot. It was really something. We still had fresh tomatoes from the garden, all those ducks, and snow drifts piling up outside,” said Christensen.

“The next day we shoveled out Doc’s Cadillac which was buried in the yard. When we reached the road, something moved in the snow. I had shoveled out a live coot. That bird had lit on the road and become buried in a drift. The coot was just fine and flew away.”
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