Friday, February 29, 2008

What is Sustainable Agirculture?

There are a lot of buzz words flying around the alternative agricultural world today ... you know words like: small scale, cottage farmer, sustainable, heritage, natural, organic, and even alternative. As I continue on my journey towards and in farming I find myself using these words from time to time and reading them all of the time. But, it seems like they mean different things to different people. What is natural to some may not be natural to others ... what is alternative to some may be main stream to others ... But, the word the I find myself using the most and that I hear different definitions for is "sustainable". What exactly does it mean in terms of agriculture?

Before we go any further I want to throw out my two cents. To me having a sustainable farm means that I have a farm that supports my family emotionally, physically, and financially. I mean that a sustainable farm would be enjoyable to my family not a drain on their happiness or spirits, that it would provide health to my family through the work they do and the food that they eat, and that it would provide a reasonable living for us. My sustainable farm would provide my family with plenty of food for our own table, but we would not become self-reliant in the food sense. Also, I believe a sustainable farm is beneficial to the community ... sometimes that means they purchase goods from us, sometimes it means they enjoy the land, and sometimes it means that we do not harm the area around us.

In a nut shell that is my view of sustainable agriculture ... for me. Of course there are lots of other things that I could add to that, but I think it is a good starting point. Others, I'm sure, would include things about the environment or even the animal welfare. While these are both important to me they are not what my idea of sustainable is based upon ... probably because of the reason that I desire to farm (you can check out THIS POST for more on that).

As I have surfed around various areas of the internet I have often read debates about what exactly is or is not a sustainable farm. There some that would say that your farm is not sustainable unless it does this, that, and this. Others believe that the term is more broad ... I'm probably in that group.

So, what is your definition of sustainable agriculture. Do you have to do certain things to fit into the mold? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject because I believe the answers will say a lot about why people farm and why people trust certain farms.

If you would like to see how some others define "sustainable agriculture" check out these links:

"What is Sustainable Agriculture?" - University of California

"Introduction to Sustainability - What is Sustainable Agriculture" - Sustainable Table

"Sustainable Agriculture: Definitions and Terms" - USDA

"Sustainable Agriculture" - Wikipedia

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"Fatal Harvest"

**I am so sorry! I can't believe I did this, but I forgot to put up my post today. I wrote it last night, but didn't remember to get it up on the blog. Whoops!**

I have to give credit to Kelli of Sugar Creek Farm again for the link to this article. I don't know how she finds all of these great articles for her "Ag Speedlinking", but I'm glad that she does it! Anyways, the article that I read was titled, "Speaker at organic farming conference derides corporate agriculture", and written by Joe Orso for the La Crosse Tribune. The article stems from Andrew Kimbrell's keynote speech at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Conference this year.

Mr. Kimbrell is the author of "Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture" and that was also the title and theme of his address at the conference this year. One thing that he said in the speech (according to the article) that really made me think was this, "What they never saw coming is you. They thought they had the future. They thought they had successfully taken the culture out of agriculture." The "they" he is talking about of course are the people involved in "industrial agriculture".

I have to admit that the first thing that popped into my mind was, "Do 'they' really even know we exist?" In my question the "we" are the alternative/organic/sustainable farmers of the world. Are they really concerned about losing market share to the small farms popping up around the country? I readily admit that I don't know the ins and outs of market effect, but are they noticing us?

My first reaction is no way! They aren't a bit worried about losing market share to a few farmers that sell pork or beef at the local farmers market, but then I started to think about it on a larger scale ... There seems to be a number of these farms beginning and growing around the country and while they may seem small when taken individually, but on the whole they can have an impact. And with some of the bad publicity hitting the airwaves more and more people are beginning to think about their food choices.

What does all this mean? Well, on one hand it really means nothing to me. I'll still do what I am going to do and market my farm the way that I feel will work. But, on the other hand I think it gives us something to be optimistic about. Maybe the big agri-businesses are thinking about the growing market share small farms are commanding ... if that is case we need to work together to open doors for the small farmer, educate the public, and produce a high quality product.

Make sure you read the article! It has some interesting stuff to think about. In fact I would love to hear you thoughts after reading the article.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Eight...TEEN is Enough?

The past couple of days have been pretty eventful around here. Well, I guess they haven't been as eventful around here as it the past couple of days have been eventful on the road! Late Monday morning I was finally able to get away and pick up SGF SANT Hershey. You may remember reading about when the deal was finalized way back in THIS POST, but because of mechanical problems, schedule problems, and weather problems I had not been able to get down there yet! But, now he is home ... along with a cow and heifer!

The traveling actually started on Saturday when I drove up to Dan Butterfield's, of Grandma's Dexters, to pick up a bull calf and two cows that I was going to deliver to Steven in Southern Missouri (you may recognize the name because he comments from time to time). So, late Monday morning I headed out of town and swung by the farm to pick up the trailer and Steven's cows. The driving was uneventful (except for a traffic jam in St. Louis) and so was the unloading (even though it was slightly muddy and 9:00 PM). It was great to finally be able to put a face to the name and chat with Steven and his family. They have some pretty cool things starting up down there so it was neat to see what was going on.

After that I headed on my way to Erik and Marian Van Beever's Five Ponds Farm (with a break for sleep). I arrived there and also enjoyed putting a real live face to the many e-mail conversations we have had. It was neat to see their diverse livestock ranging from sheep and goats to Dexters and of course their Red Wattle Hogs! Of course I picked up Hershey while I was there, but I also had decided to bring back a bred cow and heifer calf they had for sale (Gigi and Tinkerbelle). Hershey looks as great in person as he did in the pictures and I'm looking forward to seeing him mature this summer. I am also pleased with the prospects of Gigi and Tinkerbelle bring to the herd.

So, now there are eighteen Dexters roaming (not so much in the snow I guess) Stoneyfield! If you are scoring at home it adds up like this: 8 cows ... 4 heifers ... 4 steers ... 1 bull calf (to become a steer) ... and of course, 1 Herd Sire!! Don't forget that we have at least three more cows we are expecting to calve. And to think, this started out six months ago as an "experiment"!

**The first picture above is of Hershey of course, and the second is of Tinkerbelle (calf in front) and Gigi (horned). Hopefully I'll be able to post some more pictures soon!**

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Value of Discussion in Learning

Some of the great discussions that have popped up in the past couple of weeks have really made me think about why this I started this blog. If you go back a year-and-a-half you will find THIS POST introducing The Beginning Farmer Blog. I said it then and I will reiterate now, the reasons I started this blog were to be a journal of my journey and to hopefully be a source of information for those with the same desire to farm. I have always been a person that gets the most out of something when I can write about it, so in a sense the blog is my opportunity to do that ... and possibly is a bit self-serving :) But, now that we are into it a ways I just have to thank everyone that has gotten involved in the discussion. I feel like I have been able to learn so much and have a better grasp on so many farming related topics because of what everyone has contributed.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has thrown in their two-cents or answered questions. I think reading is great, doing makes you learn, but in many cases you can't beat some good discussion that brings in many points of view. Through the discussion in the comments on different posts I have been pointed to other articles that give me ideas, shown another side of something that I had never considered, and even thought about changing my mind!

So, here is my challenge ... If you aren't even reading the comments on the bottom of the posts, get reading (you can also find new comments in the right column)! Often times there are better thoughts there then in my posts. If you are already commenting, keep it up ... I (err... WE) need the thoughtful insight, jokes, or contrarian point of view. If you have never posted, jump in the fray! Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we don't have anything to add, but I know there are a lot of great minds out there so help us out. And finally, share this blog with other like-minded thinking about, beginning, and practicing farmers. The more minds the better I say!

If you want to see some of the great discussions that have been going on lately check out these links and get involved:

The Joy of Work

How Much Land Do You Need?

Eating Local ... What is Local ... Why Even Try?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Wow, Farming is Tough!

I have always been interested in farming news. When many of my other peers in middle school and high school were listening to the latest and greatest rock radio station I usually had good 'ol WHO 1040AM tuned in on my radio. And on weekdays from 11:30 AM until 1:00 PM I have always enjoyed listening to "The Big Show", which is all about farming in Iowa and around the world. Now that I have grown up and am taking my own steps towards farming, and farming unconventionally, I have begun listening with a different perspective. A slightly more analytical and discerning perspective.

This past Friday was a perfect example. At the end of the show farm broadcaster emeritus Lee Kline (who has a great radio voice) was telling a story of a recent farm land auction that he had attended in central Iowa. There was something like 240 acres (I don't remember exactly) up for auction that day, and quite a few people were in attendance. The story telling was great as always, but the price the land sold for was the most interesting for me. $6,000 per acre was the final winning price ... that is $1,440,000 if you are scoring at home!

That is pretty scary number for someone like me who would like to add land and grow the farm, but it became more interesting (and possibly scarier) after I went home and checked the mail. It just so happens that we received a bulletin from the boarding school where we used to work. In this issue there was a short article about farmers donating commodities (grains) as financial donations for the school. The idea is that there is a better tax break for the farmer when it is done like that. Good information and I hope that some people take advantage of it because the school is a worthy cause.

But, it is the example that really got me thinking. The example says:
In 2006, Bud Peterson, a grain farmer, donated 1,000 bushels of corn to the local Christian School. Bud's cost of production was $4,000, and the proceeds generated by the sale of the grain to the elevator by his favorite charity were $5,000.
Let me extrapolate a few numbers from that. Let's just say that the average yield for this farmer (he was from Illinois) was 175 bushels per acre. That means that his donation came from 5.71 acres of land. Taking the $4,000 in production cost and dividing by the number of acres we see that it cost him $700.53 per acre for inputs (probably includes land, equipment, seed, chemicals, etc.). Now we can divide the $5,000 that was made on the sale by the number of acres to find that he would have made $875.66 per acre of corn. That gives him a total profit (if he hadn't given it to charity) of $175.13 per acre.

It is going to take a lot of acres to make your living wages off of that ... plus we really need to know if land payments were factored into the $4,000 of production costs. If they were not ... well then there is a problem. Especially if the land cost $6,000 per acre!

I believe this is a perfect real life example of why we need to be looking at different methods and operations when it comes to farming. We need to make better use of our land and better use of our time!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Writing for the Epi-log...

Well, I'm two weeks into writing for the "epi-log". It was a pretty cool opportunity that became available to me around a month ago and I decided to grab onto it and see what happens. If you missed my first post let me give you a quick description of the "epi-log". Basically is the online home of Gourmet and Bon Appetit Magazines and the "epi-log" is their blog. Their staff writes for the blog and so do a handful of guest bloggers (mostly chefs, food lovers, and food writers). I fall into the category of "guest bloggers", but not so much because I'm a chef (I do make a mean corn casserole though). They wanted a blogger with a farmers perspective ... kind of me ...

But, the reason I bring this up again (it has only been a little while since I first mentioned it) is because it has been an interesting experience. I have received some interesting comments and feedback on posts ranging from calving to the NAIS from people genuinely interested in understanding more about farming and the farmers who provide the food that they eat. It has been great to see non-farmers thoughts on some of the issues that farmers face and to just share some of the joys of farming.

The more I think about the people who are reading the "epi-log" the more I realize that these are the people that are potentially customers (maybe not mine, but possibly customers of their local farmers). These are people that love good food! They love to prepare it, they love to talk about it, they love to write about it, and they love to eat it (as do I). But, for whatever reason ... maybe because of where they live or where they were born, possibly because there is an agricultural stigma, or even because farmers have become isolated from their customers ... these readers and writers have not had too many opportunities to connect with their food providers.

My hope is that in writing about my joys, concerns, hardships, day-to-day chores, and all that is farming they will be able to find a connection with farmers in their area ... wherever their area is! So, make sure you go and check out the "epi-log". Read through the posts (they have some great thoughts and topics) and make sure to check out the recipe section (if you like to eat good food).

And finally, spread the word (not about the blog, but you can if you want) about the need for a connection between farmers and the people that eat the food the farmers raise and grow!

**The above picture was from the "photo shoot" we did when we were trying to get a picture for my bio. As you can tell from the picture it is very easy to make fun of me from time to time because I do silly things like that! Oh, and in case you are wondering I have gloves on because it is COLD, not because I'm afraid of chickens. I've had about five people comment on that when they saw the picture!**

**You can check out my by looking on the left column of the "epi-log". If you want a direct link to my posts you can always click the red link on the right side of this blog.**

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Joy of Work...

"Work should be satisfying and enjoyable to us, then doing less or how hard it is will not be on our mind," writes Bud Williams in this months issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer". That is sound advice to live by, but I would say that most people believe that it is not attainable. The argument that most people have is that there are just too many jobs in this world that people plain don't want to do. Maybe that is true, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and say that it isn't true.

A few years back I attended a seminar about finding your strengths and then working within your strengths so that you will be most effective in what you do. It was a great week of study and personal reflection and I believe that it has really helped me in my youth ministry (that was the reason I went), but the leader for the week had also lead these courses all over the country at Fortune 500 companies and even for hotel workers. I think one thing that I took away from the week is that there are people passionate about doing many things that I would think isn't that exciting. One of the main problems is that as a society we stigmatize those jobs so that the best candidates do not want to take them. And yes, in his travels and presentations we met plenty of people that loved what they did when it came to cleaning toilets and picking up after people!

So, the idea is that when you work within your strengths you will have more joy in the work you do, be more productive for yourself or your boss, and strive to learn and grow in what you do. That growth may even lead to a change in your strengths that could shift or change what you desire to do. Mr. Williams writes in the article, and I agree, that the problem is that we have so many things that we could possibly want. Having the money isn't the problem because we will work ourselves silly at jobs we hate so we can get the things we want! The problem is that once we get those things we want then we either don't have time to use them or we find something else to want.

What if we enjoyed what we did so much that we didn't feel the need to escape all the time and get away from the work? What if we were satisfied with doing a job and doing it well because we truly enjoyed what we did? Well, those are both possibly (and I don't think it is just a pipe dream) but our society has placed so much importance on wanting things that we can't see that our wants are actually leading to our sadness or depression.

Here are a couple more quotes that I think need to be drilled into our thoughts and our minds:

"So many people have wants and goals that conflict with what they are doing or what they have. I have one goal, that is to try to do better today than yesterday, and to want what I have. Then life is always good and work is interesting and fun."

"Life can be simple and work can be interesting and enjoyable, or we can want too much and life gets complicated and work gets hard."

What does this have to do with farming? Well, don't farm just because you think it is the only thing you can do! Don't farm because you want to get away from people or the busyness! Don't farm just because you like the smell of fresh air! Farm because you enjoy the work, you love interacting with people and providing them with wholesome food, and because you desire to become a better farmer each day.

Farming is hard, long, dirty, and stressful work. But, if you enjoy it then it is not work at all.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Paying Your 2008 Food Bill

According to an article I read in the February 13, 2008 issue of the "Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman" if you are an average American you have already earned enough money by the beginning of February to pay for all your food for the entire year. According to the statistics you spend around 9.9% of your disposable income on food. As I read through the article I had a couple of thoughts ... The first thing that popped into my mind was, "wow, that is nice that we are such an affluent country that we can do this so quickly". Then I thought, "hmmm, is this something to be proud of?"

Let me through out a few more statistics from the article. It says, "consumers have to work 52 days a year to pay for health care, 62 days a year to pay for housing costs and 77 days a year to pay their federal income taxes." But, they only need to work about 35 days to feed their family for the year. The conclusion of the Farm Bureau is that this is a good thing and only proves how great American farmers are at being efficient in raising livestock and growing grain.

The first question that pops into my head is this ... How many days from those 77 days it takes to pay our taxes are needed to subsidize the farming and food industry? I think we need to factor that in if we are going to get a true representation. Here is another question ... How much of the food produced in this country is consumed by this country, and how much do we import? I truly don't know the answer to that one, but would be interested in hearing if anyone knows.

On the surface this seems so great. Our food is cheap and thus we have more money to spend on other junk! But, is cheap affordable preservative and hormone packed food a good thing? Would be be better off as a country if it took say 15% or 20% of our disposable income to feed our family for the year? Would they be getting higher quality food and then in turn be more healthy?

This is what Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Lang has to say, "They also need to know that a $4 box of corn flakes has a nickel's worth of corn. But a lot of work goes into making that nickel's worth, and Iowa farmers are proud to be responsible growers and do their part in feeding the nation and a growing world population." So, CORN flakes only take a nickel's worth of CORN? It's going to take a lot of corn flakes to sustain farming families across the country!

I'll end with this. According to the statistics in the article, "of every dollar spent for your food item at the grocery store, 38 cents is for labor; 24 cents is for packaging, transportation and advertising; and 19 cents is was spent by the farmer on input costs". That totals up to 81 cents of which only 19 cents are left for profit. That profit needs to be divided by the grocery store, the food manufacturer, and then the farmer. How much do you think your farm neighbor receives in the deal? And we are proud of this...

What would the US be like if a large portion of the population began purchasing their food directly from the farmer ... cutting out the middlemen and getting a higher quality product ...

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Making Your Small Farm Profitable :: Chapter 7 Book Report

Chapter 7 of Ron Macher's book, "Making Your Small Farm Profitable" is on what I believe is one of the most important aspects of small-scale farming. Marketing! I'm not saying that just anyone with experience and ability in marketing can become a great small scale farmer, because farming takes a vast amount of scientific, commonsense, mechanical, and intuitive knowledge. In fact, I have said it many times before so I will say it again, farming is an art! But, when it comes to being a profitable farmer (especially when you farm on a small scale and don't receive government subsidies) marketing is a very large piece of the puzzle.

With all of that in mind I read this chapter with quite a bit of interest and it didn't disappoint. I won't go as far as saying that the chapter contained a bunch of new knowledge that I hadn't heard of or thought about before, but Mr. Macher presented the information in a very readable and understandable way.

One of the things that really struck home with me were his, "Eight Steps to Identifying the Market". Nothing in those eight steps is very revolutionary, but sometimes it is good to look at a task with a process and goals in mind. I believe that is especially true when it comes to something that you are unfamiliar with or you are not quite certain that you can even do well. For most farmers marketing is one of those things. Many people decide to farm because they love the solitude, or the open spaces, or even the ability to be alone and their own boss. But, if you want to have a profitable small scale farm you need to get out there and market ... to people!

Here is a very brief overview of his eight steps:
  • Get maps of your area.

  • Find your self and draw circles with a radius of 25, 50, and 100 miles

  • Figure out how many people live within those circles and realize that most customers will come from inside the 50 mile circle. (This is basically two of the steps combined into one)

  • Research what other alternative or small-scale farms are in the area, and what they are selling.

  • Scope out the local grocery stores in some of the larger areas. What do they carry, can they purchase stuff local?

  • Now that you have gathered all of that information go over it with a fine tooth comb. What crops or livestock are missing? Is there anything that is being brought into the area because of high demand that you could produce?

  • Finally, "find out who your customers are". Are there ethnic groups, a population of people concerned about organic, or even people that are just looking for stuff the way it used to be (Sugar Creek Farm blog just mentioned that 2/17).

Following these steps won't help you market your farms meat or produce, but it will help you choose things that are in demand which makes marketing easier. Also, this isn't in the book, but don't forget to remember your passions. You will find marketing much easier if you are passionate about what you are trying to market!

The rest of the article is full of information and real-life stories about niche markets, value added stuff, pricing, advertising, and even where or how to sell your products. It's a pretty good chapter, and the deeper I get into this book I think it is a great practical guide to making the small farm pay. It won't give you the passion of a Joel Salatin or Gene Logsdon book. It may not give you all the nuts and bolts like a Carol Ekarius or Allan Nation book. But, it is full of down to earth steps, principles, and advice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Iowa's Young Farmers

I must admit that I am appreciating the issues of the "Farm Bureau Spokesman" that my father-in-law has been saving for me. They have provided a lot of thought provoking reading ... some of it good and some of it bad. This week I'm going to post about a couple of articles I read in the February 13, 2008 issue of the Spokesman. I want to kick it off with some thoughts on the front page article titled, "Iowa's young farmers take on new set of challenges".

Much of the article deals with the recent "Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Conference" that was recently held in our state capital. I was pretty excited to read that over 200 young farmers under the age of 35 attended this conference, and I also decided maybe I should join the Farm Bureau so I can attend a conference like this! The conference gave young farmers the opportunity to hear from experts on farm business planning and also allowed the to network with other young farmers across the state.

I know that I said I was excited to hear that so many were attending, but to be completely honest I was also a little discouraged. When I read that number I just figure it means that there are 200 farmers out there that are ahead of me in the game and maybe there won't be room for me. So, the article got me thinking about how big the market is for the type of farming that I desire to do.

We are fortunate that we live within 45 minutes of the biggest city in Iowa, but it is also a city with multiple thriving farmer's markets and local restaurants that have offering locally grown and raised food. So, is there room for another grassfed beef, pastured poultry and egg, pastured pig, and downright diverse small scale farm in our area? That is the question that was on my mind as I read this article.

In the article they highlighted three families. One family raised niche pork that they then sold to Niman Ranch for distribution. They don't raise their pigs in a confinement building, but they probably don't raise them out on pasture or in the woodlot either. Another family mentioned in the article runs a wean-to-finish hog farm. The final family that was written about isn't evening farming yet, but they have aspirations to begin soon (hmmm... that sounds familiar). So, is there room for me?

First of all I'm not sure how many of the farmers at the Farm Bureau conference would be in competition with a direct market farm, so maybe I'm just over reacting. Also, I feel strongly that the market for direct from the farm meat and produce is only going to keep growing as instances like this weeks USDA beef recall and other ag-related catastrophes happen. Most importantly though, I think I need to spend some time researching exactly what is missing in the markets around us. What are people needing? Is there room for more eggs or chicken? Can I combine a seed stock Dexter operation with a Dexter beef operation?

These are the sorts of things on my alarmist mind after reading the article... How much room for growth do you think there is in the direct from the farmer world? I would love to hear your thoughts!

On a side note there was one other thing that really hit me after reading the article. Check out this quote from young farmer Val Plagge, "I'd say for most the people here, land availability is the biggest issue. You're going to hear that from every person." So true ... so true ... Because of the Ethanol industry in Iowa land is becoming more and more difficult to come buy, especially for a beginning farmer starting out with nothing. In fact land is even becoming difficult to rent. One younger farmer they interviewed mentioned that he has seen people offering $400 for cash rent ... per acre! That is off the chart and immediately prices out young farmers. So, the land issue is something I can identify with!

Monday, February 18, 2008

143 Million Pounds of Beef Recalled

So, do your children ever eat school lunches? How about school lunches that contain beef? Or maybe your family has eaten a hamburger from a fast food joint? Well, if you answered yes to any of those questions then you or your children have been eating beef that has been recalled by the USDA!

I had read various accounts of animal mistreatment and other problems at the Westland/Hallmark Beef Co. in California, but last night the USDA recall of 143 million pounds of beef was as a front page headline on the Fox News website. You can click here to read the entire article and watch a video clip of the news report.

This news is pretty chilling in and of itself, but do you want to hear something even worse. According to the news report the recall includes beef going back to 2006! I don't know about you, but I don't think a recall for beef that is possibly two years old will do much good ... of course knowing this industry maybe it is still in the food chain (I hope not).

Watch the video clip linked in the article if you can. But, if you connection is too slow then I'll just let you in on what may be the most telling quote from the interview with their "health expert". She says,

"there are multiple safeguards in place to secure the safety of our food in this country. Which is obviously a good thing. And one of those safety mechanisms pertains to cattle that have become, what, as Greg and you just mentioned before the break, non-ambulatory just prior to them undergoing slaughter. Now if that occurs, and sometimes it doesn't occur because of something ominous like mad cow disease, sometimes it occurs because they break a leg or injury a tendon. It is, the are mandated to have a federal vetrinarian examine those animals. What was found was that in this location, cows were becoming non-ambulatory, they failed to undergo the proper veterinary inspection and examination and so the plant was shut down. Now it needs to be emphasized while of course we fear something like mad cow disease, the official name of which as known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, may be entering our food supply, there is no evidence that any of the meat from those downer cattle, their referred to, has entered in our food supply. But of course this is a very aggressive cautionary measure."

Wow, I'm trying to figure out if that lady works for the USDA or the meat company... Allow me just a few seconds to break this down. First of all, I like how she says these safeguards are good things. Yep, they are such good things that they didn't work for two years! If the consumers (whether they be individuals or institutions) had been around that processing plant there is no way they would have been in business, because nobody would have wanted that meat after seeing that place. Joel Salatin says it, and so do many others, "the consumer is the best regulation".

Secondly, why does it take two years to figure out that a federal law about inspection is not being followed? I'm not even sure if I want to answer that question because I know that it would just sadden me. But, suffice to say that no matter how "good" the laws are we can never count on the government to protect us from food. Our eyes and our ears need to be the protection. We need to have relationships with the producers of the stuff that we count on for energy, health, and life!

And finally, since when is it no big deal when a cow is suffering through a broken leg or torn tendons? I am not and will never be a person that places the value of an animal above human life, but I do know that we are called to be good stewards of what God has given us. That is not good stewardship!

I could go on and on with this one, but I said I would take just a few moments. Make sure you read the article and watch the video if you can. Let me know what you think of this recall and what it says about agriculture in the U.S. in general...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How Much Land Do You Need?

The question of how much land is needed to farm/hobby farm/homestead came up in a post on the Homesteading Today forums came up this week. At the end of the original post (click here to read the thread) the poster asked, "How many acres would it take you to totally support your family with today's economy in mind?" That is an interesting question and brought out some good answers on the post that you should read. But, it also got me thinking about land, farming, and sustainability.

One of the first things that popped into my mind is what exactly are you planning on "farming". If you want to run a cow/calf herd and a cow/calf herd only then you are going to need a quite a bit of land. But, if you are going to have a market garden, some cut flowers, and a couple of berry patches you can probably make a living on something like fifteen acres. And, if you add value by making jams, selling flower arrangements, or something along those lines then you can add even more to your profit.

But, I'm not much of a vegetable eater so I would have hard time running a market garden. I wouldn't know what is best, what tastes best, or even have a strong passion for what I'm doing. That made me think about how much land I would need to have a diverse operation that includes livestock, a small garden, berries, and maybe even some agri-tourism.

Of course it would really depend on the quality of land and soil in your area, but I live in the rather fertile soil of the Midwest so we will just stick with that as a basis. I'm thinking that I could sustain my family on 160 acres or maybe 120 acres if around 80 to 100 acres are pasture or tillable ground. We could use the woodlot to heat our house and do some selective harvesting of the best trees. On 80 acres of pasture I think we could raise a nice Dexter herd of at least 30 cows, a flock of sheep as big as 50 ewes, any number of heritage hogs running on the edges of the pasture and woodlot, heritage turkeys and pastured poultry following the cows and sheep, and of course some laying hens. I think we would be able to make enough hay off that number of acres to sustain the farm through the winter. If you add in some value added stuff like berries or a small garden I think you can make it work.

Now, that all sounds well and good except for one thing. I couldn't even come close to affording 120 or 160 acres of land in Iowa! So, let's tone it down a little and see what is possible...

What if a person had 40 acres (a common size of section in Iowa). If you had an acreage that size I would think about 15 acres would be a good size for the wood lot because one big piece of sustainability is the ability to heat your house instead of relying on the gas man or electrical company. So, that would leave you with 25 acres of pasture or tillable land. That doesn't seem like very much, but let us think about what we could do with it. Possibly you could run a herd of 10 to 15 Dexter cows, 20 or so ewes, a smaller flock of heritage turkey, pastured laying hens and meat birds following the livestock, you still would have room for pigs in the woodlot and on the edges. Making hay becomes an issue, but I think you could get close to enough if you had the right type of pastures (it may take some seeding and pasture management). I think this would be a great size of place to have some sort of agri-tourism and on farm marketing of berries. You could even add value by selling meat by the cut instead of on the half or whole. A lot of value adding would have to be done, but it may be possible.

Now, here are the wild cards. First of all, I'm assuming the use of management intensive grazing in all of these scenarios, and possibly even ultra high stock density grazing. Secondly, one of the biggest keys to a sustainable farm is that you are using your farm to provide as much food for your family as possible. What is the point of raising food and having the land to raise food if you aren't eating it yourself? But, that is what many modern farms are doing!

What do you think? How much land do you need to sustain a family in todays world?

As an extra . . .
In no particular order here are my 10 favorite books that help guide farming thoughts... for the moment. I have also included links for each book if you are interested in purchasing them. These links are affiliate links, so if you are interested in one of the books and enjoy the show it does support the show a little.

    Friday, February 15, 2008

    Meat Goats ... Are They an Option?

    Meat goats are something that I just haven't put too much thought into to be perfectly honest. I have seen plenty of articles and posts about them in magazines and on the internet (especially on homesteading sites), but I just never really considered them a viable market for my potential customers. And, I guess I didn't really look into them much because I don't know anything about meat goats or goat meat.

    I decided to raise beef because I like beef. We have chickens because we love eggs and chicken. We are adding pigs because ... well, because you can't be a real Iowa farm unless you have them. But, meat goats that originated in Africa? I just didn't see that stuff in the Fareway meat case growing up.

    With a growing immigrant population they may be something I have to consider. At least that is what I think now after reading an article by Dien Judge titled, "Iowa Farmers Adapt to Serve New Ethnic Markets". According to the article many Iowans who are raising the Boer goats are selling them directly to the consumer in areas where there are larger populations of immigrants. There are also a few that are selling at local sale barns who in turn move them to a processing plant in Illinois. But, the quote in the article that really got me thinking was this, "Finch said that a market-ready meat goat will sell for approximately $1.10 per pound live weight, not a bad price for a livestock animal." It looks like the live weight for butcher animals is right around 100 to 120 pounds so there is some money there, now I just need to research the inputs.

    The article mentioned that in Iowa we even have an "Iowa Meat Goat Association" so I checked out their website right away. They have quite a bit of good information on their site. After reading through bits and pieces of the site it seems that goat meat is rather healthy compared to other meats, and it is very lean. I'm not sure what the market is like for selling to non-immigrants, but the health aspect may be appealing. In fact there are over 200 members of the Iowa Meat Goat Association, so I'm sure there are people that can help me answer that question.

    For me the biggest question becomes this. What do goats eat? No, they do not eat everything! But, that is not what I'm talking about. I mean what do they finish on? Are they being fed and finished on a strictly grass based diet or are they being fed grain supplements? What do the consumers desire, do they want pasture finished meat goats? These are some questions that I need to answer, but goats now are officially part of the discussion.

    If you have in thoughts or information on meat goats make sure to leave a comment and join in the discussion!

    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    Eating Local ... What is Local ... Why Even Try?

    Writing over at the epi-log is kind of a new experience for me, and hopefully it will be a chance to discuss and promote local eating. For my first post (if you haven't read it yet click here) I wanted to give an brief introduction of some of the reasoning behind or desire to farm. Knowing where our food comes from is important to us and supporting our community is equally important. It was a brief post and not very detailed, but it did spark a couple of interesting comments that you should check out at the bottom.

    I think the poster brought up some points that many people would agree with. What is the definition of "local"? Why shouldn't we enjoy the benefits of living in an affluent society and purchase food at lower prices? Isn't one of the benefits of the global trade that we can eat fruits in Iowa in the middle of the winter? And, how about one of the commenters last points ... buy purchasing overseas products we are actually supporting farmers who are poorer than the farmers in the United States.

    As I mentioned these seem like valid points to most consumers in the United States, maybe even more so to people who love to dine at a higher level than I do. But, I think it just shows why we (farmers) must produce food that is better than anything out there so that the eating speaks for itself. We must be educated, informed, ready to answer questions, and engage intelligently and winsomely in debate.

    What do you think of those points that were brought up? How can we as farmers educate the consumers on those specific areas? Thanks to "The Beginning Farmer" reader mellifera I have a feeling that purchasing food products that originate overseas may not help the farmers as much as we would like to think. So, what else do you think? What do we need to do to educate our friends and neighbors?

    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    Big News for The Beginning Farmer...

    Check out "The Beginning Farmer" on "the epi-log".

    I have been holding on to this big news for quite awhile now as I waited for everything to come together... But, since my first post appeared yesterday I thought I would spill the beans and encourage you to check out the newest place to read the rambling posts of me, The Beginning Farmer, and a bunch of chefs ... cookbook writers ... wine affecianados ... and people who just plain love food. Of course the other bloggers posts probably won't be as rambling as mine usually are!

    Hopefully this will be another great resource to help connect consumers with the producers. And, if it could be truly successful we would no longer need to call them consumers or producers ... we can just connect the people with their farming neighbors. I'm pretty excited about the possibilities to share with people from across the country and around the world my passion for farming and for sustainable and beautiful agriculture.

    So, make sure you check out the main website if you are interested in good recipes and other food articles. Surf over to the "epi-log" for food related topics, and of course thoughts from me a few times each week. And, if you want to have a direct link to my posts you can always click on this link in the right column:


    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    The Best of Times To Start Farming...

    Actually the quote by Fred Kirschenmann was, "It's the best of times and the worst of times to start farming". I just decided I was going to hang on the "best of times" idea since I aspire to be a glass half full kind of guy. This quote comes from an article on titled, "Advice to Beginning Farmers". I must thank Kelli of Sugar Creek Farm for finding this article and posting it on her blog. Lately she has been doing some "ag speed-linking" and she always comes up with interesting articles. Make sure you check out her blog!

    But, back to the topic at hand ... I agree with Mr. Kirschenmann that it is a good time to start farming and that it could be a potentially bad time to get into farming. It all depends on what your definition of farming is. If you would like to get into commodity grain farming I'm not convinced that it is a good time to begin. Yes, grain prices are high now, but that is mostly based on the ethanol movement as Mr. Kirschenmann points out in the article. At any moment some scientist much smarter than I am could come up with a much less expensive form of energy and then all those corn acres wouldn't be nearly as valuable. That would make it a bad time to begin farming and the possibility of slight repeat of the farm crisis of the 1980's is possible.

    On the other hand I think it is a great time to begin farming if you have the drive and determination to do something different. Mr. Kirschenmann, who spent time working as the director for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, admits that if he was moving back to his family farm today he would have 50% of the farm in row crops and 50% in livestock. He would diversify! Beyond that he would strive to make his operation as energy independent as possible, free of chemical fertilizers, and he would direct market his livestock and grains to the consumers.

    I thought this quote would be an encouragement to any beginning farmers out there. "It's a good time to get into farming, but you'd have to be smart, you have to anticipate the shift that high energy prices and a shortage of water is going to have on agriculture," says Mr. Kirshcenmann. It is a good time to jump in, but you must plan ... you must think differently than the establishment ... you must work with nature rather than against it ... you must build your farm based on connections and community.

    It is a good time to be a farmer, and not just because of $5.00 corn. It is a good time because people are starting to desire quality food that is local and sustainable to the land and the farming family!

    Monday, February 11, 2008

    Money ... Spending ... Saving ... And Farming

    Last week I received my latest issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer". I've been a subscriber for a few months now and I enjoy receiving the issues. If you have never had a chance to check out this periodical I encourage you to do so (you can even receive a free sample issue). Many of the articles are based on large scale grazing operations and I have heard others say that once you have read it for a few years it all seems the same, but it seems like I always find stuff that applies to what we are doing and are interested in doing. Because last week was so busy and the fact that I was away this weekend I haven't had a chance to dig too deeply into the articles. But, as I skimmed through the pages looking at the titles one jumped out that I just had to read right away.

    This month the introduced a new column titled, "A Grass Farmer's Guide to Finance", by Richard Parry. According to the introduction, "the purpose of this column is to help grass farmers to become better stewards of their financial resources and to open their eyes to investment opportunities outside of agriculture." Any time I see any article about finances and farming I am hooked, so I took some time to read this article right away.

    Did you know that in 2005 household debt was 113 percent of the annual income, but before 1980 it was only 58 percent of the annual income? Or how about this tidbit, the national rate of savings in the United States is actually in the negative. On average we spend more and borrow more in a year than we make! Mr. Parry threw out a few more facts that are pretty depressing, but the main idea is that as a nation we are doing a bad job at saving our money.

    With the current state of financial affairs (growing debt, rising consumer spending, etc.) Mr. Parry believes that now is the time to be contrarian, and not just in an agricultural sense. He writes, "Now is the time to build your cash reserves and pay off debt. In the coming years there will be once in a lifetime opportunities to purchase assets at fire sale prices."

    Mr. Parry does admit that the prudent use of borrowed money is a good thing. He also adds that you don't have to save just cash, but building your equity is a good idea too so that you can borrow when those golden opportunities arise. Financial independence and intelligent savings are two huge keys to successful small scale farming ... or farming in general.

    Towards the end of the article he briefly mentions the importance of investing ... this is something he says will be covered in future columns. I am really looking forward to those! Make smart decisions and contrary decisions with our money has long been a goal of my family. I think one of the keys to building a small scale farm that is sustainable and long-lasting is to build it without great debt. By only taking on moderate and truly needed debt you may have to build the farm slowly, but I think you will cut down on the possibility of disaster, fear, and stress. And all three of those things can ruin your farm and your family!

    Saturday, February 09, 2008

    A Few Photos

    It's been a busy week around here so today I will just post a few photos from Stonyfield.

    With a foot of snow on the ground, we can't wait for Spring! I'm sure the cows are excited for some green grass too.

    Friday, February 08, 2008

    Introducing ... RAD's Naomi!

    Well, I can't really say that I had time to do it ... but, today we took a few free moments and took off to the farm to see the latest additions to the Stoneyfield herd. As you may remember reading a couple days ago our first calf was born in a little bit of snow on Sunday afternoon. That was the heifer calf Naomi that you see in the pictures here. Then out of the blue a little bull calf was born on Wednesday as we were in the midst of receiving around a foot of snow! Yep, they chose great times to make an entrance.

    RAD's Naomi was born to RAD's Victoria, which was the first Dexter we purchased this summer. We bought her with the understanding that she was bred and that she would calve roughly around this time. For Victoria this was her first calf and I would say that she handled things okay considering the weather. As best as we can tell she had the calf around 2:00 PM and it is only by the grace of God and the fact that my brother needed a ride to a Super Bowl party that we found her. After finding her we did take her away and warm her up because she wasn't making it up on her feet right away. As soon as she warmed up she was up and at 'em and took to nursing right away. Now she seems to be doing pretty well and is growing very quickly!

    The bull calf born on Wednesday was born to Lazy J5 Bailey. I mentioned that this calf was out of the blue because we weren't expecting her to calve until March at the earliest. In fact we were under the impression that her calf was only around nine months old right now ... guess that isn't the case. She too picked a great day to calve and the calf needed some help warming up and getting away from the snow (12 inches). He just wouldn't figure out the nursing thing so we ended up milking Bailey (I'm not certain, but I think she may have been milked before) and bottle feeding the bull calf. We still haven't seen him nursing and had trouble getting him to take from the bottle today so we are keeping a close tab on him. But, he to seems to have quite a bit of energy and was bounding around tonight before dark.

    I can say we learned quite a few things through these two calvings, but the biggest thing is more of what we confirmed rather than learned. We saw in these two births the vital importance of calving in schedule with nature and the seasons. This is just not a great time to try and talk care of a calf ... for the mother and the farmer! We are looking at April or May calvings and while there can be storms or weather issues in those seasons (snow, floods, thunderstorms) we can count on the season being slightly better. At least we know that the season must work most of the time because that is the time the animals have chosen. I'm already looking forward to the 2009 calving season when every calf will be a Stoneyfield calf and hopefully none of them will be born in February!

    Thursday, February 07, 2008

    National Animal Identification System

    Lately I have a couple readers write and tell me that I should write a post about the proposed Nation Animal Identification System. Up until this point I have to admit that I didn't really know much about it other than the fact that it wouldn't be a good thing for small farmers and their consumers. I just didn't feel that I had a good enough grasp on the situation to throw my thoughts into the fray. But, after reading a little and being encouraged to write about it I thought I should at least throw some things out for discussion. Today, I just wanted to share some links that I have used as I try and learn more about this proposed system and what it means to me ... and my animals!

    The first site I went to on my search was, This website is run by Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont. I often read his blog so I have read his thoughts on NAIS from time to time and I have seen the link ... but, I am sorry to admit that this was the first time I visited the website. On this site you will find posts updating you on what is going on with the NAIS and links to other articles and sites that will help keep you informed.

    Another great article I read (found through that gives a good overview of the system and what is at stake is, "The National Animal Identification System: A new threat to rural freedom?" The article appeared in Countryside and Small Stock Journal and was written by, Mary Zanoni, Ph.D., J.D. This article is a few years old, but it is very relevant even today. If you have no knowledge of the NAIS or a limited knowledge I encourage you to check it out.

    One last link you should check out is the NAIS Comments thread on Homesteading Today. The thread is over 1,000 posts and counting. I think that says a lot to the importance of this issue. If you take some time to read through the thread (I just took a little time to skim) you will find people for and many people against the NAIS. I think communication is the key here ... the more we know and the more we can communicate with each other what is going on the better off we are.

    So, if this is fairly new to you check out those sites and inform yourself. One neat thing you will find on are links to discussion groups for most if not all states against the NAIS. Join the one for your state and make sure you are informed and communicating.

    If you know quite a bit about the NAIS and have followed it closely enlighten those of us who have passed over it for too long.

    Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    Updates from Stoneyfield...

    There have been a few developments around the Stoneyfield farm lately so I thought I would take a few moments in the middle of the week to update everyone.

    • First of all is an exciting piece of news. I was hoping to make this a post of it's own, but with the snowy weather and busy happenings at work I don't know when I will able to dedicate some space and pictures to this little tidbit of good news (I eventually will make this it's own post). This past Sunday afternoon our first Dexter heifer, RAD's Victoria, had her first calf. And, it was a heifer! Victoria just went off by herself in the early afternoon and had her calf under a thick stand of cedar trees ... as it was snowing! It wasn't a perfect birth because my family did have to bring the calf inside to help her warm up and gain some strength, but after a short time inside they were able to take her back out to her mom (who was under cover by now) and she started nursing. Now a couple of days later the little girl is bouncing around and doing pretty well. As soon as I'm able to get down and take pictures I will post them for everyone to see.

    • I mentioned in an earlier post about the current hay situation on the farm. If we continue to have a full cover of snow like we have now we will probably be able to make our hay last until the end of February. If the snow cover were to melt away we would probably be able to stretch it a little further. With the ground completely covered in deep snow our nine cows and four steers go through about four small square bales each day. But, if it is mostly open ground we can get by with between one or two bales. In fact yesterday (before the snow came) they only ate one bale. The good news in the whole deal is that we probably have hay available to buy from my uncle. He has some big round bales from this past summer or some year old square bales. We will probably go and check it out and get a little of both. Next year we plan on making three cuttings of hay if the weather allows so hay shouldn't be a problem.

    • As I just wrote our first calf was born on Stoneyfield, but I think it won't be too long until the second calf comes along. The next cow we expect to calve is A.A. Mandy who is ten years old and dun. She is also breed to a dun bull so in the best case we would have a dun heifer born! Along with Mandy there is a chance that three other cows could cave later in the spring. We bought them as pasture exposed to a bull so hopefully they are bred. If all goes well the Stoneyfield herd will have five new faces in the pasture this summer.

    • The last little bit of news is kind of something that I don't want to totally unveil at the moment. But, if you are inclined to pray we would appreciate your prayers for discernment and guidance!

    Tuesday, February 05, 2008

    Getting Creative ... The Farming Way

    Yesterday I blogged about the bleak picture that analysts are painting for pork farmers in 2008. I was prompted by an article that I read in the "Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman". Today, I wanted to share some good news from an article in the same issue. As soon as I saw the title, "Young farmers getting creative with products," I was hooked!

    "With soaring land prices and increasing production costs, Iowa's newest farmers are coming up with creative, non-traditional ways to get started in agriculture," writes author Teresa Bjork. Let's break that down... Land prices sky high and farming inputs costs are really high ... TRUE! New farmers in Iowa are being creative ... TRUE!

    The article goes on to feature a "community supported agriculture" farm and grass-fed beef operation both located in Iowa. The CSA mentioned in the article is Blue Gate Farm, which I have visited and happens to be just a few miles away. Jill Beebout and Sean Skeeham (owners of Blue Gate Farm) expect to serve 30 CSA customers this year along with the buyers that visit their booth at a Des Moines farmers market. After only three years they have already built a loyal customer base and even have a waiting list for their CSA subscriptions. That is creative, that is outside-of-the-box, that is great!

    Grass Run Farm was the other beginning farm that was featured in the article. I had just recently heard about this farm so it was interesting to read a little more about their operation and decisions. Ryan and Kristine Jepsen raise beef, pork, chicken, and veal on a certified organic farm in Northeast Iowa. They also recently began a rotational grazing system on their farm and were able to use a cost-sharing program to get it up and running.

    This is all great news and I am so glad that it is being reported on. But, I can't help but dwell on one little thing as I digest this article.

    Jill Beebout and Sean Skeehan moved to Iowa three years ago (from Houston) to start Blue Gate Farm. And, although Ryan Jepsen had attended Luther College in Iowa they came from Idaho to start Grass Run Farm. That hit me in the head like a ton of bricks! Why are all of the creative farmers coming into Iowa to begin their farms? Or more importantly, why aren't more born and raised Iowans being the creative beginning farmers?

    I have always thought of Iowa farmers being resourceful, industrious, hard-working, and even creative. But, when it comes to moving to non-traditional ways of farming, and making money, it seems that Iowa farmers are behind. Listen, I'm not saying that this is true in all cases ... but, it does seem to be a trend.

    Hopefully Iowans will begin to show their creativity ... begin to show their work ethic ... and begin to change the way they farm and the way the world is fed. I am so thankful for the beginning farmers in Iowa that are thinking outside-of-the-box and being unconventional, but now I think it is time for the locals to catch up and take advantage of the resources they already have.

    Monday, February 04, 2008

    Not Looking Good for Pork in 2008

    Lately my father-in-law has been saving his issues of the "Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman" for me. He keeps up with my blog pretty regularly (probably will read this) and thought that some of the articles would be interesting and make good fodder for my blogging. Well, he was right! I enjoy thumbing through them and seeing what is going on in the industrial, conventional, local, worldwide, and even small scale farming worlds. The latest issue that he dropped off had an article about the 2008 outlook for pork farmers that really drew my interest.

    The title of the article is, "Pork farmers facing difficult 2008 due to high feed costs; soft market". I think the title says it all... Recently the Iowa Pork Congress was held in Des Moines and much of the time was spent tying to work out some solutions to the possible coming crisis. This quote from the article wouldn't give me much hope though: "But based on current analyst forecasts and predictions for 2008, there may not be any good short-term solutions." And, one analyst, Dr. Steve Meyer, said, "It could actually get worse".

    For many pork farmers the best solution may be just to break even or even have just a small loss. How in the world can we keep propping up a system thats best solutions ever 10-20 years is to, "break even or have a small loss"! The article continues with no real recommendations other than to do your best and feed any stored grain you have. And then just to make everyone feel even better they throw out the possibility of a drought coming to the Midwest this summer. Yep, just a real good time to have hogs.

    But, is it all bad news? The prices that they conventional farmers are being paid are heading down and the grain prices are heading up ... but, the prices at the store are staying relatively even. There is the good news. For farmers who are not tied to the commodity market they may find a bit of insulation from these drastic ups and downs. Not that the direct marketer will feel the pinch from the growing grain prices, but they have more room to move and hopefully more dedicated customers.

    It is amazing reading through these articles. The margins are so razor thin in the commodity and conventional markets that if there is even slight movement one way or another it can literally make or break the year. On the other had a diversified farmer who takes the time to connect and market directly with the consumer can weather some of the storms ... it doesn't mean it is easy, but it does make it more bearable.

    So, after reading this article I'm still ready to have some hogs. Now we just need to figure out what works best for us...

    Saturday, February 02, 2008

    7 Things You Don't Know About Me ... Farming Edition

    I usually don't jump on these internet things, but I thought I would give it a whirl if I could giving it a "Beginning Farmer" theme. So, the question then becomes ... What sort of farming things don't you know about a guy who blogs about farming things six days a week? Well, I have tried to scour the depths of my mind to come up with seven things that readers may not know. Here goes nothing...

    1. As a child my family raised quite a few pigs from feeder to finish. We didn't have a confinement building as such, but pretty much every building on the farm had pigs in it ... and in between all the buildings. Spending time on the farm was a lot of fun for a young boy. So much fun in fact that you could create fun games for yourself (I was an only child). One of my favorite games was an obstacle course that I set up around the farm. One portion of the obstacle course included a flying leap off of a pile of dry manure across a pond of not-dry manure. Things went well all weekend long and my times were getting better until that untimely slip ... straight into the not-dry manure! I'm pretty sure I smelled for an entire week and I still can vividly remember in slow motion the moment I realized I was headed for the abyss.

    2. On a separate occasion on the farm I had spent the day getting sweaty and dirty as any boy should, but when it came time to clean up for church the next morning I refused to take a bath. I am ashamed to admit that I was stubborn to the point of throwing a fit ... so, my dad took me outside (in the fall) and just plain hosed me off (clothes and all). So, I guess you can say that I was hosed down literally.

    3. We have always had horses on the family farm and for a while we were part of a saddle club that had regular competitions. At one of those horse shows I placed second in the western pleasure competition and third in walk/trot (I think that is what it was). It was pretty cool be cause I received trophies and everything!

    4. At the same horse club (different event) I was competing in the Texas Flag Race. In this event you grab a flag out of a bucket of sand race around a barrel (it is set up like a barrel race) and place the flag in a second bucket. I was riding my pony Star ... who like all ponies was rather stubborn ... and when we made it to the second bucket Star just stopped. Dead in her tracks stopped and wouldn't move for anything. The problem was that she stopped next to the bucket, but out of reach as I was sitting in the saddle. So I was stretching and reaching ... and then ... plop! I just slid off the saddle and she took off out of the ring. I'm pretty sure even the announcer was laughing over the PA ... maybe that is why I'm in no hurry to get horses.

    5. I purchased my pony Star (mentioned above) with the money made from selling a pen of feeder pigs. My dad helped me raise them and feed them and I learned about selling at the auction and all of that good stuff. In fact we did so well with them that I was able to get a saddle also. The only downside was that we built a nice wood plank feeding floor for them that I used as a basketball court until the piggies showed up ... the piggies did a number on that court!

    6. This just came to my mind ... really doesn't have much to do about me except for the fact that I witnessed it. On the old home place where we lived for a while there was a nice wide well pit on the other side of the fence from the horses. One day a horse decided to find out whether or not he could jump the fence ... well, come to find out he could jump the fence, but he landed right on top of the plywood covering the well (probably not the best cover) and broke though falling into the well! He was stuck to say the least! But, never fret, because a John Deere 4020 can do many things ... including lifting a horse out of a well! Everyone was okay, and now I have a story to tell.

    7. Okay, this last one really doesn't have anything to do with me. But, it is a bit of useless knowledge that I have been storing up in my brain only to use on rare occasions. If you have been reading this blog recently you know that it is illegal to have chickens in Knoxville. But, did you know that in the state of Minnesota it is illegal to enter Wisconsin with a chicken on your head! I guess they didn't want people in Wisconsin thinking that those Minnesotians were crazy...

    So, there you have it. Six things that you may not have known about me and one little bit of useless legal information. Come to think of it I have a friend who is in Minnesota right now studying to become a lawyer ... maybe I'll have to talk with him about that law!

    Friday, February 01, 2008

    Odds and Ends on the Farm...

    We had to go to the farm today to do some odds and ends. As you can see from the pictures there isn't too much snow on the ground, but there was snow in the air while we were there. It is a blessing that the snow has melted off. Until the snow cover left we were having to feed four square bales a day to the Dexters, but now that they can graze a bit on the stockpiled forage we are down to one-and-a-half or two bales a day. Hopefully the Southern portion of the state will stay fairly free of the white stuff for the rest of winter.

    While we were down there my dad and I discussed the idea of moving the steers out onto some tall fescue. We have probably 10-15 acres of fescue that hasn't been mowed since last winter so there is plenty sticking up above any snow that comes. By moving the four steers out there we could save a bit on hay which would mean that we may not have to buy in any ... or as much. Now, we just have to wait for a bit of a thaw so we can go put up a electric fence for them. In the future we are going to be stockpiling other areas of the farm with different grasses for winter use, but this is the first winter so we are really just starting to get the plans together.

    One thing that I really wanted to do when we were down there is take a picture of our cow, Breagha. She was the only cow in our small herd that didn't have a picture up on the on-line pedigree site. If you haven't checked out our herd yet I encourage you to check out the link in the right column for the Stoneyfield herd. If you are interested in Dexters at all it is neat to read through the different pedigree's ... at least it is something I enjoy!

    I must admit that every time I have a chance to spend some time working with the Dexters I become more and more impressed with them as a breed. They are just so easy to work with and so docile. Our herd doesn't really have any interaction with people now other than when they are feed hay in the morning and watered ... and that isn't exactly a personal touch kind of thing. Despite the lack of daily handling they are very calm when we are out there working amongst them and I can usually entice them to come up and eat hay out of my hand. I am looking forward to being able to have daily interaction with them and handling them more often. If you haven't already I encourage you to check out the Dexter breed!
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