Wednesday, April 30, 2008

An Encouraging Article...

I found an encouraging article on the front page of the April issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer." The title is, "Local Foods Movement Provided A Way Into Universities for North Carolina Grassfed Beef Company." That is one thing that I love about this publication ... there is no wondering what the article is about because they lay it all out in the title! Anyways, the article was so encouraging because it was about a couple in North Carolina that started on crop ground and expanded in just a few years to the point that they were able to buy from other grass finishers in the area because the demand was so high.

Now, it is important that I point out that this farm is located in the triangle between Duke, the University of North Carolina, and North Carolina State o they have a good number of people close by. But, it was the students at those schools that really helped get Patrick and Amy Robinette's beef on the market ... or in the schools. Now their farm, Harris Acres Farms, provides grassfed beef to various markets and even those Universities.

The Robinette's began with only 12 cows (starting small ... I like that) and within just six months they had been asked to provide 100 grassfed beeves per month! That is a lot and obviously it was out of reach for them, but they did realize that it meant there was a lot of potential. So, over the next few years they began leasing land from Mrs. Robinette's parents and coming up with a forage chain that worked from them and their climate. By renting land that had been used for tobacco and row crops the were definitely flying in the face of conventional wisdom, but it did work out for them.

Through their research, experimentation, grazing, marketing, and more they were able to slowly ramp up production to the point that they could start serving the colleges. I really was encouraged by the fact that they didn't do this with a lot of capital in their pockets or a lot of borrowed money, but built it up as they could over three or four years (which is still pretty quick). Now they aren't completely where they would like to be, but they are getting there. Mr. Robinette is also passing on the knowledge by teaching a class in agriculture at a local high school.

Cool stuff and very encouraging. You can check out Harris Acres Farms by clicking on the link.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Grass-Fed Cattle :: Chapter 3 Book Report

I had an away soccer game yesterday so I had a chance to finish the third chapter of Julius Ruechel's book "Grass-Fed Cattle". The chapter is titled, "The Cattle Year on Grass," and it was actually a pretty good read that gave me quite a bit to think about. The entire chapter is based around the different stages of development from calving, to nursing, to gaining, and finally to breeding back and even finishing. It is actually a pretty long chapter with a lot of information on many topics so I will just take some time to mention some of the things that really stuck in my mind as I read through the chapter.

There was a special inset "Lesson in Compensatory Gain" and more information on the subject spread throughout the chapter. This is something that usually keeps my attention because the idea of compensatory gain is not something that is talked about a lot in the grain belt of Iowa. Here folks like to see their steers and growing cattle gaining consistently throughout the year because quicker gains mean quicker money. The basic idea is that the cows metabolism slows down in the winter to conserve energy. Then in the spring when the grass comes on it takes a while for their metabolism to speed back up ... so during that time they can make up for the winter. I think this is a big puzzle piece of the grass finishing idea and I'm interested in learning as much as I can.

One other thing that comes up a lot in this chapter is Body Condition Scoring (BCS). Mr. Ruechel relies heavily on BCS for breeding and managing the herd. Again, something I want to learn a lot more about and implement into my herd monitoring. It was nice that there was a BCS chart describing the different scores, 1 to 10.

As I said there was a lot of information in this chapter, but one last thing that I read about in this chapter and that I have been coming across a lot lately is the practice of summer calving and then spring weaning at around 10 months. This is an interesting concept and a little different than some of the other things I have heard and read about. Basically the idea is that you calve in the summer, keep the calf on the cow through the fall and winter, and then wean in the spring on the green grass and give the cow a couple of months of good eating and gaining before she calves. The thinking is that the calf will gain better over the fall and winter while still on their mother and if it comes to the mother losing body condition she will kick the calf off (if she doesn't than maybe she should be culled?). Interesting idea and slightly different approach that the whole getting in tune with nature thing, but maybe something to think about. I know I would be interested in getting some better initial gains on some of my Dexters.

So, that is what I got on this third chapter. I would love to here some of your comments on my ramblings!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Driving Into Town...

I would like to say that I have my tractor out sitting in the shed or at least that it is on the farm, but all that I can say is that my tractor is in the drive way. And, I'm glad it is there! As you can tell from the picture above (it looks like I'm going fast) I was pretty happy to have it home.

On Saturday afternoon my dad stopped by after spending a day working on a tractor at my uncles to unload some fence posts for us (nothing like getting hand me down posts!). Since he had to go South and could easily swing past my other Uncle's farm where my tractor is I decided to hitch a ride and then bring home our new (to us) Farmall 450. The tractor was about 23 or 24 miles away from our home and it was getting late so we took off right away (only stopping to get some gas for the tractor).

Once we made it down there we cobbled up a holder for my slow moving vehicle sign and I took off. I was going to take some back roads home, but after the WET weather we have had lately the gravel roads are a bumpy mess. So, I ended up driving on the highway and enjoying a nice leisurely ride on a cool evening. I suppose in some parts of the country this would have been a weird sight, but in Iowa it is just par for the course. In fact our state hosts two major tractor rides (WHO and WMT) that are all about riding old tractors just for the fun of it.

Now that I have our tractor here in town I'm going to use it to clean up a couple of trees that need some limbs pulled out still from this past winters ice storms and then I will take it out to the farm to get to work mowing and pulling out the old fence. I will keep you updated on my tractor skills :)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Looking For Tamworth Pigs and Other Odds and Ends

This weather is absolutely killing me! Like many places across the Midwest this spring has been very wet and pretty chilly at times. I am thankful though that I live in "Southern" Iowa now because up in "Northern" Iowa they are talking below freezing at night as a possibility. That plus all of the rain just doesn't seem fair! To help put this in perspective my soccer team has played two games so far this year, tonight was supposed to be our sixth of the season ... but, it was postponed because the field was under water! We play soccer in all sorts of weather, but not under water. Also, they have been trying to do the perk test out at the farm, but the holes keep filling up with run-off water. Oh well...

So, after that rant I think it is time to get on with things. Since the readership of this blog is steadily picking up (thanks everyone!) I thought I would would try and use that for my own gain ... and money spending habit. What I'm looking for is pigs. Specifically Tamworths, Gloucester Old Spots, Ossabaw Island, Red Wattle, or any other threatened or heritage breed. We are not going to go full bore on the pigs this year, but I would like to get a small start and at least some pork for our freezer. I would really like to have some heritage breeds to start with, but a cross of a heritage breed that is breed to live outside could work also. Oh yeah, in I would help ... Southern or Central Iowa would be a plus ... Northeast Iowa is okay ... with gas prices the way they are the closer the better.

In other news, things are coming along slowly but surely with the building stuff. I have to give my wife 100% of the credit for the work getting done. Just today we put a down-payment down for our pole building and it looks like we have some of the other major contractors picked out. Next, we need to take a trip and go shopping for some appliances, flooring, and our wood burner. Also, we need to make sure our house that we are living in now is presentable for showing ... it's going on the market soon.

One last thing, I talked with my cousin for a bit today about the tractor. He fixed the brakes and a couple other minor things and we should be good to go in the next couple of days. Of course I would just get stuck if I tried to do anything now, but hopefully it will dry out soon ... but not too dry!

Friday, April 25, 2008

High Winter Gains

It seems like a weird time to be thinking about winter gains for cattle, but that was the subject of an article titled, "A Good Winter of High Gains Next Year Starts Now," in this months issue of the "The Stockman Grassfarmer". The article is written by William Winter who is a herd health consultant for the producers of the Thousand Hills Cattle Company. The thing that really caught my attention was that this guy was from Minnesota and he was talking about folks in Wisconsin getting high gains in the winter. Anything about getting high gains in the winter snow is worth checking out in my book! They are even capable of having year-round Average Daily Gains (ADGs) of 2 pounds.

The advice of one of their best producers is to "fix the soil". Before Karl Dallefeld even puts cattle out on to new ground he has the soil tested and adds some lime and other minerals (the article doesn't mention what the other minerals are). The idea is that with soil that is in great shape you will be able to produce stored forages that are great, and with brix indexes of at least 10-12%. In addition to quality stored forages Mr. Dallefeld also, "supplements with kelp, Char-Cal (from MBA), a Gerald Fry-style mineral mix, a bit of dried molasses, and the direct-fed microbials from Bio-Vet.

Another key mentioned in the article is keeping the herd grazing as long as you can. Some forages mentioned were sorghum sudan, hybrid sudan, and grazing corn before it tassels (I want access to tropical corn!). I realize that bison are different than cattle, but the article mentions a bison herd in Wisconsin that only supplemented feed for 45 days last winter. And, don't forget how much snow we had!

The last thing mentioned in the article is that the top producers of Thousand Hills wean their calves at 10 months and still have good looking cows. This idea is pretty foreign to me and I wish they would have written more about it, but the basic idea is that their soils and forages are so good that the cows stay in condition even with the long amount of time lactating. Interesting stuff...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Family Farming

We have a lot of work to do on the farm. Building, planning, fencing, mowing, and so much more is what will be consuming our time as we press forward. But, in the midst of all of this work I have been thinking a lot about the importance of keeping our children excited and involved. Right now our 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter enjoy their time at the farm, but sometimes we have to do a little convincing to get them excited (especially our son) about going out there. Mostly I think that is because a bare piece of land that will become our farm and home is difficult to wrap a young child's mind around. But, once we are out there they enjoy running around, hitting balls, and jumping in the puddles!

When I did my Q&A Interview with Kelli of Sugar Creek Farm I was inspired by her thoughts in this post about the families role in farming. That is something that we envision for our family. With that in mind we have tried to do a couple of things to keep our children involved in the farming and building process.

One of the simplest things that we have done is talk about farming at the dinner table. Talk about the cows, farming decisions, or general plans. This has lead to some interest by our children in talking about farming. Often when we will ask our son what he would like to talk about at the dinner table we hear, "Dexters!" It is fun to hear a 4-year-olds thoughts on cows, calves, bulls, and steers...

Another thing that we do is take lots of pictures of the kids at the farm and play farm at home as often as they want. By taking pictures at the farm we can look at them whenever we want at home, it kind of brings the farm home with us so there isn't this large separation. And the farm play, well that is just plain fun for me also! Caleb has inherited a lot of my farm toys and is beginning to collect some of his own, so we try to spend some time playing farm whenever he wants (playing as a family).

When it comes to laying out the farm and the house we have also involved the kids. When we were working on our house layout we gave the kids their own copy of the house and let them put in their rooms and the furniture. Even though we did this a couple of months ago they still get our their pictures from time to time and talk about their design (the couch is here, my bed is here, here is the kitchen ... that kind of thing). Also, this past weekend we took the family out to stake out the house and then we measured out so we could find where the kid's bedroom is going to be ... then we explored the ant hills "in" the kid's room!

One last thing that I decided to do is get the kids a toy tractor replica of our new tractor. It just gives them a little connection to the tractor and to the farming. Keeping the family involved in the farm is going to be one of our main goals as we move forward.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Thoughts on the Film King Corn

Finally, this past Sunday night I was able to stay up past my bedtime and watch King Corn on IPTV (local PBS station). This has been a long time coming considering I first blogged about the movie on October 30, 2007 ... I mentioned it briefly again on December 13, 2007 ... and I even wrote about it one more time on December 18, 2007. But, despite the opportunities and my HUGE desire to see the film my schedule was never able to connect with the screenings in Iowa. But, after much waiting I was finally able to see what I had been writing about when it aired on Independent Lens. I thought I would give a few of my initial thoughts and then maybe write a little more as I process everything.

1.) I think the first thing that I thought after watching the entire movie is that it was fairly well balanced. Of course I believe they had somewhat of an outline of where they wanted to go with everything, but it did really seem evident that as they learned and grew in the project and in farming knowledge they came to some conclusions that they didn't see coming. This really comes out if you read the "Making Of" section on the Independent Lens website. I think it gives a good glimpse into a portion of their experience.

2.) For me the whole corn in the food system and going through the cattle thing was prominent, but I believe one thing that really popped out as I watched the film was that it was also a film about the loss of the family farm in Iowa. There is a great scene when the are riding and talking with the "big farmer" that does the work on their acre. Almost quietly he mentions something about not wanting to be big, but that was just part of the game. The big cattle guy said the same thing also. As a small family farmer this is something that really hits home with me and I appreciated this angle of the film.

3.) When they were in the office of the "family" rancher (that grows 7,000 acres of corn) the rancher commented that if grassfed was what people wanted than that is what they would give people, but it would be more expensive. This kind of caught me off guard because the inexpensiveness of grass finishing is one of the many reasons that we have adopted this model. Plus corn is almost three times as expensive now as it was in 2005 when the film was made.

4.) As an Iowan I think their treatment of the Iowans and the farmers was great. They didn't make us out to be country bumpkins or backwards prairie people. One farmer in particular said it best when he expressed his feelings about corn. "We're growing crap," he said and then went on to talk about his indifference towards what his corn is used for. He is just selling it ... that is his take.

5.) This film convicted me! As I sat watching the movie I was treating myself to a gourmet root beer (that is a weakness of mine) and eating a small bowl of ice cream. Both of those things have corn syrup in the top three. I was seriously convicted and haven't had a pop since then. But, know one thing ... I'm never cutting back on my favorite foods, corn on the cob and corn casserole!

If you can't tell yet, I am very impressed with the movie. I think it gave a fairly balanced representation of the corn farming culture in Iowa and I like the fact that it didn't jump into the ethanol mess. My feeling is that trying to tackle the ethanol side of things would have muddied up the movie to much because there is so much to explore there. That being said, I did read somewhere that they are also looking into the idea of making a film on some of the other issues like use of fuels and possibly even ethanol.

These guys did a good job and I am pretty impressed with the results. I also wish I could take back my comment from the first time I wrote about the move. Back in October I said, "Okay, this may be bordering on propaganda..." Now if they really want a hit I think they should make a documentary about a beginning farmer starting with nothing in the land of King Corn! I'm serious about this. In one sense I think the movie ends up asking more questions (which is great) than it answers and a look at people farming differently would provide some of those answers. If film was something I was good at I think I would jump at something like that, but of course I may have a little beginning farmer bias!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Trees for the Homestead

Since we have decided to build up on top of the hill (easier to grade, easier to layout, nice view of the farm, easy driveway, just plain better) we need to begin thinking about the types of trees we want to plant around the house and yard. There are a ton of positives from building up on the hill, the downside is that we have no shade and no windbreak for the winter. So, we are thinking about trees... Specifically we are thinking about planting trees in a couple of stages. Some fast growing trees to establish something, and then some slower growers that will be the trees of the future.

When it comes to windbreaks there are a few hybrids that always get mentioned, and those are the ones I'm looking at right now. The first one is the Austree. They are fast growing and used quite a bit here in Iowa. They even have a free DVD you can order from their website, but their prices aren't published online. I do have a little experience with the Austree as some of our family has planted them before and they did alright and grew fast like they were supposed to. The next one that I see mentioned and advertised are the hybrid poplars. Supposedly you plant them nine feet apart and in three years you will have a windbreak. It looks like you can get five of them for $22.99 (3'-4' tall). The last one that we are looking at right now is thehybrid willow. They are always advertised in the same catalogs that the poplars are in and they are appealing mostly because of their price, five for $7.50. According to the link above they come as 2-3 foot trees and grow more quickly than the hybrid poplars. At that price we could get a good sized windbreak going for a low price, but I want to learn more.

As far as shade trees go, well we have a bit more research to do. You can purchase various fast growing shade trees including in the Hybrid Poplar variety. According to advertising they can live for 30 to 50 years mature to about 50 feet tall in a few years. We would like to place something like this around the house to help shade things a little and provide a little ambiance. But, we realize they would just be temporary.

Now, when it comes to the long term plan trees... Well, let's just say I don't have as much of a handle on those. I know that we want to have a nice stand of pines to act as a windbreak and we like some of the hardwoods for shade, but that is about the extent of my planning at this point. I would love to hear from you if you have any experience with any of these fast growing trees or if you would like to vote for some good "stage two" trees for Southern Iowa.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The New Tractor

In my last post I wrote just a little bit about the tractor that we just purchased. As I mentioned it is a Farmall 450 with a wide front end. According to Tractor Data they were produced between 1956 and 1958 and there were over 25,000 made between gas, lp, and diesel (with gas/lp leading the way by far). The 450 is around a 40 to 50 hp tractor (it varies between the drawbar and pto of course) and should be perfect for our farm. One interesting thing about the information listed on the Tractor Data website is that they give the original list price. For the Farmall 450 the original price was $4,100. Now, a fully restore (similar to new) could cost at least that much and maybe more! I guess that is one good thing about older tractors, if you keep them running well and taken care of they shouldn't drop in value.

Anyways, on Friday afternoon my dad drove up to meet me at our house and then we took off about 60 miles north to the home of the Farmall 450 we were interested in ... and about 50 other tractors this guy has! Needless to say, this guy loves old tractors and the color doesn't seem to matter. There were old tractors, there were loaders, there were implements, and then there were more old tractors! Some were fully restored, some were a work in progress, and some were just waiting for their turn in the shop. Anybody with an interest in old iron would have loved a walk around this place ... of course it would have helped if it wasn't cold and rainy.

Because of the wet and chilly weather he had pulled the 450 into his shop so we could take a good look at it. The tractor was painted a couple of years ago so it had a decent coat of paint and the tin is in pretty good shape. After first glance it looks like ... a red tractor! This particular Farmall 450 has a Paulson loader with one way hydraulics (hydraulics takes it up, gravity takes it down) on the loader and two way on the bucket. This isn't the best case, but it works fine for our farm. Another add on is the three point hitch. The original 450's either had a straight drawbar or 2 point IH fast hitch. But, there are plenty of different three point after market kits out there and this tractor has one. Having the loader and a three point hitch will be a great help around the farm.

After talking about the tractor and giving it a once over in the shed we took it out for the test drive and tried to put it through some paces as best we could on a rainy, muddy, and cold day. Things seemed to work well except for one little part ... the BRAKES! They weren't completely gone, but they were gone enough to cause concern in hilly Southern Iowa. The brakes weren't a deal breaker though because it is a relatively easy fix and we have a pretty good idea of what the problem is. In fact the tractor is already on the way to getting fixed.

Speaking of getting the tractor fixed... Things actually worked out pretty well, because my cousin just happened to be taking three tractors up to my Uncle and was in the area to pick up our new tractor and take it to his place for the repairs. Now the tractor is in the area (within 25 miles of the farm) and waiting to get a brake job done. Once the brakes are fixed we will have plenty of work for it to do ... mowing, pulling fence, putting in fence, spreading gravel, and on and on and on!

Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I will be able to share so tractor work pictures, but for now I'll just enjoy the picture of the tractor on the trailer ... close to the farm.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

International Harvester Farmall 450

Shopping is something it seems like I have been doing a lot of lately. First we went shopping at the "land store", then we went shopping at the "hay equipment store", and yesterday I went shopping at the "tractor store"! The other day I mentioned that I had found a tractor that I wanted to check out. Yesterday my dad and I traveled up to take a look at it and see if it would work out for the new farm. It was rainy and it was muddy, but luckily the tractor was in the shed so we were able to check it out in relative comfort.

The tractor in question is a IH Farmall 450 from the mid/late 1950's. As you can see from the pictures it is in pretty good shape cosmetically and seemed to be in fairly good shape mechanically. We looked it over, took it for a test drive, talked about some of the other tractors the guy had (probably 50+), haggled about the price, and eventually decided to make the purchase! I'm glad my dad was able to make the trip with me because his help was much needed and the conversation is always good in the car.

The other good news is that my cousin is going to be coming through the area this weekend with an empty trailer. That means he will be able to pick it up and bring it South. It's nice when stuff works out like that! I'll tell you more about the tractor next week...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Distillers' Grains: Twice as Nice ... Or Not?

I hear a lot about distillers grain. Most weekdays I listen to the Big Show on WHO Radio (farm reports and farm talk) and their markets are often sponsored by Hawkeye Gold, a seller of dried distillers grain. On the radio the announcers are pretty high on the stuff (they are paid to be impressed though) and I know that it is starting to take off around the state, especially with the high corn and feed prices. Despite all of the good things I have heard about distillers grain I am beginning to hear some people that think it is a bad idea.

There was a tiny blurb in this months issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer" titled, "Distillers' Grains Twice As Likely to Create Deadly E.Coli Strain". Basically the article outlines the findings of researchers at Kansas State University. They found that, "beef carcasses that cattle fed distillers' grains (ethanol byproduct) have twice as much E. Coli 0157 compared to cattle fed regular feedlot rations.

The article went on to say that this certain form of E. Coli is especially dangerous for humans because our stomach acid doesn't kill it. I've never been one to be an alarmist and I do recognize that this article is coming from a publication that does have a reason to promote grass-finished, but it does cause one to think.

What is the reason behind the increased push to feed distillers grain? Is it because we need to use up all that is left behind in ethanol production? Is it because it is a good cheap source of feed for the feedlot owners? Or is it because the ethanol industry needs another thing to make ethanol seem like a good idea? (In keeping with the idea of full disclosure I should admit that I always fill up with ethanol ... it's cheaper)

I do know one thing for sure. Any bad press about distillers' grains being used in the feedlots is good press for the grass-finishers out there. And I plan to do a little more research into this.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mow, Bale, or Burn?

About a month ago I wrote a little bit about our pasture on the farm. Right now the entire 26 acres of pasture is in the Conservation Reserve Program and it appears to have been seeded into switchgrass at some point during its tenure in CRP. The switchgrass is a nice warm season grass that we hope to maintain as part of the pastures (it will be difficult), but judging by the amount of small trees and brush growing it has been awhile since it was last burned off or mowed. So, the grass is really tall and not really ready for grazing by our Dexters. Which leads us to the question at hand ... Mow, Bale, or Burn?

The picture above (click image for larger picture) shows some of the grass still standing and some of the area that we mowed on Tuesday. My dad test drives County Clipper ZTR mowers so I had him bring one up and we mowed the area around the building site so we could more easily envision the project and to see what it looks like after a couple of passes with a mower. Of course there is a lot of residue on the ground after mowing, but it is fairly well chopped up. One thing that I did notice after mowing was that there are there are clumps of switchgrass and then there are spots were other grasses are coming on. We are supposed to get some rain tomorrow and then a slight warm up on the weekend, so we will see if the grass pops.

I'm not sure if the residue from chopping up the grass is too much cover for new grass to come through or if it is just really good organic matter that can be incorporated into the soil. That is why I have been thinking about the second option, baling. I could go out and mow and rake the grass and then have a friend come in and bale it up to get it off of the ground. The bales would be much good for feed, but they could be used for composting or something. The main reason behind this is to open up the growing grass to more sunlight, but maybe the mowed grass residue would help keep moisture in?

The final option is to burn it off. Maybe this would be the most natural way to manage a pasture full of native switchgrass, but I'm just sure that I have the patience. Right now there are plenty of wet spots around the farm because of all of the rain, and judging by the forecast they will be wet for a while longer! Also, there is a waiting list that we are on to have the Rural Fire Department do the burn and it could be a while before they get to us. I think I just may cross this option off of the list unless I come up with some compelling evidence to make me patiently wait.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

That Gully I Mentioned...

Now that the land is finally in our name our plans are beginning to feel real. With that in mind we went out the property right after signing the paperwork and talked about some more of the specifics of the layout. And then today we actually did a little bit of work, but more on that on another day! While we were out there on Monday afternoon I did take a few minutes to run down to the gully that I mentioned last Tuesday and Wednesday. On those days I didn't have a picture of the "major" problem area, but as you can see I have some now.

As you can see from the picture above we are losing a bit of land due to erosion. In fact that tree you see in the middle of the picture used to be on ground about two feet higher, but then it the whole chunk slid down into the ravine. Also, as evidenced by the picture on the right, you can tell that someone else thought this was a big enough problem that they also tried to fix it. Their fix involved throwing in some logs and brush along with the old woven wire and barbed wire fences that were taken down from some of the perimeter. That is not the kind of "fix" that I want to do. But, I do want to do something because I really don't want to lose that much more land down into this hole full of sticks and wire!

This last picture on the left shows some of the water shed that is funneling down into this gully and when you are there you can easily see the grass laid over from the rush of water coming down on all sides. This is not unexpected and isn't the end of the world, but it is something that can be addressed with good farming practices ... or fishing pond building ... but that may just be the fisherman in me speaking! Of course there is always going to be a rush of water in the spring with the combination of melting snow and spring rains, but it will be interesting to monitor this spot throughout the year to see how much water really runs off down the hill and into the gully.

I think my main method of attack will be to slow the water down, either by man made methods or by slowly increasing the organic matter throughout the farm so more precipitation would be soaked up by the ground and less will run off. Of course there will never be a perfect solution and it is totally natural for water to create a path of least resistance down the hill, we just want to make sure things don't get out of hand because of our bad stewardship.

So, any more ideas? What do you think about pulling the wire out of there? I'm not sure that it is really doing the job that it was intended to do and I also don't like the idea of just leaving junk laying around. But, I'm always open for more ideas. I do like the idea of a small livestock reservoir that can be used to water livestock below the "pond", but I think that will be in the long term project file.

Lots of work to do, but we are excited!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Grass-Fed Cattle :: Chapter 2 Book Report

Chapter two of Julius Ruechel's book, "Grass-Fed Cattle" was a pretty interesting read because it was a topic that I think about often as we plan the direction for our growing Dexter herd. The chapter was titled, "Genetics and Breeding: Selecting the Right Animal for Your Herd," and was an interesting discussion of that topic. I think it would be understatement to say that Mr. Ruechel likes the idea of culling! But, I tend to agree with him that all too often we are selecting our cows, heifers, and bulls for all of the wrong reasons!

The biggest pitfall that Mr. Ruechel talks about in this chapter is the problem of falling into single trait selection. You know selecting cows only for their milk production, bone structure, color, or any other single trait. Obviously in a dairy operation special attention needs to be paid to the milking ability of a cow, but if that is the only trait you select for you may end up with a super milker that is a horrible cow! And, we are supposed to be raising cows not machines. According to Mr. Ruechel we should be selecting for low-maintenance and high-fertility (and all that goes with those things). He also has a short section about making sure that your climate and the natural climate of the breed is taken into consideration when selecting.

Basically, he talks about bulls looking like bulls should look (masculine) and cows/heifers looking like cows/heifers should look (feminine). With that basic picture in mind Mr. Ruechel says we need to look at our herd with a predatory eye, just as a predator would in a natural situation. Because our cattle are domesticated animals we need to fill the role of the predator not only through fencing, but also through selection.

There is a lot of other interesting stuff in this chapter, but there is one last thing that especially piqued my interest. I think I am safe in saying that Mr. Ruechel isn't high on registered-purebred breeding. That is not to say that he doesn't see the importance of it, because he also strongly believes in terminal cross-breeding (crossing two purebred animals, but not using the offspring for re-breeding). His biggest problem with the registered breeding world is that he feels they too often select for a single trait, especially traits that are most popular for the moment.

The reason I found this so interesting is because I tend to agree with it to a point in the Dexter world, and I know some others that agree also. When I began my search for a dun Dexter bull I had a horrible time finding a bull that actually looked like a bull. My theory is because people aren't really culling animals based on fertility or "bullish" characteristics, but rather they are either focused on color, breeding lines, or the feeling that every Dexter born must be used because they are a small breed. This bull problem led me all the way to Southern Missouri for a bull that was dun, relatively masculine, and had a good temperament. As we develop our growing Dexter herd I want to make sure that I have that predatory eye to an extent. Our breeding program will be based on breeding for the true dual-purpose characteristics of the Dexter.

All in all, this was a pretty good chapter and I would say it redeemed the book for me after being somewhat disappointed with the first chapter.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Beginning Farmer Gets a Farm

On Saturday, September 23, 2006 I made my first post on the blog creatively titled, "The Very Beginning". I followed that with some mind-numbing drivel on buying work boots and a seriously lame examination of some livestock market numbers at the time. A few weeks later I wrote another impressive blog post (impressive because it actually received a comment ... from a close friend) titled, "Why FARM". In that inspired post I came to the realization that I had more reasons not to farm than I had to farm, but that I still wanted to farm. Since those first few posts I have now made a total of 223 entries dealing with all the aspects of my quest towards farming. Research, experiences, disappointments, plans, and plenty of hopes.

I began this blog as a journal of sorts or maybe you could call it a research diary. I began the blog because I realized that I learned by writing and processing the things that I had read, researched, heard, and experienced. I began the blog because I had a hard time finding the reflections and journey of a farmer starting from scratch. And, I will even admit that I began the blog in hopes of helping others with the same dream as I had. A dream to farm that has been kicking around inside of me from the time that I was a child disappointed that my mom was going to pave our driveway in town ... because there was no way I could use my pedal tractor on cement! Farmers drove on gravel ... not some fancy pavement.

Now as I sit and type late on Sunday night (sometimes I cheat and write my posts ahead of time) we are on the verge of taking the next step in the journey. It is an exciting step and yet at the same time it is a scary step that is bringing about much personal reflection.

Can we really do this? Can we really make this a business? I can take care of animals, but can I do all of the marketing on a larger scale in order to take everything to the next level? What do I need to do in order to keep this from becoming an expensive hobby? How are we going to get everything done ... can we create this farming out of nothing!?! Lots of questions are running through my head, but mostly I am excited.

So tomorrow, at 11:00 am we are going to sign on the dotted line and then in the afternoon we can go out to OUR farm (which really is just a bare piece of land full of grass and trees). There is so much to do and so much to think about, but right now I am just enjoying thinking about the journey it has been.

I want to say thank you to everyone who has commented with encouragement, instruction, advice, and thoughts. The discussion and information that have come in the form of the comments have added so much to this blog that I even began to feel like people could get something out of reading it ... as long as they were reading the comments left by people other than myself! Thank You!

From the days of driving the pedal tractor in the yard pulling the wooden plow my dad made until now. I think the immortal words of Bear Claw Chris Lapp and Jeremiah Johnson (in the movie Jeremiah Johnson) sum it up best.

Bear Claw - "You've come far pilgrim."
Jeremiah - "Feels like far."
Bear Claw - "Were it worth the trouble?"
Jeremiah - [half-joking] "Ha? What trouble?"

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Old Iron: Antique Tractor Prices on the Rise

This morning I found an interesting Podcast on the WHO Radio Farm website titled, "Old Tractors-High Prices". This isn't really related to cattle, hogs, sheep, beginning farming, but it is somewhat related to buying equipment. I mean it is about tractors and farms use tractors. Actually, it is of some interest to me because I am interested in old tractors and because I am currently looking for an older tractor (some would even call them antiques) to use on the farm for haying and other farm work. In this interview Ken Root talks with Jonathan Welsch, a reporter for the "Wall Street Journal". Click on the link above to listen to the interview.

One more thing on the "Old Iron" front. Yesterday I came across a Farmall 450 with a loader. This tractor was made in the late 50's and is in the HP range we would need to use our new hay equipment. There are a few of nice things about this particular tractor. First of all, it was painted in the last few years, so it looks fairly nice. Also, the loader is an all hydraulic instead of having a trip bucket which can often be found on tractors of this size and age. Finally, most of these older IH Farmall's came with a 2 point fast hitch, but this tractor has been upgraded to an after-market three point hitch. That would come in extremely handy!

Of course I'm still not sure if a tractor is even in the cards right now, but we do have some back up plans, so we don't have to rush into anything. Right now we are still focused on closing on Monday and getting the building up ... tractors are somewhat on the back burner, unless I see one that interests me!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Today is the Day...

...well, today was supposed to be the day. We were supposed to be closing on the land this morning at 11:00 AM (signing a lot of papers and spending more money that we have ever spent), but because the lender wasn't able to get the paperwork done we are going to have to wait to Monday morning at the same time. Not really that big of a deal, but still disappointing. I suppose part of the problem is that we chose a lender in Kentucky instead of locally...

We looked at a bunch of lenders, everything from local banks to area lending businesses, and even special agricultural lenders. Ideally we were looking for a lender who would lend us the money for the land and for the building. That didn't happen! The residential lenders wouldn't give us a loan because the parcel was to big and the agricultural lenders wouldn't loan us money because they didn't like the idea of a pole building as a house.

So, we are going to have two loans. One loan for the land which is going to be through Farm Bureau and one loan for the building. We ended up going with the Farm Bureau loan because they only required 15% down. I realize that is a little low for a down payment, but since we were also going to have to put 20% down for the building loan it was important to us. We did run the monthly payment numbers many ... many ... many times to make sure that everything would work! One other factor is that we are going to have to pay the CRP buyout from our own money. We couldn't include that in the loan.

Like I said, I'm a little disappointed. But, the good news is that it is supposed to be 40 degrees and raining today, but on Monday the forecast is for 58 and sunny. At least we will be able to go out to the land and enjoy the nice day after we close ... and do some mowing around the building area. After mowing the building area we can stake out the house and get a better idea of present and future building placements.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Farm Machinery Shopping...

Yesterday I went shopping. Awhile back you may remember reading about whether I should rent equipment, buy equipment, or hire someone with equipment. Most of the discussion centered around the subject of making hay. On our farm we won't have a lot of ground to make hay on (unless we find some to rent), but between my dad's land and my land we will probably be making hay on up to 40 acres this year. Considering the prices of some older equipment out there we decided it would be most efficient for us if we actually owned the equipment.

So, as I said yesterday I went shopping, and now we own the equipment we are going to need to make hay. I found a listing on Craig's List for a haybine, rake, and baler. With that equipment we would have a pretty good start, so I e-mailed the seller and yesterday I had a chance to check everything out. It's old used machinery, but it seems to be in good condition and the baler has always been shedded.

I didn't take a camera with me, and I wasn't able to bring it home today because the pasture (some of it is out in the pasture) and the roads are pretty muddy. But, I did some searching on the internet to come up with some pictures of what we bought to get started in the hay business.

The haybine is a New Holland 469 (like the picture) that seems to be in okay shape. I have never used a haybine before, but when my uncle used to make quite a bit of hay he had a New Holland haybine so my dad used it and there is a good source of information in the family. One plus of using a haybine is that you are able to bale a little sooner than if you just use a sickle bar mower. The rake is just an old Massey Ferguson five bar rake (similar to the one pictured). Nothing special, but it will work great for us.

The baler is an old Massey Ferguson #10 baler (the same as pictured, just more dust). It is an old baler, but it has been taken care of and the knotters where rebuilt not too long ago. Before I went to look at the baler my dad talked with a couple Amish neighbors that have or have used Massey Ferguson #10 or #12 balers. They all had good things to say about the bales they make. In fact the only complaint they had was that they were too heavy, so they took to many horses in some people's opinion. I'm not too concerned about the weight!

So, that was my shopping day. I must admit that I enjoy shopping in another farmers barn and pasture much more than I enjoy a day running from store to store. Even on a cool and muddy day it is better! We have a few options on how we will split up the equipment between my dad's place and our new place, but most likely the baler will end up at his place since he is further away from his brothers place. I will at least be able to get the hay cut and raked and then pick up my uncle's baler if I need to. I'm already looking forward to the warm summer days!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

My Thoughts On Healing The Farm Land...

Yesterday I posted a picture and a little description of an area on our farm with a bit of erosion going on. Right now it is not a "major" problem (as some pointed out), but that doesn't mean that eventually it won't move from the stage you see in yesterdays post to the stage you see in the picture on the left. The picture on the left is not from my the land we are buying, but I would consider it an unacceptable waterway. It just does not have to be like that.

Eventually if nothing was done, and if the place would continuously grazed (not something I'm going to do) the small cut in the ground could turn in to something like is pictured in the right. There is enough water draining down to cause that sort of damage. After time things could get even worse. In fact (and I'm sorry I don't have a picture of it) if you were to follow that waterway/gully down to where it meets the woods you will see that I'm already beginning to lose part of my pasture from some erosion in the form of a big washout. It is easy to see that the washout is growing and I would really like to help stop that before it goes any further.

In fact, I am not the only one who has realized it was a problem. If you were to head out to the land to day and look down in the washout you would see that at some point (not to long ago) after they took down the exterior fencing they threw it in the washed out area to help prevent more erosion. I am no expert, but I think we can come up with something better than that!

My short term goal is to get someone from the local extension, NRCS, or some other help out here to talk about different seedings that I can do. Also, we have talked about the possibility of mowing and then baling the switchgrass on the land because it could take awhile for the rural fire department to work their way down the list to our names. In that case I had considered the possibility of using some of those bales as filers in the washout. Something to stabilize the edges, but slightly more natural than rusty woven wire.

Next we want to use managed grazing (possibly with some ultra high stock density) to return some nutrients to that area of the land. With the help of our cattle hopefully we can add some more organic matter to the waterway. This will not be an area that we can graze in all conditions, but it is something we can manage as part of the whole and to help improve the land.

In the long run this would be a natural place to put a small pond. I'm not sure how big of a pond this water shed could support, but it would at least be enough to supplement our livestock water. We would not all our livestock access to the pond, but would rather pump out of it (or use gravity) in order to provide water. This is in the long term, but is a possibility. Besides, it would make for a great view from the house!

Those are just a few of my initial thoughts and things that I gleaned from the great comments yesterday. Being a "grass farmer" is my goal, so I want to make sure I am taking care of all the areas on the farm as best as possible. Next time we are out there I will make sure I get a picture of the washout...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Healing the Farm Land...

They say a picture says more than a thousand words. So, today I will let the picture do the speaking and just add a few words of my own!

This picture comes from the valley/waterway on our impending farm. As you can somewhat see from the picture, the grass around the waterway is something different than the switchgrass that is on the rest of the pasture. The cut that you see water running in is probably about 100 to 150 yards long and leads to the ravine that runs through the woods. Just on the edge of the woods there is a rather large washout area from the water running down the hill.

Obviously I want to do something to help repair the land here, and I have a few ideas bumping around in my head, but what do you think? I would be interested in hearing what your thoughts are on how I should go about using and repairing this waterway on the farm. I'll let you know some of my ideas in another post ... along with what I learn from everyone who throws in their two cents.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Grass-Fed Cattle :: Chapter 1 Book Report

Finally, in the midst of all the craziness, I was able to pick up Julius Ruechel's book, "Grass-Fed Beef" and make it through chapter one. The first chapter, titled "The Great Herds and Their Grasslands", acts as an introduction to the idea of herd grazing and the impact on the microbes, soil, and grasses (along with the animals itself). Mr. Ruechel opens with an account of the "evolution" of ruminant grazers and their places in the millions and millions of years that the earth has "existed". Personally, I could have done without that section and all the points that were made about the "evolution" of these animals really made me feel even more secure in the truth of creation. But, I also probably would be "Expelled" if I were to state my opinions (check out the link).

What did come out loud and clear as the the great herds did a wonderful job of taking care of the grasslands and themselves and we can learn a lot from that fact. They were able to work in conjunction with the soil microbes to break down grass residue and replenish the organic matter in the soil. That organic matter has many ... MANY benefits and they are all to often overlooked because of new "advancements" in farming.

After the opening sections (which I didn't care for) Mr. Ruechel does go into an interesting discussion of what exactly we can learn from the herds and how we can duplicate the benefits of the herd impact. Basically, we need to recreate the herds on our own farms by using fencing (acting like predators) to keep the animals close together and also to force them to move in a "migratory" pattern just as the wild herds used to be able to do. The thing that really comes out in this idea is the importance of management ... managing the impact that our "herds" have on an area and moving them at the right times.

One last thing that I found interesting (mainly because of some of the Western arid region ranchers that comment from time to time) was the importance of herds and herd impaction for those arid regions of the country. Mr. Ruechel contends that without that those areas will lose the good and sometimes lush pastures they are capable of having. Food for thought anyways.

All in all an interesting chapter, but I expect I will enjoy the following chapters much more.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Top 6 Beginning Farming Links

Yesterday on the Epi-log I posted, "My Top 6 Favorite Farm Food Sites," for all of the readers. Today I thought I would post my Top 6 Beginning Farmer Sites. These are just some of the sites I like to check out for information, articles, and encouragement. I would love to hear what your favorite farming sites are also!

-National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service - ATTRA (Lots of good links to recent news, legislation, and publications to help farmers)

-Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education - SARE (The name says it all, but they also have links for educators, researchers, and consumers ... so it helps connect all groups)

-New Farm (They have changed their website up a bit and they don't seem to update as often with new articles, but they still have a ton of good information)

-American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (The place to be if you are interested in the importance of minor and heritage breeds ... and we probably all should be to some extent)

-Practical Farmers of Iowa (Of course this is very regional and they don't have a ton of written articles on their site, but it is a great resource for me as it helps connect me with other farmers in my area)

-Homesteading Today (Not totally farm related or even made for farmers, but they have good forums on cattle ... pigs ... gardening ... and just general topics full of knowledgeable people. Plus, good debate)

So, what are some of your top favorites?

Friday, April 04, 2008

One Week Away...

Well, yesterday our realtor called in order to set up a specific time for our closing! For the past three weeks it seems like we have just been waiting in limbo for this day to come, and now we are only seven days away. So, now after months and months of planning and preparing the rubber is about to hit the road. Once we take possession of the land there is still plenty of paperwork to do. Because of the type of building we are doing and because of the small amount of money we are planning on spending we are going to have to work with two lenders. In the next couple of weeks we need to get everything together so we can release land to the building lender and then put together a materials list for them. It makes my head spin just thinking about it!

As I have mentioned before we are planning on building a pole frame building to live in. This type of building will be less expensive to build and go a up a little more quickly. The ability to put the building up quickly is very important to us, because we want the church to be able to sell the parsonage we live in as soon as possible during the good selling season in the spring. So, once the plumbing is roughed in, the building is up, and the slab is down our first order of business will be the bathroom and a kitchen sink! Once we have those we can think about moving in and just camping out in the "house". It won't be ideal to live in it while we build it, but it is what we have to do. Of course if the parsonage takes a little longer to sell then we will have more time to build.

Initially we are planning on only building one permanent building on the farm followed by the possibility of a permanent three sided shed once the house is somewhat moving along. We want to see how the farm and the land work before we go planting buildings all over the place, but we do need a place to live and a place to store some hay. As long as it is possible to get water and electric to the building site we have now decided to build on top of the hill. As many people mentioned in other comments it is nice because it gives a view of the entire land and the surrounding area, along with giving a good flat spot to build the buildings and plant the garden.

The building we are planning on having built will be 36 x 45 x 10 (possibly longer depending on how the builder spaces the posts). Also it will most likely have a 6 foot porch running the length of the building. At this point we plan on finishing a portion 36 x 35 which will give us 1260 square feet and a small area for small equipment storage and "garage" type stuff. In the long run if we decide to continue living in this building then we will have an extra 360 square feet to "add on" with out much work.

But, the other plan behind this building (and the reason for the 10 foot ceilings) is to turn this "barn" type building into a on farm store in the future when we build a stick building. At that point we will not need 1260 square feet for the store so we can reclaim part of the building for barn and still have a high enough ceiling for storage. It would give us a neat sales building and a possible location for a certified kitchen if we wanted to go that value added direction.

I told my wife last night that I wish we could just be at the point of building now. I'd rather be deep in debt and working rather than trying to figure out how to get into debt! Oh well, in time ... in time ...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Thinking About Tractors...

Things have been CRAZY around here! Two weeks ago I started coaching soccer again for my fourth season. I coach varsity high school girls and I really enjoy it, but it does take a lot of time. Each day I spend two-and-a-half to three hours at practice, and things are about to get even busier because games start tomorrow! On the flip side we have a lot of away games this year so hopefully I'll have some time to read on the bus rides home. What I'm trying to say though is that my blog posts have been a bit irregular lately and I haven't had as much time to jump into some of the discussion in the comments. But, there has been lots of good ideas thrown around and I'm following along. Keep it up!

Anyways, back to beginning farming! As we are getting close to closing on the farm and preparing our building plans I am really starting to think about the tools we are going to need. Everything from basic construction tools to a chainsaw to possibly even a tractor with a front end loader. There are plenty of Management Intensive Grazing based farms out there that survive without a tractor (especially one our size). They hire in work done when the need the tractor and save money along the way. But, we are going to be starting out with nothing and a tractor could come in handy.

Since our land is completely bare we are going to have plenty of work to do. Everything from clearing pasture to putting up a house will have to be done. Fences need to be put in, trenches and holes need to be dug, a hay shed needs to be put up, some downed timber needs to be cleaned up (for burning), hay needs to be made (we could easily hire this done). And that is just some of the summer stuff. When winter comes we are going to need to be able to clear snow and maybe even move big round bales depending on what happens during the.

So, with all of that in mind here is what I'm thinking would work for us. A tractor with 45 to 80 horsepower, a front end loader, a three point hitch, a power take off, and it needs to be used! With all of that we should be to take care of most things on the farm, and if we are careful shoppers we might even be able to afford one, we will just have to see.

Pictured throughout the post are some of the tractors I have found that would fit our bill. Some of the pictures show loaders and some don't, but a loader will be high on our list. Also, a couple of them are narrow front end, but we will want a wide front end. The first picture is of a Massey Ferguson 165, next we have a Massey Ferguson 85 (a litter earlier than the 165), after that is the International 706, then the Oliver 1550, and finally a Ford 5000.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Passive Income on the Farm

There was a short article in the March, 2008 issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer" on passive income for the farm or the ranch. The article relates some of the experience of Gregg Simonds who has gained a reputation for turning around ranches that were losing money. The main reason for the passive income according to Mr. Simonds is because, "Passive income combats commodity volatility." Of course the main implications of the article are for ranches or larger farms and I small diverse farms are really planning to be part of the commodity market, but there is something that can be taken away from this.

Some of the passive income sources that Mr. Simonds used were gravel mining royalties (not going to happen on a 40 acre parcel) and cell phone towers (don't really want to look at that, and I doubt anyone wants to build one in the boonies). But, the main point of the article is about leased hunting. According to the article in areas like, "Texas, deer hunting leases can bring as much as $7 to $17 an acre and quail $12 to $20 an acre." In my part of Iowa some of those deer prices may even be higher because we are the home to a few world record bucks.

Mr. Simonds also goes on to say, "On many ranches, wildlife should actually be the centerpiece enterprise and cattle should be seen as a way to enhance the range for wildlife." Pretty interesting statement there, but again not very applicable to a 40 to 200 acre farm in Iowa. I the flip side there are a few hunting "ranches" in Iowa that are around 200 acres and up that focus on deer and pheasant with farming on the side.

Even though hunting, cell phone towers, or mineral rights aren't really opportunities I will be able to pursue on our farm I do like the idea of passive income, or more specifically non-animal/crop related income that is year round. I think one path towards having a successful sustainable small scale farm is finding ways to have income all year long, not just in the growing months or when you send animals to the butcher.

Some people obtain this year-round income stream by selling animals by the cut and finishing at different times of the year so they can have a supply of meat on hand. Others have added agri-tourism components to the farm that while they are somewhat seasonal do add year-round cash flow. On thing that I have considered if we did go the route of agri-tourism or something along the lines of a bed and breakfast is to work out lease deals with surrounding land owners. That would allow more land for things like hunting or wildlife watching. It would also help provide passive income for those farmers/land owners.

I believe some sort of year-round or passive income is an important part of a diversified farm. Joel Salatin may be a perfect example of this. While I do know that he could "make it" without any of his book writing or public speaking, I also know that it provides some year-round income and more diversification on the farm. Hmmm... maybe I need to write a book also ... Let's see, I could write about ... Oh, nevermind! I think I'll stick with something else. I have to many grammatical errors and to short of an attention span to write a book!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Are Dexters a Fad?

A few days ago a question was raised on a post over at Homesteading Today. The question was, "How long will they last?" The "they" was referring to dairy cows. Of course depending on whether or not it is a commercial operation or a home cow the time can vary from a few lactations to a quite a few years. But, when the idea of Dexters lasting a long time was brought up the responses weren't all daisies and roses. And I admit that I threw my two cents into the fray in defense of Dexters. Not that they were a better breed, but that they were an option for the small land holder looking for a dual purpose cow. You can read the thread and my comments by clicking on the link above.

One statement that was brought up is that the Dexter bred shows all the signs of being another "fad" breed. That one really got me going, because I know that from a historical standpoint they have been around for quite awhile (going back to their origins in Ireland) and the reason for their longevity has a lot to do with their usefulness. Just because their numbers have dropped off over time does not mean that they are not a viable option in certain situations it more than likely means that they didn't fit the industrial model of agriculture. They have even been in Iowa for almost a hundred years now! But, continuing the argument wasn't the reason I brought it up today...

The reason I bring it up today is because I thought about the question, "what if they really are a fad?" I know this is something I have thought about at different times, in fact I even blogged about it once before. What if the bottom of the market falls out in the Dexter world? What happens when nobody wants to buy my extra heifers or older cows? Am I going to end up with some high priced "lawn ornaments" as one poster mentioned on Homesteading Today?

Well, I think I have come to a conclusion and I'm going to run with it ... WHO CARES! I am not going to throw myself into the seedstock business. Of course I will sell some cows or heifers from time to time and maybe even some bulls if I have a notion, but the reason I chose to go with the Dexter breed is because I wanted to produce beef that I could direct market. And I believed and still believe the Dexter suits my needs the best.

After everything is all said and done on our new land we will probably have around 23 acres of pasture. You could not run a very big herd of commercial cattle on that acreage, but because of the size and forage conversion abilities of Dexters we can run a few more head. Also, from everything I have read, heard, and experienced these Dexters are great foragers and good gainers on pasture ... of course that speaks to their heritage as a small cottage or farm cow in Ireland.

But, most importantly I have tasted and I have read great things about their meat and their ability to finish on grass. And that is the main reason I went with Dexters, because I want people to eat them! Of course there are the health benefits of eating grassfed beef, there are many articles and books to point that out. But, how about this for a healthy marketing angle ... Dexters are smaller, so their portions are going to be smaller. Portion control is one of the many buzz words in the health and dieting community today, so I can market my beef in a few ways.

First of all it will be grassfed. You are what you eat is the saying ... cows eat grass, so they are grass ... we eat cows, so we are grass ... grass is a lot like salad and my teachers told me salad is good for me! Secondly, I can tout the benefits of being able to buy the whole steer, not just a half or a quarter. That way you will get all of the cuts instead of just 1/2 or 1/4. It is almost the ultimate freezer beef in my opinion. Third, there is the portion control angle. You can still have your steak, but you don't have to have one the size of your dinner plate (and you probably shouldn't no matter how it was raised). And finally, I can market the fact that Dexters are a heritage breed that deserves to be maintained for so many reasons (I don't want to list them now).

I don't think Dexters are a fad that will come and go. I also don't believe they will become a commercial mainstay. But, I do believe they are a great option for our farm and many other farms like ours. I also believe they are a great choice for families freezers all around me ... and I will be working to convince them of that!

If they are a fad ... WHO CARES ... I have a plan. But, they are not a fad :)
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