Saturday, August 30, 2008

Labor Day Weekend ... From Lake Wobegon

Since it is Labor Day weekend and people will be out enjoying time with family and friends I decided to just share a couple videos with you today and then again Monday. Actually, it is an audio today and a video on Monday. In the mean time I'm going to be doing as much labor as possible this Labor Day weekend. We are going to our free day tomorrow and do as much as we can in the house, so hopefully we will have some updates next week.

Here is today's audio clip. It is from YouTube so there will be a black screen through the entire thing, but it is still a good listen. I hope you enjoy this Garrison Keillor story about hog slaughter. It is an interesting take on the subject (and more) that does make you think...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Grass Finished in the Deep Snow

With all that has been going lately I have hardly had a chance to browse through my August issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer". But, after working on the house this evening I picked it up and found an interesting article titled, "Finishing Grassfed Cattle Year Around in Deep Snow Country". This is the type of article that interests a grassfarmer from Iowa, although I hope and pray that this winter isn't a "deep snow" winter in Sounthern Iowa!

The article is written by William G. Winter (DVM) who is a consultant for Thousand Hills Cattle Company, a grass finished cattle buyer, and contains ten great points for the grass finisher in snow country. I won't take time to expound on all ten of them, but I will mention a few that I really appreciated.

#2 - Prevent Heat Loss Stress With Wind Breaks: It seems that they advise against barns (I'm down with that), but do stress the importance of wind breaks if you want to maintain good winter gains. He says they mostly used stored forages (net wrapped or tubed), but of course any good wind break would work.

#5 - Prevent Parasites: I loved this quote, "Well-mineralized cattle, whether through the forages, supplementation, or both, do not get parasites. To my mind, there is never a case where poisons need to be used to control parasites." Mr. Winter (fitting name, huh) goes on to write about Basic-H and diatomaceous earth.

#9 - Use Correct Breed Selection: This article suggests English breeds (how about Irish?), smaller with lots of muscling, the ability to develop a think coat, and cattle that are from smart stock. By smart stock (my words) they are talking about cows that root around in the snow, find shelter in storms, and stick with their young through rough weather.

Every single point was great, but I don't want to copy the article word for word! I am encouraged with our Dexters after reading through this and experincing one winter with them.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Bit Overwhelming At Times...

I have to admit that from time to time I become easily overwhelmed and when that happens I have a strong desire to just shut down. I think I am getting close to that point with all that is going on in our lives right now...
  • Becca is pregnant, which is a great blessing, but it does mean extra trips to Des Moines every two weeks for check ups and everything else that goes along with expecting a new baby.
  • The school year has begun and with it next week I will begin youth groups for the year. This is all fine and dandy ... except this year because of a combination of things (we are selling the house were we have youth group) in addition to starting up we are also trying to remodel a room at the church to be my new office/youth center.
  • You may have heard that we are building a house ... I have never built a house before ... I become slightly overwhelmed when I go out there to work in the evenings.
  • We need to be living in said house by September, 26th ... that is close!!!
  • There are about 130 cattle panels that I still need to go take down and bring to the farm ... I thought I would have that done weeks ago.
  • And, I still have fencing that needs to go up on the perimeter of the farm. That is on hold for the moment, but I need to use the panels mentioned above to build a temporary pen so that I can bring some of our Dexters up to our farm.
Of course I could go on and on and in doing so I would be describing the lives of most Americans (farmers or not). One thing that keeps running through my mind though is the amazing amount of work that was done by the founders of this country and our states. Because of my love for history I am constantly reading anything I can get my hands on about the daily lives of our founding fathers and those that have come before us.

As we try to start our farm from scratch with a lot of modern conveniences I can't help but appreciate the families that began farming near Plimouth Plantation or those rough and tumble individuals that worked their way through the Cumberland Gap and carried the edge of the frontier with them. When I think of their work and determination I think it makes our current load a bit more managable.

What a blessing it is to be able to chase my dreams and be encouraged by the memory of those that have worked for theirs. Here are some links to a couple of great farming books that remind us of our heritage and the amount of work our ancestors did in the face of overwhelming times.

A Bountiful Harvest: The Midwestern Farm Photographs of Pete Wettach, 1925-1965 - This is a can't miss book if you love great farm pictures.

A Good Day's Work: An Iowa Farm in the Great Depression
- I just learned about this book, but it looks very interesting and inspiring.

I would add to the list any of the great 18th century journals I have read, but since they don't directly deal with farming I'll leave them off for now. I would also love to hear about any historical agricultural accounts you know of!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Help Us Shoot Our Livestock...

Now that I have your attention we really do need your help shooting our livestock, but when I say "shooting" I'm talking about taking pictures! From time to time I have come to you guys for some specific advice or help and I have never been steered in the wrong direction. So, after realizing our camera was slowly beginning to add a growing purple line to our pictures we began looking for a new camera. First we looked online, then we went to Best Buy, and finally we came home really confused.

A camera has become an important part of our farm as we have spent more time writing about our experiences and as we have had the opportunity to share a little bit about sustainable farming over on the Epi-Log. We need something that we can use to take outdoor pictures of life on the farm and of course plenty of family snapshots. It is amazing how much cameras have changed since we bought our first digital about five years ago.

So, these are the cameras we have come up with:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5K (10.1 MP)

Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-W150 (8.1 MP)

Canon Powershot SD1100IS (8.0 MP)

It isn't like this is our top three or anything, but these are the ones that we were able to handle at Best Buy and liked the best. I would love to hear about your experiences with any of these brands or models. We have loved our Canon, but seemed to like the Panasonic and the Sony a little more this time around. Let us know what you think! Oh, I forgot to mention we are trying to land in the $200'ish range.

On the Farm Front:

Not to leave you hanging on the farm/building front I'll give a quick update. Yesterday we were able to take the camper out to the farm so we have a place to lay the kids down when we work late. While we were out there I walked around the pigs a little and was happy with their growth. I'm really looking forward to them this winter!

Also, we spent a little time caulking the cracks around the posts. This will help keep the creepy-crawlies out ... we hope. Tomorrow evening I'm heading up it the rafters to run some more wire. Less the one month until we have to move out of our current house ... anyone wanna have a work day ;)

Edited - This is Becca, Ethan's wife.  I'm hijacking his blog because he is working at the house with our plumber - and because I know his password! :)  Thanks, everyone, for the great suggestions.  I just found out, however, that Canon had put a faulty component in their cameras around the years we bought ours.  This causes many of the camera displays to go out and/or produce distorted pictures.  They are replacing or fixing these cameras free of charge, even if the warranty has expired.  That's what I call great customer service!  Here's the number if you have one with problems too: 1-800-828-4040

So, thanks again for your suggestions.  Please feel free to keep them coming since it might help someone else who is looking for a camera.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

By the Cut, Half, or Whole?

As we inch closer to our first farm meat sales I am beginning to consider the different ways to sell our pork, beef, and possibly poultry. Our pigs should be ready around November/December (if you are interested in buying shoot us an e-mail) and I am starting to wonder if there are benefits to selling by the cut or at least in smaller packages. Of course if we decided to sell by the by the package there would be other hoops to jump through, but would the positives outweigh the difficulties?

Right now we are planning on selling our pigs as halves or wholes and just taking them to our locker or possibly one close to the customer. A couple of the biggest benefits with this sales method is that you have fewer customers to coordinate with and you are able to sell all of the cuts at the same time, not just the most popular cuts. Buying a whole or a half is also less expensive for the customer most of the time because you don't have to use a state/national inspected/certified processor.

The downside of selling by halves or wholes for the consumer is that you get a lot of meat! Of course that isn't a down side for everyone, but smaller families or couples (and singles) may not need or have the space for 80 or 160 pounds of pork and even more beef. I suppose another downside for the producer is that you are dealing with a smaller customer block. It may be a positive thing to be able to sell to many people.

If we decided to go the route of individual cut sales there are a few hoops that we would need to jump through. We would need an approved label, some sort of storage area (does it need to be certified?), and a certified processor. It is becoming more difficult for the small farmer to jump through all of those hoops, but it is possible and is being done by small-scale farms all over the country.

So, what are your thoughts? If you a farmer, potential farmer, customer, or potential customer I would love to hear what some of your thoughts are. Do you love the variety and relative economy of a half or whole? Or, do you like the idea of small package deals and individual packages for sale?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Does the Farm Bill Make the Grade?

I realize that the 2008 Farm Bill is kind of old news at this point, but since I didn't spend much time writing about it I thought I would include some tidbits from a recent article in "The Practical Farmers of Iowa" newsletter. They interviewed a few PFI members and asked them to grade the Farm Bill and give some of their thoughts about the positives and negatives. The grades and comments that followed were very interesting. I would love to hear some of your thoughts on the Farm Bill or on the grades and comments given by these Iowa farmers.

The four different farmers gave the bill a "D", "B-", "C-", and another "B-". That averages out to a solid "C" grade ... which does mean that overall it received a decent passing grade. But, it is also obvious that they weren't overly excited about the contents of the bill either. Let's start with the positive comments.

All four of the respondents were pleased with the changes to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which I admit is a program that I know very little about (check out the link to read more). Also, it seems like they were happy with some of the changes in the beginning farmer supports. I for one am going to look into some of those changes and see if there are any new benefits for us. Finally, a couple of the mentioned the positives of the growing "organic" segment of the bill.

The dislike portion of their responses were very interesting. They were interesting because not everyone had a huge list of dislikes, and in some cases had more positive to say than negative. But, it was also very interesting (and telling) that all four of them listed the same thing as one of their dislikes. Care to guess what that was...?
"(Dislike) The continued high subsidies for unsustainable ag production. (How will it impact your farm) The high subsidies for corn and soybeans will mean a continuation of commodity farming for most of my operation - I have to go were the profits are."

"It is frustrating that Congress again failed to pass commodity payment limitation reform in this Farm Bill."

"As far as commodity programs, they failed to put limits on payments."

"The lack of reform in the commodity subsidy program was discouraging."
I think it says a lot that these farmers (which come from slightly different backgrounds/viewpoints) all pointed to the lack of change in commodity subsidies as one of the major downfalls in this bill. I also think the first quote above says a lot about our agricultural industry. I'm not quite sure where I would grade the 2008 Farm Bill, but I suppose I would call it average ... for now.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Beginning Farmer Builds a House...

Sorry if you are dial-up (I'll be there soon), but since it is a Saturday and I have a lot of work to do here is a quick recap of our house building progress in picture format. They say a picture can say a 1,000 words, but if that isn't enough and you have a question fire away :)

On Sunday this is roughly what our building looked like on the inside, minus the extra materials ... it was completely bare and the inside layout was just something on paper.

Then we spent a lot of money at Menard's and carried A LOT of heavy stuff inside. Thankfully we had four people to carry stuff in. It was also a big plus that most of the sheet rock came in with a fork lift.
We spent most of the week doing work similar to this kind of thing. Planning walls, building walls, and placing walls. We are sort of doing the design as we go thing even though we had the basic idea very well planned out.
By Friday afternoon all the framing was done (unless someone wants to move 100 sheets of sheet rock, then we will put up the last wall) so we started to rough in the wiring. We have most of it run through the ceiling and now we are starting to put it to all of the boxes.
The end result of the week? I have 708 unread e-mail messages in my inbox! We have been getting up early and working late with little time for breaks. I was going strong all week long, except for the day when I was down with a high temp ... and the day that I worked with a 101º temp. Today I need to write a sermon ... and check my e-mail :)

Friday, August 22, 2008

An Apology and Sheep...

First of all let me throw out a quick apology to all those people who have e-mailed me with encouragement or asking about pricing/pork/beef/eggs. I have a bit of a backlog in the e-mail inbox and I am slowly going through it, but I haven't had much time as I have been working roughly 7:00 AM until 10:00 PM everyday this week on the house and then on church work. It is a crazy time, but it is very fulfilling!

Secondly, I know I have talked about sheep multiple times on this blog, but while we were at the Iowa State Fair (the greatest) I picked up a brochure from the Midwest Katahdin Hair Sheep Association. They had some sheep on display in the Avenue of Breeds, so I was also able to see them in person (I may have noticed them before, but without much thought).

As I read through the brochure a few things popped out at me. I'll list those below, but if you have any experience raising Katahdin sheep or even better marketing them or other sheep I (and probably others that read the blog) would love to hear your thoughts. Here is what I found interesting:
  • The bred was devolped my Michael Piel in Maine (After a little more searching it looks like he used some African stock to get started and part of his growing flock also ended up at the Heifer Project International farm.
  • They have good flocking instincts and work good from Canada to the Equator (I had worried about their lack of wool in Iowa winters).
  • The flavor of the meat has a "mild lamb" taste. I'm no lamb expert and I've only had it once, so could someone explain a "mild lamb" taste?
  • Most are white in color, but they can be red or brown (I would like some red or brown sheep to go with my dun Dexters!).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

And the Work Continues...

Well, the work continued today (as you can see from the picture), but it progressed despite my presence. I was at home most of the day with a 101+ temperature drifting in and out of sleep and only made a short appearance at the farm to feed the pigs and cut a few boards. In reality though, I'm not much of the builder out there ... I'm just the worker! It truly is great to have Becca's parents in town because they know what they are doing when it comes to building a house.

Anyways, as you can see from the picture we now have the rooms mostly framed in. There will be five rooms all along the back wall (kids room, babies room, parents room, bathroom, and laundry room) with a big common area across the front with our living room, dining room, and kitchen. Because of this the building stage has been able to progress fairly quickly as we can build the walls on the floor and then put them up.

We are only a little over one month away from having to be in the new house though, so we have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time. I guess this is where the "modern homesteader" thing really comes into play ... we've got to get everything in order before the winter winds and snow surround us. It really is a cool process to see it all come together and makes me thankful that I am surrounding by so many people willing to help.

Keep checking back if you want some more house updates. Hopefully we will begin wiring tomorrow and maybe even be putting up some insulation by the end of the week!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Playing to Your Strengths

I am a huge believer in strengths and Biblical gifts. A few years ago I was introduced to the book, "Now, Discover Your Strengths" by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. They have narrowed it down to thirty-four different strength "themes" that people can have. Things like Achiever, Focus, Harmony, Maximizer, Relator, and Significance are included in those strength themes. The basic idea is that when we know our strengths (and gifts) we will be most productive and influential to those around us.

The week long seminar that I attended really opened my eyes up to the way I work and how to utilize those strengths and passions that I have. It also opened up my mind that there really can be people that thrive in their particular job ... even some jobs that I would deem undesirable. Since those classes I have tried to pay close attention to people working in their respective jobs.

I have found (and talked with) people who love their 9 to 5 cubicle grind. They thrive and grow in the work, the stress, and everything that goes with the business world. I have meet janitors who worked the late shift cleaning toilets in schools that wouldn't trade their job for the world. They loved the service and results that see in their work. I have chatted with nursing home assistants that absolutely love working with the elderly in their care no matter what the work entails. They just love being with the people and serving them.

All of those jobs are ones that I would not like to touch with a ten foot pole, yet there are plenty of people that absolutely love them. I have to admit that I didn't think there was a single person that loved to clean toilets or sit in a cubicle all day long. But, we each have strengths that lead us in different directions.

My strengths have lead me to a passion for ministry and for farming. And after reading through my strengths again I can see exactly why I am led to those two occupations ... better yet ... lifestyles! Check out my top five strengths below.
  • Context: People strong in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.
  • Belief: People strong in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their life.
  • Adaptability: People strong in the Adaptability theme prefer to "go with the flow." They tend to be "now" people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
  • Communication: People strong in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.
  • Responsibility: People strong in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.
It has been a few years since I had read through those. Now that we are living through the adventure of beginning a farm I can see exactly how those strengths are playing out and why we have been led the direction we have been led. With farming, as with any occupation, I think we really need to make sure we are playing to our strengths. There are many jobs I think would be fun (something in the music industry, some sort of traveling job, New York Yankee), but my strengths and passions led me other places. It really is key to play to your strengths!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Hello and a Building Update...

First of all I want to say a big "Hello" to anyone who has happened onto this humble blog by way of the Des Moines Register article. We feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to share some of our passion with so many people. If you are new here I hope you stick around and join in the discussion (even if you just want to ask questions or encourage others). Also, if you like you can subscribe to receive the posts in your e-mail over in the right hand column.

Secondly I also wanted to thank everyone for their encouraging e-mails and inquiries about our pork, beef, and poultry. I will be getting back to you this week (hopefully in the next day or two), but things are pretty busy on the farm because my in-laws are in town for the whole week to help build. Which of course takes me to the building update...

I promise that I won't inundate you with all sorts of crazy pictures of me working on the house (or attempting to work on the house), but we are really excited to actually start work on the inside. So, today I will post a picture and give you an update. If you want more regular updates or more details on the house we are building check out my wife's blog.

Sunday my wife, my father-in-law, my four-year-old son, and my two-year-old daughter spent about three-and-a-half hours in Menards (hardware store/lumber yard). I was there about half the time, but also spent time shopping for a wood stove. Needless to say they were a bit worn out by the end of the day, but when it was all said and done we had a pretty good chunk of the materials we needed to build our house. We took a few things home with us that night and sent the rest on the delivery truck.

Yesterday was really just a "get things ready day". We built a couple of platforms so we could work on our high ceilings (10 feet), made some sawhorses, hung up the joist holders, and carried all of the materials (delivered on a semi trailer) inside. But, as you can see from the picture above we were able to get one wall sort of up!

The plans for the week include roughing in the electrical, putting up the walls, and tackling any portion of the sheet rock that we have time for. It will be a busy week, but it also brings us just that more closer to spending nights on the farm (we are already spending a portion of everyday there).

Monday, August 18, 2008

Big News for Stoneyfield Farm

Well, I guess it is official ... our very own Stoneyfield Farm is somewhat newsworthy! Or at least our crazy journey towards farming without much to begin with is newsworthy... Whatever the case may be we have been blessed with a two-page spread in yesterdays Sunday Des Moines Register, and as you can see from the picture above we even made the front of their homepage. If you are interested in reading what they wrote about (after three separate visits to the farm) you can find the article HERE.

It was a long process because of the many hold-ups we have had on the farm, but it was very enjoyable and exciting to see what the picked out of many hours of chatting with us. I love the way Mr. Kilen wrote the article and I think he did a good job of portraying our farm and our journey. Hopefully it will be received well by those that read it, or at least cause them to think ... which is one thing I love to do when it comes to farming and agriculture.

Another big development for us is the new website we have (click on the image below for the link). Becca's cousin was the one that put it all together for us which was really a blessing. I knew that he knew his computer stuff, but I didn't realize he knew it so well! I think we are still in the beginning stages of the website, but it does get our farm out there for people to see. Plus, we are going to do a little bartering with him ... he does the website and helps build our house and we will give him a couple hamburgers or what ever he feels his work is worth - that is a joke :) (By the way thank you so much for all those that offered help)So, that is kind of our big news for the moment. I plan on continuing some of my reflections on how we have gotten to this point tomorrow (check back a few days if you don't know what I'm talking about) and hopefully will be able to update on some work being done inside our house!

If you are a new reader of the blog after seeing the Register article I just want to say thanks for checking it out and don't be afraid to join in the discussion!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Beginning Farming Beyond Finances

I realize that when it comes to beginning a farm from scratch and jumping into the world of farming money seems to be one of the largest hurdle (I know it sure is on my mind a lot). But, as we have spent these last couple of years on our journey towards farming I think we have realized that there are three things that are probably just as important or even more important. I think those three are communication, strength, and sacrifice. I'm not saying that we have nailed each one of those, but they really are key to farming ... and in our case beginning a farm.

Communication: I think this one is both about communication and about our entire family having a willingness to reach a goal (although the little ones don't really comprehend it all). Through out the dream stage, the planning stage, the making it come together stage, and now the making it happen stage one of the biggest things that my wife and I have been able to do is communicate with each other what our feelings/fears/excitements are. This communication has really helped us come up with our dream and not just my dream or her dream. It has effected everything from where we want to farm to what we want to do on the farm and what our house will look like. This one is huge!

Strength: Unfortunately I'm not talking about physical strength because I don't have a lot of that, although it does come in handy... What I am specifically talking about is the strength to keep pressing on. I will be the first to admit that my strength has wavered often, but I know that I have been able to keep on going because of the help of my wife (communication) and because of our strong desire to reach our goals. There have been times when it seemed like everything would fall apart in the farming, the planning, and now in the building. But, throughout all of those times it continues to be our collective strength, desire, and calling that has helped us push on.

Sacrifice: This one does directly touch on the financial topic again, but it isn't only about pinching pennies or lagging behind the Jones'. There has also been sacrifice in of our time and some of the other pursuits that we have in our lives. But, we really believe that if we feel led to farming and desire to pursue it there are going to be sacrifices ... sacrifices that we are willing to take. I know this is important though because as you look back throughout history you see much strength and joy in the midst of great sacrifice.

Like I said, I know that the finances will always play a role in whether or not the farm is able to get off of the ground. On the other hand if you have all the money in the world but you are lacking these things (and others) it probably won't matter. At least these are just my thoughts for the moment as I reflect on the journey so far...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Lester F. Rittgers (1912-2008)

For the past few days I have been blogging about some of the details of our journey towards farming. I am going to continue with that theme, but today I would like to take a moment to remember a great family farmer, Lester F. Rittgers, my wife's grandfather. He spent his life farming some of the greatest black dirt in the whole Midwest and worked with his family on a truly diversified family farm for much of that time.

Grandpa Rittgers and his wife, Alice, raised their five children on their farm in rural Iowa and raised everything from dairy cattle, hogs, and chickens to hay, corn, and beans ... along with everything in between. As their children grew up they were all instilled with a wonderful work ethic and all five of them have continued in their agricultural heritage in some way or another.

From the short amount of time that I got to know Grandpa Rittgers and through the legacy he has left in his children I can tell that he was a great farmer that took pride and joy in the work that he was able to do. Even when I met him in his late 80's he was still helping the boys with farm work as often as possible and loved every minute of it.

I am very thankful for farmers like him and the families that they brought up. It is my prayer that their dedication, knowledge, and love for all things farming will be passed on to future generations of small family farms in our country. They are not just a quaint image of our country, but rather a very important part of our ideals and values!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Buying a Farm is Like Buying a House

Okay, it isn't exactly like buying a house, but that is one of the ways that we looked at our farm purchase and it is probably the only way that we could make it possible. As most of you know we have made the jump to farming (I think we are still mid-jump) without any family land. Although we have been able to get our cattle herd together with my Dad's farm we won't be farming any of that land because on a consistent basis because of distance. So, if we are going to move towards full-time farming we knew we were going to need some sort of land base.

We realized that we had three basic options:
  1. Leave my job at the church and find a job near my Dad's so we could farm with him. That was an idea that we pursued for a while, but we really do feel called to this are for both our ministry and our farming.
  2. Buy a smaller acreage with an existing house and buildings. The reality is that if we did that we would be looking at 10 acres or less with 20 acres being the top possibility. While that would be enough for some operations we thought we would like more to begin with.
  3. Buy bare land and build as inexpensively as possible. Our idea with this one is that we will have a larger land base and then we can expand as money is available.
Of course we chose the third option and I think it was the best for us. But, as I mentioned the only way it was possible is because we considered or farm the same as a house. What I mean by this is that we knew that we would have to take out a mortgage no matter if we wanted to buy in town or in the country. What we would need to do is only buy within the limits of what we could expect to spend in town.

What that meant for us is that we would only buy something that my job would pay for, not something that would require farming income. That way when the farm took a little while to get going we would not be overly pinched. Yes, it meant some sacrifices and laying out a large down payment, but I think it is a practical way to get started ... which was our goal.

That is where the "buying a farm is like buying a house" analogy breaks down though. Because when you are buying a farm there is plenty of other infrastructure that needs to be put into place no matter how basic your operation is at the beginning and we have resolved to only pay cash for those things. If we started putting all of those farming expenses into a loan I think we would run into trouble.

Speaking of loans ... don't try to get some of those "beginning farmer" loans if you are a true beginning farmer. The ones we were pointed to all required three years of farm management experience or at least 50% of your income coming from the farm in the first year. But, the loan stuff is really a touch subject with me so I will just point you to my wife's blog because she has posted about the loan stuff in more detail (HERE ... HERE ... HERE ... HERE). The other day she also wrote down some of her thoughts on the money issue.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Finances and Farming

I do not think the dream of becoming a farmer is really that rare. I believe that at some point many people have desired to head to the land and have what the see as the "simple" life on the farm, but not to many people ever get to that point for various reasons. One of those reasons can easily be summed up in one word, MONEY. It takes a lot of money to farm because of the land needed, the livestock needed, the equipment needed, and the time needed (which can pull a person away from another job). So, if it takes so much money to get started in farming and continue in farming how can you do it if you aren't independently wealthy? That is the question we immediately began asking ourselves and researching.

The short answer to the question above is really simple, SAVE. I know that seems over simplified, but the only reason that we are able to have the land, the livestock, the equipment, and the impending house is because we have spent the last seven years of our life concentrated on saving as much as we can. In some years we have been able to save as much as two-thirds of my cash salary and live off of the one-third left over and money we picked up from odd jobs and being frugal (and tax returns from our broken tax system). Compared to our peers our life has been very sparse and it will continue to be that way for quite some time, but we are also reaching our goals.

I have mentioned on here several times that people have money for what they want to have money for. I can't count how many times in my ministry I have had requests for money from people to help with their water bill when the had satellite T.V. In fact just last week on our mission trip we saw homeless men with next to nothing, but at least they always had their cell phone with them! Seven years ago our dream wasn't to farm but we did want to be able to put a large down-payment down when were were able to buy a house. So, we decided that we were going to have money to save and we sacrificed in other areas.

If I could sum up the things that have allowed us to follow our dream to the farm I think I would just say two things. First of all you have to live below your means. If we had lived like we were able to financially or in the way that our peers were living we would not be financially able to do what we are doing. Secondly, it takes two to tango. Farming would not be a financial possibility unless my wife was behind the idea 100%. She has had to make many sacrifices along the way and has been the main bookkeeper keeping everything in line.

Sometimes the process is slow and the sacrifices are large, but I believe the only way to become a viable sustainable farmer and begin a farm from scratch is to save, save, save... And somehow acquire a lot of patience!

Tomorrow I'll write a bit more about the finances of beginning and how we are surviving...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Where the Farming Road Began...

I mentioned yesterday that I was going to take some time over the next few blog posts to write specifically about the nuts and bolts of how we came to farming and how we are trying to make it work while starting from scratch. I suppose you could say that my desire to farm really started a long time ago as a child. Before I wanted to be a youth pastor I wanted to be a farmer because even though I had grown up in town I had spent a lot of time on the family farms. In fact I really have only had two jobs that I really wanted to do ... youth work and farming.

But, the road to making it a reality actually started with life insurance. If you have ever signed up for life insurance you know that they like to send out a nurse to find out if you are healthy. Our insurance company did that and they found that I was relatively healthy except for one thing ... I had cholesterol through the roof, especially considering my age.

Since they didn't want to put me on medicine for the rest of my life we began looking for ways to lower my cholesterol without drugs. Of course we started watching my intake of certain foods and exercise became a slightly larger priority (I do coach soccer so I have to be kind of in shape). But, we (especially my wife) wanted to do more. She started reaching apple cider vinegar which has many uses (just ask Mrs. Yonder Way Farm or This Abode) and I started to drink the tonic. But, we also began learning about grassfed beef and its beneficial properties.

Many of you know that the benefits of grassfed beef include: more antioxidents, more vitamins, extra "good" fat, less "bad" fat, and elevated Omega-3 levels. You can read more about the benefits at this link on Needless to say the idea of eating healthy beef really sounded good to me and the farming seed that had been planted all those years ago started to sprout.

We began reading and talking to as many people as we could about grassfed beef and different cattle breeds, and even about the possibility of starting a farm from scratch. It was at this point that our dreams of a place in the country to live began to morph into a desire to farm and even pick up steam. It was through the research, discussion, and questioning that we started to look at what was possible.

A few months later the first Dexter cow and steer showed up on my dad's farm and we began looking at the pieces that we need to put together to farm. More on those pieces tomorrow.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Just About Finished...

It seems like it has taken forever ... and it certainly has taken longer than we were hoping (thank you rain), but the shell of our house is just about done. The only things left to be done by our contractor are a door knob and some trim on the outside. It is a relief to have this building up on so many levels. First of all we have been accumulating a lot of materials and haven't had a good place to put them. Secondly, it would be helpful to have some shade out there for the kids to hang out in when we are working. And finally, it is very important to have the building done because we just sold my house (check out this link for more details).

As you can tell from the picture above it is really starting to look like a barn ... err ... house. Actually, we really love the look and are excited to get out there and look out those big windows every morning. The barn look is something that may come in handy in the future. There is a possibility that we will build a stick-built house in the future with a walkout basement. If that happens then we will turn this pole building into storage and an on-farm store.

I know I have kicked this around a little bit on the blog from time to time, but since we are getting close to beginning work on the inside I thought I would throw out some of our reasons for choosing the pole building style.
  1. We just plain like the look. There are many pole building homes in the area and they all look okay, but we feel like it is a style that just begs for red and white colors. I like the fact that it is simple house with a little bit of character.
  2. In theory it is a little less expensive to build. We will have to see how this plays out, but so far it looks to be holding true. It doesn't take any plywood sheeting for the building and the posts help form the foundation. And even though it took a long time to build ours if you just look the work days it went up pretty quick. That is a bit of savings.
  3. That steel roof may come in handy when burning wood. With our wood burning stove inside it might be a nice thing to have a fire resistant roof. But, a well controlled fire will also help.
  4. Since it is a pole building it is easy to finish inside. Because of they way pole buildings are put together we don't have to worry about any load bearing walls inside and can put them wherever we want. That helps with our design because we have gone through many changes.
  5. It will work great as storage and will convert easily. Remember, this is basically the same thing that you see as machine sheds on farms and acreages. Because of that we can easily convert it into a variety of things.
Yep, we are pretty encouraged about the progress and even more excited because we have to be living in it in about six weeks (or the camper if all else fails). Also, if you have been wondering about some of the nuts and bolts of how we have gotten into farming and are making things work I encourage you to check out this weeks posts. I am going to kind of run a series looking back at how this all is coming about and hopefully encourage some people like so many readers and commenters have encouraged me!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Goats, Cattle, and Worms

There is another article in the Stockman Grass Farmer this mouth touting the benefits of grazing goats and cattle in combination. The article by Dave Sparks (a DVM) is titled, "Goats and Cattle Together Complement Each Other and Reduce the Need for Worming". As usual in this publication the title really spells out the entire article, but the research from a field test in Oklahoma gives graziers one more reason to look at diversified grazing.

The field study in Oklahoma is using a 200 acre plot of land divided into three tracts that have similar forage quantity and quality. All three of these areas were stocked by live weight according to the estimated amount of forage in them. One plot was stocked with just goats, another with just cattle, and the final one with cattle and goats together. The article doesn't say how the livestock was managed, but I would assume a rotation with goats following might be the best management method.

Results from the study were very much in favor of combining the two animals. The goats alone group had several deaths because of parasite infection (goats have a problem with worms because most breeds come from desert areas much different from the Midwest). The cattle alone group were fine, but here pasture had a much taller growth of the browse type plants the goats ate in the other plots. In the combination group there was no death in the goat herd and they goats required 23% less individual worming.

Information like this does make goats look pretty appealing. I believe the biggest barrier to farmers getting into the growing goat market is the fact that as Americans we don't know much about goats. We don't know much about cooking them, eating them, or marketing them to the various ethnic groups. But, if the benefits for the cattle, the goats, and the pastures are this great it might be time ot figure this thing out.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Grassfed Beef Tastes Okay

My busy week is just about over. For the past four days I have been traveling all around central Iowa with 22 students on a mission trip. We worked at two camps, served at a homeless shelter, swam in two different pools, went shopping at Iowa's largest mall, stayed in a hotel one night, slept in a cabin two nights, and do I need to remind you again that we did this with TWENTY-TWO MIDDLE SCHOOL AND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS! Needless to say I'm a bit tired and haven't been out on the farm or even thinking about the farm much lately.

With all of that craziness in mind I don't have much to say today. I did run across a short article from the Penn State Extension titled, "Penn State Study Shows Consumers Find Grass-fed Beef Acceptable". I don't really know much about the study other than what is in the article (check out the link above), but it seems pretty promising.

Here are a few quotes from the article that are especially interesting and even somewhat surprising:
  • "The study showed that most consumers find the taste and tenderness of grass-fed beef acceptable in blind taste tests. Penn State researcher recommends that producers look for ways to interest more potential customers in grass-fed beef."
  • "The results of the study showed that most consumer evaluations of the cooked meat were not influenced by frame sizes of the cattle, weight at harvest, range of grazing period from 120-180 days, and final fat composition of the carcass," Comerford explained. "However, all of the cattle must have plenty of high-quality forage to consume daily plus be harvested at 18 months of age or less."
  • "In fact, we found cattle that had the fattest final carcasses actually had lower scores from the consumer panels because of the influence of fat on beef flavor," Comerford said.
Let me know what you think...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Joel Salatin Heals the Planet

Okay, I know there are a few folks that read this blog that like to listen to Joel Salatin from time to time (either to love it or hate it). I just came across this series of videos on YouTube and since I don't have much time for a post today I just thought I would throw them up for you. Part one is above and you can check out the other parts below. If you watch any of it let me know what you think.

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Creative Farm Leasing

From time to time I receive e-mails from people asking about how they can get into farming or how we are making it financially possible (more on that specifically soon). Well, I had those questions running through my mind when I came across this old article on the New Farm website. It is from all the way back in January of 2007, but it seemed very timely to me because of the e-mails I have received lately. It also made me wish I could find a deal like this.

The title of the article is, "A Good Deed: Young farmer couple and established landowner explore innovative land access with trust, hard work and patience in Old Virginia." Basically this couple came up with a very creative farm lease in conjunction with a land owner that was already in the business of grassfed beef, but had room to spare. To me it sounds like it was a win/win for everyone involved despite some of the problems that they have faced and surely will face.

Remember, I said the posts would be short this week... This is one of those short ones, but if you have a chance to read the article I would love to hear your thoughts. Also, I would love to hear about any other creative ways that people have gotten into farm that you know of.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Is Anyone Ruining Farming?

Here is a continuation of yesterdays blog post... Later on in the e-mailer wrote this, "So many comments on the blog are geared to how "we" are ruining farming. Where do you think the line is between "lifestyle" and "profession"? What makes one better or worse?" I have to admit that this one is a tough one, but it is also a question that I have thought about quite a bit from time to time. It is also a question that can be very divisive, so I'll just throw out a couple of thoughts.

There are probably a few comments from me and others on this blog about how the larger farmers are ruining farming and I will stand by that to a point. I do think that a 20,000 acre grain farm can have a negative impact on farming ... just as I believe that Wal-Mart can have a negative impact on shopping and consumerism. I honestly believe the bigger is better mentality is ruining our culture.

I see it in all of the teenagers that I work with, whether it is on the soccer field ... at church ... or in youth group. There is a trend even among the Middle School students that goes something like this, "I need to have this to fit in ... I can't live without a cell phone ... I don't have 15 minutes a day to just sit and be quiet." And it just goes on and on from there.

I have a feeling the bigger is better in agriculture comes from the same through process that the teenagers I work with have ... I got to have it because it just seems like I need to have it or just because I can have it. Just because you can have it doesn't mean you need it! The same goes for 20,000 acre farms I believe.

But, I think the biggest thing is brought up from the Top Producer columnist himself. Remember what he said: "Phipps said in his spring column in Top Producer that there has been little discussion about the long-term impact of an ever-increasing productivity in an industry with a fixed land base."

I don't think it is a question of where you draw the line, I think it is a question of why are we doing this and how is it going to turn out... Again, what are your thoughts?

Monday, August 04, 2008

More About Titan Farmers...

My posts this week are going to be relatively short because I have a VERY busy week coming up with work and such. But, since I enjoy posting so much and I absolutely love learning from others I at least wanted to put something up each day. That being said ... I will probably not have much time to comment back or respond to e-mails this week. I check in when I have a break though!

I am always surprised when people stumble across the blog and begin commenting or e-mailing me. It seems like there have been a few more of those lately and I enjoy the interaction, learning, and the opportunity to share some of my experiences. One such e-mail came last week from someone who stumbled across the blog while searching for "beginning farmer" on Google (thank you Google). I thought he had some very valid points that deserved a lot of discussion and thought ... so far I haven't been able to respond to all of those points, but I wanted to hit a couple this week.

The e-mailer wrote: "Here's the thing, I found your site because I'm giving very very serious consideration to taking my degree next May and putting up in closet. So "Beginning Farmer" typed into Google brought me to you. After reading through your site for awhile I wondered if you've ever thought about the challenges that face the very few that are in line to become what you and "A[llan] Nation" describe as the Titan Farmers."

Well, my knee-jerk reaction would be, "Challenges ... they don't face challenges! They inherit huge amounts of land and equipment and employees and whatever else. If you want to see a challenge try to figure out how to build a house, buy land, spend time with your family, work a job, and be a beginning farmer!"

But, I don't really think that is a true response ... let alone a proper response! My thought out response would go something like this...

First of all I'm all about putting the degree up on the shelf (I'm a college dropout) ... but, do make sure you get the degree (I regret being a college dropout). Secondly, I have to admit that I haven't thought about the challenges that those that are inheriting/taking over face. I guess that just isn't what this blog is about, but I'm sure they face some major challenges dealing with management/equipment/land acquesition and more. Also, there is probably some pressure that goes along with keeping the thing going.

But, the biggest thing I would say in response is that the term "Titan Farmer" isn't my term or even Allan Nation's. The term comes from "Top Producer Magazine" (a mag for the big farms). And the writer that Mr. Nation quoted in his column said that he was worried about the direction of the titan farms. I would think that if someone on the inside is worried I should be worried.

Those are some of my thoughts. Now, what are some of yours?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

New Farm Blog

Well, this isn't actually a totally new blog and some of you have probably already checked it out ... but, I did want to make a special post about Steven LeGrand's (and families) new blog and farm website for Franciscan Family Farms. They have been putting up a few posts now for awhile, but I am a little behind on the times.

Steven is actually the one of the only regular commenters on the blog that I have actually had a chance to meet. I delivered a few Dexters to his place when I was on the way done to pick up our bull, Hershey, and was able to spend just a few minutes at his place late one night. It was fun to be able to meet someone in person that I had corresponded with on the blog and I hope I have a chance to meet others sometime.

So, go check out the (fairly) new Franciscan Family Farms website and if you are in his area I encourage you to check out his farm.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday Farm Update

Well, if you have been following the blog during our building project you may notice not much as changed in this picture. On Sunday we had a serious storm roll throw with 60 mph winds and lots and lots of rain out at the farm. That tore off about half of the Tyvek from the building, but didn't really do any other damage. On Monday I was surprised to see the contractor and crew out there putting the Tyvek back up and then they put steel on the front of the house. I'm really liking the looks of the building!

That picture was taken on Monday ... well, nothing else has changed since that picture. I suppose this is the way contractors work, bouncing from job to job, but with only about two days left of work I was really beginning to get excited about having the building all closed in. Needless to say the lack of work this week has been a little disappoint, especially considering the dry weather we have had all week long.

Other than that not much has changed at the farm except for the weight of the pigs. We did make their pen twice as big tonight and moved them partially out onto pasture until I get my electric netting. Also, I built a new hut for the pigs so they can have some more shade during this little heat wave we are going to have this weekend (94º).

Hopefully there will be more building updates next week.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...