Monday, November 23, 2009

Small-Scale Pig Farming...

As with any beginning operation I knew there would be a fairly steep learning curve associated to adding pigs to our farm. But, I also knew that pig farming was something that everyone in my family (dad and uncles) had experience with so there would be help when it was needed. I have relied on them greatly many times and I thinking I'm beginning to learn along the way in little bits and with baby steps. But, one difficulty that I didn't anticipate was how hard it would be to get feed!

I will readily admit that I'm not one of the biggest feed purchasers in the county and I'm actually probably in the minority when I purchase pig feed, but it has been trying at times to get the attention of the mills and get the feed I wanted. One thing that most people probably don't think about with the loss of diversified farms is the loss of feed mills. There was a time that practically every local co-op or feed store had a mill. That is no longer the case now.

In our area one cooperative has purchased many of the local co-ops and then consolidated their services. Where at one time there was a working feed mill in town the closest one is now over 20 miles away. And, at that feed mill I have had a problem getting them to work with me on a ration that I like (basically a vegetarian Niman Ranch style feed). There is another locally owned mill about 30 miles away and they have been helpful, but distance is a factor.

Both feed mills deliver to our town on a fairly regular basis, so I have been taking advantage of that. But, with the increase of our swine herd and the addition of the bulk bin I was hoping to get feed delivered to the farm in bulk. That would cut down on the handling (I filled the feeder this weekend with 80 bags of feed and that took awhile). But, since the mills are so far away they would rather not deliver.

Maybe it's time I begin to think outside of the normal box. We will begin running pigs in the woods next year and that will cut down on their feed intake a little bit, but I think I also need to be looking at different feed sources so I can make sure we are getting the rations we need.

Joel Salatin on Martha Stewart

Last week I saw a post on Allan Nation's blog saying that Joel Salatin would be on the Martha Stewart show. I don't watch Martha ... or much television in general (although there is a show I don't like to miss), but thankfully the segment was added to their website. If you have slow internet like I do you won't be able to watch this, but if you have access to a fast connection I would encourage you to check out this clip from last Thursday's show. Along with Mr. Salatin she also interviews Robert Kenner the man behind "Food, Inc."

In case you can't watch the clip here are some of the high points ... at least in mind ::
  • I feel that Mr. Salatin comes across as a guy that has his stuff together. He is very knowledgeable and can get his points across ... although he does use some big word combinations.
  • Although, he said it's possible to feed the U.S. from farms like his (and hopefully ours in time) I wish they would have gone a little deeper into that. I enjoy hearing as much on that subject as possible.
  • He is a funny guy with some of the things he says...
  • I really like this idea :: "The best way that I know is to actually take your recreational time ... and enjoy finding the farm treasures around your community." (Mr. Salatin said that) Good job Farm Crawl folks!
  • Final thought ... Mr. Salatin has moved from farmer to advocate and I think that is great. I realize that he still does the farming, but because of the success he has had I think he now as the opportunity to become a true advocate of local farmers and that he should continue to use the doors that are open to him.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cowpooling or Pigpooling?

Recently someone pointed out this blog post about "Cowpooling" and I thought ... "hmm, I should recommend this to others". I know that in the past people who have purchased whole or half hogs from us have split up their portion either because they didn't have the freezer space or because they knew they wouldn't be able to go through their pork very quickly. But, I really like the idea of a group of people getting together to do some "cowpooling" or "pigpooling". I believe it goes hand-in-hand with our desire to build community through having a connection to the food we eat.

In a way the bundles of pork we have available now are variation of "pigpooling" I suppose. We have split up a whole hog into approximately 17 bundles that offer a fairly equal variety of cuts. This way a customer who does not have the freezer space for a half or whole can still get in on the action. So far we have been able to sell a decent about of the bundles, but we still have more for sale ... if you are interested in purchasing a bundle just check out this post and shoot me an e-mail.

Now that I have the sales pitch out of the way (I have to do these every once-in-a-while since we are trying to run a business) I do want to say that I think "cowpooling", "pigpooling", "gardenpooling", or even "small-grainpooling" is the way to go. For too long we have been moving away from communities of people that can depend on each other and share with each other. I have a feeling that in too many neighborhoods these days when you come up a cup of sugar short you just head to the store instead of stopping at the neighbors house ... I know that I'm guilty of that.

Sharing a cow or pig or garden share with your neighbors and friends is a great way to get good food ... have a connection with your neighbors/friends ... support local farmers ... and, know where your food is coming from!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Everywhere You Look ... Mud!

It feels like it has rained for about 36 straight hours (or more). It has not been a downpour, but it has been a steady and cold rain that has amounted to a bit over an inch I believe. With all of this rain our farm has turned into one big mud puddle. In fact, I think mud puddle might not even be the right word at times because in most places the water just sits on top of the ground not really even soaking in to make mud!

The above picture is what are farm looks like basically if we receive any measurable amount of rain. The moisture just doesn't soak into the ground and will either run off or evaporate. I'm sure I'm exaggerating a little bit, but that's what it seems like. And, we I'm out doing chores and walking through these puddles I understand just how far we have to go on this farm to get the soil fertility up to a level that is really beneficial.

I am encouraged though when I hear success stories of farmers and farms that were able to build healthy soils. I know Joel Salatin likes to write about how his farm used to be sparsely covered in grasses, but after rotational grazing and giving back to the ground instead of just taking it is like a whole different farm. So, do any of you have any other encouraging stories like that so I don't get down every time it rains on the farm?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Hog Confinement Video

Here is the headline from yesterday :: "Undercover Video Shows Pig Farm Employees Allegedly Abusing Pigs". The first lines from the article read, "A disturbing video released exclusively to Fox News by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals (MFA) shows a string of alleged abuses at one of the nation's largest pig farms, including footage of employees picking up baby pigs and tossing them like footballs." And, then there is this video...

My response to the video ... Honestly, my response was just indifference. Not that I thought that everything that was going on at that farm was acceptable, but I have seen these undercover videos before and the response is usually the same. Most people are usually horrified, the company is horrified that the practices are happening and vow to take care of it, media focuses on it for a days news cycle, and then everyone goes out and purchases pork from the supermarket. That is the American response to so many horrific things we see in the media. It impacts us a moment, and then we move on.

No, the animal "mishandling" (that was the word they used) that was going on in this video was not the most upsetting thing for me. In my mind the most upsetting thing was the answer that the folks of Mercy for Animals came up with. Their answer ... cut pork out of your diet. How about this for an answer ... seek out a local farm that raises their pigs as pigs not production units and continue to eat great pork!

In fact (time for a shameless plug) we have bundles of pork available for sale right now. Our pigs were raised outside in the fresh air with access to water, feed (an all vegetarian diet for them so that should make Mercy for Animals happy), and of course dirt/mud. So, instead of cutting pork out of your diet I suggest just changing your purchase point ... (end shameless plug)

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Farm is a Business

Yesterday while I was watching a trailer for Fresh (the movie) I saw this clip from Joel Salatin in the related video sections of YouTube. This is the first time that I have come across this particular interview and I found it quite fascinating. Really, it gave me a lot to think about as I think about ways to ramp up the farm as a business and increase our sales and the number of livestock we raise.

One of the phrases Mr. Salatin used that I really appreciated was, "credible local food system". "Credible" is a word that I find myself thinking about a lot lately when it comes to the ministry of the church, and on the farm. One of the ways that something can be deemed credible by the surrounding world is if it is done with purpose and with excellence. I think it would be easy for our farm to be quaint ... selling some pork to our friends, neighbors, and a few other customers. But, to be credible it needs to be about more than some cute pigs running around and a few cows relaxing on the pasture. It needs to be a solid business that is intelligently run and serves up a great product.

Obviously Polyface Farm (and Mr. Salatin) is light-years ahead of us when he is talking about the importance of hiring and bringing in business minded people. And, he is more than light-years ahead of us when he mentions having successful million dollar farms. But, I think there are some great nuggets of wisdom there when it comes to the way you look at your farm. There are things that I need to think about at least ... Is the farm a retreat for the evenings and weekends (it's a lot of work for a retreat)? Or, is the farm a business that needs a business plan (I should really be working on that) and a model that promotes well thought out and planned growth?

If you have a chance, I encourage you to check out this clip and share your thoughts!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jumping on the Bandwagon :: Food Inc.

After reading many reviews from various farm and farm related blogs I decided it was time that I jumped on the Food, Inc. bandwagon and watched the film. So, the other day I went to the local Family Video and rented a copy (luckily they had three copies in their new release section). I ended up watching the film a couple of times and checked out all of the extras. I will readily admit that I am pretty far behind on this one (that is usually the case), but I am glad I watched it and would like to share few thoughts...
  • I absolutely loved King Corn ... I think I have said that enough times (even though I was very skeptical to begin with). I mention that because I think in a way Food, Inc. did some of what King Corn did in just presenting the information and giving a couple sides to the story. I especially found the comments from the Vice President of the Corn Grower's Association (or whatever it's called) to be very interesting and revealing. But, I still like King Corn better -- that's just my opinion.
  • Apathetic ... I'm not sure if that is exactly the word I'm looking for, so if you have a better suggestion let me know. But, I always find it interesting when I watch and read things from farmers who are working within the large industrial model. As I mention in the first point the V.P. of the Corn Growers had some interesting comments and really didn't seem to excited about the system as it exists today. The chicken growers (both the segments in the film and in the deleted scenes) all seemed somewhat "blah" about the job the were doing and the way they had to do it. And, even the dairy farmers who met the Wal-Mart dairy buyers had no problem telling them that they don't even shop at Wal-Mart ... which was ironic because their milk was being made into products and sold at Wal-Mart. The most excited farmer ... Joel Salatin.
  • The story of the woman who lost her child because of the tainted beef really tugs on the heart strings. I am still afraid though (and this is what really made the heart hurt more) that no amount of government regulation would solve the food dangers when our system is so industrialized. But, I don't know all the ins and outs of that sort of thing and I'm sure there are a lot of people say that we have to start somewhere.
  • Monsanto and the attack on the farmers wanting to save their own seed (assuming it is not Monsanto's seed) was pretty frustrating. And, I found it more interesting (or disconcerting) that almost immediatly after showing the man's lawyers saying that if he doesn't win it will be the end of all farmer's who want to save seeds and the seed cleaners the fact is revealed the he settled because of lack of money.
All in all I thought it was a film worth watching and I would encourage you to see it if you haven't already. I realize that you may not agree with everything (or much for that matter), but it is still worth a shot and you should allow yourself to think a little as you take it all in. But, did I mention I really like King Corn!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time For Boots :: Part Two

It's kinda funny that on September 28th, 2006 the second post on this blog was about my search for new boots. At that time I was replacing a pair of hiking boots that had traveled through the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico, held up on numerous Boy Scout camping trips, and even survived a minimal amount of farm work (remember back then the farm was just a dream). Well, now here I am three years later and boots are on my mind again!

At the time I ended up going with Wolverine Compressors for two main reasons. First of all was because of the fit. I had originally tried a pair of Georgia boots, but they just rubbed the wrong spot on my ankles and I never wore them out of the house before returning them. But, the second reason I went with the Wolverine's was because I could use my Cabela's points (there is some good to the credit card points system) to purchase them.

For the past three years, and especially the last year and a half these boots have served me very well and are very comfortable. But, a few weeks ago I noticed a funny feeling as I walk around the farm. It felt like something was stuck to the bottom of my boot. When I checked it out I found nothing stuck there, but what I did find was that the sole of my boot was breaking apart. I will readily admit that it kind of saddened me ... it's one thing for a great pair of gloves to wear out (because they get a lot of use), but I wasn't prepared for my boots to go!

So, now here I am just a bit over three years from my second blog post and I'm writing about the same subject! Any suggestions? Of course I'm going to check out Wolverine's again because they fit so well, but I'm always game to check out something new. And, how about the possibility of having them resoled at a cobbler? I've never had that done before ... is it possible?

Ahh yes ... I'm back to posting three days in a row now ... and back to asking silly questions just like I did three years ago!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Explain This Picture...

From time to time I see blog posts with pictures asking the readers to figure out what is going on in the image. Well, do you know what's going on in this picture? If I was patient I would just let you try to figure out what I'm doing, but since I always have a hard time keeping this type of thing to myself I'll just tell you the story, and share another picture to go along with the story.

A few weeks ago my uncle brought down this nice bulk bin that came from his farm by way of one of my other uncle's farms. This will be a handy thing for us to have in the future as we hopefully expand our hog operation because it will allow us to keep more feed on hand at the farm and also order in larger quantities (which might make feed deliveries more feasible). But, since it hadn't been used in a while and some water got inside with just a bit of feed left there was some rust that needed attention.

After successfully getting it off the trailer (did I mention that the cement is a permanent fixture to the structure) my uncle climbed in with an angle grinder and a wire brush attachment. A while later he emerged covered in rust colored dust from head to toe ... have I mentioned how much help he has been! Anyways, with the rust cleaned off it was time to paint inside with some special graphite paint. He thought I might be able to crawl in from the bottom, but that wasn't the case.

So, I had to put on my thinking cap and build a ladder to get down inside (when he was here he had a small enough ladder to fit in through the top). After I built the ladder I climbed up and in and then proceeded to fix a few small holes with bolts and fender washers (and a sealant tape that was used on the Harvestores on the family farm). Once the holes were taken care of I cleaned out all the dust and began the painting process. It sure was nice to have a 73ยบ day in November to get this done.

Now, I just have to clean up a few more pieces. Drag it over to the place where it will live. And, then attach the auger. Once that is all done we will be in business ... now if I could only get those feed mill guys to call be back!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Pioneer Farming

In our radio interview last week I mentioned that I have decided on a new name to describe the type of farming we are doing. The term that I came up with is "Pioneer Farming". But, if I'm going to be throwing around that phrase then I better be defining it and giving some reasoning behind it. First of all the reason that I decided that is the term that I want to use is that so many of the other terms being used now are so ambiguous and encompassing (of course now that I think about it so is the word pioneer). I can't say that we are organic ... we may be kind of natural, but really what does that mean ... and we are only sustainable if by sustainable you mean grass-fed (because financially we aren't quite there yet).

So, I decided we needed a term that fit us and what we are doing. I came up with "Pioneer Farming" ... Not because we are doing something different or new (we really are trying to take what others are already doing and have done and adapt it to our place), but rather I choose that term because I think it describes what is going on out here on these forty acres. We are trying to scratch out the farm from nothing but our saved money, hard work, help of friends and family, and the grace of God. We came to this farm much like the pioneers of generations past would have ... with nothing but a bit of a dream and a desire. And, in order to make it work we are going to have a lot of that pioneering spirit!

Like the pioneers we are going to have to fight and struggle to make things work, and we are going to have to keep looking forward and trusting in what is possible. We are going to have to think outside of the box and even leave the beaten path from time to time. We're going to have to work with what we have even if there is something out there that might work better. And we are going to face many struggles that may seem insurmountable at times.

If we make it through all of that ... then maybe we can come up with a different term to define our farm. But, for now I think we are going to have to stick with "Pioneer Farming".

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Little Radio Time...

Yep, I know I've been missing again ... even after I said I thought I wasn't going to be missing. So, I've just decided I will post when I can. Winter preparations and church life have me hopping right now, so my down times to compose thoughts are fewer and further between. Not that I'm not having thoughts that I would like to write about (or questions that I would like to ask), rather that I just can't seem to settle down enough to process them and type them out.

With that being said, earlier this week we were featured on our local radio station (KNIA/KRLS) during the weekday news shows. I believe our little segment aired three times throughout the day, so that was pretty cool. In case you missed it, and unless you live in our county you did, here is a link to the broadcast (click on the picture at the right, and then scroll down to "In Depth :: Nov. 4th"). You can either listen online or download it. With my Mac I had to download it and use Flip4Mac, but most will probably just be able to listen online.

One thing that I mentioned in the interview was the new term for our type of farming. I just haven't been able to jump on the natural/organic/sustainable bandwagon when describing our farm so I decided to create a new phrase. What I came up with was "Pioneer Farming". I share just a little bit about what this means in the interview, but I think I'll take some time over the next few days to compose my thoughts a little more. In the mean time ... enjoy the interview.
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