Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Comeback Farms :: Chapters 12 Book Report

Greg Judy does not use a tractor (at least that's what it sounds like in this book). He purchases all the hay he needs and moves it around with his truck and a bale trailer. He uses this set up to move the bale around and to unroll it. Besides that it sounds like he uses his ATV quite a bit for everything else. So, the topic of chapter 12 seems to be right up his ally. In this chapter he talks about reducing his fuel consumption and letting the animals do the work. I think I need to agree with him!

Just yesterday I looked out and saw all this brush sticking up in the pasture that I'm going to reseed in the next week or two. I decided that I need to go out there and knock those down with the mower (you have to realize that these are basically just sticks coming out of the ground because the cows striped them bare last summer). So, I fired up the tractor and hooked up my 5 foot brush hog. After a couple of passes I realized how wasteful this was really going to be. It wasted my time and my money and all to knock down a few sticks! There are a couple patches that I need to knock down with a saw, but really I don't think they will hamper the no-till drill any and once we get out there grazing I'm sure they will disappear under some cattle pressure.

This all leads me to what is really on my mind right now ... pasture seeding (I know that was a short book report, but it was the end of section one of the book so it was a good break). I am now on the list to use the no-till drill that is housed at our County Park (funds for it coming from multiple sources) and I need to get my pasture seeding mixes nailed down.

Last week I mentioned the Grassfed Webinar that I listened to online and I was very excited to see the "pro" (in this case Doug Gunnink) offer a good pasture mix for Iowa that he likes to see people use. Here is the mix he suggested:
  • 35% Pradel Meadow Fescue
  • 35% BG 24T Perennial Ryegrass
  • 13% Baraula Orchardgrass
  • 10% Green Spirit Italian Ryegrass
  • 7% Alice White Clover
I think all of these varieties are from the Barenbrug company and I'm not sure yet if I will be able to find them in my area. So, I was wondering if anyone out there had any suggestions for pasture mixes. Mr. Gunnink suggested seeding that mix at 25 lbs. per acre. I'm going to hit part of my pasture this year and then see what happens next year. Thanks for any thoughts or help!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Comeback Farms :: Chapters 7-11 Book Report

I have to admit that while I'm writing my book report for chapters 7-11 I'm actually reading chapter 26! Needless to say, I'm really flying through this book and I'm really enjoying it. I've combined these chapters together in a bigger chunk because only a couple of them really hit home with me. Not that it's not good information, but rather it is stuff that doesn't exactly fit my situation ... or it's just a funny story (as is the case with chapter 9 about the rodeo cattle). For example, chapter 7 deals with Greg Judy's shift from stocker cattle to dry cows. It makes sense because their nutritional requirements are lower, but with a lack of cattle experience I don't really want to learn on other peoples dry cows. If you have the experience then I suggest you think about it!

Chapter 8 is a great read because in this chapter Mr. Judy shares a lot of the equipment (and brands) that he uses. After reading though it I was feeling pretty good about most of my purchases because he strongly recommended Stafix fece chargers (have one), O'Briens geared reels (have three), O'Briens tread in posts (have lots), and Powerflex posts (not sure how many I have, but I have them). While I haven't had as much experience with other products out there like he has I would have no problem recommending all of those names above. And, it was really nice to see him share about the equipment he uses because that is one thing I'm always wondering when I read a book or an article.

Chapters 10 and 11 gave me quite a bit to think about ... for the future. These two chapters covered leases, both losing leases and keeping leases. His previous book, "No Risk Ranching," goes deeper into the leasing issue, but these two chapters did enough to get me thinking about the idea. I feel like if I had a bit more livestock knowledge going into this farm deal I would have been much better off going the leased route (and probably would have regardless of my knowledge), but I also think leasing could be something I look at in the future.

One thing that keeps popping in my mind when I read about that low cost leased ground that he is always talking about is this ... CRP ground. I don't know what it is like anywhere else, but around here there is a lot of marginal pasture ground or bad pasture ground that has just been placed in CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) and most of the time I can't compete with those payments. I guess when it comes time to look for leased land I just need to start contacting land owners and see if they have it in the program or not!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Where is the Bottleneck?

Whether you call it a slaughterhouse, abattoir, or processing facility the truth is that it seems it is getting more and more difficult to find one close by that meets the standards of the farmer and the customer. In thirty mile radius we have four or five facilities, but only two are state inspected (meaning they can process meat to sell by the cut within state lines) and none are federally inspected (these facilities can process meat to sell nationwide). If you would like to process chickens for sale then you have to go even further. We've had a few problems so far, but we have also had some processing facilities that were willing to work with us.

But, it seems that I don't have it as bad as some people do in other parts of the country. I came across this article from The New York Times titled, "Push to Eat Local Food is Hampered by Shortage". In the article the expose some of the difficulties farmers and consumers alike are facing to get the food that they want. It seems that the ability for local meats production is there on the farmers end and the demand is there on the consumers end, but the problem is getting the products processed and into the hands of the consumers.

This quote from the article sums up the problem the best I think, "According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of slaughterhouses nationwide declined from 1,211 in 1992 to 809 in 2008, while the number of small farmers has increased by 108,000 in the past five years." I don't know if that is counting all types of facilities (exempt, state, and federal), but regardless it shows just how few processors there are out there right now for small-scale farmers.

I think there are many reasons that we are losing these facilities, but a couple that stuck out in the article for me were the lack of skilled employees and the regulations. Agricultural Secretary Vilsack was quoted in the article saying, "It’s pretty clear there needs to be attention paid to this..." I hope that attention is paid soon (I kind of doubt it will be) and that actual help will be given to those that currently run processing facilities and those that want to open them (help includes things like making the regulations bearable).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Comeback Farms :: Chapters 4-6 Book Report

In chapter four Greg Judy talks a lot about the importance of using purchased hay to rebuild your pastures. He uses a bale un-roller that he pulls behind his truck to spread out the hay and the nutrients (along with seeds). There is also a good picture and a nice description of us bale un-roller in this chapter ... if I was handy it looks like it would be pretty easy to build. I'm still trying to wrap my mind the whole bale un-rolling process and how it would work in the winter and the muddy times on our farm, but I do love the idea. Another thing I have questions about is if there is much hay wasted on the ground ... although I'm guessing Mr. Judy has enough cattle to clean up quite a bit each day instead of just laying down on it. One last thing from this chapter ... I sure wish I could by grass hay for $15-20 a bale like he mentions! Grass hay around here is $45 (for pretty bad stuff) and up. Of course all hay is at a premium this year because of the weather.

I can sum up chapter five in just a few words. When there is a drought don't graze your grass to the ground. In Mr. Judy's words, "Resist Opening Gates During Drought" (that is the chapter title). This is a reminder that I've seen in quite a few places and I think it is sinking in for me. Hopefully we don't have a drought any time soon and hopefully if we do I remember the good advice! The problem with opening the gates he writes is that you are giving up on your grass and hurting it not just for that season, but in the future as well.

Controlled burning is the topic of the sixth chapter and I have to admit that this is something I will probably never mess with. We don't have a lot of acreage right now, our house is in the middle of it, and there is plenty of conflicting opinions out there on the merits of controlled burning. Mr. Judy has burned in the past, but he writes that he has changed his mind recently because of the harm that it can do above ground and below ground. I guess burning can damage the roots all the way down to three feet.

If you read this book (and I think you should) you will find that Mr. Judy shares a lot of stories throughout. I love that personal touch because it makes him seem like a grazing human instead of a grazing superman! Although he is light years ahead of me he still is learning and making mistakes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Grassfed Farminar

Last night was the final installment of the Practical Farmers of Iowa "Fishbowl Webinar" series that paired a beginning farmer with an experienced farm. Each presenter (the beginner and the old hand) had some time to share a little bit about their operation (or proposed operation) and then the beginner, along with those viewing the webinar, asked questions. I have watched a few of these after the fact because I haven't been by a high speed connection in the evenings when the happen, but since it dealt with grassfed beef last night I wanted to watch it live. I'm glad I did because there was some good stuff!

You can check out this link to watch the archived webinar (and this one to check out the other topics covered this winter). Let me just say this though if you take the time to watch the archive. The first part is great with Dave the beginning farmer and the last section is great with Doug the experienced grass finishing farmer. But, in the middle there were some technical difficulties that lead to "this guy" filling in and not sounding very intelligent because I'm just a beginning farmer too!

Nevertheless, these farminars/webinars are a great resource and I encourage you to check them out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Another ... Little Calf

Calf number two came yesterday afternoon with no problems (this seems to be the trend with Dexters from what I've experienced and heard). This little girl (yep, it is a heifer) picked a great day to be born with a temperature in the mid 50's and plenty of sun. In fact there was even some dry ground for them to get out on. It was nice to watch this little girl bound around the pasture so quickly after she was born ... it never ceases to amaze me how quickly they get going.

I've include the picture here because people often ask about the size of our Dexters. As you can see the newest calf is just a bit over knee high and probably weighs between 20 and 30 pounds (I'm just guessing). The black cow in the background is the mother and this was her second calf. She is pretty much average sized for Dexters I would say ... maybe on the slightly taller end of the scale. We have a couple cows bigger and a couple cows that are smaller. This calf was from a smaller bull, but I would say that she is pretty much average in her size and weight compared to the other calves we have had.

I'm expecting four or five more calves this spring. It seems like I should have a better idea of how many calves we will have, but there is one cow that hasn't had a calf on our farm yet and I think it's been a while since she had a cow period. We bought her with a group of cows, but if she doesn't calve this year she is gone ... I gave her a pass last year because of some issues we had moving animals around and exposing them to the bull.

Hopefully we'll throw a few more bull calves as the calving progresses so we can start building some beef inventory!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Comeback Farms :: Chapters 1-3 Book Report

Well, after the suggestions of many I'm finally reading "Comeback Farms" by Greg Judy. I know that people have been telling me for months now that I need to read it ... and after getting just a few pages in I know why they have been telling me to read it! This book seems to be full of just the type of information that I needed a couple of summers ago, but since I didn't have it back then I'm trying to read through it as quickly as possible now ... and then I'll read through it again! As I have with some of the other books I've read I will do book reports as I make my way through. Mr. Judy writes short chapters though (not a bad thing), so each report will cover a few chapters.

"Let's assume you are starting from scratch with no land. That's actually not a bad place to start." Those are the opening two sentences in chapter one and as I read them I though ... hmm ... wish I could have read this book before I had any land or livestock! But, that's not where I am now so I guess I will just have to learn how to grow from where I am. In this chapter Mr. Judy talks about the changes he had to make in his approach to the farm and his pastures in general, and of course the important attitude shift that went with that change. As I read through the first chapter I was struck at how important it really is to find farmers that are doing things they way you would like to do them and then learn from them! I will admit that seeking out those people has not been one of my strong suits and that I need to seek out their help!

In the second and third chapters the book gives a brief overview on some of the ways that you can turn around poor pastures by using grazing management and the cows to do the work. I think one of the things that I catch myself thinking about is how I can get to my ideal the quickest. As I read through these two chapters I was reminded that I can use the livestock to reach the ideal and that it will probably work out better that way. It is very encouraging to hear Mr. Judy's first hand experiences (both the good and the bad) and I will admit that I'm experiencing a bit of excitement about the farm right now that might have been hidden a bit during the winter.

If you haven't read this book I encourage you to check it out and follow along with the book reports because I think it will be a great read. If you have read the book ... I would love to hear about some of the things that stuck with you as your read!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Snow :: On the First Day of Spring

As you can see from the calendar today is the first day of spring. As you can see from the picture above that doesn't really mean anything in southern Iowa. The snow today just serves to make things a little more exciting and I guess to make me even more anxious for sun and temps in the 60's. There is a plus side though ... you might notice in the the picture that the snow has driven the buffalo out of their spots down in the timber and up onto the pasture. It sure is nice to wake up in the morning and look out the window at a small herd of buffalo!

In other snow related news, it is supposed to hit 37ºF today and all the way up to 59ºF on Tuesday with the sun making an appearance on a couple of the days. I think that means that this snow will quickly give way to a bit more mud. I guess it is nice that we were starting to dry up just a little bit before this last round! Now, if I could just get some sort of guarantee that this would be the last snow of the season.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are Small Farms a Threat?

Last week this article from the Des Moines Register came across the Practical Farmers of Iowa Listserv. It is an interesting read about new farm policies coming from the USDA and the current national administration. I thought that this quote summed up one side of the article very well,
"USDA shifted on me," said Tim Burrack, a farmer near Arlington in northeast Iowa who is chairman of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. He said the Obama administration's local-foods initiative, dubbed "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food," to promote small-scale agriculture, will drive up food costs because large farms are more efficient."
There is some information from both sides of the coin in the article, but I think the quote from Angela Jackson (a small-scale farmer from northwest Iowa who supplies fresh produce to stores and customers) who is featured in the article. She says, "The consumer is driving this."

While I'm not sure if the consumer is driving all of this (it seems that lately policy isn't always inline with the opinion of the general population) I do believe that the consumer is beginning to make the largest impact and that their voice is being heard. This is an interesting place that we have ourselves in with farmers competing with farmers because they have different ways of doing what are/can be/used to be the same thing.

As I read through an article like this one I keep thinking back to the quotes from the "conventional farmers" in movies such as "King Corn" and "Food, Inc." In both of those films the conventional farmers have said that they aren't trying to hurt anyone or anything ... and I agree with them. They say they are just doing what the consumer demands ... and I agree with that! Maybe we just need to keep counting the votes of the consumers (thank you for all that support our farm!).

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subjects laid out in the article.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Am I Becoming a Food Snob?

When I wrote for Epicurious I often wondered what it would be like to distinguish the little nuances of food like their writers did. For me food just tasted good or I didn't like it ... and if I'm going to be completely truthful the list of food that I didn't like (which holds many vegetables and other healthy things) vastly outweighed the list of food that tasted good. Things really haven't changed that much since I started farming, but I do think I am becoming a bit of a food snob. And I kind of like it!

Last weekend we had a family gathering at my Uncles house (which is always a good time ... especially when I bring home a chicken nest box). Like most family events food was involved and we grazed through much of the afternoon and evening on all sorts of stuff. But, the main course was a nice and big spiral sliced glazed ham. This is the kind of thing that I drooled over before I began the farm and I was pretty excited about it.

Don't get me wrong ... it tasted good and everyone was raving about how good it was, but to me it just didn't live up to my expectations. I couldn't really put a finger on it (my palate isn't that well defined yet ... too much fast food from the past messing with it), but it just wasn't as tasting as what I have raised on the farm.

I think the taste difference comes from a lot of different things. The breeding could make a difference, the processing could make a difference, the curing will make a difference, the feed ration could make a difference, and probably a lot of other things. What may make the biggest difference some think (and I might be starting to agree more and more) is just the way the hogs were raised. Maybe the life of a pig does make a difference on the final product? Maybe the sun and the fresh air does matter? Just maybe ...

Either way I know one thing ... I really enjoy eating the pork I raise on the farm!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A River Runs Through It ...

In the movie I think the river ran through Montana and was full of trout. Here the river runs through my pasture and down into the ravine flowing through the woods ... plus, I'm pretty sure there are no trout! Right now it's a pretty impressive sight with it streaming down from the hill top and making this neat little waterfall. Also, at this time of year I don't think it's doing much erosion damage because there is still some frost in the ground. Come spring and summer though when the water comes tumbling down like this though it usually takes a quite a bit of dirt with it. In fact last summer I think we lost quite a few feet where the little waterfall is.

I guess this should probably be added to my list of summer projects! Obviously this won't be a little project that I can work on for a week and call good. In reality it will be a several year thing because part of the solution will have to be building up the soils so that they can store more water in the spring and summer (right now runoff is going to happen no matter what). As far as other options go I'm going to have to do some exploring. I think there would be some grasses that we could plant to help with this area and the rut that it is starting to create. Also, I've been filling it up with brush cut from other areas.

One thing is for sure ... I could make a nice little pond down there. But, I don't think it would be deep enough for trout. Maybe just some crappie and such ...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Back in the Chainsaw Saddle

Yesterday morning I was finally able to get my big chain saw (Stihl 034AV) into a shop for a repair and they were able fix me up really quick. It was just a broken pawl on the starter and then some missing screws and I was back in business. That meant I could put away the bow saw for now and get some firewood cut before the rains came ... yes, you read that correctly! At least for the time being we have transitioned from snow into rain and that means the snow is making an exit (although there was plenty of it in the woods today).

Because of the melting snow, the rain, and the quickly vanishing frost in the ground I'm relegated to staying on top of the hill and trying to never face downhill. The thing is that there are no trees on top of the hill, so what I end up doing is walking down and cutting up long lengths of wood to drag out and then cut up into fire wood. It's more work, but not as much work as it would be if I got the tractor stuck in the mud ... again!

No matter what the weather is like though I always make sure to take a moment to settle down in the woods and take it all in. Yesterday I was down cutting in the very bottom of the wooded hollow near the mostly intermittent creek (although it was really rushing today). It's pretty neat down there this time of year because all of the undergrowth isn't clogging up the view so I sat down to take it all in (oddly enough sitting on a hollow log ... in the hollow). Soon though everything will change and green will replace the snow covered ground and the canopy of empty trees.

Hopefully I will sit on a hollow log and enjoy that as well. For now I'm just glad the chainsaw is running again ... and if you have a Stihl 009 that needs some parts, just let me know (mine bit the dust and is now just a parts saw).

Monday, March 08, 2010

Muddy Time :: Again

Spring may not be here until March 20th, but the mud tells me it is coming soon. As for this blog ... I think this quote will become at least a year tradition. "March is a green muddy month down below, some folks like it ... farmers mostly." (of course that is Bear Claw Crislap from "Jeremiah Johnson ... one of my favorites) That quote just always seems fitting for this time of year. Right now, as you can see from the picture, we just have the mud. Hopefully soon we will have the green to go along with it. I do know one thing though ... this farmer will take mud right now. I'm not saying that I like mud, but I will grudgingly admit that it means dry ground may be coming soon.

Mud does present it's fair share of challenges though. Just last night I had the pleasure of loading a pig for the processor (at 9:15 PM). Things went surprisingly well considering how dark it was ... and how muddy it was. I was able to get the trailer hooked up, the pig loaded and the trailer out of the mud in 45 minutes. Of course I'm pretty sure I will have to level out some ruts at sometime this spring and plant some new grass there ... oh for lots and lots of gravel!

Once I made it back in the house I decided that I needed to add another thing to my list of possible projects. That is to make a centralized loading area in the winter lot area (I've decided the pigs and the cattle are going to live in what we'll call a "sacrificial area" next year. In the winter neither of them use up much space, and then everything will be close to the feed, water, and shelter areas. Plus, then I would have the benefit of making one nice graveled loading area so that I can load without getting stuck all year long.

This would mean that I would have to do some advance planning to bring animals up towards the loading area when it is close to loading day, but I think that is a small amount of work compared to tearing up the whole farm or getting vehicles stuck in awkward places. It would also give me an excuse to have them bring out enough gravel to put down in front of the shed ...

One more thing about the farm names again ... Muddy Hole Farm seems to be pretty fitting now ;)

Friday, March 05, 2010

Spring Thaw :: Many Projects

Since I have a tendency to become overwhelmed by the projects on my plate I thought it would be a good idea to get a jump on the planning and map them out so I have obtainable goals for this spring/summer/fall. There are quite a few things that need to get done and just as many or more that I would like to get done. So, here is what I was thinking ... I have decent idea of some of the most important projects, but I thought I could list them out and you all could throw out ideas on the order I should attack things. Some things will be obvious because they have to be done first before other things can take place, but some other things ... Let's just say I always appreciate all the help I can get!

Here is the list as it stands now...
  1. Cut down small grove of thorny trees that have popped up in the middle of the pasture and plow up that area for pasture planting (they are about an inch think or more).
  2. No-till drill in a pasture mix throughout the main pasture areas.
  3. Run water and electricity out the the new shed (the extension cord from the back of the house works, but isn't ideal.
  4. Put up permanent high tensile fence around the homestead area.
  5. Plant trees around the homestead (hardwoods and pines).
  6. Install a frost-free automatic cattle waterer for the winter lot.
  7. Cut lanes through the woods to setup electric fence for pig paddocks.
  8. Clean out area in the storage section of our house building for a chicken brooder (just a few chicks).
  9. Build a mobile chicken coop to follow the cattle out on pasture.
  10. Build three more pig huts (various designs to see what I like best).
  11. Plant a windbreak on the west side of the winter lot for the cattle (and probably the pigs next year).
  12. Gather wood for next winter (I understand that will be an all year thing and it really has already started).
  13. Get all my hay on the farm before fall (try to buy extra hay out of the field as opposed to all winter long).
  14. Clean out and compost the deep-bedding from the cattle shed.
  15. Put up gutters.
  16. Prep the garden and plow/disc the current pig area for this years sweet corn (this will be an as soon as possible project understandably).
  17. Build a portable loose mineral feeder and water cart.
  18. Gather all the materials needed to set-up at a farmers market (coolers, signs, table, tent, etc.)
That's my 5-minute list (it took me 5 minutes to put it together). How would your rate the priority? Any thoughts on what to add (if you know much about the farm)?

**As a side note ... Rich, that is a picture of my smallest cow at the hay ring. It's a normal hay ring so I would say maybe 4 feet tall or so ... You can tell she is small. I'll try to get some pictures of me standing next to the bigger ones, but they really aren't much bigger.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Big River :: A King Corn Companion

Thankfully the "King Corn" guys decided not to stop there and decided to make a companion piece to their hit documentary. Their latest offering is called "Big River" and is billed as a companion or continuation of the "King Corn" story. There have been screenings for awhile now and according to their website (check out the link) there are quite a few coming up. For all you Iowans you can catch them in Des Moines on March 23rd and in Ames on March 24th. In fact the film will be screening all over the place in March and April ... even in Alaska!

I have had the opportunity to screen the film and I have to say that it lived up to my expectations as far as film production and research goes. Here are some of my thoughts after watching it six or seven times ...
  • After watching/hearing about the floods a couple years ago in Iowa they began to realize that the story of their acre of corn didn't end with just where the food went. Because all of the chemicals they used and put on the ground traveled as well and made their presence felt ... for quite a long ways it seems.
  • I appreciate the fact that they are not afraid to get all sides of the story and are willing to go and talk to anyone that will share with them. In this film the talked with conventional agriculture supporters, farmers, scientists, researchers, chemical producers, wanter plant managers, fisherman, and others. This approach was one of the reasons I appreciated "King Corn" so much and I'm glad to see they continued it in this film.
  • A little of 50% of this movie takes place in Iowa, but then ends up way down in the Gulf of Mexico. It really made me think about how far reaching our impacts are when it comes to agriculture ... especially when we have so much in our state.
  • When they do make it down to the Gulf and talk to some fishermen it seems that both the fishermen and the farmer are having a difficult time coming up with the answer to the problem. The chemicals and other amendments used up in Iowa keep food prices low, but at the same time they impact local economies hundreds of miles away. What is a guy to do?
  • One last thing ... An overriding theme that I came away with was that everyone has a hand in this. Not just the farmers. One of the talking heads reminded us that the farmers are not bad people spraying stuff in order to make other peoples lives difficult, they are just doing what is required by society right now.
My overall opinion? I Loved It. The downside? It was only 25 minutes! What gives "King Corn" guys ... I wanted more :)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Snow Bull and Other Quick Hits ...

Since the temperatures have been slowly coming out of the single digits above and below zero I have been carrying a camera around with me a lot more and I have enjoyed taking many pictures. The above picture is one I took of our bull Sundance the other morning as he was on his way back to the shed from the water tank. It's a morning ritual for the herd (and myself) to water at the tank. I hook up the hose and fill it up while the cows come over and drink. Then I have to unhook and drain the hose ... I'll be glad when I don't have to drain the hose any more!

Anyways, I think he is looking pretty nice in the morning sun. Now ... for the quick hits. This winter the Practical Farmers of Iowa are continuing their "Farminar/Webinar" series with all sorts of great topics that you can get in on. I've been able to catch some of them live, but they also record them and put them up on the website. Here are some links.

#1 :: Next Generation Farminars - This is a series of eight farminars dealing with everything from whole farm planning to financing a farm operation. It was specifically put together for beginning farmers or transition farmers. Check out the link above for the whole series.

#2 :: Winter Farminar Series - The winter series has a variety of topics dealing with soil, vegetables, poultry, and so much more. I've really enjoyed the one on pastured poultry and I'm looking forward to the farminar on grass-fed beef production. Not all of these farminars have taken place yet, so you can check out the link and get in on it live to take full advantage of the presenters knowledge.

#3 :: Niche Pork Webinar - Finally, I've mentioned this one before but I enjoyed these so much I thought I would mention it again! Lots of good information from a variety of niche pork farmers ... in fact I think I'll watch one again soon.

Also, if you are looking for all sorts of other resources check out the Resources Page on the Practical Farmers of Iowa website.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Two Stihl Saws :: Broken

The sun finally came out and it was a relatively warm (hey, anything above freezing is warm) day for cutting wood. The tractor was successfully making it around without getting stuck, I had found some nice dead and standing locust, there was new gas (it was correctly mixed), and I was actually accomplishing something. All was going well until ... until ... until the saw gurgled a bit and then suddenly locked up! Now I can't even pull the rope out, but the chain still moves freely. Alas, I'm no saw mechanic so this one will be going to the shop (the Amish chainsaw shop that is).

But, that only accounts for the little saw being broken. The big saw broke a couple weeks ago and I just haven't done the repair yet. That one seems to be a simple fix because it is just missing a few screws on the outside I believe, but I'll have the shop check it out to make sure. Hopefully it gets going soon because I would rather cut with the big saw anyways!

The moral of the story :: One saw is nice ... two is way better in case one breaks ... and, it might not be a bad idea to have a hand saw around when chainsaw one and chainsaw two breaks. This is especially true when you rely on the saws for creating heat for the house. Luckily I was able to cut a bit before the break so I have some wood set back ... of course it is the bigger stuff ... where is that axe! It doesn't ever go like it is supposed to it seems, but I will press on.

Monday, March 01, 2010

I Will Call You Vindicator ...

Back when I was a kid and my dad had pigs in every building that could possibly contain them on the farm we had a boar for a short while. I'm not really sure why we had it, I just remember having him ... thinking he was HUGE ... and then that he was gone. His name was Vindicator and I have always thought that was the perfect name for a board. In fact I like it so much so that it just may become the "boar name" for the farm (regardless of how many boars we have over the years). Naming our new boar is even more fitting though because of where the name comes from.

My dad got the name idea from a Jimmy Stewart/Maureen O'Hara movie titled, "The Rare Breed". Basically it is a cowboy movie about a bull that comes over from England and needs to end up in Texas and it has Jimmy Stewart (he's Bulldog Burnett) and Maureen O'Hara, so what else could you want. Here is why Vindicator is the perfect name though ... the bull in the movie ... it is a Hereford! It's a perfect fit for us then. Our Hereford boar is now Vindicator!

Now that we have the name thing out of the way, here is why I decided to purchase a purebred Hereford boar. Right now we have one Hereford sow and a couple other crossbred sows (Berkshire crosses). They all have had nice litters and been good mothers and each of them has their benefits. With the crossbred sows we gain a little hybrid-vigor and with the Hereford we help maintain a pure line that was bred for an outdoors based system. By having a purebred boar we are able to have the best of both worlds right now.

In the future I can see us adding to our Hereford herd and possible adding some other crossbred sows to make some three-way crosses, but for the time being I need to work slowly and make sure I'm doing things the way I want to and the way they need to be done. Right now ... Vindicator is hanging out with the Hereford sow. I can't wait until she farrows again because those little red pigs with white faces sure are cute!
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