Thursday, March 31, 2011

Are Dexters the Right Breed for Me?

A few posts ago when I was writing my chapter review for Tim Young's book, "The Accidental Farmers," I mentioned in passing that I was questioning whether or not the Dexter breed was for me. It's something I've been thinking about lately and just this morning someone posted a comment asking why I was thinking that way. So, I figured it was time for me to try and articulate some of my thoughts on the subject. First of all let me say that at this point I'm still keeping the Dexters and trying to work with them, but knowing what I know now if I was starting over with the same goals in mind I'm not sure that I would go with the Dexters.

I don't remember exactly which book it was, although I'm pretty sure it was by Joel Salatin, but early on I remember reading that "seed stock" anything was not a good idea. What that meant was that going with pure breed animals for meat sales based farm probably wasn't a good idea. I tried to think my way around that by telling myself that I wasn't really interested in selling seed stock, so the ability to sell a heifer every now and then was just a bonus. I loved the historical aspect of the Dexter, I loved the small size, and I loved what I read about their qualities as a historical tri-purpose breed (meat, milk, and draft animals).

Here is my totally uneducated thinking of why I may not be sold on them for my farm right now ... The Dexters are listed as a recovering breed by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and at one time their numbers here in the U.S. were pretty low. I think as they began to recover some marginal animals were kept for breeding stock (both cows and in my opinion especially bulls) that helped grow the numbers within the breed, but didn't really emphasize the strongest qualities of the breed. On top of that I'm not sure there is a very large number of people raising Dexters in the same type of all grass and no antibiotic system that I'm using right now.

That's all to say that while I still think Dexters are a great breed and that they would work in many situations (including mine) they may not work perfectly in my system. Or more specifically the particular Dexters I have weren't the perfect ones for me. When I decided on Dexters over three years ago what I was doing was choosing a breed based on their general historical background. What I should have been doing is choosing cows (not a breed) based on how I want to raise them. I honestly believe I would have been better served spending the money to get cows from a rotationally grazed farm that was grass based only. This may have meant I bought Dexters or it may have meant I bought cows ... just great cows ...

I think Dexters can still work and I hope to make them work on the farm. Above all I still think they are perfect breed for the small land holder because of their size and relatively calm disposition (although there are exceptions. I would like to add a couple other cows at some time though ... just to see ...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer :: Chapter 3 Book Report

Yes, I'm a book bouncer! My reading is dictated by my whim of the moment and last night my whim was  pushing me to Joel Salatin's latest book, "The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer". Chapter three is titled, "Small is Okay" and it was an interesting contrast to the article I just read about the importance of beef and pork exports in the coming year. The article talked about how the rising feed costs were going to make things difficult for farmers in the coming year, but that they could find some financial security if the export of meat remained strong. As I read through Mr. Salatin's chapter on small farms I saw a very different picture of financial security for farmers. In fact he strongly suggested that exportation was the wrong direction for the farmers and the countries involved!

I think that this is the first chapter in the book where the "lunatic" part of the title really starts to come out. Just think about how often you hear someone say that it is not the job of the United States to feed the world ... that doesn't happen very often! He is not saying that because of some sort of U.S. first mentality, but rather from the point-of-view that other countries (even developing countries) can produce the food that they need to feed the people in their own country. That is a pretty huge departure from the commonly held beliefs of the farmers, consumers, and politicians here in the U.S.

Here is a quote from the book that helps him express his point-of-view (this is something that a governmental official from Belarussia shared with Mr. Salatin) ::
"The day the foreign aid was deposited in our bank, every hotel filled up with U.S. corporate salesmen from machinery companies to seed to chemical companies. All that money was spent on things we did not need, things we could not fix, things we could not afford to put fuel in. If we had know about your kind of farming, we could have put in water systems, fence systems, and gone to a pasture-based system and fed our people and had enough left over for export."
It is an interesting quote and very interesting topic to consider. Often times I think Iowans (myself included) see ourselves and our farms as necessary for the survival of the world. I mean we play a huge role in feeding the world right? Our farms are some of the most efficient and highest producing ever seen right (my farm is not included in that)? But, Mr. Salatin sees things from a different angle ... he sees the possibility of farmers all of the world producing food for their local communities ... and he sees lots and lots of farmers!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject. It is a topic that seems to boggle my mind!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Agonizing & Pork for Sale & Farm Updates

Sometimes I just think and think and think and agonize and agonize and agonize ... and well ... you get the idea. There are just some decisions that I have a difficult time making as I try to process the information and come to the best conclusion. One of those decisions that I'm agonizing over right now is pricing. I know that I need to adjust my prices and I'm not ashamed of that (because if I don't the feed prices might drive me mad). But, what I do agonize over is just how much to raise them and how exactly to land on that perfect price!

Without a doubt I am not very prepared to figure out the exact amount that I need to charge because I'm not doing a very good job of tracking feed conversion and feed consumption of my growers and sow herd. That's not to say that I don't know how much they are eating and about how much per day that they are eating, but rather I'm just not sure how well that feed is working and at what rate it's turning into pig pounds! I've read quite a few research papers on the topic and I know that I need to do a good job keep the feeders adjusted and things like that to get just the right feed-to-weight conversion, but I'm not there yet.

So, I just toss the figures that I have around in my head throughout the day and then try to land on a price that I think is fair for the farm. I'm getting close to having it nailed down and when I do then I'll be sharing more information about the pay-as-it-grows program. If you are interested in a pork whole or half feel free to send an e-mail and I'll add you to the list!

Even though the weather has taken a step back from the 60º and 70º temperatures that were so much fun I have been making my way around the farm and taking stock of the projects that need the most attention as spring comes. There are some repairs that need to be done on the hi-tensile fence, along with some fencing issues that just never were finished. I really want to get out and mow down some tall grass and bushes, but the PTO isn't working on the tractor (again). Of course I need to get thinking about prepping the garden ... thankfully there is a rear-tine tiller to help me this year! And, if I wanted to save myself some headaches later this year I should really be out in the woods cutting paths for the pig paddock fences!

We'll see how the spring goes ...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Downs and Ups ...

Normally you hear people talking about the "ups and downs," but today was a day of downs and ups on the farm ... or at least a slight bummer, then a very nice up, and finally a slight bummer that was really forgetable because of the up. I worked a long day at Farm & Home/NAPA, but was excited because I had found a nice looking little gas saving pickup that I was planning on looking at. So, as soon as I could sneak out the side door of work I called the guy selling the pickup ... and found out that he had just sold it. I guess it was an okay deal! Later in the evening I did go look at a different little pickup very similar to the first one only to find out it wasn't very much like it was represented to be. That was a second slight bummer that helped sandwich so completely great news ...

After the slight bummer of the truck being sold I checked my e-mail and found that ... Crooked Gap Farm is headed to the Downtown Des Moines Farmer's Market! Of course this will not be on a full-time basis because they have a "probationary" period for new vendors, but it does look like I was able to get a nice selection of dates that will fit in with when I will have the most available. Plus, most of the dates are fairly close together or every other week which will be great for helping customers remember the farm. I'm very excited ... and nervous (even though the first date isn't until July).

Now comes the important work. I need to get together some brochures and better business cards, work on some displays, make sure I'm comfortable with the coolers from last year, figure out the best way to handle transactions, and maybe even start figuring out some processing dates for the hogs. There is so much to think about, but I'm very excited!

Friday, March 25, 2011

"The Accidental Farmers" :: Chapter 7 Book Report

This chapter, titled "Farming's Dark Side," is in my opinion probably the best and most important chapter of Tim Young's new book. Not that I haven't found nuggets in the other chapters, but rather that this is the most unique chapter (I feel) in the book. There are other books out there that will tell you about management intensive grazing, the benefits of chickens following cows, and even the values behind certain farm choices. But, I'm not sure that I've read a farming book yet (and I've read quite a few) that takes such an open and honest look at the "dark side" of farming. Mr. Young holds nothing back and writes about the realities he has had to face on the farm. You may disagree with his practices or think you would have done something differently, but I think you should respect his honesty, openness, and they way he sticks with his values.

As I have mentioned I think that this side of the farming life is one that has been missing from the books that I've read ... although I don't think it would fit in every book. Most of the time the "dark side" you read about in books, articles, or from the mouths of other farmers is that it just isn't possible to make a living on the farm. I guess I should say that more specifically it is very difficult to make a living on the farm unless you can hit on the right factors (rented land, owned land, right markets, marketing ability, etc.). But, what Mr. Young has done is opened up his farm I guess you could say to the daily reality of making the transition to the farm ... or just farming in general.

The "dark side" of farming has been one of the most difficult things for me. I have a bad tendency to get easily frustrated over a situation and just feel absolutely defeated. And, I'm sure I don't even want people to tell me how many times I have said that I was going to or had to quit the farm. I'll never forget the walk back to the house after the tractor just died (stuck motor because of lack of lubrication due to a clogged oil sump and a non-working oil gauge/light) and the conversation with my dad. I just wanted to be done! The frustration and realization that I just lost a substantial amount of money in a now dead tractor was just crippling! And that is just one of the stories ...

I think it is a great thing that Mr. Young has decided to pull back the curtain as it were (as he has done on his blog/podcast) and show the whole picture. If nothing else ... it's worth getting the book to read this chapter. Just to know what it's like and that the troubles happen to other people too!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"The Accidental Farmers" :: Chapter 6 Book Report

I feel fairly confident in saying that I'm a big picture sort of thinker. I am much better at looking at things from the wide angle view instead of focusing in on the details ... although I do need to get better at the details because they are just as important as the big picture! But, that is all to say that I completely understand what Tim Young is writing about in chapter six, "Reviving the Prairie". When I walked over what is now Crooked Gap Farm for the very first time it was covered with tall prairie grasses and just seemed too good to be true ... once I had been on the farm for one season and the tall grasses had disappeared thanks to grazing and hay making I saw the reality of what I was working with. I saw that the farm needed some reviving!

Mr. Young shares his personal experiences and mistakes (I appreciate knowing others make mistakes!) with building a diversified livestock where the animals do the work of restoring the soil and ultimately the farm. In this chapter I think you'll find a very brief overview of management intensive grazing, and plenty of proof that it can be done. I do wonder though if Mr. Young has considered changing to multiple moves each day instead of just once a day? I've written about ultra high stock density grazing before and it is something that really intrigues me. For part of last summer I was making at least two moves a day I thought it was very beneficial. One downside for them at Nature's Harmony Farm though I think is the fact that their perimeter fence is not electric. That means they have to set up an independent paddock for each move where I have a little easier time with it because my entire perimeter is electric and I can easily tie into it.

As far as my use of high density grazing this coming season I think I'm going to be doing two moves again. My current job situation makes any more than that impossible, but a move before work in the morning and then again when I get off well give me two moves and should provide some of the benefits of a "mob". I'll just try to get all my paddocks set up in the evening. The rub of course will be the sheep ... I still haven't figured out how I'm going to graze them yet (with the cows or separately).

All in all this was a good chapter with lots to think about, but it is the next chapter that I'm really looking forward to ... "Farming's Dark Side".

Monday, March 21, 2011

Percolating ...

I don't especially care for coffee. In fact I can remember the exact time that I tried coffee for the first time ... I was out cross country skiing and Craig offered me a cup of coffee because it was so cold outside. I was cold and it smelled good, so I took a taste ... and then spit it on the snow! I distinctly remember not being able to get that coffee taste out of my mouth. I still do not like coffee (I'm a hot chocolate guy), but I do love the smell of good coffee and I do enjoy using words that I associate with coffee ... words like "percolating" Right now percolating seems like the best word to describe my mind. One of the definitions for percolate (according to is :: "to spread gradually". That is what all the ideas in my mind are doing right now ... they are starting to seep and ooze and spread and well ... they are starting to percolate. The only probably is that percolating is a slower process.

What I'm trying to say (see I'm having trouble getting the thoughts out) is that I have the farm and farming on the mind a lot. I'm continually trying to figure out exactly how to do the project that I envision. I'm always thinking of the next thing that can be added to the farm. I'm constantly fretting and worrying about jobs and how everything will keep going on the farm. And, I often find myself stumped and perplexed by farm issues. That is why I think it is good to have mind breaks from time to time. Lately I haven't been doing a very good job of giving my mind breaks, but tonight as I was trying to compose a post/information sheet for a "pay-as-it-grows" program (more on that coming) I was distracted by the music I was listening to ... and it was a good thing!

Outside of the farming world here is what I'm reading, listening to, and watching right now...
  • Get Low :: I rented this the other day because I loved the preview so much ... and I'm a Robert Duvall fan. It was a pretty good movie with an interesting plot. I mean it's about a hermit who built his own log house ... what's not to love!
  • Travel III :: This is a short album (there is also a I and a II) from the band Future of Forestry which gets their name from the C.S. Lewis poem I have mentioned on this blog a couple of times.
  • The Line Upon a Wind: The Great War at Sea, 1793-1815 :: Ever since the movie Master and Commander: Far Side of the World came out I have been enthralled by the tall sailing ships of the 18th and early 19th century. This is a big book that covers the Napoleonic Wars from the naval perspective. So far so good!
  • Sigh No More :: Music I just like ... that's it ... I think I found them last spring and I remember listening to this album as I was drilling seed in the pasture!
  • 48 Days to the Work You Love: Preparing for the New Normal :: Did I mention I was looking for a job ... still reading and still looking ... 
What are you reading, listening to, or watching these days? I am always amazed how reading a book about Horatio Lord Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar can inspire me to farm ... but it does!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Saturation Point ...

No not the ground ... in fact the ground is actually starting to dry up rather nicely and I have been able to move around without getting sucked into knee deep puddles of mud! What I'm talking about is more of a business saturation point. As I look at expanding the farm and adding new enterprises I often wonder just how many small-scale ... pasture based ... direct market ... meat farms that the local area can support. I will readily admit that my meat costs more than pretty much anything the local grocery store is selling, but I'm not ashamed of that because I know how much it costs me to produce it and I know how much I need to get in return. Also, I'm confident in the product that I have ... not propaganda ... I just really am proud of it.

Regardless of how proud I am though of the meat I'm raising I still wonder if there is a point of saturation for this local food market. Is there a point when you will hit the top of the ceiling when it comes to the group of people willing to pay for a quality pasture raised product from a local farm? While at the INCA conference a couple weekends ago someone mentioned that for the first time in a while some local CSA farmers were finding it more difficult to sell all of their shares. They had been used to a waiting list in the past, but now they were even going into the season with some open. Does that mean that the market is hitting a saturation point or that marketing and customer education needs to change?

I'm not exactly sure what I think on this topic, but I would love to hear your thoughts on whether or not we are hitting a saturation point? If nothing else the idea of hitting a saturation point reminds me that I need to have a niche for my farm and I need know my story in and out so that I can share it with everyone I meet. I need to know why I'm doing what I'm doing and I need to convey that in all of my farm conversations.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"The Accidental Farmers" :: Chapter 5 Book Report

Because the city of Knoxville kindly suggested (through a phone call and letter) that I remove my chickens from town (I sent them down to my dad's farm) they were not the first farm animals to make an appearance on the farm. It was in fact a group of pigs that showed up on the land and began "the farm" three years ago so I can easily relate to the experiences of Tim and Liz Young and their pig fun. In fact their runaway pig story hits a little too close to home for me. Except in my case it was a full grown sow and it took me weeks to catch her (on the neighbors farm)! Yep ... the pigs have provided plenty of learning opportunities for me ... and I think I almost love them the most of all the livestock on the farm!

As you may expect Mr. Young covers all the basics in this chapter about how pigs just love to be pigs and get out in the pastures and woods rooting to their little hearts content. He writes about the difficulties and set-backs experienced by farrowing outdoors and trusting a pig to do their pig-level best to farrow and raise a great litter (as an aside ... Walter Jeffries of Sugar Mountain Farm always has a lot of good things to say on this topic). And, of course he hits on the topic of castration and why they don't do castration on their farm. I believe I mentioned in a previous comment or post that I'm on the fence when it comes to the castration camp. On one had I can see where they are coming from, on another hand I have the hog farmers in my family talking about boar taint, and then on yet another hand I question my ability right now to have separate paddocks for the boar growers and the gilt growers. Needless to say I think I have a lot of reading and researching to do on that subject.

But, the thing from this chapter that really hit home with me the most is their progression through the various breeds of swine on their farm. I believe they started out with Berkshire and then added the Ossabaw Island pigs (which I REALLY would like to have if anyone nearby would like to share) and have now even moved to Large Blacks. What I can appreciate about Mr. Young's discussion of this topic is that I've experienced the exact same thing as I search for the perfect pigs (and cattle, chickens, sheep, etc.) for the farm. Right now I have a Hereford sow, two Tamworth sows, two Berkshire sows, and two Berkshire/Tamworth sows. My current boar is also a Hereford even though I only have one Hereford sow. I guess you could say that I'm in the experimenting stage!

It is not only with the pigs thought that I'm considering and reconsidering the breeds that I have chosen. Lately I've been wondering if the Dexter is the right direction for me to go with the cattle ... But, I think that is a post for another day!

If you would like a taste of "The Accidental Farmers" and specifically this chapter you can read a sample  here (you'll see a link for chapter five).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Much Meat ...

My post from yesterday, a couple of the comments, and some things I've been reading lately (Accidental Farmer's, Omnivore's Dilemma, etc.) have me wondering just how much meat one family could be expected to eat in a year ... or as some would pose the question ... how much meat should a family eat in a year. As I think about a farming model based more around the sale of wholes and halves rather than individual cuts I can't help but find myself thinking about how much a family (let's say of four) would need in one year. The profit watching side of me says that they need to buy a lot, but I want to be realistic as well.

Right now I'm raising beef (although I'm not to the point of doing wholes and halves yet), pork, lamb, and hopefully this summer meat chickens and a small amount of turkeys for the fall. On top of that there will be eggs available for sale and there is always the potential for fresh produce (not this year tough). If there were a solid base of customer families or couples committed to the farm and purchasing meat seasonally throughout the year I wonder how much a family/couple would want.

In my mind if I wasn't farming this would be the best way to purchase the meat my family would have throughout the year. I could have a freezer and just pick up different things at different times of the year. Maybe in early fall or late summer I could pick up a half of beef (remember I have small cows) and a turkey for Thanksgiving, maybe a little later a lamb, possibly a hog over the winter or sometime before Easter, and then throughout the summer some chickens until the cycle is started again. Of course this would take a little sacrifice/saving when it comes to meal planning throughout the year, but it would also give someone a lot of choices when it came to meat.

Of course that may be a little (or a lot) too much meat for some folks, so it could be altered a little. Maybe you still get a whole hog, but only a 1/4 of a beef (which wouldn't be a lot of Dexter beef), and then some poultry in the summer. I think there are lots of ways to attack this type of marketing and I think it has huge benefits for both the farmer and the consumer.

What do you think? How much meat would you be comfortable having throughout the year if you were buying in bulk (think wholes and halves)? Is that something you would even consider doing or does it seem inconvenient and possibly restricting when it comes to the meals you can eat throughout the year? I'd love to hear your thoughts

Monday, March 14, 2011

Farm Customers ...

Over the past 12 months I have marketed Crooked Gap Farm products online through The Iowa Food Coop, Facebook, Twitter, the Crooked Gap Farm website, e-mail lists, on farm, word-of-mouth, and of course a season at a farmer's market. Some of those methods have been very successful for the farm (especially considering the small-scale that the farm is at now) and others have been great learning experiences for the future. Without a doubt though I would say that each one as been an important part of the my farm marketing education.

In this coming year I see more of the same for marketing with two (hopefully) major exceptions. First of all I'm hoping that this year will see a move to a bigger and potentially more profitable market (even if only on an eight week probationary level). I've sent in the application for the Downtown Des Moines Farmer's Market and now I'm just awaiting the reply. I'm also looking at the possibility of a Thursday evening market in Des Moines as well, but I need to do a bit more research on that one (if anyone has any experiences with it I'd love to hear them). The nice thing about the farmer's market is that it gives me a chance to tell the story and talk to a lot of people ... it's a game of numbers ... the more people I can talk to at the booth the more product I can sell.

But, I'm also hoping to see an expansion of those "on farm" or word of mouth sales. Specifically I'm talking about more sales of whole and half animals such as lamb, pork, and poultry. It is these types of sales that I'm most interested in making and working towards in my marketing. Not because I don't like the other methods or those types of interaction, but rather I think that the sales of wholes and halves gives the consumers and farmers greater interaction. I know I've heard Tim and Liz Young of Nature's Harmony Farm talk about it before, but a customer farmer relationship like this seems like it could be very (or even most) sustainable.

My question then is this ... how many customers do you need to make the farm financially, emotionally, and physically sustainable. Of course these customers would need to be committed to the farm and buying in bulk (and have a freezer), but if they were how many would you need. I thinking a family that throughout the year could buy a half or whole hog, a half of beef (remember I have small cows), a lamb, a few chickens, a turkey, some eggs, and maybe even overflow from the garden. If there was a family of four or five and they were doing something like that spread though out the year how many customers do you think you would need?

Just an interesting question to think about ... at least it is for me ;)

Friday, March 11, 2011

"The Accidental Farmers" :: Chapter 4 Book Report

If you would allow me to use a bit of a pun right now I would like to say that chapter four of Tim Young's new book really gets to the "meat" of the values behind their farm. I thought of that one right away ... I promise! But, really this chapter is about why they have decided to focus on meats at Nature's Harmony Farm instead of going with a CSA or market garden and I would have to say that I agree with at least one of their most basic premises ... that eating meat is just part of who they are and they like it! That is probably one of the biggest reasons I went the route of a livestock farm. Because I just love to eat meat ... especially more than vegetables, but I realize I need to work on that.

This chapter is an interesting one to read though especially after Monday's post on the topic of "propaganda". I think (according to the dictionary definition of the word propaganda) that this chapter could be labeled propaganda. Now as I say that please don't think I disagree with the way they are choosing to raise their animals, just understand that I'm just looking at the definitions of propaganda and seeing that Mr. Young is using ideas, facts, and information to promote his cause. At the same time I'm sure there are other farmers out there that would read this chapter and say that he is focusing on rumor and allegations. I don't think that is necessarily the case ... I'm just saying it that if some conventional farming advocates got their hands on this chapter they may like to disagree with Mr. Young. Which I think he would have no problem with ... at least that is what I think.

What I can appreciate about a chapter like this one is that it allows you to see the thought process that formed their values and farming purpose. But, what really jumped out at me is the real disconnect that he writes about having with his food prior to beginning the farm. Obviously I grew up in very agriculturally minded state and had family members out on the farm, so even though I wasn't a "farm kid" I had a connection. Even as a young boy I knew about confinement houses, feed lots, and things of that nature. Although I did not wonder whether it was a good idea to raise pigs inside on cement I at least knew where the pork on the grill was coming from.

I what a deeper look at this chapter does for me is make me realize how important my individual farm story is ... and how important the story is of Nature's Harmony Farm ... and every other farm out there. And that is truly what I love about my farm. I love the fact that because of the farm I have a chance to tell the story and share with other people the beauty of cows and pigs and chickens and sheep and people out living and enjoying and soaking it all in (I like to use the word and)!!!

While I may not agree with everything in this chapter (and others may not even agree with this chapter existing in book like this), I do appreciate the way that it makes me think and remember the story that I and other farmers have to tell. I love to tell a story ... any story actually ... especially ones I'm passionate about!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Alternative Feeds?

If you've read my blog lately I'm sure you've noticed that the price of feed is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. When spring and summer gets here I'm hoping and expecting that my pigs will be getting a portion of their feed from the woods and pasture, but even then the prices (which may even keep rising) will have a huge impact on the farm.

A few posts ago I mentioned that I'm hoping to try some open-pollinated corn this year, but I'm interested in other options as well. I've been reading articles about feeding dried distillers grains ... I've been looking for alternative protein sources ... and I've been going back through some of the "pig" books that I have looking for ideas. But, I don't feel like I've come up with the right option.

I'm still looking for ideas though. If you have any tips or suggestions I would love to hear them ... and I'm sure others would as well!
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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Muddy Hole Farm

life in the muddy hole
There was a time last year when I was searching for a new farm name that I wanted to call the farm "Muddy Hole Farm". I thought it was a fitting name because there always seems to be mud on the farm somewhere and because it works with the whole pig being a pig thing. Of course there was also the historical aspect of the name because "Muddy Hole" was the name of one of George Washington's farms. But, after careful though and input from others I decided maybe it just didn't convey that picture of a beautiful pasture based farm! I still say the name would fit though ... I mean just take a look at this picture on the right.

Mud is always going to be an issue on any farm, but it is compounded a little on this farm because I don't have gravel in some of the areas that are highly traveled by the tractor or even in the shed. This of course leads to some major ruts, the possibility of getting stuck, and some major muddy holes in the shed. If I can work it out this year I'm going to try and get some more gravel on the farm so that I can still function in these muddy times. For example if I needed to get to my livestock trailer today I don't think I would be able to get it out of the shed or even to a place where I could load pigs.

Of course I need to remember that getting all worked up about the mud right now will probably mean that later this summer there will be no mud in sight and I'll be wishing for some mud puddles!

In a completely unrelated note I've been working on creating a new résumé for my job search and I would love some help. In the past my résumés have been fairly bland and just a listing of places where I've worked and then things that I've done. Since I'm looking to move to a job that is different than all the others I've had in the past I've decided to create a more functional résumé that shares my skills and abilities. If you have any experience with résumés I would love to share mine with you and get some advice. Please just shoot me an e-mail and I send one to you. Thanks again for all the help and encouragement you all have been giving me.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

"The Accidental Farmers" :: Chapter 3 Book Report

Chapter three in Tim Young's new book is titled "The Accidental Farmers", but I think it could easily have been titled "Why We Farm". As you make your way through this chapter (and the previous ones) you begin to see the picture behind Nature's Harmony Farm and how the ended up in the place they did ... which is with a farm out in the country raising animals exactly how they believe they should be raised. But, this chapter specifically, more so than the previous three, gets into a lot of the reasoning behind their farming values and goals. I think you can almost see the wheels turning in Mr. and Mrs. Young's heads as you read through this chapter! In fact when you make it to page 59 you will find a list that details some of their "reasons" for the farm (I'll let you pick up a copy to check out that list if you'd like).

The one recurring thought that I had though as I read this chapter is how does a farmer balance the financial needs of the farm/family with the vital farm values and goals that they have. On one hand this chapter is about the realization that the farm is not a way to profit (in the way that someone coming from a corporate background would see it), but also that the farm needs to make a profit and not wear everyone out along the way. It seems like a tight wire act to balance those to needs ... the need to have a farm that is built around your values and the need to make a living. I am not suggesting that the two don't go together, but I am suggesting that there is a fine line and you have to keep that all in mind as you work through your farm life.

I will also say that as I read through this book it seems like I have a hundred questions after finishing each chapter. I think that is a good thing because it makes me think about my values, my farm, and the way I go about everything, but at the same time it makes me wish I could have a couple days with Mr. Young to swap stories and gather information from a more business oriented mind than I have! I do appreciate that about a book though ... I think it is a good thing when a book makes you have more questions than when you started with because that means it is causing you to think and look at things from different angles. I know things like that help me on my farm!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Farming Propaganda ...

The other day I happened to be making a delivery during 1040 WHO's "Big Show" (that's the agricultural show if you're scoring at home). It was a rare occurrence because usually I'm safe and sound inside the store or eating lunch during that show, but the other day I was able to catch just a tiny tidbit of it while they were broadcasting from the "Commodity Classic" or something like that and using it as an opportunity to share their disagreement and possible dislike of Michael Pollan, Food, Inc., and other things along those lines. I would consider myself a fan of the "Big Show" even though I may disagree with them from time to time. And, I really have no problem with them refuting things from Food Inc. or Mr. Pollan ... I mean that is the beauty of our country right ... opinions ...

What really struck me though is that each side of the "battle" is accusing the other of spreading propaganda. Which lead me to the definition of propaganda ... according to Merriam-Webster ::

  • the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
  • ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect
The crazy thing about that definition is that whether or not something is truth is not a part of propaganda. It is all about using a certain set of facts or information in order to sway people to your way of think. With that definition of propaganda one could say that every issue in the world right now has propaganda on both sides of that issue. That is why the Corn Refiners Association is putting out this commercial and my King Corn friends have made this spoof. It is why Mr. Pollan has written The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and The Center for Consumer Freedom has published articles like this, this, and this.

Do you know what I think of all that? I think I enjoy reading Mr. Pollan's books and articles. I think I enjoy listening to "The Big Show" even when I disagree with them ... even when I disagree strongly with them. I think that there is probably some problem with High Fructose Corn Syrup and that I probably eat too much of it with out thinking about it. At the same time I think it's funny that the spoof by my "King Corn" friends uses tobacco to prove their point ... some would say that their commercial was also an anti-tobacco spoof (I think that is ironic). I think that we should be paying more for food and I think that those that argue for the need of industrial agriculture because of starvation worldwide should be spending more time overseas helping feed people instead of writing about it or fighting for a system that may or may not be helping those really in need ... (I think a lot as you can see) ...

But, do you really want to know what I think? I think I raise great pork chops, bacon, roasts, burgers, and all sorts of other goodies. I think I raise food that has a taste that you won't find at your local box store. I think I love when I hear former conventional confinement hog farmers lament that the pork chops that they were raising tasted nothing like the beauties they ate when they were a kid ... his honest to goodness description of the pork chops he was raising ... "cardboard" ... that's what he said! Basically I think I raise some great tasting pork and beef (and eventually lamb and poultry) and I think everyone should buy some because they will love the way it tastes and will find out that meat does have taste that makes your mouth water. 

How about that for your daily dose of propaganda. What do You think? Does this farm propaganda frustrate you? Make you think? Or maybe make you tune it out? I know that I just want to continue raising great food in a great way as long as there are people that appreciate it and love it!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

I Want to Feel Corny ...

The combination of rising feed costs, my current job changes/situation, and my desire to make the farm work has me thinking a lot about corn lately. Specifically I'm thinking of growing some of my own corn this year for livestock feed ... at least enough to experiment with that is. I currently have a couple of areas that I'm thinking of planting. One of the areas is where the pigs lived a couple of years ago and where the cows wintered last year. The other area is where the sheep and cows wintered this year. I figured that both of those areas would have a few extra nutrients that might help things along a little bit. Also, both areas have both been "sacrifice" areas that would need to be replanted anyways so I think it makes sense to try my hand at growing corn.

Like everything else on the farm my corn growing knowledge is limited ... very limited actually! Of course I have raised small amount of seed corn in the past, but I've never done anything beyond that. As soon as it is possible in the spring I will need to plow up those areas and disc it all (a few times I'm sure). From there I'll need to get some seed into the ground ... which I haven't quite figured out yet. I do have a single row garden seeder around, but I need to get a belt for it and see if it will work. If that doesn't work out I guess I can always do it by hand. If I'm really good this summer maybe I could even talk my uncle into bringing down one of his Minneapolis Molines with a cultivator.

As you can see I don't have my mind fully around this idea yet other than knowing that I want to do it. I'm very interested in all of the suggestions that you may have. I'm looking for some ideas on finding some good open-pollinated corn, help with planting and cultivating, harvesting ideas (I'm thinking hand picking it), storage (on the cheap), and anything else. This would be a totally new direction for me and one that I didn't really expect to make at this point, but I'm interested in trying it out on an experimental level at least and seeing if I could come up with something in the future.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

"The Accidental Farmers" :: Chapter 2 Book Report

Chapter two of Tim Young's new book, "The Accidental Farmers" delves deeper into their transition from the crazy city life that they lived before to the new life on the farm. In most ways I cannot relate to their experiences because even though I have for the most part only lived in town or at least within a community of people (I did spend two years working at a boarding school in the country), I have always been fairly connected to the country and in some small way the farming life. For me the move to the country was really just a culmination of my life dreams. Ever since I was a young kind I've always wanted to live in the country or out in wild as it were (there was a time when I wanted to be a park ranger). Even though I couldn't relate on many levels I did appreciate Mr. Young's honesty about just where they were coming from and why they felt led to leave.

What I can relate to is the optimistic picture he had of the farm when he was looking at it for the first time. Even though it was really just 70 plus acres of weeds and brush he looked at it and pictured what was possible. I often (even in the midst of frustration and doubt) look out over my farm and picture just what it could be. I picture the pastures thriving, the set-up perfect, the woods teeming with life, and me out there taking care of it all. I suppose if you can't see that then you shouldn't be out there trying to heal the land.

That's just my 20 second review ...for what it's worth
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