Monday, May 23, 2011

Out To Pasture ...

If you follow my Twitter you will know that I finally got the cattle out on pasture the other day. Obviously I would have loved to make it happen sooner, and plenty (or all) of my neighbors have had their cattle out of the winter lots for quite some time ... But, I didn't want to sacrifice my pastures just for the sake of getting them out on the grass. The fact of the matter is that at this point my pastures don't take off like the ones around me, but they are beginning to turn around and with careful management they will be where I want them to be ... careful management just takes patience sometimes.

My greatest fear was getting them out on the grass before it had a chance to get going and then just running spots as I worked my cattle through the rotation. Because I held off (and because we have had some good growing weather recently) I think I will have a better summer and hopefully a long fall of grazing. I started the cows off down in the bottom where the grass is growing the best and then I am going to work them along the edge of the woods next, which is actually outside of my perimeter fence. As you can see from the blurry picture above it is green and they seem to be enjoying themselves.

After just a few movements though (four to be exact) I am so glad to see things working out just like it does in my mind. When I move them into the next paddock and look back at the one they were previously in it looks like it was bombed with manure and there practically isn't a piece of grass or clover that hasn't been pooped on ... eaten ... or trampled. Now I just need to get the chickens following behind ... oh ... and figure out what to do with the sheep ...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Pasture ...

Whew ... first of all let me say that it's been awhile since I have taken/had the time to sit down and write ... even for a few minutes. A couple of weeks ago I started getting busy and then last week up until yesterday I was doing my civic duty ... jury duty ... and it was very time consuming because on top of jury duty I was also continuing to work at the town job to help keep the finances from taking a hit. Thankfully everything finished up yesterday and I'm hoping I can somewhat return to a normal schedule.

I just wanted to take a moment though and give an update on my pasture because a question about it popped up in the comments awhile back. First of all let me share the background ... This will be summer number three of grazing the pasture and hopefully the first with a whole seasons worth of multiple moves per day. The first season was what I would call "unmanaged grazing". At that time I had no perimeter fences so I just moved the cows around in large areas as there was need and as I could put up fence. The second year I did finally get the fence up and I rotated daily (for the most part), but not as many moves per day as I would like. Now I'm into year three and hopefully I'll be apply some changes based on what I've learned ... hopefully ...

The thing is though ... generally speaking the pasture has not improved as much as I would have hoped. As I've mentioned before this land spent at least 14 years in the Conservation Reserve Program and had a pretty weak stand of native grasses along with plenty of brush and bare spots. The warm season grasses that were growing are tough to graze early in the season so I haven't been able to get my cattle on grass as soon as I would like (such as this year ... they still are eating hay). Last year I no-till drilled seed on about 10 acres, but the spring was so wet that I could never get out and mow down the weeds that were taking over my new seeding. The result is that my alice white clover seems to have taken hold fairly well, but the grasses really did nothing!

So, that is where I stand now. Things are not at all where I had expected or hoped they would be, but I can see small changes here and there and I do have hopes for the future. One thing that I will continue thinking about though is some seeding in hopes of jump starting things a little. I was just disappointed with my last seeding try ...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

If you've never seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington I suggest you check it out. Me ... well, I've seen it but I believe I may need to give it another look because I'm headed to Washington D.C. early this summer on behalf of Practical Farmers of Iowa. I will be going as part of a group of beginning farmers from at least ten other states to speak with members of the House and the Senate about the issues faced by beginning farmers. I believe my focus will be with the politicians from Iowa. I'm very excited about the opportunity if for no other reason than to share the story of the farm and how my farm has all come together.

But ... I am nervous. Obviously I've never been around this sort of thing, but also I've never even flown! So, it will be a whirlwind three days of nerves, fun, and I'm sure tons of education. I will share more as the big trip comes closer and I learn more. But, if you have any Washington D.C. travel tips or other ideas I am always thankful for them!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Grass Farmer?

As I was driving the tractor across the freshly turned (somewhat) black dirt spreading manure all I could think about was ... what kind of grass farmer do I look like now! I was in the process of taking my pasture back to bare dirt in order to plant "king corn" ... and I was enjoying it and getting excited about it! And, part of the reason I was doing it was because I just am not quite ready to kick the corn habit just yet. My cattle and sheep are grassfed only, but my pigs are still feed plenty grain and I don't see myself ready or able to change that in the near future (all though I know there are farmers out there not feeding or limiting their grain fed to hogs). My pigs will be on the pasture and in the woods foraging for part of the diet, but they will also have my custom ration available to them and that is why the corn experiment is happening.

The other reason I'm pretty excited about the corn is because of my ditches. Yes, the ditches have me envious because there is much better forage in them than there is in my pastures. In my opinion 14 years of life in the Conservation Reserve Program did these fields more harm than they did good. After the field was entered into the CRP program it was seeded down with native prairie grasses and then left to nature ... the problem is that 21st century "nature" isn't like 19th century "nature"! Years and years ago when this land was originally in native grasses there were fires and large herds of animals doing their work ... for the past 14 years this land just sat. The result was a lot of scrubby wood bushes that grew, lots of bare patches, and a dwindling stand of those native grasses that were seeded. Nature was not actually allowed to work and I think my pastures suffer because of that ... but, that is a long discussion and I'm not ready to get into it yet.

No ... what I am excited about is eventually seeding these areas back to pasture and watching them take off and see what happens when the cows and sheep and chickens are allowed to let nature work. That is what I'm looking forward too ... and I'm sure my animals will be equally excited about it! Right now they are still in the winter area because my grasses have not started to take off yet ... time and the livestock management will help heal the land ... I need to find patience!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Corn(y) Plans ...

I think the corn plans are coming together ... better than expected actually. Now I'm actually finding myself wishing that I had more room to plant, but I will just stop with the two small areas I have planned! I must think small right now and keep plenty of grazing areas, but in the future I hope growing some more of my own feed can become a real possibility. This season the corn will just be an experiment and an opportunity to do a little "play farming" with my cousin, uncles, and my grandfathers equipment. Here are the plans as they stand right now ...

  • It looks like I'm going to be plowing up two areas totally around 4-5 acres. One section is a former winter lot, and the other section is kind of out in the pasture. Initially I wanted to use my current winter lot, but I just don't think that will work out this year ... I may end up seeding it and eventually using it for some sows.
  • As of this moment the smaller section is plowed and has been disked once. It will get another disking and probably hit with a harrow before planting. The larger section is in the process of being plowed and then it will go through a similar plan. I will be spreading some homegrown fertilizer on the larger section though since it will not be in the winter lot like I had planned.
  • Thanks to my cousin all of the equipment is here ore coming here. As I mentioned some of it actually originated on my grandpa's farm years ago, so this is the third generation to be using it. The plow, the disk, and the planter are all here and ready to roll!
  • I have e-mailed back-and-forth with Laura from Abbe Hills about open pollinated corn. I think this may be my best bet for now because it isn't too far away from me and sounds good. She has been helpful and suggested they shoot for 55º to 60º soil temperatures before planting (usually after May 15th). That is a good thing to know and gives me time to get everything done!
  • Cultivating after the crop is planted ... Well, that is still in the planning stages but if all else fails my cousin will bring up his tractor and a three-point mounted cultivator. 
  • Harvest and storage ... yeah ... let me get back to you on that one ... 

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

What am I Doing?

I always want to take the time to write and I always have things that I would like to share, but I'm not always able to put pen to paper (as it were) and get my thoughts down. That was what has been going on over the last week ... thus there have been no posts. It has been an eventful time though for me on the farm. The first lambing season is in full swing ... a calf was born ... the open-pollinated experiment is possibly coming together ... and I'm beginning to look at different options and methods of feeding the pigs.

But, the thought that has been on my mind the most lately is this one ... "What am I doing?" There are so many times throughout my farming day that I'm not sure what in the world I'm doing! I know that there was a point where I just needed to start "doing" instead of just reading all of the time, but sometimes I wish I was just still reading about farming and then sharing my opinions ... the doing always has me more confused, confounded, and oftentimes frustrated. And even when I feel like I've made a major accomplishment I realize that in "farming reality" what I just did was basically just another ho-hum part of farming, not a major accomplishment.

You see ... catching the calf to ear tag it, milking a sheep and helping her lamb figure it all out, disking and prepping the field for planting, making small repairs on the tractor, looking over and purchasing farm equipment, or wrestling a pig to the ground for a little doctoring ... those are all pretty much normal things for most farmers. In many cases they are things they've been around their entire lives. For me ... well for me each one of those things are a major accomplishment and at some point while I'm doing them I wonder to myself ... "what am I doing!?!"
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