Friday, March 29, 2013

Choosing Chickens

If you follow along with the blog you will remember my frantic call for help a few weeks back as I was in search of chickens ... meat chickens to be precise ... actually meat chicks to be more accurately precise. My original plan wasn't going to work out anymore so I needed to come up with another plan somewhat quickly. Thankfully there were tons of helpful comments posted on the blog, e-mailed, and messaged through Facebook. Now ... we have chicks on the farm and they seem to be doing great.

So ... what did I end up doing? I came up with a solution ... that's what I did! It's not my ideal solution, but I believe it will allow me to accomplish some of my goals this year and then prepare for the future (the future being next year). In fact since I was somewhat late to the game when it comes to ordering I couldn't even really get exactly the chicks I wanted. Here is what I ended up doing ...

Step #1 :: Order 125 Freedom/Red Rangers
  • These are the chicks that I have already received and they are doing great
  • I was interested in trying them because I had talked with a farmer who raised them at the processor last year and he loved them
  • They grow a bit faster than the Naked Necks so hopefully they will be ready earlier than expected
Step #2 :: Order 125 Naked Necks
  • I have been very pleased with these birds for the past two years, but I am a little gun shy about ordering from a hatchery instead of a farmer I know
  • They are slow growing birds so they will be ready sometime in July hopefully ... perfect for the market
Step #3 :: Order another 125 Freedom/Red Rangers
  • This batch is coming from a different hatchery in order to try something different, and because I can add it to an order at the farm store in town (where I used to work) to save on shipping
  • Hopefully I can get the scheduling right and then I'll be able to take these into the processor at the same time as the Naked Necks
Step #4 :: Evaluate and Place Following Orders
  • While these three sets of chicks are growing I need to decide what to do for the rest of the season
  • Hopefully I'll be ordering two more batches of chicks
Step #5 :: Get Ready for 2014
  • Thanks to all of the great comments about various heritage breed chickens I have lots to think about
  • One thing I'm very interested in is incubating chicks here on the farm ... so lots to research there
  • The Mottled Java ... that is one of the breeds that was mentioned and I think I'm going to check them out
It seems like a good plan doesn't it? If it is a good plan I'll let you know how it works out ... and if it's a bad plan ... well, I'll let you know about that as well.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

TBF 003 :: It's Chick Week, The 3 D's of Farming, and a Hard Lesson Learned

On this weeks episode of The Beginning Farmer Show I delve into the challenges associated with the "Three D's" of farming. Sometimes it seems like all I do on the farm is deal with distractions, disappointment, and dollars! I'd like to think that I do a fairly good job dealing with these "Three D's", but the reality is that I often have to struggle my way through dealing with each of these and at one point or another they have caused me to think that I can't actually make the farm work. The truth is though that there is no way to hide from distractions or disappointments or dollars on the farm, so you (and I) need to learn to persevere and come out stronger on the other side.

Over 50% of todays farmers have employment off the farm ... and families ... and lives away from the farm ... so dealing with things (or distractions) pulling you in a variety of directions is a challenge that many farmers face. Learning to balance faith and family (which aren't really distractions ... because they are way more important than the farm) with the farm and town job makes things stressful, but not impossible. Recognizing your priorities and sticking to your values and goals is the key.

Livestock get out of the fence, crops fail, weather doesn't cooperate, things break, animals die, customers get angry, animals get angry, and a million other things that you don't (or do) have control over happen all of the time on the farm. Sometimes it's not a big deal, but other times you question everything you are doing on the farm. It is important to learn the lesson from your disappointments ... make the changes that need to be made ... and move on because if you dwell on the disappointments your farm will wither under your worry.

I have always hated when people say that the best way to make a million dollars as a farmer is to start with two million dollars. The idea that farmers can't or won't make any money just frustrates me, but that doesn't mean that the "dollars" of your farm operation aren't important. You need to know where your money is going ... where it's coming from ... how much each enterprise uses ... and how you keep track of everything throughout the year. Running out of "dollars" will ruin your farm in an instant, but if you don't keep a handle on your "dollars" your stress about them will ruin the farm just as quickly.

The Beginning Farmer ShowMy hard lesson this week ... it's an embarrassing one ... deals with that one time that I totally killed the tractor. I mean killed it to the point where it would never drive on my farm again. It was one of those disappointments that almost killed my farm. I'll share a little bit about why it didn't and what I learned from the whole ordeal.

I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with The Beginning Farmer and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...
TBF Show 003 :: Play in a New Window | Right Click to Download

(if you are interested in the music in this episode check out my brother's record label, Historic Records)

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Book Family Farm :: Circa 1940's

In the early 1940's my Grandpa and Grandma Book were farming on 320 acres of Boone County, Iowa land. My family is lucky because we have a pretty good pictorial history of the family and the farms ... in fact this picture of my grandparents, at what is possibly that Boone County farm, is my computer background. After the passing of my Grandma my uncle was going through lots of different files and found a handful of farming documents that he thought I would find interesting. I'm glad he passed them on to me because they are a cool part of the family history and even encouraging to me as I try my hand at farming.

Click the Image for
a Larger View
One of the coolest things that he found were some "Crop-Acreage Plats" from the years 1941 and 1942. The plats show the 320 acre farm and the crop layout planned (or actual plan used) for that year. What I find so fascinating is the diversity of crops (and livestock) that were being raised on that 320 acre farm. And ... not only was it a diverse amount of crops/livestock, but also as you can see from the picture it looks like they did their best to place crops where the land was best suited for row crops. You can see from the picture that they had just over 250 acres of crops that year.

The 1942 "Crop-Acreage Plat" has the following items listed ...

  • Soybeans
  • Alfalfa
  • Potatoes
  • Hog Pasture 
  • Corn
  • Oats
  • (And the unlabeled areas were pastures and farmyards)

While living at the Boone County farm (the would soon move to Story County) I believe my grandparents raised cattle, a large laying flock, hogs, and of course the crops. That sounds like a farm that would be fun to visit! Just a little piece of farming history for your Friday morning ...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

TBF 002 :: Farm Updates, Farm Do-Overs, and Hard Lessons Learned

TBF Show 002 :: Play in a New Window | Right Click to Download
I don't know what your playground days were like, but at Orchard Hill Elementary School we played a lot of kick-ball, basketball, and football during recess. If you were as skilled at those sports as I was you probably have called for a do-over or two or ten in your day! There have been plenty of times in my short farming life that I would have liked to be able call a do-over on. Unfortunately I'm not able to redo some of the mistakes I have made on the farm, but hopefully you can learn from them and not make the same ones I did! Specifically I want to share three things that I would do differently if I would have known then what I know now.
  1. Where's the Beef ... err ... I Mean No Beef Please!
  2. A Little More Learning Would be Nice.
  3. Develop a Marketing Mind!
My "Hard Lesson Learned" this week deals with one word ... "NO". That is a word that wasn't really in my vocabulary when I started the farm and because of that I caused lots of problems for myself and for my family. In my excitement to get up and going to the level of my dreams I tried to do too many things too quickly instead of going slow and saying no when I needed to say no. Saying "no" in the beginning is one of my most offered pieces of advice to other beginning farmers and it is something I wish I would have said a lot more!
The Beginning Farmer Show If you enjoy the show and are an iTunes user you can always subscribe to The Beginning Farmer Show by following the link. And ... if you really enjoy the show I would very much appreciate a rating or comment in the iTunes Store. (FYI ... I am working on submitting the show to other podcast services).

I would love to hear your questions, show ideas, or comments about the show. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail! As always you can follow along with The Beginning Farmer and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...
(if you are interested in the music in this episode check out my brother's record label, Historic Records)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Podcasting Frenzy!

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be interviewed by John Suscovich from the Growing Farms Podcast (this is a direct link to the episode I was a part of). I have become a large consumer of podcasts lately while doing my workouts at the Rec Center, and I am always excited to workout on Tuesdays because that is when the Growing Farms Podcast is released. The cool thing about Mr. Suscovich's show is that he has taken time to interview farmers from a very diverse background about how they farm, market, and balance life in general on the farm.

If you haven't listened to the Growing Farms Podcast I encourage you to check it out! You can subscribe through iTunes and find out more information about Mr. Suscovich by checking out Farm Marketing Solutions. If you enjoy the show let him know that The Beginning Farmer sent you!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Muddy Boots ...

Sometimes a picture says more about my thoughts on the farm than I could ever hope to express through my writing (or now through The Beginning Farmer Show ... shameless plug). One of those times is right now. I'm not going to complain about the mud this year ... because mud means moisture ... but, it is a good picture of how I'm feeling right now.

In the winter there are fewer pigs, chickens, steers, and lambs leaving the farm in the way of sales and much, much, much more feed coming to the farm in the way of money leaving the bank account. Plus, in the spring, summer, and fall I get used to interacting with customers each week ... and I love doing that!

One thing I know though ... despite the snow that surprised me this morning when I went out to do chores spring is right around the corner and with it will come cattle and sheep on the pastures, pigs in the woods, chickens roaming around, and lots of opportunities to talk with our farm friends. Plus ... there will be things for sale again ... which is nice ...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

TBF 001 :: Farm Updates, Heritage Breeds, and Hard Lessons Learned

The Very First Episode of The Beginning Farmer Show!

This is something that I have wanted to do for over a year now, but never had the guts to go out and accomplish it. I thought about it ... planned for it ... gathered the equipment to do it ... and finally just as I did with farming ... I had to just get out there and do it! With all of that being said, I'm not completely pleased with this very first episode and realize that I need to work on my audio quality, iTunes integration, feeds, and so much more. I am glad to have at least one episode out there though ...

On this very first episode of The Beginning Farmer Show I share a quick update on how the farm (and myself) has handled the winter so far. It has been a winter that hasn't gone exactly as planned and I'm sure I'll be playing catch up because of that this spring. After the quick Crooked Gap Farm update I dive right into a discussion of Heritage Breed Livestock and why I believe they work for my farm, but how they may not be exactly right for your farm ... that is a decision that you will have to make.

The Beginning Farmer ShowFinally, there are many lessons that I have learned since we began the farm almost five years ago and I want to share some of those lessons with everyone in hopes that they don't make the same mistakes. This weeks "Hard Lesson Learned" actually goes hand in hand with my main topic of Heritage Breed Livestock as I talk about some of the mistakes I made in purchasing some of the initial stock for the farm.

If you are interested in learning more about Rare or Heritage Breed Livestock please check out The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. As always you can follow along with The Beginning Farmer and Crooked Gap Farm by checking out these links ...

I would love to have you interact with the The Beginning Farmer Show. Feel free to comment on this post with your suggestions, questions, ideas, or even podcasting tips! You can also always reach The Beginning Farmer through e-mail.

P.S. If you know about podcasting, Feedburner feeds, and all of that good stuff I would love to hear from someone about why two posts that contain links to .pdf's are showing up in my subscription to the show. It is very frustrating to me!

Monday, March 11, 2013

We Need Help!

Today I was going to post a picture of my boots in the mud and talk about how things never go even close to or remotely as planned ... of course that assumes that I make a plan in the first place. I'm sure we'll get to that post eventually, but today what we really need is some help ... and kind of quickly! For the past two years we have raised our Naked Neck Poulet Rouge Chickens as our meat birds. They grow slowly, but do well on pasture foraging and taste great. Unfortunately the source where we purchased our chicks from will not be able to supply them this year so we are looking at other options. Which is where we need help ...

Ideally we want to stick with our heritage or rare breeds that do well foraging on pasture and reach a decent processing weight at 14-16 weeks. I think it is important that we stay away from hybrids because it would be nice to keep a few around and let them go broody so we can begin to raise chickens that work the best for our system. Oh yeah ... one more thing ... they have to be something we can get in the very near future ...

Here are some breeds that I've been reading about ... all of them had seemingly very mixed reviews and there wasn't a lot of information about the amount of time to processing weight.

  • White Plymouth Rock
  • Delaware
  • Buckeye
  • Dark Cornish
  • Jersey Giant
  • And many more ...

If you have any thoughts ... suggestions ... ideas ... helpful insight ... or even want to tell me I'm wrong I'd love to hear your comment. I'm open to all suggestions at this point ...

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Reversing Desertification

Yesterday Crooked Gap Farm was slammed into the 21st Century when we hooked up somewhat high speed DSL (6 Mbps) internet. I commissioned the new internet connection by watching this TEDtalk with Allan Savory of Holistic Management fame (and much other work). I'm sure that there are plenty of people out there who will come up with a list of reasons that everything Mr. Savory says is wrong, but as I saw the images showing the differences they are making with their planned grazing in desert areas I thought it was pretty cool. Plus, when he says "desertification" it sounds like "dessertification" to me and that just makes me hungry for sweets!

If you have twenty-two minutes and a fast enough internet connection ... I would suggest you check out this video. Also, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Tools of the Trade :: The Hydraulic Hog Cart

I have one question for you ... Can you think of anything more cool than a six foot by fourteen foot hog pen on a platform that you can pull around with your tractor and make it lift from ground level up about four feet or so (commonly known in the agricultural world as a hydraulic hog cart)? Actually, now that I read that it really doesn't sound that cool, but it really something that I'm pretty excited about. In fact I would almost go as far as to say that it is a tool that I wouldn't farm without on a small woodlot based pig farm like mine.

For approximately the past nine months I have been "borrowing" a hog cart from a good friend ... if you can call having it for that long "borrowing"! I've actually spent some time searching for one of my own, but never found one that was in decent shape and still in my price range. Last Friday though I thought I would try another "wanted to buy" ad on Craigslist and this time I actually had over five responses that were all relatively close to the farm. I was VERY glad to find this one in good shape and I'm sure my friend is glad to have his back (it was very, very, very helpful of him to loan it to me).

This is such a helpful piece of equipment because I move and load pigs fairly often and most of the time  I'm loading them out of a large paddock of woods and pasture, so anything I can do it make it easier I do. The other reason these hydraulic carts are so great is that they drop all of the way to the ground ... in general pigs like to keep their nose to the ground and are not big fans of stepping up so having the cart on the ground makes it easy peasy!

It's just one of those things that makes life on the farm just that much more enjoyable ...
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