Saturday, June 4, 2016

Early 2016 Update

Sorry for the great length of time between posts. Not having regular internet at the house is painful.  It is very hard to conduct business with no hard-wire internet available to us.  We started grazing a month ago in early May. The grass greened up early, but was slow to grow back to grazing height. 

Cattle out on Grass Again

We had seven calves this spring, the same as all of last year, despite removing three of our older larger cows in 2015. We sold three young heifers as breeding stock this spring and were able to pay off the tractor.

Last of Our Seven Spring Calves

Three Heifers Sold for Breeding Stock

We started chicks in April, but we had issues with the first batch. They started off fine, but after a few weeks, they did not really get any larger eventually started dying a few at a time. We struggled to find a source of this stress on the birds, but ultimately moving the birds outside once the night temperatures finally warmed up did the trick. At this point I think the problem might have been associated with illness that was caused by covering the brooder tubs because it was pretty cool this spring. We will change out the brooder set-up for the layers and the turkeys coming in a few weeks. 

Chicks in the Brooder

Rolo (the new dog) Watching the Chicks in the Outdoor Pen

I have continued to work on tree planting and tree removal on the farm. I am planting another 100 serviceberries on the farm. That brings us up to around 200 serviceberries planted on the farm. 

Serviceberries Waiting to be Planted

I spent much of the winter cleaning up trees in the pasture. We have a fair number of cedar, osage orange, and Russian olive trees. I might leave a few the hedge and cedar trees that I can trim up as long they are male trees. The early thaw made the process harder as the frozen waterways were being used to drag brush up, down, and across them. 

Burning One of the Brush Piles

Frozen Waterway = Brush Hauling Highway

We need to build a chicken house this year for our new layer flock. Before I get the pad poured, I need to run a waterline through that area. We started that project, but it is not done yet and still needs to be hooked up to the existing water line. 

Putting in a Hydrant on the New Waterline

Around the house, we got Janice's hammock up. It is her favorite place to read. It has been almost 15 years since it has been up for Janice to use. I am glad to see her using it again. Our daughter had her sixth birthday party a few weeks ago, now Kindergarden is behind her and school is out for summer. Our son is getting bigger everyday. He is three-and-a-half now and in a lot of ways finally hit his terrible twos.  

Janice in Her Hammock

Daughter's Birthday Part with Cousins

Stay tuned and we will try not to be such strangers. I look forward to seeing our customers again starting again in July with a full inventory of beef and chicken. 

Nermal wants to Play with the Radio

Friday, March 11, 2016

Farm Profitability in 2015 & 2016 Plans

Sorry it has been so long since I have posted. The lack of Internet in our home has put a real damper on blog posting. 2015 went pretty good for us. Janice already posted about this already, but I think it is important to discuss. We did our taxes and posted only a $200 loss on the year. In eight years of farming, this is the closest we have come to showing a profit. Before mileage, insurance, power, and water, we made $6,000 last year, with total sales around $18,000. This is an increase over the last several years by around $4,00 to $3,500. Sales by product looks like 40% beef, 35% chicken, 25% turkey, and less than 1% eggs. We did this without any lamb sales, since we phased that product out, and with a 25 percent reduction in the number of meat chickens.

2016 Production & Delivery Schedule

Chicken production was cut back for several reasons. With the move last year, our production season got started about 4 to 6 weeks late. This cutback on the number of deliveries we would normally have done by cutting out June and the first half of July. This meant a lot less cash coming in early, and not enough cash flow to afford to raise 90 more chickens late in the season. I hope to move our chicken production back up to previous years levels. As of right now, my availability of chicken in the freezers is close to running out. Profitability on chickens went up as we started be able to offer individual cuts and I would expect us to continue to do that in the future. We may offer chicken breast as two per package instead of four, and offer chicken drumsticks at six or eight per package instead of for.

Turkeys treated us well. We had some of the best mortality rates we have had in years. I think that 50 birds may be just about right for us. We did not do Pickett Fence Creamery Thanksgiving Sample Sunday for the first time in seven years, but added turkey delivery to Farm to Folk in Ames. With the switch to GMO-free feed and subsequent price increase to cover that change, it would seem that our turkeys are just too expensive for that market to bear as we saw a massive drop off in sales there in 2014.  I have been very pleased with our smoked turkeys, since they are now sodium nitrate and nitrite free, but the big challenge has been getting the locker to let me bring them in. This has been very frustrating to me and I have customers who want his product, but I can't get the locker to do the job. Putting poultry into the lockers smoker, precludes red meats, and requires the smoker to be completely cleaned out once complete.  I will continue to work on this and look at other options.

I want to see improvements in our egg sales. We have demand for eggs, which we are not meeting. Right now we have the same old seven hens that we have had for years. The big bearer is building a new poultry structure. I am working on plans to build a nine-foot by thirteen-foot structure this spring and summer. The odd size dimensions are because that is the largest structure we could squeeze into the desired space. The building will accommodate 30 to 35 layers and will place the access doors in the cattle lot, which should help reduce fly numbers. I currently have chicks scheduled to arrive in June, which means we won’t really start to see eggs until around Christmas. The process of ramping back up on eggs is unfortunately a slow one.

Beef has finally really come on in 2015. We processed 4 animals and sold two older bred cows. We are now to the point where we are creating a pipeline that will let us process four animals a year, and sell a small amount of breeding stock each year. I am looking at selling off at least two young heifers this year to keep out cattle numbers inline with our available forage.

Calf Born Today

Calf Born Five Days Ago

Part of profitability is also watching costs. We spent too much on hay this year, having to stop grazing and feed hay in the summer is killer. In the short term, I have been clearing brush and “weedy” trees from the pastures and broadcasting clover seed on the pastures in an attempt to frost seed. It has been very warm here this spring and we have not been seeing freezing temperatures at night in March, which is unusual. In the longer term, I am looking at the possibility of trying to “reclaim pasture ground” across the road from me that is so badly overgrown with “weed” trees that some locals call it the “Jungle.” I am still searching for cheaper ways to get the protein side of our GMO-free poultry ration, but I have yet to find something that I am confident will no reduce product quality. I would love to be able to reduce the price on our poultry and I will keep looking for a solution.
I am exited that the house construction is largely behind us and that we get to start a year on our new farm. I want to try to improve our communication with our customers. This has definitely suffered with the move, the uncertainty, and lack of reliable Internet at home. I am excited to see all of you again and wish you all a happy spring.

One of ManyBrush Piles Cleared This Winter

Post Burn

Thursday, October 15, 2015

How We Do Turkeys

I am writing today from a coffee shop in Bloomfield, IA. We are marking the end of our poultry production season for 2015. I thought today I would go into some detail about how we raise our turkeys.

We started our turkey pullets (chicks) back in late April by ordering them from the hatchery. We use Schlecht Hatchery out of Miles, IA (North of Clinton, IA). They have always given us good birds and they are a small family business that we want to support. Our pullets arrived in mid-June. Like almost all domestic poultry, they spend their early growth period in the brooder. The brooder is there to protect them from drafts, keep them warm, and keep them safe from predators. Our current brooder is simply a five-foot round metal stock tank that has a few small holes in the bottom and no longer holds water. The round tank is nice because it does not have any corners for the chicks to crowd in and smother each other. It can also be drug out of the building and dumped onto the compost mound and left to sterilize in the sun. We have a lid made of wood and hardware cloth as well as a few heat lamps. We do not use medicated feed. All of our feed is GMO-free. The only supplement we give them is some gatorade in their water for the first day. This helps the chicks get over dehydration from shipping.

Turkeys in The Brooder

The turkeys spend about five to six weeks in the brooder. This gives them time to develop feathers, and become much more durable. This early period is often the most challenging. I am happy to come out of this period with mortality rates of 10% or less. We usually schedule our fall locker run around this time, because the turkeys seldom have significant complications after this period of time. We often supplement their feed with beef liver, and fruit clippings.  From the brooder, the turkeys move outside to the chicken tractors, floor-less pens that get moved frequently. Our pens are ten by twelve foot and are moved every morning. 

Turkeys in the Chicken Tractor

The Turkeys will spend another four to five weeks in the chicken tractor. They will spend enough time in the chicken tractor to get large enough that aerial predators (hawks or owls) are no longer a concern.  We use short raccoon electric fence from Premier One Supplies to keep ground predators (raccoons, opossums, weasels,foxes,  and some dogs and cats) away from the pen.

Turkeys Ranging

From the chicken tractor, the turkeys will move to our ranging system. They will have a sizable area to move around in surrounded by Premier One's electric poultry fence. I am not a huge fan of poultry fence, as it is very saggy and requires a lot of additional posts to hold up. The turkeys will roost at night on a portable wood structure with a tarp strung out over their head. The roost keeps them off the ground (safer from ground predators), and helps to huddle them together so they conserve body heat at night. The tarp primarily keeps them dry, but can also reduce drafts. A cold very wet turkeys no matter how larger it is will struggle with hypothermia and possibly die.
We try to move the whole set-up about every week.

Turkeys Roosting at Night

Turkeys will spend six to eight weeks ranging. When it is all done, we will come by after dark and collect them one or two at a time and load them into the trailer. A piece of advice, always load poultry into trailers at night. They are more docile and much less mobil. From there, it is a very early morning trip out to the locker outside of Drakesville, IA. 

Poultry Locker

Last Days on Pasture

Freeman and Sara own Valley View Poultry Processing. I was beating down the door for them to open  (I think it was 2011) and I have been going there ever since. They are Amish and part of a very active and lovely rural community. Freeman gives me grief because I like to schedule Friday locker trips so I can visit the local Amish run bakeries. For smoked turkeys, we take birds up to Story City Locker. The nice thing about working with Ty and Bobbie in Story City is that I can now sell a smoked turkey that is not cured, so it is free of sodium nitrates and nitrites.

That is our turkeys production in a nutshell. We don't like to sell "fresh" birds for Thanksgiving, because it requires us raise five weeks later into the fall. That is a period of very cold nights, increasingly shorter days, and decreasing grass growth. All of these are conditions that make it harder to raise the turkeys and in my opinion reduce the birds quality.

Starting the last week in October, we will have turkeys available to sell. So please get in touch with us through the website.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ranging Turkeys, Building a Home, Growing Children

Again I am sorry that it has been so long since my last blog post. Not having a hard-line Internet connection at home does make it pretty hard to get these posts put together.

The turkeys are coming along nicely. About a month ago, I moved them from the chicken tractor into a ranging setup. They needed a new roost, since the new one one did not make the trip from the old farm. 

Turkeys Walking Toward their Ranging Pen

Roosting Frame

Using the Roosting Frame

Turkeys Ranging in New Pen

We also have 90 chickens out on pasture right now. They are coming along well, they will get processed at the same time as the turkeys.

I have worked on a corral to load cattle. It is still very much incomplete, but it worked to load out our cattle to the locker. We tried to load an older cow that did not calf this summer, but she would have nothing to do with the corral, and we have yet to get her loaded up to the sale barn. 

Beginnings of a Cattle Loading Shute

We have made some progress on the house. The deck contractors have wrapped up their work. We have started painting the house. Janice continues to sand and stain the woodwork. I made some progress in the garage. 


Tool Storage

Bike Storage

Cooler Storage

The children are doing well. Our daughter has started Kindergarten and our son gets to spend time out of her shadow during the day. They play pretty well together and getting better at choring outside. It is crazy how quickly they grow-up.

Watering Sod

Holding Young Chick

Pulling the Trailer


That is it until next time. Deliveries are going well and we hope to see you at a delivery drop soon.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Chickens, Turkeys, No Broadband, O My

First, I must apologize for letting so much time lapse between posts. It is complicated by that fact that we do not and will not have hard-wired internet in our home for the foreseeable future. We were told that internet was available when we chose the site, but it turns out that was wrong, so I have been dependent upon my phone's data plan. We are looking at other options, but have not settled on anything.

We are still putting the business back together after the move. I am eternally grateful to our longtime customers who have reached out to us and helped keep us solvent as we relaunch the business in September. Part of that relaunch, is a new website, which is up right now, but still needs some tweaking. We are working with a new locker this year, Story City locker, which is allowing us to offer a number of new products including chicken, basil, and garlic sausages, smoked turkey halves that are free of sodium nitrates and nitrites, beef sticks, beef frankfurters, and summer sausage. All and all it is exciting to be able to offer such a wide range of new and revised products. We also got our long-time poultry processor to to package cut-up chickens in parts. That means you can now buy bone-in chicken breasts (4 per package), chicken thighs (4 per package), chicken wings (8 per package), chicken legs (4 per package), and chicken backs and necks (4 each per package).

As production seasons go, it has been pretty good. Our first batch of chickens did quite well in the pasture and missed the coolest parts of spring and some of the hottest parts of summer. The turkeys have also done quite well. They just hit five weeks and moved out to the pasture this week.

Chickens in the Chicken Tractor

Full Chicken Pasture Setup

Turkeys at Two Weeks in the Brooder

Turkeys just Moved Outdoors

The cattle have been doing well. The fertility of our pastures is much much better then the old farm, but not so much better that we can shrug off the loss of twenty acres. That has meant feeding a little hay this summer to let the grass recover. We will process four animals this year, and should have a full restock of beef available in late August.

Cattle on the West Pasture

We hosted aPractical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) field day back in June. We had over twenty people out at the farm and talked about building high-tensile electric fence and do some demonstration work. PFI did a nice write-up on the field day. 

Hosted a PFI Field Day

The kids are doing well as summer begins winding down. We have family camp, the state fair, and the next thing you know, school is going to start. Having both children at home is challenging and managing them better along with the farm business is something I still could use to improve on.

Picking Flowers

Investigating Butterflies

Sorry for taking so long to fill people in. We are still here, we do still have the products you love, and we hope to see you soon at a delivery near you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

School's Out For Summer

We are now halfway through the second week of having both kids at home. Between the kids, the farm, and the house, I am pretty darn tired. It some ways it is fun to have them both home, like when we go outside and play on the tractor. Other times it is pretty suffocating, like when Daddy is just trying to get all 100 Serviceberry trees planted (I am only half way there). I make it work though and the kids do spend much of their time outside being kids. 

My daughter has been pretty surly with me the last two weeks. 
We are preparing to start the potty training process with my son. He seems willing and eager to try, I am just not sure I am personally ready and willing to try. 

Tractor Gal

Backhoe Boy

The most challenging thing the last few weeks has been the rain. We have had well over three inches of rain in the past ten days. When you consider that around our house is bare earth, and the house did not get rain gutters installed until yesterday, you can begin to guess how muddy it has been. This has also meant there have been quite a few days that I have had to keep the kids inside on account of extreme mud (which is really rough on everyone). 

 One of Our Frequent Storms Moving In

We are starting to get things going this year. One-hundred-and-eighty chicks just got here last week. They are doing well in the tank brooders we are using. This is not my favorate way to brood chicks, but it is what we have and it does work. It makes me miss the old chicken building and has motivated me to work on some plans for our next poultry building. 

180 Broiler Chickens in the Brooder

The rest of the farm is hanging in there. I continue to move cattle, every two or three days. We have had three calves during this wet weather and all of them are doing fine. Serviceberries continue to go in the ground as fast as I can. Customer emails and delivery schedules still need to be finalized and sent out. Our website is still in the mess, and the new one just is not ready to go yet. There is no shortage of things that need to be done. To complicate things, we just found out that connecting the home to internet is no small task. This is contrary to what were were originally told by the local service provider and the Iowa Internet Connectivity Maps.

One of the Three New Calves

Our evenings and weekends are filled with house projects. Janice has been tiling, and painting like crazy on the inside, while I have been running the farm on the outside. Progress is slow, and we still have some big projects to tackle, like installing quarter-round, filling holes in all of the woodwork, sanding down the filled wholes, and staining the trim.

Janice Laying Tile in the Mudroom

Thank you, for bearing with us as we continue to make progress on the house. We have not forgotten about our customers, we just have been  pretty busy.  Stay tuned.