Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Revving Up for 2017 and Beyond

It has been way to long since my last blog post. With the mild winter, rampant sickness, tons of meetings, and Janice’s promotion, it has been very busy around here. Some of our lingering projects are almost complete. The new chicken house has been put into service despite a few finishing touches on the interior that needs completing. The building is located jetting out into the cattle winter lot, to hopefully help reduce fly levels and therefore reduce the risk of pink eye (which hit us hard in 2016).

Front of the Layer Building (recycled metal and all)

Southside of the Layer Building

Pulling 150 feet of wire through Conduit Sucks

Layers Moving In

I did get some of our frost seeding on late, but it got done. I put on a mix of 50 pounds of birdsfoot trefoil and 50 pounds of Haifa white clover. I use just a shoulder mounted bag seeder a manual spinner, so the process can take several days to get over the whole farm.

100 Pounds of Seed to Spread

Our first 2017 chicks got here two weeks ago. They are growing well and depending on the weather, should be outside in a week or two. They should be available to customers by mid-June. We are brooding in stock tanks like we have in the past, but I have constructed some smaller brooder hoods based on a design I was using on the old farm. This helps the chicks regulate their own temperature and should help avoid health issues like pneumonia. 

Checking Out the Brooder Set-up

Hamming it Up with the Chicks

They are cute when they are little

Crafted a smaller brooder hood based on the ones we used on the old farm

Other projects that are getting nudged along on the farm include some fencing and brush clearing. 
I started building a stretch of fence behind the house almost two years ago, but that got stopped when I realized I would have to put a gate in the middle of that expanse of fence because that was the best sledding site for the kids on the farm. I got the bracing for that gate finished last night, now I need to run the wires, hand the gates, and bury the connective wires. 

One Step closer to Finally Getting This Stretch of Fence Done

I did not get very much brush cut this winter, but what I did get cut still needs to be stack and burn. I started that process last night and for a few seconds that pile of brush went up like a candle. That should tell you that it is pretty dry on the farm (we have missed several good rains). 

I found a calm day to burn brush

One of the two things that have really been keeping me busy is my role as Board President of the Iowa Food Cooperative. I have been running meetings, trying to improve processes, and just trying to get everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction. The Iowa Legislature in there 2018 fiscal year budget eliminated the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.  I made a trip up to the capital to give testimony at the house budget hearing. That testimony is available here

Heading up to the Capital

I have also been increasingly involved in my local political party and parallel organizations. With that in mind, I am considering running for public office in 2018. The groundwork for these things takes quite a bit of time, focus, and energy. I will keep you posted if and when I have anything to announce. 

The kids are doing well in there respective schools. Our Daughter, is increasingly reading on her own and is still a social butterfly. Our Son, is shockingly advanced at math and has matured so much in the past year.  I am trying to get them outside more and a bit more involved in farming. Luna (the big puppy), sometimes wants to playfully chase them around a bit and at 50 pounds she can at times be intimidating. I wish both Janice and I could devote more time to the kids, but I try to make the most of what I have to work with. 

Posing Next to Flowers Planted in Memory of my Mother

Kite Flying, Early Spring Winds are Good for That

Luna keeps Growing

Hopefully it won't be so long before the next blog update. Until next time, take care and I will keep you posted about any updates here and on the Facebook page.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Looking Back at 2016 & Looking Ahead at 2017

2017 is our tenth production season. We have come a long way in ten years and yet there are many challenges ahead. 2016 was a decent year, but not a great year. Overall sales were generally down a little over 2017. There is a national trend away from direct to farmer sales and we are not immune. We have heard of sales declines from many other local producers, to the point where I know of about a half dozen that are considering other alternatives. Our sales decline was 7% from last year, with cattle breeding stock sales helping to stabilize things. Producers who have held steady continue to offer more and more product selection and additional services. There are limits of course to what is possible, but we continue to reevaluate our product offerings. Our pricing and products page has been updated for 2017 and contains some products we have added as well as others we have left off in the past.

Starting layers back up again has been a noticeable burden on the business with start-up costs of around $2,000. (building, chickens, feed, & cartons). The chickens have not moved into their new home yet, but they are laying full bore producing at least 15 dozen a week. When eggs stopped being a regular product for us, it hurt business a lot, and I never imagined it would be three years before we would be back into that enterprise. 

House Wrap is On & Windows are In

Door is on & Exterior Steel Starts Going Up & Roof is On

Steel Going on the West Wall

Interior Insulation and Wall Sheeting Going Up

Electrical being Run

A quiet little change around the farm was the purchase of a newer truck. We purchased a 2011 Toyota Tundra because we wanted to be able to tow the tractor on the flatbed truck (Tundra is a good pulling truck), we wanted to update from the gold 1997 Chevy because she had reached 189K miles and rust has been pretty hard on her. She might stick around at least for a while because a beater 4x4 truck still has some value doing jobs you would rather spare the new truck. However, that meant that Grandpa's old blue truck 1991 had to go. I found her a good home.

New 2011 Toyota Tundra

2007 Chevy Farm Truck Gets to Stay for a While

Good Bye Blue

I would have liked to make more progress this month, but my children have been intermittently sick and have made me intermittently sick as well. They are looking better today, but neither one is back to 100% yet. 

"Daddy I Don't Feel Good"

How Two Sick Kids Share a Couch

Stay tuned as we will try to get our production schedule for 2017. When we have delivery dates figured out, we will share them with our customers. Thank you for your support and I look forward to seeing you all in 2017. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Framing & Sheeting the Chicken Building

When last I left off a month ago, the chicken building was just bare concrete. Well a lot has changed in a month. The vast majority of my farm energy has gone into building this structure. 

Started with the West Wall

Then the East Wall

Completed East Wall

Running Rafters

 Several things got changed along the way.  The window in the west wall got moved to the south wall and then two smaller windows framed up. The east was initially six inches taller, but when I started assembling it, that got changed. It was just was too tall and hard to work on because of its height.

Horizontal Rafter Supports & Roof Extension

Fully Framed

The framing took about three weeks, then I went on to sheeting the walls to add strength before doing the roof, but with heavy rain forecast for  Christmas Day, I shifted to sheeting the roof and putting down felt to help keep the rain out of the building. Then I came back to finish up the walls. 

Roof Felt is On

Fully Sheeted

With all that done, the next step is house wrap followed by soffit instillation, window and door instillations, building up the roof, adding steel siding, running electrical wires, installing insulation, putting up internal sheeting, and painting the soffits in the spring. 

Christmas Hangover

I hope to be done soon, so I can get back to the normal winter activities of taxes, chainsawing, and planning out 2017. Until, then I got a full winter ahead of me. No time for sleeping on the job. Stay tuned for a look back at how things went in 2016 and what we are planning for 2017. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Ready Set Pour - Chicken house phase one

Here we are almost to December. It has been more then two months since my last post and a lot has happened since then. The production season has wrapped up. Almost all of the Turkeys are sold. I purchased 30 bales of hay since production was down from the dry conditions we had locally.  I found a good price on hay over by Martensdale (30 miles) and hauled them back home three at a time.  
Turkeys in Pasture in early October

One of Ten Hay Loads

I am trying to build a chicken house before we get full blown winter. The big problem with the chicken house is all of the other projects that the building affects that have to get done first. First, I had to run a water line through the area the building was going in so I could have a hydrant on the west side of our main building. 

Installed Water Line

Using the same trench, I put solid drainage tile in to route the water from the south side of our main building and future chicken building away from the cattle lot. To do that, I had to expand the initial excavation and fill it in a bit to create the proper fall to route the water away. 

Helper Showing Off the Modified Trench

Getting Drainage Tile Out of Storage

After all that, it is time to make the form and actually start the building. I hauled three truck loads (my truck, not a dump truck) of concrete sand. That was around 5,000 pounds. I have a truck bed unroller that I bought years ago (and never used) that made unloading the truck surprisingly easy (I no longer regret the purchase). After that, I put in a rebar perimeter. I decided to use bagged ready mix for the project and to pour the pad in two passes. For this project, the bagged product was over $200 cheaper and doing it in two rounds made it easier for me to manage most of the project alone. 

The Basic Form

Sand, Rebar, and Moisture Barrier Installed on Half

This Would End Up Being Two-Thirds of the Concrete Needed for the Entire Project

Ready Set Pour

Both Sides Poured

With both sides poured, the next step was to pull off the forms and grade the soil back. I had to install a wood fence to keep the cows from wrecking the building once it was built and to create a safe workspace for myself. I also had to reroute and rework the power line that supplies some of the electric fence on the farm. This gave me a chance to put in a shut-off switch for that section. 

Newly Installed Shut-off Switch

I am half way through bolting down the moisture barrier and base plate. This week, I plan to pour a concrete stoop and start putting up the walls. 

Cattle Fence Installed and Base Plate Started

On the home front, Janice has been working late almost every day. She got a good promotion at work, but is still working her old job along with her new one while she gets a new person hired and trained.  I have been keeping the house running and cooking many of the meals. Janice has continued to tackle some of the remaining household projects in her scant free time. 

Janice Staining Some of the Last Windows

The kids are doing well. Our daughter is still a social butterfly and is reading more and more on her own. Our son is learning his letters at preschool and can now reliably count to twelve. 

Checking out Their Pumpkins

Flying Her Kite

My last post introduced our farm puppy, Meeka. As a border collie, she was a difficult dog to manage as she would herd or chase anything. We tried to work with her, but she ultimately got struck by a car in mid-November. We are willing to give this one last try. This is the two month old female great Pyrenees that we picked up today. The name is still being debated.

Great Pyrenees Puppy

Trying to Go For a Walk

I think that is it for now. Hopefully, it won't be so long between posts, and hopefully we can get get that chicken building moving along.  Until next time, thank you for reading, and stay tuned.