Saturday, September 10, 2016

School On, New Puppy, & Peak Production Time

It has been a while since have checking in. For the most part, summer with two kids at home is a time spent primarily just keeping up. Now that school has started, my Daughter is in 1st grade and my Son just started preschool, there has been a bit more time to push projects along and catch-up. We also picked up a new puppy. Meeka was born on a farm and is a border collie and rat terrier (?) cross. She is a four-month-old ball of energy.

Son at Preschool

Daughter Playing with New Puppy

Meeka the Puppy

The first thing to get caught up on was getting birds out of the brooders and into pens and the sunshine. This meant getting a new pen built for the new laying chickens  (37 of them). I built this new 8x8 chicken; it should accommodate 40 birds or around 15 to 20 turkeys depending on age.

New Brooder Frame

New Brooder With Steel

Moving New Brooder Out To Field

Moving Layers Out to Pen

We also got turkeys ranging inside a poultry net barrier. The hard part has been getting them to use their portable roost at night.

Turkey's Ranging

Lastly, we got the 180 broilers in the brooder outside this week. Now the brooder is empty for the year.  That puts us at peak production for the year.    

Daughter Helping to Move Turkeys

 Filling-up the Pen

Peak Poultry (Broilers, Layers, Turkeys)

Peak Poultry (Broilers, Layers, Turkeys)

We also have two beef going into the locker this week. So we have pretty much everything available and if if it is not available, it will be soon. Stay tuned and we will try to keep you posted as we progress into the fall. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Cattle Clean-up Crew and a Looming Concern

It is no secret that it has been dry this year. I am very happy to say that we got 1.7 inches of rain last night. This following the 0.9 inches of last week is the most rain we have seen since the big rain storm in December. This storm also brought some wind and dropped a few trees here and there. One of the trees that fell was an ancient and battered silver maple.

Lost a Chuck of One of the Old Silver Maples

There is an old grove of these ancient silver maples just west of the house. There are also two old depressions in the soil on either side of the grove. What we know about this grove is that there used to be a pioneer farm out there. Some of the community elders remember being told as children that there used to be a farm on that hill. We believe the depressions  in the soil to be old root cellars or ice houses. I have encountered a square headed nail while planting service berries in the area. 

With the cows only grazed for two months before I decided to pull them back to the lot and let the grass recover. These last two storm have me hopeful that we can continue to catch rain and we can get back to grazing within the next two weeks.

Send in the Clean-up Crew

We just got beef back from the locker and are starting to do deliveries. I am a little concerned about sales this year. Having moved once before, I know that sales take a big hit after a move as our customer base adjusts. I am a little more concerned because of our lack of real internet. It makes it hard to reply to customer emails, update our webpage, update pictures of our product on the Iowa Food Cooperative, create blog posts. In general it makes running our kind of business very very challenging, as if it was not hard enough. It is still early, and we will see what comes of the next few months, but I would be lying if said I was not a little worried.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Round One Leaves & Round Two Arrives

I must admit that in nine years of raising poultry I have never had a batch of chickens as challenging as this first batch of meat chickens. After talking with other producers who have had similar problems, we believe it is probably pneumonia. This was likely brought on by the cool spring and rapid temperature fluctuations that followed. The subsequent heat only aggravated things as the birds developed. All told 79 birds made it to the locker from a starting batch of 183. Those that did make it to the locker we smaller then I would have liked even after eleven weeks of development, where a normal batch is completed in eight to nine weeks. Couple that with the incredibly dry conditions, which has now forced us to start feeding the cows hay, and this year pretty disappointing so far on the farm side of things.

Rolo (our white dog) Playing With the Locker Dog on Processing Day

There is still a lot of the production season left, and I hope things can correct themselves. Our second batch of birds arrived this week, consisting of 60 turkeys and 37 layer pullets. The turkeys are the same number as last year and will be with us for at least the next sixteen weeks. This is the first time we have had laying chicks around since before our Son was born.  We are finally trying to get our layer population back up so we can sell eggs as freely as we used to.  It will be six months before they start really laying eggs, so they will likely start right around Christmas (the first time our first batch of layers laid an egg was Christmas Eve). I also have to build a permanent structure for the birds, that I still would really like to get a start on yet this Summer. 

Brooder Tanks Sterilizing in the Sun

Chicks Have Arrived

Sixty Turkeys in Their Tank

Thirty-five  Layers in Their Tank

Elsewhere on the farm, we did take two beef to the locker two weeks ago, so we should have a nice selection of beef and chicken available at our July & August delivery days, which start next weekend. If you are interested in ordering and have not done so yet, hit us up here. I hope to see all of you soon at a delivery site in your town. Until then, take care. 

Chicken Inspector

Tired Little Guy

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.