Monday, September 29, 2014

Moving Out

If you have not heard, we accepted a offer on our farm. We are still holding our breath a bit until it is all a done deal, but we have deadliness and a time horizon for our future for the first time in a year. We are currently planning on getting the cattle moved by November 3rd, and we are planning on being out of the house by December 1st. This timeline will make the next five weeks some of the busiest in my life. 

Proudly Displaying the Sold Sign

The kids are coming along on this journey with us. Our Daughter is preschool during the week, so I admit to not getting to see much of her. I try to take her out for evening chores so we can get some daddy daughter time. Our Son has a new babysitter to watch him once or twice a week. This has allowed me to start making progress on fencing at the new place. 

Pushing his New Dump Truck Toy (gift of his Uncle & Aunt)

Riding Said Dump Truck

At the new place, we have to go full steam ahead. I have a lot of fence to build, water lines to dig, and  building improvements to make and it is really doubtful whether or not I can accomplish what needs to be accomplished in five weeks. To start things off, I got my Uncle to bring over a tractor and knock down the weeds that had buried the place over the summer. It seems like the clutch has gone out of our new tractor so I am making arrangements to have that fixed. The most important thing is I am building fence. We are contemplating some customer and friend work days to help close the gap in what needs to be done. 

My Uncle Knocking Down Summer Weed Growth

New Corner Brace Going In

Back at our old farm, we still have a production season to wind down.  Turkeys are ranging during the day now. We have around 70 birds out on pasture right now. Our mobile prototype roost barely survived last year's turkey production season, but it did not make it through the winter. I have plans for a new mobile roost, but they were scuttled due to time constraints, So the turkeys are positioned around our old lean to, so they can come in out of the rain. 

Turkeys Ranging
I have been chainsawing for weeks so that I could get power up to our northern boundary fence. This has made it much easier to use our temporary fence to fence in the 10 acres that we rented north of the farm for our cattle to graze.

Power Line Running to the North Side of the Old Farm

Temporary Electric Net Covering One Side of the Rented 10 Acres

Cattle Herd Lounging on the Rented Ground

We started moving chickens outside. I have half of the batch outside, but the second half is waiting for a pen before they can move outside. I decided that trying to make the last old pens get across the finish line was a bad investment of time and resources, I have been dismantling it with my little helper and will start using parts from it to build a new pen this week. 

Chickens that Made it Outside

Old Chicken Pen Early in Dismantling Process

Old Chicken Pen late in Dismantling Process

Lastly, I spent a healthy chunk of change on a commercial freezer at a restaurant auction a few weeks ago. I wanted a way to get our chickens frozen faster, as the locker releases them after their internal temperature is 40 degrees or less. This also allows for more storage capacity. I now have the commercial freezer and three medium sized chest freezers empty. I hope that is enough to accommodate 1 beef, 4 lambs, 70 turkeys, and 180 broiler chickens that will all go to the locker in the month of October. 

Recently Acquired Commercial Freezer

There is so much to do and a very limited amount of time to accomplish all of it. Stay tuned as we take the leap of faith full steam ahead. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Some One Ordered Lots of Rain & Fall Weather

Since my last post in mid-August, we have had a whole lot of rain. We saw very little rain in July and early August, so we really needed it. After a couple of hot days, it looks like cooler fall weather is starting to set in as well. The biggest thing that happened since our last post is that I sold almost all of my sheep. I sold 10 animals for $1000, and now all I have around here is four ram lambs that go into the the locker October 1st. We have not pre-sold any lamb, so we decided that the herd was not worth the work and that my time was better invested focusing on our other enterprises. If you want to order lamb from us now is the time, because once it's gone, it's gone. 

Some of Our Breeding Stock we Sold

Since the sheep left, I have been focused on building fence at our current place and at the new place. I completed a stretch of fence behind our house and put in a gate. We always put up temporary fence in the past, but with the sheep gone, we won't be grazing our yard as often.

Recently Installed Gate & Fence Behind Our House

To build off that piece of fence behind our house, I started clearing brush from our fence up over the hill north of our house. This stretch of fence has always been serviceable, but not great. I am working to clear the brush off, tighten up existing fence, and add an electric line on the top. I am planning on continuing this work on the north side of the farm, where the fence is pretty much crap. I have a few head of cattle that have made it their goal to work the fence as hard as they can to find a way out up there, and I am done with it. I don't want to leave the old farm to work at the new farm only to get a call that my livestock are out. 

I rented the neighbors ground north of us, because we had such a dry spell in July, the cattle got ahead of our grass, and I decided that the best way to manage the farm would be to put the cows on their ground and let most of my farm recover for 30 days. The ground I rented is pretty rough and has good fences on only one side. I want to get my fencing work done on the north side, so I don't have to put up quite some much temporary fence to make grazing that ground work. Needless to say,  I am scrambling to make what amounts to significant fencing improvements in not a lot of time. 

Clearing Brush Off the Fence

I just made my first trip to the new farm in around six weeks yesterday. As you can see from the weeds, the areas we tore-up the ground are a mess with massive weeds. I should have tried to plant annual rye grass or some thing this spring, but that did not happen. 

Three-foot Tall Western Ragweed

At the new farm, my big goals include getting the fences fixed, digging the water lines, and putting the next phases of electrical work. I still would like to move my cattle over to the new farm for hay feeding season. Yesterday, was mostly focused on assessing the situation after being absent most of the summer. I widened an opening in the trees to start running fence and working on corner braces. 

Widened the Path for the Fence & Installed Rain Gauge

My daughter is back in school, which does enable me to accomplish more sizable tasks again. One young child is much easier to do farm work with then two. I am quite sure that the change is good for both of them. 

Imitating Crazy Squig Miniatures 

Watching Fall Broilers in the Brooder

We are entering the home stretch here on the production season. In the next eight weeks we will processes a beef, four lamb, seventy turkeys, and around 180 broilers. I have to make meaningful progress on the new farm, add to our freezer capacity, finish fencing work, Completed two rounds of distributions, and try to stay ahead of the day-to-day. Add in showing the house, and the uncertainty about our living situation and it tends to be a very stressful time. We will get through it one way or another. Until next time. 

Sunset on the Farm

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Eight Weeks of Summer

It has been way to long since I have blogged, pretty close to eight weeks. The long and short of things, is that farming has gone pretty good this year, but we have not sold our home yet, so things are not moving on that front. We have had quite a few lookers, but no buyers yet. With two kids at home this summer, farm progress is mostly limited to nap times and the occasional weekend. That pretty much means, if it is not urgent, it does not get done.

As for the farm, things are going better then they have in years. Our first batch of 180 broilers did quite well. We processed two beef in late June and sales from them have been brisk. Turkeys are doing quite well, despite having a young Red-tailed Hawk that is terrorizing them. We had seven calves born in June and July. The lambs look good going into fall, and our second batch of broilers arrives tomorrow.

Turkeys in the Brooder in Early July

Turkey Helper Feeding Turkeys in the Morning with Dad

Hawk Perched on Pen Terrorizing Turkeys

Brooder Cleaned out for the Fall Round of Chickens

The turkeys had made it through the brooder stage of Development with only a handful of deaths. This is incredibly rare. Things were going great until this hawk starts scaring the birds and forces 13 to die in a pile-up in their pen. Aside from that one incident, the turkeys have done well. 

A Whole Cluster of Young Calves Testing Fences All Across the Farm

Having so many calves is nice, but they have been testing fences and did cause a large breakout of the herd a week ago that forces me to extract the herd from a corn field. The vast majority of calves are male, which is good if you like grass-fed beef in mid 2016. This is the first year where cattle have really helped to pay bills and generate some income around the farm. We have processed two beef, with one more scheduled in the fall and we sold a cow and heifer as breeding stock. 

Cattle Spread Out Across the Hillside

We are closing in on Fall. My daughter goes back to preschool in two days, so it is time again to really pivot to focus on the new farm. I have told people I am moving cattle over there this Winter, so I have a lot to accomplish in a limited amount of time. Janice has been busy with classes work to finish her MBA much of the summer, so I have not accomplished much at the new farm. I think it has been almost six weeks since I started sinking new corner posts in to fence out the house and farm building area, and I have not been back since then.  I have to get the new fence built, replace posts and shore up the existing fence, install power, and install the water system, before I can move the cattle. That is a lot to do in 16 to 18 weeks.  

Starting to Sink Corner Posts at the New Farm

The kids are doing well. Our Daughter is helping more with chores, and our Son is growing more and more comfortable outside. With preschool starting up again, I have no doubt the routine will be good for both of them. She will benefit from the structure, and he will benefit from not having his Sister up in his business all of the time. 

Helping Daddy Herd some Sheep

Hat Boy

Aside from that, I don't have much to report. I hope that we get an offer on this place soon so we can begin to make plans. All of my hay is out at the new farm, and I sold my old tractor back at the old farm, so I have few ways to move hay around there. Fall aways seems like a giant rush of activity that is over before you realize it. Keep your fingers crosses for us as we enter frantic fall.

 Sold the Old Tractor

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer Routine & Happenings

We have not sold the house yet. We have had several productive showings, but nobody has put in an offer yet. It is hard to plan for what this production season might look like or how long it might take before we get to work on actually moving livestock out to the new place. The uncertainty about things is really wearing on both of Janice and I. 

Now that it is Summer, my Daughter is out of school and is out helping me around the farm to get chores done every morning. That currently involves watering sheep, feeding and watering baby turkeys, releasing layers, and moving, feeding, and watering the broiler chickens. 
Supervising a Cattle Move

New Chicken Pen on Pasture

The broilers are running large again, and are scheduled to go into the processor at the end of this week. Just in time to start doing deliveries next week in Des Moines and Pella and in Ames the week after that. I look forward to a break from taking care of these guys as broilers are quite labor intensive  and parts of that labor can be very physical. 

 Excited about Baby Turkeys

Turkey Pullets at Play

Turkeys arrived two weeks ago and are doing "knock on wood" great. We started with 103 and still have 101. That is the best start turkeys have had since possibly our first year of raising them. 
They have about two to three weeks left in the critical development stages where they are prone to dying, but so far I am very pleased with how things have been going.

Juneberries Getting Ripe

Elsewhere on the farm, the berries are ripening. June berries and sour cherries are getting picked right now and frozen down for later use. Mulberries look to be ready and will likely be next on the list. My Son loves Juneberries so much that he often points at the trees and makes some sounds to let us know he wants us to pick him some berries to eat. 

New Calf, One of Three

Cow Herd Following Me to New Pasture

The cattle herd seems to be doing well. We have two animals going to the locker next week, so beef should be available again by the middle of July, just in time for high grilling season.  We are still working on selling off two breading animals and then we will get our herd down to a more confirmable size and bring in some needed income. We had one heifer calf two weeks before I moved cattle into our warm-season grass pasture, and then two bull calfs were born shortly after the move. 

Leadplant on Growing in the Pasture

After moving the cattle into the warm-season grass pasture, I noticed that there is finally Leadplant growing in a few places down there. I put a little bit in the planting mix in hopes of getting some more established on this farm, but I had pretty much given up on it since it has been around 5 years since that field was planted from crop ground  to native prairie pasture.

Not so Little Guy that Loves the Outdoors

I figured our little guy should make an appearance lest his sister dominate the photos. He loves being outside and soon will be out with the livestock more. We will keep you posted about the move whenever that happens and we look forward to seeing customers again at deliveries starting next week. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Non-GMO Conversion

We polled customers this spring and they said overwhelmingly that having a non-genetically modified (non-GMO) ration for the poultry was very important to them. We listened to your feedback and talked with the farmers that mix our feed and together we set out to build a ration that is free of GMOs (the most common GMO soybean is also known as Roundup Ready).

Customer Survey Results

Until this year, our ratio has been primarily composed of open pollinated non-GMO corn and purchased soybean meal. Although it is possible to buy non-GMO soybeans, it is much much harder to find non-GMO soybean meal. The real problem with soybeans is that you can't just throw them into a grinder-mixer, you have to roast them. Soybeans have to be heated to break down enzymes that make it hard for mono gastric stomachs (Chickens, Turkeys, Pigs, Humans) to absorb the protein in them. This roasting process is usually done at very large facilities and creates a system where farmers sell their beans on the open market and buy back this generic roasted product. In the US, 85 percent of of soybeans are GMO, so it is easy to see that most of the soybeans in the purchased meal was likely GMO.

Chickens on Pasture in Recently Constructed Pen

To get around this, we will be using soybean meal that is made from food grade soybeans for human consumption. There was an exhaustive search done to investigate where a roasted non-GMO soybean product could be located and that list was very very short. The resulting change is not a cheap one. Generic soybean meal used to run $450 per ton and the non-GMO version comes in at over $1000 a ton. In other words, our feed has gone from $0.20 per pound to $0.33 per pound.  Our birds are eating right around four pounds of feed per pound of gain, resulting in a cost increase to produce the birds of $0.52 per pound. With high chick prices and a bump in locker fees, we must raises prices to try and preserve the small margin that already exists on our birds.

The change resulted in a $.60 rise in chickens per pound, a $0.50 rise in turkeys per pound. Our eggs have been sold at a loss for over a two years now, so we moved to correct the price and roll in the added feed cost with a $1.00 increase per dozen eggs.

Whole chicken: $3.90/lb
Cut up chicken: $4.10/lb
Large eggs: $4.50/doz ($4.00/doz with return of our clean container)
Medium eggs: $4.00/doz ($3.50/doz with return of our clean container)
Whole turkeys: $4.25/lb
Smoked turkey halves: $7.00/lb

Cattle and lamb prices will not change, as their diet is already GMO free and they do not eat grain. Demand for lamb has been very soft and we are strongly considering phasing out lamb over the year. 

Despite what the customers and my wife were telling me, I must admit that I am terrified by this price change. It is a massive shock to our system financially on the front-end of this process. I can understand that some customers might want to retract their orders. They are welcome to do that, and I would not hold that against them. As I see it, this is a leap of faith. We are taking the first step. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Changes are in the Works

It has been much longer then I thought since I last blogged. We have been pretty busy on this end as the weather has finally improved and our production is off an running. We have a schedule up on our website, broilers are in the brooder, and cattle and sheep are grazing again.

Cattle Grazing Again

There are some significant changes in the works. We have a close friend who is working on our new website, to help us update our look and streamline our messaging. We are looking at reusable bags for our customers with our logo and website on them. This is a minor change, but we think it might be worthwhile over our current reused plastic bags. Janice conducted a customer survey and is taking a very close look at sales data. The results of our survey have us investigating two major changes.

We are looking at liquidating our sheep breeding stock and getting out of sheep after we process our remaining lambs. Based on the survey, we have very few people who purchase lamb from us and managing the herd is quite labor intensive. The meat still in our freezers from last year is almost entirely lamb. It is possible that we could do lamb again in the future, but that would likely be a result of customer demand. We might also look at a model where we just buy lambs in the spring and finish them on grass. These are all options we are weighing right now.

The last and largest change we are looking at is changing our poultry ration. Currently our ration has corn in that is open pollinated and non-GMO. Unfortunately the soy part of our ration is made from conventional GMO soy meal. The problem with soybeans is you can't just throw them into a grinder and grind them, like you can corn. You have to heat them in some way to break down enzymes in the soybean that make it challenging for monogastric stomachs to process the proteins in the soybean. This is usually done in larger commercial facilities and creates a system where farmers sell beans on the open market and buy back processed beans of the same open market. It is not an easy task to source non-GMO soymeal and we have seen prices that are more then double our current GMO soybean meal. Our customers have indicated that it is important to them that we cut the GMO soymeal, so we are working on it. It will inevitably lead to a price increase for our customers, but we are trying to limit what that increase would look like. If you are a customer and you have any additional feedback you want to offer, we would greatly appreciate that right now.

In other farm news, we had an offer that came in last week on our farm, but it has not been finalized yet. I am hopeful that we can work the wrinkles out of it and create a binding contract out of it. We have chickens in the brooder that should be ready to go to be processed in mid June. I started planting 200 trees at the new farm. It is slow going, but I would like to have most of it done this week. Lastly, I am trying to get things sold on this farm (sheep, some cattle breeding stock, tractor, etc.). Things are pretty hectic right now, but I think we are at least moving in the right direction.

Brooder Black Board

Chicks in the Brooder

Tree Planting Moves Forward in Ernest

Monday, March 31, 2014

Let There Be Building

Spring is trying to get started as the weather struggles to yield nice days and the grass just begins to color the hills green in places. We are starting to to make plans for this year, by finally ordering chicks.  The uncertainty regarding the farm move is a nagging shadow over the plans. Facilities at the new place still require a lot of work. We need to fill in gaps in the fencing, replace rotten posts in existing fencing, get power hooked-up, and bring in water and get a water source hooked-up.

The new farm building just went up this past week. We have a number of photos below showing its construction. I am pleased to have the building finally available to us. So much of our equipment spent the winter outside, including the new tractor. Of course, now the tractor is running sluggish and will likely need filters changed and possibly the oil changed as well, but at least it started after this winter. I am just glad to have it out of the elements.

Farm Building Going Up

Framing Nears Completion

Steel Starts to Go Up

Our Daughter Investigating the Structure

Building Complete from a Distance

Building Complete Close-up

The first batch of broilers will arrive from a new source in Iowa the fourth week in April. That is two weeks later then I would have liked, but I was late to place the order and there seems to be a general shortage of hatching eggs at the moment. I also placed an order for turkeys, much earlier than I normally would. We will start turkeys the first week of June and see how things go.

Stay tuned as we try to pull things together and begin our production season soon. I hope to launch our new website, get our customer newsletter released, and send a survey out to our customers by the end of April. Considering the number of things that need attention because we have made almost no progress this winter on things, and how busy all of our weekends are in April, it will be a significant feat if we accomplish most of what we set out to do.