Friday, August 28, 2009

Last Saturday Turkey Herding

We moved the last of the turkeys outside from the brooder and the outside birds into different living conditions on Saturday 8/22/09. We have some fun pictures of the little turkeys in the crates sticking their heads through the cracks and of me herding the older birds toward their outside living area with the aid and some times hampering of the old tom. I have decided to leave the old tom with the turkeys. He was going outside during the day and not coming back in at night anyway. I would find him sitting next to the birds pen and have to struggle to get him to come into the barn with his two hens. I witnessed the little birds rush to him when a large bird flies overhead. It is just great that he has grafted on to them and want to protect them.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Catch-Up Day

Yesterday I decided just to stay at home. I had been on the road for the last two days and was pretty tired. I decided to try and get caught-up on balancing books and updating all my records for the year to date. I worked on that most of the day, and I still have a lot to do. I hope to be all caught-up tonight. In doing so, I feel pretty good with how well the business had done at maintaining cash-flow. We are also learning to time customer deliveries to the points when money becomes very tight (especially having deliveries set to a few weeks before turkeys start to be processed). After doing this or digging into it, I feel much more confident about what I am doing. Although we will not make money this year, because of high expenses associated with the well installation and fencing, I know that before infrastructure improvements and money spent on the acquisition of breeding stock, that we are doing pretty good.

I also had a brand new customer come out and bring his wife. We talked for some time and he offered to assist me in designing some things offered a few thoughts on how we can be more efficient in a few areas. He also spent a good deal of money and ordered two turkeys, so that feels great. The two sheep flocks got combined yesterday. That was not my intention, but the sheep would have none of it. It does make me more concerned about how I am going to handle a ram come September. He is not supposed to breed until very late November and into December (that is my plan), so I can be lambing in late April and early May. I will get some flock pictures as soon as the camera comes back from Janice's vacation.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The ewes are looking good

The new ewes are looking good. I am still without a camera, so these are some pictures from the folks that raised them. I look forward to getting the new sheep to meet my current flock, but it might be a few days. The new sheep are getting their first exposure to electric fence. Because of my lack of fencing, I am not sure how I will go about brining the two flocks together, but I will find a way.

I drove a long way to look at a truck. I want to move from my Ford F150 with a massive engine down to a 6 cylinder, full sized pick-up truck that can handle 6,000 pounds of trailer weight. My ford is not very comfortable and without an extended cab, I am limited in the number of folks I can travel with. Currently my truck needs a lot of work, I would just as soon spend that money on getting a truck that fits our needs more closely then this one. I have always loved the Toyota T100. I got to look at one today. It was in horrible shape on the underside, so I did not get it, but I learned that it has a big enough bed, a comfortable cab, but they are relatively rare. I will keep looking.

I have been on the road for the last couple of days and I have a number of items to catch-up on around the farm this weekend before several deliveries to Des Moines and an Iowa Network For Community Agriculture board meeting next week.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Doubles the Ewe Flock

It has been a long day today, but I am home and the 7 new ewes are eating fresh grass in the enclosure. All appears well. I got these sheep from a little farm just north of Guthrie Center. Of the 7, there are one 11 year-old barbados black sheep, three all black yearlings, one all black lamb, and three red lambs. I am a huge fan of the red sheep, the color in them is amazing. It is great to see what barbados black-bellied sheep can produce when crossed with some of the other hair sheep. Janice is on a cruise with her mother and grandparents, so she has the camera currently. I will get you pictures as soon as I can.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Post Tamping, Cattle Shopping, Truck Shopping, & Company O My

I had planned on mowing our grass planting this spring, and after servicing the tractor and getting everything ready to go, it would not start. It has not spark so I suspect the starter. I am going to ask a neighbor for a second opinion before I go spend any money. The planting looks pretty rough. I walked it and I can't say that I was able to identify any of the plants that were seeded amongst the weeds. I probably should have planted it with annual rue grass or some oats, but I dropped the ball and did not think of that. I would like to add some eastern gamagrass seed to the mix. I am thinking of ordering 5-10 pounds of it and taking my little yard seeder out there and just broad casting it. That should be done before I mow so the reactor tires can help act as a roller and get the seed into the soil. Ideas like this are great, but executing them is not always that easy. I have to get the tractor running and the seed here before this is going to work.

With the tractor out of commission, I went back to tamping dirt in around my wooden posts. I will be doing this for a very, very long time. I really have to pick up the pace. Using tamp in posts, like Power Flex fiberglass posts or metal t-posts looks more attractive all the time. By next spring I want to get the whole southern half of the farm fenced and get the corrals re worked. This includes fencing cattle out of the water ways. We will have an Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) contract from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to put some of this fencing in. The contract is also providing some cost share money on a new livestock well. We are still finalizing all of the bids on the well. That can be a really daunting process with a lot of money involved. I look forward to locking that in and getting the well set-up.

There is this weird pressure to get cattle. It is like once you have cattle, then you are a real farmer. I can not get the contract that I wanted from the NRCS, because I did not have cattle. I want to have grass-fed beef in the future, but I don't want to make a mistake and buy cattle that won't perform on grass. Most of the cattle out there won't finish on grass. They have been selected for grain finishing and are too big, too leggy, with small guts, are poor milkers, and are black.
Big animals need more feed just to maintain body condition and make it hard to finish livestock and build marbling. One advantage to a small animal when direct marketing is that it is easier to sell whole, halves, and quarter animals to customers when they are a bit smaller because it keeps customers costs down. You can also run more smaller animals on fewer acres. Our goal is a mature cow around 1,000 to 1,200 pounds.
A leggy animals with a shallow gut will not finish out on grass because they do not have a large rumen so they can not eat enough grass to put on proper weight. A good milking cow is important to rearing a good calf on pasture. According to Greg Judy in Comeback Farms, a cow "has got to be able to suckle a calf 10 months, be growing one inside her, and breed back on schedule every year while maintaining good body condition" and having a deep wide gut and good milk is a huge part of that.
If you see cattle in a field, you will likely see black cattle. The reason you see so much black is because there is a price reward for black animals in a conventional market because they can be sold as Angus. These cows do not actually have to be angus, just black in color is close enough. The problem with a black cow is that it gets hot. On a summer pasture at around 80 degrees, they run about 10 degrees warmer internal temperature then a black animal. This mean more stress, more water consumption, and a greater need for shade. To me, a red animals is a much better investment.
In my quest to figure out what cattle I would like to work with, I have started by visiting Hazybrook Dexters outside of Cambria, Iowa. I met with Dan Thomas and saw his herd. I have included a picture of Dan with his two gentle bulls Harley (black) and Pepper (red). They are both beautiful animals, although I though Harvey was slightly more to my preference. They are good looking animals, but they are not cheap either. They are about 1.5 times what I might pay for some other breeds and they are close to 2 times what I might be able to get at a sale barn. I am going to have to think long a hard about this. What I am leaning in the direction of right now is perhaps to buy a bull calf from Dan bread it to some shorter cattle from the sale barn. I have not put any money down on the table yet so I am still free to explore my options. I did pick-up some steaks from Dan so I could give dexter cattle a taste. I will also talk with Ethan Booth around Knoxville. He just brought home a beautiful bull that is shown on his amazingly well constructed and written farm blog:

My F150 is 15 years old and needs some expensive work done on it. I am in the process of determining if that is a worth while expense or if there would be another used truck set-up that would work better. I am actually looking at moving to two trucks. One with 4x4 and a larger cab to haul kids, get around the pasture, and get us out in the winter, and adopting my grandfathers good old pick-up. That 1990's chevy only has 80K on it and is in great shape. It is a basic 6 cylinder 2 wheel-drive full size truck that pulls 6,000 lbs and gets 18 mpg. My ford pull 11.5 to 12.5 mpg, and the 4x4 replacement vehicle should be running right around 15 mpg. I am not expecting gas to stay cheap so we are planning on that for the future.

We have good friends coming down this weekend. I was hoping to get help tamping posts, but it should be near 100 degrees tomorrow and I don't want anybody getting heat stress. We will likely play a few board games in the evening and try an auction tomorrow. Until then, with the rain I am inside I will be working on some consulting work that has languished for too long.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I will be off the farm today. My Grandfather is in a steep decline and I am going to pay him a visit. My grandfather is just a really good man who has spent much of his life as a mechanic and business owner and has tried to help his family out wherever possible. I just wish I could have learned more from him when he could get around better. I recall a brief conversation we had on the farm just after we bought the place. He came up to me grinning and said, "I never thought that my grandson would be farming in Marion County." I replied that, "Technically we we're two miles into Jasper County. You never know where life will take you." Grandpa grew up on a 40 acre farm on the southern edge of Marion County. That would be 30 miles strait south of our 40 acre farm on southern edge of Jasper County.

On another note. We have had a lot of publicity recently.
We were in the Des Moines Register on Sunday, August 2nd, in the Iowa Life section. We have a nice piece on Des Moines Juice website:
We are the ones living on a shoestring.

And a couple of weeks ago we were interviewed by a local Marion County radio station KNIA/KRLS on their In Depth radio show by Dr. Bob Leonard.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Quick Update

I have not kept up with the pace of the posts as promised. Since the tractor has arrived, I have not done much with it. I am still working through things like the fluid levels, adjusting the brakes, and replacing the exhaust. It is going to be just a little bit before those things get squared away.

We have had a lot of trouble with our first batch of turkeys this year. The second batch arrived on July 22nd and has come along much better. We have just lost a handful of chicks and they continue to grow. We have about a week and a half left of the critical stage and then another two weeks where they need only moderate babying. After that, they are off to the races. The surviving 26 turkeys from the first batch of 74 turkeys are outside and doing pretty good. I have two birds in that group that still have poor legs, but they have improved considerably since going outside. I have included a picture of this batch. I do love turkeys for their social behaviors and their outgoing and curious personalities, but I will admit that this first batch was quite trying.

Our other birds look good. We continue to struggle with low egg production in relation to demand. We are working on it, the girls can't grow any faster. We have spring laying hens started in mid-May outside in a chicken tractor (portable pen with an open bottom) and they look great. I have included a few pictures of the ladies for your viewing pleasure. I have been working on my last consulting work in the pipeline and will then be able to swing my attention back to farm items (fence building, building repairs, tractor, updating business books, and some customer correspondence). I have been reading Comeback Farms, a birthday gift from my father-in-law, by Greg Judy. I have got to see this man's farming operation. Greg has me even more focused on growing out my sheep herd and looking toward the acquisition of some cattle along with doing custom grazing. We did put a deposit on an RR trait 100% Katahdin ram lamb. The RR trait is important because it allows me to bread to a Scrapie resistant flock. I got the ram from Sharon Krause in Booneville, IA. She has a very beautiful farm and a very nice looking flock of sheep. She has several other RR trait rams available that I would encourage and producer to investigate. That should bring you up to speed and I will try to keep in touch soon.