Friday, October 30, 2009

The Rush Before Thanksgiving, Winter, and More

With the crispness of the air and the littering of the ground of a collage of leaves, comes the haste of autumn. The squirrels are hoarding the fallen walnuts that have ripened to the point that their husk is easily removed. All of this haste continues through me.

Our turkeys are in their closing two weeks on the farm and are eating more and more every day. With the turkeys going into the locker, I will need to bring additional freezers in to make sure that we can handle the additional load. We have to shore-up our orders as they are now coming at a rate of a couple per day. The floodgates will open this weekend and so we are now ready.

Winter is closing in on the farm. The Cobett waterer in the field is an improvement, but it needs rock around it to make sure the livestock do not tear it up. Our retail space is also a bit torn-up because we intend to paint it before winter, and the landscaping and awning over the entry way need to be completed. When the turkeys move out of the barn, where they have been spending nights and rainy days, the whole thing will need to be cleaned out and some organization reinstated along with bringing the tractor inside, and making room to put some small square bales inside. The garage/old shop and new shop need to be reconciled and organized because they are both a bit messy and quite unorganized.

Their is additional urgency this fall. For those who do not know, Janice is pregnant and due in late April. Given that I will be at home taking care of a child and running a farm, I am eager to attack several of the farm projects that will make my life easier. The water system is functional and needs a few finishing touches, the fencing system is still a long way from complete. Much of my winter will be devoted to fence building and felling trees to put fences and posts in when the ground is workable. The last thing the eagerly eats at me is a need for functional livestock handing system and corral so it is possible to work sheep and cattle.

In side our 900 square foot home, major reorganization has been planned. Three of four living spaces are getting changed up to make room for a child. The place will be quite different when it is all done.

That is how things are shaping-up around here as turkeys season is escalating, winter is coming, and a child is one the way.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More & New Products Coming


I am always trying to push the envelope a little bit so I can be ahead of other producers. I want to have unique products that help differentiate our business and keep people coming back. On Tuesday this week I went over to the Milo locker and brought them 10 of our turkeys that I had processed two weeks ago. They will be smoked and sliced in half and will be ready for Thanksgiving. They will be $6.25 per pound and will likely run 6 to 9 pounds per half. Milo locker has won several state wide awards for their smoked turkey so soon you will be able to get our pasture raised turkeys with Milo's great smoking experience. Once major advantage is these birds will not have to be cooked for serving, just heated as they will be a precooked product.

As an accidental quark of the bad weather (cold wet weather=slow/no weight gain), we have some very small chickens for sale. If you have been wanting small chickens around 2.1 to 2.9 pounds we have them. As usual, I was very impressed with how they dressed out, despite there petite size. If you want very meaty tiny birds, drop us an email.

One major stumbling has been that we have struggled to keep our eggs in stock for just our most local customers. Now, we finally have enough layers up and running that we can offer them our wider customer base. $2.50 a dozen large, and $2.00 a dozen medium. The picture above is one of our recent days collections of eggs recently.

Lamb will be a major new product next year. I have purchased a ram this past Saturday when I was out there helping Galen Bontrager ( process some of his pasture raised turkeys. I would have some pictures for you, but the but the big boy is being rented out right now by another farm in our area. He is a big ram, weighing around 350 pounds and is 100% registered Katahdin with RR traits. The RR traits breed Scrapies resistance into a flock of sheep. Scrapies is a neurological wasting disease, not too unlike "mad-cow disease". I am not worried about Scapies in my flock, but it is a way to add value to ewe lambs that might be sold as breeding stock in the future.

Anyway, this ram is 4 years old and has some beautiful lambs on the ground at his earlier home. I will get him back around Thanksgiving time or just a little after that and we will begin breeding with a target lambing date of mid-May. We should have lamb for sale for customers as whole and half animals, as well as retail cuts by late 2010.

I also picked-up a steer calf two weeks ago and so we will be experimenting with grass-finished cattle this year. There will be a very limited amount of beef available late next fall either as half or quarter animal.

Water System Step 3-Pump install, & well hook-up

This project is just about done. I still have to put rock around the cobett waterer, because the livestock will tear that area apart. On Monday Sully Plumbing showed-up to start the last few steps in the process and they finished on Tuesday. The last steps included running pipe and electricity up to the well from the cellar, which will serve as the well house for the pressure tank and the home of all the shut-off valves, installing one last water hydrant, and reworking some issues we have had with our rural water line to the house leaking. There is a lot of exposed earth in a few spots now, because the last bit of pipe installation was open-cut with a backhoe. Next spring, there will be some major smoothing out of earth and some seeding to get cover back on those areas. I am glad this is done and am getting used to actually having water where I use it, or at least very close to where I use it. There are only a few things I regret and that is the loss of several bushes that the guys dug-up in this last stage and that the pressure tank got put in front of the builders signature in the root cellar. It says the builders name and that it was built in September of 1910. Our home dates back to 1868 and the farm has been involved in some level of farming for almost this entire time. When you dig, you turn-up a bid of history's junk quite easily.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fantastic Weather Dampened by Swarm

It is fantastic outside. It is in the 60's for the first time in weeks, and yet I am spending much of my day inside. Why you ask? Well the swarms of Asian Lady Beetles (Harmonia axyridis) are awakened from several weeks of slumber. I would like to put extra emphasis on two word in that last sentence; swarms & awakened. That is right folks I walk out the door on they will be one me in seconds. In fact the shear act of opening any door to the house is bound to let in at least a dozen into the house I just cleaned this morning. Then you go to flick them off you face or glasses and they spray there nasty smelling gook on you. Even the chickens won't eat them.
This species was introduced to help reduce aphid populations in soybean field, and that job they do well. They do it so well that they multiply into a swarm and when the bean field dries up the swarm looks for a new place to go (aka the small farmsteads that still have green yards in the otherwise brown or barren late fall row-crop agricultural landscape. Needless to say, I don't plant row crops so my fields still have green grass in them and have very large population of swarming, gunk spewing, inedible little monster bugs in them. Now if you will excuse me, I have to go check the masking tape I put around my front door seal, I see some bugs have found a way past it.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Poultry Processing Day & Getting Cattle

I am never a fan of processing day. They are always a huge burden on me and they have spill-over effects into all the days around them. Processing day was Friday, but it begins Thursday. I figured I would walk you through the process.

Go to town to get cash and dry ice. Once I get home, I load a special old dead chest freezer (without a compressor) into the back of the truck along with towels, several coolers, dry ice, cleaner spray bottle, and straps to keep the freezer closed. The I hook-up the trailer and begin loading birds. We loaded 19 of the biggest turkeys but had one major hick-up and that was that the truck (my Grandpa's old, but very low miles, 6 cylinder, 2wd, 20mpg) could not make it up the wet sloppy drive way. I can't really blame it because of how steep our driveway is and how
wet it had been. If the tractor was running, I could have just pulled it up the drive with it, so I had to borrow a neighbors truck to get the trailer up the drive. On the plus side, I picked-up some chicken crates at auction this summer and they made loading 103 chickens so much easier then using the old rubbermaid containers I had used in the past. Next, try to get to bed and be ready for the early starts on Friday.

Wake-up shortly after 2:00 AM and try to get out of the house as soon as possible. By 2:50 AM I was finally on the road. I arrived at the locker by 5:45 AM (that is late though). Turkeys go in first as they take the longest to chill. By 7:00 Am, all the birds were dead and chilling. I drive back into town and try to take a nap and later get some work done at the local cafe. As usually, neither of these went too well. The truck cab was cold, and another truck pulled up behind me a dropped of a steel trailer which woke me up (it does not matter where I park, this stuff always happens). I also got chatting with the locals a bit at the cafe, which limited how much work I got done. By 10:30 AM, I headed back to the locker and check in. Then I got the truck ready by
cleaning and wiping out all the coolers and the freezer and place the dry ice in them, put a towel on top of the dry ice, and load the birds. By 11:45 AM I was headed home.
To add some complexity to my day I saw an add on craigslist for several calves in Earlham (right off I-80 on the return trip) and I responded and bought two Belted Galloway Calves (one a steer and one a heifer). I arrived in Earlham around 1:00 PM and had had the calves loaded and ready to go by 1:45 PM. I got home by 3:30 PM and got the calves unloaded and trailer unhooked by 4:30 PM. I came inside for food, water, and to see Janice who just got home. I was back outside by 6:30 PM and check on the remaining 75 turkeys before I started getting the current freezers ready to receive birds and reorganize the space. By 7:30 PM I started unloading birds. I like to weight them, label them with their weight, and double bad them, right away as opposed to putting that off, because it will never get done that way. Anyway, I bagged and tagged birds until 1:15 AM. Then I checked and watered the remaining turkeys and was in be shortly before 2:oo AM Saturday.

All and I it was a very rough ordeal on me, but the one nice thing is that I have fewer birds to take care of here. One more processing day is done, with only one more to go this year. The turkeys were larger then I was expecting, but many of the chickens were tiny. We have a large shelf with around 24 chickens that weigh less then 2.5 pounds, If you want small chickens we have then, lots of them. Birds that small will barely, if at all, cover their cost of production. I am planning on going down to the Milo to take 10 processed turkeys down to their locker to get them smoked and split in half as an experiment. They will be on the Iowa Food Cooperative as soon as they are ready. Another processing day is now done with one more this year to go.

Water System Step 2-Dun & Dusted

This has been a crazy week and I have several things I want to share about this week, but they will be spread out a bit so I don't have a single massive blog posting. We will start with the water system.

Boring the water lines finished-up on Wednesday afternoon of this soon to be past week. I then had one night with the backhoe to finishing digging the holes that needed to be made bigger and backfilling all of the holes. Wednesday night was a late one. I remember questioning my occupation, but being a little excited about advancing such a large project, that night when I was working at the bottom of a five-foot pit by the light on the back hoe. It had started to lightly rain and I was struggling to light a butane torch that kept going out so I could heat the water pipe and slide it onto the fittings that the pipe connects to.

Despite the challenges and the many times I hurt my hand while working on it, the water system is on huge step closer to being a reality. We have over 800 feet of waterline in the earth and it is all hooked-up except for two places that are waiting for step three (installing the well pump and pressure tank, and doing final hook-ups). Attached to all of this water line, we have four hydrants (water facets in the field that do not freeze-up) spaced out along the waterline . We will also have a frost free livestock water access from Cobett (a small central-Iowa company). It uses ground heating to keep the waterer access from freezing up. There should be a picture looking down the inside of the tube, as I have not yet installed the basin that goes on top. I owe a special thanks to Vermeer for helping to put this waterline in despite numerous challenges with sandy soil that makes almost any project a pain.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Water System Step 2-Boring the Water Lines

We started about a month-and-a-half ago with the drilling of the well and now it continues with the boring of the waterlines. Vermeer (my wife's employer and all around awesome company) will be boring the lines. So it will take 4 bores and 6 big holes in the ground to put in the water lines and get everything ready for step three (pluming the well and final hook-up). The challenging part is making sure I have everything here and ready to go because when the drill starts tomorrow we will be moving very quickly.

On other news, we had to pull the turkeys up to the building and bring them in at night. This fall has been cold and wet since mid-September. It is very hard on the birds and hurts the rate of gain. We are dealing with the weather as well as we can. Unless the weather dries-up and the night temperature comes back into the mid-forties, then we will continue to bring the turkeys inside. There are 100 broilers out on pasture right now with their pens providing enough shelter to get them through. A trip to the locker is scheduled next Friday, with the 100 broiler chickens and 20 turkeys going in. It is going to be a busy couple of weeks and I am just planning on rolling with it and making it through.

Monday, October 5, 2009

First Customer Workday

I am going to admit that I was a bit skeptical about how this would go, but it went great. The weather on Saturday was pretty dismal, with a few glints of sun and a a few spells of rain, after two days of drizzle and light rain.

Anyway, with our fist plan large scale fence building out the window because of the weather, we turned to two projects that had languished for a very long time. So I one group of three Me, Dee, and Mark attacked a pile of boards, tin , wheels, and took an idea (mobile turkey rooster) and made it a reality (picture included). It is a roost with a roof on wheels. Janice is skeptical that turkeys will use it, but I have more faith in it. I plan to move it out to pasture today and I will report back how the turkeys take to it.

I also had Andy, Katie, and myself working on laying some concrete. I had started to lay concrete in front of the retail building to help with drainage and to help with to create a much better looking building. None of us had done that much or any concrete work so we all learned a lot and after a few trips to town to get additional concrete, we were good to go.

Leah helped Janice pull out a casual lunch and a fantastic dinner along with a few town runs to buy supplies. It was a great feed and was the best meal I had had in several weeks.

All and all, the day was a big success. We got two projects that had languished for a a long time done and a good deal of good food and stories were shared. The only thing that would have made it a better days is if the Cyclones had pulled it out (we listened on the radio). Thank you to all the folks that came and helped out. I hope they enjoy the chickens, learned a few things and had a good time.

Thank you,