Monday, November 30, 2009

Ramping Up Egg Production

We have been getting around one-and-a-half dozen to three dozen eggs a day. Assuming an average of two dozen per day, we get 28 dozen per week, so around 112 dozen eggs each month. Local demand is around 9 dozen per week. That means we have have more supply then demand by about 76 dozen per month. We need another outlet to unload supply. We sell through the Iowa Food Cooperative, but in order to sell eggs through them, I need to have an egg handlers license from the State of Iowa.
This process requires me to submit an application, and pass inspection. In order to have inspection I have to have certain supplies and go through some laid out procedures. I just dropped $250 on more supplies, license applications, to be able to pass inspection and handle our current egg output. We have had to get an egg candler and we will have to inspect every egg to make sure it is not developing (it should not if harvested promptly), a special wash solution must be used that is 5 percent chlorine, and an egg scale has been purchased to prove that I can grade eggs. I also ordered 500 cartons. They are sitting in the middle of my living in a huge box waiting to be unloaded.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Priming the North Pasture

In the spring there will be a lot of things going on. For one thing I will be a father in late April, broiler chickens will arrive about that time as well, we will have our first lambs by mid-May, but one thing I am really looking forward to is improving the north pasture area.

We have been farming here for almost two years now and I have yet to do much of anything with our north pasture area. It is the largest piece of the farm (probably 17 to 18 acres of our 40 acres). It is a rugged place and the highest and part of the farm. We have really worked over the south end of the farm this year as it was adjacent to all of our buildings and some of our most level ground. The north is still a wild area, but for the last month I have started to work it and prime it for next year. My 12 ewes are up there being rotated every other day to a new section ground. The area is so large that they have only scratched the surface, but they are breaking down the rank thatch, opening up the soil to more light, and removing the bark from some of the smaller Chinese Elm trees (hopefully killing some of them) encroaching on the pasture. I have a few pictures of the area. The top picture is looking down one side of the hill at the sheep. The sheep are the line of little bumps underneath the large cotton wood tree. They have just been moved into a new paddock and have to their faces to the ground like good sheep eating whatever they can find. That is good sheep behavior, a bad sheep will pace the paddock expecting to receive some food from you, my sheep have figured it out this year and I am glad for that.
In the top picture, you can also see our poor crop land seeding from June. It is the long line of yellowed grass located down where the ground starts to level out. It was a mess of annual grasses and weeds. I will burn it off this spring to remove the vegetation so light can get to the soil and hopefully give the little seedlings a chance before they have to start competing with weeds. This area was mowed around by my neighbor, but the tractor he was using could not make it trough more then the edges of the pasture. This mowed area will help serve as a fire break. If no seedlings show themselves, we will consider replanting the area.

The second shot is looking back up the large hill at an area where the sheep have been. You can see the white spots on the bark of the trees where the sheep have done there handy work and the grass in the foreground is much thinner then that in the background (an area I have not grazed yet).

I will be frost seeding in Ladino Clover in late February and early March. It has worked well for us in other places on the farm (turkey, cows, and sheep loved it), so I will be doing it on the north pasture and expanding the area I seeded on the south pasture. Clover is a legume and it seed is very small and round. Frost seeding is broadcasting the seed on the ground in late winter when the ground will still freeze and thaw several times before spring. The freezing and thawing lets the little legume seed work into the soil. It is best to do this when you can hit a period with no snow on the ground in late winter. Since I do not own much for equipment, I will be using my little lawn spreader to apply the seed. It is a good workout coving that much area, but it worked last year so why mess with success.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Turkeys "fly" off the farm, cattle walk off, before returning

Turkey sales have been very brisk. A little too brisk. We are sold out of frozen turkeys. We still have very few smoked turkey halves (pictured). We had our first cured smoked turkey last night and it was good. It is very similar to a mild ham and you will once again be surprised by how many you can serve off one bird. Sunday is our Picket Fence Creamery (Woodward, IA) Sample Sunday delivery. It will be a big one.

On Thursday, I distributed turkeys to the Iowa Food Cooperative in Des Moines, and filled Ames customers' order. I got home pretty late and was very tired so I just sealed-up the turkeys and collected and washed eggs before bed. Friday, I went out to move the cattle and they were gone. Usually when the cattle get out, they come into the house yard and graze the yard until I put them away. This time they must have selected a very different course, because they had vanished like smoke. The cattle showed-up this evening and are now contained within our small barn. They will move back out to pasture tomorrow. The cattle could have been on our farm most of the 50 hours they were missing, as there some thickets and steep places that I have trouble getting to. After talking with a neighbor, I think they may have gone as far as 1/2 away from the property, before returning home. This belief is based on some very large deere tracks that a neighbor saw. Anyway, the cattle are home and I am glad that is behind me. I am racing to get fence in before winter and time spent looking for missing cattle, is time not spent building the fence to keep them in.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Last Processing Day this Year, and Thinking About Next Year

The last processing day is now behind me. Twenty-hours awake is tough, but not as bad as the last one. All 84 turkeys (we sold two) are freezing down right now. I got a call this morning, saying that our smoked turkeys are ready to go, and we are careening toward next week, where we will have three deliveries to make and all of our orders to sort.

It is good to be this close to payday, because I am pretty broke. Processing charges went up again this year and it is now running $7 to $8 per turkey. I left the locker over $600 lighter (plus I had to drop $75 on gas to get out there). This all has me thinking, home processing equipment would set me back about $3,500 and it is looking more tempting with the passage of time. It would bring new challenges like hiring some assistance, compost handling, and dealing with some regulations, but it would save the rough 2o hour marathons, those crippling butchering bills, transit stress on the birds, and I could keep the carbon that I am currently loosing in the poultry parts that stay at the locker (if composted on-farm, they can be used to build the soil). One limiting factor, would be that I could not sell 0n-farm processed poultry through the Iowa Food Cooperative. The cooperative represents about 10% of our business, so we might consider still processing a limited number of chickens and turkeys through our existing channels and the rest through on-farm processing. I have spent over $1,500 on processing this year with gas and if I raise the 180 turkeys and 440 chickens that I am looking at next year, then I will spend $2,150 on processing next year and at least and additional $375 on gas doing it. There will be some labor expenses, but it does not take too long to begin to rationalize the whole set-up. I will have to continue to examine this during the off season. I already help Galen Bontrager from time to time with his processing, but there are some things that I will need to improve my proficiency with before going down that road.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Final Push & Looking Forward to Next Year

Things have been moving right along. As I write this, 86 turkeys are loaded in the trailer ready to to go at 2:00 AM in the morning to the locker. This is the last trip of the season to the locker and I am so happy to be done.

Fencing made some huge leaps and bonds forward. I got assistance from Jim Stumo for several hours and we strung several stands of wire and set some posts. I have an evening picture of a section of fence we finished today. I can say one thing, Jim is much better with a hammer then I am. I hope that come with time. I must apologize for the dark picture, the sun sets so early now.
I have also cleaned the retail space and added a freezer and repaired a second. It looks much better in there. I had wanted to get get the walls painted before winter, but I am not sure that is going to happen. I am at least glad the place is tidied up for right now.
I order lambing supplies for next year and the tags came. they will be numbered 1001 to 1020 s0 the 10 in the first two digits will be the year and the second two digits will be the order the lambs are born. One the back they say Wild Rose Pastures. I think the tags are cute and I can just see the little lambs running around with those tags next spring. My ram is still being rented out and I am glad to hear that he is doing his job. He really is a gentle giant and I consider myself fortunate that I got my hands on him. I will post pictures of him when he comes home after Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cast of Characters: Super Dog

I figured I should introduce you everyone to our crew. Maya (our 3 year old mild mannered beagle) is almost always by my side or watching me from the shade of a tree.

The main reason, I wanted to mention Maya was that she averted a disaster the other day. Two days ago, She was going ballistic in the house (this is quite unusual) and so I final let her outside. To my surprise, 15 turkeys were parading down the road. I rushed out there and they came strait to me and followed me down the drive way and back into their pen. Janice was trying to find the camera the whole time. She described me as the Pied Piper of turkeys.
Maya is also our official greeter. She has never shown aggression to other animals, just curiosity. The first time she met the sheep, she rolled over on her back in front of them expecting tummy rubs. She tried to do the same with cattle, but through better of it (scared the crap out of me though).

Maya loves children to. I have had her jump in customers cars following several children and have to be extracted by me. The other thing Maya does is go all over the farm yard area. She leaves her sent where ever she goes. This giver raccoons and opossums the impression that a nasty predator liver here and they tend to keep their distance. The only time I worry about predators is when Maya is largely out of action because she has bad pollen allergies. August and September are her bad months. In the winter we do get a few predators because of food shortages, but we set some traps up in winter that take care of our problems.

So here is to Maya, super dog.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Turkeys' Sunset

It is rapidly approaching that time for the turkeys. We will keep our three Bronze Turkeys, but the white ones will grace the tables of our customers. I will admit that I grow a little attached to them, but they are expensive to keep around (they eat a lot right now), and turkeys represent around 2/3 of our business. I am at least glad to see that the weather will be warm, dry, and pleasant for their final weekend. I am still scrambling to get some additional freezers up and running to hold the turkeys before they go out to customers.

I wanted to share a picture of the turkeys getting at a nice new piece of pasture. I have been very pleased with kura clover (a large leafed white clover) as pasture planting. I frost seeded it in March and you can just see the turkeys attack it in the video.
I moved the cattle into a paddock the other day and they came to a kura clover spot between their new fencing and their old fencing set-up. I could not get the two to budge off that spot, they we so intent on eating every little piece. I ended-up just extending the new grazing system temporary fence around them. They were not leaving that spot.