Friday, December 31, 2010

A Warm End to 2010

We have had three days of December thaw to close 2010. Along with 2010 has gone our 8 inches of snow with just a trace left in the shadows and where it drifted a bit.

A view of the south pasture (looking west) from atop the hay bales

Janice and Hazel have spent some time off the farm around the holidays. This has left me to my own devices for 11 days to do things about the farm. Admittedly, I was not all that productive, but I did mange to clean out my chicken building and brooders, just in time to start lambing. Two ewes lambed, but one ewe did not survive. I brought her lamb into the house for the first night and then drafted the lamb onto the first ewe that lambed. I had never done this before, but I had read about it a few times. I built a headlock in the building and put the ewe into it. The headlock has boards extending out from it to make sure the ewe cannot look back at the lambs suckling. It took a little time, but she accepted the lamb. 

Surviving Ewe and the lambs, the white ram is the adopted lamb

Unfortunately, we have lost a total of three ewes in a short span. The one died in labor and the others were older and less compensative and could not keep-up with the heard despite my efforts to slip them some extra assistance. The remaining sheep look pretty good and will likely come through winter fine. We still have a number of ewes left to lamb likely within the next six weeks. 

The flock at dinner time, the little shelter now has a steel roof on it

While Janice and Hazel were away, I did work on the tractor some. I got new tires put on the front end, it was miracle that the old ones did not go out on me, and put a new battery in it. Of course, after doing those things it does not want to run now, so I have to find some time to play with the wiring a bit. Something is likely loose somewhere. Jim from Pella came out twice and we started to clear out the less desirable trees from behind the house. 

More tree clearing behind the house

When Janice and Hazel got back we did get to open some presents, although Hazel mostly wanted to eat wrapping paper and play with the cat. It is amazing how much hair Hazel grew in 11 days. She also get about a pound heavier, moves around much better, and has learned to awkwardly wave at people. 

Janice, Hazel, & Nermal open presents

The last big piece of news is that I got a job two days ago with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in Newton as a part-time temporary Program Specialist. I will start as soon as the paperwork can all get approved. Since it is a federal job, it might take two weeks. I am not entirely sure what that will mean for the farm next year. There is considerable flexibility in scheduling with this job, but some things will have to go. 

I am committed to cutting few things right now. I will be getting rid of my three large greeter turkeys and I am going to cull down my sheep herd. We purchased a number of lower quality ewes to breed to our high quality ram. Those ewes that perform well will stay, those that struggle will go. I will also be culling for size, condition, and ability to twin. I expect the ewe herd might shrink by as much as 1/3 to 1/2. It might be painful, but it will mean less work and higher quality in the long run. Other then these changes, I cannot say what outside employment will mean. I know that personally, I feel that we carry too much debt (buying a farm is rather expensive) and this is a way to pay off some of of those debts and create more breathing room in our finances. We shall see what 2011 has to hold for us, but I am hopeful and look forward to the possibilities. 

The herd at hay feeding time

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Product Review: High Tensile Fence Wire Strainers

For sometime, I have wanted to share what I have learned from my experiences with products that I use or have used on the farm and how they have worked for me. Jim (a local helper) and I have ran just over five miles of wire this year for an EQIP project to fence out our spring fed creeks. We have used a wide variety of products that I have picked up along the way. One of the earliest things I learned is what I like and dislike in a high tensile wire fence strainers.

In line strainers seem easier to use, but it is a myth

When we started building fence, we used the two different types of inline strainers. The advantage these strainers have is that you do not have to cut the fence wire and insert the strainer. Despite this advantage, I would highly recommend avoiding these strainers. They are much harder to actually get onto to the fence and tightened then you might think. They do not tighten as easily as my recommended strainer style because they do not have a stop on them. You have to keep holding the stainer tight wile you inset the pin they come with or a piece of wire to prevent them from loosening, making them much harder to adjust. I have often found that these strainers are even expensive then the ones I prefer as well. The clunky nature of tightening these strainers means that you can not get them as tight as our preferred strainers and I have had considerable trouble keeping sheep in where these strainers have been used so come spring they will all be replaced (luckily there are only around a dozen of them).

I would highly recommend framed or box strainers

Since I started using these strainers, I have not looked back. I put in about 250 of these strainers this year.
To install them, you have to cut the wire and insert it through the loop end (left side of pictured strainer) and either put on a crimp-sleeve on it or learn to bend high tensile and tie it off (it will save you a crimp sleeve which are $13 cents each).   Then you thread the wire through the spindle (right side of pictured strainer) bend it off and cut it so it does not catch. Lastly tighten the stainer to desired rigidity. The strainer tool (blue hand tool) is essential and inexpensive at less then $5. The best price I have found is from Premier One Supplies over in Washington, Iowa.

We also use the box strainer for holding our corner posts together

So when the weather breaks this spring and you find yourself out fencing, stick to the framed or box strainers and you will be much happier in the long run. I hope you enjoyed this review and stay tuned for more thoughts on products we use.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hunkering Down & Catching Up

Our first winter storm is rolling over us. We are fortunate that much of it will likely drop north of us. I don't really care for snow. Don't get me wrong it can be lovely, but having it on the ground depresses temperatures a great deal. When you accumulate more then 8 to 10" inches of snow early in winter it usually takes a very long time to melt off and it can hold on all winter (like last winter). I have been racing to get ready for winter. I have cleaned-up the random farming items that littered the yard, dug up the annual bulbs, built most of a sheep shelter (no permanent roof yet), and  hauled in a manure spreader that I purchased a few month back, but never had time to pick-up.

Sheep shelter with temporary roof

Sheep shelter two days ago was just four posts in the ground

I am most happy about getting the sheep shelter functional in time for freezing rain and snow. Jim, from Pella, came out yesterday and we took four posts and got the thing walled up and framed to receive a steel roof. The steel being about the only random farm thing left lying around the yard. If we get a nice day here, we will try to get that steel up on the roof. I would like to build another one of these small loafing sheds yet this year, but with the one, we now have enough space under roof to get all of our sheep some shelter during the worst winter weather.

We dodged a bullet this time, but winter is long and we are bound to have significant snow fall before too long. Thanks for reading. I am going to put up a several farm product reviews for items that we use around the farm, especially fencing items, so look for them in the coming weeks. If you have any farming equipment that you have heard us mention and would like to know how it has worked for us, drop me an email.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

You Might Be A Beginning Farmer If...

You might be a beginning farmer if you haul hay to the farm in your livestock trailer.  A 16 foot livestock trailer can haul three medium sized bales. Net wrapped  bales can fit in there a bit better, but if the fit is tight they tend to be tightly packed and give much if any. To unload the trailer, you just back up to a stout post or tree and wrap a chain around it and the bale. Then drive forward and unload.
As a word of advise, it is helpful to wrap a chain around each bale as it goes in. It makes unloading much easier.

Livestock trailers double as hay haulers

You can fit one in the truck bed as well

I have made two of these trips now, hauling 4 bales of hay each time. I have four to five of these trips left to complete to have enough hay to get through the winter. I would like to make it to April 15th before I start grazing. I wish I was not feeding the rented bull for half the winter, but I can't change my current situation. Next year, we have about 27 more grazable acres either coming on line or rented so we should be able to tray to stockpile more grass and avoid feeding so much hay next year. 

You might be a beginning farmer if you go with a local Christmas Tree. We have not put up a tree in years, but with Hazel here, I felt it was time. I went out to the pasture and cut down an Eastern Red Cedar that was still pretty green. They tend to turn a reddish brown as winter sets in. I also looked for a female tree. Cedars are pretty much a weed around here, but they do provide decent cover to wildlife. I try to remove female trees (the ones with the blue berries) to keep down on the seed source. 

Red Cedar Christmas Tree

I know It is a bit sparse, but it has character

If any friends or customers decide they want a tree like our, let us know and I will take you at pasture and send you home with one free. We have a wide variety to choose from. 

You might be a beginning farmer if your livestock get out regularly. It does seem that use beginning farmers are still building much of our farms and that out fences are not always what we want them to be. I have had the pleasure of putting various quantities of sheep back in the pasture about a dozen times in the past 5 to 6 days. I think we have tightened things up to the point that we can keep most our sheep in. On Friday, the sheep sprung the cattle as well so I had to call Janice for help in reining the herd in off my neighbors land. I had to put temporary fence up all around them before I could funnel them back on to our land. 

Putting up temporary fence to break-up the party my cattle & Sheep were having

It was a stressful week, but we are now focused on winter feeding and I think we have things to the point that there should not have any more incidents like this one until Spring. 

If you have other thoughts on what makes you a beginning farmer, feel free to leave them under the comments. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Where Did November Go?

Well it has been some month. I really never intended to go so long between blog posts, but life gets very busy in Novemebr and we can end up doing about 1/2 of our annual business in the space of about 5 weeks. We are past all of that frenzy now and are working on final preparations for winter and are beginning to look a head at the 2011 production season.

During the blur of deliveries before Thanksgiving, we sold over 150 turkeys, about two lambs, and most of our remaining chicken supply. We had eight freezers running full to the brim of product before deliveries started. You can never have too many freezers, but we are beginning to run out of space for them. Needless to say, we are down to one freezer running these days. We will continue to have product available at the Iowa Food Cooperative and on farm until we run out of supply.

Sheep & Cattle Grazing Stockpiled Forage

On the livestock front, we are still grazing cattle and sheep, but our grass supply is running out. I have just been moving the fences further and further out each day. Unless a blizzard stops us sooner, I will be grazing until the middle of December before we will be completely reliant on hay until mid April. I wish we could stockpile more forage, but our grass grows slowly and rarely exceeds 6 to 8 inches at its maximum height. Someday, we might be able to improve the soil so this is not such a limiting factor.

I am renting a bull to breed our cows right now

We do have an extra mouth to feed for a few months. I have rented a bull from farmer in the area to see to it that we have calves next summer. He is unfortunately, not a belted galloway, but is a BueLingo. BueLingo is a more modern breed created in North Dakota. The BueLingo and Belted Galloway look similar, and share the Dutch Belted Cattle ancestry, but BueLingo also contain Shorthorn and Angus genetics. When it came down to it, I could not get the bull I wanted and I do not have the facilities to artificially inseminate my cattle. Besides the straws of semen alone we going to cost more then just renting this bull close to home. Needless to say, I compromised.

The Last of the Waterway Fence Wire is Strung

The fencing is now in and pretty much done. We ran the last wires over a week ago. I am still working on connecting all the wires at the posts so they can care power with short jumper lines. A few shut off switches are also going to be part of the end design. Other then that, I have some gates to craft to cover a few access points we hardwired into the system.

Hazel pushing the cash box across the floor of the living room

With fewer chores and the reversion to normal time, I am inside a lot more at night and am able to spend more time with Janice and Hazel. I rather enjoy singing Hazel's Lullaby in duet with Janice, even if I have terrible pitch. Hazel is now on solid foods at least once a day, can craw, pull her self up to a standing position, and has cut her first two teeth. She is still a very happy baby and is a great deal of fun to be around. She will likely be walking in the next month or so. I do wonder how I will farm next year with a little helper. I really don't know how it will go, all I do know is that I will find a way.

Well that was most of November. I am looking forward to a quieter December and hopefully some mild weather to allow me to push a few projects that have yet to receive the attention they deserve.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tumbling into Turkey Time

The farm is marching on into its busy season very rapidly. Fencing is going up, slower then I would like, but there is progress every week. All of the remaining posts are in the ground and braces are built. It is basically a matter of running the remaining wire. That being said, it will likely take me and my super helper Jim a couple of weeks at the rate that we are able to work on the fence, but we are making good progress.

Last Batch of Turkeys Ranging

The weather here has been dry for over two weeks now and it has been great for our poultry. The last batch of chickens and the first batch of turkeys went to the locker a week ago.  The chicken weights are about a pound larger than they have been for some time. I moved the last/second batch of turkeys this year a week ago to range on the orchard. These turkeys are doing very well and get moved about once a week to a new paddock.

We have also teamed up with an Amish family from the Drakesville area to provide additional turkeys for our customers. Their turkeys are from the same source as mine, are raised in pasture pens, and have a similar ration to my ration with the addition of oats (but the same mineral base). We will try to get customers our birds first, but our supply of turkeys raised on this farm is very limited because of the bad weather back in August. 

We did our October deliveries last week to Ames, Des Moines, and Pella; and so now by the end of the week I'm so tired Janice is typing this while I dictate. I also made a trip to Drakesville to pick up some of the Amish birds on Tuesday; now I'm in the market for more freezers. They are very full right now and the new freezer will have to contend for space with some of the windows stored in the corner of the shop.

Planted Nine Fruit Trees

We've added nine trees to the orchard, they were a gift from my mother-in-law. I've been watering them frequently in this dry weather. There are 5 pears, 2 cherries, and 2 apples.

Burning off Brush Piles from Spring

I finally, finally burned off the brush piles from cuttings back in February and March. I burned 7 off today because it's supposed to rain tomorrow and this is the first time it's actually been dry enough to burn these piles. Some of them still have wet ground underneath them even though it's been about 3 weeks since our last rain. I left a couple piles behind for wildlife cover. 

Over the next couple of weeks Janice will be on a business trip for a few days so I'll be watching Hazel more, keeping up with fencing, and trying to market turkeys. I'll be trying to stay ahead of the curve going into fall, stay tuned to find out how well I do with that. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Going the Distance

It has been about a month since we blogged about farm progress. I have been building fence with every free moment and have been getting a lot of help from Jim in Pella. We have finished fencing out the south waterway, and are now focusing on finishing the south side of the large north draw. The video is a quick pan of the south waterway. Jim and I should have the last of the posts sunk and all the remaining braces built by the end of this week. The goal is to start laying out wire this weekend and to be all done with fencing by the end of October. That is a very high hurdle.

Completed South Waterway Fencing

The chickens and turkeys are all coming along well. This weather has been fantastic. It has been dry for over two weeks now. The local weather station said back when we had 12 strait dry days that it had been over three years since such an event had occurred. Our locker date is next Friday, and I can honestly say that our chickens have not been this large in some time. They are doing great. The turkeys love to attack the cat litter scoop that I use to clean dropping out of the feeder. I took a video of them going after the scoop after one of them picked it up and carried it off.

Turkeys at Play

The sheep and cattle are now working their way onto the neighbor's land. I am renting the 10 acres of pasture to north of us from now until the end of April. It is a pretty rough piece of ground, but after two passes with the sheep and cattle, it should be looking much better.
Recently Rented Ground On the Horizon

I have been moving hay made on the pasture just north of our rented land. It was made by our neighbor to the south of us.  That will give us 19 bales to try to get through the winter with. I think that will carry us from February into mid-April. We will try to graze up until the end of January. That might be possible as long as we do not get a winter like last year.

Moving Hay with our Massey Ferguson 135

On top of all of this, I have an INCA Planning workshop, I will be planting 9 fruit trees, and I will be helping to do some flowering perennial transplant work at our church. Things are never quiet on the farm when we are going the distance. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Concern For Beginning Livestock Farmers, A Commodity Grain Bubble

Maybe you have noticed that the price of food at many grocery stores have gone up. These prices increases are linked to an increase in commodity grain prices. Commodity grain prices (Corn, Soybeans, Wheat, rice, etc.) are increasing for several reasons.

The first is climate change. A massive drought in Russia and wet conditions elsewhere are sending wheat prices soaring. As weather has become more volatile (more persistent droughts and more torrential rainfall), grain supplies have become less consistent and prices have become more volatile. Since grains can often be substituted for other grains, they all become volatile when one becomes volatile.

Demand for commodity grains has also increased as populations in developing counties have become more affluent and can spend more money on foods, like meats. 

Another alarming force driving up commodity prices is speculation. Since the crash in the markets in 2008 and the subsequent fall in oil prices, there has been a considerable amount of investment money sitting out the sidelines. This money has been looking for a place to go make money after sitting in "safe" places like treasury notes. With the upward trends in commodity prices speculative forces have been moving considerable funds in those directions applying further upward pressure on prices and generating a likely bubble in commodity grains. 

Inflated grain prices hurt livestock producers by increasing what they pay for feed and eliminating thin margins. The same is true for us beginning livestock farmers. As an example, I was paying $0.13 per pound of poultry feed a month ago and now it is up to $0.22 per pound, about a 40% increase in a month. 

I am worried about what the future might hold for us beginning livestock farmers. Many of us rely on quick turn around animals like poultry and hogs to cash flow our business. To lessen our reliance on purchased feed, we have been and will continue to expand our lamb business. Our lamb rely on no purchased grains and as such have a much more stable pricing and margin for us to rely on in the future. 

Cattle & Sheep out on Pasture, Low Input Agriculture at its Finest

Now it is time for our shameless plug. We have 4 lambs going to the locker in the middle of October and they will be ready for our November delivery runs. 

Whole Lamb: $235 (approx. 40-50 lbs of meat)
1/2 Lamb: $125 (approx. 20-25 lbs of meat)

Lamb Chops: $10 per pound
Leg Roast: $8.50 per pound (likely 4-5 pounds each)
Rack of Lamb: $12 per pound
Ground Lamb: $5.50 per pound
Stew/Kabob Meat: $6 per pound

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Another One Bites the Dust

I have made some progress recently, getting the last batch of chickens outside, and getting the surviving older turkeys set-up for ranging, despite not having any free weekends in August to stay caught up with.

The Last Batch of Chickens for 2010

Older Turkeys Ranging and Resting in Portable Roost

Unfortunately, this morning I had to bury one of my best ewes. I just found her dead in the middle of the herd this morning with no visible cause of death. The number of dead animals on the farm this year has been disheartening. We have to my tally lost 4 ewes, 6 lambs, 26 layers to predators, a handful of broiler chickens, and over 200 turkeys. Losing the lambs hurts, but the loss of so many turkeys is really hard on morale and our bottom line. Normally, I have always enjoyed turkeys, but this year I just want to wash my hands of that side of the business. Turkeys usually have a high mortality rate of 10 to 20 percent, but this year it is close to 80 percent. I have been on some list serves and have found that many others have struggled with turkeys this year. The wet weather is the direct culprit of about 25% of the turkey deaths, with smothering making up most of the remaining 75% of losses. Since we are on pace to finish only 60 turkeys this year (we finished 125 last year), I have made arrangements for an additional batch of birds yet this year. I have 50 birds purchased and are currently being brooded on another farm before they come to me. This last batch will be ready in mid-December. Too late for Thanksgiving, but in time for Christmas. I am not looking forward to this batch of birds because they will represent numerous challenges to raise during the colder months. I am hoping that we do not get heavy snow on December 6th like in 2009 or I will be in real trouble.

Digging a Sheep Grave

Fencing has been making little progress, but I got back to it today for the first time in weeks. This weekend, I hope to make much more progress. I picked Hazel up from the babysitters this afternoon and we spent some time out on the pasture; she slept while I ran some fence wire. The fact that it is cool enough to take Hazel out to the pasture during the day is one of the things that I have been looking forward to this fall.

Hazel Accompanying Me Out To Pasture

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Every Farmer Has the Pasture They Deserve

Well the Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Day or Pasture Walk is behind us. Terry Gompert was great and offered excellent feed back. This is a compilation of what Terry talked about and showed us as well as a few of my own thoughts.  First off, one of the fundamental things that I and many others struggle with is asking the right questions.  It is not a matter of, I wish I did not have this weed in my pasture, but a matter of why is it there? Is it really all that bad?

One of the fundamentals we discussed was about soil life. The plants above the earth, really are an expression of the soil life below ground, and the management applied to it. In Iowa and much of the Midwest, most of our soil is denuded of soil minerals (at least in the top 6 to 18 inches) and of soil life.

Many deep rooted plants (like many of our native prairie plants and many of our noxious pasture weeds) are deep rooted plants. They are able to cycle nutrients from the lower soil profiles to the surface where they can be put back into the soil. How are they put back into the soil? Either by having the animal eat them and pass them or by having them be knocked down by livestock and added to the littler layer above the soil. This litter layer has two zones that we observed. A primary surface layer, where litter looks like light colored dead vegetation and a second layer where it was not soil and not the light colored surface layer. It was interesting to see the definition between the second litter layer and the soil. Terry took the spade to the ground and cut out a chunk several times so we could see these layers.

The second litter layer was about an inch on much of our unburned and unplowed land. Terry said that is good, considering that much of Iowa has none or has a very thin second litter layer. Part of the reason Iowa has little litter layer is that tillage destroys litter and many of our traditional grazers like their pastures to look like a golf corse (the litter layer is not added to because the grass is never really allowed to grow to any real height). Terry said, that we should aim for this layer to be much larger, say 12 to 18 inches. This litter benefits the pasture by holding moisture, eliminating all most all runoff, by helping to keep the soil cool (soil life starts to dies around 80 degrees), and by serving as great material for many of our predominant cool-season pasture grasses to root into.

Leadplant a Deep Rooted Native Legume in Our Pasture

Soil life ranges from soil microbes, to the various dung beetles, up to badgers. Farmers in this state spend so much of their time killing this life and replacing it with expensive inputs. Anhydrous ammonia is a common nitrogen input that is applied in the fall or the spring by injecting it into the soil. It is used to boost corn (a very nitrogen demanding crop) yields. Anhydrous ammonia kills soil microbial life, the natural nitrogen fixers. You ever wonder why organic research that compares cropping systems on land that has had it soil life killed, makes organics looks do bad? Anhydrous ammonia was originally used to harden the ground so we could make quick landing strips, vegetation also happened to grow back very quickly and the soldiers noted it and took that back to their farms.

On our farm, the one thing we need to be careful of is wormers. All chemical wormers are toxic to dung beetles and we need everyone of those we can get. We did see a few dung beetles in some of our week to two week old cow patties. Dung beetles take dung and roll it into holes in the ground where they lay their eggs in them. Dung beetles are one of the best things you can have for spreading a manure patty around and getting it into the soil, short of another cow's foot.

I learned a few things about the plants on above the soil. I learned that a close graze encourages legume regrowth and that leaving more standing residue encourages grass regrowth. A diverse pasture is a healthy one. This is in contrast with my forages education that says 3 to 4 species is optimal and more then that is not really adding much (I am now unlearning what I leaned in school), but Terry says some of the best  pastures he has been in have over a hundred species in them. We are replicating a native ecosystem so we should have as much diversity as we can, especially amongst deep rooted plants. That will promote nutrient cycling, create more efficient layered forage canopies, and promote soil life and wildlife diversity.

I learned how to read a cow patties. The perfect shape is round with a divot in the center. You want it to be able to see the fiber in it and have a deep brownish-yellow color in the center. A greener center is a sign that the animals are getting to much protein and not enough roughage so graze them where they are at longer.

When looking at our farm specially, Terry said, "keep doing what you are doing and be observant." Terry liked that we move our livestock daily, that our chicken pens are like the ultimate pasture rejuvenators, and that we have very diverse pastures. He encouraged me to run my chickens in a mobile coop behind the cattle in rotations, something we would like to do, but are not yet there. I need to be careful that we are giving enough rest time between grazings to some of our less persistent pastures, because regrowth was coming back very very slowly on parts of the north side of the farm. Terry also told me not to worry about the annual weeds I was getting in some of my pastures and were all over in my 12.5 acre planting. We walked the field and many of my seedlings had gone to seed this ear. Terry said, "graze it next June or July so this years seed can get worked into the soil and the stand will be better established." Terry also though the cattle looked good and fleshy on our pastures. It is good to get some good feedback and to know that all the work is paying off. I love the expression Terry used so I wanted to repeat it here, "every farmer has the pasture they deserve."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Getting Ready & A Surprise

We are getting ready to co-host a Practical Farmers of Iowa grazing pasture walk with Terry Gompert. Terry is part of Nebraska Extension and is a holistic management expert. We are expecting around 30 to 40 fellow farmers to came and look over the farm tomorrow afternoon. Needless to say, we have been trying to spruce the place a bit. The yard is looking decent, despite the large swamps that exist in it, and some of things that have been lying around the yard have gotten picked up and put away. It is nice too, that the flood water has gone down and the roads are all open again. All that remains is a brown landscape around the river valley and a plethora of mosquitos.

The conditions within our chicken building are improving. The wet ground has receded a bit. I put tile in the north half of the building, but could not get the standing water to flow through the muck and into the tile so I dug some drainage channels that have allowed me to get much of the water out of the building. Since the tractor is living outside, because it is to wet to get the tractor into the building without getting it stuck, I have moved much of the chicken stuff into the area the tractor would normally be parked and out of the murky north end of the building.

There is no Tractor only Chickens

I have resolved to never have have this problem again with this building as I am making plans to tear it down next spring. From one of my old poultry production books from the 1940's, I have adapted plans for a 30x20 dedicated poultry building. The new building will have a concrete floor, and will have a 20x20 space for laying hens and a 10x20 space for sperate brooders. I want to insulate the building, have washable walls, and large doors so I can take a small skid loader into the building to clean it out. Janice won't let me have a skid loader to begin on the foundation until my fencing project is done; she is a smart woman. She is also working on a materials list for the building so we can use Craiglist to buy needed parts and try to keep the overall cost down to around $2500.  I hope to have the foundation pored before winter so we can work on framing over the winter. The building will allow us to have clean brooders to keep illness down, and raise the laying flock to 150 birds. The bump in laying hens translates into between six and seven thousand dollars in egg sales a year.

New Chicken Building Floor Plan

Turkeys are doing alright. I pushed the last batch outside, because an illness had set in amongst the inside birds and I wanted to get them away from it. We lost several birds due to smothering outside. I think we are currently looking at finishing around 75 birds, down from last years 120 birds. I am seriously considering moving away from the giant white turkeys and using only bronze turkeys. If we do that, we will raise our turkey price from $3.50 per pound to around $3.90 per pound. This will be something that we will survey our customers about at the end of the production year.
Second Turkey Batch out on Pasture

Our last batch of chickens have been the complete opposite of the turkeys. They came, they took off well and all 175 of them are still here. They are still inside, but will likely be moving outside next weekend, weather permitting.

Lastly, our surprise. Last night, I went out to the pasture and I came upon a new heifer calf. We had a cow that was purchased exposed, but just never calved. I presumed that she had not been bred, because I expected the calf back in July and had given up on it. I am still trying to figure out how I am going to breed the other two cows that are still nursing. I have a sire selected and can purchase straws of his semen, but I have little experience with artificial insemination so am not fully sure how to precede. Well that is it for now, but let me know if you have any questions, comments, or thoughts.

New Heifer Calf, With No Stripe

New Calf close up

Friday, August 13, 2010

Islands in the Stream

Since the last post, the generally crappy summer weather has finally caught up with us. Since the spike our rain gauge sits on washed out from under it, we don't have an accurate reading of our recent rainfall. According to the local television station, we have had around 10 inches (25.4 cm) of rain in less then a week. That just wreaks havoc on things. My home town, Ames has had large parts of the town under water and the drinking water knocked out. The old skunk river that I grew up in Ames near, is the same river that I can see from my pasture, except we are down stream. The water in Ames has subsided, but it is still rising here.
Looking Southwest From The Highest Point On the Farm

Looking Northwest From The Highest Point On the Farm

In these pictures from our land, the river is usually back in the very distant tree line on the horizon. If the river crests higher then 2008, it is possible that some will reach our land, but it will nor do any damage. For use the flooding means a much longer drive into Pella as five area bridges across the skunk river are under water or unaccessible. 

The real damage was done on Sunday night and into Monday morning when the first batch of turkeys, which was already struggling a bit this year got hammered by wind and rain. The winds opened up their pen and the rains doused them. When I got to them, I swore they were all dead, but they were in a deep hypothermic shock. Janice and I moved them into the bed of the pick-up and drove them into the garage and suspended heat lamps from the ceiling. When the Sun came out, I drove them out to the pasture where they could heat up before putting them into a new pen. Long story short, 49 turkeys did not survive, but we were able to salvage 27 birds. We still have our second batch of turkeys inside, so we will not go without turkey. We had tried to expand turkey production this year, but we will now be hovering around last years numbers of 120 to 130 turkeys. Turkeys also represent our largest profit margin so the loss stings our bottom line a bit. 

Trying to Save Turkeys

The water has not spared our chicken building either. Unlike 2008, our water table is so much higher and we have just lost the whole eastern half of the building to nasty mud and water. I have moved feeders and the nesting boxes to keep the birds on dry land. Our building is not a great poultry building and this recent endeavor is the last straw. I am working on plans to build a new building next year. We will be planning the build later this fall and into the winter. In a perfect world, we could pour the building pad this fall, but I am not going to hold my breath. 

It is not been all bad, Hazel has been a gem to be with during the day. When ever I have felt beat-up by the weather, her smile has brought be back to task. 

Hazel's First PFI Field Day

We have also brought the yard back from the jungle that it was. The fencing on the south draw has all of its corners built so now it is just a matter of hanging the wire. We still have more work to do on the larger central draw. The biggest boon was the visit to our farm by Temple Grandin. She is great expert in livestock handling. We had dinner with her and several friends. Temple thought our livestock looked good and she gave me some advise on our future livestock handling facility project. There have been more downs then ups recently, but we will make it though. 

A Visit From Temple Grandin

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Surviving July

Spring has faded into summer heat. The livestock are still being run in a single group, and are cycling through the north hill for the second time this growing season.  I still have my ram in with the herd. I am not sure how to get him out and what I would do with him if I did get him out, but one thing is for certain I don't want to be lambing in December. If any one wants to rent him out until October, I don't charge much, just $5 per ewe serviced. He is a large black registered Katahdin Ram with RR traits. He is 6 years old and relatively mild for his age.

Water Supply and Power Source to North Field Paddock

The Cattle in the North Field

I am going to have to breed my cattle very soon in order to hit the right spring window. I would like to find a nice belted bull from a grass finishing herd, but if that does not happen, then I have a bead on a Red Devan Bull from a grass finishing herd that I will consider falling back on. What ever I decide, it needs to happen soon.

Five of the Nine New Lambs from the Black Belied Barbados Ewes

The Second Batch of Turkeys Arrived Last Week

The second batch of turkeys are already doing much better then the first batch. At one week they have lost fewer birds then the first batch lost in its first night. I am not sure we will start turkey pullets in June in the future.

Floating Corner Brace on the South Draw Fencing Project

Fencing continues on the smaller south draw. All of the posts are in and only six more corners, like the one pictured, need to be built before the stands can be strung. One the larger north draw, the path along the south side has been cut and some of the posts are now in. Once the south draw fencing is done, attention will return to the north system.

Just Outside the Chicken Building, a Spring has Formed

A problem that continues to get worse as the rains continue are the springs that have sprung into being in our yard. The worst one in just outside out chicken building and has begun to work its way into the building. About a third of the building is a muddy mucky mess. I have dumped over 500 pounds o lime in the building, but that is just not enough to stop the mess. Last night I started laying time outside the building by hand. Let us just say that it is an unpleasant project and leave it at that. I hope I get it all in this week. 

Hazel, not Liking Tummy Time

Hazel and I have seemingly come to an understanding in the past week. She is 12 weeks now, is taking her bottle well, naps fairly predictably, and is getting cutter and more expressive by the day. I look forward to the days that I am with her, even if little else happens on the farm.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bumps in the Road

Since the last post, we have had 3 more new lambs for a total of 5 so far in July. We  have taken our second batch of chickens to a new locker, Valley View Poultry Processing outside of Bloomfield. I am very satisfied with this new locker. The day went well, but it ended poorly when the truck died outside of Oskaloosa so it had to be hauled back to Pella. From Pella, the chickens were moved onto my second truck and brought home to freeze down. I am very glad that I pack birds with dry ice so I have that much more cooling power. Two years ago, I had a truck break down in western Iowa on the way back from the locker, so I have a little experience in this department.                                                      

New Packaging Appearance

The day before I went to the locker, our big electric fence energizer died.  The energizer is the heart of our rotational grazing system and it is missed. I am glad that I have my old energizer, but it is only 1/4 the power. I hope to have the dead one sent away for repair since it is only 9 months old. These have been two bumps in the road that we have to ride out.

Next week we will be back to delivery runs resume again. Ames is Monday, Des Moines is Wednesday, and Pella is Thursday. On Wednesday morning, I also have to get my first lamb to the locker in Milo. I eagerly look forward to tasting how our lamb turns out.

Jim, from Pella, came out on Saturday and we made great progress on fencing. Jim cut a path along the south side of our large central draw and I worked on setting posts in our south draw.  I have set a few more today and I plan on a few more after this post. We are 5 posts away from having all of our posts in the ground on the south system. Then it is on to turning those posts into braced posts.

Hazel is doing well. She has been developing better motor controls and is talking more. We are still working on feeding from the bottle. She enjoys bouncing while standing and smiling at familiar faces.

Hazel Working Her Arms