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.