Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Calves are Coming Baby Looms

Here we are on the back side of a long grind that is our fall production system. The last of the broilers went in to the processor in late September and the the few turkeys that survived the summer went in mid October. Although the turkeys were few in number, they were quite good sized, averaging nearly 14.5 lbs each.  Despite the lull in production we have been quite busy.

We brought the ewes home from an acreage up the road in early October only to have our rams vanish about the same time. The rams were with the cattle in our 13 acre field of warm-season grass on the western edge of the farm. We have talked with all the neighbors, but no one has seen anything. I have not found a body, they just vanished. Since we had to get our ewes breed, we snagged a young ram about a week ago and his is out in the pasture doing his job.

The cows were enjoying warm-season grass pastures because we finished fencing the western edge of the farm and put up a piece of fence on the southern edge of the farm. We have been working on this project since early July when we started tearing out the old broken down fence with a borrowed skid loader. I have started putting in posts behind the house to fill in a large gap on the west side of the farm that has allowed cattle to occasionally find their way into out house yard and orchard.

Belted Cow with Heifer Calf

Little Bull Calf

Right now, we are calving. It is a bit late in the season for it, but we got backed up last year because the bull we were going to use dropped dead before we picked him up. The important word in the last sentence is before, but that left us scrambling to find a replacement. We currently have three calves on the ground and four more expected. We are trying to sell one of our expecting mothers as she has always been treated like an odd man out by the herd (perhaps because she was born with no belt) and we are a bit tight on hay and would like to fully recapitalize the business so we are not so starved for cash next year. If you are interested in a 26 month old bred heifer who is due to have her first calf soon, let me know and we can talk about her.

Bred Heifer for Sale

One the sales side of things, we have been turning people away for turkeys as all of the survivors are spoken for. We have will not be at the Pickett Fence Creamery Sample Sunday this year for the first time in three years. To help offset some of the lost sales, we will be doing a full delivery cycle in December (Ames December 13th, Des Moines December 19th, & Pella December 20th). We are getting low on beef. We still have a lot of ground beef and beef patties, but much of the rest of our stock is out or almost out. Beef sales have been solid this year and have helped us recover from 2011's struggles. We will have some smoked chicken and stew hens available to our customers for the first time. 
One the home front, Janice is very pregnant with only around two weeks to the due date of our son. She blogged about it recently. Hazel has had a lot of trouble going to sleep. The combination of toddlerhood and two-year molars has made the task quite challenging, and to be honest completely exhausting at times. Hazel is good otherwise and wants to "help" out on the farm all the time. It has been an interesting challenge trying to farm with her at times. 

Hazel as Little Red Riding Hood

I am sorry it has been so long since my last post, and I am equally sorry that this post is so long. I am sure we will post again soon as we approach Janice's due date and the very busy couple days around November delivery dates. After all, the three delivery dates are right in a row (November 14-16), and Janice is due right in the middle of them (November 15th). Let's just say that things could get pretty interesting, so stay tuned. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fall Grind

We are well into our fall grind. We have 200 broiler chickens in the pens and 26 turkeys day ranging with a movable roost.  The chickens just got put outside mid-week. It took me far too long to get them outside, but I had to move the turkeys out of the pen and repair the pens because they were in incredibly poor condition after spring production.

Broiler chickens finally out on pasture

Chicken pen formation complete with a movable guard dog house

The chicken pens are moved along with the guard dog house every morning. At night large plywood boards cover the east sides of the pen to help conserve heat. Meanwhile turkeys are day ranging inside and electrified poultry net from Premier One.  At night the turkeys have access to a movable roost with a roof over the top of it.

Turkeys out in the day range set-up

One change we are still adjusting to on the farm is loss of our dog. Solo was struck by a car a few weeks ago and likely killed instantly. I went looking for a potential replacement immediately and eventually came upon a six-year-old Beagle we call Dusty. Dusty is working out all right. There some advantages and disadvantages to both dogs and I am still working on getting Dusty more familiar to chickens. It is not so much that he chases them, which he does not, it is more that he can bark much of the night and does not seem to yet be accepting of the night life on a lead or staying out with his dog house at night. 

Since our last post in early August, it has rained quite a bit. Things are still quite dry, but we have actually seen the grass grow a quite a bit. Admittedly a little growth looks good when we had absolutely nothing for so long.  As soon as it we get around five dry days in a row, then our hay will get made. This will be our first hay cutting of the year because the early summer heat scorched our first cutting. I am quite concerned about the price of hay right now and how much I might have to buy. With over 80% of turkeys dead from this summer's heat, we will be doing around $5,000 less in sales this year. I am nervous about the months ahead and just not very hopeful that we won't have much of the same financial stress that we had this year again next year.

Hazel has been complicating things a bit as well. She has been waking up around dawn, skipping naps,  and otherwise making it pretty hard to take naps. This shift is complicated by the increase in work load that the fall brings. I hope she just moderates back to her normal sleep patterns so I can have more breathing room to get my chores done. I have my fingers crossed.

Hazel painting with her feet and enjoying every minute of it

Friday, August 10, 2012

Breaking the Scorch

I am sorry the great length of time that has passed since my last post. Since May 31st, we have finished our two spring batches of chickens. The first batch was great. They got perfect weather (dry and warm early) and finished out averaging around 4 pounds. The second batch struggled with the beginning of our heat. We lost 31 of 198 directly from heat and then predator pressure picked-up at the end. Raccoons are more then resourceful enough to foil any dog on a leash. Because of the heat, the second batch of boilers had to have more time and still finished out averaging 3.5 pounds. We just got out third and final batch of broiler chickens this year yesterday morning and they are looking great in the new brooder.

Third Batch of Broilers for 2012 in the Brooder

Scorched Pasture From One Week Ago

In early July, the heat started to be oppressive and the rains pretty much stopped. I lost count of the number of days over 100 degrees F (37.8 C). It was brutal. We usually only get two cuttings of hay a year from our hay fields, but our first cutting baked into dormancy. As the situation got worse, we did not want to cut what was left of the hay fields for fear that we might kill some of the stand by cutting it so short. Needless to say we only have four bales of hay I purchased from my wife's employer saved up for winter at this time. We go through around 2 bales a week during the winter, so only having a two week supply of hat at this point makes me nervous. We will have to buy quite a bit of hay this year, but decent hay is very hard to come by, especially since a lot of guys are feeding hay because they have beat their pastures into the ground. We were beginning to run short on pasture, I figured we were looking at 4 weeks before we would have to feed hay until several recent showers improved the situation a lot. The pasture picture above is the same ground I mentioned earlier in the year.  We were lucky recently catching 1.25 inches last weekend, another inch on Tuesday, and another 0.25 inches on Wednesday. The grass has really responded, bolstered by temperatures in the mid-70s and low 80s (24-30 C). I am hopeful that these changes will help sustain a rally in our pastures. 

Our Very Limited Supply of Hay

The biggest concern I have is the loss of over 80% of our turkeys. They started off well in the middle of July, but after about two weeks they experienced developmental problems with their legs. Most of the birds lost the ability to walk and eventually died. We are not sure if this is a result of the heat, a change in the ration, or some other factor. The ration was sent away to Iowa State University for analysis, but they have yet to get back to us. We know of other farms with some similar problems, so I suspect that the heat affected the birds developmentally. Needless to say, having only around 30 birds left will leave us a very tight supply going into fall and will drop our sales this year a lot. Looking ahead to an expensive winter of hay feeding is not encouraging. I am not sure what we are going to do next year about turkeys, but we will keep you posted. 

A Few of the Surviving Turkeys

We butchered one of our cattle recently and that animal is now available for sale. We have round beef, ground round, hamburger patties, quite few steaks, and a limited supply of rump roasts. We will notify our customers when we do August deliveries at the end of the month about exactly what beef we have available and the prices on all of it. We will also be looking to sell off one of our breed heifers. If you are interested, drop me a line and I can get you details. Four of our lambs are going to locker in less that two weeks and they are already sold out. We will be selling our old registered Katahdin ram soon as we will be using a young ram for breeding in November.  Once again if you have any interest in our big older ram, drop me a line and I can get you additional information. 

Hazel in her new bed after having her first hair cut

On the home front, Janice's pregnancy is going along much better and Hazel is doing well. Janice is past the tough first trimester and is well into the second trimester. The ultrasound was back in early July. We know we are having a boy. We have agreed upon the name Zane Harlan Marquardt. We are expecting Zane in mid-November. Hazel can be quite a chatter box, loves the farm animals, especially the cattle and the cats. She recently moved to a twin bed on the floor, but likes to actually sleep on a blanket beside her bed. We will get there someday. That is it for now but stay tuned.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Filling Up

It has been a busy 6 weeks since my last post. My wife's blog has hit many of the high points over that time. Our first batch of broilers is getting pretty close to done. They will be processed on June 8th and will be ready for distribution the following week. We finally have a schedule for 2012 processing days and customer delivery days. I hope to have that information our to our customers and on our website by the end of the weekend.

In the past 6 weeks we got a dog, Solo,  to help protect our laying hens, again see my wife's blog. Although he has not prevented all predation incidents, he has greatly reduced them.

Our livestock continue to do well. The new brooder makes chores faster and our chicks are coming out of it much healthier. We have our second batch of broiler chickens out there (two weeks old) and 100 replacement hens for our flock (5 weeks old). We have placed an oder for turkeys to arrive in just over three weeks. Our mature layers are struggling to supply even our regular chickens, likely because many of them are over 2 years old and the simple fact that mortality and foxes have us down around 20 hens since February. The new hens should start laying in September, but until them egg production will be touch and go.

I am also working on selling two of my four year old ewes and one of their lambs to help pay the bills. The ewes have always twined and have always easily accepted their lambs. I just want to cut back my sheep heard even more and send these two and the lambs are ready to go. IF you have any interest in them, drop me an email.

Registered Katahdin Dorper ewes for sale

The big project that got worked on around here is dealing with the wet spot between our house and the outbuildings. We started by taking down fence, pulling some posts, locating utilities, and moving several bushes. Next we dug a lot of trench line. It is about 175 feet of 6" drainage tile and about 175 feet of  of 4' line connected to it. That got followed up by tearing apart the well pit, pulling the pump, having the county fill the well, and filling the rest of the whole with sand. I got a lot of help from Michael in Ames and Doug from work. Janice helped by watching Hazel and making several amazing meals using our grass-fed beef.

Tiling the 6" main line

Tiling the 4" lateral lines

After the trenches had been filled in and coarsely smoothed out

The well shaft waiting for the county to fill with gravel and bentonite

After the county filled the shaft, we brought in sand to fill the old pit

All that is left is to build a frame for the extra sand so Hazel can have a sandbox

It was a big project, but most of it was done in 3 and a half days of work. I am just glad to have it done and I hope no to have to worry about water issues in our yard so much.I will try to get information out to our customers soon now that this projects is off my chest. Check back again to stay up to date with all the crazy challenges and projects ahead.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Spring has Sprung

We are weeks ahead of what would be a typical spring. Right now we are experiencing a cold snap for several days that will slow things down a bit and will likely drastically reduce the number of peaches our trees will produce this year. This was our pasture a few weeks ago just as spring had "officially" started. We set the cattle to begin grazing last week and the sheep will start grazing in less than two weeks. They will be up the road on a new piece of pasture trying to repair it and control weeds. This new four acre pasture had horses on it for many years. Horses are very hards on pasture and when they are not managed very well on top of that, you get a mess.

Our pastures are never this green on March 24th

The other thing we have been getting ready for is the first of our 2012 chicks. We had 206 broiler chickens arrive yesterday and we have been racing to finish off their new accommodations. In the last three weeks, we have finished the dividing wall in the building, painted the brooder floor, covered the walls with a washable barrier, caulked the floor gap live and between the panels, trimmed the windows and door, built the brooder cell dividers, and cleaned the place up. We think this new set-up will make a big difference in helping us move past the health problems we have had in chicks for the last year and a half.

First Chicken Batch of 2012

 First Brooder Pen Running

Quick Brooder Tour

The next batch of birds will arrive in less than two weeks. The next batch will be 100 Buff Orphindgton female layers. They will take 6 months to reach maturity and start laying eggs. We will keep you posted as the first batch progresses. 

Hazel keeps getting bigger and more used to being outside. She moves very well over uneven ground and is used to being around sheep and chickens, but she is still kinda scared of the Great Horn Owls hooting near the house at dusk. The picture below has Hazel sporting a dress Janice made for her.

Hazel feeding the chickens popcorn after church on Easter

Stay tuned as we move into the production season. We have a customer newsletter to put out and we will be fully grazing soon. I will try to be more diligent with blog posts as I more forward this year. It has been hard to post every two weeks while working, but I will try to improve on that. Until next time, take care. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Winter Slumber or as Close as we are Going to Get

This winter has continued as an unusually warm and dry winter. Despite the weather, I have basically taken a month off from most farm work, except for the usual day-to-day chores. That is not to say we have not accomplished anything this month. I sold off 7 sheep this month. I am now down to 10 ewes from a high of over thirty from last winter. We have culled down to our best animals and will take our breeding forward from here.

Sheep we had outside still, many of these got sold off

We have also been lambing and are now done. We have 13 lambs out in the building. Our survival rates were not all that impressive, but they are an improvement upon last year. Better facilities and tighter breeding windows will help lamb survival in the future.

A Young Ewe and Her Lamb

Hazel is really enjoying the lambs. She often asks to see the lambs simply by putting on her boots and stocking cap then banging on the front door or trying to turn the knob while repeating the word "babies" repeatedly. Rarely a day goes by that she does not go out and see them.

Hazel Petting One of the Young Lambs

We are beginning to get ready for the next production season. I have been frost seeding legumes with a hand seed spreader over 15 acres. We did attend the Living Green Fair at the Second Reformed Church in Pella. It worked out well for us as we not only sold a number of products, but we also made quite a few new customer contacts. I want to thank the event organizers for putting together a successful evening.

We are working on doing inventory of our remaining 2011 products. We are looking at doing a delivery cycle in mid-March. This will help customers to stock their freezers and allow them to get items for their Easter meals. The March delivery will help empty out the freezers and bring in some more cash to begin to buy chicks, bedding and feed. Our production troubles from last year have left us in a fragile spot to start a production season and we still have to buy around $1,000 in hay to get us to spring. It is our goal to have our production and delivery schedule up and available with a current order form up on the site in the next couple weeks. So stay tuned folks as we begin to pull together our 2012 production season.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Quiet January, Just Kidding

Much of late December was focused on the development of our buisness plan over the next three years. This plan was focused on growing our beef enterprise, maintaining our poultry production at comparable levels to what we are producing and reducing the number of sheep we raise to a bare minimum, while continuing to bring infrastructure on line to make it easier to chore. Janice and I shared this plan at the Practical Farmers of Iowa Annual conference in early January.

Practical Farmers of Iowa Presentation

We picked up a grass-fed bull to breed our cattle, he is an Angus/Jersey cross. We also have had 5 lambs so far with three more ewes due in the near term. I think we will be selling off four more ewe lambs, bringing our herd down to 12 ewes. We have to sit down and finalize our poultry schedule for next year so we can get chick orders in early next month.

Our new bull, Carl (he is the all black one)

Two lambs just after birth, from one of our best ewes

The weather has been unusually warm and will continue to be unusually warm into the foreseeable future. Our usual daily high for this time of year is right around 30 degrees. The forecast below is for the last week of January and the first week of February, it is unheard of. I am not complaining, it is great when you live in the country not to have to fight snow all winter, especially considering that we have had some very rough winter over the past few years. I said I was not going to complain, but here it comes. The one problem with this nice weather is you can keep wanting to work outside. Normally winter is a lot of time not working (doing non-farming things, like hobbies), but not this year.

Mild weather continues

Around the farm, we have built some fence, been working on the chicken building, and burning off some of our many brush piles from last winter. The chicken building still needs some interior sheeting work, exterior metal sheeting around the tractor, ventilation system, eave work, roosting racks for the laying hens, and some finishing touches here and there, but it is getting much closer. 

Hazel outside on the snow

The weather has given me a few days here and there, where it is warm enough to take Hazel outside. I like having her outside and not cooped up in the house so much. She has proven to be very afraid of snow (she was afraid of grass too) and won't touch it and does not like to walk on it. I took the opportunity recently to try to get Hazel familiar with the snow (a word she loves to say). She has having a good time stepping on it and mashing it up with her boots, I suspect that is because it was making it go away. It is late and I too must go away (sleep), but stay tuned.