Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Things I Want to Replicate on the New Farm

There are some things I feel like we got right on this farm, other things I feel like we got wrong, and many things we learned from. I wanted to post a bit on each of these thoughts and I figured I would start with something we did right.

When I look back at things we did here that I would like to replicate, I  immediately think of our water system. We fenced out our waterways and put in a well using the NRCS program EQIP. The well feeds into a pressure tank in our existing root cellar (Built September 1910). In the root cellar, all of our water comes together at a junction of valves. We have the capacity to run our livestock on either well water or rural water and the same is true for our house. Should we loose power for some time and the pressure tank become depleted, we can switch the livestock over to rural water. Should be decide we want to save a few dollars a month, we  can use the well water in the house. We have never used the valves, but they present us with options, and in farming, options are very valuable.

Root Celler Water System Junction

From the root cellar, out livestock watering system powers four hydrants and a year-round watering facility. It was not the cheapest option, but I have nothing but praise for our Cobett livestock waterer.
We have a LB model for handling two to three head at a time with a float valve system. When I was shopping around, I liked that these units do not require supplemental power to keep waterers from freezing. They use ground heat to keep the units from freezing and animal interaction to break the thin ice layer up that can form when it is very cold out.

Cobett Waterer (The Cow Calf Pair are for Sale)

Cobett with Large Chunks of Ice in it After Breaking the Layer

There are only two scenarios where I have had trouble with them. If it is very very cold out (say -20) then the cattle bed down for the night and don't touch it until morning. In that instance the thick ice layer might be difficult for them to remove. If it is also windy them sometimes the ice covers more then the opening on top and is a little more difficult to remove as well. The only other scenario I have encountered  difficulty in, is when the cattle break the ice in a small spot and drink the water down, dropping the water level in the Cobett and trapping the float valve in the ice and not letting it refill. Either way, I just make it a practice of checking the unit in the morning to make sure it is working find. It does come with an ice chisel, which I use to fix these situations easily. I would also suggest a small strainer to fish out ice chunks from the tank after the chiseling is done. It is not a big deal, and it is not a frequent concern, but it something to be ready for. Other then those situations, the unit has performed very well for me, needing absolutely no maintenance, except to occasionally clean junk and algae out the tank, as I never get around to putting the cover on it.

I will miss our Orchard. We have already set the gears in motion to replicate much of what we liked about our home here. I will miss our amazing peach tree (we have a pile of saved pits from), our service berries (50 already on order for next spring), and some of our other fruit trees (the smallest ones are coming with. I think we will be OK. Experience with grafting may also come in handy in replicating what we have here. We shall see how that goes.

I will miss much of our chicken building. I do especially like our brooder set-up, although it would have benefited from additional windows to help vent the heat and moisture better. With the new brooder, we use far fewer heat lamps, and the brooder requires many fewer adjustments.
I have already drawn up plans for the new chicken building, that we will aim to build next year at the new place.

Current Brooder (could use more windows)

We did make choices in our pasture seedings, including some native warm-season grasses in places. Some of them worked, and some did not. I can say, that I was very pleased with seeding in chicory and encouraging sweet clover in our pastures. Both of these plants are very deep rooted and can really pull moisture and minerals from great depths, making them great drought plants. Learning to work with our sandy soils has been very hard at times. You expectations are quite a bit lower then neighbors just a mile or two away. I have been very pleased with chicory especially. The cattle and sheep like it and it helps to control internal parasites, an all around win in my book.

Chicory in Bloom on our Scorched Pasture

I do love our Pella customers. Pella was a hard community to get started in, but word of mouth and time prevailed. Right now, Pella represents about 40 to 50% of our annual sales. My only concern about this is simply the limits on the size of the Pella market place for our product. I am sure there might be room to expand there, but the potential for expansion is much more limited then the west-side of Des Moines.  We will still be supplying our Pella customers with product in the future via our drop-off site.

That is much of what we did right around here. I am sure there are things I did not touch on. If you have things I did not hit on and you want me to comment on them, drop me a comment.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Runaway Livestock, & Showing the House

Well I skipped a week or two, but things were crazy around here and I am just getting back in the drivers seat after some livestock chaos. We had cattle get out three times in five days a week ago. That resulted in hours of work to recover each time. The first time they got out, they jumped a electric temperary fence that is serving as my boundary fence in that area. I got a call on Christmas Day last year from the neighboring landowner that he wanted to tear out the fence and cleanup the trees in the fence row. The fence was not great, but it would hold cattle. I agreed to having the section of fence cleared as long as the ground was left smooth so I could put a new fence on it, because I do not really have equipment to move dirt, other then a shovel. Let us just say that the fence row is anything but smooth, so I did not build fence there this spring. A gorge or channel was dug between our properties that has made it so I have no place to even put some of the posts on my property line.

Center of the Shot, Cow and Calf Return After Adventures Off-property

Anyway, the whole thing is a mess and my cattle, tired of warm-season grass pastures, decided corn and brushy pasture looked better. After tasting corn, they wanted to go back, so they blew out an old wooden gate from their new paddock to get get out the second time. Then they found a spot in the fence where a different neighbor cleared out brush along the fence, pushed the fence down, and put up a tree stand for deer hunting. After collecting all of my cattle for the last time, I was short one very pregnant cow. You guessed it, she had a calf. I tried many times to find them, but came up short or could only find the mother. Early this week, almost a week after she went missing, I walked her and the calf home. They joined the other two mothers who calved in the past week. This brings us, counting all of the calves & mothers, to 22 head now. That is a lot of mouths to feed.

All of this was going on amongst a backdrop of maintaining the rest of the farm and trying to get the place in show able condition. It has been exhausting and quit frustrating at times. We traded out our energizer from the Speedrite 2000 to the Kube 4000 and fences seem to have much more bite then they have had for a while. The Speedrite is a better energizer for wet conditions and the Kube is much better in dry conditions. We also stopped using the poly line as much with the cattle and have instead switched to net. I wanted them to herd to have a couple reasons to respect electricity and break them of the escaping habit.

Poultry are doing well and made it through the heat of last week. Broilers are growing rapidly even though the pastures are in terrible condition. They came through the heat well and they appear to be growing quite a bit faster since it has cooled off. Turkeys are starting to really grow quickly. All of them are eating a lot right now, this means a lot of money is getting dropped on feed. They will all go into the locker in early October, which will make my like much easier.

Broilers in what was the Morning Heat

Turkeys Seeking Shade

Janice and I have been working like crazy to get and then keep the house clean. We had the realtors walkthrough the house early this week, and we had a showing this morning. We will just have to see what happens. I would like to get this place sold sooner then later so we can move in late November after turkey distribution is behind us. We shall see what happens, stay tuned.


Living room