Thursday, October 15, 2015

How We Do Turkeys

I am writing today from a coffee shop in Bloomfield, IA. We are marking the end of our poultry production season for 2015. I thought today I would go into some detail about how we raise our turkeys.

We started our turkey pullets (chicks) back in late April by ordering them from the hatchery. We use Schlecht Hatchery out of Miles, IA (North of Clinton, IA). They have always given us good birds and they are a small family business that we want to support. Our pullets arrived in mid-June. Like almost all domestic poultry, they spend their early growth period in the brooder. The brooder is there to protect them from drafts, keep them warm, and keep them safe from predators. Our current brooder is simply a five-foot round metal stock tank that has a few small holes in the bottom and no longer holds water. The round tank is nice because it does not have any corners for the chicks to crowd in and smother each other. It can also be drug out of the building and dumped onto the compost mound and left to sterilize in the sun. We have a lid made of wood and hardware cloth as well as a few heat lamps. We do not use medicated feed. All of our feed is GMO-free. The only supplement we give them is some gatorade in their water for the first day. This helps the chicks get over dehydration from shipping.

Turkeys in The Brooder

The turkeys spend about five to six weeks in the brooder. This gives them time to develop feathers, and become much more durable. This early period is often the most challenging. I am happy to come out of this period with mortality rates of 10% or less. We usually schedule our fall locker run around this time, because the turkeys seldom have significant complications after this period of time. We often supplement their feed with beef liver, and fruit clippings.  From the brooder, the turkeys move outside to the chicken tractors, floor-less pens that get moved frequently. Our pens are ten by twelve foot and are moved every morning. 

Turkeys in the Chicken Tractor

The Turkeys will spend another four to five weeks in the chicken tractor. They will spend enough time in the chicken tractor to get large enough that aerial predators (hawks or owls) are no longer a concern.  We use short raccoon electric fence from Premier One Supplies to keep ground predators (raccoons, opossums, weasels,foxes,  and some dogs and cats) away from the pen.

Turkeys Ranging

From the chicken tractor, the turkeys will move to our ranging system. They will have a sizable area to move around in surrounded by Premier One's electric poultry fence. I am not a huge fan of poultry fence, as it is very saggy and requires a lot of additional posts to hold up. The turkeys will roost at night on a portable wood structure with a tarp strung out over their head. The roost keeps them off the ground (safer from ground predators), and helps to huddle them together so they conserve body heat at night. The tarp primarily keeps them dry, but can also reduce drafts. A cold very wet turkeys no matter how larger it is will struggle with hypothermia and possibly die.
We try to move the whole set-up about every week.

Turkeys Roosting at Night

Turkeys will spend six to eight weeks ranging. When it is all done, we will come by after dark and collect them one or two at a time and load them into the trailer. A piece of advice, always load poultry into trailers at night. They are more docile and much less mobil. From there, it is a very early morning trip out to the locker outside of Drakesville, IA. 

Poultry Locker

Last Days on Pasture

Freeman and Sara own Valley View Poultry Processing. I was beating down the door for them to open  (I think it was 2011) and I have been going there ever since. They are Amish and part of a very active and lovely rural community. Freeman gives me grief because I like to schedule Friday locker trips so I can visit the local Amish run bakeries. For smoked turkeys, we take birds up to Story City Locker. The nice thing about working with Ty and Bobbie in Story City is that I can now sell a smoked turkey that is not cured, so it is free of sodium nitrates and nitrites.

That is our turkeys production in a nutshell. We don't like to sell "fresh" birds for Thanksgiving, because it requires us raise five weeks later into the fall. That is a period of very cold nights, increasingly shorter days, and decreasing grass growth. All of these are conditions that make it harder to raise the turkeys and in my opinion reduce the birds quality.

Starting the last week in October, we will have turkeys available to sell. So please get in touch with us through the website.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ranging Turkeys, Building a Home, Growing Children

Again I am sorry that it has been so long since my last blog post. Not having a hard-line Internet connection at home does make it pretty hard to get these posts put together.

The turkeys are coming along nicely. About a month ago, I moved them from the chicken tractor into a ranging setup. They needed a new roost, since the new one one did not make the trip from the old farm. 

Turkeys Walking Toward their Ranging Pen

Roosting Frame

Using the Roosting Frame

Turkeys Ranging in New Pen

We also have 90 chickens out on pasture right now. They are coming along well, they will get processed at the same time as the turkeys.

I have worked on a corral to load cattle. It is still very much incomplete, but it worked to load out our cattle to the locker. We tried to load an older cow that did not calf this summer, but she would have nothing to do with the corral, and we have yet to get her loaded up to the sale barn. 

Beginnings of a Cattle Loading Shute

We have made some progress on the house. The deck contractors have wrapped up their work. We have started painting the house. Janice continues to sand and stain the woodwork. I made some progress in the garage. 


Tool Storage

Bike Storage

Cooler Storage

The children are doing well. Our daughter has started Kindergarten and our son gets to spend time out of her shadow during the day. They play pretty well together and getting better at choring outside. It is crazy how quickly they grow-up.

Watering Sod

Holding Young Chick

Pulling the Trailer


That is it until next time. Deliveries are going well and we hope to see you at a delivery drop soon.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Chickens, Turkeys, No Broadband, O My

First, I must apologize for letting so much time lapse between posts. It is complicated by that fact that we do not and will not have hard-wired internet in our home for the foreseeable future. We were told that internet was available when we chose the site, but it turns out that was wrong, so I have been dependent upon my phone's data plan. We are looking at other options, but have not settled on anything.

We are still putting the business back together after the move. I am eternally grateful to our longtime customers who have reached out to us and helped keep us solvent as we relaunch the business in September. Part of that relaunch, is a new website, which is up right now, but still needs some tweaking. We are working with a new locker this year, Story City locker, which is allowing us to offer a number of new products including chicken, basil, and garlic sausages, smoked turkey halves that are free of sodium nitrates and nitrites, beef sticks, beef frankfurters, and summer sausage. All and all it is exciting to be able to offer such a wide range of new and revised products. We also got our long-time poultry processor to to package cut-up chickens in parts. That means you can now buy bone-in chicken breasts (4 per package), chicken thighs (4 per package), chicken wings (8 per package), chicken legs (4 per package), and chicken backs and necks (4 each per package).

As production seasons go, it has been pretty good. Our first batch of chickens did quite well in the pasture and missed the coolest parts of spring and some of the hottest parts of summer. The turkeys have also done quite well. They just hit five weeks and moved out to the pasture this week.

Chickens in the Chicken Tractor

Full Chicken Pasture Setup

Turkeys at Two Weeks in the Brooder

Turkeys just Moved Outdoors

The cattle have been doing well. The fertility of our pastures is much much better then the old farm, but not so much better that we can shrug off the loss of twenty acres. That has meant feeding a little hay this summer to let the grass recover. We will process four animals this year, and should have a full restock of beef available in late August.

Cattle on the West Pasture

We hosted aPractical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) field day back in June. We had over twenty people out at the farm and talked about building high-tensile electric fence and do some demonstration work. PFI did a nice write-up on the field day. 

Hosted a PFI Field Day

The kids are doing well as summer begins winding down. We have family camp, the state fair, and the next thing you know, school is going to start. Having both children at home is challenging and managing them better along with the farm business is something I still could use to improve on.

Picking Flowers

Investigating Butterflies

Sorry for taking so long to fill people in. We are still here, we do still have the products you love, and we hope to see you soon at a delivery near you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

School's Out For Summer

We are now halfway through the second week of having both kids at home. Between the kids, the farm, and the house, I am pretty darn tired. It some ways it is fun to have them both home, like when we go outside and play on the tractor. Other times it is pretty suffocating, like when Daddy is just trying to get all 100 Serviceberry trees planted (I am only half way there). I make it work though and the kids do spend much of their time outside being kids. 

My daughter has been pretty surly with me the last two weeks. 
We are preparing to start the potty training process with my son. He seems willing and eager to try, I am just not sure I am personally ready and willing to try. 

Tractor Gal

Backhoe Boy

The most challenging thing the last few weeks has been the rain. We have had well over three inches of rain in the past ten days. When you consider that around our house is bare earth, and the house did not get rain gutters installed until yesterday, you can begin to guess how muddy it has been. This has also meant there have been quite a few days that I have had to keep the kids inside on account of extreme mud (which is really rough on everyone). 

 One of Our Frequent Storms Moving In

We are starting to get things going this year. One-hundred-and-eighty chicks just got here last week. They are doing well in the tank brooders we are using. This is not my favorate way to brood chicks, but it is what we have and it does work. It makes me miss the old chicken building and has motivated me to work on some plans for our next poultry building. 

180 Broiler Chickens in the Brooder

The rest of the farm is hanging in there. I continue to move cattle, every two or three days. We have had three calves during this wet weather and all of them are doing fine. Serviceberries continue to go in the ground as fast as I can. Customer emails and delivery schedules still need to be finalized and sent out. Our website is still in the mess, and the new one just is not ready to go yet. There is no shortage of things that need to be done. To complicate things, we just found out that connecting the home to internet is no small task. This is contrary to what were were originally told by the local service provider and the Iowa Internet Connectivity Maps.

One of the Three New Calves

Our evenings and weekends are filled with house projects. Janice has been tiling, and painting like crazy on the inside, while I have been running the farm on the outside. Progress is slow, and we still have some big projects to tackle, like installing quarter-round, filling holes in all of the woodwork, sanding down the filled wholes, and staining the trim.

Janice Laying Tile in the Mudroom

Thank you, for bearing with us as we continue to make progress on the house. We have not forgotten about our customers, we just have been  pretty busy.  Stay tuned. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Final Countdown... ...House 2.0

We are, baring some unforeseen complication, less than a week away from living in our house. In the last few weeks, we have been out there almost every day working on something house or farm related. There will still be a lot of small things to do, but the necessary items should be completed by then.  

One the farm side, the pastures have greened-up nicely and on the last day in April, I turned the cows out to graze the the east side of the farm (around 8 acres). I spent early April working on fence connectivity around the farm and getting power to the high tensile lines that went put up last fall. 

Looking Toward the House and Building from the East side of the Farm

Cattle Getting Turned Out to Grass on April 30th

Wiring& Digging under the Gates to get Power to the Boundary Fences

Wiring up the Fences so We Have Power

We have starting to get this growing season worked out. Poultry have been ordered, but we are starting a month latter then we normally would. We have only two calves so far, but several other cows are looking pretty close to calving. I hope we can can get customer correspondence out within the next two weeks, including delivery dates. We do still have some inventory left from last year (whole chickens, ground beef, tenderloin, flank steak, porterhouse steak, and, shorts ribs come to mind). We will be working with the Story City Locker this year. That will cost quite a bit more, so adjustments to beef pricing will come this year.  Beef prices have been steady for three years, but our costs have not. I am excited about the possibility of working with the Story City Locker and about new products we might be able to offer. As it currently stands, we will not have new beef ready until the September delivery, but we should be good to go for fall grilling season. Story City Locker is going to work with our left over turkeys and create some turkey garlic and basil sausages so we have something to offer customers for the summer grilling season. 

The house is coming together finally. There are so many fine details to work out, like sanding and staining trim, touch-up paint, and grading around the house. Despite all of the things left to do, I figured I would share a few pictures of where we are right now. The trim carpenters did a great job. They are some of our new neighbors and are fine craftsmen.

Kitchen in the New House is Coming Together

Egg Washing Station also Coming Tgether

Stove Propane Tank just got Delivered, to its Own Little Concrete Pad

Janice and I just put the Vanities Together Yesterday

Trim Carpenters Built the Wood Lockers in the Mudroom

Trim Carpenters Put the Stairs Together

Another Look at the Stairs

 Through this whole process, the kids of hung in there. We have really been pushing them to the limit here in the past few weeks. Our Son has obviously grown accustom to going to the home improvements stores. They have held up surprisingly well given the circumstances. During this time to, our Daughter had her fifth birthday and our Son is a week our of being two-and-a-half.

Just Another Day on the Job

The Hearth is a Great Place to Set-up the Train Set

Big Sister Trying to Read to Little Brother

Through this whole process, we have had some great help from some friends and family, from painting, to laying tile, to installing insulation, and watching the kids. Without their help, we would be weeks behind. Stay tuned as we hope to get moved in and get production up and running here within the next two weeks. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Getting Ready for Spring

It has been too long since I posted to the blog. The weather is improving rapidly and the grass is starting to really get growing. There is a lot to work going on between the house and the farm. We had our first calf this past week. We have the potential to have as many as 11 calves this year. That is a huge number and when I think about it, it is pretty intimidating. I do feel like we are finally starting to get over the hump with the cattle herd. 

First Calf of 2015

The tractor has been back on the farm for some time. I burned out the auxiliary hydraulic motor in the middle of winter and had to have that replaced. I finally got around to replacing the bucket on the tractor with the bale spear. Since it was the first time making the switch and using that spear with this tractor, it took a lot finagling, but two-and-a-half hours later it was done. 

Bale Spear Finally on the Tractor

 The other day we had freezing rain and falling temperatures that ended in several inches of snow. I was very glad to go out to the farm and find all of the cattle under roof. I finally have the capacity to do this. It is one of the little things I always felt really bad for the cattle in those conditions in the past.

 Cattle Huddling Under Cover to get out of the Freezing Rain

On the farm this year, we have several big goals. We should have a new website (finally), we will be hosting our first Practical Farmer's of Iowa field day in June for hands-on fence building (we have an insane amount of prep to get ready for this), we have to come up with a way to brood poultry, and we have more fencing work to push forward on. I would love to build a full scale chicken building, but I just don't see the budget for that right now. Other than a chicken building, finishing the inside of the cattle shed and acquiring a herd bull are also high priority items.

The house is coming along pretty well. The roof is on and the exterior is almost complete. These pictures are about a month old, as most of the house work has been focused on the inside. Wiring, plumbing, heating and cooling all got their rough in work done. The house has been spray foamed and now the drywall crew is finishing up on the inside. Next up will be painting and finish carpentry.
House Exterior in Late February

House Exterior in Late February

House Exterior in Late February

The family is doing well. Aside from a week in February, everybody has been pretty healthy this winter. Everyone is pretty excited about the new home. Thanks to my awesome wife, things are staying pretty close to schedule. 

Watching Daddy Feed Cattle

One thing I am a little conflicted over about this year running the business is being a stay-at-home dad and being a farmer at the same time. I have tried to really embrace the stay at home dad gig more while I have been in town. I make many of the family meals, do the meal planning, try to schedule some activities during the week (even if that is just going to the library). I am not sure how to balance that when the demands of farming increase. It might result in some changes as the season develops.

Lowe's Build & Grow

Lowe's Build & Grow

Lowe's Build & Grow

Biking around the Neighborhood

Reiman Gardens Indoor Butterfly Garden

Dog Sitting

Stay tuned as we get our production and delivery schedule fully hammered out. The house is coming along quickly right now. It changes quite a bit on the inside from week to week.