Thursday, June 22, 2017

Oh Hail and Other Stuff

A week ago, we got am unpleasant surprise of fifteen minutes of hail culminating in golfball sized balls of ice slamming into everything. We lost a large tree and chicken pen lid. Our garage doors, eave spouts, window sashes, and metal out buildings are all dented up, but we did not loose any windows. Luckly, the cattle were in a place where they could hunker down under the dense cover of hedge trees (they are rugged trees). We have not meet with our insurance adjuster yet because this storm dropped hail in a mile wide strip across the top of all of Madison County, including the entire town of Earlham. Since we did not loose any windows, we are lower on the priority list. 

Golfball Sized Hail

 Hail Drifting Against the Garage Door

All the Light Tree Debris Covering the Driveway 

Lost a Large Old Maple

My Uncle did not fair as well as we did. Two-thirds of the crops were hit, with a lot of it completly lost. We won't know the full effect for some time. The dry weather was already stressing the pastures and crops to begin with, so this is just compounding a difficult situation.

My Uncle & Father's Corn

The real victim was the home place. Of the seven windows on the west side of the house, all seven lost their storm windows, and five broke all the way through. Even the one in the attic under the overhang is broken (we had to board that one up from the inside). The siding is shot, the shingles seemed to hold, but that storm might have taken years off their life. Some of the cedar shingles on the barn came off and most of the windows were broken out. 

Starting to Board Up Windows at my Uncle's Place

Finished Boarding up the Broken Windows

Aside from the hail, we are plodding along. The first round of chickens have come and gone. We had a five day stretch of cold damp weather in mid-May, that got Phemonia started in the broilers and it killed of around twenty percent of them.  Those that survived turned out very well with nice larger weights. Luckily, the broilers finished out just as the scorching heat wave started. Mature broilers and heat don't mix well. Pastured poultry in the spring is such a risky venture in Iowa as the weather can go from cold a stretch to heat wave in the same week.

Spring Broiler Batch

The turkeys just arrived two days ago and are doing well. I have such a love hate relationship with turkeys. They are immensely cute, but they are also very fragile and are fond of smothering each other. They are a very risky enterprise that requires a lot of small adjustments.  They make it so I can't really travel in the summer. 

Brooder is All Set-up

Turkeys in the Mail

In their New Home

Yesterday, I took our first two beef to the locker this year. My trailer is really showing its age and I am increasingly concerned that it might need to be replaced sooner then later. The boy closest to the camera was very difficult to get off the trailer. We went back and forth for 40 minutes before I got him to back off the trailer. I then had to grab the alleyway rails and drive my chest into his head to get him to back up the remaining twenty feet into the holding pen. Thank goodness the other one was off the trailer and in the pen within five minutes. I will freely admit that I am a bit sore today. 

Two Beef to the Locker

The kids are doing well and Luna keeps getting bigger.  There is a lot of pressure from my daughter to build her a tree house this year. I do want to get a play structure built for the kids to encourage them to be outside and to make their outside activities increasingly self directed. Outside of the farm, our family has been pretty busy with Janice working 6 days a week, the kids at home for the summer, and me attending two to three functions a week. It is a pretty rare evening when I just get to see my wife. Stay tuned as we move into summer and hopefully we get some rain, get some projects done, and have some fun along the way. 

Tree House Plans

Kite Flying Again

Wrestling with Luna

Playing Robot Turtle (a programing game)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Revving Up for 2017 and Beyond

It has been way to long since my last blog post. With the mild winter, rampant sickness, tons of meetings, and Janice’s promotion, it has been very busy around here. Some of our lingering projects are almost complete. The new chicken house has been put into service despite a few finishing touches on the interior that needs completing. The building is located jetting out into the cattle winter lot, to hopefully help reduce fly levels and therefore reduce the risk of pink eye (which hit us hard in 2016).

Front of the Layer Building (recycled metal and all)

Southside of the Layer Building

Pulling 150 feet of wire through Conduit Sucks

Layers Moving In

I did get some of our frost seeding on late, but it got done. I put on a mix of 50 pounds of birdsfoot trefoil and 50 pounds of Haifa white clover. I use just a shoulder mounted bag seeder a manual spinner, so the process can take several days to get over the whole farm.

100 Pounds of Seed to Spread

Our first 2017 chicks got here two weeks ago. They are growing well and depending on the weather, should be outside in a week or two. They should be available to customers by mid-June. We are brooding in stock tanks like we have in the past, but I have constructed some smaller brooder hoods based on a design I was using on the old farm. This helps the chicks regulate their own temperature and should help avoid health issues like pneumonia. 

Checking Out the Brooder Set-up

Hamming it Up with the Chicks

They are cute when they are little

Crafted a smaller brooder hood based on the ones we used on the old farm

Other projects that are getting nudged along on the farm include some fencing and brush clearing. 
I started building a stretch of fence behind the house almost two years ago, but that got stopped when I realized I would have to put a gate in the middle of that expanse of fence because that was the best sledding site for the kids on the farm. I got the bracing for that gate finished last night, now I need to run the wires, hand the gates, and bury the connective wires. 

One Step closer to Finally Getting This Stretch of Fence Done

I did not get very much brush cut this winter, but what I did get cut still needs to be stack and burn. I started that process last night and for a few seconds that pile of brush went up like a candle. That should tell you that it is pretty dry on the farm (we have missed several good rains). 

I found a calm day to burn brush

One of the two things that have really been keeping me busy is my role as Board President of the Iowa Food Cooperative. I have been running meetings, trying to improve processes, and just trying to get everyone on the same page and pulling in the same direction. The Iowa Legislature in there 2018 fiscal year budget eliminated the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.  I made a trip up to the capital to give testimony at the house budget hearing. That testimony is available here

Heading up to the Capital

I have also been increasingly involved in my local political party and parallel organizations. With that in mind, I am considering running for public office in 2018. The groundwork for these things takes quite a bit of time, focus, and energy. I will keep you posted if and when I have anything to announce. 

The kids are doing well in there respective schools. Our Daughter, is increasingly reading on her own and is still a social butterfly. Our Son, is shockingly advanced at math and has matured so much in the past year.  I am trying to get them outside more and a bit more involved in farming. Luna (the big puppy), sometimes wants to playfully chase them around a bit and at 50 pounds she can at times be intimidating. I wish both Janice and I could devote more time to the kids, but I try to make the most of what I have to work with. 

Posing Next to Flowers Planted in Memory of my Mother

Kite Flying, Early Spring Winds are Good for That

Luna keeps Growing

Hopefully it won't be so long before the next blog update. Until next time, take care and I will keep you posted about any updates here and on the Facebook page.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Looking Back at 2016 & Looking Ahead at 2017

2017 is our tenth production season. We have come a long way in ten years and yet there are many challenges ahead. 2016 was a decent year, but not a great year. Overall sales were generally down a little over 2017. There is a national trend away from direct to farmer sales and we are not immune. We have heard of sales declines from many other local producers, to the point where I know of about a half dozen that are considering other alternatives. Our sales decline was 7% from last year, with cattle breeding stock sales helping to stabilize things. Producers who have held steady continue to offer more and more product selection and additional services. There are limits of course to what is possible, but we continue to reevaluate our product offerings. Our pricing and products page has been updated for 2017 and contains some products we have added as well as others we have left off in the past.

Starting layers back up again has been a noticeable burden on the business with start-up costs of around $2,000. (building, chickens, feed, & cartons). The chickens have not moved into their new home yet, but they are laying full bore producing at least 15 dozen a week. When eggs stopped being a regular product for us, it hurt business a lot, and I never imagined it would be three years before we would be back into that enterprise. 

House Wrap is On & Windows are In

Door is on & Exterior Steel Starts Going Up & Roof is On

Steel Going on the West Wall

Interior Insulation and Wall Sheeting Going Up

Electrical being Run

A quiet little change around the farm was the purchase of a newer truck. We purchased a 2011 Toyota Tundra because we wanted to be able to tow the tractor on the flatbed truck (Tundra is a good pulling truck), we wanted to update from the gold 1997 Chevy because she had reached 189K miles and rust has been pretty hard on her. She might stick around at least for a while because a beater 4x4 truck still has some value doing jobs you would rather spare the new truck. However, that meant that Grandpa's old blue truck 1991 had to go. I found her a good home.

New 2011 Toyota Tundra

2007 Chevy Farm Truck Gets to Stay for a While

Good Bye Blue

I would have liked to make more progress this month, but my children have been intermittently sick and have made me intermittently sick as well. They are looking better today, but neither one is back to 100% yet. 

"Daddy I Don't Feel Good"

How Two Sick Kids Share a Couch

Stay tuned as we will try to get our production schedule for 2017. When we have delivery dates figured out, we will share them with our customers. Thank you for your support and I look forward to seeing you all in 2017.