September 2017

Where have I been?

Working.  When I started this year, my goal was to figure out how to have it be more sustainable.  Not in the ecological context, but in the my-life-is-too-crazy context.  Why am I beating myself over the head about all of this?

Mama and one of our 2017 calves

Back in May I made the decision to really simplify things.  Not an easy call for sure, but it was something that had to be done.  We are getting out of the cattle business.

So now we are down to laying hens only, plus a few freezers full of meat to sell.

Once the meat sells we will simplify to ‘projects’ only.  A few pigs sometimes.  A group of meat chickens on occasion.  Maybe some sheep again?  I will graze other peoples cattle on our pasture twice a year for 1-2 months each.

Not an easy decision to make.  But over time I have learned that the farm breaks even financially, my income comes from my brewery work, and the farm prevents us from living the kind of life we want.  For instance being able to do overnight camping trips.  So rather than fight it, I will focus on my brewery work and enjoy a less hectic lifestyle.

What do I do for breweries?  I work from home as a consultant and equipment provider.  My specific niche is the wastewater side of brewing.  Depending on where they’re located, wastewater can range from a non-issue to a deal breaker.  Or somewhere in between.  Or they might not even be in a town and they need to dispose of all wastewater on site?  That just barely scratches the surface, but it can be a big deal.  And being what it is, they don’t want to deal with it.  And I have a lot of experience in this field.  I like helping people.  I don’t like being my own accountant:)

At this point I still own our cattle but will be selling them this fall to a local pasture based rancher.  Ahhhh, relief.

I will remain heavily involved in the Montrose Farmers’ Market.  I am currently board president and will probably remain in that position for awhile.  2017 will be my last year as a vendor however.

April 2017

Well here it is late May and I’m just getting around to my monthly update for April. And I skipped March. It’s been busy, mostly with my brewery consulting work.

The farm is doing just fine, it’s actually more mellow this year than it has been in the past. Right now we have 6 cattle and a bunch of laying hens. That’s it. All of our pigs are sold or in the freezer, and the grass is doing great. We certainly have some happy cows.

We are doing just 1 batch of meat chickens this year, and they show up in early June. They’ll be on pasture until late July, then it’s back to just cattle and hens. Meat chickens are a lot of work and a lot of sleepless nights. They sleep on the grass and are vulnerable to predators. And its summer so the windows are open, so we can hear foxes every night trying to get in for an easy snack.

What I want to show you is my farm compared to my neighbors. There is a patch of ground behind my farm that hasn’t had cows on it for years. This year cows with young calves were brought in. These cows are at the peak of their nutritional needs, they have to maintain themselves and make milk for their growing calf. The calf also needs nice forage to get their rumens kick started. This is basic stuff, but it amazes me how many ranchers around here don’t get it. Look at the difference here.

The first picture is my grass and cattle in mid-May.  The bottom picture is the neighbors in the background.  You can see they have eaten everything green and are basically down to eating dirt.  Too many cattle on too small of a pasture for too long.

These cows have run out of food, and they spend all day mooing as they see my cows eating good grass just a few feet away. The calves will grow, the moms will lose weight and condition, and he will sell his calves at the sale barn- and probably make more money at it than I do.

I work harder with my cows. I move them twice a day, everyday, to a fresh piece of grass. Grass that hasn’t been stepped on, pooped on, peed on and they are fat. The momma cows are getting great nutrition for the last month before calving, and will get great nurtrition all summer as their calves are nursing. And the calves get great grass to get their rumens off to a healthy start. Just like the deer and elk do it, they wait until the grass is lush before fawning/calving. Working with nature, not against it.

It’s frustrating to see this, but I am committed to seasonal calving and working with nature.

February 2017

A few new things for this year, good and bad.

We purchased 80 little pullet chicks in mid-Feb.  Normally we don’t get pullets until April or May.  The big difference is these new birds will start laying in July, during farmers market season.  Waiting until April or May means they won’t start laying until October, exactly when we want to see a decrease in eggs.  The weather was mild for the first week, getting them off to a strong start.  Of course then it got cold, down to about 10 F.  Certainly the coldest temps I have ever contended with while brooding, but it worked fine.  Here is what our high tech brooder looks like:

On the bad end of things, lice on our cattle has been a problem this year.  It’s always something!  I’ve never had to contend with cattle lice before, and I don’t use synthetic drugs on any of my animals.  So I’ve been dusting them with diatomaceous earth and not seeing great results.  Next was a dust containing small amounts of pyrethrin.  This is a natural pesticide made from chrysanthemum flowers.  Still, I don’t like using it.  Not good results yet.  Luckily lice in cattle is a winter problem, so it’s just about over.  Now I know in the fall to give the cattle a good delousing with whatever natural methods I find work best.  Never stop learning, right?

Cool picture

In the summer of 2016 we planted a bunch of Mammoth sunflowers from seed.  They are a very cool plant, they are really big!  But one thing I wasn’t expecting was the habitat they provided.  All summer long these plants were a swarming scene of life and death.  They were infested by aphids but remained healthy all summer.  The aphids attracted lady bugs, praying mantis, and wasps.  Here is a pretty cool picture of a typical scene of just one leaf, click on the picture for the full size version:

I’m not sure exactly what is going on here besides a feast.  I think the small white critters are larval praying mantis.  We have a ton of mantis’s on our farm, it looks to me like the ladybug is eating the mantis’s instead of the aphids.

December 2016

Winter is just a mellow time of year on the farm. Love it! It’s still chores every day, twice a day- but it’s about 30 minutes total most days.

The biggest news is I have a business plan for the farm in 2017. Ho hum I know, but for me it’s a big deal. The biggest change is we are not doing broilers in 2017 (meat chickens). Well, we are doing 1 small batch, but not planning to sell very many of them. This is a tough decision to make, these are by far the most profitable item we raise and sell. The deal is I don’t have time for processing. I can hire the processing, but then the profit goes way down. These birds are a real pain to raise, so if the money isn’t there to justify the sleepless nights, why bother?

It feels good to have that decision made, but at the same time I want to provide my customers with what they want. I did give the heads up to Ryan at Yurtstead Farms, so he is planning to raise extra broilers in 2017 to make up for my customers. That feels better.

I will continue to raise grass finished beef, pork, and pasture raised eggs.

As I mentioned last month, I need to focus on my brewery work. This plan provides a good balance of life and work.

Thanks for reading. Take care and have a safe holiday season. John

November 2016

Fall and winter on the farm are pretty mellow compared to spring and summer.  And I’d imagine just about any farmer will tell you the same thing.

We have pigs again!  I bought 7 weaner pigs from a small farm in Hotchkiss.  This family had 3 daughters, 2 are of 4-H age- so they are used to pampering their hogs as they would their competition pigs.  I bought them at 2 months old and coming to our farm was the first time they have been outdoors; ever!  They were a very nice family, but we didn’t see eye to eye on pig raising.  These pigs were pampered and spoiled, not confined.  They even had heat and air conditioning!  But still, they were on a concrete floor with about 6″ of wood shavings; not much opportunity for a pig to be a pig.  A few more will arrive in December.

I am officially out of the sheep business, and that is OK with me.  I liked having them around, but as I mentioned earlier, I don’t have enough pasture for both sheep and cattle.  It’s surprising how much sheep eat.  Roughly 6 full grown ewes = 1 full grown cow with regards to weight, or Animal Units (1 animal unit = 1000 lbs).  When planning feed like hay or pasture, we think in terms of AU’s.  The idea is ten 100 lb animals will eat the same amount of forage as one 1000 lb animal.  But I don’t think it’s true, at least not with sheep.  It’s surprising how much they eat.  We sold 3 lambs and we kept a ewe for ourselves (technically mutton).  Of all the animals we raise, I think this will be my favorite with regards to flavor; chicken, pork, and beef is very mild flavored compared to lamb or mutton.

At this point, let’s just call it end of November, we have about 65 hens, 6 cattle, and 7 pigs.  In a month we’ll be up to 9-10 pigs total and we’ll hang with those numbers until more birds start showing up next year.

Laying hen/chick wise, I’m going to do things a little different next year.  I am going to get chicks as early as possible.  I might make a special trip to Junction just for chicks?  I’d like them to start laying in early June.  This will give me lots of eggs through the farmers market season.  One thing I’ve learned selling at a farmers market is variety is key!  Eggs, chickens, beef, and pork all on the same day leads to very good sales.  Having just 1 item can still be OK but no nearly as high in sales.  Makes sense, but some of us need a 2×4 across the head until we get it.  Brooding chicks in the dead of winter will not be easy.  They’ll spend the first few weeks in our house (cringe (very dusty)), then move them to a brooder barn for a few weeks before going out with the rest of the hens.  I don’t know, it sounds like a good idea right now…

Winter is also a time for business planning and reflection.  Things have to change.  But how?  We’ll see, there is joy in the journey.  I took a Holistic Whole Farm and Ranch Business Planning class a few years ago.  Highly recommended and it really changed how I run our farm.  This class is like a business class for farmers with a little bit of hippy thrown in.  Anyway, each fall I do financial planning for the coming year.  It starts out sounding great on paper, the trick is to manage things well enough when things get busy so you can utilize the solar energy to the fullest and not wear yourself out.

For me most of my income comes from brewery consulting.  My joy comes from farming.  I need to balance those two.  Ask yourself, which would you pick?  Oh, I’d pick the joy- but I’d be broke within a year!  As much as I hate to say it, cash is king and cash is good.  Farming will never equal brewery consulting for income; I make more in 2 weeks of consulting than I do in a year of farming- and it’s a lot less work.  But it’s staring at a computer all day.  Still, long term where should I focus my efforts?  Right.  Change is constant…

October 2016

Phrase for the month is Change of the seasons. Things get really mellow around here around this time of year. Our meat chickens are done for the year, so it’s just hens, sheep, and cattle.

Normally, I give one good last soak to the pasture with irrigation water in October. This year I didn’t do that, on purpose. I noticed the stockpiled forage in the pasture would get mildew on it, then the cattle wouldn’t eat it. So I kept it dry as the grass went dormant, and we have no mildew yet.

For cattle grazing, as the weather gets cold we leave the water trough in one location for the winter- this way frozen hoses aren’t a problem. Then we move the electric fence progressively farther away from this water each day. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it this time of year, I could just let the cattle loose in the whole pasture and take a break. But it is better for the pasture this way, I get a little bit of exercise, and the cattle stay accustomed to seeing us in their space.

Each fall our neighbor has been giving us his pasture for grazing, in exchange for a steak or two. This works great, one of the many things I am limited with on this farm is pasture acreage. And time, money, knowledge, etc:) It’s about 4 acres and the cattle have grass for about 2 months out there. We do the same type of grazing as we do on our own pasture, progressively moving the electric fence a little bit each day. Not sure if we’ll get two months back there, we’ll see.

Our lambs are finished and ready for the butcher. But the butcher isn’t ready for the lambs. Their appointment is Nov 22. It’s hunting season and the butcher gets backed up this time of year. I made their appointment in early October.

I gave about 25 older laying hens away in October. A student at Montrose High School is making a project out of them at the school. It was funny, his parents were here when he picked them up, they asked “What are you going to do with these chickens when the school year is done?” The kid said “I don’t know.” Love those teenagers!

Our gardens are done and put to bed. The cattle came through and gleaned the plants, weeds, and tomatoes. The loved every second of it!

Our 2 calves are doing just fine. We are keeping them on momma through the winter, weaning in March. At this stage of the game it’s mental comfort for both of them and a little protein boost to the calves. We’ll see how it goes in March, I will wean them if I have to, but I expect mom to give them the boot. They’re pregnant again and they need to give their extra nutrition to their growing late term calves.

Sorry, no pictures this month. Just a bunch of babble. Peace, J

August 2016

The biggest news of the month is we have a bull again. He is one beautiful animal.

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His name is Bo and he’s from Clifton. He’s a registered Red Shorthorn, very gentle and very big. He’s about 2000 lbs and is gentle enough to eat out of my hand. Hopefully we get a few heifers next spring, we’ll keep them for breeding.

Very glad to find him. We were initially looking at AI because we couldn’t find a bull. Then we did find a bull in Eckert, and the day I went to pick him up his owner noticed he had pinkeye. Super contagious and I didn’t want to bring him in. As the last moment we found Bo, and he had been great.

The other big news for the month is tomatos! Holy cow. We are picking about one 5-gal bucket of tomatos per week. Lots of sauce making, roasting, freezing, yum. Emily roasted one batch and I turned it in to fermented ketchup. It turned out really good and we have about a half gallon of it.

We don’t do a lot of weeding in our garden, so it’s a lush green jungle out there.

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Our meat chickens are doing great. We had <5% loss with this last batch. The last round of chicken butchering is slated for Sept 6, they will be almost 7 weeks old. We will also be culling some older hens that day. I guess it’s not a good day to be a chicken on our farm.

My brewery work has been very busy lately. This makes fitting in the farm work a bit of a challenge. But it’s all good and life is just busy sometimes. See you in October.

July 2016

The heat is on! And our gardens love it. Let’s just assume we all get 75 years on this planet. More assumptions, we start gardening at 25 yrs old and garden every year until we croak. That’s only 50 gardening seasons in our life! Isn’t that weird? Just 50 chances to experiment, become proficient, educate someone with what you’ve learned, and then kick the bucket. I guess that means make the most of it and share everything you can?

I don’t really mind weeds in the garden. I have better things to do with my life than weeding. Earlier this week I did a little weeding in the garden with a lawnmower:)

July 2016

July 2016

June 2016

June 2016

We received 160 broiler chicks and 15 pullets this month. Our feed experiment is ongoing. Read last months post about the feed problems. This batch we are doing 100% commercial bagged feed, trying to see the difference it makes. The birds spent about 18 days in the brooder, which is a warm, sheltered space for them to grow from a day old chick to a chick old enough to go outside in all different weather. We lost a total of 6 chicks in the brooder, 3% of total. 1 was an accident, the birds knocked over a tiny piece of plywood and one little guy couldn’t get out from under it. 4 died within the first 2 days (shipping stress). So that leaves us with 1 dead chick due who knows what. I call that acceptable.

Our previous 3 batches with the feed problems we were having gave us almost 50% loss in the brooder alone. And the losses kept going out on the pasture. Grrr! (You’ll notice I growl a lot like that when I describe farming life:)

So far I am at -$500 gross profit for broilers this year. This last batch looks good and healthy. Assuming no huge predator losses I will make a bit of profit this year with these broilers, but gosh is it frustrating! Almost all of these birds are already sold, fingers are certainly crossed around here.

What I really need is a feed grinder. That way I can buy ingredients (corn, oats, soy, minerals, etc.) and make my own feed. Of course something like that isn’t free, and I’d need something fairly large so I can do 1000 lbs at a time. Small versions are available that do 20 lb batches, but that would be a tedious. (I feed 10-60 lbs of feed to birds every day of the year)

Or I can be happy buying commercial bagged feed, at least until the birds get the cash flow going to justify an expense like that. It’ll probably mean I need to buy a tractor and a feed grinder, since the big ones are PTO powered. Of course with that comes maintenance & fuel. Farming is simply expensive, please don’t complain about high prices.

On a brighter note, we have a fresh supply of grass fed beef available at the Montrose Farmers Market and here on the farm. I hope to sell out soon so we can have our Saturday’s back:) But it’ll take awhile. If you have any requests please let me know so I can reserve your choice of cuts.

Our pasture is looking great, better than ever. With the type of grazing I do (management intensive grazing) that pasture is supposed to get better and better every year. And it certainly has been that way for us. I can talk forever about grass, legumes, etc. But one quick experiment that has been a success is frost seeding. The idea is to spread seed in the early spring, and let the freeze/thaw cycles (plus hooves) work the seed in to the soil. I have done that with clover and alfalfa, and guess what, we have lots of clover and alfalfa where I did that! I love seeing positive changes.

It has been hot out there in the pasture. I try to give all of our animals a shady place, and for the most part it’s not too hard. Shade is hardest for the cattle. The hens and sheep have the eggmobile for shade, they all go under it for shade or rain protection. The cattle have a shelter I made 3 yrs ago for goats. They love it. 1 cow can get in there and lay down, or several calves.  But the biggest thing is they can all rub on it. We have a lot of flies in the pasture and of course they bite. With electric fence all around, they have nothing to rub on. But now they have this goat shelter and they love it. We can hear it creaking from them rubbing on it at all hours.

Cows rubbing on the goat shelter.

Cows rubbing on the goat shelter.

Once again, there is your monthly update from your friendly farmer down the road. I hope you enjoy reading about the good and the bad.

June 2016

We have another calf! Born June 5, again with no issues during calving at all. She is a little heifer calf. In 2 yrs she is destined for the freezer, but we won’t talk about that right now.

Newest calf is there on the lower right.

Newest calf is there on the lower right.

Think about that, 2 yrs of daily chores, everyday, to make sure she has feed, water, shelter, and minerals. Farming is quite a commitment!

Look at how nice that pasture is though. Green, lush, long. Those cows have it pretty good here.

We had a portion of our pasture cut for hay, and we had no rain! So our hay is nice and healthy going in to winter. Our neighbor gives us the grass in his pasture as well, we just have to have it cut and baled. Quite a deal. We don’t own a tractor, much less hay baling equipment. We hire that service from a local farmer and it’s a screaming deal. All told we got 239 bales, the neighbor kept 50, so we got 189 bales for $378. That $378 means we don’t need a tractor, swather, rake, and baler. And it includes the farmers time and fuel. What a deal!

All of our broilers were butchered in June. We had some serious feed quality issues that lead to high losses. Very annoying. We buy non-GMO feed from Western Slope Ag in Olathe, custom milled for our farm. We expect to get high quality feed, but we didn’t get that. I don’t know exactly why, it’s not one of those things you can tell by looking at the feed. In mid-June we switched to a commercial bagged feed and our problems stopped. The birds grew well, stopped dying, and were generally healthier. Grrr. We have a few weeks off with no broilers, then another 170 show up in mid-July.

We don’t want to use commerical bagged feed. It has crap in there the birds don’t need, such as grain by-products and grain dust, which are useless fillers. The solution is to make our own feed. Not the end of the world, it’s time and money. We will buy non-GMO corn, non-GMO soy, oats, minerals, and other goodies, weigh them, grind them, mix them, and feed them. It’s a lot of work. But it’s a farm, it’s supposed to be a lot of work right? But seriously, we do wonder sometimes if these broilers are worth it.

We lost some pullets to these same feed issues. (Pullets are young laying hens that haven’t laid an egg yet.) They’re now about 3 months old. We ordered a few more to make up for the loss. Grrr.

On a better note, how are our gardens looking? Great! Weedy! But things are great. Our tomatoes plants are full of little green guys. We actually have healthy looking cauliflower! Everything is doing well. Harvest starts really getting in gear in August. Our straw bale garden is still under performing our regular garden, despite a huge amount of fertilizer added to those bales. Good to do an experiment, but we won’t do it again.

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There you have it, another update from your friendly farmer down the road.

May 2016

The big news for the month is we have a calf! (picture above)

He was born on May 26th. This is the first calf born on our farm since we’ve owned it. What a long process, and of course very rewarding!

The mama cow Moo had no trouble during calving; I actually was home during birth but was busy with brewery work and missed it! What a bummer.

He’s a bull calf and he’s doing great. Another calf is coming soon from mama cow Sue. Once that calf arrives the next task is castration. The fun never ends! Seriously, that calf loves running around and it’ll be double the mayhem with 2 of them.

We sold 5 of our 6 ewes. Kind of a bummer, but we simply don’t have enough pasture. I should have done the math sooner and figured it out, but the short story is they were eating more than I thought they would. We have one ewe and 3 lambs left, and they will all taste mighty yummy later this summer. Why do we have one ewe left? She got loose during loading of the trailer, so by default she stays.

Our broilers are coming along. Meat birds are simply frustrating to raise. See me at the farmers market for the full story:)

Did you see it? I was on the pack page of the Montrose Mirror with my new fangled bicycle trailer freezer. I was riding fully loaded early on a Saturday morning, heading to the Montrose Farmers Market and a gal yelled from a moving car ‘Can I take your picture?’ So I slam on the brakes and she turns around, only to discover she doesn’t have her camera. We lost the moment, but she did come to the farmers market later that morning for a picture. But it’s not the same without everything- including me, on a moving bike.

I guess that story leads to the 2nd big story for the month. I’m back at the farmer’s market. This year I have non-GMO fed Berkshire pork, non-GMO fed meat chickens, grass fed beef, and later I’ll have a bit of lamb. I’m also going to have chamomile tea later this summer.

How is our straw bale garden coming along? Not as well as the plants in the soil, and that is very annoying considering each bale has a rediculous amount of fertilizer in it. It looks like the biggest problem is the bales don’t hold the moisture as well as our soil. Thanks pigs!

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Seasonal calving

I don’t consider myself to be a cattle expert.  Not by a long shot!  However one of the things I wanted to do before buying our first calf was get in to seasonal calving.  When do the local deer and elk have their babies?  That’s when I want to have our calves.

But is that right?  Everyone else around here calves in winter or early spring.  Am I making a mistake?

The basic idea is you want the calving in late May/early June to provide the cow with a month of good grass ahead of calving.  She will regain any weight lost over the winter and get good nutrients to the calf during the last month of growth.  The calf is born in to warm weather, so there is no weather stress.  The pasture provides great nutrients to the cow through the summer for milk production, and the green grass is helpful to the calf for rumen development.  It all makes so much sense!  Read more about all of this on this short web page.

Drawbacks to seasonal calving?  Flies are potentially one of them.  However we’ve read that fly exposure to the pregnant cow in late spring passes on fly resistance to the newborn calf.  We’ll see about that.  Another is the animal is potentially younger & smaller at market time.  At this point I plan to finish my butcher animals in May and June each year, with a butcher date of about July 1 when the animals is a full 2 yrs old.  Is 25 months old enough time to fully grow and express themselves?

Anyway, lots of learning as always.  But I thought you might appreciate this.

 

April 2016

Right now it’s May 3. We have about 400 chickens on our farm right now, 350 of them are little chicks. It’s a lot of work!

Most of these chickens are meat chickens, broilers, destined for the oven in a few months. I sell these chickens for $5 a pound and I know that’s expensive. I don’t like charging that much. But they are a lot of work! You have no idea, and that’s probably a good thing:) Just yesterday a raven got in to our broiler pen out on our pasture and killed at least 6 birds! That’s a first. We’ve had avian predators before, but usually they take 1 and leave. We have other predators to contend with as well. Fox, skunk, mink, owls, hawks, racoons… The electric fence is great protection- except for those with wings and beaks.

All of our pigs are gone. We raised 8 over the winter, they till our gardens and eat or shred 100’s of bags of tree leaves and old hay. Of course they fertilize too. Pigs are just great to have around. The drawback is they dig. So we don’t raise them in the summer. We tried pastured pigs for a few years, the short story is with the climate here, any digging they do in our pasture just doesn’t recover. It remains a bare spot in the pasture for several years. So, rather than fight their nature, we just raise pigs in the winter when we encourage them to dig (our gardens).

Pork in the smoker!

Pork in the smoker!

We cured our own hams and bacons (for our own use), and smoking is coming up in a few days. This is fun, but like anything farm related, it’s a lot of work and makes a mess. I wish we could cure and smoke meats and sell them, but that is simply not possible. The state health department and federal USDA don’t allow it. Seems backwards to me, but it all comes down to liability and they say we don’t know what we’re doing and we’re unsafe. So there you have it.

Our vegetable starts are coming along. We have a ton of tomato seedlings, nice and healthy. Several pepper plants. We started a lot of perrennial flowers. Fun stuff. We are just starting to harden them off in preparation for planting outside.

One thing we did different this year is are doing a straw bale garden. The primary reason we did this is we had about 25 old straw bales left that was used for pig and chicken housing over the winter. Dirty, stinky, abused straw bales. Growing our vegetables directly in the bales is possible. At the end of the growing season the bale has decomposed in to compost, and that was attractive to us too. We used this book as our guide:

Bales

These bales can be set on your concrete driveway and planted right there. No soil is needed. Put one on your porch, on a deck, balcony, etc. For us, we have plenty of garden space in excellent pig enhanced soil. So looking back on it, they don’t make a lot of sense for us. But we’re sticking with it and trying it for a year. I’ll put pictures up of what the garden looks like every month.

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The verdict is still out, but we will probably not do it again. There is a process to doing it, and part of that is called ‘conditioning’. Basically apply a bunch of high nitrogen fertilizer to the bale, water it in, and do it again the next day. I’ve never used this much fertilizer in my life for anything! The veggies do great, but in my mind it’s the fertilizer doing the work and seems to be a waste of money. At least for us.

Lots going on. And farmers market season is coming up. Many of you probably saw my little writeup in the Daily Press a few weeks ago. Awkward. More so because they didn’t interview me, they got all of their content off this website. See you all at the Montrose Farmers Market on May 21!

Life of a farmer

My pig mentor recently posted a list of things he needs to be an expert in.  Great idea!  I get comments a lot from people saying something along the lines of ‘I’d hate to shovel poop all day’.  I never do that, never have.  A lot of times people don’t know what farmers do.  I’m a part time farmer, part time brewery consultant, and full time father.

We all have lists like this in our life, but farming certainly is varied.  Here goes:

  • Twice daily chores including feeding, watering, gathering eggs, cleaning eggs, packaging eggs, selling eggs; and more;
  • Working with our livestock;
  • Transporting livestock to slaughter;
  • Processing and butchering chickens;
  • Moving animals every day.  This includes cows, sheep, laying hens, broilers, and sometimes pigs.
  • Designing labels and marketing materials;
  • Tracking & analyzing sales and yield data;
  • Purchasing young animals.  Chicks, piglets, calves, etc.
  • Building, maintaining and repairing equipment;
  • Seeding bare spots;
  • Harvesting and storing hay;
  • Planting apple, pear and other perennials for the future;
  • Regulations and paperwork;
  • Selling at the farmers market, every Saturday, 6 months a year;
  • Starting seedlings;
  • Irrigating!
  • Research on how to do things (we don’t know it all);
  • Engineering;
  • Metal fabrication;
  • Plumbing;
  • Electrical work;
  • Refrigeration systems;
  • Carpentry;
  • Concrete;
  • Web design;
  • Being a dad;
  • Cutting firewood for our home;
  • Learning new skills; and
  • Enjoying the bounty of the land and the good life.  This list goes on, I can never do it all.  But shoveling poop is certainly not on the list.  The animals job is to do that for us.  And they do.  That’s part of a diversified farm.

It’s never dull, never boring, generally very rewarding and interesting here on the farm. That isn’t to say there aren’t hard days or weeks but as a rule they are vastly outweighed by the good times.

The worst part about it is the daily chores.  Not that they’re bad, but it’s everyday, twice a day, 365 days/yr.  That makes having a normal life difficult.  Camping, vacation, trips to Denver, even a day hike in the mountains or a ski trip in the winter; all of these have to be planned around chores and animals.  That is the worst part.

The best part is working with the animals, raising them naturally with no injections, antibiotics, medications, or any other weird stuff.  Just grass, pasture, and non-GMO grains for the poultry.  And of course feeding our family and yours with the fruits of all of this labor.  It’s funny how a natural diet and a natural environment elminates the need for all of these weird things like antibiotics and vaccinations.

But of course the tradeoff is money.  Greed.  More animals can be raised in a shorter amount of time when confined in a small space, fed high powered feed, and given antibiotics to keep them alive.  It’s not right, but it is what it is and I certainly can’t change that.  But I digress…  This is supposed to be about the life of a farmer.

March 2016

Spring is springing, the farm is waking up from the winter slumber, and the animals are enjoying dry weather and sunshine. But now it’s dusty…

We have 8 pigs, 5 are going to the butcher in early April, the last 3 in early May. It’s amazing how much work they do for us. They dig big holes, I fill those holes with leaves and old hay, then they fill those holes back in. We wind up with ~50% organic material garden soil! Very fertile, holds moisture well, and hosts a huge variety of soil biota. Plus the manure from their manure! We don’t fertilize and never have. Last summer this is what our garden looked like with no added fertilizer:

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Our egg price has gone back up to $5 per dozen, for everyone, all the time. Long term we are getting out of the egg business… For us, $5 per dozen is break even, and people don’t like paying that much. We will keep these hens until the fall, and raise replacement pullets over the summer. We are happy to continue providing eggs to people who are happy with our eggs at this price. Nobody raises hens the way we do. Maybe their smarter than us? It’s a lot of work.

In the growing season, our hens are raised on pasture and moved everyday. This is about 6 months of the year. They clean up the pasture; scratching through old grasses, and scratching through cow pies and sheep pellets looking for little morsels. This spreads out the nutrients and incorporates them in to the soil. It also provides nutrients, exercise, and activity to the hens. Each day on a new spot in our pasture. Moving the hens takes about 45 minutes a day, everyday. Lots of work, but you can see and taste the difference and I’d imagine if the eggs were tested they would prove to be the healthiest eggs for us to eat.

We still only have 3 lambs. These lambs were born in late February, and we are expecting more. You get what you pay for, and these ewes were inexpensive. The deal was they were cheap because the lambing dates are spread out. This is turning in to a hassle. It’s amazing how much bigger the single lamb is over the twins. She’s twice the size of them, and 1 day younger.

The cattle are doing great. Eating a lot… Cattle and sheep, easy. Live and learn right?

Broilers start showing up in early April. Three batches of 110 in April. These will be butchered in June for preorder and farmers market customers.

Speaking of the farmers market, John is now the Montrose Farmers Market board president. It’s a small board, but still a lot of work. Please frequent the farmers market and say thanks for the extra effort.

Thank you and bring on the irrigation water! Yours, John, Emily, and Jemma.

February 2016

We have some live in help for a few months.  His name is Evan, I wish I had a picture to put up here.  He is helping do chores on the farm so we can travel to see family.  He’s also a chef, and is cooking most of our food for us:)  Quite nice.  He recently moved here from Baltimore, but he has lived in Montrose before.  He’s big and hairy, that’s a good enough mental picture for you for now.

It’s lambing season!

So far we have 3 lambs on the ground and healthy, more on the way.  I purchased these ewes with an unknown lambing date.  The previous owners had a ram get loose and who knows when they bred.

Of course, these lambs were born while Emily and I were in Tucson visiting my dad.  To top that off, Evan had plans to have friends over for a nice dinner that he was preparing.  The ewe went in to labor at 4 PM the day he was having all of these people over for dinner!  Nice timing.  Nevertheless, twins were born in to good weather and with no assistance required.  2 days later another ewe gave birth to a single healthy lamb.

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Our hen and pig cohabitation project is still going well.  Which means the pigs haven’t figured out that chicken tastes good.  The hens will be moved on to pasture in mid-March so the pigs can dig under the eggmobile.

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Pigs spend a lot of time snoozing, and there were more laying in the dirt area before I walked up. Looking for a snack no doubt.

5 of the 8 pigs will be butchered around April 1.  The remaining 3 need another month to get big.

This area will be part of our vegetable garden this summer, the animals provide lots of manure all winter long and then dig it in to the soil along with tree leaves and wasted hay from the sheep.  Fun stuff.

Eggs.  Egg prices are going back up to $5 beginning April 1.  At $4 per dozen I don’t quite break even, even when just looking at feed costs.  Add in oyster shell, housing needs (see that plastic cover in the picture?), labor, etc. and eggs are a losing game for us.  People sell them for less around town; if you want cheap eggs get them from someone else.  If you want high quality eggs from birds raised on pasture and fed non-GMO feed, get them from me.

The cattle are doing great.  We’re approaching the patience time of year.  Our pasture is just starting to grow, but we can’t let the animals eat this new grass- we’re robbing the plant the early season energy and nutrients needed to get started.  So the cattle are held in to a smallish area for 4-8 weeks while the pasture grows back.  Once the grass gets to 6″ tall, we can start grazing, hopefully in mid-April.

A winter break

I am not selling at the Montrose Farmer’s Market for the remainder of the winter; I will be back in May.  But we still have plenty of pasture raised, non-GMO fed hens providing us with lots of eggs.  Please come on by the farm to get yours.  I work from home, so I’m usually here.  We also have several amazing beef roasts from our grass finished cattle.

December 2015

I really like winter on the farm.  Summer is a lot of work.

Chores that about 20 minutes every morning and evening.  In the summer it’s about an hour every morning and evening.  I love it, it’s good exercise and it’s great spending time with the animals.

We also get to eat our bountiful harvests.  We have too much meat, and we also have a freezer full of all sorts of our veggies, and a pantry full of home canned sauces, jams, and fruits.

I have to be better about lunches, maybe that should be my new years resolution?  Even though I work from home, I rarely have time to cook lunch, eat it, then do the dishes.

We have one ewe who is very pregnant.  Hopefully the rest are pregnant and due when it’s a little warmer.  All of the ewe’s have ear tags, but I don’t like calling them 18, 19, 20, etc.  So their names are the last number on the tag- with a Y on the end.  3y (pronouned like ‘belly’) is the one due within a week or two.

All of the cattle are doing great.

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All 5 of them sharing the feeder. The 2 big cows (brown) kind of beat up on the small calves of the left, sometimes the calves have to wait until the cows are done eating to get their share.

Our chickens and pigs are cohabitating for the winter.  So far so good, the pigs haven’t figured out that chicken tastes good.  But they do know their eggs are tasty.

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The hen house is the upper part, the pigs live in the straw bale portion under it. Pretty weater proof and toasty warm on a sunny day. The pigs body heat might give the chickens a little warmth on those cold nights. Might.

 

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This whole thing is parked on part of our garden. There is plenty of fertilizer being applied now, and when the pigs get bigger the digging will really start. There are lots and lots of leaves and hay on the ground where it looks like dirt, that will get worked in to the soil this spring from a combination of pig feet, pig noses, and chicken feet.

Stay warm everyone!

November 2015

Regular readers, if there are any of you, are probably getting sick and tired of me saying ‘It’s been a mellow month around here’.  Happy to oblige.

He’s gone!  The bull is gone.  What a relief.  After 2 months of cajolling him twice a day with grain, I finally got him to voluntarily go where I wanted him to go.

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It’s hard to see, but he’s in there.  We borrowed the trailer from our friend Helen, it took him 3 weeks, but he finally went in.  Once he was comfortable going in and out, on the right day I shut that big door and he was locked in!  What a relief.  Our cows were in there with him and they were all nervous with the door shut, but I was able to sort them myself and his owner came and picked him up a few hours later.  What a relief.

With him gone, that means I don’t need to buy him (and butcher him next summer).  So I bought 2 calves from Helen:

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And we also bought 6 pregnant ewes:

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All of these purchases were waiting on that bull leaving.

The calves are about 7 months old, one is ours for 2017 and one is for the farmers market.  The sheep are Katahdin hair sheep.  No shearing and no tail docking required.

What a relief.  Did I already say that?  You have no idea.

Speaking of no idea.  I have no idea about sheep.  Never really been around them.  But I’ve wanted them on the farm since we bought it (spring 2013 for the curious).  They eat grass and they taste good.  Good combo.  They’re supposedly all pregnant, don’t know exact due dates, the farm we got them from had a ram get loose.  One is very pregnant now and due within a month.  The others will get there.

One interesting thing about sheep is the first 80% of the gestation the embryo hardly grows at all.  Then in that final 20% the little guys really start growing.  Since I don’t know anything about sheep, what I’ve read is this last 20% (the last month) you should give them some grain since the lambs are growing so fast it’s hard to get the ewe the nutrition she needs without it.  We’ll see how that winds up shaking up as time passes.

Anyway, not a mellow month around here.  A very fun month!  We have pigs again soon, but they came in December so you’ll have to wait until next month for that story.

October 2015

He’s still here; the bull that is.

What a pain. And of course a nice school of hard knocks lesson for us. I didn’t grow up with cows, everything I learn I get by reading. But there comes a time when experience is better. For that I turn to my local cowgirl, Helen Rutherford. We bought our cows from her in 2014, and we want to buy more calves from her. But we have to get rid of this bull first. We might just buy the bull and happily butcher him in 2016 if we can’t get rid of him.

Helen brought us her stock trailer, it’s sitting in our pasture now. Her advice is to get the animals used to going in there, feed them in there, let them rub on the sides and get used to it’s metallic noises. When the bull goes in shut the door and he’s trapped. Guess what. He knows it’s a trap. Our cows and steer go in there no problem, even if I’m already in there. He seems to know better, again, what a pain! He was supposed to be gone in mid-Sept.

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Small bull, big pain. But I do think he was successful in breeding the cows.

The change in the seasons is here. Gardens are being put to bed, and since it’s not as hot and the grass is going dormant things stay muddy for longer. So our eggmobile is stuck in the mud. The joys of farming! I might need to move it with my pickup truck to get it where I need it to be.  On a side note, we do have lots of eggs for sale.

We did a 5-day family trip to Bend, OR! Friends of ours got married and we went for the reception. All of our friends got to meet Jemma for the first time. Our neighbors took care of the farm while we were away and did a great job.

Right before this trip to Bend I butchered all of the turkeys. Turkeys were much better for us this year than in years previous, but still we had 33% mortality. Is that a success? This is our third year raising turkeys, in the first 2 years we had a total of 20 birds and wound up with 2 in the freezer. The issue was predators, mink and fox. Mink!? This year we started with 15 and wound up with 10 in the freezer. 4 died in the brooder when they were little, 1 died outside from some sort of illness. But no predators! Again, is that a success? Turkeys are pretty simple once they go outside, but they’re much more fragile when they’re young. At least that’s their reputation- and it’s mostly true if they behave. The first 2 yrs what happened was the birds would fly outside their enclosure at sunset and couldn’t figure out how to get back in. Fox bait.

The summer farmers market is winding down, transitioning in to the indoor winter market.  This was our first season at the Montrose Farmers Market, and it was pretty good.  However my goal has always been to not do any farmers market.  It ties up every Saturday morning which makes things like camping difficult.  But I like it, talking with new people all of the time and telling our story.  I will be at the farmers market through 2015, taking the winter off, and will be back at it in May 2016.  I will have eggs for sale direct off the farm all winter long, hopefully I get enough traffic this winter to keep up with the egg supply!

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Anyway, farming like anything in life, is full of lessons.

September 2015

So we rented a bull back in August- his job is to get our cows pregnant. Seems simple enough, right? Like everything on a farm, it’s harder than I thought.

For starters we aim for calving in May or June, late for most outfits in the US. The aim is to calve when the local ruminants (deer & elk) are calving. Makes sense right? This means breeding in August or September.

The problem is we don’t own a bull, don’t really want to (we only have 2 cows), and I don’t want to AI (artificially inseminate). The other problem is most cattle owners around here bring their cattle up to the high country at this time of year. Finding a bull to rent was harder than I thought. We found a ‘lowline angus’ bull in Fruita. I love the name, lowline as in dwarf. He’s about 3 ft tall.

Bull and cow!

Bull and cow!

Eventually the time came to return the bull to his owner. This didn’t go quite as well as we hoped. In fact, he’s still here! He’s feisty, to say the least. All sorts of thoughts go through our mind as we’re trying to catch this bull. Don’t get killed, just cooperate!, Please!, and many more that don’t bear repeating. Ultimately I called my local cattle resource around here and told her my dilemma (Yup, she’s a cowgirl). ‘You can get more out of life with sugar instead of vinegar.’ Basically, tame the beast, make friends with him, and he will willingly do what you want. That process is happening now. I love the philosophy, it’s working, but it involves grain. We are a grass fed cattle operation and they’re all getting grain right now. Not much, but it grates my nerves. Once he’s gone the grain goes to the chickens.

Of course another situation is he’s 3 ft tall and our cows are about 4 ft tall. Fingers are crossed that he did his job.

We made some great hay in September. Late for us, but we grazed these pastures earlier in the season. The only way we can make this work, in fact make the farm as a whole work, is to hire the haying done. We hire the work, he owns the tractor and all of the equipment- and he does all of the work. Well, he does the easy part. Cuts it and bales it. There are several days in between those 2 events and we hope for no rain. Eventually it’s up to us to pick it up in the field, put it on a trailer, drive to the hay stack and unload. Roughly 60 lb bales and we got about 160 of them. Not huge numbers, but we’re a small farm.

I mentioned we were hoping for no rain. As the hay dries and cures, the cells dry and rupture. Rain washes the nutrients away. The other problem is mold, moldy hay is rejected by the animals we’re trying to feed.

Anyway, busy busy. Hopefully the bull heads home on Oct 9. Come to the farmers market on the 10th for the news report.

August 2015

It seems like it’s been forever coming, but we’re finally making money with the farm! How’s that for some news.

Our grass fed, grass finished beef sales have been going well- and of course it’s delicious. Pasture raised chicken sales have been going well too.

As far as everything else here on the farm, the growy season is starting to wind down. Now it’s harvest time, preserving time, and getting ready for fall and winter. That’s OK, summer in Montrose is a little too hot for me.

Our pullets are just starting to lay eggs now. A pullet is a young laying hen before she starts to lay eggs. Once all of these birds start laying, we are going to have 20-25 dozen eggs available every week! That sounds like a lot, but hopefully they sell quickly and we don’t need to feed them to our pigs or dog.

Speaking of pigs, we will be taking orders for pigs soon for delivery in May. This could be a half or whole pig. Think about it, we’ll be in touch. We’ll also have pork available at the Montrose Farmers Market next summer.

Our vegetable garden did very well this summer. We kind of go for a free for all out there. The plants get tall, the weeds do too. Our tomatos are bountiful to say the least. Winter squash are coming along, summer squash have been great. Our cucumbers are doing less than great. Our greens kind of bolted, when Jake was here for the summer he brought a lot of greens home from Circle A and ours got neglected. The cows like ’em though.

One change we might do is stop feeding millet to our hens. They love it, it’s non-GMO, and cheap. But it regrows like crazy. Normally I would say this isn’t a problem, but the plant seems to drop the seeds before I get a chance to harvest them. It’s kind of like broccoli, there is about a 2 day window for harvesting- miss those 2 days and it’s over.

Our turkeys are doing great. They are characters, very different from chickens. Our chickens are not pets and they generally avoid us. Our turkeys aren’t pets either, but they hang out with us and are curious about whatever it is we’re doing. A fun summer activity is catching grasshoppers and giving them to the turkeys. Jemma is all about it, ‘Hoppers, turkeys’! She loves seeing the turkeys catch the hoppers and then try to steal from each other. They turkeys are getting bigger and getting better at swallowing them whole. Jemma isn’t super keen on touching the hoppers, but loves to watch them jump and crash land. Fingers crossed that a fox doesn’t get to the turkeys before we do.

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I made a flyer about the benefits of grass fed beef to hand out at the farmers market. You can read it here. I’m very certain this is the best way to raise beef, both for the health of humans, cattle, and the planet.

July 2015

Summer! It’s been good so far.

We brought out cattle to the processor on July 1. Finally! These cattle were bottle raised by Emily and I back in the summer of 2013, our first summer on this farm. We bought them from James Ranch near Durango. Are we sad? No. We’re finally getting some significant cash coming in to the farm! Sorry cows, that’s the way the ball game works;)

Chicory in the pasture.

Chicory in the pasture.

The cattle were processed at Homestead Meats in Delta, the only USDA inspected processor in the area. I owe a big thanks to our neighbor Terry for loaning us his trailer and hauling these cattle to Delta. The cattle hung in the cooler for 2 weeks, then were cut according to our instructions. I am a roast fan, not so much for ground beef. So we have a lot of roasts. Hopefully farmers market customers have similar preferences. But it’s not quite roast season yet.

Here is our cattle price list and we still have a nice selection of just about all cuts. I’m hoping to sell out of this beef by Nov 1 or so. The prices are a little high, but please don’t think we’re getting rich off of this. The money goes to buy more cattle and minerals.

Another exciting thing for the month is we have a bull! We were able to lease a bull from a rancher in Fruita. We have 2 cows that need a bull. Finding a bull proved to be a challenge. Most of the cattle around here go to the high country for the summer. Artificial insemination was an option, but not something I wanted to do. Late in the game I found the bull in Fruita. Kind of a haul, but I think it worked out well. He’s a lowline Angus bull. Our cows are Hereford. So we should get black calves with white faces. Our biggest concern is this bull is small. 18 months old, our cows are 26 months old. But lowline cattle are just small. We’re hoping he can ‘reach’ the cows to do his job. We’re hoping for calves in June 2016.

Bull on the left, cow on the right...

Bull on the left, cow on the right…

Chickens have kept us busy all summer. We started chicks in the brooder in April, and finally kicked the last chicks out of the brooder at the end of July. Brooding is a lot of work and the closest things come to traditional confinement houses on our farm. We generally move chicks out on the pasture at 3 weeks old, turkeys at 4 weeks.

The Eggmobile!  Hens are under it finding noontime shade.

The Eggmobile! Hens are under it finding noontime shade.  Lots more eggs coming Oct 1!

Our first batch of meat chickens were butchered in early June, and they were a huge disappointment for us. Our second batch turned out nice and big, but they were about 3 weeks late for butchering, which means 3 more weeks of feeding large hungry birds and 3 more weeks of work. We have 1 more batch of meat chickens out on pasture now, ready for butchering in mid-late August. Thanks for Russell Evans and the students of Transition Lab for helping with chicken processing!

Meat chickens finding afternoon shade.

Meat chickens finding afternoon shade.

We also have some turkeys out there. We started with 15, we’re down to 11 now. 3 died in the brooder when they were little, 1 died in the pasture over a chilly, wet night. We have had rough luck with turkeys here over the years. Turkeys are great, but when they get bigger they are really susceptible to foxes and dogs. Fingers crossed, if these turkeys don’t work out for us we probably won’t do turkeys again.

Turkeys, ready for some grasshoppers.

Turkeys, ready for some grasshoppers.

Our garden is like a jungle! Pigs dig the gardens for us over the winter and till in heaps of organic material as they go.  Compare this picture to last months picture.

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I’m selling at the local Montrose Farmers Market every week, primarily chicken and beef. It’s been a lot of fun, I like meeting people and sharing stories.

June 2015 update

It’s been so busy around here I didn’t even write our monthly update.  I have to think back now.

Our belted galloway steer.  We bought him in May 2015.  I love how he matches the color of the Hampshire pig.

Our belted galloway steer. We bought him in May 2015. I love how he matches the color of the Hampshire pig.

Winter was really dry and warm, early spring was really dry and warm.  Late spring was cool and wet.  Right up to about June 15 or so.  Then it got hot and dry for about 2 weeks.  What that spells is good grass growing and hay cutting conditions.  Lots of cool wet weather to grow the grass followed by hot and dry to dry it all out.  Our neighbor gives us his grass every year, last year we got 120 bales, this year we got 160.  Same ground and it was actually cut a few weeks earlier than last year.

Our gardens are in and doing very well.  For the past 2 yrs, irrigating the gardens was a chore.  3 hrs a day, 3x/week standing around holding a hose on plants.  Not hard work, but work nonetheless.  This year I’m too busy for that, my brewery consulting work is going very well.  So we installed a drip irrigation system for most of our gardens.  In total it cost about $300, but it saves me about 8 hrs of labor each week all summer long.  Very worth it!  The drip system covers most of our garden, the rest is covered by sprinklers, permanently installed for the summer.  So far so good.  The drip is very nice, but there are a lot of pieces and complicated parts with it.  Plus I am pulling water out of the ditch.  Muddy, algae, insects, etc.  The drip system requires 200 micron filtration, so we have a total of 4 filters.  The first 2 are coarse and were here before we bought the place.  The 3rd is a disk filter and the 4th is a 200 micron screen filter.  We clean the 200 micron filter at least 2x each irrigation cycle, a bit of work, but it takes about 1 minutes compared to holding a hose watering individual plants.

We use no fertilizer, herbicides, or pesticides in the garden.  Well, we do fertilize, but it happens over the winter with pigs.  We don’t do a lot of weeding, we mostly just let it go and enjoy the jungle.  At least I enjoy the jungle, Emily isn’t a big fan of it.  But she does most of the weeding so we’re all happy.

June 6.  The dirt mound is our hugelgarden, a less than successful experiment.  We have decided to stop growing veggies on it and turn it on to a perennial flower garden (less weeding).

June 6. The dirt mound is our hugelgarden, a less than successful experiment. We have decided to stop growing veggies on it and turn it on to a perennial flower garden (less weeding).

June 6 in the garden.  Pasture and eggmobile in the background.

June 6 in the garden. Pasture and eggmobile in the background.

Did I mention the eggmobile earlier?  Very cool, we’re still working out the details of the best way to work with it.

Our laying hens are on pasture all summer long.  For the past 2 yrs I was dragging their house across the grass; not easy.  So I built a hen house on wheels:

The frame of the eggmobile.  Eggsactly what I wanted at the right price too.

The frame of the eggmobile, aka running gear. Eggsactly what I wanted at the right price too.

What the hens used to use for their summer house.

What the hens used to use for their summer house.

Almost done.  I built a deck on the running gear, then set 2 bird pens on top.  I move it with our Gravely tractor.

Almost done. I built a deck on the running gear, then set 2 bird pens on top. I move it with our Gravely tractor.  Mesh floor, lots of roost space, up off the ground.  The idea is I can run lamb and pigs in here with the chickens and move 3 different species all at once.  So far only birds have been in there, I’m a little nervous to add more.

Busy.  Brewery work.  Farm work.  An 18 month old daughter.  Spring on the farm, it’ll always be busy.

May 2015 update and a long ramble…

Things are busy around here, that’s for sure.

We bought a yearling steer, this will be meat at next years farmers market. I’m learning that cattle require a lot of long term planning.

We are finishing 3 cattle on grass. Basically we’re getting them fat before harvest. This turns in to a lot of work. Moving them twice a day, providing them with as much food as they can eat. Providing them with this much food when they’re younger turns in to bone and muscle. Now that they’re full grown the excess food turns in to fat. And not just any fat. Healthy fat. Totally different from the fat of grain fed cattle. Cattle were never meant to eat grains. In the wild they eat grass, weeds, and other similar forages. Grain fed cattle is a by-product of cheap fertilizer (due to weapons manufacturing in WWII), GMO corn, and feedlots. Of course it’s cheaper to house and feed cattle this way, but who asked the cattle? What do they prefer?

Here is a study done by CNN on grass vs grain fed beef. Here is another in the NY Times. Lastly, here is an excellent, somewhat technical and eye opening discussion about the benefits. I try to memorize all of this stuff, but it’s a lot.

One last (for now) benefit of grass fed beef is energy requirements. Grass grows via energy from the sun. For us we use no artificial fertilizer, no pesticides, no herbicides, just energy from the sun, intensive grazing, and rest periods. Think of the energy required to plow the field, plant the grain, spray the grain multiple times, harvest the grain, transport the grain off the farm, transport the grain on to a different farm, and feed the grain. All of that compared to the energy required to grow grass. But there is no money to be made from grass, at least not in the eyes of big business. But we’re here as a small business, harvesting the energy of the sun, and growing healthy food for us and for our customers.

Does that constitute as rambling? I kind of went off on a tangent there, but this is why we do what we do. This is a big deal, and it’s becoming bigger. People are starting to learn about how skewed our food system is to big corporations and profit. Our current food system is based on profit for big companies and share holders, not energy, or how healthy the food is or how fit for consumption it is.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me. ‘Til next time…

April 2015

April 2015

We’ve decided that March and April are the hardest months around here. The pasture isn’t ready to graze, hay stocks are running low, mud… Now more than any other time, patience is required of both us and the animals.

Animals have needs of course. Food, shelter, water… Grass has needs to. Water, food, grazing, and recovery time. In early spring they need to grow, restore their roots and get ready for summer. Grazing at this time of year robs the grass of this early growth, potentially slowing down growth for the rest of the season. Anyway, I had to graze more than I wanted to this spring and hope that things are set back too much later in the summer.

The cows are grazing ‘candy grass’ right now. I’m moving them twice a day to spread out the impact and allow more recovery time.

I built an eggmobile this spring! Very cool.

Old on the left, new on the right.

Old on the left, new on the right.

 

The idea is the chickens sleep, eat, and lay eggs in this contraption. They have a door, so they can leave and spend most of the day down in the grass eating, scratching, and enjoying themselves. I can also graze sheep and pigs in there with the chickens, they can’t get to the chickens food and I can move 3 different species at the same time. Hopefully this winds up being as neat as I think it is.

We installed a drip irrigation system for our vegetable garden, hopefully greatly simplifying the irrigation process around here. Last summer it was 3 hrs a day, 3x per week.

Lastly, we bought a young steer.

2 belted critters, funny.

2 belted critters, funny.

He’s a Belted Galloway, a heritage cattle breed. The first few hours were tough, trying to get a new cattle in with our existing and trained to electric fence all at the same time. Then I remembered, duh, we have goat netting. So I put him in the netting, able to touch noses with his new friends, but not able to escape. After 2 days of that he is trained, friendly, and as lovely as the rest of our crew.

Our first farmers market is May 23 here in Montrose. Lots of little details to take care of between now and then…

Spring 2015 Newsletter

Welcome spring!  It’s a busy time around the farm.  Seedlings have been started for awhile now, chicks are in the brooder, and the grass is freshening.  It’s time to start thinking about your grass fed, humanely raised, and pasture raised meats.

What’s the difference between grass fed and pastured raised?  Grass fed means the animal eats grass only.  Ruminants can do this (cows, sheep, goats), non-ruminants can’t- in our case that would be pigs and poultry.  Our pigs and chickens live on the pasture, eating some grass, clover, insects, mice, etc.- but mostly they eat feed.  Corn, barley, oats, soy…  The birds get non-GMO feed.  Pasture raised also means no confinement animal houses, no antibiotics or growth hormones.  The animals live outside enjoying the sun, wind, and rain like they always have.
Our cows eat grass year round, fresh off the pasture or as hay.  They are treated humanely, and get sea salt and kelp free choice.  That’s it.  Our pasture gets no commercial fertilizer or herbicides.  I call it non-certified organic.  We’re probably not going to get organic certification, it’s expensive and there are lots of rules- which only makes things more expensive for you.  Grass fed animals also have tremendous health benefits for humans.  But that’s a subject for another time.
I’m not planning to raise pigs this summer for fall harvest.  For us, raising pigs over the winter makes a lot more sense.  In the summer we don’t want the pigs to do what they do best.  Dig.  In the winter we can encourage the pigs to dig.  So why fight it?  In the summer we irrigate, which means lots of wet soil- a prime pig playground.  They would tear up our pasture.  In the winter we can put the pigs in garden areas, or have them build new garden areas, and they can dig to their hearts content.  Let’s put the pigs to work doing what they do best.  Anyway, that’s the plan at least, we’ll see if I stick to it or not.  Pigs tearing up pasture isn’t necessarily bad, it gives us an opportunity to increase variety out there with alfalfa, more clover, chicory, field peas, etc.  But it takes a lot of special attention with irrigation to get these little plants started.
We are selling at the Montrose Farmer’s Market this summer, meats only is the plan at this point.  It’s my first time selling at the market and of course there are lots of little details to prepare for ahead of time.  One of the tricky parts is I have no idea what the demand will be.  Another hard part is it’s every Saturday morning, and we like to camp and hike.  We’ll see how it goes.
Please, everyone who receives this email feel free to make requests or preorder whatever you may like.
I know it’s hard, but I’d like you all to plan ahead if you’re interested in some grass fed and/or pasture raised meats later in the year.  Here is what we’ll have available with approximate dates.  As usual, if you want in on any of these please let me know.
  • Pasture raised chicken, non-GMO fed.  At this point we are planning 3 batches of chickens.  Availability dates of May 30, June 27, and Aug 29.
  • Grass fed beef.  I will be selling beef by the pound at the Farmer’s Market beginning in late July.  I have a lot available, but I need to sell by the pound to generate revenue- to buy more cattle.  It’s a vicious cycle:)
  • Grass fed lamb.  These will be available by half, whole, or by the pound in late October.  This is my first time raising lamb, they’ll be raised with the laying hens out on the pasture.  That’s the plan at least.  I don’t plan to sell this at the farmers market.
  • Pastured Turkey.  We’re trying it again.  We haven’t had a lot of success with turkeys here, the fox are persistent and the turkeys aren’t that bright.  We’ve even had mink get our turkeys!  But we’ll try again, these will be ready in early November.
  • Natural pork.  Ready in May 2016.
  • Pasture raised eggs, non-GMO fed.  We have a limited quantity available now, our young chicks now will start laying more this fall.  We have nothing but positive comments about the flavor of our eggs.  Current cost is $4 per dozen, but this may change in the fall.

If you are interested in a whole or half beef, let me know.  Cattle is a long term commitment and advanced planning is needed- especially for a small operator like me.  Cattle prices are insane right now and I would need you to pay for your portion of the calf up front.  We are a debt free farm, which means we don’t have a lot of liquid assets for major purchases.  Availability of this beef would be summer 2016 and each summer thereafter.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me while I ramble.  As always I appreciate your patronage and let me know if you are interested in any of our grass fed and pasture raised chicken, lamb, beef, turkey, or pork.  Feel free to ask questions, and of course feel free to forward this email to whoever you think shares our values.  This will be to only ‘marketing’ email you receive from us until the fall, get your orders in now before you forget:)  Also, reply to this email to unsubscribe if you’d like.

March 2015

Spring is springing, and I’m already starting to feel a little overwhelmed.

The chickens have been out on pasture since March 10 or so. They’re doing great, their egg production went way up. I mentioned earlier that certain birds were flying out of the chicken run area every day. That would be certain death if they did that on pasture (fox), so I clipped their wings before moving them to pasture. Gosh, that was easy and I should have done it back in December. To do it, wait until it’s dark but not too late, then go in the hen house and grab the birds who need a trimming. Cut their biggest feathers on one wing. It doesn’t hurt them, it’s like giving a wing a haircut. Now they can’t fly. And since it was done at night there’s no chasing involved (they can’t see, and even the wild ones let me grab them no problem at all). Only one wing, if they try to fly they go in a spiral…

The pigs are almost done digging our vegetable gardens and turning the compost. They’re awesome workers. But I’m not super happy with these pigs. They’re all runty. They’re all almost 5 months old, they should be about 180 lbs each and they’re probably 120 lbs. Let’s just say I will not use this breeder again.

We’re selling at the Montrose Farmer’s Market this year, our first day there will be May 23. Probably meats only. Looking forward to it, but since it’s our first year I have no idea what to expect. One of the things that has us worried is it’s Saturday mornings. That puts a serious crimp in weekend plans for us. And they’re probably missing a lot of customers too. Camping, hiking, life… We’ll see, I’m a little nervous about it all.

I’ll be buying a yearling cattle this May, once the grass comes in. I should have bought it as a weaned calf last fall, but I forgot. This will be next summers beef to sell. I’m buying 2 more calves this fall, they’ll be beef for us and to sell in summer 2017. Beef is definitely a long term project. Our cows will be bred in August and will have their 1st calves in June 2016. That will be something. They will calve in the pasture, nice fresh grass for calving at that time of year. One thing about breeding in August is around here the bulls are up in the mountains for the summer. I might have to have them artificially inseminated. But all of that is stuff for future posts.

February 2015

Lots of things happening around here, gearing up for the growy season.  It’s kind of been a tale of 2 months actually.  The first 3 weeks were dry, warm, and kind of weird.  Shorts and t-shirt weather several of those days.  Our pasture grasses starting coming in, surprising because it’s been so dry.

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Then on Feb 22 it started to snow, we got about 18″ in 24 hrs.  Everybody got confused.

Anyway, our pigs are still digging the gardens for us.  The video above is hilarious, pigs have such funny shaped bodies.  Not enough oinking, maybe next time.

Chickens are getting annoying, there is a certain group of them that refuses to stay with the rest of the birds.  They fly the coop each morning, then fly back in each evening.  Chickens are really destructive.  Mulch under our seedling shrubs…  Gone.  Mulch anywhere…  Gone.  Probably half of the garlic we planted last fall is gone.  Damn birds.

After the snow came, now we have some serious mud.  The cows aren’t too happy, we’re keeping them off the pasture to keep them from damaging it.  The area they’re in is future garden space, same place we grew squash and pumpkins in last year.  We put some whole corn on the ground, put a bunch of wasted hay on top of it, then it snowed.  So the corn is still there, but it’s very buried.  Eventually the pigs will get in there and they will dig like crazy to find that corn, loosening up the soil and tilling in all that old hay.  I love it, and the pigs do too.

On somewhat short notice, John got a ‘scholarship’ to a class being offered in town.  Holistic Whole Farm and Ranch Business Planning offered by the Holistic Management Institute.  It’s 5 full days, at this point 3 are complete.  It’s a business class, but not just any business class.  One simple different is the bottom line, profits.  In this class they teach a triple bottom line, biologic, social, and financial.  Is what you’re planning going to do going to harm the earthworms?  Then it fails the biologic aspect.  Will the public approve of what you’re doing?  If they do it passes the social aspect.  Can you make money at it?  How much time will it take and how much money?  Is it worth it?  Anyway, these are just a few simple examples but it’s a very interesting class.  One last thing I think is cool.  We all know Income – Expenses = Profit.  In this class they teach Income – Profit = Expenses.  Aka, plan your profit ahead of time, don’t just hope for it.

We have already started some of our seedlings.  Onions, and various greens.  We planted an apple tree, and a cool multi-graft apricot and pear tree.  These multi-grafts will give 4 different kinds of pear on the same tree, and 5 different apricots, peaches, and nectarines on a single different tree.  Each branch is a different fruit, grafted on to the main trunk.  Hard to pass something like this up.  We also have elderberries started, goji berries, black currants, and a cherry tree.  Perennial fruits and vitamins.  Of course we have comfry seeds to sow under many of these trees and shrubs too.

January 2015

A few big items of news for January.  But keep in mind this is a farm blog, so big is certainly a relative term.

Our experiment with swathed stockpiled forage is complete.  I’d say we got mixed results and that it’s worth doing again.  The cattle have been getting about 2.2 bales of hay a day since that experiment ended on Jan 7.  The swathed grass we cut on the east side of our property worked just fine.  The cattle ate all of it.  The grass we cut on the west side of the property molded.  A few issues here…  The soil in that part of the farm is normally wetter than in other areas.  The ditch in front had water in it far longer than typical, which also contributed to the moist soils.  And the grass itself was very thick, leading to a dense windrow.  Overall this was a cool experiment, and I think we’ll do it again- just not in that particular area.  Moving a single string of electric fence wire is a lot more fun than hauling 2 bales of hay every day.

We went to Mexico as a family for 9 days!  We celebrated Jemma’s first birthday in Mexico, and it was fantastic.  The locals down there called her ‘Baby feliz’, Happy Baby.  We were in Sayulita, a small town about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta.  Surfing, boogie boarding, and stand up paddle boarding in the surf.  Fun fun.  We shared a house with some friends from Bend, OR, Shawn & Veronica Theriot and their 3 yr old boy Nolan.

And we have piglets again!  Maybe having pigs around is something we should get used to.  Here is a video of them, I crack up every time I see it:

You can see all of the bags of leaves around their pen.  As the pigs get bigger their pen will get bigger.  This is the new location of our vegetable garden.  Their job this winter is to shred those leaves (and moldy hay;) and till them into the soil.  Eating bindweed root while they’re at it.  Pigs love bindweed root!

Much thanks to Jeff Follis for taking care of the farm while we were beaching it up down south.  All of the animals behaved for him and he had a good ol’ time.

December 2014

December was not a mellow month around here.  Lots of work.  It started with butchering our pig.

Like last year, we did it all ourselves.  Like last year, it was not an easy task.  2 whole days and then some.  But the end result is spectacular.  We salted and cured our own ham, bacon, and hocks.  Then we smoked it in apple wood.  Holy cow, a lot of work, but now we have a lot of deliciousness for at least the next 12 months, probably more.  Thanks for Greg and Jack for helping on the cut up day.  And thanks to Emily for helping on the kill and scraping day.  That day sucked.

 

Brandon smoking outside a fridge full of smoking pork.

Brandon smoking outside a fridge full of smoking pork.

We enjoyed winter solstice with a little bonfire on the edge of our pasture.  Just Jemma, Emily, and I- plus some curious cows and a dog named Joe.

We took a lot of pictures this night, fun stuff.

We took a lot of pictures this night, fun stuff.

For about 2 months this fall I would periodically prowl local neighborhoods for bags of leaves.  It’s kind of fun, but I feel weird doing it.  Last year the City brought us 400 bags of leaves or something like that.  Probably a few too many.  This year I probably have 200 total, and I could use a little more.  These leaves are bedding for chickens and pigs.  The chickens scratch through them, even more so when we throw some millet in the pile.  The pigs will just shred them, it’s amazing how much the pigs work.  More on that in future posts.  Here is a picture of the chickens on a cold afternoon with a fresh bag of leaves.  There’s no millet in there, just leaves.  They love scratching through it to see what they can find.

Isn't the blue of winter weird?

Isn’t the blue of winter weird?

At the end of it all, these leaves become compost for our vegetable gardens.  As it is, the soil around here is really low in organic material.  By the time May comes around, our garden soil will be really high in organic material.  It’s quite the transformation and it’s almost all thanks to the pigs and chickens.  I’ll post a lot of pictures on here as we progress through the spring, you get to witness soil formation right here!  Probably no one is as excited about it as I am, but it is an amazing thing to see.

November 2014

We’re 3 days away from butcher day for our pig. Kind of a sad day, but pigs are good for digging- and for eating. Our pigs here have a great life, and 1 bad day.

I am a farmer, we have a farm. Should I say rancher? Anyway, I didn’t grow up doing this. I learn how to do what I do by reading books, and there are a lot of really good books out there challenging the status quo. Why repeat what other farmers are doing, for the most part you can’t argue that they’re successful or they wouldn’t have a day job. Anyway…

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One of those books is Kick the Hay Habit by Jim Gerrish. He argues that feeding hay does not make sense. It used to make sense until hay got too expensive. Hay used to be made by hand, now it’s made by big expensive machinery. Hay used to be cheap, now it’s expensive. He does not advocate feeding grain, he advocates winter annuals, standing forage, and letting the cattle do the harvesting. But you can’t make the switch in 1 day, 1 month, or even 1 year. The cattle have to learn how to find food in the snow, and learn how to teach their calves to do the same thing. Time. As a step in this direction, as described last month, we have hay laying loose on our field. It was cut right around the time of first freeze (Oct 3). It was dried, then raked into long rows, and now the cattle are eating it.

I sent a few samples out for analysis to see how good of quality the hay actually was. With grass hay we’re concerned with crude protein and TDN (total digestible nutrients). The outer part of the rows was good quality, the inner part was excellent quality. This makes sense, the outer part gets sun all day and frost every night. I’ll keep sending samples in every 3 weeks until it’s gone to track this. The cattle are very happy with it. Another benefit to them is the ground under the thick hay rows is not frozen, so they have a soft, warm spot to lay in.

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October 2014

Biggest news of the month is my hand is healing up pretty good. I’m impressed with how well it’s doing, considering 4 weeks ago the bone was in 5 pieces or something like that. And I never had a cast. Very happy about that.

Anyway, this is a family farm blog, not a medical blog…

We butchered some chickens this past week, with help from John’s dad Paul and his wife Judy. These were 18 month old laying hens and it was the first time butchering anything for the hired help. We still don’t have a plucker, so they got the job of plucking. Maybe Santa will bring a plucker?

Sunflowers did a little too well this year.

Sunflowers did a little too well this year.

We have a pretty cool and unique for around here plan for hay feeding this winter. Making hay around here usually consists of cutting the plants, letting them dry in the sun, then baling the hay, hauling it to a pile, then hauling it to the animals all winter long. We don’t have hay making equipment, so we hire this service. Baling the hay is the expensive part. So, we got a book about getting away from hay altogether. ‘Kick the Hay Habit’ by Jim Gerrish.

During the growing season we do what’s called management intensive grazing (MIG). Basically the cows are in a fairly small area and they eat everything in a day, then they get moved to completely fresh pasture for another day. They utilize the pasture plants effectively, and they get nice fresh greens every day. Equally important, the plants get to completely recover before they are grazed again (about 4 weeks later). Not one bite. Anyway, now that we’re out of the grazing season we do strip grazing. Same idea, but there is no fence behind them. The fence in front of them moves everyday, so they still get completely fresh pasture every day- but the space behind them gets bigger. And that’s OK, the plants are dormant now and don’t really need to recover. We’ll probably do strip grazing until the end of January. But the kicker is they’ll be eating hay in December and January.

The cattle will be eating standing pasture through November. We had hay cut in early October on part of the pasture, then had the hay raked in to windrows, combining 3 swather paths in to 1 windrow. Long, narrow piles of hay. The key thing to everything we do here is electric fence. We rely on it more than any other thing for everything we do. Imagine a bunch of long rows of loose hay laying in the pasture. Electric fence will surround it so the cattle can’t get in. On one edge we move the fence about 10 ft per day. So the cattle get fresh hay all winter long. Since we live in a dry environment this works (hopefully). If we lived in a wet environment the hay would rot.

One key thing we have to do is get the cattle to learn where those rows of hay are before we get a good snow. Once they know its there they’ll dig it up if its buried in snow. They’ll also lay where the hay was, the ground won’t be frozen under there. Cows are good at being cows.

Last winter we ran some pigs in an area with bad soil. In 1 winter they changed the soil to our best on the whole farm. Read some of our posts from early 2014 for pictures. Anyway, we planted corn, winter squash, pumpkins, potatoes, oats and millet in there. The whole thing was an experiment. It all performed amazingly well. We didn’t weigh our squash/pumpkin harvest, but my guess is at least 500 lbs total. We eat the good ones, pigs and chickens get the rest. Awesome.

Thanks pigs!

Thanks pigs!

Winter squash and heritage ensilage dent corn.

Winter squash and heritage ensilage dent corn.

We have eggs!

The following was our email newsletter sent out to customers in October 2014:


 

How many ways can we say this?  Finally.  At long last.  With relief, we finally have eggs for sale.
Farming/ranching/growing is certainly not an instant gratification thing.  Deciding what to do.  Doing the research.  Saving money.  Purchasing the seeds, stock, or getting on a waiting list.  Receiving the youngin’s, raising them as best you can and hoping to get many returns for all of the work.
Happily, we are at a point where we have eggs for sale.  These are pasture raised, non-GMO fed, pig fightin’ hens.  Hens start laying eggs at about 5 months of age.  After 3 weeks in the brooder as little fluff balls, they spent the entire summer on pasture with daily moves.  Fresh grass, fresh insects, fresh things to dig in every day.  With the days getting shorter they have been moved in to their winter quarters.  This means the are free range all day long, all winter long.  Also means we have to remember to close their door every night to keep the sharp toothed critters away.  Every night.
New for this year is we have a rooster in with the ladies.  So far he has been alert and friendly.  And noisy.  A good rooster is good to have, he warns if a hawk flies over, rounds up the gals at the end of the day, and theoretically points out tasty treats.  Generally a protector.  Staying nice is a key component too, they can get mean (towards us).  We’ll see how it goes.

So how many eggs so we have for sale?  Keep in mind these are animals, not machines- we should have about 7 dozen eggs to sell each week.  Cost is $5 per dozen.  Pasture raised, free range, non-GMO fed…
Something to think about heading in to winter, and spring(!).  We will be raising pigs this winter for sale around May 1.  In the winter the pigs do the heavy gardening work for us.  They will dig down about 2 feet in their mobile pen.  We fill the hole with leaves and old hay, then they bury that material as they dig a new hole (looking for roots).  The can take compacted, weedy clay soil and turn it in to awesome high organic material garden soil in 1 winter.  One of their favorite treats is bindweed root!  We have plenty of that around here.  We’ll be selling this pork at the Montrose Farmers Market in the spring, but if you preorder a half or whole pig the cost will be much lower.
Looking further ahead, we’ll have pastured poultry in the summer, grass fed beef in August, and grass fed lamb and pastured pork in the fall.  And hopefully eggs every day year round.
Let us know if you’re interested in eggs, or if you want in on any of the goodies coming up next year.  Thank you!

September 2014

Guess what, another good month here.  Jemma is crawling, and our cows were moved to the neighbors pasture for a month or so.  The cattle are enjoying themselves, eating the grass and nibbling the brush along the edges.

The biggest news for September actually happened on October 2.  John broke his hand working out in the pasture, tripped on an irrigation furrow and landed awkwardly on his right hand.  1 broken (splintered) bone and surgery with a plate and 10 screws on this little bone.  Things will slow down even more here.  At least I like to think that way.

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Pig butchering at the end of the month will be delayed by 4 to 6 weeks.  We raised 3 pigs through the summer, and they did a lot of work for us.  We have some dry areas in the pasture and they worked in a lot of dryland pasture seed.  I hope the results are good next spring.  2 of the pigs were raised ‘on contract’ for friends and family.  The 3rd pig is for us, and its the one we will butcher at home ourselves- once my hand heals.

We had our grass cut in early October.  The idea is we’re going to rake it in to windrows, not bale it, and then feed it over the winter to the cattle.  We’ll use electric fence to slowly meter out the wind rows, since baling is the expensive part of making hay, this is a cheap way to make hay for the winter.  We were short on hay, now we are looking really good.  I project a hay surplus in spring.

Chicory

Chicory

Good insects!

Good insects!

The hens got moved off pasture at the end of September and they have two weeks to think about where home is.  They’re cooped up in their hen house as they rehome that this is their new home.  October 3rd the hens get released back out to free range for the rest of the winter.  The trick is for us to remember to close the hens door at night to keep the predators out, and then open the door in the morning.  Sounds easy but if you forget just once in these six months or so that’s all it takes for a raccoon, skunk or fox to get in the hen house and cause a lot of damage- lets just put it that way.

Our pullets started laying in mid September, now we’re getting 10 to 18 eggs per day.  So we finally have eggs for sale . These are pasture raised hens fed non GMO feed and in the winter they are free range.  They’ll be fighting with the pigs here soon trying to steal their food, these  little birds are pretty bold.  Funny to see.

August 2014

August has been mellow again here on the farm.  Harvest has been ongoing, but mostly from other sites.  I killed all of our tomato and chili plants early in the spring, I drowned them when I was irrigating the pasture.  That won’t happen again…  So harvesting our own veggies hasn’t really been happening.  But we did can a bunch of organic peaches from Palisade, made a bunch of apple sauce and dried a lot of apples, and did various things to a whole lot of plums thanks to our neighbor Louise.

We also made a fair amount of kimchee, harvested our millet, oats and sunflowers.  Busy for sure, but not too bad really.  One thing I want to try is drying kimchee, but I’m afraid of the effects it might have on our dehyrdrator- as in stank that doesn’t wash off.

Our pigs have been digging for us lately, which is what we want.  Due to our tomato drowning event, we are going to move our garden.  The pigs are getting started on that.  They are really amazing, if the ground is wet they can do a lot of work in a few days.  They love bindweed roots, kochia, and other weeds.  Plus we get to sell them and make a little money on it all.  Not bad.

July 2014

Sort of a mellow month here this month. Hay is done, chickens are butchered… Now we’re just moving the cattle & chickens every day and feeding the pigs. And irrigating. We got some family time in at Ouray, and John got in some good hikes in the Silverton area with his buddy Brad.

Chores take about an hour in the morning, and 10 minutes in the evening. In the AM we feed the pigs, move the cattle, move & feed the chickens, and refill everyone’s water. In the evening we feed the pigs, feed the chickens again and collect eggs.

100 cattle are easier than 20 chickens… 100 chickens isn’t any harder than 20. Cattle are the easiest on the ranch, then pigs, and chickens are the most difficult. At least in our world. The chickens wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have so many foxes around. Let your guard down and birds will disappear. Grrr. The cattle are kept where they need to be with 1 flimsy piece of electric string. Very easy to move every day and they walk their themselves. The chickens are enclosed with electric netting, to keep the birds in and the predators out. Usually this works fine. Sometimes a chicken will fly or crawl out of the netting looking for something tasty and that’s when the fox comes and takes them.

We lost all of our turkeys, mostly to fox. Turkeys are much more difficult than chickens, at least until we get a system figured out.

Here’s our turkey story. Last year (2013) we started with 15 turkey poults (chicks). We ended up with 2 in the freezer. We lost a bunch in 1 night to a fox. Not sure what happened, but I think the fox scared a bunch of turkeys and chickens out of their enclosure. They would have been fine if they stayed in there. We had about 20 dead chickens and turkeys that morning. Not a good way to start the day if you’re a farmer. We slowly lost the rest of the turkeys to fox through the summer and fall.

This year we did our turkeys a little different. We started with 5 poults. Long story short, after 2.5 months we lost one overnight, probably to an owl. A few weeks later we lost 3 to a fox. The last remaining turkey was wounded in that fox attack and we had to butcher it. It had some big claw marks on its back, but we were able to salvage most of the bird.

When the birds are small we raise chickens and turkeys together. The chickens are ‘teachers’ for the turkeys. The chickens show them where the food and water is. Not that difficult, but mom isn’t around to teach them. At about 7 weeks it’s time to separate the turkeys from the chickens. The turkeys are getting big and the beat up on the chickens. The problem is when we take the turkeys away they do everything they can to get back to those chickens. They miss their flock. Last year we raised the turkeys with laying hen pullets, the chickens were pecking at the toms tail creating a lot of blood which caused them to peck there even more. This year we raised the turkeys with meat chickens and it worked great. But meat chickens don’t roost at night. So the turkeys were never taught to roost at night, they slept on the ground. An easy target for a fox.

Nothing is cheap in the livestock world. Sometimes we can buy chicks on sale for $1 each, but then we have to feed them and that’s where the money comes in. Of course, feed stores know this. Anyway, John didn’t want to do turkeys this year after last years fiasco. Emily talked him in to it at $10 each. So, for $50 plus probably $50 in feed we have one 12 lb turkey in the freezer.

Anyway, life on a farm. Lots of work, lots to learn, and patience is the name of the game.

Fried grasshopper

When we were traveling through Asia we came across a lot of cooked insect sellers.  Here is one market we came across on a remote border between Thailand and Cambodia.  The unique thing about what this person was selling was the size of the insects.  They’re huge!

P1110237 (Large)Most of the people All of the people at this border crossing are Thai’s going into a casino on the Cambodian side.  It was connected to the border through a sidewalk that was surrounded on both sides and the top with chain link fence.  No doors on the casino except the entrance.

Anyway, today I came across fried grashopper of a different sort.  I was in the house doing brewery work and suddenly I heard loud snapping from the electric fence.  Always the curious sort, I went out to look to see what happened.

20140725_131627 (Large)I always tell visitors “Don’t touch the electric fence”.

 

A new rooster…

Normally we start our day with morning chores.  We hope to find cattle and pigs still in the right place and no missing birds.  Almost every day is how we want it to be.

This week something funny happened.  Somehow we have a new rooster.

He’s full grown and the ladies seem to like him, but where did he come from?  My guess is somebody wanted to get rid of him and threw him in our pasture.  Roosters being roosters, he found his way in to the pen with the hens.  Great, now what.  We already have 1 young rooster, now we have 2.  We definitely do not need 2 roosters, and we might not even want 1 of them (they are very noisy).

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Hmmmm.  3 options.  We can keep them both (not likely).  We can eat 1 of them.  Or we can feed 1 of them to the pigs.

June 2014

Another busy month…  Let’s see, the main things are we bought 3 pigs.  These are heritage breed Berkshire pigs.  We got them at 5 weeks old from a breeder in Hotchkiss.

Here they are at about 7 weeks old and already digging.  This is an old wood ash area, lots of roots and it got a little wet.  Pig heaven.

Here they are at about 7 weeks old and already digging. This is an old wood ash area, lots of roots and it got a little wet. Pig heaven.

 

We butchered our first batch of meat chickens.  Quite a job and never very fun, but we wound up with 27 for sale and 16 for us.  We sold them for $4.50 per pound.  We actually plucked all of them by hand- it took a long time.  I have plans for a DIY plucker, but the plans call for a very specific motor and I’m having a hard time finding it, even on Ebay.  Know anyone with a 10:1 gear motor, 1 HP, single phase, 110v or 220v?  The deal killer part of things is single phase.  Most gear motors are used in industrial settings, such as conveyors.  3 phase is common in factories but not at houses.

We did a trial of non-GMO feed and conventional feed with GMO ingredients.  We started with quite a few losses on the GMO side, but most were accidents of various sorts.  Then we got lots of losses on the non-GMO side.  And these were feed related.  What a surprise and what a disappointment.  I think the main issue was actually the milling process.  The conventional feed is ground very fine, almost like flour.  The non-GMO feed was very coarse, slightly larger than sesame seeds in size.  Too big for little chicks.  At least I think that’s what was going on.  Either way, high losses during the first 2 weeks.  I’d rather have no losses, but losses at very young is a lot easier to take than losses at 7 weeks after so much care and feeding.

In the end, we wound up going with a different supplier.for non-GMO feed which was ground a lot finer, like flour again.

Anyway, the other biggie for the month is irrigation.  I have to make it better for 2015.  Pasture irrigation is easy.  Right now we use too much water, but plans are in place to make that better in the spring.  The hard part is irrigation all of our gardens.  I do it 3 times a week and it takes 2-3 hrs each time I do it.  Not a horrible task, but it does get old and I think I have better ways to spend my time.

 

Chicken math…

 

One of the reasons we raise chickens is because we like pastured chicken & eggs. We get a lot of food out of one chicken. And we don’t like chickens raised in confinement. Not that the chicken meat itself tastes a whole lot different, but healthy flesh makes for healthyness. Sick tissues make for sickness.

A book I’m reading now had a cool phrase ‘Humans are really good at cause and effect for things that are immediate. Touching a red hot coal makes for a painful burn. We figure that our pretty quick.  But put time or complexity into the equation and humans are bad at it.’ Their case in point was pooping near the well; eventually someone’s gonna get sick. What caused it? We’ll figure it out, but it’s not immediate like poking a hot coal.  Along those same lines we can imagine the fundamental flaws with fracking our water tables, burning fossil fuels, eating McDonald’s everyday…

Have you noticed our tangential ways? Weren’t we talking about chicken math?  One of the things we don’t like about raising chickens is the amount of feed we have to buy. Our cows eat our grass, year round.

Another reason is we don’t like selling chicken at $5/lb.

We all know we can buy a hot, cooked chicken at the grocer for $5.

With cornish cross chickens, roughly 2 lbs of feed = 1 lb of bird. 2:1, that’s impressive.  For small producers it’s probably closer to 2.5:1.  Our birds eat more because they’re outdoors, getting exercise and staying warm.

Non-GMO feed costs $0.40/lb. So that works out to $0.80/lb of bird. (warning, math coming up)

An 8 lb bird will dress out to about 5.5 lbs.

8 lbs of bird = $6.40 in feed.

$6.40/5.5 lbs = $1.16/lb for the finished product.

This doesn’t include the cost of the bird, labor, packaging, infrastructure…

One thing we would like to know. How do you feel about GMO or non-GMO feed for your food?  A year ago I would have said “I don’t care”.

Do a little research, or a lot. What I want to know is if the added cost for non-GMO fed birds is worth it to you?

The purpose of almost all GMO crops is to make them glyphosphate resistant.  Another way of putting it is “RoundUp Ready”.  Spray RoundUp on the fields and the weeds die but your crop can still grow.  Monsanto makes money because they breed & patent the RoundUp ready seeds and they make RoundUp.  They are on record stating something along the lines of ‘We are in business to make money, not create healthy food.’

But the gist is the chemical is still in/on the crop. Who wants RoundUp in their food? I don’t.  It gets to that point brought up at the beginning, humans are bad at seeing long term effects. So I go with my judgement.

Thanks for staying with me on my tangential chicken math topic:)

 

May 2014

 

I think I mentioned this earlier, spring is a busy time of year on a farm.  Exciting and busy.  It’s funny how we go from winter to spring, not busy to very busy.

What happened in May?  It was a big month for us.  We bought 3 Hereford cows!  2 of these will be our breeding stock, the 3rd is for beef.  She is not good breeding material due to a twist of her spine.  Her previous owner named her Twister.  Names, we need names.  They have ear tags, 215, 227, and 228.  We need names for 215 and 228.

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Here they are eating some organic kelp (their mineral source).  What should we name them?  Sue and Moo?  They are girls and we hope to have them for 10+ yrs.

We had our first open farm and I’d say it was a success.  We met a bunch of neighbors, gave a bunch of tours, and sold a bunch of pork.  It was a good way to spend the day.

Our gardens are in, almost in their entirety!  Lots of digging, pitchforking, digging, raking, and calluses.  This year we are putting a big emphasis on winter squash.  Things we can store that we can eat and the animal can eat them too.  Lots of tomatoes, chilis, beans, peas, turnips, carrots…  We missed the asparagus harvest on our farm.  If you don’t know where they are, it’s hard to find them.  Now they’ve gone to seed and they’re easy to find now.  Next spring we hope to get a bunch of fresh wild asparagus off our farm.

Our chicks went out to pasture.  Normally this happens at about 3 weeks of age, but we were in the midst of a cold spell and they were almost 4 weeks old by the time they went out.  The broilers and turkeys are doing great.  Our layers and pullets are getting along, but there is stress out there.  The layers have pretty much stopped laying.  Grrr.

Broilers and turkeys together, at least of a few weeks.

Broilers and turkeys together, at least of a few weeks.

We are doing the broilers differently this year.  Last year we had 2 significant predator events.  So I put the birds in a bit of electric netting.  The netting keeps the birds in and the 4 footed predators out.  Since they have the netting for protection, they don’t need walls on their pen.  So you can see the simple shelter I made them.  It’s on skis, so I can pull it around the pasture really easily.  They get moved everyday so their poop spreads out and fertilizes the pasture.  So far it’s been working great.  The birds are a bit of an easy target for hawks and owls.  But I don’t think we’ve lost any yet, they do keep an eye out and when one flies by then all run under the roof.

Overall, a very positive month for us.