Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Week 14 (November 26, 2012)

Week 14 was an unbelievably good, fun, interesting week!  I started out by taking in the Mid-West Dairy Expo on Tuesday.  It was held in St. Cloud, MN.  The trade show floor was pretty cool and have several million dollars worth of equipment to see.  As awesome as the big combines were the robotic milking machine was even better.  If you have an extra $230,000 or so lying around you can have one of your very own.  Check out the video of it in operation.

There were also several educational seminars and perhaps the most interesting of those that I went to was the one on beginning farmers.  This program had two young couples, dairy farmers, who told about how they got into the business, talked about what it takes to keep it going, some of the different stresses that you have to deal with etc.  I was also impressed with how important it was to them to make sure their entire family (kids and adults) were involved and also that they scheduled time for just the family, away from the farm.  They really were your typical all-american families.  They also talked about some of the expansions and investments they had made to improve their farms and how they work with their bankers and profit team (I believe was the term).  The money you have to borrow for these improvements would take a little more nerve than I have, but they really were very impressive.

Wednesday I went to Stonebridge Beef located by Long Prairie Minnesota.

Stonebridge Beef is owned by Mike Stine and his wife Sue.  Their motto is "Prairie-fed beef direct from our farm to you".  Website is www.stonebridgebeef.com  Mike is currently on the board or the Minnesota Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association.  Below is an excerpt from their website which explains some about their 100% grass fed beef operation.

Prairie Fed Beef: Direct from our farm to you

Our cattle spend their entire lives on rich prairie pastures. We are blessed with nutrient-dense soils, a diverse salad bar of grasses, and humanely raised Devon-Angus cattle. The flavor of our beef is bright, robust, and tender; not dull or fatty. Click on Buying Direct for Q & A on purchasing our beef.
We avoid hormones, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, antibiotics, or synthetic fertilizers. In addition, we consider our management plan beyond organic because we provide holistic care and concern for our cattle, our farm, our community, and our ecosystem.
Buy prairie-fed beef direct from our farm and through Local Food Networks. Look for our beef at Hell's Kitchen, Lucias, Grand Cafè, The Marsh, Dakota Jazz, Broders, Lowbrow, Barbette, Prairie Bay, DB Searle’s and other fine restaurants. Our beef is skillfully processed in small batches by USDA-Inspected facilities and distributed throughout Minnesota. Click ordering for placing web orders, packaging, pricing etc.

The Stone Bridge with  the farm in the background

StoneBridge Beef

Passive Solar heated winter watering and distribution station
The primary water main comes into this building and is then
distributed to mains that provide water to all summer paddocks.

In addition to showing me his grass fed ranching operation Mike also took time to explain in detail his direct marketing efforts and how he tracks sales.  Mike keeps detailed information on each of his current and potential commercial clients in this three-ring binder.  He sells about 150 beeves a year to restaurants and individuals.  Mike takes care of the processing through St. Josephs Meats. They make delivers once a week to restaurants in the Cities with a refrigerated truck.  Some of the restaurants include the StoneBridge Beef name on their menu so customers know they are getting quality 100% grass-fed beef.

Thursday, Principals of Sustainability and Farm Ecology Classes were out at Paradox Farm.  On the way up the lane I noted that all of the animals were in their winter quarters even the bees were buttoned up for winter.

Top Bar Bee Hive buttoned up for winter.
Class started with the making of a batch of cream cheese.  This was an especially easy cheese to make, just follow the recipe.  Even I could do it.
Gently stirring the rennet into the cream cheese after it had heated to  75 degrees.
Remember proper attitude and state of mind is everything when making cheese.
From cheese making we jumped right into an Farm Ecology with more lecture on Organic Chemistry. specifically on the different types of Carbs (Functional Carbs vs. Structural Carbs) and how animals (esp. ruminant animals like cows and sheep) use enzymes to breakdown the carbs. turning them into energy or other materials the body needs.  For plants, the younger they are the higher they are in energy (feed value), and digestibility.  Here is a little factoid for you "Ruminants are the one animal that was created to survive only on vegetation".  Following the lecture we went out to feed hay to the animals and take a look at some of their harvested hay, comparing 1st cutting hay to 2nd cutting hay.  The animals had a noticeable preference for the 2nd cutting hay.

Good hay just smells good!
The cows were happy to have the new bale of hay.

Even Chickens like hay
Once we returned to the on farm lecture hall the next topic was Milk, starting with what it is chemically, what is in it, and what happens to it once it leaves the utter.  Products made with milk and a discussion on using raw milk as opposed to conventional (processed by pasteurization and homogenizing milk).  We also discussed the conventional dairy feed ration vs, pastured cattle, the increasing occurrence of milk/lactose intolerance's, as well as some of the protective components found in milk fat (prior to being pasteurized).

The next lecture was on Fodder Systems and the presentation of a webinar on fodder systems.  This is a very interesting subject that I hope to cover in a future post.  For fodder systems you grow a portion of your feed requirements in a greenhouse or similar structure rather than having to plant in a field.  We are growing a couple of trays of fodder in the winter greenhouse.
The trays on the right are the greens we planted two weeks ago.

Fodder trays with sprouted field peas.  They take around 6-days to mature
to the point of being ready to feed to animals
Friday morning crops class we were actually in the classroom for the first time.  The purpose of the lecture was to pull together all of the things about sustainable market production of vegetables, from working to create biologically healthy soils, planting and caring for your crops to harvest and marketing of your product. Our final project for this class is to create a horticulture plan for a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm.  This will be the subject of a future post.

Friday afternoon Farm Skills was a short lecture on tractor PTO's (Power Take-offs) and Chainsaw usage, with a major emphasis on safely using each   Then it was outside for a little hands on experience.
Everybody gained some experience with the chainsaw buy cutting down
a couple dead elms that were on campus.
campus PTO driven snow-blower
PTO shaft on campus John Deere

Friday evening crops class was a continuation of cover crops and crop rotation with a discussion of the classic dairy crop rotation with examples of how that is implemented to build healthy soils.  An additional crop rotation presented was for one that included a cover crop of squash, pumpkins, corn, turnips, radishes, oats/barley, peas, cow peas, and millet or sorghum for the 2nd year.  In this year the hogs would be turned loose in the field to self harvest the crop without need for additional grain.  After the hogs then cattle would be strip grazed through the field to harvest the rest.   The lecture then got into the various farm implements and equipment used and what they were used for.

Saturday morning it was back to Paradox Farm for the Small Ruminant Dive.  A picture of the days agenda is shown below.  It was a beautiful sunny day and we went non-stop from start to finish.  I don't have time to explain everything we did this day, but I told Dr. Wika as I was heading for my car at the end of the day that this was perhaps the best whole day of school I have ever had, from both a learning and fun perspective.  Unfortunately I also did not take many pictures as I was too busy doing stuff. Some of the pictures I took are shown below.

Hoof care

Weighing sheep.  We also learned a method of estimating body weight
using a tape measure.  Measure the body length from tip of shoulder to tip of butt,
square this number, and multiply it by by the length around the body measured at the heart.
Then divide the product by 300.  When we did this with hair sheep the weight was
within one pound of the scale weight.
The other thing to note in this picture is that when you sit sheep on their rear (like in the picture)
they just sit there and you can work on them as needed.

In addition to small ruminants we got a bonus learning experience
on evaluating horses. 

Horses are being bale grazed to add fertility to the pasture.
The FAMACHA test mentioned in the agenda picture is a visual test used to evaluate if the animal likely has worms and should be tested.  We will be following up these evaluations, next week, with testing fecals (manure) for worm eggs.  Just a little enticement for you to read next weeks blog post.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

13th Week (November 19, 2012)

This was a holiday week so no formal classes.  However, the learning experience continued.
On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday my Wife and I headed down to the small town of Shullsburg Wisconsin to pick-up a quarter beef that was raised by my Wife's sister and Brother in-law on their farm.  They both have town jobs and only sell the beef to family and friends.  It is very good tasting beef, raised on pasture and finished on grain for the last month or so prior to butcher.  They seldom if ever use antibiotics and the animals have a very good and happy quality of life.  The cattle have a cool clear fresh spring fed stream to get water from, trees to hang out under during bad weather or if it is too hot out.  They just happily hang around in the pasture having a good relaxing time, having a high quality of life, until the day they end up in the freezer, full-filling their destiny in a stress free manner.

They continuously graze their cattle, but note in the picture below all the stream banks are well vegetated, not eroding and the stream is filled with watercress.   I think the reason the land is in good shape is that they keep an appropriate stocking density so as to not over tax the land.

 The beef is butchered at the local State Licensed Webers Meat Market in Cuba City Wisconsin.  They do a very good job.  They keep a card on how we like our beef butchered, so we just have to call in and tell them we want the same as last year.  If you're ever in SW Wisconsin I suggest you stop into Webers and pick up some product (their breakfast sausage links are awesome).  Website is http://www.webermeats.com/ .  It is very important to how your food is raised and processed.

Another thing my Brother in-law has done is to install an outside wood stove boiler.  With this he uses the down/dead wood in his wood lot to heat both his house and the hot water for the house.  Which is great because you never run out of hot water when taking a shower.  I asked my brother in-law once why he didn't put in a corn stove boiler for heat and just use some of the corn he raises, thinking it would be less work than cutting wood.  His answer was "why would I burn something I can sell (corn) when I can burn something I get for free" (which is also a renewable resource).  Sometimes common sense goes a long way.

The rest of the Thanksgiving week was spent in rural Morrison County Minnesota at my Sister's place where my whole Family gathered to celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday.
The boys provided a couple of sustainably raised Thanksgiving Grouse.
We all went for a hay ride, stopping to check on the horses along the way.
Apparently the horses where on Holiday also and they deferred to the tractor to pull the wagon.
However, my favorite family Thanksgiving Tradition is making homemade ice cream.  I remember doing this at my grandparents when I was a little kid and I am sure my Dad did it when he was a little kid. This year now that I am 51-yrs old my Dad actually let me supervise the ice cream making, adding the crushed ice and salt as needed.  AS everyone hopefully knows, the best part of making ice cream is licking the dasher when your done cranking.  This can get very competitive in our family as shown in this video.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

12th Week (November 12, 2012)

Sunrise at Seven Pines Farm
We had another week with a ton of stuff packed into it.  Fortunately for you readers I took a lot of pictures, that I will use to tell about what we did, and keep my boring written explanations to a minimum.  The farms we spend time at continued to get things changed over to winter operation.  I started the week on at Seven Pines Farm on Tuesday and Wednesday.  In addition to the typical chores and milking we worked on fencing in the new winter pasture.  This pasture has trees on three sides to keep the cows out of the wind which is the main thing they need to be be happy in winter.

Nesting boxes in high tunnel.  Egg
production drops off in the winter
but they still produce enough eggs
to eat and sell.

The laying hens have been moved into the high tunnel for winter.  Fresh wood chips are placed on floor for bedding to keep the chickens dry.  They have room for about 170 birds in here and their body heat keeps it nice and toasty  in the high tunnel.  The sound of the chickens in the video below is kind of cool.

The little pigs at Seven Pines Farm have tripled in size.  Note in the background of the photo,
 how the have tilled up the soil while eating quack grass roots.  It looks freshly plowed.

A PTO driven wire winder was used to unroll the high tensile fence wire.
The video show it in action

Electric fence energizer with lightening arrester 

As you can see Thursday's agenda included making feta cheese. We also spent time putting final touches on the greenhouse to get ready to plant next Friday.

Tom Sawyer white-washing the greenhouse with homemade white-wash made from goats milk.  The temperature in the greenhouse was pushing 80 and it was over 100 at the ceiling.

Friday at Bluebird Gardens we raised the rafters on two more new high tunnels they are constructing and then started putting up the Purloins.  Prior to starting on the greenhouse we checked on the status of the cover crops we planted a couple weeks ago in High Tunnel #1.
High Tunnel Cover Crop
Close-up of Cover Crop

New High Tunnel construction

Installing purloins.  I am now ready to try out for the high wire act at the circus.
Most of you probably do not know this but I did spend part of one summer working
in a carnival side show in Zamora the Gorilla Girl so I have circus experience. 

After finishing the high wire work we headed for Farm Skills class.  There we took a field trip to Roers Equipment by Brandon Minnesota see website at http://www.roersequipment.com/ .  They specialize in red tractors (International Harvester / Farmall)

 We are a family owned business in operation since 1946. We are located between Alexandria and Fergus Falls in west central Minnesota. We specialize in new and used farm equipment.  We also have an extensive selection of both new and used parts for tractors, combines and all types of farm machinery from our huge salvage lot.  We invite you check out our large inventory on our website.

We learned more about different farm equipment.  There is a lot of used farm equipment that a small scale beginning farmer can obtain at a reasonable price.
The wheels on this tractor are able to be adjusted to a wider stance while operator is sitting on tractor.

This running gear is basically a wagon, you can add different boxes, like a hay wagon.
Note the Minnesota Brand on the wagon.  They were made by inmates at the State Pen.

Hay mower

Hay Rake
After Roers we headed to the Farm of Pat Creps (sp?) who is a former graduate of the Sustainable Food Production Program.  Pat and his Wife live on his in-laws farm and have started their own sustainable farm on some of the property.  They grow vegetables and raise broilers, eggs, meat goats and pigs what he learned in the program.
Pat's egg mobile, outside.

Inside of egg mobile.
Pat's movable pasture pen for broiler chickens

Pat's movable pasture pen for turkeys

Pat modified an existing shed that was not being used into a greenhouse.
 We finished up Friday in the classroom with a crops and forages lecture on cover crops / green manure crops and started on crop rotations for building soil health.  These techniques of cover cropping are the best hope for farming practices that can work with nature and protect receiving waters from erosion and runoff, non point pollution.  They can also reduce fertilizer and herbicide needs and can be profitiable if done properly including grazing animals.  The Burleigh Co. Soil Conservation District website www.bcscd.com has the most current information on this subject.

Winter Greenhouse with white pine paneling. 
Saturday we put a few finishing touches on the greenhouse paneling, had a short Farm Ecology lecture and then started planting the greenhouse.  To do the planting we were fortunate to have a guest instructor the "Garden Goddess" Carol Ford http://www.gardengoddessenterprises.com/  Carol along with her husband Chuck Waibel wrote the "Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual" on which our passive solar greenhouse is based.  Carol and Chuck run a winter CSA using their greenhouse to provide winter greens and storage crops from their summer garden to their members.  Carol shared her recipe for making greenhouse garden soil as well as planting techniques and some life philosophy.  After the planting we finished the day with a potluck lunch which included sampling our Fetta Cheese.
The Garden Goddess imparting her gardening wisdom on the class. 
Rain-gutters re-purposed for use as planters which will be hung in the green house.
Here the seeds have been planted, additional soil sprinkled on top, and patted down.

The right side shows the proper seed density for planting the winter garden.