Wednesday, September 26, 2012

4th Week (September 17, 2012)

The adventure this week started on Monday with a drive to Winona Minnesota to visit with Stephen Winter at the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.  Mr. Winter is a biologist with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and an expert on prairies.  The reason for Monday's visit was to learn more about Patch-burn grazing as a technique for managing and improving native prairies.  Mr. Winter did research in Oklahoma on prairie management using patch-burn grazing as part of his doctoral work.  The basic concept of patch-burn grazing is that you burn a portion (patch) of the prairie each year and then allow grazing of the entire prairie.  Grazing is typically by cattle and sometimes bison.  The animals are attracted to the new vegetation that pops following the burn and they spend a majority of their time in the burn area.  For example if the prairie being managed is divided into three areas with one area being burned each year of a 3-yr rotation, the animals will spend 70% of their time on the newly burned area, 20% of time on last years burn, and the remaining 10% of time on the burn from 2-yrs ago.  The benefit, in addition to the burn is animal impact and fertilizer on the new burn area without cross fencing.  The studies have shown benefit to both cattle production and prairie habitat improvement.  The habitat improvements resulting from this method as opposed to burning the entire prairie are that you end up with a more diverse prairie of varying maturities (heights) of vegetation, also referred to as patchiness.  This patchiness (variety) of habitat is very important to prairie wildlife.
Apparently cattle are not that afraid of fire (source: Stephen Winter
presentation to 2012 Tri-StateConservation Grazing Workshop)
In our Principals of Sustainability Class we are reading "Comeback Farms" by Greg Judy.  The book is a basic "how to manual" for the practice of Holistic High Density Grazing.  Mr. Judy explains all aspects of how he incorporates High Density grazing into his holistic farm management plan, from building and laying out temporary fences (and the best components), multi-species grazing, developing parasite resistant sheep to selecting and training a livestock guardian dog .  In the end it is all about building good soil biology to the point Mr. Judy now concentrates on being a good microbe farmer instead of a grass farmer.  Thursday morning class was spent discussing the first 21 chapters of the book.  The book is an easy read as Mr. Judy is very down to earth and practical in his writing and explanation of high density grazing.  It can be purchased at or directly from Greg Judy at his farms website (his website also has additional information). If you ever get an opportunity to see Mr. Judy speak on the subject I would highly recommend you do so as he is also a very entertaining and informative speaker.

The rest of Thursday was spent at Fruitful Seasons Dairy, owned and operated by the Hoffman Family).  Fruitful Seasons Dairy is a family operated small dairy located near Alexandria, Minnesota. their primary product is raw milk cheese that is crafted on the farm in a licensed facility using quality milk from 100%  grass-fed Jersey cows.  The family gave us a tour of their entire farm and dairy and answered a lot of questions from the group, from how often they moved cattle, problems they have had as well as successes.  They have been in the business about three years now.  One of the reasons they started the business was that they were looking for an activity that the entire family (six kids plus Mom and Dad) could be involved with.    Visit their website for more information on their operation.

Happy Cows make for good cheese at Fruitful Seasons Dairy

The Punk  Rock Cow!  (Note the spikes coming out of the cows nose.
These are temporary to break to cow from sucking on other cows.

This contraption is called a dairy bar
and is used to bottle feed calves after they
weaned from their mothers. 

 The picture on the left is of the dairy's four stanchion milking parlor.  Below is a picture of the dairy room where the milk is filtered and stored in the small bulk tank.  From the bulk tank it is transferred (pumped) to the cheese making room.

In addition to dairy the farm raises some pastured hogs.
The hogs diet consists of whey (a by-product
of cheese making), grass and whatever else they root up in the pasture.
They also have laying hens and sell eggs. 
Friday morning we were back to Bluebird Gardens CSA and started the day discussing the planning effort that goes into determining what will be in each weekly box.  They start out the year with a rough plan on what they will have each week of the season.  They use this plan to initially determine what they plant when, what will follow (succession planting) and then they make adjustments as the season goes on and the weather happens.  In addition to filling boxes the coordination of box transportation and delivery is another significant planning and logistics effort.

A single share box being filled while planning next weeks delivery.

Mark the owner/instructor use to be a 3rd grade teacher.  They use a chalkboard
for sketching out what they have for each weeks box.  The table on the right side of the
chalkboard identifies the routes (Pink, Purple, East and Total) and the number
of single and family share boxes in each route.

The rest of the day at Bluebird Gardens was spent on shooting footage for our video reports.  Instead of writing a research paper we are each producing a you-tube video on a subject related to what we are learning at the Bluebird Gardens CSA.  Mark believes the videos are both educational and excellent marketing materials.  Refer to the website to view some of their videos.  The topic I have chosen is irrigation.  I know it doesn't sound that exciting but you have to remember I am an engineer and not exciting is what I do best.  Below is a sample of raw footage that I shot for the project.

Friday afternoon was spent back on campus working on fence building skills and forage crops.  The Sustainable Food Production Program is sponsoring a workshop on Energized Fencing Strategies for Grazers from 12:00 to 3:00 pm at the Fergus Falls Community College on Saturday October 13, 2012.  The cost is only $15 and includes lunch made from locally supplied food.  To register contact Marci King at 218-736-1625 or  You can also find additional information at this link   

Digging a hole for a corner post.  The post
needs to be at least as far in the ground as
the height of the top wire is above ground.
Corner Post with a Deadman Brace.
Good for up to three High Tensile (HT) wires.

Friday all day was spent working on construction of a winter greenhouse.  We were working on the wood foundation and setting the posts for a post and frame construction greenhouse.  We will be working on this project for the next several weeks so you will get more in-depth updates in the future.

Setting up my Dad's old transit to shoot elevations.

The greenhouse will be attached to the pole building.
The pit will be filled with a rock mass for thermal storage of solar  energy.

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