Monday, October 29, 2012

8th Week (October 15, 2012)

This week we had the opportunity to get caught up on any incomplete assignments.  We also finished reading "You Can Farm, The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise" by Joel Salatin and watched a video of Mr. Salatin's 2011 talk given at M-State Fergus Falls.  Mr. Salatin is considered one of the leaders of the sustainable farming movement.  I think he is more just a guy who thinks (and has proven) you can make a nice living on a small family farm without having to buy a lot of equipment, land, fertilizer.  A lot of his ideas are based on the way farming was done prior to WWII.  The video is posted on YouTube in the following clips:


They should be watched in. order 1-7.
The video clips are good but the book is a lot more informative.  It is full of ideas for starting farming related businesses with little or now money and how to go about doing each.  His first criteria in the selection of the list is "low initial start-up costs relative to the ability to generate income.  Here is a list of his top 8 Best Centerpiece Agricultural Opportunities:
  1. Pastured Broilers,
  2. Pastured Eggs,
  3. Salad Bar Beef (basically grass fed and finished beef),
  4. Grass-Based Dairy,
  5. Market Garden,
  6. Home Bakery,
  7. Bandsaw Mill,
  8. Small Fruits with an Emphasis on U-Pick
Once we finished the reading and viewing videos we had to write a 3-page paper applying the 3-principals of sustainability to Salatin's operation.  In case you are wondering the 3-principals of  Sustainability are SOCIAL, ECOLOGICAL and ECONOMIC STABILITY.  This means for an operation to be sustainable it has to have a stable social component (family, friends and community), be stable from an economic sense (provide a decent rate of return for the effort you invest), and be ecologically stable (the closer the operation mimics the natural environment the better).

I did manage to have a little outdoor fun also this week at Seven Pines Farm.  We started the day milking and doing chores.  I believe this was the third time I had helped milking at Seven Pines and there are a lot of things to remember for something that is pretty straight forward and simple.  They are a Grade-A dairy so are meticulous about keeping everything clean and sanitary.  I will try to shoot some video of the milking process one of these days and post it in the blog.  After milking and finishing routine chores we headed out to check on the new pigs that were mentioned in last weeks blog post.  They were all out and running around.  The task today was to castrate the boar pigs.   Kent (owner/farmer/instructor) did the first batch while we caught pigs and held them.  After that Nichole (one of my classmates) and I each did several pigs.  It is pretty simple just a small incision, and couple cuts with a scapulae, and a spray of iodine (disinfectant) and the job was done.  The pigs seemed a little sore but were running around after the procedure not much the worse for wear.  I think there biggest stress and most squealing was when we grabbed them and turned them upside down for the procedure.  We are scheduled to be back at Seven Pines next week so I will report on the pigs are doing in next weeks blog.  

The next thing we did was have a good home made farm lunch (Linda by the way is a very good cook) made from stuff raised on the farm.  After lunch it was time to experience the other end of raising pigs, sale and butchering.  In this case Kent sold one of his hogs to a couple that was going to have a family pig roast as part of a celebration to renew their wedding vows.  They came to the farm with a local butcher friend who butchered the hog on-site.  It was pretty similar to butchering a deer although having the front-end loader to hoist up the hog really helped out.  Again I will post pictures once I get them.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

7th Week (October 8, 2012)

This week I talked my wife into spending her only vacation of the year in Fergus Falls,  with me attending my Sustainable Food Program and the Energized Fencing Workshop on Saturday.  I am sure all the girls reading this blog are wondering where they can find a husband like that.  We started Wednesday at Seven Pines Farm. My Wife tried her hand at milking.  This was something she had not done since she was in junior high and back on the family dairy farm in Darlington.

After milking and other chores we walked out to the pasture to check on the sows and their new pigs which were born last night.  The day old pigs were already had their eyes open and walking around some.  Mostly they were interested in eating.

Here is a cow pie that was torn apart by chickens eating grubs.
Having chickens follow cattle in the rotation has the added
benefit of reducing flies.

On the way back we walked by the pasture that the chicken mobile was in and noted how well the hens had tore apart the cow pies, spreading the manure around.  Note the difference shown in the two pictures below.

Cow pie before chickens

Another task that was worked on was halter breaking the two calves.  This is done by first putting on a rope halter, tying it to something solid to let the calf get use to the halter as well as take some of the pull out of the calf.  The next step was to lead the calf around.  Most of the time was spent going in a circle as you turn into the calf when ever it refused to move.  It was a little bit like training a dog to heal. One of the niche markets Seven Pines is considering entering is selling family milk cows.  So a well trained people friendly cow will be important.

Later in the day while Jeri was helping dig potato's with Linda I helped Kent with loading and hauling compost from last winters deep bedding area in the winter pasture.  The winter pasture is a field tucked into the trees where Kent uses a lot of straw through the winter to provide dry warm bedding for the dairy cows.  In the spring the bedding area is scrapped into a pile and allowed to compost.  Then in the fall (now) the nutrient rich compost is loaded into the manure spreader and spread on the pastures and fields.  Now I can add driving tractor to spread compost to the list of fun skills I have been picking up in this program.

Thursday morning we were at Paradox bright and early.  Unfortunately we were only early enough to catch the end of the goat milking but did catch the milking of the two dairy cows.  After that we helped with chores  and moved the Hibe out to the pasture.  (Cow Herd + Goat Tribe = Hibe)  Then we set up a new grazing area for Fabio (the horse), took down some temporary fence, checked on the new 14 baby chicks that had unexpectedly hatched.  When chores were done we headed for Faith Haven for class.
Here's Jeri pretending she is Heidi and tending the sheep and goats.

Although this looks like Heidi's mountain cabin it is really the
shed that the new chicks are living.  Since the chicks were unexpected
and late in the year Tom and Sue needed a safe warm place for them
to live until they get old enough to make it outside in this winter.
Taking Fabio to his new pasture for fresh grass.
Sorting the dairy Hibe from the rest of the menagerie to bring them out to their pasture

The rest of Thursday was spent at Faith Haven for Artisan Foods and Farm Ecology classes.  We worked on homesteading skills like canning green tomato pickles, rendering lard (and learned about other types of fat you can make), making butter, making chai tea, grinding wheat flour, and using the flour to make Irish bread. We also made curried squash soup for Saturdays fencing workshop.

The batch of sweet green tomato pickles in the
 foreground is soaking in a salt brine.  In the
 background the group is working on a batch
of spicy hot green tomato and pepper pickles.
Both batches were canned using
 a hot water bath.  The sweet pickles were made
with cider vinegar and the
 hot bath used white vinegar.
Grinding whole wheat flour with a hand mill.

This bread was very tasty.  The real unfortunate part of this day was
that my wife found out I was not totally helpless in the kitchen.

Making butter.  When complete the butter was very yellow.
this was due to using milk from from cows that are only fed grass.
The butter went well with the bread.
Friday morning was out at Bluebird Gardens were we learned about folio spraying, making compost tea, and      we helped finishing the clean out of a couple of the high tunnels, and spread some worm casting's that will be mixed with the soil prior to planting a green manure cover crop in the high tunnel the next time we are here.

Compost tea brewer

One of the sprayers

Friday afternoon was Farm Skills and finishing up the demonstration fence for Saturdays Energized Fencing Workshop.  One of the items we have to complete after every Farm Skills Class is a log of what we did in the class each day.  The following is my log from Friday.

10-12-2012 Farm Skills Class Log for Dan Fabian

In today’s Farm Skills class, we completed work on the fence that will be used for demonstrating various fencing techniques and styles for the October 13, 2012, Energized Fencing Workshop hosted by the Sustainable Food Production Program.  The following items were installed to complete the demonstration fence: 
  • Installed upper wire:  Upper wire was installed from gate (terminus) to floating diagonal brace (terminus) with two in-line strainer/springs to match lower wire.  One half way between the deadman brace corner and the mule corner (both are pass threw corners) and one between and closest too the H-brace (pass through) and the Floating Diagonal (terminus).
  • Installed ground rods:  Three 6-ft ground rods were installed 10-ft apart, directly under the fence wire.  Rods were driven in with only 4-inches left above ground.  Length of HT wire was installed between rods, connecting to tops of rods using a clamp (wire looped up and down into clamp).  Location of ground rods was selected based on being in a low area that appeared to have the best soil moisture (indicated by reed canary grass and near by cattails).  Good soil moisture is important for making a good ground connection.  Site selection is especially important for periods of dry weather.
  • Connected top and bottom wires to finish circuit and trenched wire under gate:  Top and bottom wires were connected using long crimp sleeves (double crimps) were the wires terminated at floating diagonal corner and using clamps at the gate.  The trenched wire under the gate was connected using the same clamps.  Trench wire consists of an insulated wire placed in a plastic tube (for additional protection) and buried 18-inches under the gate.  The trench wire allows the gate to not be hot and to be open without shutting down power to the rest of the fence.

Gate trench wire

Wire connection at diagonal brace corner

Wire connection at gate
  •  Installed gate:  Two types of gates were installed.  A 4-ft pipe gate and a wire gate.  The pipe gate was installed using two bolt through fence gate hinges.  (as opposed to lag stile screw in hinges).  The pipe gate was leveled by adjusting the bolts on either side of the fence post.  A single poly wire gate was also installed for demonstration purposes.  This consisted of a length of poly wire tied to the fiberglass post (or an insulator) on one end and a spring loaded handle on the other.  The insulated handle has a metal hook through it which carries current when hooked to fence to close the gate.  Note when unhooked gate wire is not energized but fence stays hot due to wire trenched under gate.
  • Energized and tested fence:  Once the fence was completed we hooked the energizer up to the fence.  The negative (green wire) to the ground posts and the hot (red wire) to the fence.  The energizer was solar powered.  Fence was tested using two different types of meters and there was approximately 7.4 kV through the line when meter was ungrounded.  When the grounded meter was used it showed about 8.2 kV.  Fence was shorted on a steel T-post to demonstrate loss of voltage due to insulator breaking and fence wire coming in contact with steel post.
  • Installed temporary interior fence:  Single wire temporary interior fence was installed to demonstrate dividing pasture into smaller paddocks for rotational grazing.  Several different types of step-in posts were used.  Poly wire was used with plastic handle ends to hook to fence.  Interior was energized by using a jumper wire to the HT energized fence.   Another method used was to tie to line post in contact with an already hot wire.  Saturday morning the interior fence was revised to demonstrate using a lane for moving cattle in a rotational grazing system.  Key component was a separate reel of polywire that was extended through subsequent paddocks to continue the lane.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

6th Week (October 1, 2012)

On Wednesday while on my way to Seven Pines Farm for some bonus learning experience I came across the following site.  This innovative farm family had invented a new use for plastic corrugated culvert pipe:
Homemade water slide into the local swimming hole.

Wednesday at Seven Pines was spent working on the endless list of tasks that need to be done on the farm.  We fed hay to the cows, put out straw bedding for the sows to place in their farrowing huts, staked down the huts, removed fence panels from the hog pen to open it up so the bedding that the hogs had been working on composting, could be cleaned out and spread in the field for nutrients, then we cut up firewood.  Next week I expect to be reporting on the new pigs that are scheduled to be born in the 5 or days.

Thursday before we started

Saturday just before we left

Thursday and Saturday were spent at Paradox Farm primarily working on construction of the winter greenhouse (goal is to have it finished so we can have fresh greens for Christmas).  Foundation drain tile was installed, scaffolding constructed, and the rafters were put in place. Additional time was spent on various farm chores, moving fences for new pasture and starting to get things ready for winter.
I can now add skid-steer operator to my resume
   Friday out at Bluebird Gardens we were in the High Tunnel helping pick the rest of the tomatoes and cucumbers.  They are down to the last two weeks for CSA deliveries and the decision to do this was a result of the cold weather which results in the additional expense of heating the High Tunnel to prevent frost damage.

Friday afternoon Farm Skills class was spent on learning fencing skill and completing more of the demonstration fence for the energized fencing workshop next weekend.  The following video demonstrates how to tie the New Zealand Fence Knot (used to tie insulators to wood fence posts).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

5th Week (September 24, 2012)

Remember a couple weeks ago how I told you I didn't recall ever being as sore as I was after loading and unloading hay.  Well Thursday I remembered and the memory was from picking rocks at the Pete Brutcher (sp?) Farm outside of Little Falls when I was in high school.  Thursday was a lot like those rock picking days, we worked on leveling out the dirt subgrade (by hand) and then hauled rock (by hand) for the 18-inch rock thermal mass for the winter greenhouse.  We are doing a post-frame construction building and I am guessing the material costs will be about $5,000 (I will post the actual costs once we have them).  The greenhouse we are building is based on the book "The Northlands Winter Greenhouse Manual a Unique, Low-Tech Solution to Vegetable Production in Cold Climates" by Carol Ford and Chuck Waibel.  The greenhouse is pretty much a basic greenhouse with a simple passive solar heating system incorporated into the design.  We were fortunate to have Mr. Waibel on site providing guidance while we were working on the greenhouse.  He interviewed each of us for a new book he is working on.  So who knows maybe I will be famous someday.

Hauling rock to get the first 7-inch lift down prior to placing the warm air distribution piping.

Here is the work crew.  The black tubes on the ground are 4-inch perforated drain tile and used for distributing  hot air collected from the ceiling, and blown down into the rock to heat up the thermal mass.  The tubes will be covered with rock to obtain a total 18-inch rock thickness.  The vertical white tubes are the hot air supply and cold air return lines.

Author Chuck Waibel and myself
Friday morning was spent at Bluebird Gardens learning about their high tunnels (similar to greenhouses but you plant in the ground) and how they are operated, how they use them to increase production and extend their growing season.  The rest of the morning was spent harvesting squash.

High tunnel tomato's.  The tomato plants are started from seed in the house in January, then moved to the greenhouse in  March and finally planted in the high tunnel in April.  As the plants grow they are clipped to the netting for support.  In addition to the tomato's they have been experimenting with planting secondary crops like lettuce to get an additional before the tomato's  get big.
Cumbers in the high tunnel.

Trickle tape irrigation is used to water the plants and also feed nutrients as needed.
Picking squash using the Veg-Veyer only took us about 45-mins to fill the wagon.    The Veg-Veyer is a conveyor that drives through the field, you put the picked produce on the belt out over the field and it loads it in the wagon.  It saves a lot of time having to walk back and forth to the wagon.  I had a video of it working but am having an issue uploading it.

Friday afternoon was farm skills and fence building was the skill worked on.  We expanded on last weeks work by running the bottom strand of wire and installing a tension spring.  Installed H-brace's at one of the corners and started on installation of a gate.  We are in the process of building a demonstration fence for the October 13, Energized Fencing Workshop (12 - 3 pm).  You are all invited, and a lunch comprised of locally produced foods is provided.  The following link provides information on the workshop and how to register.

Here is my perfectly tied New Zealand Fence Knot.  Now if I could only remember how I  tied it .

Saturday was a new day and a new adventure.  We headed to rural Pelican Rapids Minnesota to attend Fiber Day at the Dave and Joanie Ellison Farm.  The Ellison's raise wool sheep that they sell to spinners, weavers, and other artists.  Fiber Day had hands on demonstrations of making wool felt, dying wool, carding and spinning wool.  Dave and Joanie also have developed a thriving market for their lambs.  They raise and sell about 70 lambs a year from their 40 ewes.  Their primary market is to individual families who buy the lambs to roast when celebrating an important event celebrated by their culture.

The raw material.  The sheep are rotationally grazed on 10 1-ac. paddocks.  They are fed hay (harvested from the farm) in the winter.

Here I am working on making a wool felt can cozy which turned out really nice and I expect  it will  keep my beer very cold on a hot summer days.  I will try to remember to post a picture in next weeks blog.

Dying wool
In this picture the group is demonstrating how to do a cloth-stitch, which is used to weave lace.

This little hand cranked machine is called a drum carder.  It is used to card wool, to straighten the fibers so it can be spun into yarn.  its invention was a big improvement over the previous method of using paddles for carding the wool.