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 .  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 .  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 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  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.

Friday, November 16, 2012

11th Week (November 5, 2012)

I am afraid I have to start with some sad and disappointing news on the Sustainable Food Production Program at M-State Fergus Falls.  The powers that be at M-State have decided to discontinue the program.   The official reason that the students were given was that the program was not generating sufficient numbers of students for them to keep it.  This years class only has 7 students, (which has been great for us) but the previous classes had been in the 12 to 15 range.  My personal belief is that this is such a unique and well taught program in an area of great importance that the demand has to be there. What they need to do is make a better effort at identifying their potential students and advertising the program to the right audience. They also need to expand the area they recruit students from, to at least the Midwest.

This years class of students will get to complete the program and then that will be it.  The administration did say that some of the classes would be available through contract education services but will not be scheduled until they have a sufficient number of students committed.  I don't see this method as being anything except for a way for the Administration to not have to actually say they have cancelled the program (only suspended it) to help deflect some of the heat they are starting to feel from their unpopular decision.  

There is a facebook page supporting the program that I invite you to checkout and join.  Here is a link to an event to save the program!/events/555974344419976/  There is also information on who you could contact at the college to express your displeasure with their decision.  I will post more information on the blog regarding efforts to save the program when I have the information.

I am multi-tasking here.  Deer hunting and studying for the upcoming
plant test in our crops and forage class.
 This weeks blog post will be a short one as I tortured readers with long posts the last two weeks and you probably need a break.  But first with the fun and interesting stuff.  This week was deer hunting in Minnesota, and I headed to deer camp to hunt Sunday and Monday of this week.  Even though I was hunting I still managed to work in a little study time in the deer stand.  I did not get a deer this year but our party did bag 5 nice bucks and 2 does, so there will be meat in the Fabian freezer for the next year.

On Thursday we were in the classroom for Principals of Sustainability class and Farm Ecology Class.  We started with a review discussion on Matter and Matter Quality.  Then we reviewed Energy and the Laws of Thermodynamics: 1st Law we cannot create or destroy energy; 2nd law Energy Quality always decreases.  These concepts were then related to how energy flows from the sun (solar) energy into chemical energy (via plant photosynthesis) to chemical energy (food) to mechanical energy (moving, thinking, and living).  Basically this portion of the lecture was about how energy (which originates from the sun as solar energy) is turned into chemical energy by plants through photosynthesis, then to food chemical energy and finally to mechanical energy of living.  There was quite a bit more to the lecture, but I am not sure how to explain it in this blog so I will end it here.
 For Principals of Sustainability our assignment was to read Parts III & IV of the "Gift of Good Land" by Wendell Berry and then write a paper about two of the essays.  One of the essays that I was assigned was "The Economics of Subsistence".  The main purpose of this essay was to disprove the commonly accepted rule being propagated at the time that the farmer "could not afford" to produce his own food; the time and acreage required for the family's subsistence would be better used for market production.  To make his point Berry provides an economic analysis comparing the annual cost of food for a family of four to what it would take (land and effort) for a farm family of 4 to raise a similar amount of food on which to subsist, thus arriving at a value for the food produced.  What the family needed to subsist was a vegetable garden and a family milk cow.  Berry refers to this as the "milk cow economy": in which the cow provides milk, cream, butter; her calf for beef; a meat hog to consume the surplus of skimmed milk (also kitchen scrapes, residues from the garden etc.).  Berry estimated that the food produced to eat well plus extras that result would have a value of at least $3,000 (in 1980) and would require 2-acres of land.  This results in a net of $1,500/acre which is significantly more than a person could make farming an acre in 1980.

A similar economic analysis was made in a follow-up lecture by Dr. Wika entitled "The Goat in a Subsistance Economy".  As shown in the following summary a family dairy goat has significant value.

Total Homestead Goat Costs:
Doe purchase = $100; Feed = $110 = $210
Total Income and realized savings = $1010
Milk Value = $910; Kids value = $100;
Year One Value $800 + fertilizer & brush reduction
Year Two Value $1720 + fertilizer & brush reduction
3.5 gallons/wk… 182 gallons … $1820 milk value (“milking through” allows for year-round milk )
Feed costs: $110

Friday at Bluebird Gardens we continued to work on construction of the high tunnels.
The rafters were all assembled on the ground first

Each rafter was then raised and set in place.  It took only 15-mins to set all of the rafters in place.

Friday afternoon was back to the classroom to take our plant identification test.  For this test we had to be able to identify 25 out of a possible 50 forage plants, both common and scientific name.  I am happy to say I was able to identify all the plants by there common name.  Unfortunately I was not that good with the scientific names.  But I was happy with the results as coming into the program I knew very few of the common names of the plants we studied.  After the test was completed we continued on learning about how to use cover crops to build soils health.  Friday evening I attended the Fall Harvest Potluck and Barterfest at M State.

Saturday we headed to Wadena, Minnesota to visit the Harvest Thyme Bistro.  Here we had the opportunity to learn from one of the owners of the 3-yr old restaurant, about their experiences in starting the business.  Everything from the initial business plan, financing, stress involved, marketing and building client loyalty, and how they are able to balance family life, personal sanity, and the demands of starting a new business.  We also gained a little insight into how they go about purchasing locally grown foods and getting local farmers to grow the type of produce they want.   I took the following description about what they are about and their philosophy from their website

"Harvest Thyme Bistro is dedicated to promoting locally-grown food in the dining experience and through education, community outreach and networking. Our core philosophy and the overall principle that drives our business is being conscious of food that is good for our bodies, our community, and our planet."

The use pretty much all locally grown and raised food to prepare the meals they serve.  One of the biggest things they had to do in making the business a success was to educate the customers on why their product was better than what could get at other restaurants for a lesser price.  It is all about providing a top quality, healthful product.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

10th Week (October 29, 2012)

This was another busy week.  It started with a visit to the cabin of Duane and Shirley Schmidt who are long time friends of my family.  Duane built the cabin using cordwood construction.techniques.

Incidentally this cabin happens to be just down the road from Snowy Pines Farm that was mentioned in last weeks blog.

Duane built the entire cabin by hand.  Including using a hand plain to make the tongue and grove boards used inside to panel one wall.  Cordwood constructioin basically involves making the wall by stacking cordwood and mortaring in the logs in place.  This type of construction is very economical and energy efficient.  There have been couple articles in Mother Earth News describing how to do it.  The cabin is off-grid but they do have it wired for a generator if needed.  This cabin would make for a nice cozy inexpensive home for somebody starting a homestead.

Thursday morning had us back in the classroom having an almost typical college class lecture on the various types and structure of matter.  From there we discussed the 4-Principals of Ecologic Sustainability:  Reliance on Solar Energy; Biodiversity; Nutrient Recycling and Population Control, (see figure below).
From this the lecture went into discussing the main elements of C, H, O and N and the various organic compounds made from them for storing and transferring energy.
Here is an interesting factoid:  Animals are made of protein and plants are made of carbohydrates (cellulose).    People can breakdown starch but not cellulose.  To breakdown cellulose you need bacteria, which happens to be found in the stomachs of ruminant animals (cows, sheep, deer etc.).  From here the lecture went to seed anatomy.

In Principals of Sustainability Class the assignment was to read the first two parts of "The Gift of Good Land" by Wendell Berry.  The book is a collection of essays written by Mr. Berry, between 1878 and 1980.  Mr. Berry is one of the founding fathers of the sustainable farming movement.  This book is worth reading if you are at all interested in working and interacting with the land.  Persons interested in both conventional and non-conventional ag. will benefit from reading it.  Each person was to read the first two parts of the book and select two of the essays, write a paper about how the essay relates to what we have been learning in the program.  Most of the class was then spent in a spirited discussion of the essays chosen.  It was very interesting to find out that just about everything that stood out to me in the reading, and my take on it was very much different than what most of the class got out of it.  I assume it has something to do with my thinking like and engineer.

Friday at Blulebird we started putting together one of the new High Tunnels.
High Tunnel building steps followed:

  1. Roughly measure and level building site.
  2. Square building, mark post locations, 4-ft apart
  3. Drill post holes
  4. Anchor posts in concrete and attach posts to 2"x6" for support
  5. Assemble rafters
  6. Lift Rafters and set in place
  7. Install purloins
  8. Add soil
  9. Install tracks and plastic in tracks (this will be done in spring)
  10. Install water lines in spring and plant.
Unpacking the boxed high tunnel kit

Rafter layout and assembly
11-02-2012 Farm Skills Class Log for Dan Fabian

Today for Farm Skills I had the opportunity to accompany Dr. Prieve to the “Back 9 Ranch” owned by the father and son team of Gary and Steve Misegades, while he conducted pregnancy checks on approximately 120 beef cows.  While we were doing this the rest of the class was learning how to disassemble the energized demo fence we had constructed for the Energized Fencing Seminar.

 In conducting the pregnancy check Dr. Prieve inserts a hand (and arm) in the rectum of the cow, reaching all the way in until he either feels the baby calf, or reaches the uterus, and by feeling it he can tell if the cow is pregnant or not.  When a cow was determined to be pregnant they were sorted to one corral.  If they were determined not pregnant referred to as “open” they sere sorted to a different corral to be culled from the herd and shipped to the sales barn.  It is not economical to keep and feed cows that have problems getting pregnant.  In addition to the “open” cows a couple of old cows were also culled.

My job in all of this was to spray the back of each cow with a liquid that prevented mites and wormed the cow.  I also learned to use an electric cattle prod to keep the cows moving in the chute.  After the pregnancy check was completed Steve would vaccinate each cow.

To help speed up the process the Misegrades have installed a new hydraulic chute/gate (refer to picture on next page).  The chute has hydraulic gates in front to catch the head of the cow and at the rear to keep it from backing out.  They are also able to hydraulically close the sides to further control the animal.  In addition to the gates this unit has a built in scale and a PLC (programmable logic controller) which links to a computer and records the records for each animal.

 After the tests were completed we took a load of 10-cows in the trailer to a pasture where they would be grazing corn stalks.  Steve said doing this they are able to get in a couple extra months of grazing thereby avoiding having to spend as much on feed during the winter.

We then headed back to campus and I was able to assist in helping remove the last couple of corner posts.  This was doing by digging a hole next to the post and then using a jack with a chain to pull the post out of the ground.  Once all the fence was pulled the fencing trailer was neatly organized for the next class.  Then we headed back to the classroom to take our fencing quiz and knot quiz.  

 Following the quizzes in Farm Skills we jumped into Crops and Forage Class with a discussion of Forages which are a primary component of most ruminant livestock rations.  We began with Legumes and how they play an integral part of sustainable ag. practices in the Midwest. They serve as: livestock feed, perennial ground cover, green manure or cover crop, nectar for pollinators, nitrogen fixers and have exceptional soil building properties.  The importance of good soil structure is demonstrated in the video of a "Slaking Test" that can be found at the following:  It only takes a couple of minutes to watch and I highly recommended it if you have any interest in soil conservation.

This is our instructor Kent Solberg lecturing on the Nitrogen Cycle.  Mr. Solberg has  an MS in Wildlife Biology and has been farming for 8-years at Seven Pines and prior to that in the Brainerd area.  I took this picture because he had forgotten to take off his coveralls (protecting his dress cloths) from Farm Skills class.  I thought it provided a stark contrast from your typical college class professor and pointed out one of the things that makes this program at Fergus Falls so unique:  all of the instructors are actually involved in farming, making a good portion of their livelihood from farming.  They are "walking the walk".  You can not find this type of program anyplace else.  I know I looked before I decided to spend my sabbatical here!

On Saturday we went to Paradox Farm where we got to observe butcher Craig from the Evansville Meat Market, butcher a goat and a sheep.  Craig went over the whole process from properly sharpening the knives, proper tools, killing and bleeding the animal, then skinning the animal and aging it.  Once the butchering was completed we had coffee and Craig fielded all of our questions, including questions on his career and business as a butcher.
Craig butchering a goat on his custom made skinning table.
After the lunch we got a hands on lecture from Dr. Prieve on small ruminant (goat and sheep) physiology.  Dr. Prieve worked his way through the entire digestive system of the goat and the sheep from inlet to outlet.
This is what the inside of the rumin looks like.