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.

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