Wednesday, November 7, 2012

9th Week (October 22, 2012)

 This last week was a very busy week.  I started on Sunday morning picking up my old friend Richard Olson from the airport.  Richard had flown in from the East Coast and we headed straight for South Dakota to visit a farm there, that also runs a pheasant hunting operation.  By the way Richard also grew up in Little Falls on NE 3rd St and we have been friends since kindergarten.  The place we were hunting was discovered by Rick and Lee the other two members of our hunting party.  The farm is an 800+ acre farm owned by the Hamiel's.  On the farm they raise wheat, hay, corn and sunflowers as well as lease out some pasture for grazing.  They have put a lot of effort into adding food plots, grass and other efforts to improve pheasant habitat both on their farm and the neighboring properties that are leased for hunting.  These efforts led to Son Tommy starting a guided  pheasant hunting business called West River Roosters.  Checkout their website for additional information.  In addition to the guided hunt they also provide excellent food and lodging.  When Tommy isn't guiding hunters to fantastic pheasant hunting, he and one of his brothers have a business doing weed control in pastures,  roadsides and public lands.  They also do some landscaping work.  Last year they had six employees.  Hunting and other agri-tourism are ways to add an additional income stream to your farm.
A successful days hunt.  From left to right Rich, Lee Rick and myself
 with dogs Angel and  Coco
Here we are discussing how winter wheat makes great nesting cover for pheasants.
 Or maybe we are discussing the next place we are going to hunt.
I had to leave the group on Wednesday early afternoon to head for Fergus Falls as I had to finish that report on "You Can Farm by Joel Salatin" that I mentioned in last weeks blog.  The report was due by Thursday morning at 10:30.  Turning in reports is something else that has changed since I was last in school 28-yrs ago.  Now instead of typing the reports on a type writer, you don't even print out the paper, instead you just upload it to the class website.

Making Yogurt from skim milk
Thursday was spent at Paradox Farm where we learned to make Yogurt in our Artisan Foods class.  This should save the Fabian household a ton of money as it is very inexpensive and simple to do.  After Artisan Foods  we worked on the Winter Greenhouse, built a feed bunk and  worked on getting things ready for winter operation. There has been significant progress on the greenhouse since we were last here.  A couple of the students have been stopping by on their off days to help keep the project moving.  The whitewash used for the boards was home made.  Today we worked on making a work bench which is filled with rock to serve as an additional thermal mass for heat storage.

Poly-carbonate panels have now been installed along with a metal roof. 

We also took a little walk to check on the goats that had been working on thinning out some of the prickly ash.  Refer to the week 1 or 2 post for additional information on this subject.  The pictures below do not really show how much damage they have been able to put on the prickly ash.
Prickly Ash abatement crew chief.

The goats push and walk up the prickly ash to bend it over so they can eat the bark.

Prickly Ash after the goats have eaten the bark

In their efforts towards a permaculture based farming operation
Paradox Farms is attempting to establish an apple,  (other fruits) and nut tree
based Savannah where the fruit and nuts will supply some of the food ration for the animals as well as people.  The picture shows a couple of the apple trees they have planted.  Fenced for protection from the animals.

Friday morning was spent at Bluebird Gardens for the first half of Crops and Forage Class.  There we worked on tilling up High Tunnel #1 and planting green manure crops in an attempt to build organic matter in the soils.  For this experiment we planted one row each of Oats, Nitro Mix, Field Radish and Canola.  Then we planted the middle row and two outside rows with everything.  While two of us were tilling our rows the others had to do a quick research report on the benefits of the mix we were planting.

Once we were done in the high tunnel we headed for Verndale Minnesota to tour Mid-Minn Dairy.  They are a grass based dairy in the process of become a certified organic dairy.  Since this was for the Farm Skills class I described the tour in my Farm Skills Log below.

10-26-2012 Farm Skills Class Log for Dan Fabian

Today’s Farm Skills class was spent on a field trip to the Mid-Minn Dairy.  This is a grass based dairy that is in the process of being certified organic.  Certification should happen sometime in the next few months.  They are currently milking 100 cows.  Their main pasture is an irrigated 70 ac pasture on which they practice high density grazing of up to about 150 cows.  Irrigation is provided by a center-pivot irrigation system with it’s own well.  I believe I heard the well was only about 30-ft deep.  With irrigation of about 2-inches of water per week (if it doesn’t rain) they get about 1-inch per week of grass growth.  The dry matter produced with irrigation is 3 to 4 tons / acre as compared to 1.25 tons /  acre for non-irrigated.  
Center-pivot Irrigation
 The 150 cows are moved twice per day, using a total of 3-ac per day of pasture.  Their electric fence is set-up in an arc to match the swing of the irrigation system.  Pasture gates consist of 7-ft PVC post with a notch cut in the top, used to prop up the electric wire, to walk under and to move cattle or equipment under(refer to picture below).  Using this type of gate they never bring the cattle through the fence in the same location.  This helps prevents the cattle from creating paths in the pasture.
The grey pipe serves as the gate

In the winter when they feed hay they put it out on the ground using a Bale Processor and shoot it out in wind rows.  Sometimes they just unroll the bales using a skid-steer.  Dan (Owner, red jacket w/ grey hat) likes doing this as it also improves soil fertility.  They have measured an increase in their soil organic matter from 1.5% to 3.0%, and this on very sandy soils.  Dan also mentioned that for the 20+ yrs before they moved to this farm in 2000, the land had been in continuous corn.  Another interesting item that Dan shared with us is that one of the reasons he switched to grass based was for health reasons.  Seems over the years he developed allergies to cows, when they are raised conventionally and kept confined in barns.  But with the grassed based. outdoor operation they run he has no problems.

Dan also has non-irrigated pasture as well as pasture that he rents for his dry cows and steers.  In the winter, and prior to milking the cows are fed a grain ration consisting of bailage or silage and some other organic grain
Silage is made in a bag instead of a silo

Typical water tank with float valve at Mid-Minn Dairy

Approximately ¾ of their cow’s calf in the spring.  Dan likes his cows to walk, especially before calving, up to 1-mile between water and feed.  He believes this is one of the reasons he has never had to pull a calf (until this year).  It was also interesting that they allow the cows pick the place they want to calve, believing that they know best.  We also took a look at the milking parlor which has a pit like at Seven Pines, to milk up to 12 cows at a time.

In addition to cows, and steers they have 50 – 60 hens that they get eggs that are sold to their raw milk customers.  The chickens are allowed to run wherever they want, and are not given any feed (they do have access to cattle feed).

Before we left we took a look in the machine shed at the bale processor, round bailer, some tractors, a disk with special disks that stand up to rocks.  One of the new things Dan is thinking about is a Fodder System to replace the grain portion of the ration.  The Fodder System was explained as growing grain in trays (like greenhouse starter plants) until it is about 4 to 6 inches high (not sure on height), then the trays are dumped and reseeded.  they grain is then mixed into the ration.  This seems like a good way of raising organic grain if you don’t have a lot of land and equipment.  It would also negate the need to purchase irrigation for your grain crop.

After leaving Mid Minn Dairy we went to Seven Pines, fed the cows, hogs, pigs, sows and checked on the pigs that were castrated last week.  They seemed in good health happily running around in the pasture.  We also took a walk around the pasture and worked on plant identification.  Finally we were treated to excellent food for supper and good conversation.  Kent (our instructor and owner of Seven Pines) is always willing to answer any questions we have about their farming operation.  This includes questions about problems and challenges they have had.  After supper we headed for Fergus Falls getting there about 9:30 pm.
The electric netting for chickens is placed in an arch to prevent 
the chickens from crowding into a corner and suffocating themselves.  

morning had us up early and on the road heading towards Long Prairie to visit the Leatherwood Vinegary.  Ron and Nancy, the Owners have developed Ron's hobby of making vinegar from wine into a thriving business.  To be a farm based a winery at least 51% of your fruit must be grown on your own property.  So they use there grape vines, herb garden, and various fruit trees in making their wine and vinegar.  Now in addition to the product they have an on-site retail store and also offer lessons in wine making.  Take a look at their website for additional information.
Owners Ron and Nan.  Ron is explaining the wine and vinegar making process.

some of the multitude of different vinegar's that they produce.

Vinegar is being made in the blue containers.

Nan's herb garden

 After leaving Leatherwood we headed to Snowy Pines Farm owned by Greg Nolan and Marcia Rapatz  

This place is solar powered.  The house is totally off-grid with a 1-kW solar panel and battery bank and the milling operation is 2-kW of grid tied solar. The YouTube video referenced below gives a good explanation of their efforts in managing their forest.  It also shows some of the cool building they have constructed on their property.  greg mentioned that last year their net energy bill was something like $3.00

In addition to the Video MN Energy Stories has a nice article about solar power at Snowy Pines which can be found at the following link:

Greg and Marcia have been walking the walk, living on this property, pretty much off-grid, making a living and raising a family for 33-yrs.  Rather than just wholesaling out the lumber, they add value to it by milling it into boards and flooring.  Greg adds additional values by installing the flooring and well as other carpentry work.  In addition to the forestry work with Greg, Marcia, grows a large market garden of vegetables and fruits and berries.  She primarily sells to local farmers markets and has some customers that pick up at the farm.  She has created an additional nitch market product by grinding her own flour to bake bread which she also sells at the farmers market.  Needless to say with 33-yrs of experience they provided the class with a lot of useful insights on what works, what doesn't and what they see as potential un-tapped markets.

Garden and new high tunnel on left.  The building on the right
is the building they use to start their plants from seeds in the spring.

Garden with blueberry bushes back right.

Inside the solar powered drying kilm.

Two solar arrays that power the milling business

The bakery building.  The black tank on the ground and two on the roof are
the solar hot water heating system they invented.

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