Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Week 14 (November 26, 2012)

Week 14 was an unbelievably good, fun, interesting week!  I started out by taking in the Mid-West Dairy Expo on Tuesday.  It was held in St. Cloud, MN.  The trade show floor was pretty cool and have several million dollars worth of equipment to see.  As awesome as the big combines were the robotic milking machine was even better.  If you have an extra $230,000 or so lying around you can have one of your very own.  Check out the video of it in operation.

There were also several educational seminars and perhaps the most interesting of those that I went to was the one on beginning farmers.  This program had two young couples, dairy farmers, who told about how they got into the business, talked about what it takes to keep it going, some of the different stresses that you have to deal with etc.  I was also impressed with how important it was to them to make sure their entire family (kids and adults) were involved and also that they scheduled time for just the family, away from the farm.  They really were your typical all-american families.  They also talked about some of the expansions and investments they had made to improve their farms and how they work with their bankers and profit team (I believe was the term).  The money you have to borrow for these improvements would take a little more nerve than I have, but they really were very impressive.

Wednesday I went to Stonebridge Beef located by Long Prairie Minnesota.

Stonebridge Beef is owned by Mike Stine and his wife Sue.  Their motto is "Prairie-fed beef direct from our farm to you".  Website is www.stonebridgebeef.com  Mike is currently on the board or the Minnesota Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association.  Below is an excerpt from their website which explains some about their 100% grass fed beef operation.

Prairie Fed Beef: Direct from our farm to you

Our cattle spend their entire lives on rich prairie pastures. We are blessed with nutrient-dense soils, a diverse salad bar of grasses, and humanely raised Devon-Angus cattle. The flavor of our beef is bright, robust, and tender; not dull or fatty. Click on Buying Direct for Q & A on purchasing our beef.
We avoid hormones, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, antibiotics, or synthetic fertilizers. In addition, we consider our management plan beyond organic because we provide holistic care and concern for our cattle, our farm, our community, and our ecosystem.
Buy prairie-fed beef direct from our farm and through Local Food Networks. Look for our beef at Hell's Kitchen, Lucias, Grand Cafè, The Marsh, Dakota Jazz, Broders, Lowbrow, Barbette, Prairie Bay, DB Searle’s and other fine restaurants. Our beef is skillfully processed in small batches by USDA-Inspected facilities and distributed throughout Minnesota. Click ordering for placing web orders, packaging, pricing etc.

The Stone Bridge with  the farm in the background

StoneBridge Beef

Passive Solar heated winter watering and distribution station
The primary water main comes into this building and is then
distributed to mains that provide water to all summer paddocks.

In addition to showing me his grass fed ranching operation Mike also took time to explain in detail his direct marketing efforts and how he tracks sales.  Mike keeps detailed information on each of his current and potential commercial clients in this three-ring binder.  He sells about 150 beeves a year to restaurants and individuals.  Mike takes care of the processing through St. Josephs Meats. They make delivers once a week to restaurants in the Cities with a refrigerated truck.  Some of the restaurants include the StoneBridge Beef name on their menu so customers know they are getting quality 100% grass-fed beef.

Thursday, Principals of Sustainability and Farm Ecology Classes were out at Paradox Farm.  On the way up the lane I noted that all of the animals were in their winter quarters even the bees were buttoned up for winter.

Top Bar Bee Hive buttoned up for winter.
Class started with the making of a batch of cream cheese.  This was an especially easy cheese to make, just follow the recipe.  Even I could do it.
Gently stirring the rennet into the cream cheese after it had heated to  75 degrees.
Remember proper attitude and state of mind is everything when making cheese.
From cheese making we jumped right into an Farm Ecology with more lecture on Organic Chemistry. specifically on the different types of Carbs (Functional Carbs vs. Structural Carbs) and how animals (esp. ruminant animals like cows and sheep) use enzymes to breakdown the carbs. turning them into energy or other materials the body needs.  For plants, the younger they are the higher they are in energy (feed value), and digestibility.  Here is a little factoid for you "Ruminants are the one animal that was created to survive only on vegetation".  Following the lecture we went out to feed hay to the animals and take a look at some of their harvested hay, comparing 1st cutting hay to 2nd cutting hay.  The animals had a noticeable preference for the 2nd cutting hay.

Good hay just smells good!
The cows were happy to have the new bale of hay.

Even Chickens like hay
Once we returned to the on farm lecture hall the next topic was Milk, starting with what it is chemically, what is in it, and what happens to it once it leaves the utter.  Products made with milk and a discussion on using raw milk as opposed to conventional (processed by pasteurization and homogenizing milk).  We also discussed the conventional dairy feed ration vs, pastured cattle, the increasing occurrence of milk/lactose intolerance's, as well as some of the protective components found in milk fat (prior to being pasteurized).

The next lecture was on Fodder Systems and the presentation of a webinar on fodder systems.  This is a very interesting subject that I hope to cover in a future post.  For fodder systems you grow a portion of your feed requirements in a greenhouse or similar structure rather than having to plant in a field.  We are growing a couple of trays of fodder in the winter greenhouse.
The trays on the right are the greens we planted two weeks ago.

Fodder trays with sprouted field peas.  They take around 6-days to mature
to the point of being ready to feed to animals
Friday morning crops class we were actually in the classroom for the first time.  The purpose of the lecture was to pull together all of the things about sustainable market production of vegetables, from working to create biologically healthy soils, planting and caring for your crops to harvest and marketing of your product. Our final project for this class is to create a horticulture plan for a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm.  This will be the subject of a future post.

Friday afternoon Farm Skills was a short lecture on tractor PTO's (Power Take-offs) and Chainsaw usage, with a major emphasis on safely using each   Then it was outside for a little hands on experience.
Everybody gained some experience with the chainsaw buy cutting down
a couple dead elms that were on campus.
campus PTO driven snow-blower
PTO shaft on campus John Deere

Friday evening crops class was a continuation of cover crops and crop rotation with a discussion of the classic dairy crop rotation with examples of how that is implemented to build healthy soils.  An additional crop rotation presented was for one that included a cover crop of squash, pumpkins, corn, turnips, radishes, oats/barley, peas, cow peas, and millet or sorghum for the 2nd year.  In this year the hogs would be turned loose in the field to self harvest the crop without need for additional grain.  After the hogs then cattle would be strip grazed through the field to harvest the rest.   The lecture then got into the various farm implements and equipment used and what they were used for.

Saturday morning it was back to Paradox Farm for the Small Ruminant Dive.  A picture of the days agenda is shown below.  It was a beautiful sunny day and we went non-stop from start to finish.  I don't have time to explain everything we did this day, but I told Dr. Wika as I was heading for my car at the end of the day that this was perhaps the best whole day of school I have ever had, from both a learning and fun perspective.  Unfortunately I also did not take many pictures as I was too busy doing stuff. Some of the pictures I took are shown below.

Hoof care

Weighing sheep.  We also learned a method of estimating body weight
using a tape measure.  Measure the body length from tip of shoulder to tip of butt,
square this number, and multiply it by by the length around the body measured at the heart.
Then divide the product by 300.  When we did this with hair sheep the weight was
within one pound of the scale weight.
The other thing to note in this picture is that when you sit sheep on their rear (like in the picture)
they just sit there and you can work on them as needed.

In addition to small ruminants we got a bonus learning experience
on evaluating horses. 

Horses are being bale grazed to add fertility to the pasture.
The FAMACHA test mentioned in the agenda picture is a visual test used to evaluate if the animal likely has worms and should be tested.  We will be following up these evaluations, next week, with testing fecals (manure) for worm eggs.  Just a little enticement for you to read next weeks blog post.