Thursday, January 31, 2013

Week 18 (January 14, 2013)

Some of the class with Farm Management and Marketing Instructor
Ryan Pesch  at Lida Farms, which Ryan  owns.

We are finally back in school after the long winter break.  My classes consist of the following:

  • Grassed Based Livestock Systems - To provide student comprehensive and practical information on designing and implementing grass-based livestock programs.  The following are the desired outcomes of this class:

     1.    Compare and contrast high density grazing with managed intensive grazing systems.
     2.   Outline rotational grazing system components.
     3.   Knowledge of fence systems used in rotational grazing systems.
     4.   Describe pasture management and improvement techniques.
     5.   Knowledge of basic agroforestry applications.
     6.   Knowledge of grazing season extension techniques.
     7.   Describe basic grass-based dairy systems management.
     8.   Describe basic grass-based beef production systems.
     9.   Describe grass-based poultry production.
   10.  Describe grass-based hog production.
   11. Describe basic lamb and goat production.
   12.  Describe a multispecies approach to pasture utilization.
   13.  Describe pasture utilization in a cropping rotation.
   14.  Analyze the affects of continuous grazing.
          15. Explain the ecological implications of a rotational grazing system.

  • Farm Marketing and Management - This course is a general introduction to concepts, strategies and technology for farm planning, economic accounting systems, and marketing techniques.  This course focuses on the managerial methods for researching, planning, and launchiing a farm enterprise.  Students will apply these methods to their own farm enterprise or prospects in order to complete a farm business plan.
  • Sociology of Agriculture - The central theme of this course is to understand the institutions and processes critical to farm success.  Students will utilize sociological perspectives to study the many aspects of a local food system.  This class also has the added dynamic of combining our somewhat non-traditional SFP students with a group of traditional first and second year students from the Equine Program.  These students are all between 18 and 20 (which is the age of my own children).  From what  I know so far the Equine Program sounds like another very interesting unique program that they have up here in Fergus Falls.  I will try to provide some additional information on it in future blog posts.
  • Internship - The central theme or purpose of this course is to plan an agriculture related internship consistent with our future goals in agriculture and then complete the internship.  The internship is required for graduation.
For the second semester blog posts I think I will just give an update of anything out of the ordinary and then pick one of the classes to report on more in depth.  This weeks main post will be on the Grass Based Livestock Systems class.  The following table identifies various classes of livestock and what percent of their diet can be grass/pasture, which is how they were originally designed to function.
         Livestock Class        % Grass
         Cattle *   .....................100%                         * In conventional confinement feeding
         Sheep  .........................100%                            operations these animals are fed a diet 
         Horses ..........................95%                             of almost 100% grain.
         Rabbits ..........................65%
         Turkeys *  ...................  30 - 50%
         Chickens * ....................20 -30%
         Geese ...........................100%
         Goats  ...........................100%
         Hogs *  .........................30 - 50%

Isn't that interesting that we could be feeding these animals grass, which you can grow on marginal lands with minimal adverse impact to the environment, yet we feed them grain (primarily corn) which is harder on the environment. Eventually as the population continues to expand this grain is going to be needed to feed people.

Jersey Calves
Here is some vocabulary building in Dairy Cattle Terminology that might be useful:
Bovine - basically refers to cattle.
Calf - Juvenile bovine up to 1-year old.
Heifer - Juvenile female bovine (until she has her first calf).
Cow - Adult female bovine that has had at least one calf.
Bull - Male bovine, intact (not a steer) (12 to 24 months old before used for breeding).
Steer - Castrated male bovine.
Oxen - Bovines trained to pull.  Typically a steer that is 2 to 3 years old.
Springer - A female dairy bovine that is within 3-months of freshening.  Freshening is when 
                a dairy cow has a calf.
Freshening - Is also the beginning of lactation in a female dairy bovine after having a calf.
Springing - Giving birth to a calf (dairy term).
Calving - Giving birth to a calf (beef term).
Bag - Slang for utter.
Bagging up - Swelling of udder just prior to calving/freshening.

Pastured Pork
As long as we're on a roll we will do a little more vocabulary building by finishing up with some Swine Terminology that you might find useful.
Sow - Adult female swine that has had at least on litter of pigs.
Pigs - Juvenile swine that weighs less than 100-lbs.
Short - Juvenile feeder swine that weighs 100 to 225 lbs.
Feeder Pigs - Typically 25 - 60 lb juvenile swine.
Hogs - Swine over 100-lbs.  (Also any being raised for breeding).
Guilt - Female juvenile swine that hasn't had a litter.
Barrow - Castrated male swine.
Boar - Intact male swine (not a barrow).
Farrowing - When an adult female swine has a litter of pigs.
Finished weight - Is the weight when the hog is ready to go to market (butcher).  Typically 225 - 260 lbs sometimes higher).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Christmas Break (12/18/2012 to 01/16/2013)

Christmas break included time with family, a quick trip to Darlington WI Christmas eve returning Christmas Day to celebrate Christmas with family.  Back to Stillwater for another family Christmas and then one kid was off too Mexico and the other to Colorado.  We were home alone.  School break also meant back into work into the office for work.

My big present was an All-American 921 - 21 Qt. pressure canner.  This bad boy is made with the engineer in mind. As you can see in the picture it is structurally over designed, is able to can 19-pints at one time and even has redundant pressure measurement.  Best of all it is made in the USA in Manitowoc, WI at the Wisconsin Aluminum Foundary.
The All-American in use.  I used the camper stove since it was gas.

13 pints of freshly canned beef and venison.

I did also manage to work in a few sustainable agriculture related items:

On January 7, I went to the North Dakota Grazing Coalitions Winter Grazing Workshop in Bismarck  and the next day attended the Burleigh  Co. Soil Health Workshop also in Bismarck.  Put on by the Burleigh County Soil Conservation District.  This group is on the cutting edge of innovation in building soil health and they are in demand all over the country and world to speak on the subject.  Their website contains a wealth of information, and case studies on how farmers and ranchers are building soil health.  And the farmers are very profitable as they do it.  Several of them have reduced their comercial fertilizer and herbacide applications to practically zero while increasing their yields by over 40%.  This really helps the bottom line.  Paul Brown son of Gabe Brown was one of the speakers.

On the way back home I stopped in at Paradox Farms, checked out the winter greenhouse and tried my hand at grinding feed and straw.

The big trays are trays of fodder being sprouted and the narrow
trays are various winter salad greens that have recently been planted

Here is the set-up in the "Reality Greenhouse".  We feasted on the salad
greens for lunch, they were very good.  The greenhouse gets into the 80's
and then a fan turns on to vent some of the heat outside so it doesn't get too hot.

I believe the trays of fodder where wheat and/or rye and field peas.
We fed some to the cows, goats and chickens and they gobbled it up.
The milk from the cows was back to summer quality and I am told
the eggs where also back to summer orange yolks. 

Chopping straw for bedding.  This makes the straw more absorbent.
It also gives you a greater volume of bedding material so a bale goes further. 

Here I am grinding shelled corn with a roller mill.  The mill was
re-purposed from a silo unloader set-up.

Goat Boys checking out the action
This is a Hero seed cleaner.  The video below shows it in action
The cleaned seed comes out on the right..

Thursday and Friday I took in the Minnesota Organics Conference in St. Cloud.  This event is organized by the Minnesota Department of Ag.  There where a lot of very informative workshops from chicken processing rules livestock genetics and field crop weed control, and a great tradeshow floor.  The food and snacks were all organic and very tasty.

On Saturday one of our instructors, myself and another classmate were interviewed on AM950 Food Freedom Radio, regarding the Colleges Plans to mothball the Sustainable Food Production Program at M-State Fergus Falls.  If you are interested in listening to the interview go to the AM950 website and search for the Saturday January 12, Freedom Radio Program podcast.  It takes a little bit of effort to find it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Week 17 (December 17, 2012)

This week was spent studying for and taking final exams for the first time in 29-yrs.  I am very happy to say I managed to pass all of my classes.

Week 16 (December 10, 2012)

Week 16 the last week of regular class for the semester.  Time flies when you are busy and having fun.  In lecture for Farm Ecology the time was spent on covering the few items we hadn't covered and reviewing materials for the final.  A couple of additional interesting points to remember:

  • We trend to be an extractive society, meaning that we tend to take stuff away and it leaves the system - selling it elsewhere.
  • To be sustainable (in farming) we want to sponsor our own fertility as much as possible.
  • Nature farms with animals.  To farm sustainable our goal is to mimic nature, which means animals need to be incorporated into our farming practices.  (Remember bugs, worms etc... are animals also).
  • We need to pay attention to what existed in nature in the prairie as it built many feet of soil and was very productive.  So we should try to mimic it, not necessarily being identical but remembering to ask ourselves what will nature allow us to do here more sustainable than what is being done by conventional agriculture. 
  • You can feed peas but not raw soybeans to livestock.
In Principals of Sustainability we reviewed what we had learned on permaculture and how it is being applied at Paradox Farms in their edible forest gardens and agroforestry.  Included was how they were designing to fit and work with the existing landscape.  As additional point was how animals worked into their farming system (goats clearing invasive prickle ash, chickens cleaning up orchard fruit that drops to the ground as well as rotational grazing of animals.  We also watched and then discussed a video about Ruth Stout who started gardening in the 1940's developing some methods similar to "Fukuoka".  Mrs. Stout never plows, spades, cultivates, or sprays chemicals.  She just plants and harvests, using a lot of hay mulch.  She has written several books one of which is entitled "Gardening Without Work".  Mrs Stout was a pretty colorful and independent thinker.

All of my free time this week was spent working on my horticulture plan for the morning crops class.  This project was our final for the this portion of the class. My idea that I developed into a plan was to have a CSA (titled The Larder Filler Farm and Ranch" and is based on selling clients storage crops (primarily tomato's, pickles (cumbers), winter squash, sweetcorn and popcorn.  This was done using high tunnels for the tomato's and cucumbers.  The squash, popcorn and sweetcorn were worked into a six field crop rotation consisting of a winter squash field, popcorn field, sweetcorn field, a field of winter wheat/hay pasture and two fields of hay/pasture.  With rotational animal grazing of the fields where appropriate.  The squash is planted into strips cultivated in a field planted with a diverse cover crop designed to allow hogs to self harvest their entire feed ration (design by Kent Solberg).  I have since found out that my idea of a storage crop CSA has already been thought of by somebody else.  The Island Lake Farm and Forestry CSA already sell something similar which they call pantry shares.  There website explains it further.

Friday afternoon Farm Skills class we spent on time on reading legal descriptions and then went through a list of tools to include in your basic farm tool kit.  The most versatile and inexpensive tool was a 5-gallon plastic bucket, scavenged not purchased.  The most unique tool of the page and a half list was a Pulaski which has a digging pick on one side and an axe head on the opposite side.

In the Friday evening Crops and Forage Class the initial lecture was on seeding rates, determining the % pure live seed in a bag of seed and using that to adjust the recommended seeding rate to take into account the % pure live seed of your bag of seed.  After that the subject was hay, and harvesting and storing hay.  This included how to make silage using a silage clamp technique and also making balage.  A silage clamp is basically made by piling and packing the grass in a 3 to 4 foot pile and covering it with a tarp to keep put the air and allow it to ferment and turn into silage.  This is a very inexpensive method of storing hay for smaller operations.  Balage involves wrapping a large round bale in plastic to keep it airtight and allow it to ferment into silage.  The discussion then moved to various agricultural enterprises available to the beginning farmer and how you can stack those enterprises with complementary ones to create additional income streams and diversification of your business.  The main idea in a stacking enterprise is that the waste and by-product stream from your primary business feeds the stacked enterprise.  (i.e. extra milk from your dairy cow can be used as food for your hogs).  The key to the whole thing is to maximize what you have getting multiple uses out of your buildings and land.  The class finished up with a review of materials to expect on the final next Monday.

Saturday we were back at Faith Haven for our final regular class.

We made hominy from kernels of corn

Believe it or not you use lye when making hominy.
Adding lye helps remove the hulls from
 the corn seed

Made corn nuts with top secrete recipe
Of coarse we also had a big meal 
Canned some beef and experimented
adding squash.  We also helped one of
our classmates celebrate the last day
of Hanuka, hence the hat. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Week 15 (December 3, 2012)

This week in our Principals of Sustainability and Farm Ecology classes we started with a review what we covered in last weeks small ruminant dive (refer to Week 14 post).  This led into a very interesting lecture on animal parasites (worms).  Then we tested fecal samples from the animals we worked on last week.  This included those two animals that were as identified by the FAMACHA test as potentially having worms.  This test involves observing the health appearance of the animals lower eyelid, comparing it against a photo chart.
Counting worm eggs for a modified McMasters test.  Info on the test kit used
can be found at
I have two full pages of lecture notes, here are a few of the more interesting highlights.

  • There are only 3-different chemicals available to treat animals for worms.  There are many different brands but only the 3 chemicals.  Apparently no one is working on any new chemicals.
  • The historic way of treating worms was to treat entire herd (of flock etc.) two to three times a year, rotating the chemical used going for 100% removal of worms.  This method has led to more worms being resistant to the available chemicals.
  • 20% of the animals shed 80% of the worms.  So now the recommendation if you use a wormer is to worm only those animals, sticking with one chemical wormer until it is no longer effective, monitoring for effectiveness with a goal of taking care of 90% of the worms.
  • Once the larvae hatches from the egg it can only move up the blade of grass an inch or two a day.  Therefore you want your animals grazing high up off the ground and not all the way down to the ground. Rotational grazing helps accomplish this and always has your livestock moving to fresh grass.
  • Cattle, sheep and goats, horses and pigs all have different parasites and are not impacted by those from the other animals.  This means they can follow each other in rotation without getting the previous animals worms.  (you still have to have enough vegetation).  Pasture management can be a very cost effective toll to manage and control internal parasites.  If you are preventing your animals from getting parasites you do not have to spend money treating them for worms.
We finished up the Principals of Sustainability class by discussing the most reading assignment "The On Straw Revolution" by Masanobu Fukuoka.  The book is about Mr. Fukuoka's life philosophy and how he lives it eventually developing what he refers to as “Natural Farming”.  He further refines this concept by setting out the Four Principals of Natural Farming; first No Cultivation (no plowing or turning of the soil), second  No Chemical Fertilizer or Prepared Compost (if left to itself, that soil maintains itself), third No Weeding by Tillage or Herbicides (As a fundamental principal, weeds should be controlled not eliminated), and fourth No Dependence on Chemicals (The sensible approach to disease and insect control is to grow sturdy crops in a healthy environment).  This “Natural Farming” eventually becomes known as “Do Nothing Farming” (DNF).  One has to be sure to not confuse DNF with sitting around on your butt all day and expecting the crops to just magically show up in the field.  Instead he worked towards a method of farming which was based on nature in which his goal was to make the work easier instead of harder.  The result of the easier work was to give the farmer more time and opportunity to enjoy the life that was going on around him.  

Friday morning crop class started with a presentation on seed saving by one of our classmates Zach.  He presented information that he had recently learned at a week long workshop on seed saving he attended.  Zach is using what he learned to help with saving Native crop seeds at the White Earth Reservation.

In the Farm Skills class the subject was using and maintaining a scythe to harvest grain, hay and cut weeds and brush. Then we worked on animal restraints

Zach sharpening a scythe with a wet stone.

Peening a scythe brush blade to take out nicks

Practice throwing a lasso

Rope halter with a metal honda quick release.  Used to easily
take the halter off the animal.
On Saturday for Artisan Foods we visited Meadow Farms Foods and Owner Joan Kohan.  Meadow Farm Foods is located just outside of Fergus Falls their website is  They have been a long time supporter of the Sustainable Food Program.
"Meadow Farm Foods was originated by Jim Kohan in 1981 as a regional distribution source of natural foods and spices,  for buying clubs and stores. The business started out of Jim and Joan Kohan's home garage in rural Ottertail County, Minnesota, where they settled after moving from their homes in Minneapolis, MN..   Meadow  Farm Foods is currently going strong as a retail store located one mile northeast of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The number one goal of Meadow Farm Foods has always been -- to provide healthy foods at affordable prices".  Joan went over the story of their history, her mentors and then told us about what it takes to start and run this type of a small business.  Everything from obtaining product, managing employees, to dealing with government regulations.  (Incidentally the best way to approach regulations is to deal with them right from the start of the business)   She also gave us some insight into how a farmer might go about selling their product to hers or a similar store.

Table of some of the Minnesota products sold at Meadow Farms
Location Map of producers that sell to
Meadow Farms Foods
Collage of Minnesota Producers that sell to
Meadow  Farms Foods