December 18th 2020
Tree Planting 2021!
Tree Planting 2021.
Each fall we plant a few more trees onto our pasture. We do it because it helps build our soils, protect our animals, build wildlife diversity, and sequester carbon.
How to get lost in the woods.
Tree planting began on the farm immediately after I moved in. I literally brought my pillow, a few blankets, and some food to the house, and then I went out to the truck, pulled out a shovel and began to plant some apple trees I had purchased while I was waiting to close on the property. Those trees were 6-foot whips that have grown a bit since they have been planted.
One thing I learned early on, well right after I brought cows onto the farm, is that cows do like eating apples, and apple tree leaves in particular. They have high calcium content. I think that cows know what they need to eat to have a balanced nutrient diet. Anyway, the cows did some serious damage on several occasions to those first trees I had planted on pasture. That planting extended down the frontage road to the west of the farm.
Our tree planting on the east side in an 11-acer field was a 3-year process. Before I planted any trees in this space, I laid out a design and imagined how and what it would look like when it grew in. I designed the planting pattern in rows, 60 feet apart on a NE to SW alignment. That way the trees could receive optimal sunlight and provide adequate shade and protection from the crisp NW winds that cut through the Wisconsin countryside. Each row has about a 25-foot break between the row and the edge of the property. This allows me to move the animals around and about the farm in a multitude of patterns. I believe that the long-term benefits to this space will be for our pig production due to the large volume of fruit and nut trees that are there. The pigs will clean up under the trees as their dinners fall from the skies.
The reason I began in this space is because it needed the most work. Fifteen or so years ago, when the highway was put in, the state DOT took a large amount of fill from the property and put it under the roadway. When they left, the field was bare, and all of the topsoil was taken away. Planting crops in this space was futile. I am sure that is part of the reason I got such a great deal on the property.
This past year I filled in spaces all around the silvopasture that the trees did not make it after the initial installation. Now in 2021, I plan on improving the West side of the property to help give more wind protection and all the other benefits that come with tree plantings. I expect that this planting will fair a little better because there is more organic matter in the topsoil.
We are unique in that we plant trees on pasture. It is a difficult task keeping the animals from them and a bit cost prohibitive. We put up fencing on either side of the rows to protect them. However, I believe that this saves us time in the pasture rotations of the cattle. It is much easier to manage and adjust the space that the cows have access to each day.
Thank you for staying with me as I expressed some of my thoughts that are less on the land and more on the social aspects that we are going through as a culture. I am thankful for all your support in helping our farm grow and improving our micro biome around the property. Lastly, I hope you have a Very Merry Christmas and can see some loved ones this season.
December 11th 2020
No COVID Pass Needed To Shop At Our Farm
The rushed COVID vaccinations are at a hospital near you.
I am not anti-vaccination and I certainly realize there is a place for some of them. They have a proven track record of safety. Am I saying that just so you don’t think I’m crazy? I’m not sure really. I had received all of the prescribed vaccinations when I was a child. Kim and I have been giving Ember several but not all of the vaccinations that are recommended. While I was in the Army, I was a pin cushion and had all kinds of things injected into me for my tour over in Iraq. I made it so far without any adverse effects. That is not always the case though. On the farm, our cows do not get anything unless they become sick. Where does this leave us with the newly developed COIVD vaccinations?
No Thank You
I am genuinely concerned of the science that is being used by these organizations in order to fix the problems that COVID 19 has created. It is my understanding that big pharma has been looking to create a COVID or crown virus vaccination for 20 years and had not been successful pre-pandemic. Now that we have had a sudden need, the science is somehow worked out and ready for our bodies. Most vaccines have years and years of studying and testing before they are rolled out. So now with Operation Warp Speed, we are ready to go. The EU is proceeding and began rolling out their vaccinations on Wednesday. Canada is all but ready and reports state they will begin next week. The US is not going to be far behind them. Just last night I saw that Prevea Health has received a supply and has them on standby ready for the go-ahead from the FDA.
There are conversations about having COVID passes. These would work like passes to gain entry into public and private spaces. China has a system that gives each citizen a social score, something California has been discussing too. There are many things that affect the score but one item on the list is vaccinations. What if airports decide that you need to have your COVID vaccination in order to use their transport services? What if Ticketmaster does what they say they are willing to do with a pass that would only allow vaccinated individuals to go to the concert or event? What if you get an insurance discount if you received it and therefore were penalized if you did not? What if you had to show that you received the vaccination in order to go to the grocery store?
I am certainly speculating but it is the direction I believe we are heading. Might that leave us with a new type of black market? If that is the case might I get shut down? I don’t have any solutions or answers, all I can say is that it’s good to support those that are making the changes and creating opportunity in our community to strengthen it. Support all of the local small businesses that make your day better. Stop shopping from the big businesses that are “too big to fail”.
Another point I will make quickly is that part of the conversation I think is missing from this pandemic is the benefits for each of us to stay healthy. We can do that by eating right on a consistent basis. Stay away from processed foods they adversely affect the flora in your gut. Taking steps to exercise get good rest and do what you can to reduce stress. All of these things will help you feel good and might help you resist a potential infection.
Thank you for participating in an alternative system of food production.
December 4th 2020
Kim Dealing With A Mouse In The House
Mice on the farm can be a real problem. Worse than that are rats. With winter coming on, they are both looking for a warm place to nest and seek refuge from the brutal Wisconsin winter.
A few weeks ago we had a bit of a stench coming from our basement. Kim called the cops because she thought it was propane. They said no, and that the smell indicated something larger than a mouse.
The fire department did a full inspection and declared us safe. This was good because Kim was able to rest well with a close pin on her nose. Really after the fire department left I took a look to see if I could find anything that the fire department overlooked. Luckily I did find a rat, the next day I found another. The house has smelled better for the most part. We are suspicious that there is another something in the crawl space. That is much more difficult to get to. In fact, I’ve never been in that space.
My plan in the past has been to rely on our farm cats. I try not to overfeed them but try to keep enough food in their dish to keep them close. They do some work but it’s mostly field mice they collect. One time while I was giving a farm tour, one cat jumped out and grabbed a rabbit right in front of us. So they are clearly able to take down more than a mouse.
To protect the grain we use for the animals on the farm, I purchased an old shipping container. It keeps the rodents out and gives me a good amount of space to keep the different mixes organized. It’s been a real benefit in keeping track of our inventory.
The cats haven’t gotten the job done and we don’t want to see the damage done to anything of value here on the farm. So this year I have decided to put out a few boxes with TomCat in them. I know, this is not ideal, but we need to put a dent in the population before it gets out of hand.
One other strategy I’ve come across is putting a smoke bomb into the whole of the rodent and to cover it. I don’t like this option either but it may be my next tool in the toolbox.
If anyone in the area had any trained terroirs that seek out and destroy rats, that would be a dream. I have heard of services like this in other parts of the states but I have not come across anyone doing that around here.
If you have any ideas, thoughts, suggestions or added input, I am all ears.
November 27th 2020
A Cattle Round Up For The Books
Lend me a hoof.
We have had several different breeds of cattle on the farm and just like dogs; they all have characteristics that extend beyond their appearance. Some have more relaxed, some are more curious, some are hyper, some are athletic, and some have a propensity to get fat. Some of that is the environment that they are a part of. My true belief is it is more about the how than the cow.
Every plan sounds good in my head.
For the most part, we have had a herd of Herford cattle. The others we have tried are Red Devon, and Black Angus. Some of them have crossed giving us a mix. One trait that is constant is that the faces of our crosses are white.
Of all of the cows we have had on the farm, the Black Angus is a cow with the most difficult attitude. You may have heard the Black Angus. When you go out to eat it is sometimes highlighted and sold at a premium price. Each registered breed of cattle has an accompanying association that spends a portion of their association fees on promoting the breed. Angus.org has done a great job and is one of the most recognizable breeds for that reason. A new breed that has captured the attention of those in the culinary arts is the Wagyu. This is the direction we are looking to head with the new acreage we will be managing and grazing on next year.
To give you a little perspective, we have 19 acres of grazing land on The G Farm. We also lease 16 acres down the road from here. The new land will have 95 grazing acres. That’s quite an exciting jump. Between the 19 here and the 16 down the road, we managed a herd of 17 – 22 head this growing season. In the spring we purchased two Black Angus cow-calf pairs. We moved them over to the 16 acres right away.
That’s when the trouble began. The 4 Black Angus was much less polite, curious, and was not in favor of people, at all. When I would go to move them to their new paddock, they would steer clear and stay as far away from me as they could. It was frustrating, to say the least.
Frankly, if this is the breed is started with, I may have given up early on. In my experience, they are just not a breed that can thrive in my management system. This is a surprise because they are touted as a great grass-fed animal with excellent marbling.
With the cows having so much animosity towards me, it was decided early on that I was not going to keep them on the farm. They just were not a fit. So when it came time to bring in animals this fall they were in the front of the line. Jumping forward a few months down the line were now at the end of the grazing season and it’s time to move the rest of the animals back to the farm to start the winter rotations.
Everybody was on board except for one of the Black Angus springer that was not having it. I had a few tricks up my sleeve, but the heifer was ready to outwit, outsmart, and outrun me all over the pasture.
So I had to call in my favorite Cowboy. Well, he’s the only cowboy I know but regardless, Jonny Boozer has helped me out in the past. Early on when I started the herd, I ran our cows with his to help alleviate some pressure on our pasture and more importantly, to get our cows bred. When it came to separating our cows from his, we jumped up onto horseback and used some fences to help get the job done. This go around I was closer to my truck than a horse, but I was still there to help.
Jonny has worked hundreds of cattle out west In Wyoming, Montana, and now in Wisconsin. Last weekend he worked 780 cattle on a 3000-acre ranch. What I learned from Jonny is that Black Angus is better suited for management on these large ranges from the backs of a horse.
If Angus is in our future, I will need to find one that has been tamed or maybe get a horse and learn how to rope a misdirected animal.
Thanks for following along, supporting local farmers, sharing our story, and being a part of the local food economy. Knowing your farmer, knowing your food and the practices we use are important to me. I know they are important to you.
November 20th 2020
Justin The Farmtrepreneur
I am Thankful for You!
If you’re following along at all, you will see that I’m living a life and building a business of my dreams. We’re getting closer to the finish line of 2020 and it’s clearly a year that most of us will remember for Covid, but it’s going down in my books as the first year I earned more income in farm product sales than I did anywhere else.
Go Big or Go Home
That’s a little misleading because as any small business owner would know, there are expenses. On the farm, we have a lot of them. I have not been taking the funds out of the farm for as long as I’ve been working on this endeavor. It’s all gone toward improvements and increasing efficiencies. Planting trees, installing water pipeline, fencing, solar panels, and inter-seeding the pastures. Other dollars have gone toward investments like freezers, trailers, no-till drills, haying equipment, the tractor, and of course fixing it all as it inevitably breaks down.
A few weeks ago I shared with you the 160-acre property down the road that I am going to be participating in. Things are shaping up and the team is becoming clearer. We are going to fence it up and raise both wagyu beef and some lamb with a flock of hens following them as we move them through the pastures. That’s the fun part to talk about. The nitty-gritty is the business organization itself. With so many parties investing in the property and each of us assuming different responsibilities that are also being defined as we move forward together, how do we assess the financial risks and rewards to each party?
The solution that we have come to is to structure it as an S-Corp. So, does that mean I’m a corporate farmer? Well, I guess, but we will bring the same holistic approach that I have at The G Farm into the new venture. The group at large is inexperienced in agriculture and will have a steep learning curve when we get off and running in 2021. I am the so-called “expert” in the group and will be sharing my experiences and insight on how to arrange, align, and execute tasks to minimize mistakes. Not that I don’t make them any longer, but I can keep us away from the costliest mistakes.
Adding to all of this excitement, but not under the same corporation, we purchased a processing facility. More appropriately we have an accepted offer and are waiting for the closing date. Early on in my conversations with Jordan, my friend who is leading up this endeavor, I explained how we as farmers are limited to the capabilities of the processing facilities we work with. In a normal year, I schedule all my appointments in January. With Covid and the uncertainty it has brought to farmers, processors have books filled for at least a year out. That is not acceptable. We have a vision of making a major impact on our local food economy and this move was imperative to help us get to where we are going.
Thank you all so much for supporting me and my family and now my friends as we continue to improve the soils, the water table, and clean the air while we sequester carbon. We are proud to be part of a socially responsible local food economy, Thanks for partaking!
November 13th 2020
Crickets Or Lab Grown Meat? I Purpose Grass-Fed!
Tin hat on, ears open.
Years ago when I worked in my Dad’s financial firm we would occasionally have gifts for clients. We would try to personalize them and appeal to the interests they expressed throughout their meetings while onboarding. Unbeknownst to them at a later appointment, we would come to the table with a present that would let them know we listen to them and understand their individual needs. This was all well and good, and we were well within FCC regulations if that was a concern, but one customer expressed interest in alternative proteins, crickets to be specific.
At that time I thought how interesting and unique it was. I’ve learned that in some cultures thousands of years ago, there was a more prominent role that insects had in our diet. We’ve become spoiled and have learned to farm and accepted the year-round availability of our foods with the advent of refrigeration. Today, I am much more skeptical of the idea and you may not see it yet, but there is a top-down push for these alternative proteins to be included in our diets over the hooved animals we enjoy today.
Last year I mentioned Beyond Meats in a few emails and how I had studied the process of production. They take soy root extract and ferment it kind of like sauerkraut. Then they take that and bind it to a more textured material and call it “meat”. At the end of the email, I had made a comment that I was interested in trying it. Well, I have not and I will not be doing so.
I’ve done more digging and before you think I’m all tin hat conspiracies, I’d like you to take a moment to hear me out. We see the continuous push to be more sustainable on this planet and the agenda is to remove cow farts from the planet in order to clean our air. We see that meatpacking plants are being scrutinized and shut down constraining the meat production model we have in place. Now, most or all of the beef, pork, and chicken that go into these large facilities are not near my personal standards of production.
Let me tell you how and when beyond meats became legitimate. Ethan Brown had quit his job in 2009 to tackle a new industry. It’s a great start to an entrepreneurial story. He started working on a bleeding burger that looked and tasted like beef as he was trying to improve the soy burger. He all but exhausted his resources and had his credit cards maxed out when he had a 2013 meeting with Bill Gates. Brown had his fingers crossed as he checked in as he knew he was beyond the limit on his card. Lucky for him, he made it in and his meeting with Bill Gates went over well. Gates invested a small fortune into Beyond Meats, connected Brown to many of Gates’s friends, and moved his products into Restaurants like Burger king popularizing the brand in 2019.
We are not far off from having KFC print your food after you order in the drive-through. McDonald’s is looking to follow suit and begin its own meatless burger at their restaurants. Beyond meats is already working with pizza hut for some of their toppings. Where does it end? How long will it take until we are not eating foods with real nutritional value? Are we too late, is the shift too big. Is your mind open to explore these new options?
There is a better way to produce meat at scale without playing in labs. There is also a better way to produce meat than in the feedlots and the pork and chicken houses that have masses of animals piled on top of one another. The fake meat industry has some major players and some serious force behind it. From my perspective, they are not trying to eliminate me necessary, but they are surely trying to take some market share from the other big players on the block. So it’s become apparent to me that the enemy of my enemy is my friend and that leaves me more in line with our big Ag brothers than the scientists in the lab.
All I can tell you is that we are here to make a difference in our community and provide humane, healthy, real meats for you and your family to enjoy. I see troubles ahead, or more appropriately, obstacles because I’ve taken the dive into this lifestyle and it would be the death of me to give it up.
Thank you for your support, I hope you came to this with an open mind and will consider the agenda I see on the horizon. The solution is simple. Don’t support or encourage others to partake in the fake meat industry. Find a local farmer expressing values that you do align with and eat to support their efforts.
November 6th 2020
Winter Round Bales Help Fix Our Soils.
Winter round bales help fix our soils.
This week we are putting round bales out on pasture. Our beef are grass fed from start to finish. Through the winter round bales are what’s for dinner.
Like a Band-Aid
I dream of the day that I can dig my hand down into the loamy soils without a shovel all the way up to my elbow. I think that’s a little out of context but I’m always happy to see the gradual improvements from year to year. The starting point was pretty bleak. The property’s previous owner had sold off the topsoil to the state 15 years ago when they put the highway in. The fill helped build up the highway 10/45 interchange. It was quite a big project and the fill came from this property and more from the surrounding area. When the project was complete space was left with glacial subsoils. Some spaces were reduced by 20 and 30 feet.
Taking that much fill left its mark and was a part of the reason for the affordable price tag when I moved in. Since then I’ve used the animals in a rotation across the pastures to improve the soil organic matter, help the plants root structure and decrease the compaction. From time to time some mismanagement creates a bare spot in the pasture. That can happen when it’s a hot day and the cows are sitting around the water tank. It can happen when its wet and the cows are sitting around the minerals. There are also a few spots that are so sandy that the smallest disturbance stops all progress of the grasses being established.
All of these problems are improved by simply putting a round bale on them over winter. When the cattle eat each bale, they end up leaving some residue behind. I would estimate that they’re eating about 90 percent or more of the bale. While they are there they also manure and urinate giving a huge boost of nutrients to the spot. The 10 percent leftover is like a bed of mulch on a new lawn. It keeps the moisture in and as the mulch breaks down it feeds plants that take over space.
This year we are placing round bales in and around where the pig pastures are and a second area between the highway and the pond, specifically on the north-facing slope. This area has not seen the same progress as much of the rest of the property. I’ve been apprehensive to place bales there because I don’t want them to roll down into the pond or roll the tractor when I’m riding around placing them. With the warmer weather were having this week, I’ve had the time and patients to place them without rushing.
The importance of this is that next year the grasses will come back thicker. This will give us a higher carrying capacity and ultimately increase our profitability. Realistically, not by much but when you look at the whole, these improvements add up and are compacted with years of proper management.
Thank you for your continued support as we work hard to improve not only this property but the new projects I’m working on behind the scenes. I will share some of those in more detail as they progress.
October 30th 2020
Fall Back. Time To Change Your Clocks.
In the Books!
Woot woot. We made it. Our growing season is over and its time to get some R&R. I made a similar comment earlier this week on a social media post and when Kim saw it, she laughed.
Shes right, im not taking a break but switching gears.
So whos left? We have a herd of 16 cattle that will be sticking around for the winter. We have our laying flock of 120 currently and another 100 that will be replacing some of the current layers as we head into next spring. Most excitingly we have our 3 hogs. This will be the first time keeping pigs over winter and I’ve been trying to come up with a “best practice” as to how to keep them watered through our bitterly cold winters.
Our pasture is all but gone and the cattle are nearing the end of their grazing of the green grasses. This weekend I will be moving out round bales to the pasture where there is a lack of ground cover to help build up the organic matter in those areas.
Lastly, I will need to clear out the water hoses that run across the property. When they hold water through the winter the freezing and thawing inevitably create a leak if it’s not taken care of.
Originally I was going to remind you that it’s time to vote but when I was going through my inbox. The same message was raining in from all of my other farm emails. So I opted to let you the farm’s current status. Just to let you know, I do think voting with your fork has a huge impact. So thank you for all of the support and I hope to see you as we continue to grow more healthy food for our community.
October 23rd 2020
If You Dont Know Where You Are Going, You Wont Know How To Get There. Bombshell!
I have had the stated goal of farming as a lively hood. That means cutting ties with he day job that currently pays the mortgage. I wish this was the news I was sharing and loath the day that I am certain will come. Until then I will continue to share with you how we are going to get there.
The road ahead.
If you have followed from the beginning you may remember when I worked for my Dad doing tax preparation and retirement planning. After I was fired from that job, the best thing that could have happened to me, I turned up the farming dial and got to work. I was working my tail off with the expectation that I was going to just take off and employ myself through farming. The problem was that I knew I was producing high-quality food and that it was available for purchase, but the rest of the community did not. Over the years our production has continued to ramp up and our knowledge and ability to manage our livestock and the land has also improved. We are excited to be putting a bow on our most successful year of agriculture to date. That’s a good thing because I again have a day job and my aspirations to replace it are still burning within me.
We have not opened up our market to outside sources. You can’t find our products in the stores of the local grocers nor do we wholesale our products to any outside market that would relabel and smack their label on our hard work. We have built our brand up on our own with the help of our loyal and conscious eaters in the fox valley. We have dabbled by providing some specialty dinners to some restaurants and do some custom growing for some special events but all in all, we are the growers, marketers, and sales of our own product. I do need to clarify and share that we do sell along with the fin military vets at the Camo Coop. I cannot take the credit for this myself, but I do have a heavy hand in the work to help other military vets build their brands and sell in our local market.
The Garden in Neenah is one business that has asked for our proteins on several occasions. I explained to them that I do not have the product available, as I do not. My bottleneck is not the distribution of the product but the production of it at this point. The entity that has the most to gain is our beef production. As a staple in the American diet, it’s a tough item to fall short on. We have a growing herd of beef and work at balancing the growth of our herd and the filling of our freezers. Another bottleneck to production is the lack of flexibility within our local processing plants. As a small business, it is imperative that we are able to make changes in a quick way, and without the flexibility of the processing plants, we are not able to make the fast adjustments. So each winter, I make a plan for production and have to stick to it through thick and thin.
Jordan, the business owner of The Garden employees his nephews and have been working hard to increase their garden production and gain partners to collaborate with to bring other products to their customers. As Jordan has asked me in the past, I have not been able to help beyond bringing them some of our eggs on a monthly basis.
Well, this is where things are about to get fun! Jordan and I, along with a hand full of others will be partnering in on a big project. Like a ONE HUNDRED and SIXTY acre big project. My contributions will include my experience and management of the animal systems. The plan is to raise beef, pork, and lamb on about 100 acres of the pasture of this newly acquired property in Fremont. Jordan and I have a similar interest in shaping our local food economy in a positive way, providing wholesome and responsible products to the Fox Valley and beyond. We have had many conversations on how and what that will look like. I firmly believe we will be managing the property within the same standards as I do on The G Farm.
There are so many plans and ideas swirling within the group. All of the ideas will be prioritized and worked through as we grow and learn from one another on what is working and what is not. I will continue to share the progress of the project in future emails and introduce you to the rest of the team as I have shared my journey thus far. We have much more ground to cover, many more gallons of water to clean and air to purify. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
October 16th 2020
We Need A Butcher.
Bigger Goals ahead!
Having recently watched “Kiss the Ground” on Netflix I have had a new perspective on some of the farmers I find inspiration in. Gabe brown in North Dakota has a mere 96 growing days each year and yet he is building soil and sequestering carbon at a staggering rate.
Do you know a Butcher?
After watching this documentary I had to take a deeper look into Gabe and his practice so I turned to his book called “Dirt to Soil”. In reading the book I was surprised not only by what I had learned about how to heal the soil but the importance of having an end in line for the animals raised in the system. Gabe grows on 5,000 acres and as you can imagine, has a large and diversified animal operation. Calling around to the local butcher shops would be a chore to coordinate that many processing dates.
In past years the way we do that here is by setting a schedule in the early part of the year. We determine how many animals we can process, based on our growth, based on our infrastructure and our time management. Covid has thrown a wrench in that. It has backed up processors for literally years. In setting up a date with Becks in Oshkosh, we would be looking into the second quarter of 2022. Yep, they are filled all of next year. I ultimately think that this is going to clear up and cause them some problems. People are just getting bookings set and if they don’t show up, it doesn’t have a cost associated with booking an appointment.
To curb this type of delay in scheduling, Gabe has put together a coop of a few farmers and opened a 1.2 million dollar processing facility. I think that is a great idea and I’ve sat down with a few farmers in my circles to see about moving in that direction. Time has been getting in between me and those goals but it’s still a direction I believe would be good for small farmers and good for our local food economy. It’s also imperative to scale to a size that we can make a more significant ecological impact on our air quality, water table, and overall environment.
I have some big plans in the works and having a processing plant tied to the operation would be a huge help. The thing is, I don’t have the first idea about how to run a processing facility. Nor do I have a good idea of how to process an animal to get the appropriate cuts of meat that would go into the packages. Lastly, I have no idea how to do the value-added processing like curing the bacon, making the brats, hot dogs, hocks, and all of the other goodies that come from a little extra work.
If anyone knows how to do any processing, please let me know. If you know someone who has some experience in their background, I would love to talk to them. Whether it’s just me, an investor, and you, or if it includes the small group of farmers, I really believe we can get this done and open a new processing facility to alleviate some of the pressures that other local shops have. There is certainly enough demand and plenty of work to be had to jump right in.
Thank you to everyone following, sharing, buying, and eating from local farmers like us. We don’t mind doing the work, and in fact, love it. Thank you for helping us help you.
October 9th 2020
Building A Carbon Sponge For The Pigs
Cleaning up our act.
When I have farming friends over, I invite them to critique the farm and some of the management strategies I implement. It helps me find more perspective and allows me to see things from another angle.
Building a sponge
Last summer when we had our on-farm dinner, Dan Solberg, of Stack Farms was our chef. When I brought him down to our Idaho Pastured Pigs to share what I’ve learned about the breed, I asked him for his thoughts on how or what to do to improve our pig system. He had one simple suggestion – add more mulch to the sacrifice area.
As a business owner, it’s always good to look at ways to find free resources or to upcycle something to use the materials that you have before you spend any money importing them. You would think it would be pretty easy to find some free mulch, but it’s not. I’ve had a few businesses drop off through the years when they were in the area, but it never seems to be enough. All spring and summer long I had a Facebook post in the marketplace letting contractors know that I was a site that could use chips. I found some luck in early June when one drop was made.
It’s not always pretty though. The driver drove right over the garden to get to the space I had directed them to. I guess I expected that they would use the driveway like everyone else, but they saw the orange cone and took the shortest route, just as the crow flies. This last week I found some more luck when a seemingly much more responsible small business owner saw the post and asked if I would accept more chips. He came right out to see the space and to learn where exactly to drop them. I am hopeful that this will be a longstanding relationship. He lives relatively close and the volume of chips he will have is perfect for a steady flow of drop-offs to be made on a weekly basis.
My strategy in using mulch, especially when it is green, or has leaves, is to let it compost for a good while. Let the wood chips heat up and let the leaves break down. To make room for the inbound chips, I took the pile that had collected and brought it all down to the pig sacrifice area.
The strategy I use is called the “wagon wheel”. I have a central location and give the pigs several pastures around the sacrifice area where their water and feed are left. After each pasture area is beaten up for a week or two, I move the portable fencing to a new area or make another spoke for them to continue to have good forage and a clean latrine.
We have two wagon wheels on the farm with a third one coming next year or the following for sure. I have been adding as much mulch as I could find and now it looks like I will be a little closer to making the carbon sponge that is necessary to keep the pasture looking good, even when it’s filled with pigs.
Thank you for supporting local farmers like us. We work hard to bring local sustainable food to our community. I will continue to work hard to spread the word of a healthy decentralized food system. We hope to see you again soon.
October 2nd 2020
Happy Birthday To Me! I Am Now 37 :/
Because it’s my birthday I thought we should talk about some of the things that are closest and most important to me. Food is clearly near the top of the list and this week Ember got a taste of some squash from our garden. It was a big step in her journey through a life of food on the farm.
Mom knows best.
In case you have not followed how our garden has done this year, it was an absolute disaster. It was the lowest rung in the laundry list of things to be worked on through the summer and when Ember was born, time spent with her took precedence. That doesn’t mean that it was a total loss though. Previous to Ember joining our home, we planted a large space near the driveway with winter storage squash and a few melons. Or care for them was minimum accept for a few short hours a few times where we (myself, and some helpful family members who took time to help us keep up) pulled some weeds to keep sunlight on the all-important squash plants leaves.
When Kim, Ava and I fed Ember her first spoon filled with Delicata squash, puree and watered down, she was a bit thrown off by the new texture and flavor. Nope, it was not breast milk and her curiosity was what put her in this position in the first place. Kim explained to me that because we had been seen Ember mimicking our eating behaviors that she was ready to take the dive. One podcast I listen to regularly is called “Wise Traditions”. It is a podcast about healthy living stemming from the Weston A Price foundation. Dr Price was a dentist who studied the food habits of indigenous populations around the world at the turn of the 19th century. Part of his findings was that quality food at the earliest of stages in life in the womb and in our world gave individuals straight and healthy teeth. The opposite was found with populations of people who did not have a good foundational diet.
Not all that long ago Wise Traditions had an episode on foods for infants and I was appalled at the negligence the mainstream infant food industry has for the chemical-ridden foods coming from their jars of baby food. I hope that we are able to feed a majority, if not all of Ember’s dietary needs as she continues to grow into a little monster. I hear that once they begin to crawl that all bets are off and the house will be in ruins.
Last week the farm next door had been working the field and I took a little footage showing the contrast in our two management practices. I trust the methods that we are using to give Ember the health through our soils that she will need to be a strong little human.
Thank you for all of the birthday wises you will send back and thank you more for the support you give us as we continue to build a healthy and robust food system in the Fox Valley.
September 25th 2020
One of the many things that makes America great is the diversity of people, their heritage, and the customs that each of their cultures have. Many of these cultures center on the consumption of food. Our dominant culture of Christianity celebrates Christmas, Easter and our American traditions bring the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Each of these celebrations have their own unique food that is associated with it.
Hotdogs, Turkeys, and Hams take up the middle of our families’ and friends’ dining room tables as each celebration passes. Planning a farm production to supply the grills and ovens with the season’s hot commodities is a hefty task. I have been working for years to learn the ropes of turkey production. It seems to be a weak point in my farming ability. We have done much better this year than in years past, but I still see room for improvement.
Looking outside of most well-known cultures are intriguing opportunities to help some of the lesser known cultural holidays. This weekend is Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday in which chickens are part of a ceremony, then processed and eaten in a Feast. I am no expert on the subject and I don’t mean to speak out of school, but that is my understanding.
We have a full batch of chickens that are going to be processed for a Rabbi near Milwaukee after their ceremony Saturday night. Through the ceremony and the specific methods of processing that the butcher will follow the chickens will be considered kosher. Raising the chickens has been a similar experience to all the rest, but to sell them all in one fell swoop is a change. The feed that the Rabbi requested was not my standard organic feed. It was the most local, least expensive feed I could find. The cost was a factor for the group. I believe that they will be impressed with the outcome and the flavor due to the fact that the chickens they had been buying were from a much more conventional operation. One unique challenge has been that the Rabbi has requested to know how many males and females will be brought in.
There are other cultures looking for black chickens with long tail feathers. Some are looking for goats, some sheep. Sometimes these ceremonies require the consumer of the animal to be the one who does the killing and processing of the animal. Sometimes like this weekend’s processing, they need to be done in specialized ways.
From time to time I will receive a call that will lead to the question, “do you sell live animals?” My reply is unfortunately no. The reason I do not do this is because it’s illegal. If I wanted to sell live chickens, I am required to follow guidelines that ensure that I would not be selling a chicken with a disease or parasite that would do harm to other chickens when they would reach that farm. The issue is that most people buying them would process them right away themselves, but rules are rules. The next issue is that I am not able to process chickens for someone else. I am not a meat processing facility and do not have a license to do so. The same goes for large animals. I am sure there are sting operations that look to find farms not in compliance but the fear of being busted is not why I am not doing this. In growing a business, I don’t think risks like this are a foundation to build upon.
It is things like this that lead famous farmers like Joel Salatin to write books titled “Everything I want to do is Illegal”. I can imagine rules like this make it more difficult for other cultures to find the livestock they seek. But where there is a will, there is a way and a market.
Thank you for supporting the ethical and humane treatment of animals on our farm. We hope to see you soon.
September 18th 2020
Reducing our energy dependence.
Mother Earth’s best solar panels are the grasses in the pastures. The grass has the best design in transferring the sun’s rays into energy. We use that energy to grow cows, pigs, chickens, and veggies in the garden but it’s not helping keep our electric bill at bay.
I feel that we have an excessive energy bill. It’s not cheap to keep the walk-in freezer and the display coolers operating all summer long. I force the family to endure some less than comfortable warm evenings without the use of the small window A/C unit we keep in the living room. I don’t just do that or say that because I want to be uncomfortable or listen to the rest of the family complain. I think if we allow our bodies to adjust that we are more in tune with nature and the natural cycles of the seasons. I’m not really anywhere that there is A/C and to stay away from it completely forces my body to acclimate. Not to say that I don’t appreciate the comfort after a long humid day of working on a project that is past due in conditions that I could do without. It definitely makes life more comfortable, but it’s just such a bad use of energy.
To reduce our impact on the environment, Kim and I have gone forward with having a Solar System installed onto our pole shed. The plan has taken almost a year to come to fruition, but we’re a mere week away from flipping the switch. The project is going to cover 100% of our annual energy consumption the farm uses for its operation. It is a 55-panel 20Kw system. I do expect that we will have some costs left over for energy use of the home itself. but we found some benefits in some funding from several grants. In looking into having a system installed one of the opportunities we came across was a grant called Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). It helps rural business and farms reduce their energy consumption and builds efficiencies into those businesses. We started that application process about a year ago. Unfortunately, we had not made the cut on the first round of funding in 2020. When I received the bad news the brief conversation had me hopeful that we would get a phone call a little later in the summer.
We are thrilled that the program has accepted our farm as a recipient for the grant. The full project cost is just over $40,000 so it is covering about ¼ of the costs. The installation looks like it’s done because all of the panels are up, and it looks good from the road, but all of the wirings need to be done. We are excited to flip the switch next week to take that burden off the grid and our pocketbooks. We did also get a loan that was custom designed for farms like us to pay down after incremental savings from grants.
The installers we choose to go with are Appleton Solar. They have been happy and helpful the whole way through this and the work thus far looks fantastic. We went with Green Energy CU for the loan. Our payoff period is supposedly 9 years and thereafter it’s like money in the bank.
Hopefully, someday all of these projects pay off at the same time and I can just put my feet up for a second. Really, I just want to thank you. Your support truly helps us live in a way that we feel helps our community now and in our future.
September 11th 2020
Pastured Pigs + End Of The Season = Bacon In The Freezer!
It adds up.
Last year this time I was crying about how I missed my processing date at Becks. I then had a turn of events that allowed me to get the pigs into Quality Cut Meats the next day. This year finding time to bring animals to the processor has gotten much more difficult. So, I better not miss a beat and show up a day late to this Fall’s planned processing dates.
Making it to market!
It’s incredible how difficult it is to find a processor with an open date for adding another animal to their calendar. Pre-Covid I would call in to set up my dates each January to plan the year ahead. What has happened this year is an overflow from large producers struggling with live animals and nowhere to go with them. There were reports of farmers opening pits and dropping ready to be processed animals to cut their losses and stop the bleeding. It’s expensive to feed a large animal and without having any revenue from them there is a point that the businessman in the conventional farmer has to make that sacrifice to save the rest of their farm business. Some of these farmers made another choice – sell them for bottom dollar to a small farmer and let them manage it. Then, in turn, the small farmer sets up a date with a small processor and after a few weeks of this, the processor’s books filled up. Beck’s has their beef books filled through all of 2021 and is working in the first quarter of 2022. Their pork is the same. Quality Cut Meats has closed their books for the duration to avoid folks that are not showing up or following up when they found a more opportunistic time slot. These spots are valuable, and I often wonder what a better way to have these managed would be. Anyway, we made our appointment and have our freezers restocked.
These pigs are Herefords and Hereford crosses. Last season we exclusively raised Idaho Pastured pigs which are a much different choice. The characteristics differ significantly. The Hereford is considered a bacon pig. Their long bodies provide a fantastic breakfast. They eat grass but not a lot. They root through the pasture and cause a significant disturbance. The Idaho Pastured Pig (IPP) has a shorter nose and eats more grass than its counterpart. They are considered a Lard pig. Their fat is healthier with their diet including more grass. Both have a place for us on the farm and we will continue to raise both.
Both of our processors restrain from using any nitrates or nitrites in our cured and processed items. Both are great products yet different. We will have our IPP processing date later this fall. Until then we hope you stop by to fill your freezers and bellies with our most recent additions to our freezers. Thank you for your support of our growing first-generation farm.
September 4th 2020
Special Delivery – USPS Delivers Chicks From Hatchery To Farm!
The Journey to the Brooder.
With all the news about the USPS lately, I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the relevance with chicks being delivered to our farm. This year we have had 5 shipments of chicks delivered to the farm. We run batches of 250 with a few exceptions but I’m not going to get into that. We raise two separate breeds of broilers and each comes from a different hatchery.
The path of least resistance
Our Freedom Rangers or Red Rangers as they are sometimes called are from Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Reinholds Pennsylvania. Our Cornish Cross broiler chickens come from Schlecht Hatchery in Miles Iowa. When an order is placed the hatchery pulls out a map and sees what zone we are in and gives an estimate on the length of the trip the chicks will have. Both hatcheries seem to be on a similar schedule. They are boxing up and shipping chicks on Tuesdays. Then they are brought to the Post Office dropped off and sent on their long journey. Both shipments end up in Oshkosh usually on Wednesday night well after regular business hours. They are then sent on the truck to my local post office in Larsen. When they arrive there and Jane the Post Office manager makes her way into work, she sets the order aside and gives me a call at 6 am to remind me of the delivery. I then drive over to pick them up and get them home ASAP.
Through the years I’ve certainly expanded and grown the operation, but I have had very few bad experiences. It’s not uncommon to lose a few chicks but it is not more than the extras they put into the shipment to make up for those expected losses.
Now that there has been a significant amount of attention brought to the post office and the increase in expected absentee ballots, the politicized independent agency of the executive branch is under a microscope. I heard news stories of farms being unable to depend on their orders being delivered safely and thought it would be good to share our experiences.
A few thoughts on this. There are other carriers, but they have not opened their services to take care of the needs of farmers. I would think that if the USPS would be unable to, the market would adjust, and a new carrier would step into that void. I was looking through FedEx’s terms and conditions and I did see that they do move some live animals for certain circumstances and that you can call the FedEx Animal Desk to arrange that shipment. I would guess that if they became overwhelmed with calls, they would see a need and would charge appropriately. These charges are the cost of doing business. If it were to become too excessive, I would find another way to get the chicks. Either breed on the farm, find another local hatchery that has similar animals, or use a hatchery that consolidates and orders from other hatcheries so that I would not have to travel those long distances myself, which could be another option too. I would probably find out a way to reduce the times I would travel to make 5 deliveries, or I might work with another farmer to share the workload.
To be straight with you, half of farming is problem-solving and if I can’t find an alternative to getting something done, I’m not going to last long.
The unhappy ending in this story is that I did have one bad experience in having chicks delivered this year. It was on my second shipment. They arrived on that Thursday morning Jane called and said she was going to have them outside and let me know that they had a foul smell. I knew that was bad news. When I unpacked them and saw the misfortune with my own eyes I was saddened. It appeared to me that they were left in the sun and that the chicks on the single side collecting the sunlight had overheated and expired early. I called the hatchery and let them know the news. They shared the sentiment and asked if I would like to be refunded or if I would like to have replacements sent. I chose the latter. This occurrence was early in the COVID days and the systems and practices that we are now more comfortable with were not solidified. I expect it was due to shortcuts and low staffing and maybe lack of experience.
I am also a semi-active member of a Facebook group called “Pastured Poultry” and the USPS was a recent topic of discussion. It seemed to me that most shipments have been delivered on time and that the industry, overall, has not suffered. I think it is also important to keep in mind that our little farm is not feeding the world. We are feeding our community a higher quality product, but our conventional counterparts are raising batches of 40,0000 chicken at a time. We are hardly a dent in that. These shipments don’t come in the mail, they come by a semi and are delivered from hatchery to the farm without seeing any light in between.
Lastly, the most current shipment came a day early. Shipped on Tuesday and delivered on Wednesday. Now that’s a fast chicken. I’m not sure if it due to the increase in attention or if there was a lack of other products being sent or if it is just Murphy’s law in action. That same morning, I was bringing pigs to the butcher and had a laundry list of farm work ahead of me. I also picked up chickens to be sent to the processor the following day and had to move the chickens from the brooder out onto pasture. All in a day’s work on the farm.
Thank you for supporting our local farm and others like ours. We all depend on folks like you to support us and build the lives we are each working diligently to sculpt. We hope to see you again soon.
August 28th 2020
Doing More With Less
Last week I was giving a tour of the farm and I made a comment about how we are more productive on our 27-acre farm than the 60 acres of corn to our east. The comment drew attention and follow up questions were asked. We then did some rough math.
The metric we were using was revenue. This is an easy metric to measure as it is easily calculated and gives us a common ground for comparison. Let’s take a look at the current corn prices. Per Business Insider, the price today is at $3.45 a bushel. In 2019 Winnebago county average bushels per acre yielded 160.4 bushels. With 60 acres the total revenue for shelled corn would generate $33,202.80. Admittedly, this is not what they are doing with this corn. The farm is chopping the whole field and fermenting it into silage that they will feed their dairy cattle through the winter. I don’t know how else to measure the value of this though.
Our farm has 27 acres in total and our pasture, which is our production space, totals 19 acres of our property. We also rent 16 acres on a neighboring property and I would be remiss to not include that space as it does help with our grazing and ultimately contributes to our total revenue. The two pastures together total 35 acres. Our gross sales in 2019 was $50,595.53.
Now to compare apples to apples. The corn field generates $553.38 per acre. Our farm is generating $1,445.58 per acer. There are a few differences I want to point out. Each farm has different inputs. The corn field is plowed and seeded, both using petroleum. Then fertilizers are applied, pesticides are spread, and our water table is taxed with a significant draw by the farm to irrigate when we go through our dry spells. The corn field is also losing topsoil each year due to the exposure of soil through such a long period of the year. Even when corn is covering the field, the soil is still visible beneath the towering stalks.
Our inputs are significantly less and include the feeds we purchase from the coops we support to nourish our growing animals. We do use a side by side vehicle, and it is using fuel to help reduce the time and increase our efficiencies on the farm. Those are really our only inputs. We rely on the animals to do the fertilizing. We also benefit from the wide array of plants and animals to give our farm the opportunity to self-balance the pests that the corn farmer would spray to eradicate.
Because we do not have to wait for the fields to dry up before we plant, and we are able to continue to grow grasses into the fall we are able to catch and store more of our sun’s energy. This is the true difference maker. This sun is what it’s all about. It’s a free resource that keeps our system in motion from early spring into early winter.
I want to add that I hope someday I can run a comparison between the same two spaces and look at the caloric production that is made by each model. I believe that one day our diverse farm will supersede the corn fields around us. I don’t think we are there yet. It will happen with time and we are seeing improvements with each season and pasture rotation.
Each and every time you make the decision to support a small farmer like us, you are effectively helping build soil, build diversity and grow a stronger local food economy. Thank you for all that you do, for following us as we grow and sharing our story with your family, friends and neighbors. Each and every mention makes a difference.
August 21st 2020
Gold, Silver, Seeds, Ammo, Guns And CRYPTO CURRENCY
Gold, silver, seeds, ammo, guns and CRYPTOCURRENCY
In this new world of uncertainty and hesitancy, it’s hard to imagine things moving back to the old normal. I’d like to believe we would return to “normal”, and frankly I would gladly take even a semblance of it. To be fair, I’ve kept my nose to the grindstone and most of my routines have been very similar to last summer.
My current outlook on the world is bleak. I believe that we are about to face an economic downturn at the least and an outright collapse as a worst-case scenario. We will probably see something in-between. I’ve mentioned to you before and it bears repeating, plant a garden, start or prepare some kind of food reserves for you and your family. It doesn’t need to be an economic collapse to push the entire economy into a downward spiral to utilize these preps. It could be the loss of your own job or something in your own home that could be a personal collapse and taking care of your basic needs of food is a very comforting factor. Think openly about this too, you can start today, even on the back end of this growing season. You can get ready for winter and build an indoor food system. The one Kim and I are going to use this winter is called a Kratke (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kratky_method) system. We are going to have the best winter salads this year.
Have you seen the price of gold or silver lately? Prices are at all-time highs. The US dollar has been stretched so thin by our current round of Quantitative Easing and each dollar is buying less and less each day. Have you looked for any guns or ammo? Both are extremely difficult to come by as well. Have you tried to buy seeds? The sites I buy them from have very low on quantity. There was a point in the initial shutdown due to Covid-19 that seed producers were shut down to all e-commerce traffic unless you were a farm vendor with an online account.
How about cryptocurrency? Have you looked at that lately? Near the end of 2017 Bitcoin was nearly 20,000 dollars a coin. It fell off and fell below 4,000 a short time and started its ascent back to nearly 12,000 dollars where it is currently. The reason I think cryptocurrency is worth looking at is that it is independent of manipulation like our Federal Reserve dollar. I have dabbled with owning crypto but have not used it for anything more than an investment. If any of you use or hold any form of cryptocurrency, I hope that you will use it to purchase items from our online store. We just opened that as a new avenue for transactions.
I don’t want to come off as all doom and gloom, but have you seen the entire exodus from the big cities? New York, LA, and Chicago have all seen large volumes of families move to the country. Have you looked at moving to the country yet? Prices are steep and houses are hardly on the market for any duration before they are bought up. There are mega investors with major money buying large tracks of land before you can even put your own place up on the market. So, if you looking to buy, try to get rid of any contingencies you might need to put on that purchase, or you may not be able to follow through with the transaction.
I have had several conversations with more than a handful of families that are interested in escaping the hustle and bustle of the cities. They email me, they call me, and we talk about what it takes to make it in farming. I also see families that are buying land together and building a lifestyle that will give them a firm space to stand and thrive as the world takes the steps back into the turmoil I see ahead.
If we have a total collapse, our little farm will not be able to put the weight of the Fox Valley on its shoulders. We need more farmers; we need more producers and a better and stronger local economy. We need small businesses to stand up, assess their current situations, make adjustments, and fill the voids that our local economy has. Restaurants are not coming back and will not be back anytime soon. Sporting events are not going to return to normal any time soon. School will not be back any time soon. It’s a different world and we are just at the beginning of a major shift. I hope that you prepare and look into little changes that you can each make to preserve your families. I hope that you talk about these difficult topics and learn new skills that will help you in challenging times.
And if it’s all for not, and I’m just a “glass is half empty” kind of guy, I’m ok with that because the skills are still good for you. The food can still be eaten, and our community can always be strengthened.
Thank you for supporting our family farm. Thank you for all of the help over the past week as I’ve been on a very limited weight restriction. I’m feeling better and I look forward to talking to you all again soon.
August 14th 2020
Drop Everything, I Need My Appendix Removed.
Not a belly ache.
This week we had an unexpected visit to the hospital that we had not scheduled, and I tried to avoid.
To the hospital we go.
I am a pretty tough cookie. I don’t wine much about having to do extra work, I don’t cry when I get a cut, slam my finger into something, break a nail, or even when I get a headache. I probably am the opposite of that in some weird way, I have high expectations of myself and sometimes put those onto the people around me. I don’t accept any whimpering from them either. Pull up your bootstraps and do the dirty work friend! If you want to make a difference, it takes the physical grit and the satisfaction is found at the end of the rainbow when the work is complete and the goals are accomplished.
Well that all came to a screeching halt this week for me. On Tuesday after lunch, I started to feel a belly ache come on. I went on about my day and completed the week’s deliveries, made it home, did the chores and while still feeling sick, it decided to hit the hay a little early. Making it to bed by 9:30 is a bit unusual but sometimes necessary to help get the body right. That rest didn’t last long. At 12:30 am I was up and in the bathroom in a lot of pain. I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the foods I ate for lunch and how it was something I hadn’t pinpointed yet that was the cause of my irritation. After about 5 hours of trips between the couch and bathroom, I finally got a little rest in a spot below the couch on the living room floor. I laid there until I eventually called in sick to work, and a while longer until I had to do morning chores.
Getting those done was quite a time-consuming task. I took short cuts everywhere I could think of and it still took twice as long as it should have. When I was done feeding everyone and moving them to their new grassy havens, I made my way back into the house where I rested ALL day. I hardly ate and as the afternoon was coming to a close, Kim and I had discussed again what was going on with my body. We decided that it was probably my appendix and that I would call my neighbor to help with chores and that when we were done with them we would head off to the hospital to get a professional diagnosis.
We headed into town at 8 pm and the masked nurses and doctors swarmed, poked, and prodded me to come to their own conclusions. After all of the tests came back it was diagnosed that I did not have COVID 19. It was my appendix that was ailing me as Kim and I had suspected. The Doctors decided that it was an urgent case and that they thought an immediate surgery was appropriate. We went along with it and a few short hours I walked out of the hospital with one less organ and a few holes in my belly.
I am feeling much better at this point and am thankful that we took the actions that were necessary to right the ship. The next hill to climb is the 10 lb. lifting limitations the doctors have put me on for the next 6 weeks. To be very honest, I will take it very seriously for the first two and then with a follow-up appointment with the doctors ask what recommendations they have at that time. I don’t expect I will able to open up give full throttle at any point soon but lifting 40 lbs. is a basic need around the farm.
For the first few days, I’ve been graciously assisted by friends and family. I have the next several days mapped out too. This next week I will be moving some of my morning shores to the evening and hope to be able to do the minimal morning work myself, even staying within the weight limitations. A little creativity will go a long way to keep us moving in a positive direction.
Thank you for all of your help, all of your support and all of your thoughts and prayers. It means the world to Kim and me.
August 7th 2020
Things Do Not Always Go As Planned, That Usually Means Extra Work For Your Farmer.
Left to process on the farm.
Last Thursday was a big day for us on the farm. We had a batch of 200 plus chickens being dropped off at the processor to be prepped for the freezer. Well, the evening beforehand I received a call from our processor, and we were confronted with a problem. Jennifer at Quality Cut Meats lost her license temporarily.
I guess we will do it ourselves.
It had to do with an issue with some wording in an annual report that she sends off to the state to continue her certification of processing chickens. The report requires her to cite scientific evidence of how and where exactly she is testing the temp of the chickens before they are cut up and packaged. This put the business out of commission for about 3 weeks. Each Thursday is poultry day and that’s a lot of backlog to deal with.
It’s not like I can just call up another processor and ask to bring them in. These things take a long time to coordinate. Beef processing at some facilities are booking into 2022. Those animals may not even be on the ground yet. Pork is a little less backlogged, but it is still not pretty. Chicken has so few processors and that volume is not something that you can walk into a facility with and hope that the crew can make the time.
Fortunately, I have all of the equipment to process on the farm. Frankly, I would rather process all our birds on the farm. I think it would save us some money and time and give us the control to package each and every item as we would wish to. The issue here is that the state statutes only allow us to process 1,000 birds on the farm each year and each of them needs to be sold as whole items. No cuts, no feet, no hearts or livers, and on top of that, we have to sell them directly from the farm. They cannot be sold from the farmers market or over the internet.
Another advantage is that we would be able to add the byproduct from processing to our compost pile. That would in turn make some good soil down the road.
After I got off the phone with Jennifer, I pulled our equipment out of the shop, lined it all up, prepped for the start of a long process, and started hammering out the work. A good day of processing will put about 40 birds into the freezer. Another helping factor was that I had some assistance from Farmer Kim and Jon from Bread Basket Farm for a few of those first four days of work. This weekend I will finish up the job.
We hope that you will stop out this weekend and pick up some whole chickens. They are Freedom Rangers and were fed a certified organic feed. These are not soy-free so there is no fish meal in this product. In our system, we believe that Freedom Rangers are getting about 30% of their feed from grasses and bugs and the remainder from the feed. These are top-notch and you can taste the difference.
This weekend we will be running a discount with the purchase of 4 or more of our on-farm processed chickens of 15 percent. This is a great time to fill your freezer for the inevitable winter ahead. See you soon and as always, thank you for supporting family farms like ours here in the Fox Valley.
July 31st 2020
How To Make 200k On The Farm.
The Quest for 200k.
Last week I discussed how the farm business compares to a handyman job my friend recently started. I mentioned how he would work 200 days in the year. I could pull your leg and tell you that I work all 365 days. While it really is hard to leave the farm, the winter work pales in comparison to the summer work. If you can plan it right, the best time to work is in the spring while the weather is cool, and the days get long, giving you the ability to maximize your efforts. This time of the year is when burn out can occur. It’s hot. I’ve been putting a toll on my body, but the next 3 months will go by in a breeze and then it easy sailing.
How it might look.
To make my 200-day work year pay the bills I think I need to gross about $200k. It’s easy for some farms to do this math as they are sticking to a single activity – milking cows, growing corn, maybe maintaining an apple orchard. Here we mix in a little of everything.
You know the basics. We sell our beef, pork, chicken and eggs regularly. We raise turkey for the fall. We have raised vegetables in the past. This year I’m finding it difficult to keep the garden weed free with Ember, and I’m virtually giving up on it. I have higher expectations for next year. We also make syrup, sauerkraut, host agrotourism events quarterly, host campers at our campsite and sell our farm swag too.
The reason I feel that $200k is an appropriate financial goal is based on my expectation of our ROI (return on investment). Some of these fiefdoms will have a better ROI than others, but I don’t think we can have one without the other. For example, our Hipcamp sight pays out very well and has such a low expense it has me thinking I need to do more of that. But, if that’s all we were to do here, the experience that our campers would have would diminish and I don’t know that our campers would be willing to pay the fees we charge for the service. For a long time, I had considered egg sales a loss leader. I have since upped the price and improved our care of the flock so now it is in the black but not by much.
My first business plan for an ag activity was for maple syrup. I did math to find out how many trees I would have to tap in order to replace my tax preparation job. It ended up being more trees than our woods had, and I was entering the data with all the sales being retail. There is no way that would have panned out. Diversity is super important for us in that it gives many individuals a reason to stop in and support us. We have a little something for everyone and we are ultimately able to cut out any middlemen that would negatively impact our price points.
This is how and what it might look like to get near the goal of $200k sales in a year. At the bottom of the graph I have added a dairy cow. That is certainly a stretch at this point. We would need to obtain specialized equipment and figure out how to get around the legal bind that keeps farmers from selling raw milk from their farms. It is a critical and super important factor though. Raw Milk is a superfood and would drive regular traffic to the farm that would help sustain our goals.
With that in mind, we are not there yet, and we have a little way to go. However, I see the writing on the wall. I want to add that this is not fulfilled yet. This is what I expect for the current year. And our expenses are still very significant, and all the farms’ dollars are invested right back into the farm. I will continue to do this for as long as I can manage to juggle all the balls I have in the air. When I see one drop, I will have to re-assess and think critically about that situation.
I hope that the insight I have shared gives you some understanding of the operation as it is now and where I see it going. There are so many issues that pull and sway each and every decision. Even in making this graph I was able to reduce the volume of chicken I was “producing” and increase the beef to make the numbers fit. The one thing that I can’t do though is change the value each unit brings in. The next step in this and probably something I should work on someday is to include the profit margin of each segment to help achieve the financial goals I need for the living I feel is appropriate for us.
Thank you for following along and I can’t wait to see you again soon.
July 24th 2020
Comparing A Farm Business To A Service Business
Way to go.
One of my closest friends quit his long-time job and made the jump into a handy man job in what seems like overnight. It’s amazing to me how quickly he’s been able to transition into his new career path that is self-driven and without any management or boss giving him direction. He has no ceiling and is in control of his own course in life. I’m proud of him, but envious of his ease into the new field.
He called me up the other day looking for feedback on a quote he had given to see if it was something that I felt was in the ballpark of an appropriate price. His quote included pressure washing the outside of the house and some yard clean up. The quote he gave the homeowner was at 800 dollars that included a few hundred dollars of material and a long day’s work. His competition had quoted the same 800 dollars for just the cleaning of the house, not including any of the work the homeowner was asking to have included.
I told him that I would not pay for the work, but I’m a capable individual and that my time working on a project like this for myself would have a better outcome. Understandably, not everyone is able to do the work. So, I told him to have all the work included that was requested at a price that was equal to his competitor seemed like a good deal in comparison. I have since looked into companies that do pressure washing of homes as the sole task and the job does come in at less than my friend’s quote but that’s what you get when a company specializes in a task. The equipment is set up on a truck with employees doing the work at a much lower hourly rate and the business succeeds because it is able to find a volume of work that pays for the costs and has room for the business owner to get ahead at the same time.
Let put 800 dollars through a hypothetical analysis based on my own presumptions. Let’s say that it takes 10 hours, and he pays himself 50 dollars an hour. There goes 500 dollars. Let’s put 200 dollars into material and call the last 100 depreciation of the tools, fuel and any minor costs like a portion of the licensing and insurance that would cover the business over the entire year, but this is just a single days portion. As a tax preparer, I would recommend that one-third of the earnings would be paid back to the IRS as a small business owner. ($500 x 2/3 = $333.33 in my friend’s pocket). Not bad for a day’s work.
Over the course a year that would net him about 66,000 dollars for his family expenses. Not too terrible and really that does not seem too obligatory.
Now let’s look at the farm. This is not quite as clean as we have several different entities or fiefdoms on the farm all operating simultaneously, but we can start with chickens.
We raise batches of 250 chickens. Some of them are on pasture for 8 weeks and others are 12. We will take the average of this example. Instead of articulating this mess I have made a quick graphic that hopefully expresses the output of a single batch.
As you can see the cost of producing the chicken is quite high and the work in comparison to my friend’s new business does not even come close to the gains he has. The story does not end here. A major difference I have omitted is that the farm has a cost associated to the land. We don’t live here without a mortgage, and if not here, we would still have a rent. The next step is to market and sell the product. This all takes more time, energy and resources.
One take-away I have is that the marketplace in general is much more willing to pay for a service than they are to pay for food. Another consideration is the economy of scale. If I added another 250 chickens to each batch I run, it may only take 5 or 6 more hours to accomplish the same work. It may reduce the cost of feed buying with more purchasing power. It may also reduce the amount of losses I incur due to a higher level of attention and knowledge coming from the added experience.
When I explained this to my friend he said “but you’re doing it for different reasons”. This is the case because I am looking to better the community, build our soil and feed our family. If you’re planning on getting into farming, know that it is hard work and that the commitment to the long term is a must. There is no get rich quick scheme in farming even when you sell directly to the customers. If your goal is to find a new career that you can walk out the door of your old job and into the seat of your own business, you should look in a different direction.
Next week I will discuss how and what the rest of a farm might look like in order to make a living. We will go over how much production and income is needed and how we might get there. We will include all of our income sources and try to get to the same 66,000 dollars of income my friend would have extrapolated out his single project into a 200 day work year.
July 17th 2020
Postivity And Gratitude.
My heart is filled with joy, and you are all the reason for so much gratitude. Our community is filled with so much positive energy and I want to thank you all for the consistent positive vibes.
Ember is almost two months old now and it flies by. It’s very much the way things go around here. Anyhow, but seeing her grow up, passing the 10 lb. mark, starting to see her personality, listening to the goo’s and the gas’s has been a blessing. We are very thankful for all your support in helping cloth our daughter. The extension of gifts to celebrate our daughter has filled our hearts and our homes with many warm feelings, toys, and outfits. Thank you all for being there for us.
A few weeks ago, we hosted a pasture walk on our farm. It went well and the folks that made their way to our farm were such a wealth of knowledge and the input they had given us has so much value. You would think that others were coming to our farm to learn, we feel we get more out of the shared knowledge from our contemporaries that visit and share their knowledge.
Those same people were at another pasture walk this week and I am so amazed at some of the other great farm operations in the area. The world of responsible farming, whether organic, regenerative, weather raising flowers, vegetables, or beef share values in community as well as the land.
Spread the love, share the vibes, and support those that are being that positivity in your community.
July 10th 2020
Charlette’s Web And Harry Potter’s….
Where we are taking our pig operation.
I know I sensationalize each animal as they are all so fun to keep on the farm. Honestly though, pigs are a blast and their personalities make me smile each time I visit them. They run around in circles, grunt, snort, and wait for their treats.
How we are getting there.
This year we are raising two types of pigs. The more common is called a Hereford. This is a heritage pig that is great for bacon. The second is called an Idaho Pastured Pig, IPP for short. They are less destructive in comparison to the Hereford pig and have a shorter, upturned nose that allows them to have easier access to the grasses that they are known to graze. They are considered a lard pig and the end product is much healthier due to the high volume of grass they consume.
Kim and I have wanted to start keeping pigs on the farm year-round as opposed to purchasing feeders and raising them on the farm each summer. This should help to reduce our costs and increase our production. The one difficulty I see is the extended timelines to schedule processing of the animals. So, the big decision we have been contemplating is which breed do we want to keep? There are benefits to each.
After I did my chores earlier this week, while feeding the IPPs I squatted down to get social and to observe how they have been growing, how they are interacting and ensure that they are all in good health. As they were digging around in their feed, one pig caught my attention. To my surprise the feeder pig was fully intact “down below”. Somehow the farm I bought these pigs from accidentally missed castrating this guy. This pig is the only pig on the farm with a name I can remember this year. His name is Harry Potter. He has a “Z” on his forehead, and it looks strikingly like, you guessed it, Harry Potter. Of the bunch he is probably my favorite. He is ultra-friendly and is usually the first one to say hello.
I could A) fix the problem by neutering him, or B) get some ladies and start the process of making little piggies. We cannot wait because have you ever seen a baby pig? They are sooo cute. When we bring feeder pigs on to the farm, they are already 8 weeks old and are usually between 20 and 40 lbs. The IPP is on the smaller side while the Hereford’s are on the larger side. The IPP’s just grow slower overall. They take about 10 months to reach their full weight of 250 while the Herefords grow out to about 300 after 8 months.
Craigslist is where we connect with other farmers to seek out animals we look to bring onto the farm. So, I looked up IPP gilts and sows and found a farm not too far away that had some ready. After talking we felt it was a good fit and coordinated a pickup. We brought them home and they are getting comfortable and familiar with their new home and living situation. After they get acclimated to us and have been trained to fencing, we will bring them down to join the other pigs on pasture.
Thank you all so much for following along with us as we navigate through the slow process of farm growth. We hope you enjoy the trials and tribulations of our small farm as we work to feed our community the highest quality of foods.
July 3rd 2020
Bad Cow Behavior Continued
Camping with Cows.
We invite guests to camp at our farm through a service called Hipcamp. The site has a tiny house where 2 or maybe three people can stay and a tent or two for a total of 6 campers. Campers are able to fish swim and canoe. They also get to explore around the farm.
Room for improvement
We list our campsite as camping with the cows. A catchy name that helps potential guests remember our site. Most campers include a tour of the farm in their purchase. We walk around and talk about the animals and how and why about the farm. This past weekend we had a group of 4 fellas that stayed with us. They did not purchase the tour, which is fine. But they got one anyway.
Truth be told, part of the reason I brought half of the herd over to our rental farm is because we have so much fencing and there is always some grass somewhere on the farm that is helping to ground out our fence charger. So through the growing season, its always a bit harder to keep the cows in the fence. And you know who doesn’t care about fences. I’m really not sure if it was Derrick the misbehaving cow, if you missed that one, I recommend you take a look back.
It’s one thing if the cows get out of the paddock I give the cows for the day but it’s a completely different thing when the cows decide they want to see what’s going on over at the campsite. So at 12:30 in the morning on Saturday, I was getting a phone call from the campers letting me know that the cows were lined up and staring at them and they wanted to know if this was normal?
I jumped right up, got down to the pond opened the gate, and then moved them back into the pasture, closed up the campsite to keep the cows out, and made my way back to bed. It was not easy sleeping. My anticipation for the next phone call was on my mind and I was not going to sleep easily. I set my alarm for just after 5 am so that I could make sure they were not over at the neighbors or something. When the alarm rang, I walked out to the top of the hill and didn’t see the troublemakers. I walked around a bit and didn’t see down fences or paths that would have led off the farm, but I jumped on the side by side and drove around to the neighbors just to be sure. Then I went down into the campers space and saw all 7 of the cows just loving life.
I moved them back over to the pasture and made it through the day without another problem. I decided to try a different method, to charge the fence, to keep the cows in line. We had a solar charger that wasn’t being used so I set it up by the cows. This is very different for me but since so many of the other animals are moving and I use their own solar chargers, I thought it was a good idea to try one for the cows. I am very impressed with it too, I’ve been shocked a time or two and I don’t like it. It’s much stronger than the one up in the barn and is not getting grounded out by all the grass through the rest of the pasture.
I hope you all enjoy the humiliation and can laugh at my mistakes as I do. Thank you all for the support, my family and I really appreciate it.