New grazing measurement program in conjunction with NRCS

 

This year we have started a new program in concert with NRCS to measure our pasture management. We were given a choice of many programs we could adopt, but this pasture management one fit what we do very well and really was a best practice we should have been doing anyway.

Pre-grazing in field 2, Thursday October 23rd.

Pre-grazing in field 2, Thursday October 23rd.

What we have done is to place permanent measurement markers in three different pastures on our farm. The markers have inch graduations from the ground on up to a couple of feet. Before we put our cows into a paddock for the day, we measure the grass by taking picture like the ones below.

Another pre-grazing shot of field 2.

Another pre-grazing shot of field 2.

 

Post grazing of field 2.

Post grazing of field 2.

This is field #2, which is the one closest to the golf course. As you can see pre-grazing, the grass is about 9-10″ high and the tips are around 16″.This is post grazing. You may have to zoom in a bit to see that the grass is now 4-5″ tall. We have grazed this grass heavier than normal because the cows won’t make it back around to this pasture before it’s time to go onto hay for the winter. We still left plenty of grass for ground cover.

This grazing took place on Thursday, October 23rd, 2014.

It’s actually making me kind of sad to see the last of the grass in the before pictures. We have had a tremendous increase in grass production in our second year of daily paddock moves. The topsoil creation has been very good. I haven’t actually measured it, but we have to be over a few inches based on the one spot I looked. You have to compare that against the 1/8″ or less of topsoil we had when we started this program. I was told that when we started this program, we really shouldn’t except much till about the third year. So far we’ve had wonderful results and that makes me really look forward to next year to see what these “real results” will look like. The grass could be thicker, the weeds could be less. Things can continue to improve, but it’s come so far so fast it’s hard to imagine it getting a lot better. One thing I haven’t done in a while is to test soil PH. I’m looking forward to testing it next year and then comparing it against where we were when we started. I was talking with Themis from NRCS this week and she was saying what I understood to be the case. By building so much organic material on the surface, we should see the soil PH come up from 5.1-5.3 to more in the 7.0 range which would be perfect. Even if we are making progress, maybe in the high 5s, it’s an indication that what we are doing is working and we can continue forward with our current practices, knowing we will get where we are going in the future.

 

Benjamin takes a mud bath

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Benjamin must be having trouble with the ladies because he decided to get a mud facial this morning. We have some exposed dirt where we trenched a water line to the pigs earlier this year. I don’t know what it is about cows and dirt but they love to rub it all over their face, especially bulls. Benjamin is no exception.

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The cows are eating marvelous grass now, but it’s the last graze of the season. Next week I will be going to get the first loads of hay and in a few weeks that’s all we will have for them to eat besides what comes from the market. The cows look wonderful and this years grazing has put the pounds on them. We will be taking 4 to be processed in about a month taking our winter stock down to 27. That’s a few more than last winter but I may end up selling another cow or two along the way. Fortunately our numbers have come up enough to cull effectively now so we can continue to enhance our bloodlines. Benjamin’s calves are noticeably bigger than our normal calves at the same age. Having his genetics in the herd is going to be a good thing.

Proverbs 22 home school class tours Ninja Cow Farm

A few months ago we were contacted to see if we would allow a home school co-op to tour our farm. Being home schoolers ourselves, I of course said yes. The group was well-organized and behaved, at least as far as a bunch of young kids can be when given room to run and play. We had a good time and spent about 2 hours doing a walking tour of the farm and answering questions. One of the mothers was busy taking pictures and was kind enough to share with me some of the pictures she took. Below in no particular order are the pictures from our tour.

Thank you Jennifer for sharing these wonderful photos.

Holding baby freedom ranger chicks

Holding baby freedom ranger chicks

Another shot of holding baby chicks

Another shot of holding baby chicks

Walking through the pig paddock

Walking through the pig paddock

A pasture walk

A pasture walk

More pasture walk

More pasture walk

Ninja cows, seeing all the kids

Ninja cows, seeing all the kids

Kids and cows

Kids and cows

Wildlife on display

Wildlife on display

#47, nursing.

#47, nursing.

More kids and cows

More kids and cows, this time Benjamin and Dottie

Pigs in the wooded paddock

Pigs in the wooded paddock

A snail hitches a ride

A snail hitches a ride

Walking back across the pasture

Walking back across the pasture

Learning about splitting wood

Learning about splitting wood

I see a hand raised. You have a question?

I see a hand raised. You have a question?

Learning how the wood boiler works

Learning how the wood boiler works

Learning about the smoke house and smoking meat. I think the dads were more interested in this part.

Learning about the smoke house. The door was stuck, all the kids took turns trying their strength. It was like King Arthur and Excalibur.

Of course kids had to try out the swings.

Of course kids had to try out the swings.

The entire co-op, posing for a final picture.

The entire co-op, posing for a final picture.

 

Lots of produce for the ninjas today

Miguel and I started out our day talking about winter setting in, the last of the grazing, getting hay for the cows, and having to limit our pigs for the remainder of the winter because our loads from the farmers markets have been dwindling. We should be ok for winter, but we don’t have any extra carrying capacity at this point.

#ninjacowfarm #ninjapigs our pigs, getting breakfast not long after the sun came up

With our limited amounts of food in mind, I stopped and took a picture of the pigs merrily eating their breakfast of fresh produce this morning. The sun hadn’t been up long and the pigs were happy to dive into breakfast since there was plenty for everyone. In fact, I gave a tour to a nice lady at 10:30 who we are trying to help with a school project and these same pigs were passed out in the sun sleeping happily, so breakfast was a hit.

However as a farmer you have to always be looking ahead. Winter is coming (Game of Thrones music playing in anyone’s head) and food will be getting scarce. We have a plan thought so no worries and off to the market we go. Suddenly our little trailer is swarmed by forklifts. We get loaded to the gills and ease away to go and pick up from our smaller farmers where we hand load the produce. Miguel spots and entire pallet of potatoes and we load those onto the truck bed. Back at the smaller farmers we cram a huge load from them in every nook and cranny and limp home way overloaded. This is what it looked like when we got home.

#ninjacowfarm the first load of produce today.

That’s a huge load. Enough for a few days of all the animals eating their fill and then some. Hopefully the other market will be a little slower today.

#ninjacowfarm the second load of produce today.

Um, not so much. Another full load. I sure hope everyone is hungry!

#23 has a new calf, #47

#23 has a calf. A little boy. #ninjacowfarm

Yesterday we had a new little calf born on the farm. Our cow, #23 has given us a beautiful little bull calf who is healthy and spry. This is another Benjamin calf, although this one won’t get to be a bull. As is our practice he was ear tagged and castrated right away. This calf will be two years old late fall of 2016, perfect for our fall processing. In the mean time he’ll live a wonderful life eating grass and playing in the sunshine.

#23 has a new male calf.

Here is #47 next to momma not long after he was born. He’s already up and ready to nurse.

#23, already happy and back to grazing.

Here is momma, already back to grazing with the little calf in tow. Our wonderful neighbors, the Atwoods, called and let us know that the cow was down and was giving birth. They were worried she was having trouble but by the time we got there, everyone was doing fine.

The new calf, #47. He looks none too happy to have an earring. He was less happy today when we banded him and turned him from a bull to a steer.

And finally the star of our post, #47 sporting his new ear tag. He seemed a bit put out that he had a new earring. What he didn’t know was being banded was coming next. The lesson here is, don’t complain, what is coming next may be worse.

Pigapalooza on the farm

Cute little piglet "look a bacon seed"

To bad we couldn’t plant these and grow our own.

This past weekend we doubled the number of pigs we have on the farm to about 60. It took three trips to three different farms, while crossing half of NC, to pick up all the pigs. Fortunately we have two good local suppliers now who say they can provide us with piglets going forward. That means we should be again doubling our pigs on hand getting us over 100 pigs on farm at one time. About 110 pigs is our goal, enabling us to supply 20 pigs per month which is the volume we need to meet for 2015. If we can keep pigs and produce both flowing into the farm, we should be able to accomplish it.

The latest batch of pigs, from Jarvis in Fayetteville. All Hampshire pigs.

A batch of Hampshire pigs before we offloaded them. These are from our new supplier in Smithfield.

One of our new little Hampshire pigs before he was put into the paddock.

Here is a closer, and much cuter, view of one of the pigs. This pig just laid in my arm and didn’t complain. He was so cute that I had to take a picture. I think the fact that last time he was in this position he’d had his testicles cut out made him think he better behave this time.

Some more of the new big pigs before they got off of the trailer.

We also went to Zebulon to pick up some larger pigs from a friend. These pigs averaged about 205 pounds each and are a cross of Duroc/Landrace and Large Black/Tamworth. Don’t laugh at that many crosses. I’m a cross of Swedish/Scottish/Irish/English/Southerner. And that’s only on one side of the family.

Some of the new big pigs, before they got off the trailer.

More of the big pigs. These look much more Tamworth than the others. Getting these big pigs in was expensive but it’s a big boost to getting our production going. These pigs will finish around December, and the following batch should finish around February which will be just right. After that we have another batch finishing in the spring. With the pigs we’ve added now, we should finally have some pork in the freezer plus what we need to sell. I like the pigs from Zebulon. I don’t know if it’s because they are tame or just their disposition but they are calm and gentle, which makes them enjoyable to have around. Unlike the Spider Pig.

Some of the new big pigs, having breakfast.

The new big pigs were turned into a fallow paddock with lots of food, and lots of grass and acorns to eat. They have settled in very quickly and seem quite content to enjoy their days on our farm. You can pet these pigs as they walk by and they are quite curious when you go into their paddock, coming up to check you out one by one. Despite the high cost, I’m happy with these pigs.

One of the things we are doing with our pigs is to try and knock back the Japanese stilt grass that is growing in all of our wooded areas. It seems you can do three things to stilt grass. Burn it, spray it with chemicals, or turn pigs loose on it. In the video above, you can see the pigs happily grazing the stilt grass, something the cows won’t touch. Once all this grass is grazed, the pigs will root up the roots and eat them. By December this paddock won’t have a single piece of stilt grass in it and will be ready for planting of something else should we so choose next spring.

Pigs in a wooded paddock.

Our new pig paddock, before the pigs have done any work.

Just to have a before picture, I took this photo of the pig paddock the first morning the pigs were in it. I’ll get an after shot later in the year for comparison.

Did I mention that Spork was part of this endeavor all the way through? From riding all over NC to handling pigs. His speciality is pig catching in the trailer. I was able to catch his prowess, and the resulting hilarity in the following short video. He’s not hamming it up, he didn’t even know I was filming.

 

Another ninja on the farm, this time a ninja pig?

Yesterday we traveled to Henderson to buy some pigs. This morning, Miguel, Spork, and I decided to get the pigs out of our trailer and place them into our holding paddock. This was an excellent idea because:

  • Spork was able to get out of school for farm work. Always a plus.
  • Handling and castrating pigs trumped school. Education comes in many forms
  • We were going to castrate the boy pigs. Something handy for Spork to learn as it’s his responsibility that his sisters are protected from any roaming suitors. Castration is what they call a negative influencer.
  • Lastly, the pigs were ready to get out of the trailer and into somewhere new that hopefully had food.

We staged our work crew into various areas of expertise. Spork was in charge of catching the pigs in the trailer. This isn’t as easy as it sounds however Spork is the pig whisper and was able to lay healing hands on the errant pigs with alarming regularity, often overrunning Miguel and I.

Miguel was in charge of, well, everything. He kept the trailer door closed keeping the extra pigs from escaping while taking each “caught” pig from Spork and transferring it to the table to have it’s home surgery performed. Miguel was also in charge of sweetly and calmly lying to the pigs, telling them everything would be alright and that he’d be there for them. This was while they were being castrated. For the boys in the audience, you can well understand that everything most certainly was not going to be “alright”.

As El Jefe, I was in charge of the medical supplies and the sharp bits for the castration. Basically I get the dangerous but clean bits.

Our first pig was a female so I took her straight to the holding paddock. This paddock is remarkably similar to the area where the Ninja Cow was delivered on that fateful day. Unfortunately, the results were similar.

Shortly after depositing the first pig into the paddock, I discovered that the hot box wasn’t on, the hot wire was shorted even if it had been on, and there were about 10 places that a little pig could escape but that no other pig had ever looked at. Of course this first pig found the first place and escaped from confinement and into the barn yard. Miguel took off in pursuit while Carter and I grabbed the gator to give chase. Much like the Ninja Cow, the pig immediately took off and successfully navigated to the best route off the farm. A combination of Miguel, Carter, and I worked all the way down to the edge of The road and chased the pig up and down the fence, diving and failing to grab it. Miguel was yelling at me to keep the pig away from the corner fence, I was yelling to keep the pig away from the pond’s drainage line. Luckily we listened to each other and drove the pig to the corner of the pasture where it ran under a 10″ opening in the fence and escaped completely (Arrrghh, Miguel was right!).

Did I say luckily? Alas, I was due some misfortune because I had used MANY bad words up to this point, including using the Lord’s name in vain. Something Spork has reminded me of since, and of course has told his mother. /Sigh

So we returned, defeated, having lost a 50 dollar pig and much of my dignity. More importantly, I’m no closer to heaven after my language so I have that to work on as well. Miguel asked if we should string a new wire around the paddock. I couldn’t see where a new hot wire would make a difference so I said no. “Are you sure Jefe?” Yeah, I’m sure. Remember this point, it will become important later.

We proceeded to grab pigs and dump them into the paddock, castrating the boys till we’d reached pig number 7 of 10. Miguel kept pointing out that we might want to consider stringing a new wire as he didn’t like the way they were trying the existing hot wire. Then as we were reading pig #8 for castration, the pig I’d been eye balling the entire time, the black pig with a white stripe around it’s middle ala Ninja Cow, decided to jump not only the hot wire but the gate and the fencing material and escape into the wild.

Folks, if I hadn’t lost my religion prior, I certainly did when I watched this pig jump out of confinement and escape across our barn yard. The fact that it was the pig version of the ninja cow didn’t help. The fact that Miguel was in mid-sentence asking me “if I didn’t just want to string some wire, are you sure?” as this pig escaped just killed me. I kept picturing a single hot wire like we already had. Miguel, now obviously, meant to string chicken wire across the opening the pig had just escaped from. So much for my Spanglish. /Sigh.

So we went in pursuit of this new pig. Everyone was involved and we hoped that we could turn the pig back to it’s friends before it escaped completely. Much like the original ninja cow, the pig was head down and bent on escape, never stopping to look around or wonder. I lost the ninja pig in our tall pastures almost immediately and we didn’t see the pig again.

7 pigs dealt with, two escaped. Not a great ratio.

After a fruitless search, we began to turn our pig paddock into Fort Knox. Finally much effort was paid to every possible escape. The electric wire went from 1.5k volts to 13k volts. The openings were closed off and all was made secure. All of this was after the remaining pigs had escaped from another hole while I was chasing the ninja pig. Spork and Miguel managed to corral the pigs back into the paddock, preventing a mass escape. Fortunately I did not even know about the additional escape till after it was contained. I don’t think my psyche could have taken it at this moment.

So with Fort Knox secure, we castrated the rest of the pigs and I cleaned up and headed for work knowing farming wasn’t going to pay when I’m loosing $100 worth of pigs on day one. I’d not even made it to work when I received a call from our neighbors at the golf course that a black and white ninja pig had been spotted at hole number 6 and we needed to come and capture him. I hightailed it back to the farm, changed clothes, and recruited not only my family but any friends who might be nearby plus any errant golfers who might be close. After commandeering two golf carts we went on a pig hunt, complete with The Princesses pink rifle should we not be able to capture the pig. After one fruitless trip around the golf course, we returned to the house where I redressed for work and headed out for the joy that was 1 day of work compressed into a few pigless hours. While at work I received the following picture from Miguel.

#ninjacowfarm #ninjapigs #spiderpig Much later, after recapturing the spider pig.

The ninja pig had returned to her family and Miguel, through guile and ingenuity had managed to catch her and put her back with everyone else. This ends the story of the ninja pig, DAY 1. God help us for day 2.

Spork had decided that instead of ninja pig, this black and white pig should be named spider pig from the Simpson’s movie. After what I’ve seen, I can’t argue.