We picked up two loads of hay this past week. Each load is 17 bales so we have 34 bales on the farm now. 17 are staged in the winter feeding pasture, the other 17 are stacked in the barn yard. We’ll pick up at least another 34 bales, probably more. It depends on how cold the winter is, and how the cows need to be taken care of over the winter. Hopefully this winter won’t be too cold and we won’t need too much hay. It’s over $1000 for the 34 bales so it’s no small investment each time we haul hay.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Um, not so much. Another full load. I sure hope everyone is hungry!
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.
Here is #47 next to momma not long after he was born. He’s already up and ready to nurse.
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.
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.
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.
A batch of Hampshire pigs before we offloaded them. These are from our new supplier in Smithfield.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.