It’s almost spring!

Car wrecked in the snow
The entrance to our farm this morning when I went out

Oh wait. What the heck is this?

Sigh.

I’ve already told you my feelings on winter, which are as cold and icy as our frontage road was this morning. As the sun came up this morning, I heard a helicopter that was not only close, but hovering outside my window. Being a former helicopter pilot myself, I knew from the sound of the rotors what he was doing and the only reason for doing it was to film something just off of our farm. So a news chopper was filming, literally hovering over my pasture.

Not a good sign

Emily made it to work today and was busy feeding animals so Miguel and I went to see what the chopper was filming. We already knew that our road had been closed by State Troopers and there was a chance that somebody took out some of our perimeter fence when they wrecked, not an unheard of occurrence. We scooted over there in the Gator and made it to the corner of our property. There was a car in the ditch but no fence damage. Thank goodness!

Playing pool with kids and a fireplace
Playing pool on a snowy night

I say thank goodness especially because when the snow started yesterday we decided to have the neighbor up, play some pool with the kids, make a fire in the fireplace, and open a bottle of wine. Strangely the wine bottle was related to rabbits because this morning I found that the single empty wine bottle had multiplied overnight into an entire family of empty bottles on the counter. Rebuilding a fence wasn’t high on my list of things I wanted to do today.

The snow melted very well as the day went on and my iPhone forecast showed no snow the rest of the week. Things were looking up. However I found that my app wasn’t at all accurate and indeed we still had snowmageddon coming tonight. More winter!? Ugh.

However, despite the cold, the snow, the sleet, the brine, the wrecked cars, and the broken water pipes, I found this.

Bulbs, popping out for spring
Bulbs, popping out for spring

Spring! An official sign!

I don’t care if it snows a foot tonight. There are flowers popping out of the ground and that means spring is coming. We’ve already frozen and broken all the pipes that freeze so we just have to keep the animals and us farmers safe, warm, and fed till the weather breaks, and then it will be time for warm weather and green grass. I can’t wait.

The latest health guidelines from your government

Sigh

The draft of the latest guidelines was recently released by the Obama administration. Full disclosure here, I’ve only read the article, not the guidelines themselves so I haven’t independently verified the details.

However, the latest guidelines are from the same entity that brought us the low fat craze that has people fatter than ever which means more health problems, not less.

The “shocking” inclusions in the recommendations is that we should take into account our “carbon footprint” in what we eat. Here is the type of research that these recommendations are based on. So being a vegan means you are saving the world and eating a steak means you are an environment killing, cigar smoking, fat-cat Republican.

There are so many problems with the thinking in these recommendations that I frankly get tired just thinking about rebutting them. I’m sure Joel Salatin will write a rebuttal when he gets time and I’ll link to it when it comes out. His will be much more thought out than mine I’m sure. However let me hit on some key points here and now.

  1. Conventional cattle farming, with feedlots and CAFOs is guilty as charged in these recommendations and the research I linked above. Raising corn, harvesting with diesel fuel, then drying it, then hauling it with fuel, distributing it with fuel, then feeding it to cattle, again with fuel, creates a pretty huge carbon footprint.
  2. Planting soybeans for your tofu burger has its own huge carbon footprint. Everything wrong with cattle farming above is just as guilty for conventional row crop farming. The same inputs, the same diesel needs, the same footprint. Add in the chemical usage (GMO is used so it can be sprayed with Roundup) and soybeans are right there with corn. Vegans can feel better about their diet because nothing with a face died, but that doesn’t make it better for the environment, a distinction that is routinely missed.
  3. Grazing cattle the way we do is carbon NEGATIVE (you’ll have to read down a bit in this link to get into all the sequestration talk). Properly managed pastures, like Ninja Cow Farm and many other non-conventional farmers, sequester carbon well in excess of any emissions created. The larger our cattle operations, the better off the environment is, period.

So if you want to save the polar bears, or whatever your goal is, the answer is to eat more properly raised beef and pork, and less row crops.

Ok, this time the beef page is really updated

Bunny facepalm
Dope!

So I was out of town this weekend but still trying to update the beef page to let everyone know we have beef back in stock. I didn’t have my notes with me, so I updated the beef page with our new cuts and marked what we don’t have in stock from memory. Unfortunately, I have a mind like a steel sponge and left off about half of what I should have.

I’m now back in the office and working from notes, which should be a requirement for me anytime I’m doing anything except brushing my teeth. The page is actually updated now with correct information so head over and check out what we have and let me know what you need.

The worst part of admitting you messed up isn’t telling the whole world via this page. I can handle public shame. It’s knowing your wife reads the page and will now find out. Like she needs another reason why she’s smarter than me.

Beef is back in stock!

The girls riding in my 1972 stepside chevrolet truck
Wildflower and The Princess

Despite the look, even the girls are ok with me selling some beef right now. Our beef freezer is groaning under the weight, and our backup overflow freezer is in the same shape. We have new cuts like Osso Buco, meaty soup bone (lots of meat on these!) and Ox tail and most of the old favorites like ribeyes, stew meat and New York strip in good quantities.

The ice and snow are gone so hit me up when you’re ready for some beef. I’ve updated our beef page so you can see what we have.

Don’t forget we have plenty of pork available as well.

What all this soil health stuff I talk about looks like in the soil

IMG_2874.JPGI was forwarded a great video (Thanks Dale!) on soil health that I thought I’d share. We do a lot here to manage and improve our soil health. I show pictures of topsoil being built, poop on the ground, grass and thatch, all that stuff. But for many of our readers, that stuff doesn’t really translate into something that’s meaningful.

In this video, they do a visual side by side comparison of no-till soil and conventional till soil. To see the test, go to 12:31 in the video. The test is only a few minutes long.

Our soil would compare much better than the no till since we are actively adding back organic matter and not disturbing the soil in any way. Plus we have a dense crop of grass and forbes growing all season long. Hopefully this video will give you an idea of why what we are doing is important.

Notes from the Pasture Pork Conference in Greensboro Feb 12th, 2015

This will be a long post, as there was lots of information from this conference. As usual, this will just be my notes and thoughts, not necessarily something that will be great reading.

There is an accompanying book full of flyers, handouts, etc, that will be stored in the “classes” folder in the farm records file cabinet.

The first slaughter plant in the US was in Massachusetts. Something I need to tell my yankee wife.

After the revolutionary war, pigs moved from a  concentration along the East coast to the Ohio valley. The movement was because whiskey production moved to the Ohio valley and pigs were used to consume the spent grains from making whiskey and beer.

After the War of Northern Aggression (Civil war to you folks not from around here) pig concentrations moved to Illinois and Iowa, again following booze production and milk production. Pigs follow booze, dairy, and whey. They consume by-products of production.

The US government for about 100 years has recommended that farmers do not put pigs on dirt due to disease. Pigs can be in open areas, but not in denuded areas.

In 1920, 80% of farms slaughtered pigs on farm for family use. The main diseases in pigs were hog cholera, tuberculosis, hog flu, trichinosis, and general GI respiratory ailments. Despite the negatives, CAFOs have been part of elimination of many hog diseases in the last 100 years.

In 1921 the price for a market hog was six cents per pound. Adjusted for today’s dollars that is seventy three cents per pound. The actual market price today is fifty three cents per pound meaning a farmer today selling market hogs is making less money than in 1921.

The move indoors to CAFOs happened in the 1960s. Economics, swine health, and more efficient feeding were the drivers. After this introduction, there were two recommend systems for hogs, CAFOs and pastured pork. Having pigs on denuded dirt lots is considered bad.

1968-1990, there was a generational shift in pork production. Pastured pork nearly went extinct and the modern farmers lost the knowledge of how to do it correctly and profitably. The US government began a program to reintroduce pastured pork, to keep the knowledge alive. In 1988, the USDA wanted to be more sustainable. They picked the least sustainable production system they could come up with to try and improve. Their choice was swine CAFOs.

CAFOs are at least 50% more efficient than any small scale production system. There has to be over 5000 sows before a CAFO begins to make any financial sense.

For a USDA sustainable farm model that was proposed in 1988 there were certain criteria that had to be met.

  • the system had to work for 300 sows and for only 30 sows. It had to be scalable. Much like Joel Salatin professes with his systems, it has to be scalable both up and down.
  • The farm must be outdoors. There could be no waste lagoon, no foul odor.
  • The footprint, when you factor in all the land use for incoming grain and support systems for a CAFO, was 3 sows per acre. The sustainable model had to replicate that footprint. It also had to use the same labor per sow as a CAFO.
  • The farm should be a positive role in the community, and should add to the overall community.
  • The end product should be healthy and safe meat.
  • Finally the farm must be economically competitive.

One thing that was recommended was to never put pigs back to back in a paddock. Always give a paddock time off between groups of pigs.

The English style/Quonset hut style farrowing house was recommended over traditional farrowing huts because the rounded shape resulted in much less piglet deaths.

Johnston County Hams in Smithfield will cure farmers hams so that we can sell country hams ourselves on farm.

NC Natural Hog Producers Association presented at the conference and told about their association. It appears to be for much larger farms than we are. It’s a co-op and Acre Station does their processing. They were getting $1.30 per pound carcass weight.

Breakout sessions

Agplan.umn.edu was a site that was recommended for farmers to develop their own business plan for free.

Farmlogs.com was recommended. It seemed to be geared towards row crop farmers, but it did track rain fall by field, apparently automatically. Having our entire farm on there and having rain fall tracked may have some use.

Web Soil Survey from USDA was recommended if we want to know more about our soil types. It apparently has a bit of a learning curve but provides really good data.

4H livestock record app was recommended as a possible app for farmers to track livestock records. It’s an iPhone or iPad app.

Tractorpal was another app that was recommended for keeping track of farm equipment. It tracks things like serial numbers, last service, etc. Since it’s an app, you can have all your information with you when you go to the dealership.

Google docs was heavily recommended by the presenter because of it’s flexibility and because it was free. He demonstrated how to utilize simple forms in Google Docs to make something similar to an app for your phone so you can enter records right on your phone that will populate a spreadsheet automatically.

I’m sick of winter

I’m done with winter, officially.

Snow and ice on the farm.
Snow and ice on the farm.

Let me start of this by telling you what went wrong with my day yesterday. It was a day I’m happy to have behind me where everything seemed to go wrong.

  • Miguel, like everyone else yesterday, couldn’t get to work due to the road conditions. He would have come in anyway but I told him not to risk it.
  • One of the pigs needed water so I tried turning the valve to give her water. The valve shattered in my hand.
  • The well that provides water to the entire farm, both humans and animals, quit suddenly and without warning or apparent cause. My guess was it froze with all the cold weather.
  • The heat that was keeping momma pig number 1 warm quit, without warning.
  • While lamenting the lack of heat on momma and babies, when I looked over at momma pig #2, she was going into labor. Also with no heat.
  • While trying to diagnose the lack of heat in the hospital barn, I found myself in the main barn at the load center. While working in there, we discovered that the power to the freezers where I keep all of our product had become wonky. They were working, but only just.
  • With no water from the main well, and animals everywhere needing water, we went to the shiny new solar well to switch over to backup water. However the just installed and shiny new well, wouldn’t work because a section of pipe was frozen solid.
  • With no primary well, and no solar well, we went to the OTHER backup well (always be prepared!) and switched the system over to it. It took a few minutes to find the correct valve under the snow and weeds but finally we got it switched over. No water.
  • I tromped over to the well house to discover that the well was turned off. A few switches flipped and the pump came to life. However the water was muddy brown because the well hadn’t been used in years.
  • Dustin got stepped on by a cow.

Since everything else was broken, we started checking everything else.

  • The chicken waterer was frozen.
  • Pig waterer itself was broken.
  • The solar well’s cistern was frozen.
  • And because of the snow and ice, we had limited food for all the animals because we basically had to work with what was already on site.

This is just the summary list. It doesn’t include the cursing, the slipping and falling on ice, the tools that broke or didn’t work, etc, etc. It was quite a day. There was much cursing and consternation.

At the end of the day, our status was, we had brown water but we had water everywhere we needed it. We had emergency backup heat in the barn.

Power worked well enough to keep the freezers freezing, not that it mattered since it was as cold outside as in the freezer.

My status at the end of the day was that we were three bottles of wine shorter in the wine cooler and I had a wonderful home made sloppy joe that Dustin and I made pretty much on the fly. Dustin also provided the hamburger for the sloppy joe because we are completely sold out of beef till I can pick up our three cows tomorrow. I discovered that your beef tastes better after you’ve been paid for it.

So that’s what went wrong yesterday. How about what went right?

  • Dustin jumped in and helped with everything that was going on. Doubling up really helped be get my head above water. It’s wonderful to have friends.
  • I randomly decided to wear my Filson merino wool socks yesterday morning. That, combined with my warm boots meant I had snuggly warm feet all day, even when I was flat on my back like a turtle after falling down on the ice.
  • The heat to my house worked perfectly and my family was cozy and warm all day, oblivious to the cold.
  • My kids were able to go sledding on our big hill. The conditions were perfect for my old Flexible Flyer and the kids sledded farther than I ever did in my life.
  • Miguel, who offered multiple times to come to work anyway, was safe at home and there were no accidents.
  • Momma pig number 2 delivered 5 healthypiglets who are as cute as the first batch.

    Two pigs into labor, with more on the way.
    Two pigs into labor, with more on the way.
  • The drinking water that we’ve put away over the past year came in handy. Plus I got to mock Dustin for not having any water of his own.
  • After getting everything handled, Dustin came up for dinner. We had a great dinner with family and friends and really had a nice night.
  • The John Deere Gator did awesome on the ice and snow. In fact today I pulled a loaded van out of the ice and onto the road with it.

The end result is that on the day we had all the snow and ice, the electrical panel that runs the barn randomly decided to give up the ghost and we lost one leg of the service taking all the 240 volt items and half the 120 volt items. We got everything fixed and all is now well.

The heater working, finally!
The heater working, finally!

However it was exciting at the time.

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