Archive | April, 2013

What a difference a few weeks makes!

28 Apr

Well, it’s finally decided to be spring here in Minnesota. It hit 79° here today, a darn sight better than the snow we got just a few days ago.

Anyhow there was also another hay auction this Saturday, and much like the weather, the results were much improved.

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Apparently word got out that hay prices went sky-high last time, so anybody with any hay sitting around made darn sure to truck it over to the co-op and get in on the last auction of the season. Last time there were around 40 lots for sale, this time there were just over 100.

What a difference some high prices can make.

Anyway, we’ve been buying some hay from a local guy, and paying $230/ton for it. It’s higher than we’d like, but the hay is really pretty nice stuff. Nicer than we need really. They’re 1600# round bales of grass/alfalfa mix, so they end up costing us about $180/bale. That’s pretty high, but then again they’re much bigger bales than almost anything else around here.

I figure that most round bales up here are around 1100#, so any round bales I buy would need to no higher than $125/bale to be a better deal than what we’d been buying.

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Lucky me, most round bales were going for around $125, although the first lots that I saw sell were pretty nice hay. That meant that the not-so-nice looking hay further down the line would be even cheaper…

Like the first lot of 6 bales I bought for $55/bale.

Let me first explain that I am the grandson of one Julius H. Johnmeyer, a man who attended many auctions, and was known to bring home many unexpected (and unneeded?) things because “it went too cheap.”

This was not the best hay I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t exactly the worst either, but wasn’t about to just stand there and just let it go for $50.

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On down the line a bit I managed to snag 11 more round bales (better hay this time) for $95/bale. Three or four lots went for about the same price, so the dramatic shift in the weather seems to have had a dramatic effect on the bidding.

So we bought some hay, just have to go pick it all up tomorrow when the truck and trailer get here.

Oh, and I’ve got to get all these Minnesotans to figure out that my name isn’t “John Meyer” I think I’ve devised a clever strategy whereby I’ll spell out my name “Joh-nme-yer” We’ll see how it goes.

Pigs just wanna have fun

24 Apr

Putting the hammer down

22 Apr

So the UPS guy had quite a struggle the other day.  It was the big 50lb box that we’ve been waiting for.

Something to make all that fence we have to build go a little bit smoother.

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A very fancy new post driver. Now we already have two post drivers, but this one is a bit different. It’s a propane-powered post driving maniac. You see, we like using well drill pipe for our fence corner and gate posts. Drill pipe is priced similarly to treated wood posts, but it’ll probably last longer, and because you can weld braces (and gate hinges) on, it makes stronger fences. Plus, if you drive them into the ground you can string up wires right away, which speeds up the fence-building process quite a bit.

The big problem with drill pipe is driving it in the ground. Driving it with a normal t-post driver isn’t exactly a possibility. Tractor-mounted fence post drivers are too expensive and too hard to find. There are hydraulic fence post drivers, but they require a separate hydraulic power source (expensive). Pneumatic fence post drivers look like a pretty good option, as they’re cheap and only require a gasoline-powered air compressor to run them. The problem is that the ones I’ve seen only fit one narrow range of post size. You’d have to own several pneumatic post drivers to have all your post sizes covered.

That left us with the Tippman propane hammer. It uses little propane cylinders, which are easy enough to find, and they claim that it’ll drive darn near anything under 3.5″ in diameter, right down to 1/2″ grounding rods.

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So we got the propane hammer in and unboxed, and quickly noticed a bit of a problem. All the material we’d seen showed that it used the standard 14.1oz propane tanks that your normal propane torch uses. This was obviously not the case any longer. They apparently saw fit to change the whole thing to only use 16.9oz propane tanks, which are apparently a new thing in the propane-torch world. I’ve never seen them before, but since we needed them to use the post driver, it was off to the hardware store.

Turns out no hardware stores have these mythical 16.9oz propane tanks. The 14.1oz tanks are everywhere, but they’re too tall to fit in the redesigned post driver, so we’re stuck looking in vain for the new “fat boy” tanks.

Fortunately, we found out that a standard Coleman camp-stove 16.4oz propane tank works just fine.

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This is actually makes the redesign a good thing, because every sporting goods store is just filthy with the Coleman tanks, and they’re usually dirt cheap. It sure would be nice if Tippman went ahead and told you up front that the 16.4oz tanks will work.

Anyway, after finding the right propane cylinders and adjusting the pressure, it was time to take it out in the field and see if it would actually work. I’ve seen video of the pneumatic post-drivers pounding in a drill-pipe, so I was fairly sure the propane hammer would work, but you never know until you try it.

It worked out pretty darn well.

Farmers Market Trailer: Part 2

21 Apr

Amidst the flurry of activity that is a new farm in the beginning of spring, we have managed to get our hands on a new trailer.

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It’s a pretty basic 6’x10′ enclosed trailer, and it ought to work just fine for our purposes.  Unfortunately, they don’t exactly sell them all done up in a way that’ll pass muster with the MDA.  We’ve got a bit of work to do to get the trailer up to snuff.

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The inside walls are finished in Luan, with some little luan strips covering up the gaps where the panels meet. That’s all well and good, but the MDA requires a non-porous easily-cleaned surface.
In order to get this new non-porous surface to go on smoothly, I promptly broke out some tools and proceeded to tear up the nice new trailer.

stripped wall

With all the luan strips out of the way, the FSB (or dairyboard) can go on a bit easier.  We’re installing the diaryboard over the luan panels with plenty of construction adhesive and several stainless-steel screws per panel.  I bought several packages of the pound-in plastic rivets for fastening dairyboard, but quickly decided that it’d be a pain in the butt to have to drill a hole for every fastener I wanted to put in.  Stainless self-tapping sheet metal screws go in much faster, and being stainless, are just dandy for a food facility.

dairyboard install

It’s less than halfway done, but we’ve got the bulk of the ceiling done, which is the hard part. Dairyboard is a real pain to work with, because it’s relatively heavy for something so thin. That means that if you ever try to pick it up above your head, it does it’s best to curl down around you from all 4 corners. Putting dairyboard up on a ceiling is most certainly a two-man job.  Cutting diaryboard isn’t much easier.  It has too much fiber (FRP stands for Fiber Reinforced Plastic) to score and snap easily, and cutting thin plastic with a circular saw is always a crap shoot.  I quickly settled on the electric power shears, which cut through the stuff like butter.

So, that’s some stuff I’ve been doing.

Now we’ve just got to finish up the diaryboard, put linoleum on the floor, get it wired up with a 110v outlet and light, get a generator, and get it all inspected.

No sweat.

Mud Season is Here

18 Apr

Well it’s finally starting to thaw out around here (he typed as snow fell).

The cows are stuck, for now, in the only two lots with a good enough fence to hold them. It’s quickly turning into a knee-deep muddy mess.

knee deep mud

The frost has finally left the ground, enabling us to do lots of things that we’ve wanted to do all winter.

Like pull up the “For Sale” sign that’s been frozen into the ground all winter.

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And even do a little groundbreaking of the garden plot.

breaking ground

It hasn’t been used in a decade, so it’s going to be slow going.

The smell of hay, and desperation

13 Apr

Last week the cows arrived.  The cows need something to eat, which at this time of year means hay.  We’re a bit short on hay right now, so I decided to head on over to the bi-weekly hay auction in nearby Pine Island.

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The auction is held at the Pine Island Co-op, and while this is the first one I’ve attended, I’ve followed the prices from past auctions.

Mar23HayPricesWe prefer to buy and feed round bales of hay, our bale spikes and hay feeders are set up for round bales.  We can use (the more prominent) large square bales if we have to, but they’re a pain in the butt compared to rounds.

Armed with the knowledge of current hay prices on Craigslist, and the last auction prices, I showed up with an empty flatbed trailer and a determination to get something for the cows to munch on until the grass starts growing.

That didn’t last long.

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The very first lot was 11 big round bales.  Grass hay, not terribly good looking.  I was willing to go up to $100/bale or so.  The auctioneer started out at $60/bale, but it quickly doubled, selling for about $125/bale.

OK, first one’s a fluke.  Maybe somebody knew something I didn’t, maybe it was better hay than I thought.  “The next lots will be better priced” I thought.

Wrong.

That would end up being the cheapest hay at the auction.

No other round bales went for less than $150, most went for around $165.  One lot of nice 1300# Alfalfa-mix bales brought $180/bale.

Big Square bales averaged about the same, but one lot of very nice 4th crop Alfalfa went for $195/bale!

People in the crowd shook their heads, amazed at the prices.  “But what are you gonna do?” one guy exclaimed, “Cows gotta eat.”  The unusually cool April (and March) are really hitting the livestock producers pretty hard.  Everyone seems to have been counting on having some grass to graze at this point in the spring, but instead, it’s snowing.

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I left the auction much like I came in, with an empty trailer.

I’ll try my luck on Craigslist.

Farmers Market Trailer: Part 1

12 Apr

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Well the animals are all here now, so it’s time to get all the stuff for the farmers markets in order.  We’ve got our markets lined up: Zumbrota, Red Wing and Eagan.  Now to get the trailer all squared away that we’ll need.

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) a farmer doesn’t need a license to sell meat from their own animals, as long as 100% of the ingredients come from the farm.  They will need to keep the meat in a NSF (commercial) Freezer that’s plugged in at all times.

We will be selling meat from our own animals, but we’ll also be selling a few things like bacon and sausage that have a few ingredients that don’t come from our farm, like salt and spices.  In the MDA’s eyes, this means that we need to have a Mobile Retail Food Handlers Permit.

Having talked to a few MDA inspectors, I’ve learned that we’ll need the following:

  • Enclosed trailer (or box truck, van, etc.)
  • Fiber Reinforced Plastic (FRP or dairyboard) to cover the walls and ceiling of the trailer
  • Vinyl tile or similar easily washable flooring for the trailer
  • Commercial Freezer to store the beef, pork and chicken
  • Commercial refrigerator to store the eggs.
  • Generator to run the freezer and refrigerator while we’re on the road.

Today I got two of those knocked out.

I drove over to Winona and picked up this commercial chest freezer that I found on Craigslist.

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It’s got a couple of dings, and the casters on the bottom need to be replaced, but it’s clean and most importantly, it works.
Commercial chest freezers are actually kinda hard to find. Most restaurant supply places have upright freezers, which in addition to being inefficient, are too tall to fit in a trailer.
This particular freezer only draws 5 amps max. That’s 575 watts, which means that you could comfortably run two freezers and a refrigerator on a 2000 watt generator.

On my way home I stopped by a home improvement store and picked up 7 sheets of FRP, which everyone around here calls Dairyboard, and all the accoutrements that we’ll need to install it in the trailer.

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The FRP is required to make the trailer into, essentially, a retail food establishment. As with any restaurant or store that sells food, the walls and floor have to be easily sanitized. Since most trailers have plywood walls, they need to be covered up with FRP to pass muster with the MDA.

Anyhow, it’s two down, three to go. We’re on the hunt for a trailer next week, and I’m following a few leads on a refrigerator and generator. It’s a lot to get done in the next month, but we can’t sell much without it.

Cows!

7 Apr

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The three-day fence-fixing marathon is over.

The cows have arrived. 12 yearling feeder calves, 6 new calves, 4 cows, 1 bull.

Everyone is separated out, munching on some hay, getting acquainted with the electric fence.

‘Lectric Fencing

2 Apr

We’ve only got 3 more days before the cows come up here to Minnesota. It’s time to get at least some of the fence in shape, so the cows will stay in and all.

My dad’s been working for the past few days to finish up the lot fence, and that’s nearly complete.  It’s just the small matter of hooking up the fence to the electric fence energizer.

For anyone who is looking to put up some electric fence, go ahead and download the Missouri NRCS Electric Fencing for Serious Graziers [PDF].  If you live in Missouri, just sign up and attend one of the NRCS Grazing Schools held every year, and they’ll give you a hardcopy, plus a copy of the equally useful Watering Systems for Serious Graziers [also a PDF].

So with excellent refrence material in hand, I went out to see what damage I could do.

First up, the wire coming off of the fence gets a cut-out switch.

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That way, if we ever need to work on the fence, we can throw the switch and cut-off the electricity to it, without cutting off power to the other fences.

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From there, the wire runs up over the gate (tall enough for the tractor to drive under) and to the roof of the hog barn.

I fixed up this lovely lightning choke from a coil of insulated 14ga leadout wire.

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The leadout wire is connected to the charger, but there is another wire that tees off just after the lightning choke.

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It ends up here at the lightning arrester before traveling on down to the ground rod.

So there it is, all quick and dirty.
It’s by no means perfect, the 14ga leadout wire will need to be upgraded to 12.5ga eventually, and there is currently only one ground rod. We’re planning on moving the fencer up the hill to the chicken coop once we reconnect the electricity to the building.  There we’ll put in the proper number of ground rods and the proper size leadout wire.

So how’s the quick and dirty fence work?

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Well, at 8800 volts on the top wire, it’s working just fine for now. No wonder the pigs sound like they’re dying when they touch the wire, that thing is HOT!

But on down the fence to the second (of three) hot wires, and things aren’t so good.

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300 volts is barely a tickle. The bottom wire doesn’t even register, but it’s still under ice and snow in places.
Oh well, we’ve got 3 days to straighten it all out. And then, if my sources are correct, we’ve got an ornery bull who needs to make acquaintances with a screamin’-hot 8800 volt fence.