Archive | June, 2013

Fence of Steel!

27 Jun

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While we did manage to finally get the cows out on pasture in spite of the uncooperative weather, we still have quite a bit of fencing to do.

You see, more fence = more grass.  More grass = more cows.  More cows = more beef.

Yum, beef….

Anyway, so we’re building lots of fence lately.  Mostly we’re going for the quick-and-dirty kind.  Fix up the old junky fences with a strand of hot electric wire.  Just enough to get a few more acres available to the cows, as they go through an acre of grass pretty quickly.

But the fence has finally reached across to the other property line, the one with no existing fence.  So we get to build some very spiffy new 4-wire fence.

That’s pretty exciting stuff if you’re a farmer.

Being from Missouri originally, we decided to stick to the fencing methods recommended by the Missouri NRCS in their book Electric Fencing for Serious Graziers [PDF].  That means eschewing wooden posts in favor of posts made from used drill-pipe.  Drill pipe is wonderful stuff for fence posts.  It’s cheap, it doesn’t rot and it’s tough as nails.  If you use a suitable fence post driver, instead of digging a hole, then you can hang wire immediately.

Heck, for 1 and 2 wire fence, you don’t even need to brace the cornerposts most of the time.  But 4 wire fence?  That’s gonna need some bracing.  But how to attach a brace to a steel fence post?

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Oh yeah! Welding in the field! But wait, you say, how can one weld in the middle of a field?
Simple, just find a lovely old “Air Products” welder/generator on Craigslist.

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If you can keep the gas line from clogging up with rust from the corroded metal gas-tank then it welds like a champ. Turns out that “Air products” is just a re-branded Miller welder, so you can get manuals, parts and everything (except the gas tank).  We’re working on finding a new plastic tank, but so far we’re just dealing with the line getting clogged up every once in a while.

So after cleaning out the fuel filter/sediment bowl a few times, the corners were all braced.

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Time to drive a few T-posts and hang some wire.

Do you feel like Chicken tonight?

25 Jun

The wait is finally over!

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The first batch of chickens is back from the processor, and boy to they look tasty!

We’ll have chickens at Eagan tomorrow, Red Wing on Saturday, and Zumbrota on Monday. If you reserved a chicken or two (you know who you are) we’ve already set aside your birds.

If you haven’t reserved a chicken yet, there is still time! (I’m lookin’ at you Red Wing and Zumbrota customers. We expect these birds to go fast!) Give me a call or shoot me an email and we’ll hold back up to 2 chickens for you. If you haven’t picked your chicken by the end of the first market then we’ll go ahead an sell them on a first-come basis.

New Arrivals

24 Jun

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It’s been a long day, most of it spent on the road.  I just got back at 9:00pm.

I took the first batch of chickens to the processor in St. Charles, MN this afternoon. I used this little carrier I made out of a sheet of plywood, some chain-link fencing that used to be a dog kennel, and a piece of a cattle panel.  It oughtta work fine for 60-75 chickens.  It makes for much better gas mileage than hauling a big livestock trailer.

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Turns out it works pretty well for a few little pigs too.

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Meet the first official Green Machine Farm breeding pigs, both girls (that’s gilts if you’re into pig-speak). They’re a bit small at this point, only 40lbs, but they’re pigs which means they get big in a hurry.

They’re Large Black Hogs, and I had to drive over to Osseo, WI to pick them up from the fine folks at Pasture Prime Farm.
I’ve wanted large blacks for some time now, especially after seeing them at Green Acres Farm this past winter. They’ve got a lot of the characteristics I’m looking for: foraging ability, docility, good mothering and long “bacon-type” carcasses. The fact that they have a “critical” status from the ALBC is just the icing on the cake.

Since these two will be with us a while, they get real names (our pig names so far have been: Bacon, Hammie, Gilt and Sausage)

After a brief consultation with my wife, we’ve settled on a naming scheme centered on the best band ever: The Drive By Truckers.

So, welcome to the farm Margo and Trixie!

Any guesses on what the future boar’s name will be?

 

Tree Swallow Chicks!

22 Jun

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It seems like eons ago that we installed the first few Tree Swallow houses on our new farm.  That was early March, when we still had 2 more months of winter ahead of us.  But after it finally warmed up, the swallows arrived.

Two of the boxes ended up with active nests in them.

This afternoon, I saw the very first Tree Swallow chick born on Green Machine Farm. (It’s the little pink blob in the middle)

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There are 4 other eggs in the nest that haven’t hatched yet, so there ought to be a few more chicks coming along in the next couple days.  This means that next year, these chicks will return to our farm as adults, looking for places to nest and raise their own chicks.  In a few years time, we can have our very own squadron of fly-exterminating tree swallows living here every summer.

Turkeys, Chicks, and Babies, Oh My!

21 Jun

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Is it too soon to think about Thanksgiving?

If so, we sure didn’t notice.  We just got our shipment of turkey poults (a $5 word for little baby turkeys) and the second round of baby chickens.

They’re all quite happy to be peeping around their new chicken fort, safe from the crafty barn cats.

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Heck, even the two that Ada grabbed by the head are doing just fine.

Chicken Fort

19 Jun

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The chicken fort awaits its new occupants. Tomorrow we ought to be awash in tiny peeping baby chicks and turkeys (called poults).
The barn cats made it known with the first batch that they find baby chicks to be delicious. We were less than pleased, and are therefore taking extra precautions with the next batch. $700 worth of baby poultry would be a ruinously expensive way to feed a few barn cats. 

Know when to fold ’em

17 Jun

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The unrelenting rain of the past month has claimed it’s first victim. Our garden.

We gave it our best effort, but the rain, the rabbits and the years of lying fallow have taken their toll on us. We’re saving the few rows of stuff that the rabbits won’t eat: Tomatoes, peppers, onions, etc.

The rest is getting tilled under and seeded in buckwheat to choke out the weeds and grass that are trying to reclaim the garden.

Big pig farms sticking it to the little guys

17 Jun

Well, the days are getting longer, the to-do list is getting longer, and the blog posts are getting shorter.  There’s plenty going on to write about, but precious little time to do the actual writing.

Anyhow, I wanted to pass along two stories for anyone (myself included) who wonders how a small pork producer can make it in the hyper-globalized industrial pork world we live in.

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The first, from Business Week, tells of the financial impacts that ractopamine is having on the US pork industry. If you’ve never heard of ractopamine, your not alone.  It’s a chemical that some producers (don’t worry, not us!) put in their pig’s feed to promote growth and leanness.

Ractopamine has been deemed safe by US authorities, but is banned by the EU, Russia and China.  That’s right, China, the people who have the big “Pigfestation” problem at least have the good sense to say “No Thanks” to chemical additives in their pig feed.

Now in addition to being kind of gross, the use of this chemical is also quite unfair to small producers.  The smaller pork producers have a choice.  Either they use Ractopamine (sold as Paylean) to become cost-competitive with the big guys but lose the ability to sell overseas, or don’t use Paylean, but be at a $5 pricing disadvantage.  (If you’re unfamiliar with industrial-scale farming, $5 is a HUGE deal, as big and little guys alike operate on margins measured in pennies.)

To make matters worse, the small pork producers all end up selling to the very meatpackers that are owned by the big pork producers. This “vertical integration” (read: monopoly) has existed for decades in the chicken industry, and has spread to the pork industry as well.

Which brings me to the second story, wherein the 800lb Gorilla of the US pork industry, Smithfield foods, has taken their vertically-integrated business model overseas, with predictable results.

Robert Wallace, a visiting professor of geography at the University of Minnesota says Smithfield’s global rise is part of a broader “livestock revolution that has created cities of pigs and chickens” in poorer nations with weaker regulations. “The price tag goes up for small farmers.”

In a similar chain of consequences, separate subsidies mined by Smithfield helped support the export of cheap pork scraps from Poland to Africa, where some hog farmers also are giving up because they cannot compete.

Environmental degradation? Check.

Political Corruption? Check.

Squeezing out small farmers? Check.

So what’s the takeaway from all this bad news?  Well, two things.

First, for farmers: Get out of the commodity game.  Raise animals as more than just a generic commodity to be bought, sold and traded.  Sell directly to your customer.  It’s the only way to bypass our unfair, corrupt food system and get the price you deserve for your animals.

Second, for consumers (and since we all eat food, that’s pretty much everyone): Buy food from a person, not a faceless brand in the grocery store, it’s the best way to get what you want.  A farmer who sells to a meatpacker is going to raise pigs the way the meatpacker wants, your concerns are secondary (if that).  A farmer who sells directly to their customers is directly accountable to those customers.

Wind ahead

11 Jun

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The forecast is calling for 60-100mph winds tonight after midnight.

I drove a few posts to hold down the chicken pen, which would otherwise be the first casualty of the wind.

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Cars, trucks and trailers are all parked in sheltered spots. Tools are picked up and stored inside. Barn doors are shut and latched.

Hatches, consider yourselves battened.

Chicken Tracks

10 Jun

I noticed something a bit peculiar when I went out to move the new chicken pen onto fresh grass this morning.

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Those are chicken tracks.

That’s the track that the chicken pens make as they’re moved through the pasture. As I move the chickens each day, the imprint of the previous days activity is left on the pasture.

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A quick look at the past days activity, and I spotted a problem. The chickens are staying mostly on the half of the pen closest to the door. It’s also the half where I have been putting the two feeders, you can see the feeders imprints because the chickens couldn’t get to the grass underneath the feeders.

Since we use the chickens to fertilize the pastures, we need to have that fertilizer spread out a little better.
I have to walk in the door a bit further, but putting one feeder in each half of the pen ought to straighten the whole thing out.

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