Archive | May, 2014

Ol’ Crossbite

30 May

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I was out feeding chickens the other day when I noticed that I had a visitor.

She shouldn’t have been able to get out of her pen, but then again, she’s very small.

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A quick glance shows why. She’s got one heck of a crossbite. Her upper and lower beak don’t come anywhere near eachother but she still manages to eat, albeit a little less than her siblings.

Ol’ Crossbite is a pretty good reminder that mother nature is none-too-kind in her distribution of random genomic mutations. This is the kind of mutation that gets a chick killed pretty quickly in the wild. Here she’ll get to live out her life with the rest of her siblings, she’ll just be a bit smaller.

Chicken Pen Changes

29 May

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We aim to try to learn from our mistakes. So in that spirit, I present you a few little tweaks that we’re making to our pastured poultry pens and chicken waterers that we’re making this year.

After a few of our pens went blowin’ in the wind last year, it looked like a little reinforcement of some key parts were in order for this year. The initial design goal was 2+ years of minimal maintenance, and after last year we had 66% of our pens in need of significant repairs.
The worst repairs are those to the wooden frame. Everything else attaches to the frame, so if the frame gets fragged, everything else has to come off to fix it. Last years frames had some issues, mainly a tendency to “toe-out” the big runner boards.

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That’s being addressed this year with a few more/bigger fasteners, and the addition of an “L” bracket low in each corner.

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The rest of the pens went together pretty much the same as last year, with the exception of the funky recycled-campaign-sign “skins.” Seeing as how this is not an election year (at least not a big one) the recycled campaign signs were in short supply. We made due with a few “heavy-duty” silver tarps. Here’s hoping that they’re heavy enough to last until next year. We’ve got a big election season lined up, so there ought to be plenty of nice campaign signs to use next year.

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We had just enough leftover signs to finish out the sides. The chickens don’t seem to care one way or the other…

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The last change we’ve made is to the pasture chicken waterers. The nylon fittings we were using to attach hoses to the buckets were prone to cracking after the first year. We’ve moved to using bottling bucket spigots in place of the nylon fittings. These spigots are a few bucks more, but they have gaskets on both sides of the bucket so they’re much less likely to crack the thin plastic of the bucket.

Planting Done

28 May

Planting Done

On Friday our neighbor Tim showed up with his new (old) grain drill and got all of our new pastures seeded.

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We seeded it in oats, as a cover crop, with medium red clover, alfalfa, meadow brome-grass and tall fescue underneath to make up the permanent pasture.

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Nobody I’ve talked to around here has any experience with tall fescue, so we’ll see how that part goes. Knowing what I know from growing up in Missouri, it might be just the ticket to some late-fall grazing around here.

On Sunday afternoon we got the last of the soybeans planted, just in time for the rain that was forecast for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
The corn is just starting to emerge.

Now we can turn our attention to other things…

Cows on Grass 2014

17 May

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It’s here at last: time to put the cows out on pasture for the first time this year.  We even managed to get them out a full 4 days earlier than last year in spite of an even harsher winter.

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The cows needed little convincing to come out of the “sacrifice” paddock that they’d been confined to. They even managed to follow me down the hill to their new pasture.

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They just barely made it through the gate before they were stopped dead in their tracks by the new grass. It’s pretty much cow-candy at this point.

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All this munching is serious business.

Attack Pig!

13 May

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Meet #422, our attack pig.

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She may not look like much, but she’s feistier than her 100# porcine figure would indicate. She’s gotten into the habit of chasing off any of the dogs who happen to venture near her. In this photo she’s thinking pretty hard about chasing off Cinco, who’s hindquarters are in the middle of the frame.
While Cinco is fairly timid, only halfheartedly chasing off pigs who vie for food that he’s claimed, this particular pig has chased off our cattle-dog Bear on a few occasions.

So far #422 has a healthy respect for humans.  We’re gonna just hope she keeps that up; no need for an angry 250 pound pig.

Planting Season

12 May

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Well it’s finally here.
We never planted any of our fields last year, our first on the new farm. The fields were already rented out to another farmer when we bought the place, so he got to do all the row crops last year. Naturally, they were all put into corn regardless of their suitability for such a high-demand crop.

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We did manage to take one field out of corn last year, which we planted in alfalfa. We seeded a grazing variety of alfalfa with an oat nurse crop and this year will be the first time we actually get to graze it during the growing season.
Last year we kept all the animals off of the alfalfa so that it would have the best chance at surviving a harsh winter. Now that it had a year to establish it’s greening up quite well, and we should be able to finish some cattle on it in a month or so.

There are a few fields that we’ve cut up, mostly to remove a few areas with very poor soils from otherwise productive fields. These areas will be seeded into a grass-legume pasture mix this year. These two areas are quite steep and have some very poor rocky soils that are not worth planting in traditional row-crops.
Having come from Missouri we’re constantly amazed at the cropping practices that we see in use here in Minnesota. Terracing, and no-till planting are almost non-existent up here, where they are De-rigeur in Missouri. Similarly we see many farmers up here using fall-tillage (not leaving any crop residues on their fields over the winter) which would be unheard of in Missouri.
I attribute many of these differences to the soil types. Missouri soils are thin and relatively poor. Any farmer who doesn’t conserve as much soil as possible won’t have anything but clay to farm in a few years time.

Here in Minnesota the soils are much better and much deeper. Farmers can “afford” to use poor soil-conservation practices because they’ve got a lot more good soil underneath to plant into.

Anyway, we’re choosing to forgo some crop income to protect our vulnerable soils. Within the next month our most erosion-prone soils will be covered in a permanent pasture. The grasses and legumes will cover the soil and keep it from eroding, providing some tasty forage for the cows in the process.

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There’s been lots of tractor-driving going on around here lately. All the fields needed to be disced a few times. Last fall’s crop residues had to be reincorporated into the soil. They did a fine job of preventing erosion over the winter and early spring, but now it’s time to make way for the new crops to be planted.

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We got the corn crop planted a few days ago. We’ve scaled it back to only 6 acres of corn (in the field with the best soil) and we’re putting all the other fields into soybeans, which is a less nutrient-demanding crop.

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Ever wonder what $1000 worth of seed corn looks like?
Yep, that’s about it, three bags. This stuff is extremely expensive. We’re planting conventional GMO corn this year, even though it’s $330/bag. We don’t have the specialty tillage equipment that’s necessary to plant traditional non-GMO corn. We’re going to end up selling the corn that we harvest because even with a small 6-acre field we could end up with 33 tons of corn, which is wayyy beyond our capacity to store right now.
If you want to farm in a way that bypasses the conventional GMO-centric farm infrastructure, that means  you have to build all kinds of parallel infrastructure yourself. It’s a long process.

Spring means fence, and birds.

4 May

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We just went out today and drove 12 big fence posts before lunch. We marked the locations for these big posts with a few little step-in posts last fall when the marking crew came out just before the ground froze. Now we can drive the big guys in without worrying if we’re gonna hit any buried utility lines.

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The frost has left the ground (at least the top 3 feet) and the previous week of rain softened things up nicely. It’s time to get the overly-large “front yard” fenced in so the cows can do all the mowing.  Less gasoline and more beef, that’s the plan.

While we were out driving posts I saw the first tree swallow of the year.  Luckily it was checking out one of the 4 new Swallow Houses that I just put up along the road.  Our neighbors pond just across the road is always a huge draw for the swallows, so they ought to like having some convenient housing nearby.

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I have come up with a better way of mounting the bird houses to our fence posts. I fasten the bird house to a 2′ length of 2×2 and then use a small wedge (2×2 ripped diagonally, about 8″ long) to wedge it in the top of the fence post.  So far this seems to be much more secure than the old method of using a single larger wedge.

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The cows and pigs are all chomping at the proverbial bit to get out onto pasture.  They’re confined to a few “sacrifice paddocks” until the grass gets high enough to let them out to graze.

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You begin to see where the term sacrifice paddock comes from.  Bored cows and pigs can wreck havoc on newly-thawed ground. The trick is to keep the havoc contained to a few small areas so the rest of the grass gets a good head-start.

A few more weeks of hay, and then they get the good stuff.