Archive | November, 2014

Distillers Grain Handling

6 Nov


So we’ve got a few months experience with feeding wet distillers grain, and we’ve come up with a few things that make our lives a bit easier.

Picking up the grains from the distillery is pretty simple.  We drop off an empty 275 gallon IBC tote, and they load a full tote in the back of our truck with a forklift.

At home we have a bigger 325 gallon IBC tote for a “holding tank” that we transfer the newly-gotten grains into.  This keeps us from having to lift a full 1-ton tote out of the truck with the front-end loader of the tractor.


So far we’ve been feeding the distillers grains mixed with cracked corn.  We have the “holding tank” up on two pallets, the perfect height to get a 5-gallon bucket underneath.  A bucket usually gets about 2/3 distillers grain and then topped off with cracked corn.  No need to mix, just pour it in the trough.  The pigs take care of the mixing as they root through it trying to hoover up all the corn first.

Anyway, to transfer the grains from the “pickup” tank to the “holding” tank we connect a 2″ suction-hose to the valve on the bottom of each tank and let gravity do the rest.  Keep in mind that the “pickup” tank is on a pallet in the bed of our truck, a good 3′ or so off the ground, plenty of room for gravity to work it’s magic.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to go…

In reality the bigger particles of grain tend to settle to the bottom of the tank.  Those bigger particles have a nasty habit of clogging up the valve and/or hose, bringing the whole gravity-assisted transfer to a grinding halt.

We’ve tried lifting the pickup tote higher (to increase the hydraulic head) with the tractor.

We’ve tried blowing compressed air into the pickup tote to push the grains through with pneumatic pressure.

None of it works very well.


Except this.

This is the best option we’ve come up with so far.  It’s a leftover scrap of 1/2 EMT conduit attached to a leftover scrap of garden hose.  Very fancy.


We smashed the end of the conduit flat-ish with a hammer.

To use this very fancy piece of equipment, just stick it down into the full tote of grains with the smashed end pointing toward the valve.


Attach it to the spray-handle of your regular garden hose and let ‘er rip. By constantly adding a little bit of water right around the valve, where the grain tends to plug up, it keeps it all flowing quite nicely.

Adding water to the grain mix will result in a little more volume, but after a day or so of sitting in the holding tank the grain will have settled out again, and the excess water can be siphoned off or drained out.

While this is working out pretty well for us right now, we’re quickly approaching the time of year that this will no longer be feasible. I don’t want to be fooling around spraying water everywhere when it’s well below freezing outside.

I’m looking into unloading the totes straight into troughs for the winter months, bypassing the holding tank completely. Without water to aid in the unloading process I think I’ll have to bite the bullet and buy a trash-pump to facilitate the transfer.

A Quick Illustration of the Absurdity of Commodity Markets

5 Nov


Lets just say you bought a feeder pig in June.

That pig would have weighed about 50lbs. and cost you a princely sum of $70.00

Five months have passed and now you’re little feeder pig has grown into a full-fledged market hog.

You’ve spend five months feeding and caring for the little guy (or gal) and you bought enough feed in June to raise your pig to maturity for the price of $89.75 (corn & soy only at June 2014 market prices)


Pig cost – $70

Feed cost – $89.75

Total – $159.75

You load up your pig and haul him/her (for free) to the auction barn to be sold.



Your hog sells for $142.50

Congratulations, you make a gross profit of -$17.25

That’s right, you’ve just paid $17.25 for the privilege of raising a pig.

Oh, and lets not forget the $0.57 you owe the National Pork Board.

Piglet Processing

4 Nov


We weaned the last summer litter of piglets today.


I thought I’d take the opportunity to explain a bit of what we currently do to process our piglets in their first few months of life here on the farm.

For the first 72 hours of their lives, the piglets are left alone with their mother in a pen inside the barn.  We’ve discovered that the less we interfere, the better things go for everyone.  I’m thinking real hard about moving the farrowings out of the barn if at all possible next year.  The barn remains a fairly high-traffic area, and the sows can get a bit riled-up when too many people or (especially) dogs are moving through the barn in those first few days.

Anyway, the first bit of necessary trauma in the piglets lives comes during their third day.  That’s the day that we do the bulk of the piglet processing.  We first remove the sow, leading her away to a separate pen to be fed.  The piglets are then “ranked” by physical appearance (gilts first, then boars) and given a corresponding number.  A litter of ten piglets would be numbers 1-10.

The piglets are then ear-notched and weighed. The ear-notching is a permanent ID for each pig.  One ear is the litter number, the other is the pig’s number within the litter.  This notching will never wear off or fade away, which is a big benefit with pigs who can quickly manage to tear-out or wear off most other kinds of ear tags.

I also record the number of teats on each piglet.  While you may have heard the saying “As useless as tits on a boar.” the number of teats on any pig (boars included) is actually pretty important.  Teat numbers are very heritable [PDF], and directly correlated to litter size or fecundity.  If we want to keep any piglets as breeding stock when they get older we’re going to want the pigs with the most even-numbered teats possible.  Odd numbered teats usually mean that 1-3 of those teats aren’t really going to do their job, so they’re to be avoided.

The last bit of trauma on day three is limited to the boars of the litter.  This is the point at which we turn them from boars into barrows.

That’s right, they get the ‘ol snip-snip.

So after 15 minutes of trauma, we’ve got one subjective and two objective assessments of each piglet, plus they’re all permanently ID’d and (if necessary) emasculated.

The piglets are then reunited with their mother and put out in a paddock with any other lactating sows who’s litters are within a week’s age.  The piglets then get to lead a pretty drama-free life for the next 57 days.


At 60 days we do the next bit of piglet processing.

We typically “catch” the piglets while they’re eating in a creep-feeding area away from their sow.  After a good physical barrier is in place between the piglets and sow, we get to work grabbing piglets.  At this point the piglets are significantly harder to catch.  They weigh between 18-50lbs. and they really don’t want anything to do with people (unless those people are offering food).  The piglets are caught, weighed and they all get a new nose piercing.


At 60 days the piglets are usually too heavy for us to use our tabletop scale.  We use the tabletop scale at 3 days, but it maxes out at 40lbs, so I have to “borrow” my wife’s bathroom scale for the second piglet weigh-in.  You may notice that the scale is quite a bit off in it’s calibration.  I intentionally set it so that when I step on the scale (without a piglet) it shows an even 200lbs.  When I grab a piglet, anything over 200lbs is the weight of the piglet.


The piglets all get a ring in their nose through the septum. The ring keeps the pigs from rooting up our pastures too much.  With a ring through their septum, the pigs can still root but it does limit the really deep rooting that they tend to do.

After weighing and ringing the piglets are then weaned.  This is the point at which they are separated from their mothers and begin their lives as feeder pigs.

I’ve been thinking about keeping a gilt from one of the last two litters to replace one of our Large Black sows who was sent to the butcher shop.  I have two good candidates.

Candidate #1 –

Litter of 13, 8 weaned. (2nd parity)

14 teats

4.8lbs at 3 days

51lbs at 60 days


Candidate #2 –

Litter of 12, 10 weaned. (1st parity)

14 teats

2.92lbs at 3 days

18lbs at 60 days


Do I choose the fast grower or the good mother?

Heavy and Hanging

3 Nov



Wingardium Leviosa!

This is our new (well, used) grain bin.
An 18′ bin with a drying floor and unload auger for free! There’s just the small matter of getting it dissassembled, moved to our farm and reassembled.

It’s all disassembled now thanks to the bin-jacks that we rented, but it’ll probably be next summer before it’s reassembled and ready to be filled. Hopefully we’ll have some barley to put in it by then.

Wood Heat take Two!

3 Nov


After a lot of digging, forming and pouring we got a special delivery.

This lovely hunk of metal showed up in our driveway.


It’s our new outdoor wood furnace, a Polar furnace G2.  We’ve been heating with wood for two winters now, and our woodstove wasn’t cutting it anymore.  The old woodstove heated our house very unevenly.  The room where the stove was located could easily reach 100°F while the other side of the house barely hit 65° (and that’s with two big box fans moving air around).  The biggest concern was safety.  The old woodstove needed to be hooked up to a proper chimney liner in order to meet fire-safety standards.  That was going to cost at least $1000 and we’d still have the uneven-heating problems.  The outdoor wood boiler addresses all of those problems. It moves the fire outside, which greatly reduces the possibility of the inadvertent combustion of our domicile.  It heats through our normal central-air system, which keeps a nice even heat throughout the entire house. Plus, with the fire outside, the firewood (and it’s accompanying mess) can stay outside too.  My wife is very happy with that part (really with all those parts).

An outdoor wood boiler appealed to me, but I really didn’t like the fact that most of them put out a LOT of smoke during normal use.  If you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint by heating with wood, the old-style outdoor wood boilers don’t make much sense.  The old-style boilers put out a lot of black carbon in their smoke, which is purported to rank between Methane and Carbon Dioxide in it’s greenhouse-gas potential. That’s not to mention the human-heath impacts of particulates…

This is where the newer style gasification wood boilers come in.  These new wood boilers barely smoke at all when they’re running.  It should all work out quite nicely if we can get the thing installed.


When the time came to move it, we quickly figured out that our tractor is at it’s limit trying to lift the 2300lb. furnace with the front bucket.  It can do it, but just barely.  When we first tried to pick it up the tractor’s rear wheels were nearly lifted off the ground.

Luckily we’re resourceful farmer types and we quickly got this big cement step chained on the back to act as a counterweight.


After getting it set in place, there was still a lot of work to do getting the big beast hooked up with plumbing and electricity.  Like most outdoor wood boilers, this one heats up water (to about 200°F) and pumps that hot water into the house.  In the house there are heat exchangers on the hot-water heater and the furnace that extract heat from the boiler water and put it to use.


It took a few days (and about a bajillion PEX cinch-clamps), but we finally got it all hooked up and working.  Then the next day we awoke to find that there were a couple of hiccups that we had to iron out.  A gasket had been pinched when installing the water pump, so about half the water was pumped out of the stove and onto the ground.  A quick trip to the store saw me back with a new gasket, and it’s been running like a top ever since.


I can scarce describe the thrill of turning off the water heater and then taking a scalding-hot shower. I think I’m gonna like this wood heat thing…