Category Archives: Farming Information

Wise Traditions

 

This past week we traveled to Waco Texas and went to visit the Homestead Heritage Community on the advice of a friend. I was very impressed with the quality of everything they had for sale and their structures. Particularly their structures! We were in the cheese making shop when I finally asked where they got all the large hand hewn beams that were pegged together (no nails or screws). The lady in that shop said those particular beams came from Canada where they had taken down a barn and brought it here to reconstruct it, carefully numbering everything so they could reassemble it the way it was.
Some of their cheese is aged 7 years.

I spent some time in the blacksmith’s shop talking to the craftsman there. They made all the railing and hooks and hardware for nearly all the buildings on the site and their work was really impressive.

They call themselves “an agrarian- and craft-based intentional Christian community”. They are definitely craftsmen! From the working waterwheel grist mill to the weaving shop to the wood working shop and the basket making shop it was all very impressive.

We also had lunch at the cafe where most of what they serve they produce right there on their farm and it was delicious!

The cafe was a cedar log structure that was cut from local trees I’m guessing from the looks of them.

If you are ever down that way it’s well worth the drive to go and visit. If you live in that area and you like to make things with your hands they offer classes to teach you lost ways and traditions they have nearly been forgotten. Here is a link to their website.

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Nature at its Finest

 

Here is a short video of the calves a few days in to managed grazing on the sudangrass.

 

I think as we take a holistic look at how we do things on the farm we really can’t deny that cattle really enjoy grazing. These calves have had access to this patch for about 3 days and they are really doing well. They are picking up trace minerals from the soil through the plants they eat and really balancing their own ration. You can see toward the end of the video where they were the day before all grazed down and tromped into the ground. This creates a residue from the crop that shades the ground (which keeps it cooler), smothers weeds and stops the erosion from wind and rain. Another great benefit is all their manure deposits they leave behind is like money in the bank! This will break down and help build organic matter and decrease the need for commercial fertilizer. 

One benefit for the cattle is by moving them to fresh grass everyday they enjoy a clean environment, their parasites go down and there is less chance for sickness. The cattle love it!
Pastured to perfect.

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Healing the Land

I have been trying my hand at multi species cover crops for regenerating the land and providing extended grazing into the fall for for our livestock.

I cleared out this small lot of overgrown weeds and cedar trees about 1 month ago. I broadcast Sudan, Austrian winter peas, forage radishes and ryegrass.

This is what it looks like today!
It has been a great fall with mild temperatures and plenty of moisture but I am really impressed with the growth here! This will actually be for the pigs and chickens because its too small of area for the cows.

This is some Sudan that regrew after I baled it this summer and I went in and planted peas and radishes for the cattle. The idea is to allow the cows on a small amount of the forage at a time with a temporary fence. I am using about 1 acre for 65 head of yearling calves. They will graze everything down and redeposit the nutrients back on the land which will lower the need for commercial synthetic inputs like fertilizer. I have been moving them daily to keep plenty of forage in front of them but it should cut down on hay and grain that we normally supplement with.

You can see where they have been on the right and where I just let them in on the left. The white posts you see are the temporary fence. They love it and seem to be doing really well on it. This actually mimics how the buffalo roamed in the wild years ago. Predators kept them bunched up and they moved all at once in large herds to new grass and ate everything there before they moved on.

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The Best Part of the Chicken

 

Want to know the best part of a chicken is? We raised and processed 20 broilers this year and we went ahead and froze 10 of them whole and cut up all the rest. Out of the ones we cut up we put all the bones and extra skin that we weren’t going to keep in a stockpot and made broth. All that I added was water and carrots and celery and boiled it for about 3 hours. Man you talk about tasty! Compared to store bought broth or those magic cubes, this stuff is great.

Want to make some really good queso dip? Add some broth.
How about frijole beans, add some broth.
Soups need it for sure!
Want to make your brown rice taste awesome? Yep, sub about 1/2 the liquid with broth.
I don’t really even like chicken all that well but this stuff is really good.

Out of those 10 birds we wound up with a little over 20 pints of broth. From what I’ve been reading the nutrients from the bones and the skin and small pieces of meat that you make the broth from is really good for you as well.

Another benefit of raising our own chickens is that we were able to move them to fresh grass and let them eat and we know exactly what they have been fed and how they were handled. By moving them to fresh grass they are getting all the things they need in their diet and this produces nutrient rich and tasty chicken and broth.

I think I’ll go make some soup now!

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Is the Food We Eat Good for Us?

 

I’ve been looking into and learning about regenerating the soil, mainly farm ground, on our farms. What I am finding out is that most of what is considered “modern farming practices” is really bad for our soil health.

When I eat fresh vegetables from my own garden they do taste good, but the same produce grown in soil that has high organic matter, high carbon and high levels of micronutrients actually tastes a lot better. Those nutrients will then be in your body to bring health and healing to you as well. Our ancestors had some really wise traditions that we should consider getting back to.

Same thing with the cattle grazing, if they are eating plants that are grown in healthy soil not only are the cows more healthy but they produce more nutrient rich meat and milk. This is a picture of some full size cows that I turned out on a fresh meadow in late September.

This management style is going to be different for me and require me to get off the tractor more and look closely at the soil to see whats happening. Seems like I am starting to question everything to find out exactly why we do it that way.
Should make for an interesting year!

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Tonganoxie Kansas

Well when the residents of Tonganoxie woke up yesterday morning they learned of a big announcement for their little community of about 5000. Yes it seems that the local and state dignitaries in all their wisdom had been sworn to secrecy about this big news. I can’t imagine why they were told to keep the deal hush hush? It had a code name “project sunset”, I think all great industries need a code name before they actually break ground. I mean it is going to create 1600 new jobs which I’m sure the hard working people of Tonganoxie will be able to fill. Why they were probably just having a town hall meeting trying to figure out where 1600 of their residents are going to work (snark snark). The article doesn’t say what wages these new jobs will pay but hey, a job is a job right.

What was it that the small community found out yesterday? Well this project sunset facility will cover 300 acres and cost 320 million dollars to build! It will have a feed mill and a processing plant that will process 1.25 million chickens per week. That’s over 178,000 birds per day if they work 7 day weeks.

Tyson said one of the reasons they chose Kansas was because of their “top notch transportation network” whatever that means? I’m not sure which way the wind blows in Tonganoxie but I’d guess that if you are within 10 miles of this roughly 1 mile by 1/2 mile “project sunset” you will know by the odor that you can’t seem to get away from.

I have heard people talk about “factory farming” and to me that is what Tyson is building in Kansas. I think you all know that I believe in animal agriculture. I farm and raise cattle and a few chickens and really do all that I can to produce a top quality healthy meat protein for my family and others to enjoy. When we have to sneak in with code names and keep everyone in the dark until the deal is done, well that is a little sketchy to me. I think this country could use more family farms and there are some really good things happening with farm to plate programs and knowing your producing farmer rancher. We still have a long way to go but I think deals like “project sunset” will get people to thinking a little more about selling and buying locally and knowing where our food comes from.

Oh and just to be fair I do have a code name for some of my projects.

So what do you think?

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Rainfall and Cowboy Wisdom

It’s Raining

We got 2.8 inches of rain today and it was really a good deal. When you have outdoor plans or hay down it’s not so great but our ponds have been really low since last fall.

This is actually our county road.

So what does all this mean to someone who is not a farmer or rancher?

First, by receiving a good heavy rain like we did today it soaks the pastures and fields. This causes a really good moisture base and allows the crops and pasture grasses to put down deep roots that will help sustain them when it gets really hot.

Second, it causes runoff that fills the ponds and reservoirs. Besides fish, wildlife and most domestic livestock depend on this for drinking. If the pond isn’t fenced off the cows will get in for a cool down and to help fight flies in the hot weather.

Third, there is a certain amount of water that leaches through the soil, which cleans it, and gets back into the water table that is then pumped through a well for human consumption and crop irrigation.

Fourth, the rain cleans everything! I’m sure you’ve noticed how much brighter the tree and plant leaves look because it cleans the dust and pollen off them. Did you know that the rain even cleanses the air we breath? It helps take out the pollen and pollutants that are often thick this time of year.

Finally, it nearly eliminates the risk of wildfires as the lush green grasses overtake the dry dormant grass from last season.

Sure I’d rather have a nice mild sunny day with a light breeze and a pleasant temperature, who wouldn’t? But free life sustaining water that just drops out of the sky every now and then is exactly what we need. I’m sure there are a lot of other benefits that I didn’t think of so feel free to chime in! I’d love to see your comments about how the rainfall benefits you.

’Til next time, keep your rubber boots handy!

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How Big is that Field?

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time figuring out how much fertilizer and/or seed I need for my fields. With the price of seed and fertilizer being high these days, I wanted a more accurate estimate of the amount of material I really needed. If you have a similar problem or just need to know how big a particular area is, there is an easy way to do that from the comfort of your home. Google Earth is a free download that has a lot of neat features; one of which allows you to measure any area you choose. After you download it to your computer, you will see something like this.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 2.50.40 PM

 

Up in the top left corner you will see a search bar where you can type in your city or address. For this example I’ll use my hometown of Cushing.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 2.50.13 PM

 

When you click the search button it will zoom in and drop a pin in the center of Cushing. You will be able to see roads and landmarks, and it allows you to click and drag to the exact area you want to measure. For our example, I’ll pick a random field north of town by the river and click and drag until I’m over that area.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 2.52.03 PM

Now you can zoom in using the plus and minus bar on the right, and drag then to get the field in the center of your screen.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 2.52.52 PM

Now that we have our field all zoomed in tight where we can see it, we just need to activate the measuring line. Up in the top tool bar you’ll see an icon that looks like a ruler.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 2.53.27 PM

Click on the ruler and this dialogue box will come up. You’ll have some choices, and I will choose line since I have a rectangular field and I want to know length and width for acres. Path would allow you to plot several points around an area and would give you that distance.

Next, with your mouse click at one end of the field, then move it to the other end and click, and you will have your length.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 2.54.00 PM

 

The yellow line represents  the area you have chosen to measure; in this case it’s 2502 feet.

Now we need a width, and we are almost finished measuring our field (in the 100 degree heat: fighting tall grass, mosquitoes and a roller wheel or measuring tape). Whew, I need a glass of tea!

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 2.55.36 PM

 

Click at both points as before, and we have our width of 740 feet. Now all we have to do is multiply 2502 x740, which is 1,851,480 square feet and then divide that by 43,560 square feet per acre, which gives us 42.5 acres in this field. As trees grow or streams change course (or if you rent a lot of land like I do) this can be a very handy tool, and it’s all free to use. How does that old saying go… measure twice, buy the correct amount of seed once? Or something like that.

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Exit Strategy

images You just walked walk into a building; let’s say you went to a mall to go shopping. When you are ready to leave, all you have to do is look up until you see an exit sign. All public places have exits appropriately marked so you can get out any time you wish, and the people who designed the building put them there. Well, guess what? When you start a business, you need to have an exit plan. It doesn’t matter what kind of business it is; you need to begin with the end in mind. Think about it: after a while you may want to do something else, or retire, or you may have health issues or any other number of things that could cause you to want to get out of that business.

Here are some things to consider when mapping out your exit strategy:

1. Do you plan to sell your business as an operating business, or will you just close it and sell off the assets?

2. Do you plan to pass it on to a family member? (I’ll cover succession planning in another post)

3. Is your brand built around you, and when you are no longer there will it have the same value?

4. What are some key points that would make your business marketable?

Just because you own your job and have poured 20 years of your life into it doesn’t mean that somebody will pay you for it. It’s up to you to create that value if you plan to market it. I have owned 3 businesses in my life and only 1 of them had an exit strategy, and it governs everything I do in that business. Take purchasing decisions for example. If I buy that, will it add value to my business, or will it depreciate and devalue the business? If that’s the case, will I have to sell it separatley, or is there any market for it at all? Maybe it would be better to lease that particular thing instead of owning it. I know some of the things that you need to operate the business are going to depreciate; but make sure you don’t have all your money tied up into things that are going down in value, or you might end up looking like this guy.

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Your exit plan, like your business plan, can be changed over time. I can guarantee it won’t be perfect, but the fact that you have thought about it, written it down, and have it in place will guide you toward your exit. When it comes time for you to exit, you’ll see that basically everthing is in place for you to do so. If something were to happen to you, your family would have the plan and know how to wrap everything up.

Remember, it’s your building. You designed it, and you get to put up your own exit signs. If you don’t, you and all your employees and family may be wandering around in there looking for a way out! Trust me, it’s a lot easier to follow the signs!

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Grow with Cash

 

Uncle Ben

Uncle Ben

Without a doubt, the single most important business decision I made was to NOT borrow money! I know it seems a lot easier to get everything you need at the onset by taking on debt, but trust me. It’s not. I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey, and one of the things he always says is “I’ve done stupid with zeros on the end”, and so have I. It’s true, you grow more slowly by paying as you go, but I have learned so much along the way about keeping it profitable and really scrutinizing a buying decision before I spend my hard earned cash. I am convinced that had I borrowed money, the learning curve would have been too steep, and I would have crashed along the way. There is such a freedom when you don’t have to worry about making a payment on time. Or worse yet, having a bad year and not being able to make the payment. That just takes all the joy out of it. I know you can get in trouble without debt, but it’s a lot slower process, and you probably won’t foreclose on yourself.

The other thing that is very important in any sized business is a business plan. Your business plan is the road map to your success. It took me about a week to write my business plan. There is a lot of information and thought processing that go into one, but it’s totally changed the way I think about business. My favorite part is the projections. Where are you going to be in 1 year or 5 years? What does that look like? How many cows will you have? How many acres will you need? It’s all there written down in the business plan. You may think about making a change to your business and that’s great; go to your business plan and see how that fits. Can it be easily implemented into your existing plan, or will it totally change your course? Are you staying on course with your current plan, or have you gotten off track? It just takes all the hand wringing and guesswork out of it. You can very quickly look at where you are and compare that to where the business plan map says you are supposed to be. If they are different, then you ask yourself if you like it better where you are or where the plan says you are supposed to be. Then, you start making adjustments to get there. By the way, there is a lot of information about business planning out there that is free. I downloaded my form here, business plan template, and customized it down to a 12 page document.

The other important piece of the puzzle you need is a separate checking account. (Separate from your household account.) It just keeps things cleaner, and it makes it very easy to track expenses and cash flow. Keeping your checkbook on your computer with some type of software is by far the easiest. When I’m going through my budget and projecting growth for the upcoming year, with just a few clicks I can look in detail at up-to-the-minute financial data. 2011-12 were drought years for us and our expenses. Inputs were up unusually high for those two years, but with my checkbook records I can tell you exactly how much it cost to run a cow last year. It’s not a “rough ballpark idea”, it’s an exact number that is accurate. I can also look and tell where those expenses came from: not just feed, but hay, or extra rented grass, or water. The more informed you are, the better you can make a decision, and records are golden information.

You may be like me and think that you are a lot more productive out actually doing the work than you are sitting at the computer keeping up with all the data, but you and I are wrong! The data will make you so much more efficient at doing the work that it will actually add to your bottom line profit. I’ll leave you with this quote from well known horse trainer Pat Parelli. “Take the time it takes so it takes less time”.

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