Welcome to Forest Hill Farm

Have you heard…It’s official, as of August 1, 2013 Forest Hill Farm is a certified organic farm! We’re off to celebrate by doing what we love best… farming!

This summer our farm crops are certified. In 2014 the cattle, sheep, and poultry will be certified, as well.  Beef and lamb are 100% grass fed, rotationally MIG grazed and dry aged. Our heritage hogs are pasture raised, eat non-GMO grains supplemented with milk from our small herd of dairy cows.  We’d love to have you as a customer.

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Walking of the Bulls

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Walking of the Bulls

Forget running with the bulls. A slow ambling stroll through the pasture, to reunite the bulls with the cow herd, is relaxing. They grazed their way through the valley, when they got closer they picked up the pace a little, but they were still moving slowly. There’s no sense running the bulls, they have a job to do, they need to conserve their energy. The younger bull will service the heifers, the older one the cows. Given today’s date calving should start around May 1, 2015.

Categories: Bulls, Cattle, cows | 2 Comments

Life’s No Picnic, it’s a Vacation

My life’s no picnic, it’s a vacation!

Keith got home from a soil building conference and pasture walk which featured a speaker who ranches in the Dakotas. Last winter they fed four hundred cattle on 300 acres of cover crops and stockpiled forage. They didn’t feed a single bale of hay. They also run a lodge which is a hunting, fishing, and working cattle ranch for vacationers.

Garrett and CT

Garrett and CT

Keith and I looked through their vacation packages. We were getting excited about all the activities offered. This vacation would just be for the two of us, Cookie will be in Peru, Garrett in Germany. Part of the all-inclusive vacation package is allowing guests to choose their adventure and incorporate it into their stay. Keith loves to fish, I like working with horses and cattle. Keith could spend his day’s fishing and I could ride, work cattle, and experience a REAL ranch. As we searched through the website we became even more enthusiastic; jeeps and ATV’s are available for the guests to use as they explore the ranch.

We looked through the price guide for each vacation package and started setting a budget.

Garrett and Fancy

Garrett and Fancy

Then I looked out my window where three perfectly beautiful, well broke, horses were grazing. “You’d like to work with the horses and calves,” Keith said. I glanced out the window in the other direction and saw a few calves running together. A couple of days ago, when we moved the cattle, one calf ran in the wrong direction. After trying to get it headed in the right direction Keith decided to rope it so it would move along with the herd. Garrett was reaching for the calf at the same time Keith was casting the rope, he caught Garrett’s arm along with the calf.

Keith and Cookie fishing

Keith and Cookie fishing

“The fishing would be great for you, you haven’t gone fishing in a while. It would be relaxing,” I said. Again, from our window, I looked across the hills where the Turkey River winds through the valley. It has some great fishing spots. The Big Springs Trout Hatchery is just around the corner from our farm.

“We could go on daily hikes, or drive jeeps or ATV’s. We could go exploring every afternoon and at night they have a great restaurant featuring grass-fed beef,” I let out an audible sigh, “although, no one produces better grass-fed beef than us.”

“That’s true,” Keith nodded, “You know, we’re surrounded by hiking trails. Pikes Peak State Park and the Effigy Mounds aren’t far away. We could go boating on the Mississippi River anytime we choose, it’s just a few miles away. There are tributary rivers to kayak or canoe or we could use the bicycle paths, ATV trails, or drive our old jeep on any adventure we’d like.”

Suddenly I had an epiphany, “Your right! People pay money, a lot of money, to go on a vacation to experience how we live our daily life. Our life is a vacation!” Some days it’s no picnic, but, apparently it is a vacation!”

 

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Bulls

Red Angus Bull Foresthillfarm.comBulls

Typically, the bulls get turned out with the cows on the 4th of July. For the bulls, it’s celebration day.  This year we’re thinking of holding them back for a couple extra weeks to make sure we calve when the grass is growing again. Last winter was too harsh. Spring came so late that some calves were born with snow covering the ground.   We’ll have two angry bulls, but the cows will appreciate calving later in the spring when the grass is abundant.

Red Angus Bull Foresthillfarm.com

Noooooo!

 The younger bull will run with the heifers, the older one with the cows. Using this gestation table for cattle breeding we can schedule delivery with the forage cycle of our pasture.  If the bulls service date is July 4, then the calving date is April 12. Heifers sometimes deliver up to ten days early, cows up to ten days late. Our target date for 2015 is May 1. The bulls will have to wait until July 23, Sorry, bulls!

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Timing Storms

DSCN0684Timing Storms

Several years ago friends from our homeschool group took a cross-country trip to visit family in California. Marie set out with her two kids, Marcie (seven years old) and Bobby (ten years old). Her husband would join them a couple of weeks later. As they got into Kansas severe storms surrounded them. Tuning the radio to an AM station they heard the static and knew they were in the thick of it. The National Weather Service was broadcasting the path and locations of multiple storm cells. Marie could see some rotation of the clouds in the distance. She pulled to the side of the road and gave each of her kids a task; Marcie would listen to the radio and call out town names, along with the direction and speed of the storm. Bobby’s task was to find the area on the map and calculated the route they’d take to avoid the most severe weather. The two worked as a team timing storms.

Marie had complete confidence in her kids, they worked well together. In some areas Bobby would have his mom pull over and wait while Marcie watched the clock, timing their move to the next safe area. On Marcie’s and Bobby’s instruction Marie would either move ahead or wait for the storm to pass. At one point they saw a tornado crossing the highway some distance behind them. The three hopscotched, waiting and moving, according to the weather service’s alerts and the teamwork of  Bobby and Marcie. Rolling into a small town they saw buildings destroyed with a large debris field expanding for several blocks. Had it not been for the kids mapping and timing skills they would have been in the direct path of this tornado. Marie was thankful that she spent time teaching mapping skills, it paid off.

 The ignorant man marvels at the exceptional; the wise man marvels at the common; the greatest wonder of all is the regularity of nature. – G.D. Boardman

 

On Monday night Keith was in central Iowa for a meeting. On his way home severe storms surrounded him. He listened to the radio and I watched the weather broadcast provided by KCRG TV. They tracked the storm’s speed, timing, along with the trajectory. I called Keith, we figured out when he should move or stop to avoid the most severe storm cells.

He’d pull over for a few minutes, then move ahead to a safer area.  Some of the storms closest to home were reported to have some rotation.  We timed his trip perfectly, he avoided downed trees, hail, and straight line winds. I was thinking of Marie, Marcie, and Bobby and thankful they shared their story with us. I was also grateful to the weather staff at KCRG TV.

 

 

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Good Morning, Piglets!

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Good morning, piglets! The first of our sows farrowed Sunday morning. 10 healthy piglets were enjoying breakfast when I went to the barn. They’ll stay inside for 8 – 10 days until they’re big and mobile enough that eagles won’t prey on them.

Our goal is to raise healthy hogs. We’ve been concerned about PEDV virus. The confinement hog operations in the area spread manure on the fields and there’s always manure on the roads. We’ve been careful about washing the truck’s tires and not allowing visitors for a few weeks to make sure there isn’t any contamination brought to the farm. The experts say that PEDV  is deadlier in the cold months, but we’re not taking any chances. Also, we don’t use a feed mix with blood plasma products, just grain and fresh pasture for our pigs. There’s a possible link between feeding blood plasma and PEDV. Wasn’t anything learned from Mad Cow Disease? Cows are herbivores, but someone had the bright idea to feed young calves bovine meat and bone meal. The hog industry feeds porcine plasma to young pigs that aren’t old enough to start eating a grain based diet. I’m proud to go against the grain of conventional farming. 

Categories: Livestock health, piglets, Pigs | 1 Comment

Hatching Eggs

Hatching Eggs

In April we started collecting turkey and duck eggs to incubate. The fertile eggs are good for two weeks when kept in the dark at room temperature. On May 1, the first batch of turkey eggs went into one of four incubators, three of them turn the eggs automatically, one is a still air incubator for the last three days of incubation. This year’s turkey are Bourbon Red, Narraganset, and Chocolate; all are heritage breeds. The ducklings are Pekin, Swedish, and Buff.

Newly hatched turkey

Newly hatched turkey

Yesterday the first turkeys started hatching. A couple of days before they started to hatch, we could hear them chirping inside the shell. As the shell cracked the peeping became louder. It took a few hours for the first turkey to free himself from the egg, when he was dry he went into the brooder.

Black tub brooder

Black tub brooder

The brooder, made from black protein tubs that we get from the recycling center, have a large hole cut into the top for the lamp reflector to rest on. Holes are cut into the base using a 4″ inch hole saw to make openings for the chicks to go in and out of the brooder. The first week, when the chicks go into the brooder,  a 75 watt bulb provides heat. In a few days the 75 watt bulb is replaced with a 60 watt bulb, which is more than enough to keep the brooder between 80 – 90 degrees. This type of brooder works well in the late spring when the air is warmer. If you’re starting chicks in late winter or early spring the tubs will need reflective insulation to keep the temperature up. NEVER use a heat lamp with this type of brooder, instead increase the wattage of the bulb used.

Brooder

Brooder

In the next couple of weeks more ducklings will  hatch along with another couple batches of turkey. We don’t hatch meat chicks, we buy Cornish Rock and Red Ranger chicks from a hatchery. They are in the brooder for 14 – 20 days, depending on the weather, and then put into pasture pens. They’ll graze the organic pasture for ten weeks eating insects, small grains, and greens and they’ll fertilize as they move through the fields.

Buff and Swedish ducklings

Buff and Swedish ducklings

 

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Thank You

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Nov. 2, 2011

On November 2, 2011 we were driving home from Minnesota when a message came over the radio asking drivers along the route from Mabel, Minnesota to Calmar, Iowa to pull over, grab a flag and help bring a soldier home. Every school kid from kindergarten to high school lined the road. Veteran’s group handed out flags, shop keepers and citizens lined the route, flags in hand as 20-year-old Army Private First Class Christopher Horns and his Gold Star Family drove to his final resting place in Calmar, Iowa.

Our friend Hal Koltz was eighteen years old, the ink barely dry on his high school diploma when he left for the Navy. Hal boarded the Fletcher Class Destroyer USS Cord where he served in the Pacific until August 1946. For the remainder of his life he struggled to forgive the Japanese for the atrocities he’d witnessed at Saipan.

Alphonse “Cookie” Koch hung up his glove and put away his triple ‘A’ uniform and shipped off to France when was eighteen years old. He came home in 1945 with a permanent limp, a Purple Heart, and Nazi campaign banner that he’d taken when his unit liberated a prison camp in Germany. He never talked about the war with anyone until his nephew, Jim returned from Vietnam. They would sit in the yard together and have a beer, talking for hours, just the two of them. He never talked about it with anyone else.

To all the veteran’s, all who serve in the military, and especially the Gold Star Families, thank you!

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Seasonal Whiplash

DSCN0019A few years ago, when we were still living in Illinois, the planting season started as soon as the snow cover was gone, or so it seemed, anyway. The land was flat, it warmed up quickly and dried fast. The planting date seemed to get earlier and earlier each year. There was a race to be the first farmer in the fields again. Driving through the countryside you’d twist your head, turning fast and craning your neck to see who was working their ground so early in the season. I call it seasonal whiplash.

Keith slowed our truck to a crawl, then stopped just in front of the sheriff’s car. It was blocking the road and the glowing red flares marked the site where a pickup truck had skidded into the ditch. The hood of the truck was peering up from the side of the embankment as the tow truck backed into place. “That looks like Buck White’s truck in the ditch.” Keith strained as he looked for Buck.

It is Buck’s truck. I hope he’s okay,” I couldn’t see anyone inside the truck. “It doesn’t look damaged, I don’t think it rolled.” I sat back and shut off the radio as the sheriff’s deputy walked over to us. Keith rolled down the window.

Afternoon. It’ll just be a few minutes until we open the road again.”

I leaned over the center console to see the deputy’s face.“Was anyone hurt?”

With his hands on the door frame he leaned into the truck, “No, the drivers fine, he was looking over his shoulder when his right front tire caught the soft gravel and it pulled him into the ditch. The truck can’t get enough traction in the soft ground, he just needs a tow out.” He waved to the car pulling up behind us and walked off. The audible rumbling of an engine was getting louder in the field across from us. “There’s Buck’s trouble,” I pointed to the farm field where a tractor was coming into view. It was moving slowly, pulling a corn planter. The doubled up rear tires were flinging mud as it dug into the soft ground. “Buck caught a case of seasonal whiplash. He jerked his head around to see who was planting this early.”

Keith laughed, “You’re probably right. It seems much too early and too wet to work a field, let alone plant it. Some guys would just as well mud in their crop as wait for drier weather to plant it.” He reached for the door handle, “I’ll see if Buck needs a hand.”

Buck and the deputy were standing on the shoulder of the road watching his truck roll back to the pavement. When it came to rest they all circled it checking its road worthiness. Keith patted Buck’s back as they shook hands. He threw back his head, laughing. When he got back into the truck he turned to face me, “You called it. It’s a clear case of seasonal whiplash”. Apparently, as Buck was coming around the corner, he saw that tractor in the field. He couldn’t believe it, turning to get a second look, he swerved and caught the tire on the gravel’s edge. Next thing he knew, his truck was in the ditch.

Who’s planting that field?” I asked. The ground belonged to Rusty Little’s family.

The Little’s rented it to a guy from Boone County. That’s a pretty good distance to have to move equipment. He’s incredibly anxious if he’s planting now. The ground’s too cold.” Keith turned onto the road, heading for home.

 

“A farm is a hunk of land on which, if you get up early enough mornings and work late enough nights, you’ll make a fortune – if you strike oil on it.” -Fibber McGee

 

The warm spring weather has every machine shed door wide open. There is equipment parked in every farm-yard, each piece being examined. Grease guns lubricate fittings, loose bolts tightened, hydraulic hoses connected with fluids added as necessary. Anxious farmers can’t wait to get into the fields again. Planting time causes every eye to turn toward the weather report. The old timers talked of the Three Iron Men and Ember days. The younger generation watches radar and consults their smart phone.  Now and again a piece of equipment moves down the road under the scrutiny of every farm it passes by. If a planter or grain drill moves along the road, while the fields are still sodden, tongues wag. No one wants to be the first in the field. The scrutiny would be too great. They also don’t want to risk crop failure. However, being the last to work your fields invites criticism of your work ethic. Good weather is as critical as the planting date. Planting a few days late makes a difference. Each day, past the ideal planting date, the yield is depleted. For us, planting weather doesn’t make or break our crop, we’re grass farmers. Although, wet weather will certainly affect the hay crop.

So, with planting season in full swing, let’s be careful. Turn your head slowly to get a better glimpse of the farmers hard at work planting their fields. You don’t want to suffer from seasonal whiplash.

 

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Natural Homemade Herbicide

Natural Homemade Herbicide

The garden’s just getting started. The broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and peas are planted. We’re getting a later start this year, but there’s still time. The weeds have better start than the desirable plants that are growing so it’s time to eradicate them. Here’s a recipe for a very effective contact herbicide. It will kill any plant on contact, both good and bad, so use caution.  I’ll use a  sponge  soap dispenser ,  the kind that gets filled with dish soap, except it’s filled with this instead, when I’m eradicating weeds that are surrounded by flowers or vegetables.

Natural Homemade Herbicide Recipe:

Mix well, apply with sprayer or dish sponge  soap dispenser  Use caution; wear gloves and eye protection. 20% vinegar can cause burns on contact. Apply in dry, warm weather. A second application, within a few days of the first, may be needed for some weeds. Poison Ivy, brush, and vines will require more than one application.

Don’t forget, it’s almost time to put out the Bug JugsThese Insect traps for fruit trees are terrific!

Apply this carefully when the pollinators are around. Although this is a bee friendly herbicide you’ll still need to use caution.

 Natural News had an article about the possible connection between glyphosate and infertility. This recipe is a great alternative to Roundup.

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The Easter Key

Back when cars were simple

Back when cars were simple

The Easter egg hunt is over. It was fun, for me anyway. This year I missed out on my April fool’s day trick so I made the annual Easter egg hunt my day.

Inside a few eggs I put some surprises that were duds. I knew they were duds, they were designed to make the boys believe that one particular surprise was real, especially after so many were filled with dumb stuff. Inside one egg was a single gumdrop. In another was a ‘Jesus Loves Me’ sticker. . But there was one large egg that had a car key inside. Cookie’s car has transmission problems. His birthday is coming up, he’ll be 21, he’s been dropping hints. When he opened this egg his mouth fell open. “Is this a real key?” he looked stunned.

“Yep. It’s a real key.” The kid’s quick.

“Are you serious? This is a real key?” He held up the key. A look of thrilling disbelief crossed his face.

Smiling, I gave him a hug. “That key belongs to a car in the driveway. Take a look.”

 He looked out the window. He looked puzzled and asked, “What car is this the key for?”

 “That’s the key for your Toyota.”

 He started laughing, “I knew you wouldn’t get me a car. It was pretty exciting for the minute it lasted, though.”

 “I’m sure it was. You should probably have that transmission looked at.”

 “Will do.” He smiled, not as broadly, but it was still a smile. His brother, on the other hand, thought this was hysterical because it didn’t happen to him. It was the Easter key to happiness.

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