Four years ago we completed an area of direct seeding trees; Walnuts, oaks, and Chestnuts.  The walnut trees are about twelve feet tall, the oaks four to eight and the Chestnuts about five.

The project was so successful that we’re direct seeding other areas. One of them is along the lane.

Some years oaks don’t produce many acorns, last year was one of them. For a successful direct seeding it’s best collecting from trees within a fifty mile range. Outside of this range the variety of tree may not grow as well as local species.

We spent most afternoons last fall scavenging acorns from our timber. On windy days there would be a windfall, other days were sparse.  Because our own trees weren’t producing many acorns  we kept a nut roller and bucket with us. Everywhere we went we’d search for trees shedding nuts.

In October, Decorah, Iowa hosts the annual Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour. It’s wonderful. In one neighborhood in particular, Shagbark Hickory vastly out number all other tree species. I looked forward to the artwork, Keith looked forward to collecting hickory nuts for our direct seeding. While I toured the studios Keith visited with the locals and collected seed stock.

In the fall a seed bed was prepared. Then nuts were scattered across the tilled ground and finally, the seeding rolled for good ground contact. This winter we noticed fat squirrels, with full cheeks, running back and forth from the seeding area. It’s OK, we seeded heavily. The direct seeding is a collection of acorns and nuts from burr, red and white oak along with shagbark hickory.

Direct Seeding TreesThe faster growing walnut’s in our fourth year direct seeding trees are shading out the slower growing young oaks. Next winter the walnuts will be coppiced (cut at ground level) to allow the oak’s to grow above the canopy. The walnut trees will be stunted but make a full recovery.

Last year Keith and I took the Master Woodland Managers program through Iowa State University. It's a wonderful class with combined teachings in the classroom, on timber walks and through volunteer work in managed timber. We’re continuing our education through reading, observation, and attending more classes. And of course, traipsing through the timber. I highly recommend this forestry program, and the book, Forest and Shade Trees of Iowa.

 

How to Improve Soil Nutrients

Salt the Earth

I spent the last couple of days getting the garden ready. The asparagus bed, pumpkin patch, vegetable garden and orchard trees have been salted to Improve Soil Nutrients.

I read about how to improve soil nutrients and the benefits of sea salt for boosting trace elements in an article from Acres USA, January 2003. This winter I re-read the book Sea Energy Agriculture by Maynard Murray, M.D.

Dr. Murray presents evidence of the declining trace elements of soil. When commercial fertilizers are applied only the basic elements are returned to the soil. The abundance of these; nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and lime initially increase crop yield, however, they block uptake of necessary elements.

The science behind Sea Energy Agriculture is that the chemistry of sea life is naturally disease resistant and nutritionally superior. Sea salts added to soils are properly balanced between trace elements and sodium chloride. The application rate is important, too. The application is reasonable to restore the soil’s missing elements without rendering it useless like Carthage after the Romans salted the earth.

The best defense against disease is good nutrition. That nutrition starts in the soil. Plants take up the minerals which are then distributed to the end consumer whether human, livestock or wildlife. These end crops are nutrient dense and superior in trace elements.

In the past I’ve tried getting the geese to weed the asparagus beds. Instead of pulling out the grass they pulled up all the strawberry plants in the next bed over. This year I’m experimenting by using a high rate of Redmond Salt  to kill the grass in the asparagus bed. The heavier application won’t hurt the crop, instead it will restore elemental nutrients while inhibiting the invasive grasses.

Both  SEA-90 and  Redmond Salt are certified organic (OMRI listed). The difference is where the sea mineral solids are sourced. SEA-90 is from an estuary where sea water is captured and dried. Redmond salt is sourced from deposits in Redmond Utah.

As an experiment both products are being applied separately to the orchard trees and garden. Here on the farm there are two areas with heirloom apple trees, two areas with peach trees and one group of cherry trees of three different varieties. I don’t know whether the difference between the two products will be significant, we’ll find out at the end of the growing season.

Redmond salt is sold by a local supplier, which is convenient. There aren’t any SEA-90 suppliers in our area so I bought enough for half of our vegetable garden and half of the orchard trees through Amazon.

Last fall the pastures were salted with Redmond salt, 50 pounds per acre, to improve the balance of the soil.  This spring we’ll repeat the salt application. We’ve seen great promise in pasture growth using sea solids and the livestock prefer grazing the fields where it’s been applied.

How to Improve Soil Nutrients
Peach Trees

Here's the Schroeder -Thomas Splint Update.  A few years ago one of our calves broke his hind leg,  you can read about it here

This is calving season on many farms so and we get quite a few questions about how to make a Schroeder -Thomas Splint.

The splint that Keith welded worked great for our calf. However, I recently got an email from Tracie asking for more information on the splint. I was happy to share more pictures along with a few other details.

Tracie was kind enough to send an email with a picture of their Schroeder-Thomas Splint.  I think that Tracie may have improved on the design. Using a cable to make the upper ring that supports the frame at the hip is a great idea. The cable is flexible which makes it easier to  adjust and customize to fit to the animal better.

Tracie also added a can Koozie to hold the foot inside the frame. We had used a block of wood to support the foot and held it in place with Vet Wrap and duct tape. With the foot inside the Koozie it can be help in place with Vet Wrap or tape, too.

The key to making the splint is fitting it to the animal. Careful measurements are needed for the length and the circumference at the hip.

As a side note; all the surfaces of the frame that come in contact with skin should be padded to prevent sores from forming. This is especially important during fly season.

The spring weather is too erratic here in Iowa. Some years there's been snow on the ground late into April. Spring weather is too cold and the grass too sparse for grazing so now calving is schedule to begin in May.

Schroeder -Thomas Splint Update
Schroeder -Thomas Splint Update Tracie's updated design

Update: April 11, 2016

Recently I've been emailing with Summer from North Dakota. They have a calf with a high, rear leg fracture. The frame they designed has an adjustable base with clamps to make the foot platform slide up or down.  Summer was kind enough to share several pictures of their splint. They did a remarkable job with their calf named, Superman. He's fortunate for their loving care.

Thanks for sharing, Summer!

A new Study on Organic Farming confirms quality is the key ingredient.

A newly released study concluded that Organic meat and dairy products are healthier; more nutrient rich than meat and dairy products from conventionally raised animals.

Professor Carlos Leifert of the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group at the University of Newcatle reports that Organic meat and dairy has 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are linked to better immune function, reduced cardiovascular disease, and improved neurological development.

Researchers, led by Leifert, found that organic crops had 60% higher key anti-oxidants and lower levels of the toxic metal cadmium than conventionally produced crops.

We're organic farmers because we believe it's the right way to farm, not because it's the popular way. In fact, it's only become popular in the last few years. Organic farming is about quality over quantity. Organic farming is better for the animal, better for the environment, and healthier for the consumer.

“It is the quality of our work which will please God and not the quantity.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Additionally, other studies have shown that Organic grass-fed beef is the best source of lean protein.

Did you know that the average Weight Watcher customer looses six pounds in two years? That’s less than half a pound per month. They count calories, buy expensive pre-packaged food and anxiously step on the scale.  They’d get better results by switching to grass-fed beef.  And they wouldn’t have to make any other dietary changes. I highly recommend reading  Pasture Perfect, by Jo Robinson.

Organic, grass-fed beef is better for kids, too. Studies show that pesticides lower IQ scores. Evidence suggests that genetically engineered food may contribute to Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, and allergies in children. Organic food is clean. It's pesticide free.

Read the study on organic farming here:

Nafferton Ecological Farming Group

study on organic farming

Learn Beekeeping. Want to be as busy as a bee?

It’s beekeeping time. Yep, even with snow on the ground - now is the time to get started.

Winter beekeeping is relaxed, it’s about learning, dreaming and planning. It’s the time for researching and experimenting.

It's the perfect time to build hive bodies, supers, and frames. Painting them is fun too. Spring doesn't seem so far away when you're busy.

I was reading about an experiment published in the Fifth Annual Report of the State Bee Inspector for the year 1916.  It was reported that hives painted darker colors
outperformed hives painted white. Our hives have always been white. Boring. Not this year, though. The new hives are bright colors. Vibrant and happy colors. It will be interesting to see if these hives are more productive than the white ones.

Another experiment this spring will be splitting hives using strong brood frames and swarm cells containing new queens.

When the hives were closed up for the winter there was plenty of honey and pollen for feed. This is a critical time of year. Bees can easily starve late in the winter or early in the spring. In the next few weeks the queen will start egg laying again, she'll build up brood.

It was warm enough to open up the hives the other day, just for a quick minute to add pollen patties. The bees were clustered, they looked healthy.

This is a great time of year to learn beekeeping.

Sign up for beekeeping classes, they’re starting soon. There’s plenty of time to learn by taking classes and reading books.

Here are a couple of good books on beekeeping:

Natural Beekeeping by Ross Conrad
The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture Forty First Edition published by The A.I. Root Company
Bee Keeping for Dummies by Howland Blackiston and Null
Here’s a list of classes in Iowa and Illinois:

The Iowa Honey Producers Association
The Illinois State Beekeepers Association

Here's a list by state:

The American Honey Producers State Organizations

Learn Beekeeping

 

 

 

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Red Meat - In The News

The safety of Red meat is in the news, again. Health concerns about red meat, along with processed or grilled meats is brought up periodically. Now the World Health Organization (WHO) is weighing in -

As an organic meat producer I believe our farm is distinctly different; Organic, grass- fed beef is healthy.  The practice of MIG grazing improves meat quality, restores the environment, and is beneficial to the life-cycle of livestock, crops, and soil. Quality is more important than yield.

A  customer shared this podcast from WGN Radio in Chicago. The guest, Dr. Michael Fenster is a cardiologist and chef. This doctor highlighted interesting issues and omissions in the latest study. Some of these include:

Antibiotic use in animal feed
Dying gut bacteria
Grass-fed, grass-finished beef
Heritage breeds of pastured hogs
Artificial additives in food
Genetically engineered crops and Glyphosate
Hormones in meat
Safe Food Labeling; House Resolution 1599
and much more...

The connection between healthy food and overall health continues to grow. Our herd continues to grow, too. The steers are sold out for this year. In January we'll start taking orders again. The details will be posted in the January newsletter.

Listen to the podcast here

 

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Preventing Bird Flu in your Flock

How to kill tens of thousands of chickens with the flip of a switch

Preventing Bird Flu in your FlockClean living conditions prevent disease; Sunlight kills viruses, fresh greens boost immunity and exercise improves health. These are the benefits for poultry raised on pasture.

Inside poultry confinement buildings ventilation fans run 24 hours a day. Without these fans the birds die relatively quickly from ammonia fumes and the heat that’s generated from the high density of bodies within the building.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced that the federal government is preparing for a bird flu outbreak this fall that could be twice as bad as the one this spring.

The USDA is calling for shutting down the ventilation system if there's another outbreak of Avian Flu.  The policy is designed to help farms more quickly keep the virus from spreading.

USDA officials said that teams hired to euthanize birds in Iowa and Minnesota fell behind on destroying infected birds this spring due to the size of the flocks. The new euthanasia policy initiates a 24 – hour “stamping-out.” If no other method of killing would meet the 24 hour deadline federal and state officials, along with the producer, agree to shut down the ventilation system.

For chickens in pasture it's a different story. There is no switch to flip. No ventilation fans to shut down. Just sunshine, fresh air and green grass. Pasture pens are open to allow chickens access to all three. The tops are partly covered to give shade along with protection from the rain. The bottoms are open to the grass.  The birds aren’t crowded and they live outdoors during the optimum growing season; May – October.

Before dropping that carton of eggs or package of conventionally raised chicken into your grocery cart the next time you're at the store remember these words from Jo Robinson, author of Pasture Perfect;

“... a chicken that looks stressed and abused on the day of slaughter looks just fine when cut into uniform pieces and wrapped with plastic. The words on the label are targeted to calm any concerns one might have about the meat. This chicken is “Fresh, All-Natural, and Locally Grown!”

Instead of buying confinement chicken make a healthier decision. Find a farmer who raises pastured poultry. The health and taste benefits far surpasses the cost.

 

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Organic Certification...Done

Organic Certification
Forest Hill Farm's organic certificate

There are 19,474 organic farmers in the United States. We're proud to be one of them. If you think about it there aren't even enough of us to fill a football stadium on any given Sunday. We're a small group who share our customer's appreciation in healthy living. We value the environment more than the bottom line and believe the health of water, soil, and wildlife are our shared responsibility.

Every year I look forward to our annual organic re-certification visit. Our inspector is great, his name is Gary.  He's a wealth of information and very pleasant to visit with.

 Gary  shared a link to a video featuring Roy Thatcher. Gary inspects Roy's organic farm, too.

I appreciate Roy's hard work and ethics - especially regarding quality. While most farmer's biggest concerned is yield, organic farmers greatest concern is quality. We do our absolute best to provide products that are good for our customers and of the highest quality. I couldn't have said it better myself,  thanks, Roy!

Enjoy the video.

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Death to the DronesDeath to the Drones!

My style of hive management is relaxed. I start fall feeding when I see the workers killing the drones.

Drones are male bees created from unfertilized eggs. There are between 500 and 1,000 drones in a typical hive of 50,000 – 60,000 bees. A drone's only job is to fly out and search for virgin queens. The luckiest, or unluckiest depending on your perspective, die immediately after mating. It's a good news, bad news, scenario.

Drones are useless to the hive. They don't clean cells, care for the young, gather pollen and nectar, sting, or fan the hive in hot weather. The don't do anything. Drones are larger than workers and steal large quantities of stored food.

So, in the fall, the workers kick them out. They tear the drones wings by pushing and pulling them out of the hive. It's a vicious attack and a violent end to self-serving freeloaders. The workers line up at the entrance to form a barricade against the drone's re-entry. Without the hive's protection the drones die.

For these reasons I don't feed the hive too early in the season. I let the workers do their job first. Otherwise the drones will eat the stored honey, pollen patties, and sugar-water. By waiting I have a reasonable assurance that there will be enough food for the hive to survive through the winter.

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Hope floats in her Heifer Hot tub

floating a calf
calf is floated to relieve a back injury

One of our late season calves got stepped on. She has a large area on her spine that's swollen and very sore. Keith took her to the vet and they started her on a protocol of anti-inflammatory medication. She can stand with help but isn't steady on her feet yet. One of the problems with cattle is the blood pressure in their legs builds up the longer they're down. In order to keep her circulation strong , without added pressure, we've made a floating tank for her.

The University Of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine uses tanks to float cattle after surgery.

We're using a stock tank with an old beach towel as a sling to cradle her and keep her upright. The tank gets filled half way with hot water and topped off with cool water until it's the perfect temperature. Cold water would shock her, the water has to be warm. She floats for about 45 minutes a couple of times each day. Everyday she's getting stronger. Time will tell if she'll fully recover but for now Hope Floats.

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