Save The Honey Bees. They're vanishing at an alarming rate.

Lets pretend that in your line of work the numbers start to change. There's a sudden decline in people needing your services. Lets pretend that you're a teacher.

One morning you walk into the school. Something's wrong, you can feel it. When the bell rings one-third of your students are missing.

A few minutes later the school principal walks in and asks to speak with you. She shares that in each classroom thirty percent, and in some classrooms seventy percent, of the students are absent. The trend continues day after day. The declining enrollment is alarming. And it's not just your school. This is happening at all the schools in your state.

In the coming months you learn the trend is happening globally. 30 - 70 percent of school-aged children have vanished. What's causing this and where have the children gone?

Now it's getting personal. The decline is affecting your contract. Lower school enrollment equates to lower numbers of teachers. How will you meet your financial obligations and feed the family?

Seems far-fetched, right? Well, this is exactly what's happening to the bees. They're vanishing without a trace. Beekeepers have lost 30% of their colonies. In some areas the numbers are closer to 70%. Remember; one out of every three bites of food requires bees for pollination.

In the book, More Than Honey , (there's also a video available) Markus Imhoof and Clause-Peter Lieckfeld use a similar scenario;

If 70 percent of all cattle or 30 percent of all chickens were to die annually, states of emergency would be declared everywhere. The death of bees is at least that dramatic and with even more far-reaching consequences.

The more personal an issue is the more meaning it has for you. The declining bee population does directly affect you. One of the reasons for the decline is due to herbicide and pesticide use. Studies show that when hives are located close to genetically engineered crops both honey and pollen contain toxic levels of chemical residue. Bees suffer with memory loss and nervous system disorders after visiting plants genetically engineered with systemic pesticides (neonicotinoids). The toxins create confusion, the bees can't find their way back to the hive.

Save The Honey Bees

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) has a free publication; Cover Cropping for Pollinators and Beneficial Insects.

Planting a cover crop of Buckwheat is great for honey bees and other pollinators. It will improve your garden, too.

Please,  Save the honey bees.

August 20, 2016 is National Honey Bee Day.

Chicken Feed

chicken feed

I love this picture. The grasshopper catcher is a perfect example of Necessity being the Mother of Invention. Insects are a great source of protein. Free range poultry fill up on grasshoppers keeping the pests under control. It's a seasonal feast, though. The pioneers solved this by catching grasshoppers in the hayfield and drying them for winter feed. This is just one example of alternatives to corn and soybeans.

Summer through fall our chickens, ducks and turkeys move through the pasture catching insects and eating greens. Take advantage this summer and send the kids outside with a net and a bucket. Let them catch bugs. Have them turn over rocks and look under logs. They'll find plenty to feed the chickens.

A couple of years ago I heard about the benefits of goji  berries so I planted some. They're full of vitamins but they taste terrible. Now, instead of using them myself, I dry them for chicken feed. Apparently the chickens don't mind the bitter flavor. Goji berries are easily dried and stored for year round use.

In certain areas of the country its not easy to buy small grains. Here in Iowa corn is king, followed by soybeans. Finding wheat is tough – no one grows it commercially in this area. There's no market for it here. Growing food plots gives the flock both exercise and superior nutrition. Plus, you'll have healthy eggs and meat. A food plot of small grains; wheat, oats, and barley inter seeded with clover and alfalfa provides a balanced diet when grazed green or cut and dried for winter feed. These plots are terrific for growing chicken feed.

This is the time of year to think about feeding the flock in the winter. Learn to sprout grains or grow fodder. The nutritional value of the two is quite different. In sprouted grains the white tap-root is full of enzymes. Once a green shoot develops the enzymes are lost to the sprout, but the green sprout is full of health qualities, too. Your hens will be healthier with the forethought.

And, if you'd like healthy meat and you're not raising poultry yourself we'd be happy to have you as a customer.

Muscovy Duck Can FlyMuscovy Duck Can Fly

Keith hung up the phone, “Are we missing a duck?”

“I don’t think so, why?”

“Robin called, there’s a duck sitting under her pine tree. She said two eagles were attacking it as it flew into her tree this morning.”

Robin lives across the field and down the hill from us. It’s a good distance from our farm.

I checked the barnyard. Sure enough, one of our Muscovy hens was missing. I called Robin back. She explained that she saw two eagles chasing after a white bird. Looking closer she realized they were attacking a duck. The duck flew into the center of the pine’s branches. The eagles alighted at the top of the tree. Eventually the duck fell to the ground and rested under the tree where the branches camouflaged her from the eagle’s view. She sat quietly at the tree’s base.

Earlier in the morning Maisey was sitting under our pine tree barking at a bald eagle perched above her. Miley sat off to the side, eyes fixed on the bird. These two dogs keep the farm safe from predators, however, they're not equipped for airborne assaults. Neither was the duck.

Muscovy duck can fly. They don’t usually fly very far. They’ll fly from the barnyard to the pond or just circle the barn a time or two.

Once the hen was back home we gave her a thorough exam. She’s missing a few primarily flight feathers and was in shock, otherwise she seemed fine.

She’s started laying eggs again. More than likely she’s grounded until her ducklings hatch. So, until then, Maisey and Miley are on guard.  Eva and Spike don’t pay attention to eagles and Grant’s the most likely to get carried off. His saving grace is the fact that he’s exceptionally heavy, which is a nice way of saying he’s fat.

Sorting Sheep

Some friends called and asked if they could stop by on their way home from picking up their new puppy, of course they could.  I love my friends and puppies. The eight week old pup explored the yard. She ran from a curious hen, chewed on everything she found, and then fell asleep on a blanket in the car.
As they were getting ready to leave the couple looked at each other with curious expressions. Through a few not so subtle head nods and eye rolling maneuvers they finally asked the question I suspect was the real reason for their visit.
“Could you tell us if we have a male or female puppy?”
“Really, you can’t tell?” I started to laugh, “It’s a girl.”
The were relieved, they’d wanted a female. The confusion came from the puppies pot belly with a protruding naval stump.
We all laughed. Sometimes what seems obvious, isn’t.

My friend is not perfect - nor am I - and so we suit each other admirably.  - Alexander Pope

sorting sheepLambing season is almost finished, just a couple of ewes to go. Keith leaned on the gate and looked over at me, “See that sheep over there. She’s never going to have lambs.”
I looked at the sheep he was pointing at,  “How do you know? She’s a healthy ewe, maybe she was just a late breeder.”
“Nope. It’s because she is a he,” Keith chuckled.
Sorting sheep is a big deal. In the fall we move the sheep  through a series of pens to separate the females from the wethers (castrated males). Not only are the sheep separated into pens but they’re identified with livestock marking paint. Each sheep is cross referenced according to their ear tag. Throughout the sorting process each animal gets examined no less than four times as they move through the pens.

Despite this ‘fail safe’ system all four of us misidentified him. I looked at Keith and laughed, “Really, you can’t tell it’s a boy.”
What seemed obvious, wasn’t.

Here's more information on organic grass-fed lamb

'Know Your Farmer Know Your Food'

'Farm to Table'

Really great slogans.  But, what’s really  happening on the farm that’s producing food for your table?

Close your eyes. Imaging a farm. Do you see lush pastures. Animals grazing. Pigs sleeping in the warm sunshine surrounded by shade trees and green grass.

I drove past a farm yesterday with a new van parked out front. The signs on the side read, 'Farm to Table’ and ‘Know Your Farmer Know Your Food’. This particular farmer has several confinement hog houses.

Do they qualify for the ‘Farm to Table’ campaign? Of course. They’re farmers. They sell direct from their farm to customer’s tables.

Do they fit the model for the ‘Know Your Farmer Know Your Food’ campaign? Yep, they do.They sell at farmers markets. Customers get to know them.

But, DO YOU, as a customer picture something different when you support a farm?

Are you thinking of pigs in a pasture or hogs crowded inside of a building.

Are you thinking of cattle grazing under a blue sky and sunshine or steers stuffed under a shed roof with just a few square feet to move around.

Across the mid-west farmers markets are re-opening for the season. I suggest that you really get to know your farmer. Ask questions. Things aren’t always as they seem

How familiar are you with these terms:
Free Range vs Cage Free

Pasture raised vs Confinement

Organic vs 'Beyond Organic'

The California Supreme Court ruled that producers who mislabeled products as organic are open to lawsuits as protection from fraud in the organic industry.
I’m not sure whether the farms that label themselves as ‘Beyond Organic’ will have to change their advertising but it 's food for thought.

And remember; If we are what we eat most of us are fast, cheap and easy. Lets change that!

Know Your Farmer Know Your Food


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