Monthly Archives: March 2012

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Best Farming Practices
One of the questions we're  asked frequently is, “Why aren’t more farmers raising animals in better environments?”  The answer’s simple; money.

With high corn prices, record high land prices, and the ability to increase crop yields with chemicals, confinement livestock allows farmers to double crop.  When animals are confined to housing instead of grazing the land is freed up for row crops. Grazing land can now be put into more “productive” use.

Added into the issue is government subsidies that pay for corn and soybean crops, not pasture grazing. Acreage is too valuable to “waste” on animal production. The monetary return is too small for animal producers, especially when labor is factored into the equation.

Our farm is an extension of our lifestyle, values, and a love of  the environment and animals.  Our customers health and the health of our livestock is the priority.

Our son and I took a class offered by one of the universities on raising sheep.  The material presented was all about profit.  Keeping costs down, production up. According to the class instructor the bottom line dictates every aspect of animal production .  The class presented graphs and charts indicating how cheaper food sources could be advantageous when feeding sheep. In this instructor's opinion hay was too expensive. Hay wasn't profitable to feed. Corn stalk bales were the better choice.  Cheap grain mixed with cheap dry matter are more advantageous.

When the class was over I explained to our son that none of these ideas  would work on our farm. Our goal is to use the Best Farming Practices. In my opinion, conventional farmers are shooting themselves in the foot.  If a livestock producer sells meat by direct marketing, the customer's satisfaction is the model, not the bottom line. Quality products equal repeat customers. The university model works well, if you are paid for carcass weight, not quality. But producing crap isn’t a viable business plan. If raising garbage meat, with animals living in pathetic conditions, is all a producer is capable of then perhaps a new career is called for.  I’ll step down from my soap box now.

The book Righteous Porkchop by Nicolette Hahn Niman has been selected for the Linn Area Reads program. There are several events planned to promote good food choices. Factory farm meat is readily available. It takes greater effort to find pasture raised pork and grass fed meat.  Check out Linn Area Reads for book discussion locations and an events calendar.  On May 11 at 7 pm Nicolette Hahn Niman will give a presentation at the Hotel Kirkwood.  If you have any questions about pasture raised pork, or raising livestock in general, I’d be happy to answer them for you email us .

Best farming Practices

©Glenda Plozay, Forest Hill Farm Products,LLC

3/25/2012 one week later
3/18/2012 grass fire

What a difference a day, or in this case, seven makes.  Burned grass and charred ground were the aftermath of last Sunday's burn.  The blackened hillside contrasted dramatically from the green pasture separated by our fence line. One week later the new grass is coming through, hiding the scorched ground.

Only a week ago the landscape looked bleak. Now the birds, field mice, and pheasants are back.  Soon there won't be any evidence of the burn.

The hawks are circling, they can easily see prey below, the field's perimeter still has tall grass and brush for protection.

 

 

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It all started as a simple ditch burning, in the valley, on a beautiful afternoon.  A few hours and a couple of fire departments later, the ditch, along with about 100 acres, were burned. When Keith and Garrett went to the neighbors the ditch was already burning gently.  A fire break was lit to burn back toward the ditch, protecting the prairie grass. It wasn’t windy in the valley but the hillside had strong gusts which carried the flames across the dry grass.

Burning fence rows and pastures is common practice in the country. When burns are planned a defensive strategy is implemented, the operative word here is planned.  Burn crews are equipped with shovels, rakes, and backpack sprayers. Water tanks on hay wagons and tractors with the chisel plows are ready for action. Those plans are for controlled burns.  A simple ditch burning usually involves only a couple of neighbors, a couple rakes, a shovel and stories to swap.  In this case mistakes were made:

This fire got away.
The grader blade, instead of a disc or plow, was on the tractor.
A defensive strategy plan wasn’t ready

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." (The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.) - Robert Burns

The blaze gained momentum, fueled by the wind, which carried the flames upland out of the valley.  Once they reached the dry grass the fire took off, as they say, like wildfire. Keith, with only a grader blade attached, started dragging a fire break. Successfully containing the fire from heading northeast, the wind shifted and brought the flames back down through the valley and up the slope on the other side. In the darkness the front tractor wheel fell into a gully. It was stuck. The fire department’s water wagon, a few yards ahead, fell into the same gully. It was also stuck.

In 2008 we lost two barns, equipment, hay, straw, and tragically our sows and piglets, in a fire. It was a horrible experience so we use extreme caution where fire is concerned. Fire can get out of hand so quickly, a simple wind shift can wreak havoc and precaution has to be the rule.  Thankfully, the fire fighters, as usual, knew just what to do. There isn’t any damage, in a few days the grass will start growing through the charred mass. The birds, who nest in prairie grasses, are safe. They’re just starting to return. They haven’t started building nests yet.

The school of adversity is a very good school, provided you don’t matriculate too early or continue too long. - L.K. Anspacher

Alice, one of our Jersey cows had a new calf this afternoon.  We bought two Jersey cows last fall.  Now we have even more milk for the pigs.  In a few days I’ll start milking Alice in the morning, she and her calf will be together all day, separated only at night.  I love spring!  Everything is bright, fresh and new.

Nobody can go through an endless chain of farm births and growth and harvest - and be subject to nature’s mysteries, bounty, and sometimes harshness - without developing a philosophy of life.  -J. Brewer Bottorff

With all the new lambs born recently we’re feeding the richest hay in the mow.  The more coarse hay is fed first. As winter progresses the hay supply is dwindling. The highest quality hay is held back until the end of winter. It’s reserved for cows, who are nursing calves, and ewes nursing lambs.  Keith brought down a bale and showed me a flake that was still bright, soft, and green. It was a blend of orchard grass, alfalfa, and clover. The heart shaped leaves of green clover, topped with brown flower heads, looked as if they’d been pressed in a book. This was third cutting hay.  It smelled sweet and the stems and leaves were still tender.  The plants weren’t tall, not on the last cutting of the season, but the pliant green blades were perfectly cured. Soft palatable hay, after a couple months of eating dryer hay, is a reward for livestock eager for spring grass.

Late February
Ready for spring

On my way to the mailbox today the sun was shining across the fields. You could almost see the green shoots of spring grasses willing themselves to reach through the tangle of brown, lifeless turf.  This mild winter has the shrubs, trees, and plants fooled.  They’re ready to surprise us with early blooms.  Mother Nature still has a snowfall, or two, and bitter days ahead. With tight buds holding out for warmer days, it’s the perfect time to prune fruit trees and frost seed pastures.  Legumes are the easiest to frost seed, the tiny seeds sift through the protective cover of orchard grass. Each freeze - thaw cycle works the seed deeper into the soil. Late winter and early spring rains are magical elements. The seed’s are waiting for warmth to burst out of their protective coat and rise to meet the sun.