Monthly Archives: October 2013

keith on our walkOn our regular walk through the timber Keith and I noticed signs of the changing season. The color change of the leaves is obvious, but there are subtle signs, too. The wooly bear caterpillar's color range of reddish-brown to black is an indicator of the severity of the coming winter, if you believe the folklore. According to The Farmer's Almanac the legend is; the wider that middle brown section is (i.e., the more brown segments there are), the milder the coming winter will be. Conversely, a narrow brown band is said to predict a harsh winter.


maisy 10-24-13Maisy and Spike are staking out hollow trees looking for raccoon and opossum. Spike cornered a momma coon, at our urging he backed down, she wouldn't have.Spike 10-24-13







 10-24-13 deer rubThe canopy overhead is sparse now. The natural windbreak of the ravines shows signs where deer have bedded down for the night. Young trees have fresh rubs where bucks are marking their territory. We've seen large bucks in the timber and larger gatherings of doe. In another month the area will be overrun with men in orange blasting away at anything that moves. The cattle will move closer to the barn during hunting season, the dogs instinctively know to stay close. For us, this is the most stressful time of year.

 Last year a neighbor was surprised to see a group of hunters in his timber. He asked them to leave, but they insisted they had hunting rights granted by the landowner. They continued driving deer towards other's in their group waiting for the animals to get within firing range. Every year we're amazed at the techniques used to bring down deer. Hunters waiting on two different hillsides will shoot into the valley as another group runs the deer through the draw. Generally these aren't local folks. They come from different counties and states, all hoping to take home a trophy buck.   This season our neighbor has a preventative plan to avoid the situation. He's implementing something along the line of  the old adage, 'walk softly and carry a big stick.'  In this case it will be a very big and powerful stick.


GrazingJust when you thought it couldn't get any worse...
Monsanto is receiving the Nobel Prize for agriculture! In June 6500 genetically engineered sugar beet plants were destroyed in Oregon by unknown individuals. The sugar beets were the property of biotech giant Syngenta AG. The FBI is investigating. There's a backlash to big agriculture, consumers want to choose what they eat and how it's been grown. The 'Just label it' project is still collecting signatures, if you haven't signed their petition yet, now is a great time.

BUYER BEWARE! At the recent Grassfed Exchange Conference buyers and producers of "Grass fed" cattle defended their policy of selling steers who've been fed distillers grains and soy hulls (these aren't non-GMO or organic grains by the way. There's no reason to feed any grain to grass fed cattle!). You might be surprised who is selling this beef in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and at many co-ops in the area. At Forest Hill Farm we don't source our beef steers, we raise them. All the beef sold by Forest Hill Farm is 100% grass fed, rotationally grazed, dry aged and is raised on this farm.
If you are interested in finding out who's selling this beef? I'll send you the article,  email me, you might be surprised! You might be even more surprised to find out who buys these steers and sells it as 'grass fed beef' direct to consumers.

This summer we've had a beef shortage, for that, we apologize. The demand has outpaced production. This fall we bought a few heifers from a friend who bought one of our registered Red Angus bulls, 'Combine' a couple years ago. The Heifers have outnumbered the bull calves born on the farm. The good news is the herd is growing steadily. The beef shortage will be resolved next summer.
Warmest wishes and food for thought.

MilkerI'd like to start using a different milker with our dairy cows. Currently we're using a Surge bucket style milker. Clarisse has a very low udder so the bucket doesn't work well for her. With only four cows to milk, two at any given time, I've been researching claw style milkers. For every new thing I start there's a host of research involved. Reading manuals has become a hobby. Sometimes I think about taking shortcuts, just jumping in and getting started, but then I think of Mary.

Several years ago I decided to breed my mare. My friend, Mary has a breeding facility. Mares from around the country come to her farm for breeding. She has beautiful stud horses of her own, and several others brought in for the breeding season. She uses artificial insemination to breed regardless whether the mare is on the farm or product is being shipped across the country. For years Mary used an older collection system. It worked well but she wanted a more modern one. Mary upgraded to a phantom collection system with a reservoir that held warm, sterilized water to simulate a mare's body temperature. It was padded in all the areas a real mare would have padding. It was fancy.

A couple weeks after Mary introduced her stud to the phantom she noticed breeding problems. Soon the stud refused to go near the phantom, let alone mount it. Unable to resolve the issues on her own, she called the veterinarian. After a thorough examination the vet couldn't find any physical issues with the studs. She asked Mary to walk her through the collection process.  Mary excused herself and went to get sterile water for the reservoir. Returning, she showed the vet her procedure. Mary placed the collection tube along with the sterilized water sleeve into the phantom. The teaser mare was brought in, the stud was led into the barn, too. When the mare was positioned near the phantom, the stud mounted the phantom, screeched, jumped off, and lashed out. When a stud doesn't behave in a gentle manner he's returned to his stall for a 'time out' where he's supposed to think about his behavior and make a change. After a few minutes he was brought in again. This time he mounted the phantom, let out a louder, longer screech, turned and kicked. He wouldn't cooperate. The vet gave him a brief exam. She looked over the phantom. No sharp edges, nothing unusual. Then the vet noticed steam vapor rising from the reservoir. “Mary, what did you put in the reservoir?” she asked.

“Boiling water.”


“Well, close to it. I run distilled water through my coffee maker to sterilize the collection cup, then I pour the rest into the reservoir.”

“Mary, sterilizing the reservoir doesn't mean you pour boiling water into it!” The vet gave Mary clearer instructions.

So, to avoid being burned, I thoroughly research all the instructions. Thanks to Mary I learned from someone else's mistakes rather than my own.

The distance of local

About twenty years ago the University of Missouri Southwest Center experimented with a 'close planting' garden. On a 30' x 30' plot one ton of vegetables was grown using only 27.5 hours of labor. Today it takes 4 hours, per person, of a five day work week to pay for purchased food. An estimated 70% of processed foods on the grocery store shelves contain genetically engineered ingredients, and then there's the distance that most food travels before getting to your store. Whole Foods Market defines local as within 700 miles. For Kroger stores, it's a two state range. Giant Eagle defines local as from the same state the store is located. This graphic from 1919 compares 'Vegetables Grown For Home Use Only' and 'Vegetables Grown For Sale'. So, what is he distance of Local?

1919 graphic Farming MagazineYou can't get more local than your own backyard. This is the time of year to start planning for next year's garden. Cover crops of green manure ( buckwheat, annual rye grass, clover, etc.) should be planted now. They'll add nutrients, aerate the soil, fix nitrogen, and feed the microbial life of the soil. Adding chopped leaves, from deep rooted trees, will mineralize the soil. Bare ground is the enemy of garden productivity.

Thank you to the staff of Farming Magazine for allowing me to use this graphic. It appeared in the Fall, 2013 edition of their great publication.




Life is Peachy

Yesterday the weather was perfect for picking peaches. The unseasonably warm weather is forecast to abruptly end. I'm not sure how I get caught off guard every year, but I get lulled into a sense of never ending autumn. Reality hits me with cold, rainy winds every fall. The peaches ripened late this year, one tree has been picked, nine more trees to go. The peaches are small but unbelievably delicious. For years we've heard that peaches don't grow in Iowa. The same rhetoric deafened us in Illinois. Fortunately we're too stupid to listen. That's why life is peachy.