Entries in Farm Life (117)


Somebody is getting rich on the farm - but not who you think!

Organic Weed Control Can Be EXPENSIVE
We often like to think that when you follow such strict and environmentally friendly practices as ours -- you would never have weeds in your pastures.  For the most part -- this is true.

Partly because of our definition of weeds is a bit different than a lot of people.  We like variety in our pastures and so they include a lot of different forbs and plants that add variety to our cattle's diet.  This picture is a good representation of our pasture and includes at least a dozen different plants that all bring healthy nutrition for the animals and the pastures.

However, we do still struggle with some weeds.  One weed which we really do not like because it seems to serve no purpose on our land, the cattle don't eat it and it pokes us as we drive around is Musk Thistle.  

They are a beautiful plant that can spread quickly through pastures if not controlled.  The county suggested control is to use herbicides to spray them.  However, since we use no sprays on our farm at all we have to find another way.  


We pay the girls a bounty for each bloom they cut and bring back to the house dead in a bucket.  Since Musk thistles are a biennial, they only spread by seed,  If we cut the blooms off, the plant is never able to propagate and since each plant can spread over 10,000 seeds - that's a lot of propagating that can happen.

Everyone has pitched in and just this evening the three girls cut 1680 blooms (16,800,000 seeds for those that are counting).]

Funny story, the first time I sent Elise out to cut blooms I thought 25 cents per bloom was a reasonable bounty.  Elise was 8 and she went out with her gloves and scissors and when she returned less than an hour later with a bucket full -- I knew we were in trouble, or at least my wallet was.  Once we had counted up her blooms she had collected over $60 worth of blooms.  Although we honored the price quoted for that batch of blooms, we quickly renegotiated the price down to 5 cents per bloom.

After tonight's harvest where the girls averaged around $30/hour for their work, Laura and I decided to renegotiate prices once again and they will now be 3 cents per bloom.  It adds up quickly!

Our efforts have paid off there are dramatically fewer thistles in our pastures then there were just a few years back -- and not one drop of chemical used -- just quite a bit of sweat :)



Season of Learning

One of the things that farmers end up doing a lot of in the winter is focusing on their learning.  Many types of farming are less intensively demanding during the winter.  Raising pasture raised livestock tends to not give as much relief in the winter, as say, a carrot farmer.  However, it is a different type of work and does give more time to focus on learning.  Not by chance, this is also when a lot of conferences are held.  This year I (Jeff) went to a great farming conference in Iowa put on by the Practical Farmers of Iowa. They are an incredible organization of a few thousand conservation and forward thinking farmers,  They are diverse in their methods and specifics -- but together in their beliefs that farming can be a regenerative and restorative practice rather than one that simply takes from the land.  

I attended an in-depth two day class on scaling up pastured poultry production and then attended several shorter sessions ranging from good financial record keeping on the farm, raising cover crops for grazing animals, and how to build relationships with landowners for leasing land.   All of these sessions provided me with nuggets of information, that will ultimately lead to our farm running more sustainably and profitably in the future.

One of my favorite aspects of the conference was a very strange phenomenon that happened.  I was suddenly surrounded by hundreds of other crazy people.  Every single one of us at the conference was used to being the weird guy in the county that farms strangely.  Suddenly, all these weird farmers were in the same building together and it was a great feeling.  It made for many conversations that happened in-between sessions.  These in-between personal conversations were often as informative as listening to the experts that were the official speakers.

I sure wish Kansas had a similar organization to the Practical Farmers of Iowa.  All of our farming organizations, even small and beginning farmer organizations are very big-ag centric and have very little relation to our burgeoning, but small in scale farm.  



Fall Tour

It is time for our annual Fall tour!  In past years, it has been our most well-attended tour of the year.  

The tour will be Sunday, November 20 at 1:00pm.  This is a complimentary tour.

We will take a narrated hayride tour of the entire farm, stopping to see all of the animals as we discuss and educate on the hows and whys of raising our animals in natural environments on the farm.  

You'll get to see cattle and calves, our beautiful heritage breed turkeys, our pasture raised pigs and piglets, our layer flock of chickens and our pasture raised meat birds. 

RSVP's will be very important so we can plan to a proper number of tractors and hay bale seats to have ready.  Just send us an email to let us know you are coming or you can log-in to facebook and RSVP on our event page.  



Who said this would be easy?

Farming is the life for us...but it's not always an easy life.  We’ve had a rough string of luck this month with several things happening that have caused hardship on the farm.  Farming isn’t about avoiding bad luck -- it's about adjusting and adapting to the situations that come as a result.  

The most notable of our recent trials was our herd bull, Winchester, fell in what appears to have been a freakish accident.  In his fall, he caused nerve damage in his back that made him unable to stand.  Laura was the first to notice while doing some morning chores.  At first glance, it looked as if Winchester was just laying down, happily chewing his cud.  However, when she and our girls got closer they could tell something wasn’t right.  His back feet were spread out behind him like Superman -- except he wasn’t flying.  Laura knew right away this was serious and got to work to try and help.  She knew that when cattle are laying down an in awkward position it can make it difficult for them to get up because of their extreme weight.  This same extreme weight can make it very difficult to help him out -- you cannot just grab onto his backside and heave-ho.  Laura enlisted local help -- a veteran farmer neighbor and the ever-present and always-willing-to-help Grandpa.

Together, Laura, the girls, Grandpa and the neighbor worked nearly all day using tractors, straps and pure muscle along with a lot of ingenuity working to get Winchester lifted and his legs back facing the right direction.  Then, after getting his legs back in the right direction, they worked for several more hours working with his muscles trying to limber them up enough that they would work.  However, during the work, it became apparent that something more serious was going on and after consulting with our vet determined that Winchester would never stand again -- he no longer could move or feel his legs.  Although he was in no pain and was perfectly happy except for his legs, he would not continue to thrive without being able to stand.   The next decision to make was how to most respectfully end Winchester’s life.  It is our belief that the greatest respect given to the animals on our farm is to ensure after living a happy and meaningful life on their farm that their death is equally meaningful.  This means that we utilize them as nutrient dense food.  

The problem with this plan is that in the United States, the law at an inspected butcher is that the animals must be able to walk onto the kill floor under its own power.  This is a reaction to the mad cow scare of the late 90’s.  However, Mad Cow disease is not even a possibility for a cow fed a 100% grass diet like ours.  However, the law does not distinguish between grass fed cattle and industrially raised cattle.  We were very disappointed that we would not be able to use the meat.  But then, after many, many phone calls, Laura found a relatively local Butcher that was willing to do the butchering if we brought Winchester to him.  The reason he was able to do this was because he was a Custom butcher and the meat would not be able to sell to retail by the cut.  They have different laws to follow and therefore would be able to butcher Winchester, even though he could not stand up on his own.

We were VERY glad to be able to have honored Winchester’s life by ensuring that his death would be with great purpose and look forward to all the nutritious meat he will provide for our family.


Heat on the Farm

So what does the heat look like on the farm?  

These cows took an unofficial field trip to the creek one particularly hot day this week - we let them stay for the rest of the afternoon until sending them back in the evening.  

Heat can be dangerous for the animals, deadly for the plants and uncomfortable for the farmers -- but in the end, we just all trudge on.  The animals are naturally well-suited for the heat and only need basic needs met and they will do fine when allowed to flourish in natural environments.
All animals need some relief from the direct sun and they need a constant supply to water.  Each of our animals has certain challenges when it comes to giving them these things.  For instance, pigs have shade in their paddocks, but also need a wallow to be in when it gets really hot because they don't sweat, so even in the shade, they can overheat without the evaporative help of sweat-imitating mud on their skin.  Cattle need a new shade place every day.  They tend to congregate tightly in the shady areas and they become unsanitary very quickly.  Giving them new fresh pasture every day means they never rest in the same contaminated spots as they did the day before.  It also means we have to design each day's pasture with ample access to shade.  The chickens and turkeys on the farm also don't sweat so we try to keep them with shade and they also do best with a good breeze so we try to ensure that their pens are set so the breeze is blowing through.

The farmers are less adaptable.  We change our routines, but end up having to be outside more in the heat because the animals need more frequent moves, larger paddocks, and frequent water checks.  We do afternoon chores a little later in the afternoon since the animals do best if just allowed to rest until early evening when they begin to stir, looking for food and fresh forage.  Living in a house that does not have AC also dictates our schedules.  The house will hold on to the coolness of the evening before until late morning, usually not reaching 90 degrees inside until 11am or so.  Then it's a toss-up whether it's more comfortable to work inside or outside, and it just depends on the agenda for the day.  By about 4-5 pmthe heat has continued to rise inside even though it has begun to cool outside and this is where everyone flees the house for the coolness of the outdoors.  It is always cooler outside in the evenings and most meals and evening entertainment are outside.   Sometimes coming inside for bedtime is a bit of an excruciating thought.  

However, the heat never lasts forever and as Monday showed us, one good thing about a stretch of 95+ days is that suddenly 89 degree days seem like paradise.  

Synergistic Acres - 21733 Iliff Rd, Parker, KS 66072 - 913-735-4769
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