Entries in Jeff (104)

Friday
Nov182016

Leasing land for our cattle

It has been an exceptionally beautiful fall, full of nice weather and adequate rainfall. This had made our pastures look especially good as they begin preparations to head into winter.  We want a nice, healthy stand of thick grass going into winter because that ensures we have great grass coming into Spring.  

One of the ways we ensure this is making sure all our pastures get the rest they need to recover from their previous grazing.  In our rotational grazing system, the ground has a high degree of impact for a very short amount of time.  For cattle, this means they are only on any one particular piece of land for one day before being moved to the next pasture.  After one day of heavy impact, the ground then recovers for anywhere from 30 - 180 days before once again having one day of impact.  This form of grazing mimics nature and how grasslands were created with the gigantic herds of migrating bison.   They would come through an area, eat it down and plow it up with their hooves - but then move on.  This periodic disturbance followed by time to rest creates robust and healthy ecosystems.  

As our cattle herd continues to grow every year, we have begun utilizing pastures around us.  It has been so good to find pastures around us that have been untreated and unused for many years and begin to heal them simply with the power of naturally managed grazing.  We can then lease this land from our neighbors -- giving previously unused land some real value for land they were not utilizing.  There is a fair amount of work involved in moving cattle around to these different pastures, however.    Today was one of those days.  We needed to gather all of the cattle which were in one pasture about 10 miles away, load them in a trailer and then move them to a new pasture that is directly across the road from our farm.  

To gather the cattle, first, we have to construct a temporary corral.  



This is where lots of great pictures would go of the rest of the process.  But...as often happens, once the work actually starts, I don't have the presence of mind to pull out my camera.  

So - I'll be brief in my wordy description.  After we put these panels together into a corral, we then bring the cattle into the corral, back the trailer up to the corral and coax the cattle to enter the trailer in an orderly fashion.  Sometimes they go in really easily, other times they require lots of patience and persuasion.  Our trailer can hold 10 - 12 cattle -- so it takes a few loads to transport the whole herd.  Moving the cattle is usually an all-day affair and today was no different.

The land they are grazing on now has not been grazed or used for anything for several years.  Previously it was CRP grass.  CRP is a government program that pays landowners money to allow land to stay fallow for several years.  This program is losing popularity and most farms, like our neighbors, are no longer part of the program.  They now have land that has been essentially not touched for the last 10 years.  I am very excited to see how it reacts to some grazing.  The grass there will be nutritious and delicious for the cattle.  Our plan is they will be on this pasture for several weeks before moving across the street back to our home farm.  Once back on our farm, we will need to start feeding hay as winter will be in full swing.  

Leasing neighbors land and turning into rich, productive, healthy organically managed pastures is just one way your support as a customer is slowly changing the world acre by acre.  By choosing to spend your food dollars on agriculture that supports the world you want your children to grow up in, you are radically affecting the future in a way much more effective and profound than any other form of radical protest.   

Thursday
Oct272016

Eggs are still in season!

This time of year, people familiar with pasture raised eggs really begin savoring each and every colorful shell they can bring home.  That's because eggs are a seasonal item.  A hen has a natural cycle to her egg laying and during the winter her body begins a molt where she will lose most of her feathers and replace those feathers with new ones.   While the molt is going on, the hen's body naturally redirects all resources into growing new feathers, and not into producing eggs.

This annual cycle is surprisingly triggered by the light.  As soon as the light dips below 12 hours, egg production takes a nosedive.  There are however many factors that influence that.  One big influence is the age of the hen.  A younger hen will often wait longer to go into a molt and will finish faster.  

This is what is helping our hens to continue producing so strongly.  It has been very nice to come inside with   egg baskets literally spilling over with eggs - in October!

Although we feel very fortunate, we know so eggs numbers will drop quickly and we will be back to having to ration out a small supply of eggs amongst a huge demand.  In the meantime, enjoy an extra egg in your omelet or buy an extra dozen in the next week or so to store for later when there may not be any eggs available.

Thursday
Oct132016

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.

Tuesday
Aug092016

GOOD FENCES -- MAKE FOR HAPPY FARMERS


I almost guarantee your initial reaction to this post in the ground is not nearly as impressed as you should be when you knew the dozens of hours spent digging one hole for it to go into.


The focus this week on the farm was building some new fencing on the farm   When we bought the property it had barely adequate perimeter fencing around the property that we have continued to use with only minimal repairs.  However, almost immediately, we saw the usefulness of some strategic interior fencing on the farm that would help us divide the farm up.  We made plans, discussed them, revised them and planned some more.  After five years, we were ready to build some of the fencings.  Every day this week, long hours were spent by Dad and I digging fence posts for the new fencing.

We have settled on high tensile fencing.  A relatively new type of fencing that uses smooth wire made from very high strength steel. It is similar to the typical barb wire fences you see but does not have the sharp barbs and because it is made with much stronger steel that is pulled very tightly -- it needs far fewer poles.  However, the poles that are there, must be particularly strong.

Like many projects -- the first step has taken 80% of the time and the subsequent steps of putting the actual wire up will happen relatively quickly.  The first step was setting the posts on either end, called the braces.  They consist of two holes 8-10 feet apart with a horizontal cross-member in between.  It takes a brace at the beginning and end of each side of the fence to be strong enough to resist the pulling force of the wire for the next 30 years without ever slipping.  To make these braces secure you must sink the poles in the ground a minimum of 42"  This would be easy in some fields -- in our farm's extremely rock ground it has proven exceptionally difficult.  



We started with an auger on the back of our large 45hp tractor.  It goes down in the ground wonderfully and dug a beautiful 18" hole before it hit solid rock and would go no further.  We (Dad and I) fought with that auger for a day plus and still on our first hole before we decided we needed a bigger tool.  We ended up renting a jackhammer.  This worked fairly well but was still very slow.  Essentially after another entire day of jackhammering, we were done with one entire hole -- down a full 42".  The main problem with the jackhammer is that it is very difficult to jackhammer a 42" hole with a jackhammer that is only 38" tall.  The entire jackhammer is on the ground and your hole has had to become very wide to fit the entire jackhammer into the hole.  Plus, the feats of strength needed to jackhammer below your feet made getting 12 holes dug like this unlikely.  So we again moved up in tool.  


Grandpa working hard as he uses his equipmentpiloting skills to work the rock auger.  


This time, we rented a skid steer with a specially made rock auger.  This did the trick.  Using the weight of the machine and the HP of the auger, we were able to bore through the rock down to our required depth.  It took a couple hours per hole of near constant drilling but we made it to the required depth and I feel very confident that the poles we set in the ground will still be sturdy 30 years from now.


This is the tip of the 250-pound rock bit that can drill straight down through solid rock


This is what a  42" deep hole dug through solid rock looks like. 

Today we strung the first of six wires.  Since every part of buildings high-tensile fence is new to me and I have nobody to look to for advice -- I turn to the modern-day farmer's almanac -- YOUTUBE.  Each new step, I watch a  few videos and then go and try it on my own.  It has worked very well.  You'll have to let us know what you think next time you are down on the farm.


Our oldest daughter helped with setting the wire on the smaller interior line posts.

Tuesday
Aug022016

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.
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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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