Entries in Jeff (107)


Say Hello to Elegance

We had a beautiful surprise meet us in the pastures this week.  Meet Elegance -- our newest heifer calf.  She is doing wonderful and has already grown considerably.  This was her mother Angel's first calf and she is being a great mother.  



Somebody say it's hot out there?

Excessive HEAT WARNING -- Avoid outdoor activities*
*unless you are a farmer
Well, it comes every year -- right on schedule. SUMMER. Granted some years, like this summer,  it comes in gentle and warm.  Just enough to let you know meals should be cooked outside and are best enjoyed on the porch.  This summer had the added bonus of wonderful and amazing rain that came in nice digestible portions well spaced out.  Inevitably though -- summer heat ramps up and we have to be prepared.  This last week has definitely required that preparation as the dew point has been in the high 70's to more than 80 degrees almost every day.  For the animals, that high dew point is the real stressor because it makes breathing harder and negates their body's natural abilities to cool themselves.  

It makes me chuckle, just a little bit, when the news reports say it's going to be so hot outside that we should avoid outdoor activities.  There must be an implied asterisk there, that states unless you are a farmer.  When it gets that hot, farmers don't get to take the days off, instead the work is a little harder since the animals need to be taken care of more closely in order to stay healthy and happy. 

Cattle generally do really well in hot weather but prefer to have shade so we try to plan our grazing so they have daily access to shade.  This can be challenging when you use rotational grazing and they get moved to new pastures every single day.  The pastures have to be planned to include a portion of shade for each day.  Cattle also drink more water during the day.  Our cattle that are at a leased property right now need to have water hauled to them.  During hot days -- each full grown cow can drink in excess of 10 gallons of water per day. 

Pigs have the hardest time in heat if not given shade.  Mud is not required but does help tremendously.  SInce pigs don't sweat, the moisture from the mud evaporating can be very cooling.  

Chickens adapt very well to the heat, finding shade as they range around the pastures.  Unfortunately, one of the adaptations also used by chickens in the heat is to not produce as many eggs.  Our chickens have dropped production by about 80%.  We realize many of you are not getting all of the amazing pastured eggs from our ladies that you are used to.  

For all the animals, the key to thriving in the heat is an ample and always available supply of clean drinking water.  We have been very appreciative of the solar powered water system that we installed two years ago.  It ensures there is an almost endless supply of fresh water available to all the animals all the time!



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 :)



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.   


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.

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