Annual Pollinator Mix, 4 Week Update

May 16, 2015

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It’s doing well.  Click on the picture for a larger image.  Most of what you see is the oat cover crop, but I’m happy to see many of the different flowering forbs up and growing as well.

In the background you can see the cattle.  I turned them into the first of many hay fields to graze.  They are loving the tall orchard grass and alfalfa, as they had been grazing their permanent pasture for a month.


Annual Pollinator Mix, Planned Pig Pasture

April 23, 2015

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I was wondering what to plant for my annual pig pasture when I stumbled across an Annual Pollinator Mix on the Lacrosse Forages blog.  I ordered it from my local supplier, and with some delays, finally planted it April 16th.

The Annual Pollinator Mix contains eight different flowering plants with many of them legumes.  Its supposed to improve the soil and benefit pollinators.  My thought is it would make a decent pig pasture as well.  I also planted two bushels of Jerry oats per acre.

The Jerry oats cost $8.20 per bushel, so at two bushels per acre the cost for the oats is $16.40 per acre.  The Annual Pollinator Mix cost $181 per 50 lb bag.  I planted 18 lbs per acre so the cost for the Annual Pollinator Mix is $65 per acre.  I actually hadn’t figured out the cost until now, and its pricier than I expected.  It better be pretty!

I came across a short Ted talk and video by Louie Schwartzberg about pollinators.  Its really good, and did I mention its short?

I’ll keep you updated as the pasture progresses.


Farrowing in Huts in Hoop Barn: Update

March 31, 2015

I started farrowing my spring group in early March.  I’m using the same farrowing setup in the same hoop barn which I wrote about in my previous post.  All I did was clean the manure out of the middle of the hoop barn, leaving the huts where they sat.  As pigs generally don’t manure where they sleep, there was only bedding inside the huts and that is working fine.

It doesn’t look like this group will average quite as well though, and I’ll tell you why.  It’s gotten too warm.  Today was in the 60s F.  Instead of cold air keeping each litter in its own hut for a week to 10 days, the mama sows are calling their piglets out of the huts at just a few days old.  The older litters are then robbing some of the milk from the younger litters and I fear it may starve some of the younger piglets.

I had debated about whether I wanted to farrow in a hoop again, or place the huts out in the field.  Well I’m glad I’ve kept them in the hut because we have still been having snowstorms and been dealing with mud. This group is almost finished.  The May group will farrow out on pasture for sure.


Late Fall Farrowing in Hoop Barn

February 26, 2015

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A farming couple from Wisconsin has been emailing questions about farrowing in hoop barns. I’ve been answering their questions, but I realized I haven’t posted a summary of my latest farrowing iteration.
These photos show the way the hoop barn was set up for the late November, early December litters. They did very well. Almost all of them chose a hut to farrow in, and with no outstandingly bad litters, they managed to wean a 9 average, which I am very happy with.

The 18 feet at the south end of my hoop barns is concrete on which the waterer and feeders are situated.  The remaining 66 feet is bare dirt, covered with sand, then deep straw bedding.  I positioned 6 farrowing huts along each side and probably could have fit 7, but I took up some space with large straw bales positioned on each side so that I would have slices I could use to add a little fresh bedding as needed.  You can see some of the slices positioned on top of some of the huts.

I split the south end with wire panels at the waterer, so that my gestating sows could come into the building to drink, but would be separated from the lactating sows and piglets.  Thawed water is a problem in a Wisconsin winter, so any place that has a heated waterer is valuable.  Click on the photo above to see more detail.  The girl in the photos is a friend of the family.  We were walking the goats, hence the funny looking animal in the background.

 

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I had a couple of problems, but was very lucky as one problem ended up solving the other.  You can see the piglets are very similar in size.  This is because the sows were artificially inseminated with semen back in July.  I had a very high success rate, but didn’t want to rebreed the sows with artificial insemination in January, as I don’t have a heated barn to work in, and fear the cold would kill the semen before it even had a chance.

I am a little short on boar power, having only Taiphan, the Duroc.  If I weaned all the sows at once, which is what I planned to do, most of the sows would come into heat at about the same time and Taiphan would be overworked, probably not settling even half of the sows.

But as the sows were six weeks or so into their lactations, some of them started to return to estrus.  Taiphan could smell that, and wasn’t about to let a little wire panel stop him from doing his job.  So somehow he pushed and bent and jumped over the wire panel, breeding the sow in heat.  You can see Taiphan in the right of the photo.

At first I put my mind to figuring out how to take him back out of the hoop and beef up the wire panel enough to keep him out.  But then I realized that the lactating sows would probably come back to estrus at a rate that Taiphan may be able to keep up with.  All I had to do was be lazy and leave Taiphan in with the lactating sows.

That is just what I did, and for the next couple of weeks he bred the sows as they came back to estrus.  At about eight weeks, I weaned all the piglets, moving them to another hoop building, and Taiphan finished breeding the few sows that had yet to return to estrus.  And I haven’t seen any sows returning to estrus, so he may have all of them bred for spring litters.  As they say, “It’s better to be lucky than good!”


Native Beneficial Insects

January 26, 2015

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The above photo was taken August 10th.  It’s my Native Pollinator Garden which I grew from transplants, planted in June.  Insects were attracted to the garden, with a favorite plant being Hairy Mountain Mint, small white flowers near the top of the photo.

The orange and black beetles, pictured below, blanketed the Mint.  I had never seen this beetle before and I immediately thought, “Oh no, I’ve attracted a new pest.”  Looking back, it’s amazing to see my negative bias.

 

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This winter I picked up a new book from The Xerces Society, “Farming with Native Beneficial Insects“, and in there was a picture of my beetle in the Predatory Insects section.  The Goldenrod Soldier Beetle eats insect larvae and eggs, aphids, and slugs.  The adult Soldier Beetle needs nectar and pollen to survive, which they were getting from my garden.  My garden was doing exactly what I wanted it to do, but my negative bias kept me from recognizing it.

In the photo below you can see what I think is a Blue Mud Dauber Wasp, which provides size comparison to the Soldier Beetles. I should also say Soldier Beetles are related to Fireflies, which we see plenty of on summer nights.

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The photo below is of some type of Tachina Fly.  I’m amazed to say I’ve also gained an appreciation for flies.  I guess the ability to see insect nature up-close is helping me appreciate it.  I enjoy seeing the megafauna like deer, turkey, bald eagle, but you never get to really examine them unless they are dead.  Most of these insects, however, don’t mind your nose being a foot away.

It’s not all peaceful though.  Much is written about the plight of the Monarch butterfly, probably exaggerated, but I try to leave some Milkweed growing and keep an eye on the Monarch population.  I’m happy to say I’ve seen many Monarch caterpillars, but am sorry to say I haven’t seen any pupate.

I watch the caterpillars daily.  Once you know where they are it’s pretty easy to find them again.  One day I checked a big caterpillar twice, only to find it shriveled to a third of its original size, with a predatory Stink bug in the process of sucking the remaining juices out of it.

Even though I was disappointed the Monarch caterpillar was dead, I left the Stink bug alone.  I realized it’s always a balance, and beyond creating a decent habitat, there is little I should do.

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Shades of Red Livestock

December 27, 2014

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I’ve often thought we need to expand our color vocabulary in the livestock world.  Each of the animals in this photo is red, except maybe the lone piglet which I would non-creatively call tan and white.  The breeds in this photo are predominantly Red Angus for the cattle, and Duroc for the swine.  Each of these breeds can vary from tan to dark red.  But we cattle and swine farmers just stick to “red” when describing all of them.

Horse people are a little more creative: Chestnut, which includes Liver, Sorrel, and Blond;  Bay, which includes Dark Bay, Blood Bay, and Brown;  Champagne; and others I’m sure.  But I’ve always considered Horse people crazy, surpassed only by Dog people.

But writing this has made me realize I’m probably missing out on a marketing opportunity by not creatively describing my animals.  Some Shorthorn breeders have done this by crossing Red Angus with Shorthorn and marketing the resulting crossbred bull as a Durham Red.  When I used to sell a lot of boars, I sold two crossbred lines called the Oak Grove Red and Oak Grove Blue.  That worked really well for me as farmers would alternate Red and Blue boars annually, and it was easy for them to remember.

So I’ve thought myself into a circle.  Livestock farmers, we need more colors for our livestock.  Horse people, I still think you are crazy, but you are right on the money describing the color of your horses!


Thankful for Driftless Grass

November 27, 2014

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This bull is fifteen months old.  He was born August, 2013.  Wintered on his mama’s milk and hay.  Weaned onto spring pastures in May.  Grazed Driftless region pastures and hay fields for  another six months.  And now stands there weighing close to 1300 lbs.  His shrunk, sale barn weight was 1260 lbs, a few days later.

If you are a cattle farmer, the above paragraph may be difficult to believe.  If I heard this story a few years ago, I would have found it difficult to believe, and would have been on the lookout for qualifier words.

Qualifier words are used to hedge a statement.  They give the speaker wiggle room.

An example:  Someone says, “I pretty much exercise every day.”

Some people hear that and think, “Wow, that person exercises a lot!”

I hear the qualifier and break it down into fact and wish.  The fact in this statement is that the speaker does not exercise every day.  A good guess is that the speaker wishes he exercised every day.

I used one qualifying statement in the first paragraph.  Can you find it?

DSCF2064I said he weighed “close to” 1300 lbs.  The fact is he did not weight 1300 lbs, or I had no way to know for sure what he weighed, hence the qualifier.

If I ended the first paragraph on that sentence, it would have neutered the whole paragraph.  It would have been a list of what I did, followed with a guess statistic.  If that was all I had, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to write this post, as I’ve written before about how I manage my fall-calving herd.  But the sale-barn weight, an actual pay-weight, gives heft to the story.

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Standing next to the bull in the middle photo, and in the bottom photo, is a fall-calved steer, similar age as the bull.  The steer did well and weighs around 1100 lbs.  Steers don’t gain as fast as bulls.

I sold most of my fall-calved yearlings, but plan to keep this steer and three others through the winter so we can have beef quicker next spring for our farmer’s markets.  They’ll probably be butchered after a month of good grass in the spring.

Why did we have a yearling bull?  He looked tremendous as a calf, so I sold him to my parents to be used later as a breeder.  They later had second thoughts about the temperament of the genetics from that line, so we sold him.

I was disappointed as I thought he was a tremendous bull, but this blog post is a way to make lemonade, I guess.  We probably wouldn’t have know his true weight if we hadn’t have sold him, which brings us around to the title.  I never cease to be thankful for the richness of the grass in the Driftless region.


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