Dickies Insulated Bib Overall, Review

February 1, 2014

Dickies Insulated Bib Overalls

Restrictive, but warm!  I normally wear something like the ensemble pictured below.  But when the temps drop below zero F, I throw on these insulated bibs and am able to get my chores done without discomfort.

My Dad is a big fan of insulated coveralls.  He usually puts them on in October and doesn’t take them off until May.  But I’ve found them too restrictive.  I like to move when I’m outside.

That being said, I was too cold when the weather turned brutal.  So when Country Outfitters offered me clothes for free, I jumped at the chance to try these insulated bibs.

And I learned something.  I used to think when my toes and fingers got cold I had a cold toes and fingers problem.  So I would put on a second pair of socks and gloves to combat the problem with limited success.

Now I see when I put on these insulated bibs, it ties everything together and warms up my core.  This warmth radiates to my toes and fingers and I don’t need more socks or gloves.  Amazing!

Winter Farm Clothing


Evergreen Windbreak

January 22, 2014

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I’ve never liked evergreens.  I think it’s because I distrust their green when the rest of the world is white and brown.  Something about their green is off, even in August when this photo was taken.

That being said, I planted this small windbreak late last summer when they were purchased for the corner of our yard.  I read the tags before planting and realized they need more space.  So I recommisoned them for a small windbreak in the pasture.

Fast-forward to now and we’ve been experiencing one of the worst winters in memory, with arctic blasts of wind dropping the windchill well below zero for days.  I feel more exposed on top of this hill and am thinking I need more windbreaks.  So I ordered 25 Colorada Blue Spruce from our county agency and may double or triple the order before this winter is through.


Farm Nightmares

January 1, 2014

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Scientists think dreaming is a way for our brain to process fears and move on to make room for new threats.  This theory makes sense to me because of the way my nightmares have evolved over time.

School nightmares started early in life and lasted until I was in my thirties.  Having two stepsons has resulted in some nightmares concerned with their safety.  I also have farm nightmares, but these have changed as my style of farming has changed.

I used to have nightmares about animals in confinement.  A pen of pigs or chickens was forgotten for weeks, only to be remembered with panic, hoping they still had feed and water.

But now as more of my animals are on pasture more of the year, my dreams usually involve them escaping.  This is not unfounded as I once had cattle that ended up on the highway more than a mile away.  Hence, the gates you see in the photo above are closed every night, helping me sleep better.

The latest nightmare I had was interesting because it combined animals escaping and my stepsons.  I was checking the cattle in the rented pasture with my stepsons.  Much to my surprise, my breeding hogs had escaped into this pasture.  I started looking closer and found a couple of wild boars in with my sows.  This was not good, but then an elephant squealed and walked into view.  To my credit I didn’t panic, but calmly told the boys to check out the elephant.


Outdoor Farrowing, 2013 Summary

December 4, 2013

I had great expectations to improve over 2012′s average weaned per litter of 7.8 piglets.  8 piglets weaned per litter isn’t much of an improvement, but I’ll take it, especially considering the way 2013 farrowing started in a blizzard.  But an average of 8 doesn’t tell the full story as this is a tale of two seasons, difficult spring and easy summer.

2012 was difficult because we started farrowing in January in a hoop barn and lost several piglets when the temperature dropped below zero F.  I thought I could avoid that problem in 2013 by waiting until March to start farrowing.  March 2012 was 80 F and dry, a bad precursor to the drought which would follow, but ideal weather for farrowing.  March 2013 was the opposite, cold and wet, snow, rain, plummeting temps.

I had an idea about how much bedding would be needed in each farrowing hut.  Boy was I wrong.  I didn’t think about the ground under the hut being frozen, so it was extremely cold for the pigs and when the body heat of the sow warmed the ground it became wet.  The first two sows farrowed and 17 of the first 22 piglets froze.  I felt desperate and depressed.

Well, I remembered what Professor Freeman taught me.  Environmental factors are greater for plants than animals for a simple reason: animals can move, animals can modify their environment.  I knew the sows’ instinct to save their piglets was strong, I just needed to give them a chance.

So I started buying truckloads of wood shavings.  I had them slide whole pallets of bagged wood shavings into the back of  my trailer.  I trudged through the snow with a bag on my shoulder and started with two bags for each hut to soak up the wet and cold.  And the sows responded, making dry nests for their piglets.

17 spring litters farrowed 193 live piglets for an average of 11.4 per litter.  They weaned 119 piglets, an average of 7 piglets per litter.  So the preweaning mortality was 38.3%.  Considering how badly they started, I considered it a success to save only 2 out of every 3 piglets born alive.

I let the sows have a long lactation and then weaned all the piglets at once.  Since I didn’t have enough boar power to breed 17 sows, I decided to artificially inseminate, AI.  I was successful the previous fall with AI, settling nearly all the sows, which resulted in these spring litters.  But the spring was a different story as  some of the sows had already started cycling and I was busy with spring work, spending not nearly enough time watching for signs of estrus.  I got exactly 0% of the sows settled with AI.

At this point, I think anyone would say I was in a major swine-farming slump.  A beginning farmer may be thinking swine-farming is not for them.  But my years of experience has taught me that perseverance is what is required, and since I’m my own boss no one gets to decide I fail except for me.

Luckily I had some young boars and gilts which could be used for breeding.  So I put the boars in with the gilts and sold the sows as culls.

The gilts farrowed in July, August, and September.  The first gilt had 14 weak piglets with all but 5 dying quickly and I thought, “oh no, my slump continues,” but thankfully, the next litters were strong and healthy.

The weather was warm and dry.  Many of the gilts farrowed in huts, but some picked their own spots in the woods.  I used very little bedding and did very little work.  It was a joy to experience.

15 gilts farrowed 158 live piglets for an average of 10.5 per litter.  They weaned 138 piglets for an average of 9.2 per litter.  The preweaning mortality on this group was only 12.7%.

The final statistics are 32 sows and gilts farrowed 351 live piglets for an average of 11 per litter.  They weaned 257 piglets for an average of 8 piglets per litter.  Preweaning mortality averaged 27%.

I’m modifying again for 2014.  Sows will start farrowing at the end of February.  I plan on putting huts into a bedded hoop barn and farrowing there for the spring litters.  For the summer litters I’ll continue to just stand back and let them do their thing.


Permaculture Guild

November 25, 2013

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A permaculture guild  is a strategic design of organisms benefitting the whole.  Like all the best concepts of permaculture, this mimics the way nature designs.

The photo above shows an abandoned fenceline along Oak Grove Lane.  I started thinking about this fenceline when I noticed the Nannyberry bush, which is in the left of the photo with yellow, red, and green leaves.

It’s a little bit humbling, but I realized if I’m successful with my edible windbreak planting, in fifteen years it will look like this abandoned fenceline. It’s also reassuring to know I’m mimicking nature, which uses space so wisely.

The amount of solar energy turned into food and fodder for everything from microorganisms to birds to humans is amazing.  Just in this photo there is the Nannyberry bush, growing under a Chokecherry tree, which has Wild Grapes hanging from its limbs.  Grasses and forbs cover the ground.  The rest of the life in this area would take a lifetime to catalog.


Fall-Calving, Grass-Finished Beef

November 12, 2013

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Bruce King asks, “why fall  calving?”  The short answer is “serendipity”.  The long answer is the rest of this post.

When I split my farm from my parents’ farm, I had to figure out how I was going to farm and keep the beef and pork markets I had built up with Jordandal Farms supplied.  With a much smaller land base I realized I would need to purchase more of my inputs.  So I started purchasing spring-born feeder steers in October when they were weaned from their moms.

I take the steers through the winter on stored feed, shooting for a pound and a half gain per head per day.  They then go onto the lush spring pastures, gaining three pounds per day in May and June.  I start butchering the biggest steers at the end of June weighing around 1000 lbs.  As the summer pastures fade I start to graze hay fields to keep high-quality feed available at all times.  I continue butchering the biggest steers at a rate of eight per month and they’re all gone by October.

But back to the fall-calving herd.  Even though I realized I needed to buy feeder steers to keep my market supplied, I was a little sad I wouldn’t have any cows or calves.  The breeding through birth process is always fun to experience.

But the fall before our farms split up saw many cows returning to estrus, after the herd bulls had been removed.  This is a bad sign because it means the cows are “open” and will not have a calf the next spring.  We sell almost all of the open cows for beef, as it doesn’t pay to feed a cow for a nonproductive year.

But in a bit of serendipity, the neighbor’s bull jumped the fence and spent a month with our cows.  When the veterinarian pregnancy-checked our cows, sure enough many were open, more than usual.  Some of the cows we considered best in the herd.  I realized some of these cows may be short-bred by the neighbor’s bull, (less than a month and the vet wouldn’t be able to determine).

So I decided to start a fall-calving herd.  I picked out the best cows, ones the vet said were reproductively sound even though they were open.  And I moved them to my farm and borrowed one of my parents’ bulls to breed any cows which weren’t bred by the neighbor’s bull.  The neighbor’s bull was black and he sired the black calves last year.  I had 8 black calves and 4 red ones.

I wasn’t sure where this herd would be, as I didn’t think I had room for them on my farm during the grazing months.  Luckily I was able to rent a neighbor’s wooded pasture from May 1st to November 1st.  After November 1st I bring them home and turn the bull out with them.

I wasn’t sure how the small calves would handle the winter, but last winter they did fine, nursing their mothers and eating some hay.  I weaned the calves from their moms at the end of April.  The weaned calves really took off on the spring pastures.  They spent the summer grazing with the feeder steers.  And now I’ve started butchering them weighing around 1000 lbs.

I think the economics of the fall-born calves is better than purchasing feeder steers, because although the cow and calf eat more hay than a feeder steer, I don’t have to spend the money purchasing the weaned calf.  Furthermore, the cow will have a salvage value at the end of her productive life.

If I didn’t need to keep a consistent supply of beef, and could just sell quarters to customers at one time in the fall, I think I would only have a fall-calving herd and market all the fall-born calves the following November.

What makes both systems economical is taking the animals through only one winter.  Feed is a huge cost in beef production, and the cost of winter feed dwarfs the cost of summer pasture.

The photos were taken recently and show two, fifteen month old fall-born calves above and below, from a different angle.  They weigh about a  thousand lbs and will be butchered in a few weeks.

The top photo also shows one of my fall-calving cows on the right.  She is eight years old and had something wrong with her udder so I took her calf away from her.  She is one of the biggest cows, I’m sure weighing over 1500 lbs.  She also will be butchered soon.

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First Snow, Fall 2013

November 11, 2013

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November 11th, 2013.  Here is another photo of the rye, now at six weeks.  It hasn’t grown much since it was two weeks old.

In the background you can see my fall-calving cows with calves.  I moved them home from the summer pasture and now they’re grazing hay fields on the south side of my farm.  The bull in the photo has been with the cows for a week, which will give us August and September calves next year.


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