Giving Thanks for Turkeys

November 30, 2017

The turkey adventure is almost over, (we have a few frozen ones left).  I’m calling it a success, because we are getting great feedback from our customers, and we received an education.  Turkey-directed learning is underrated!

About six weeks before our processing date at Twin Cities Pack,I decided to call and make sure everything was lined up.  The owner said no, someone called and cancelled our appointment.  I was able to reschedule for the week before Thanksgiving, but this meant that the turkeys would be frozen.   

I was in shock, because I knew that many of our customers expected a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving, and may cancel if we no longer offered that option.  I was depressed for about a half hour, but then I realized that we could still offer fresh turkeys if we processed on-farm, and customers traveled to the farm to pick one up.

I checked with an Amish neighbor who had the necessary poultry processing equipment, and yes we would be able to rent it from him and he would also provide his expertise.  The last poultry I butchered myself was about 20 years ago as a character-building exercise.

So we offered two options: a frozen turkey from a state-inspected facility, or drive to the farm for a home-butchered fresh turkey.  A few people cancelled, but most stayed with each option split about equally.

I took some of the turkeys to Twin Pack and then picked up the birds the next day and delivered to a central point.  It went fine.

Then the Monday before Thanksgiving dawned, and I did my chores quickly and went and picked up Benny, my Amish neighbor, and his poultry processing equipment.  We used a propane tank to heat the water for the scalder.  The plucker ran off of hydraulics.  I used one of my tractors to run that, but had to change one of the ends of the hydraulic lines, no problem.

We set up and began with me doing the killing and scalding, Braden plucking, my Dad and my Uncle Carl doing quality control, and Benny gutting.  Braden also learned how to gut as he took a real interest in the whole process.

I’m not going to kid you, it was gruesome.  A few customers came before I had a chance to clean up.  I’m amazed they didn’t jump in their cars and drive away as I looked like something out of a horror movie, with blood spattering my face and glasses.

But after I had a chance to clean up I felt better and actually enjoyed the rest of the day as I had a chance to visit with many of our customers and even gave short tours to some of them.  It was a great way to end our turkey project, and reminded me why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.


New Partners, Braden and Daniele

October 23, 2017

 

For mid-life reasons I don’t care to discuss, my direct-marketing partners decided to get out of this gig and sell their farm.  It was a good partnership for about nine years and I was sad to see it end.  I wish them the best.

This summer I upped my marketing since Eric wasn’t active in the partnership.  I sold most Saturdays at the West Side Farmer’s Market and I made many restaurant deliveries.  I fully intended to take over the business and buy out my partners’ shares in the LLC.

I guess we should have talked price earlier in the process, as when we finally did, we were so far off it wasn’t even worth negotiating.  I’m glad I didn’t buy them out as I knew I couldn’t do it all on my own, and I wasn’t thrilled to think about managing employees.

So when my disc golfing buddy Braden mentioned one day that he and his significant other, Daniele, would really like to have a small farm someday, and raise chickens and vegetables, the idea germinated that perhaps I could find some new partners.

I’ve been reading and rereading the Joel Salatin books on business and marketing.  He says that if you are in your 40s or older and there is no one younger in your business, your business is dying, or something to that effect.

So I approached Braden and Daniele about partnering with me.  I could give them access to land and a market and a few years experience which I hope has been distilled into wisdom.  They could give me youthful energy and help marketing.  Each offer other skills as well, (Braden is an electrician.  Daniele is an elementary teacher).

To their credit, it took them a week to get back to me.  Because I feel a bit like Tom Sawyer as this opportunity I’m presenting them, to quote Thomas Edison, is “dressed in overalls and looks like work!”  But that’s what most opportunities look like, and I think by the end of the first year they will at least know if this is still a dream worth pursuing for them.

The first thing we did as partners was to go to my old partners’ farm sale.  We ended up making a bulky purchase of chicken crates, which we will need if Braden raises broiler chickens as he plans.  After we made the buy we had to figure out how to get the crates home as we only drove a truck to the sale.   I said I would go back to my farm and get my cattle trailer.  They could stay at the sale and bid on a couple more items we were interested in.

When I returned, the sale was over.  By myself I would have been stressed gathering up all the purchases and loading and unloading the trailer.  But they already had our purchases gathered in one spot.  We loaded quickly, drove back to the farm, and unloaded quickly.  I understood what Joel meant by youthful energy.

I like to strike when the iron is hot, and even though I am not ready to sell meat under our new name as we don’t have labels, etc.  I thought it would be good to check out our spot at the Dane County Farmer’s Market at the capital.

We could have just drove up and walked around, but we got on the ball and gathered up some fall decorations to sell.  Daniele made a sign and business cards.  Our stuff didn’t sell very well, but we made some more contacts for Thanksgiving turkeys and started getting our new name out there.

Even though it was a long day with an early start, Braden and Daniele seem as enthused as ever.  I plan to document this partnership with this blog and video, the new medium I’m exploring.  I made a slide show of our first market.

 

 

 


Turkey Update, 1st Youtube Video!

October 11, 2017

 

The turkeys are a great addition.  An earlier post described my movable pen and cattle trailer which I used to lock them up at night and avoid predation.  They quickly outgrew that idea.

So I put them in our old dairy barn and left them locked in for a couple of days to acclimate them to that space as home.  Then I opened the door and watched.

 

They are avid foragers of greens and insects, roaming now at nine weeks over approximately ten acres.  Oddly, they are attracted to humans and vehicles and really anything novel.

They started a bad habit of coming up on the back porch and lounging, especially if people were sitting there.  They weren’t bothersome, except for the prodigious quantities of excrement they produce.

So I made a hillbilly decision and put a fence around my back porch.  The turkeys are free-range, but the farmer is confined!

 


Annual Pollinator Mix, Black-Eyed Susan

September 21, 2017

 

I am singing the praises again of the Annual Pollinator Mix from Lacrosse Seeds.  If you want a splash of color in your annual pig pastures, this is a practical way to do it.

I also experimented with a perennial prairie planting, which is considerably more expensive.  I purchased a pound of the Native Pollinator Mix for about $200 and have yet to see any of those plants flower.

Wanting to see quicker results, I picked up a couple pounds of Little Bluestem and Black-eyed Susan from Agrecol Seeds in Evansville, Wisconsin.  The Black-eyed Susan did well, pictured below.

I’ve mowed the weeds in my prairie a few times this summer and am excited to see what grows there next year.  My interest is growing in all the different native pollinators.

Everyone talks about the plight of the European Honeybee, which isn’t even native to North America, but I care about everybody else.  For example, how about this fella on the Black-eyed Susan.  I can’t even figure out what he is, but he’s cute.  He’s fat and orange.  He is what I imagine Cupid would look like if he was an insect.

 


Turkeys!

September 2, 2017

Baby Turkeys!  Other than watching a chicken raise a wild turkey, this is my first experience with turkeys.  They seem to be more curious than chickens, even coming towards me and out the door of the brooder house.

I drove to Abendroth’s Hatchery, near Waterloo Wisconsin, to pick up the poults on Tuesday.  They were very lively, peeping nonstop in my car until I was nearly crazy.

I was told by the owner of Abendroth’s that turkey poults need it very warm, 95-100 F.  If its not warm enough, turkey poults don’t huddle up like chicks, but don’t eat, and start dying by about day three.

I put a third heat lamp and 250 watt bulb in my brooder house and only lost one poult the second day.  By day ten I had made a pen and was turning them out in the yard.  And by day seventeen I had moved them to an old cattle trailer without heat, which I plan to move around the farm to give them fresh paddocks to graze.

My secret weapon, which you may not be able to see unless you click and enlarge the photo is the raccoon fence I put around everything to keep all the critters at a respectful distance.  I have a tighter mesh metal fence inside that to keep the turkeys in.

I have no protection for aerial predators, and have noticed more birds of prey flying around, but don’t believe I’ve lost any to predation.  My partners were having trouble in previous years with owls taking chicks at night, so I’ve been locking the poults in the trailer at night.

One night an owl woke me up hooting in the tree which is only a few feet outside my window.  So they are around.  One morning several years ago I was out early before sunrise and a Great Horned Owl scared the shit out of me as it coasted above my head landing in the same tree.

If you are in the area and would like to visit, let me know.  We are farrowing and calving right now.  The turkeys are a fun addition and won’t be little for long.


Disc Golf

August 29, 2017

 

 

August, 2014, driving into Darlington, my hometown. “Are those disc golf baskets?” I exclaimed. Yes, disc golf had come to Darlington, with 9 baskets placed around the perimeter of swimming pool park.

I was excited. About fifteen years ago I had taken up the sport when a friend introduced me to it. I bought a couple of discs and enjoyed playing at Platteville. I seemed to have a natural affinity for the sport as I have always loved throwing frisbees.

When Doug moved to Vermont, I quit playing and didn’t think about the sport much. But when I saw the baskets in Darlington I was eager to give it a try again.

I found a great group of guys who played a doubles league on Sundays and I could hold my own. The Halloween doubles tournament arrived and I showed up even though I had no partner. I was partnered with a pretty good player from Madison and we managed to tie for third place. ‘I’m pretty good at this,’ I thought.

So I joined the PDGA and signed up for my first sanctioned tournament in 2015.  I wasn’t sure which division to sign up for so I signed up for Pro Masters.  I played as well as I could at the time, but finished last.

Undeterred, I continued to practice.  At another tournament I learned that Madison would be hosting Amateur worlds in 2016, but you needed a certain number of points to qualify.  You receive points for every competitor you beat.

So I started playing in a lower division to get more points, and managed to win my first tournament in a thrilling comeback.  Now I was really hooked.

The next year Worlds at Madison was a great experience with competitors from all around the world.  I finished 53rd out of 71 competitors in the Advanced Masters division, (40-49 years of age).    Not as good as I hoped, but I continued to practice.  I won two more tournaments in 2016.

This year I wasn’t sure if I would take the time to play Worlds.  But it was located in the Quad Cities of Iowa and Illinois, only 2 and a half hours from my home.  So I decided to play and finished about the same as last year, 58th out of 76 competitors.  Another great experience, though.

This was where these photos were taken.  At the top is me, driving, or throwing off the tee.  The bottom photo is me putting.  You can tell I take it seriously, but so does everyone else who play at this level.

It looks like my disc golf career is going to have to slow as I am taking a more active role in the marketing of Jordandal farms meat.  I’ve been selling most Saturdays at the Westside Farmers Market in Madison.  Most tournaments are on Saturdays, some on Sundays, but even the Sunday tournaments will be difficult as the Farmers Market is more taxing than most would guess unless you’ve experienced it.


Outdoor Swine Genetics, Part 2

July 19, 2017

 

My livestock breeding philosophy is simple in theory and difficult in practice.  It can be summed up in two words: Problem-Free.  Problem-free livestock are under-appreciated and difficult to observe.  It often requires a problem to present itself before you can fully appreciate the absence of the problem.

The good thing about my 40 plus years experience in the livestock industry is the amount of problems I have observed and worked through.  And I always choose to work through problems as that is the way I was taught by my parents and makes the most sense.  I’ve never succumbed to the siren call of all-new breeding stock as common sense tells me I’ll just be trading known problems in my own stock for the unknown and possibly worse problems in the new stock.  Because all stock has problems, its just that very few problems are visible with one viewing.

I have had very good luck with herd health by practicing a modified closed system with breeding stock.  Meaning I never bring in animals from an outside herd, but I get new genetics through purchased boar semen.  There are some diseases that can be transmitted through semen, but the reputable boar studs regularly test the studs for those diseases.

I would practice a completely closed system if I could figure out a way I wouldn’t be losing too much efficiency from inbreeding depression.  Inbreeding depression is the tendency for animals that are inbred to perform worse than the average of their parents.  Conversely, crossbreeding results in hybrid vigor, which is the tendency for crossbred animals to perform better than the average of their parents.

However, I’m not afraid of linebreeding.  A fun definition for linebreeding is that it is successful inbreeding.  Practical examples of inbreeding and linebreeding in my mind are: a brother/sister mating is inbreeding, a first cousin mating is linebreeding.  This is just my own way of looking at it.  A geneticist will tell you that all linebreeding is technically inbreeding.

A geneticist can analyze the full pedigree of an animal and calculate the inbreeding coefficient, which is the probability that any one pair of genes is identical.  So it is expressed from 0 to 1.  For example, a full brother/sister mating if the parents of the siblings were completely unrelated, would have an inbreeding coefficient of .5, meaning there is a 50% likelihood that any pair of genes is identical.

So along with a modified closed herd, I practice my own unusual combination of crossbreeding and linebreeding.  I guess my curiosity makes me want to sample different genetics to see what I may be missing, but my practical side makes me want to not change my herd too rapidly, especially if I have no perceived problems.

What does this look like in practice?  The boar in the top photo is Drew, his paternal grandsire was Dru, terminal line semen from SGI.  Everyone knows what maternal is, but in livestock breeding we use the phrase terminal when we want to ignore the maternal side and concentrate on the meat traits.  Obviously no line is completely terminal or their would be no reproduction.

So I kept no gilts from the offspring of the Dru semen.  I did however keep a few boars.  The litters were born in the blizzard of March, 2013 when I was having a difficult time keeping the piglets from freezing.  Drew’s sire was one of three piglets which survived out of a litter of 12.  He looked good and I figured I had inadvertently selected for piglet survivability.  So I kept him as a boar and he turned out to be a great sire of robust, meaty piglets.

Drew’s maternal grandsire was the Landrace, True Blue semen I wrote about in my last post.  True Blue sired two litters, 30 and 31.  I kept about four gilts out of each litter and they’ve been excellent mothers, with the 31 litter gilts a little more to my liking phenotypically.

So I planned and kept four boars out of one of the 31 litter sows.  I sold a couple of boars to a local producer and I kept a couple and they were breeding fine.  A competitor at my farmers’ market called and said he really needed a working  boar.  Some people are very competitive at farmers markets, but I prefer to be collaborative as I feel our real competition is Walmart and the whole idea that cheap food is good.  So I sold him one of the boars.  I guess those genetics will be well represented in the pork at the Madison farmers markets.

How I linebreed:  I really like the 31 litter sows.  I have a planned mating with my favorite with Duroc semen, a Waldo boar called Red Zone.  I asked SGI for their most maternal Duroc and he’s what they gave me.  I plan on keeping all the boars from that litter and possibly adding a couple as sires.

I have another mating with various sows, some of which are the 31 litter sows, AId to a Chester White boar, Mr. Longevity.  I wanted to sample the Chester White as it is an American heritage breed.  I plan to keep gilts out of these litters if they meet my standards.

If all goes as planned I will be mating the Red Zone sons with the Mr. Longevity daughters, some of which will be a first cousin mating if each of their respective moms is a 31 litter sow as the 31 litter sows are full sisters of course.  This is as tight of linebreeding as I like to practice.

And while I will be evaluating the new genetics, which could still become a terminal line in my herd if I don’t like their performance, I’m also evaluating and looking for any genetic problems which are more likely to show up in the offspring of this first cousin mating.  Because even at this point I can choose to make the 31 litter a terminal line.

Larry, the boar in the photo below, represents my established genetics.  I am really happy with how these hogs perform, mostly because they are problem-free.  I have to keep reminding myself of this, though.  Because as geneticists we are taught to always be selecting and moving the genotype in some direction.

Well, I gave myself permission to stop thinking like a geneticist, and start thinking like a busy farmer who direct-markets meat on Saturdays and plays disc golf on Sundays.  I select animals for breeding within this herd based on what I like to look at, mostly interesting color patterns.  This has been one of the most difficult admissions I’ve made on this blog as my old geneticist buddies would be laughing or crying if they read this, but they know me, so they probably wouldn’t be surprised!

For a good example, Larry was selected because I missed a boar piglet when I was castrating litters.  I usually castrate at a couple days of age.  By the time I saw him, he was weaning age, and he looked pretty good, and he has this interesting brindle color pattern, and I realized I could use a boar about the time he would come of age…   Well Larry has been terrific, a good breeder, sires great pigs, and I’ll be keeping his first daughters back as breeders soon.

This concludes my two parter on Swine Genetics.  I hope its comprehensible for any of you who made it all they way through.  Any questions or comments as always welcome.