Winter 2018

February 4, 2018

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Winter 2018, mild, mostly frozen, animals and people doing well.  Above is one of the hogs exploring, and below are some of the cattle resting on their bedding pack, with hogs exploring at the left of the frame.

I wrote that last week.  Winter has decided to come back hard in February, with below zero wind chills and several inches of snow last night, February 3rd.

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Thank you to everyone who has purchased meat, or boxes, or halves, this winter.  Your business is appreciated.

I added several new products, (Brats-links and patties, Breakfast sausage patties, Cottage Bacon, Canadian Bacon, Ham Hocks).

I also tweaked the Classic Pork boxes.  Check them out and let me know if something interests you.

 

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I am farrowing several litters in one of the hoop barns with farrowing huts.  The sows get to choose which hut to farrow in, and also make their own nest inside the huts.

When it is this cold, I never have any trouble with a sow choosing to farrow outside of a hut, which can be a problem in the warmer months of the year.

I haven’t lost many piglets, even though its been colder than I would prefer, (below 20 F).

Except for one very big Landrace sow who chose to carry way too much bedding into her hut and farrowed on a very cold night.  All her piglets died.  My theory is whereas the other sows made a nest with at least a little room for the piglets to nurse, see photo below, this sow was so big with so much bedding, the piglets were simply unable to start nursing due to lack of room.

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Denizens of the Night

January 20, 2018

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The idyllic farm of daytime turns into the stuff of nightmares when the sun goes down.  If you are a chicken who missed your farmer’s shutting of the door, you’ll have to search for a safe roost to spend the night.  But beware, some of these creatures climb.

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I noticed a deer carcass, so I put up a trail cam and captured these images one night last week.

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What’s interesting is the times recorded on the trail cam.  It looks like the raccoon came out early in the evening and the coyote stayed until after daybreak.

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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.