Friday, December 23, 2011

Conversations With the Land

The book is here! Consisting of fifty-nine columns collected over about 15 years, it is one hundred sixty four pages long and covers topics like rural people, rural life, farming, agricultural economics and politics. See it soon on the website.(on Carye's art page) The cover photo alone is nearly worth the $15.95 price. Call us at the regular order number, or e-mail at to get your copy. And have a Merry Christmas!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

hunting season

The boys came past in hunter orange today, one to walk the north windbreak from the north toward the yard, the other to start in the west windbreak, then proceed through the grove and walk through to the north windbreak. I don't know if they got a shot off. If they bagged anything, I didn't hear about it.

The old pheasant rooster took off awhile after they had given up, starting from near the yard and angling sharply up past the leafless box elders and cottonwoods, trailing behind him his raspy rusty scream as he cleared the tops of the Austrian pines. Not today, not today, he seemed to be saying. I am sure he was the same one that wintered partly on our yard cleaning up after the sows for some of last winter after the snow covered the entire farm to over a foot deep. Wily old bugger!

We don't have to leave the farm to hunt. That says a lot. Our farming is more generous to the wild things than it used to be. I am not taking up hunting anymore, but am taking real pleasure in noticing our large variety of birds and being able to find unfamiliar plants in the pastures and fencerows that I have to work to identify. Wild things are part of our farm's community.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


The season is winding down now. The cattle are on the cropping acres, cleaning up, the hog buildings have been repaired, well enough we hope. We have manure to haul, a little light tillage if we get the chance and we need to close up our new sow feeding project for us to finish in early winter. Time to relax for just a bit. Actually part of the relief from farming this year is the rush to put final touches on a book of essays we hope to publish by the holidays. We will make it available on the website when we get that far. Meanwhile, enjoy what is left of fall! Stay warm


Monday, October 31, 2011


The mountain of corn stalk bales continues to grow on our hoop site as we haul home and stack some three hundred bales. Due to difficult weather last year we found ourselves short on bedding which is a truly miserable thing for our livestock and us. So maybe we went a little overboard in the other direction this year. I don't think the animals will complain. Lots of bedding is the best way to cope with our old and not so well designed farm buildings.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

General Electric

Jeffrey Immelt, head of General Electric and Obama's new appointment as jobs development know it all was recently heard whining to Lesley Stahl about Americans not cheering on corporations like GE. They should be on our side, he said, like Germans side with their corporations and Japanese prize theirs.

These are, of course, not apples to apples comparisons. German corporations are not building profit margins by outsourcing German jobs. They cannot, as they have significant representation of German labor and the German public on their boards, groups which would not put up with that kind of behavior. German corporations are really nothing at all like American ones. Does Immelt want to change GE over into something like the German design? Because if he did, GE would have all the support it could use from the American people. But until he does, he and the others can expect unrest in the streets, including Wall Street.


Friday, October 7, 2011


This fall we are in the midst of changing our sow housing to make it easier to do the breeding and especially feeding of the sow herd. The end result will be that we will be able to feed each sow the amount of feed she needs individually each day, while observing her health and condition. And best of all, pasture access will be improved so that each of our three sow groups can have regular daily access to the pastures with the cattle throughout the gestation period. In the winter, when grasses aren't available, high quality hay will be available to the sows. It is all part of our effort to improve the condition of the pastures as well as the farm as a whole through increasing our emphasis on perennial plants such as pastures and hay. These crop do not have to be seeded every year and are very protective of the soil during periods of heavy rainfall or hot sun. We are excited about this change and hope to complete work before cold and snow.

Meanwhile also there is hay to be made, corn to harvest and corn stalks to bale for hog house bedding material. As always, October and November are a last hard push before we get to rest a little in winter. And it would be wrong to ignore the beauty that surrounds our efforts as the trees turn brown and gold and the grass fades to a deep quiet green against the tan of the ripening crops. Take care. Keep your eyes and hearts open!


Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Fall always surprises. Maybe you find you don't need the fan to sleep now. Or that it gets dark earlier. Maybe you have to wait for daylight to start work now, or you can see that the plants are not the same kind of green they were.
It came during the state fair this year. The average temps dropped by ten or so degrees and we found it much easier to tie into some of the construction that always waits around here.

Fall appeals to every sense. I always smell late summer in the air in August. It is a weedy ripening kind of smell that I suppose must be difficult for allergy sufferers. The colors fade and deepen. While the grass isn't as green and lush as it was, the cattle gain better on fall grass. The cottonwoods talk in a different language. Cottonwoods are the prairie's gift to those who live away from running water. Their glossy leaves are getting stiffer now and the waterfall noise they make in the wind is louder in fall and carries further. At the time of leaf drop, they will start to rattle in the breeze.

We have frogs this fall. I startle a dozen or so up every time I walk to the cattle for a paddock change. This is new, and pleases us as much as the return of the grassland birds that we began to notice when we seeded the pastures down fifteen years ago. These creatures are our gauges, telling us that we are going in the right direction, or correcting us if we are not.

Today we set up huts in the permanent pasture for a small 14 sow September pasture farrowing. They start in about a week. Looking forward to it.


Monday, July 18, 2011


Success with a small family run farm and business depends on a blending of the strengths of all the people involved. The picture of our andouille sausage on the cover of a recent Minnesota Monthly magazine as part of the general noise surrounding our products in the Twin Cities media goes to the credit of Josh and Cindy, our younger generation. They are the ones finding and creating and testing new recipes since our business started. They found an andouille recipe because they thought there would be a market for it, then modified it, and then needed to adjust it again to fit with a new base mix for our sausage products. They are the ones that try to respond to our customers' concerns about ingredients in our products. They devised the spice mix for our new (a year ago) brat and hot dog products, they worked for several of our early years, together with the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute (AURI), to perfect a no-added-nitrite recipe for our hams and bacon.

This fame simply amazes an old farmer. Hats off to our partners!


Thursday, June 30, 2011

making lemonade

The extremely wet spring and early summer, combined with a somewhat reduced cattle stocking rate resulted in pastures going to seed before we could react. Grasses in full seed are less than palatable to the cattle. We had practiced "long grazing" for the last two years to help our grasses to get better established, but had planned going back to a more normal practice this year. However, nature made up our minds for us.

The wet season also will make for fewer acres of small grains planted in the area, shortening our potential supply of bedding for the hogs and since the corn was all planted very late, it will not do to count heavily on being able to bale cornstalks, which is our other main bedding source. So we have been clipping the pasture paddocks after the cattle finish grazing, and then baling the mature grass stalks and leftover weeds to use as bedding in the hog areas. It is called "making lemonade" and farming involves quite a bit of it! I wish we could figure out a similar fix for the price and availability problems with corn, our main hog feed ingredient. We will just have to see what turns up.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The weather is slow to dry up and warm up this spring, which presents a challenge for our cropping plans, which include getting some corn planted to take the edge off the extremely high corn prices. The pasturing is going well though and as the days get warmer, the grass is beginning to boom. It is a pleasure to walk out there each afternoon to advance and check the cattle. The meadowlarks are everywhere singing. Purple martins are active around the bird boxes. The cattle are losing their rough winter coats and beginning to look sleek and healthy. Next we must patch the fence between the sow winter housing and the pasture so that the breeding herd can join the cattle on the grass. So much to do, so little time! Spring in the country keeps an old man young!


Saturday, May 7, 2011


Today I will collect samples of the commercial soymeal we use to make feed, as well as the commercial corn and also our own organic corn. We have a build up of indications that there is something wrong with the way our hogs are being fed or something in their environment that is making hog production steadily more difficult for us. The animals do not breed satisfactorily, they are not developing a strong immune system, they do not seem to be able to live together in a manner that does not impede growth.

We will send these samples to the lab requesting a micronutrient analysis in addition to the usual feed value measurements. This is being done because Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus at Purdue suspects on the basis of his work that Roundup herbicide and the genetics that allow its use as a broadcast over the top application on our feed crops is interfering with the uptake of micronutrients by breaking down the delicate and complex system of soil life that help plants to absorb these elements. Manganese deficiency is suspected, as well as copper, sulfer, zinc, boron and so forth. To check uptake of these, we will also assay samples of our hog's livers.

Dr Huber is, of course, being critized from within academic agriculture instead of being engaged in discussion and joint research work. The USDA, the "farmer" department cannot be bothered with thoughts such as these as they are entirely too busy releasing Roundup Ready alfalfa which many plant scientists admit will pass that gene around to all the alfalfa cultivars within a few years because of the way alfalfa breeds. As a farmer, I also have doubts about the organic corn seed I use. Judging from the overloaded Roundup Ready bandwagon I see around me, I don't see how it is possible to produce clean seed corn in this country. I suppose I will soon have to pay for that test as well. So much for the much ballyhooed nanny state.

We have plenty of government all right. It just doesn't work for us.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Our friend and long time customer Ginger recommends the book "Tender Grassfed Meats" by Stanley A Fishman. One of his recommendations has to do with marinating steaks in unfiltered olive oil for several hours ahead of cooking. This we have tried, as I pointed out earlier in the blog, and found it an excellent approach to grassfed steaks. It is a good way to prepare lean meats and the healthier fat they carry for the heating process. Give it a try. Better yet, pick up the book. Thank you Ginger!

Spring is slow this year and it is hard to be patient. The cattle gaze longingly at the first blush of green over the pastures and the sows are crabby from being penned up all winter. As soon as we get a few warm days, the pasture season will start and we all will get along better. Until then, be healthy and stay dry!

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I hate airports. When I need to spend time there, as I did waiting for someone to fly in last week, I put myself in the "middle distance" to pass the time without noticing much of anything. Imagine my surprise when CNN, which I never otherwise watch, along with all the rest of the T V entertainment posturing as news, hammered me awake with the information that real questions were being asked in Congress about whether we could afford the attack we were making upon Libya. Congressmen seemed for the first time in recent memory to know how much each missle cost, what the cost was of supporting a bombing run, and so forth.

Now I have supported the idea of an active Congress keeping a watchful and suspicious eye on the warlike proclivities of the executive branch since I watched Senator William Fulbright, Dem-Arkansas (yes, that's right, believe it or not) chair hearings about the conduct of the Vietnam War in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that were anything but complimentary to President Lyndon Johnson, the leader of his own party. I in fact support the idea that since our constitutional division of powers pertaining to war has fallen into such disrepair due to Congressional weakness and Presidential viciousness, we should try to develop the understanding that war will never be undertaken (since we never anymore have anything close to WWII, a "war emergency"), without Congress passing a special tax levy to pay for the estimated cost. Taxes seem to be what most Americans understand the best.

On closer examination, though, the current events in Congress are not a sudden renewal there of an older sense of responsibility, but rather politics as usual. The same party and many of the same players raising the objections to Libya today were in control of Congress and making not a peep while George W Bush started Afghanistan and Iraq. Their noticing the cost of the military hardware being used today is less the patiotism that it sounds like at first blush, and more a simple hatred of Barack Obama. Accidental patriotism, you might say.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


It is with a real sense of gratitiude that we approach the end of this winter here at Pastures A Plenty. It has been difficult. The constant snow accompanied with somewhat normal cold temperatures makes all our work more difficult. A day must be spent clearing snow away after each snow event, which then puts us a day behind on our necessary work. We hardly have it made up before it snows again. But today, water is dripping from the ice dams on the sow barn when the temperature is still only 20 degrees. The February sun is winning! Now we have March to get through. Hooray for mud! Until we start complaining about that, I guess.

But whatever the weather, notice what nature is up to. It will amaze you. Take care. Remember that you don't get this day to do again.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tenderize grassfed beef

Tenderizing grassfed beef
marinate in unfiltered olive oil for approximately 2 hours.

high school

Events in Wisconsin have the capacity to teach us some things if we will pay attention. The right wing has succeeded often enough in separating lower paid or what is called common labor from more professional organizations like teacher unions. Wages are of course an issue and every American on the lower end of the economy is worried about employment, which doesn't help. But primary in this problem is our national superstition that education always improves people and that this itself ought to entitle the educated person to a higher standard of living. Of course, there is nothing at all in the history of thought, philosophy or religion that backs this notion up. But it is easy enough to see the perniciousness of it by considering a case. Assume that a college educated person, because he has shown an aptitude for the arrangement of lines in a drawing, or words on a page, finds employment in the advertising industry. Now further consider that a high school graduate, more familiar with tools than words, finds employment as a meat cutter in a slaughterplant. How can anyone argue that the second individual is less valuable to society than the first?

While the first fellow will spend his life and talent helping his employer convince us all to buy what we do not need and probably cannot afford, the second can, if he applies both his skill and his humanity to his job, help provide us with the food we want to eat while allowing us some hope that the hog, one of God's creatures, is being treated with the respect it deserves on its way to our plate.

We need to rethink some of our attitudes.

Monday, February 28, 2011


The first two of Gandhi's seven deadly social sins are on full display in Wisconsin now. These are "politics without principle" and "wealth without work" As far as the first of these is concerned, bear in mind that though the troubles the states are in comes mostly from the criminal behavior on Wall Street, their response, almost exlusively has been to continue to let the wealthy within their own borders get away without paying the taxes they should pay, while reducing spending on things like fuel assistance. This is particularly deadly in a northern state.

And the effrontery of the Koch brothers getting on the media to announce that they are bankrolling this disenfranchising of public employees because (to paraphrase)"everyone knows that everyone does better when the government does less" is unbelieveable. This is directed at public employees who do necessary work by the poster boys for "wealth without work", who have spent their lives polluting the atmosphere and carelessly putting employees' lives at risk in their refineries while stiff arming the EPA and rolling in the government cash that results from being involved in oil, the most heavily subsidized of all economic activities. Why do we put up with it?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Our hearts and minds are with the people of Egypt these days. They did an amazing thing by throwing off a murderous dictator. They are in a dangerous time now, with all that power lying around loose, so to speak. We wish them well.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011


We have needed to raise our prices because of the zooming corn market and we notice that is causing some confusion with some customers. We need to clear some things up.

Our farm is named Pastures A Plenty because we live and do our work in the middle of 100 plus acres of grass which is grazed in a planned, rotational manner with dairy heifers, beef animals and sows. Just as important, we think that every species of livestock should be fed as much as possible with forages, and as much as possible of this forage should be grazed fresh by the animal itself. This because forages are usually perennials, and our agriculture needs to move toward perennial production and away from annual cropping to cut down on fuel use. And pastures make a healthy environment for all animals, with some limitations having to do with predators and severe weather.

The only class of animals that we know of that can live and thrive on a strict forage or pasture diet are ruminants. For our purposes, that class includes cattle, sheep, bison and goats. Pigs, chickens and turkeys are not ruminants. Pigs have a simple digestive system similar to the human stomach. They need protein in a different form and much more energy than their systems are able to get from grass or even legumes like alfalfa. So when we use the word "pasture" connected with pigs, we are saying that pigs live there, not that they subsist entirely on a diet of grazed forages. It is rather that they are getting the advantage of fresh air, sunshine, freedom of movement and a good forage supplement to their main diet.

The pig's digestive system matures considerably as they get beyond the age at which they are usually slaughtered. The herd of sows here, for instance, average age perhaps three years, is much more able to get value out of forage than are the finishing pigs, which average perhaps four months of age. So we focus very much effort upon increasing the proportion of the sow's ration that comes from pasture and from hays in the winter months. Currently, we are trying to improve our sow facilites so that we can carefully reduce the grain portion of their ration, encouraging them to eat more pasture and hay. We are very encouraged by this, as we have indications we may be able to reduce the sow herd's grain ration from five lb/head/day down to two or even less. Our gestating or dry sows spend the summer grazing our pastures with the cattle herd. Until last summer, when it was so terribly wet for so much of the summer, we also had pigs born on pasture. We are talking currently about the role of pasture farrowing for us in the future. One thing we must think of is that our markets ask for a year around supply of pork, which means we must often farrow the newborns inside of the barns to protect them from the weather.

We think that the pictures we have on our literature and on the website may be leading people into thinking we are able to do all our production in pastures. We are not, for reasons named above, and are considering changes to the image we project. Most of the pictures we show are of sows or sows and baby pigs on grass, or occasionally on straw in the barns. It is clear to us that it is mainly the sows with access to pastures, but probably not to anyone who does not operate a hog farm. For this we apologize. Steps will be taken to make our image more accurate.

Since we cannot do all our production in pastures, we take it as very important that we live up to certain standards for pig production. All pigs, for instance, have straw to bed in and manipulate and play with. We never confine a pig into a space in which it has no freedom of movement. Space provided per pig is always double the amount allowed in conventional system or more. Efforts are made to maximize sun and natural air movement in all our buildings. We take very seriously the truth that when we humans domesticated livestock animals, we took on certain responsibilities for them and that for the good of our own spirit, we must carry them out.

A word about the grains. Our American system of agriculture is very much skewed to the production of corn and soybeans. On the grain side, the price and availability of corn controls everything else about the market. We, for instance, feed oats, sometimes barley, field peas, and dairy whey, as well as hay to all of the older animals in our rations. However, the price of all these, even when they are available, is set by the corn market. Therefore when we must buy corn or any of the other grains, and we do need to buy, as we don't have enough land to grow sufficient quantities, we are impacted by the corn price.

Pigs can eat other things. We feed dried whey, as mentioned above. A hog farm located next to a cheese plant could feed mostly wet whey, I think. A farm located in orchard country or in the middle of vegetable production could benefit in a large way from cull vegetables and apples. Pigs could be run under nut trees. Cannery byproducts, or the byproducts of any kind of food processing, are useable by pigs. However, ours is a prairie farm, with no very good access to any of this. So that is why we stick mainly to a corn and soymeal diet for the pigs, with as much inclusion of hay and the other grains as we can. The only other choice we have been able to come up with is fast food garbage, and our thinking is that our customers wouldn't like that. We don't either, even more than we don't like high corn prices.

We never use drugs in the feed or otherwise to promote rapid pig growth. Hormones are illegal in hog production. We do use antibiotics on an occasional basis to treat sick animals. Our goal is always to use vaccinations and good environment to short circuit disease rather than having to treat sick animals. Hope this helps.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Snow is in the forecast everyday now as we enter the new year and it is hard to imagine anything that could make livestock work more difficult. Especially is this so when the farm runs, as ours does, with a commitment to minimize confinement of any animals and a real commitment to animal comfort. Snow must always be moved from where ever it lands and after that is done, the wind all too often puts it right back there.

This is the major glitch in our production system. The same approach that works well nine months of the year falters with winter. But in another sense, this is just a description of human life on earth. We don't do perfect, any of us, and that includes our systems here at Pastures A Plenty. Some of it is mostly a matter of living through it. We are now several weeks into increasing day length and are regularly cheering for the sun.

I think with longing of the statement of a Russian immigrant with whom I shared snow shoveling chores five decades ago at the parking services of the Unversity of Minnesota. Igor used to say wistfully "God put it there, why don't we let God take it away?" Amen to that! I wish!