Thursday, November 20, 2014


It is below zero again as I write this on Thursday morning, a week before Thanksgiving.  We have already had more than a foot of snow on the ground for more than a week.  And about half our corn crop is still out there, standing in it.  This week, we will try to get it in.  Due to a week of pretty hard work right after the snow came, we have the livestock pretty well situated for the winter.  But farming is a challenge when winter begins soon after the first of November.  I don't know yet if this winter will be the hardest in my memory, but it is already the earliest.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

clean food

A dozen or more gmo labeling efforts are gaining steam in cities and states across the nation a week before the election.  Huge amounts of corporate cash are being used against them, as the food giants who have been piggybacking on the farmers' good name are fearful of losing their gravy train.  From the farmer angle there is news:  Our seed dealer tells us to get corn seed early for next year because a certain number of more conventional farms are buying up the supply, seeing no reason to pay exorbitant prices for "patented" seed that will result in a corn crop that sells for just three dollars.  And,  a well established local concern selling meat to those careful of what they eat is seeking funds to build a gmo free feed mill.  It seems as if some "voting" is happening ahead of the election!


Thursday, October 2, 2014


Once again we are midway through fall wondering about the maturity of the corn.  Part of the difficulty is that we have given up corn drying on the grounds that the equipment is too expensive, so is the fuel and it is hard on the environment.  But when the heating degree days are short in number as this year, we sometimes hold our breath hoping the crop matures enough to keep.

On the plus side, the pastures have been ahead of the cattle all season due to the frequent rains and the reduced cattle numbers.  Also, the hay is in surplus and high in quality.  We will have a chance to push the sow herd on forages and see how far we can back up on their grain ration.

All this is about bringing the farm and its production into line with a changing climate.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014


This fall, even more than usual, carries with it a sense of urgency.  Coming off a summer of near constant rain we now hear predictions of a hard winter including, I suppose, a lot of snow.  It leads to the suspicion that September and October are about to disappear into a routine of rain every other day making very difficult the fall's important farm work, including grain harvest, making bedding for the animals and generally getting the facilities ready.

It is tempting indeed to hope that the weather reports are wrong.  They often are.  I revert to my Dad's approach:  What is the weather now?  And is the wind southeast and the sky clouding up(meaning rain)?  Probably more accurate and certainly more personal and calming than the constant televised chatter about weather and everything else.  The geese, at any rate, are getting restless.  They know. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

August Fairs

August is fair month.  The grandchildren have been involved in county fairs.  Some of the younger ones had projects at the Brown County Fair in New Ulm and the older grandkids, here on the farm, were at the Kandiyohi County Fair.  Everyone worked hard on their projects and won several blue ribbons.  Granddaughter, Kirsten, won a 4-H state fair trip with her Ewe Lamb and will be there the first weekend.  The last weekend grandchildren, Jake, Andrew and Kirsten will go for the FFA State Fair Shows with their hogs and sheep.    Sunday, August 24th  at 11 am  Pastures A Plenty will be participating in the MN Cooks Event in Carousel Park near the grandstand.  This event has been going for over 10 years and from 9 am to 4pm every hour on the hour MN chefs and farmers will be on stage demonstrating and talking about local foods.    Hope to see you at the MN State Fair! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


The cool nighttime temperatures for the last week or so, and predicted for another week are going to be a problem for the corn crop.  We can expect wet grain, I think, and perhaps a slightly reduced yield.  This shows the wisdom of diversifying a northern (or any) farm, making sure that the income streams in from a goodly variety of sources.  Nature runs her economy this way, using a great variety of plants and animals.  Diversity offers safety.


Sunday, August 3, 2014


Comes the word now from our professional governmental nannies that fist bumps, in the style of the somewhat younger (than me) set are a safer greeting than the old fashioned handshake.  I suppose this is because the palm carries more e-coli than the knuckle skin.  Somehow, it doesn't occur to these types that slowing down our homeless human drifting around across the globe, carrying with us our microbes as well as other fauna and flora would do more to arrest our drift toward serial epidemic hysteria than any amount of worry about which method of human greeting carries with it more risk.

And a butcher block came up yesterday in our endless conversation among ourselves here at Pastures.  I remembered one from my childhood sixty years ago that I greatly admired just for the amount of human effort that had been expended over it.  I claimed that it was sufficiently dished on the top from years of wear due to an endless series of knives cutting meat that it would hold without spilling a drinking glass of water.  Now, of course, such a tool is not allowed in any food production area due to the porousness of the wood.  Somehow, we do not worry about the integrity of the private inspectors hired by the chicken killing companies to substitute for the public inspectors they claim to no longer need.  Wood, in the service of cutting meat is suspect, but companies hiring their own inspectors is not.  Progress, I guess.


Monday, July 7, 2014


"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to return to the place we started and know it for the first time."

T. S. Eliot is not in any sense an agricultural or rural writer, but this sentence of his has always seemed an apt description of a farming life.  We live our lives, we who love farming, as a kind of continuous experiment with new procedures, new products, new machines, only to discover as we age that we forgot to start by asking our farm what it could produce well, without reduction to itself or to us.  With age may come the patience to listen to what the land wants to do.  A long, busy, mistake filled life finally comes to the chance for wisdom, if we can but recognize it. 


Saturday, June 28, 2014

farm politics

Democrat Collin Peterson sends out a request for support, saying that he has been able to represent Minnesota's seventh district as a Democrat even though it voted Romney in the last Presidential election.  While the risk of one more know nothing right winger in the Congress is a serious matter, and must be considered, we must also take a close look at what we are buying in the Peterson brand.  Representative Peterson has been more than supportive of farm law as it is, indeed, he is one of its major architects, even in the Republican House.  And it is this law, tilting the table toward the "winners" as it does, that empties out the countryside, cheapens the jobs that are left, that plants corn and soybeans on sidehills too steep for an annual crop, collects our livestock into fewer and fewer large farms, partly by insuring that grain stays cheap and market opportunities for agricultural products slim to none.  To add insult to injury it casually and carelessly cuts food stamps when people increasingly do without decent food.

Someone needs to give Representative Peterson a tour across Minnesota in this extremely wet year and point out to him that those fields that are sending the soil to the river are planted in annual row crops instead of permanent pastures and hayfields.  Where is the value of a farm policy that shuts down small and medium dairies in central and southeast Minnesota so that it can put six thousand cows on a rotating milking platform just six miles north of me?  This election will once again be between bad and worse.  Discouraging for a believer in democracy. 


Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Mosquitoes are bad now, one of the results of our month of rain.  Now we check the weather forecast not just for evidence of rain or severe weather, but also for sun and wind; certain jobs, anything in the pastures for instance, are difficult to impossible without sun to fry the little critters to death, and wind to blow them off.  Their presence gives religious belief a trial.  Since we say that we believe God considers His creation to be good, we must deal with the idea that God loves the mosquito too, even though we may not think much of it. A real philosophical conundrum.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

clear voice

We in the country do not speak with a clear voice.  Too many of us are willing to fall into line behind the version of reality put forth by the large agribusiness companies and the commodity groups such as corn growers and pork producers that shill for them.  It should, for example, be a no brainer that the politicians claiming to represent us would get for us a goodly share of the money from the "environmental and arts" amendment to the state's constitution that passed a few years ago.  Especially is this so because rural lives, lived at the very source of the problem, have much more to do with improving conditions than urban ones. 

Consider, for example, Arne Carlson's stated goal of making the Minnesota River swimmable and fishable in ten years, a truly magnificent goal with a deadline now long passed.  Urban folks might enjoy a clean river but rural folks have to make it so. While we, or at least some of us, can choose to leave the plow in the shed, and begin to explore what livings might be made with permanent stands of grass and legumes, urban folks can what?  Sort their trash and pick up after their own picnics?  We can do that too, and should.  So why should the urban areas continue to get the lion's share of amendment spending?

The negative role of the University and its lobby shop is perverse.  This is especially so in view of the fact that it is an institution supposedly committed to the education and improvement of the farming and working classes of people.  As an alumnus, I am deeply ashamed.


Monday, June 23, 2014


The sun is coming up clear this early Monday morning.  This after we didn't get the predicted rain yesterday and the clear forecast for tomorrow makes it feel like a bit of breathing room.  Too much water sitting around and again, too much wear and tear on the banks of the drainage system.  We have once again sent too much of our soil to Mississippi.  One small victory is that this session, after considerable wrangling, we were able to get the legislature to put a million dollars of environmental amendment money into University study of perennial plants in agriculture instead of just one more addition to a recreational park in St Paul.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

farming community

One of the wonderful things about a farming community is the commonality of interest.  When excessive and constant rain keeps farmers from their fields as it has this year, we hear all around us expressions of concern for problems with the crops.  But we in the country have this wrong.  Crop insurance provides support for crop failures.  But the gullies running down between even small hills and sometimes also on what the soil survey calls non-highly-erodible land, both planted and not, represent a cost not covered and one borne by our children and grandchildren.  We will never get that soil back.  That is the real concern, not the annual financial statement.  Right now it is possible to take some real satisfaction in thinking about our permanent pastures with their tight water and soil holding sod. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Gauge shows an inch of rain last night again and NOAA predicts one to two additional today.  At the current wind speed of forty or fifty miles per hour, that inch last night must have been in reality more like two.  Gauges are not accurate in the wind. 

Pastures smell moldy now and our field road is eroding badly down to the bottom.  We have been continuously wet at least two weeks with no relief.  I am more than ready to spend a day without wearing chore boots.  Come on sun!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


This, seen on the Alternet website, bears repeating.
"Bertolt Brecht, the 20th century German playwright and poet, wrote, “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”"
Brecht, who died in 1956, saw Germany lose its democracy and freedom with the rise of the know nothing Nazis.  Why do we want to repeat the process in the United States?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

dinner at noon

A left over half pot roast of grassfed beef was the center of dinner today.  Cut into thin strips and then fried in plentiful olive or coconut oil in a heavy pan until it just starts to char, it goes well with a cucumber garnish, made with diced cucumber, about equal amounts of plain yogurt and sour cream and a few spices.  Accompanied by a cupful of brown rice and a salad of spinach leaves and oregano fresh from the garden topped off by a few of the first strawberries from the patch and you have a slow food meal worth the wait.  

Monday, June 16, 2014


The same imbeciles that got us into Iraq in the first place want us back in there now that the "government" we pasted together there to replace the one we destroyed is falling apart.  This crew of fools has also been yakking and scheming overtime to get another cold war started with Russia over the Ukraine, a country that neighbors Russia and is of no strategic value to us. 

The trouble is that the lack of any kind of thinking and discipline in the electorate gives this type free rein to continue conjuring up one "Armageddon" after another.  If we as a people, for instance, would give up our knee jerk automatic support of everything Israel does and begin to get some restraint into our use of the world's oil supply, sanity would be in a stronger position in our government. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Our farm shares a 100 acre lake bed with the neighboring farm.  It stands full of water, both sides of the property line.  Since it is low on the drainage, the water will not leave for nearly a week, destroying perhaps 30% of his crop and 30% of our pasture.  Crop insurance will make him whole.  There is nothing to make the land whole.  Our pasture, planted in the first place in view of the unsuitability of that land for a cropping enterprise, will not produce much this year.  Our choice of grasses becomes ever more restricted to the water loving, thick cuticle, unpalatable kinds.  We will take the loss.

The old farmer, who was also an ag instructor in a former life many years ago, tells me that formerly he respected all farmers for what they did.  But anymore, he said, not so many.   


High ground is shrinking on our farm.  Nearly four inches of rain now and the paddock we moved the cattle from last night is today completely submerged.  They are bellering forlornly over the fact their current digs are half under water.  The paddock they will be moved to tonight is half under water.  Half of the south pasture is as well, and our knowledge of the farm is that this water will take about a week to drain away/soak in after which another week must pass before the pastures will bear the weight of the cattle.  The two tubes of leftover hay are beginning to look like a blessing.

The small pigs we moved to the wintertime cattle yard to get them away from the overused weaning quarters must be restrawed every day and fed (by hand as the self feeders will not work in the constant rain) five times a day minimum.

No body ever said it would be easy.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014


We saw wheels of cheese on display at the huge food show, Salone Del Gusto, in Turin, Italy.  They were naked, so to speak, except that many were covered in a fine white mold.  Earlier, at Nijmegan in the Netherlands, where we stopped to find the orphanage from which my great grandparents had emigrated to America, we saw huge wheels of that most Dutch of all cheeses, gouda, on display in shop windows.  Many of these were covered in a wax coating.  The Dutch, you know, are famous for washing their front stoop on a daily basis.  Quirky people, the Dutch.  Very clean.  In America I have found that in order to enjoy a good gouda, which I very much love, I must buy it covered in the wax but then also wrapped in plastic.  This makes Americans what?  "Nuts" jumps to mind.


Monday, May 19, 2014


We were at the southern tip of the major rain/wind event that moved through northern Kandiyohi on the morning of this 19th of May.  The rain fell sideways against our south facing kitchen windows and I ate my breakfast watching it and wondering at how much it must be like viewing a very clear river from the bottom.  I think building construction must be a different process here on the prairie compared to the more eastern and wooded parts of our Midwest, as the walls here must be as water proof as the roof.

Did you ever consider how inaccurate rain gauges are in a strong wind?  To prove it, hold a water glass upright but tilted away from you so you can see it in the same way wind driven rain hits the gauge and see how much smaller the open top is!

Half inch this time.  (or whatever) We are going to need it.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

blood moon

I missed the blood moon (lunar eclipse) this morning at two o'clock. Thinking that it is, after all, April, my body chose to sleep through rather than continue the winter's routine of checking the barn for new piglets and malfunctioning heaters in the middle of every night.  It's a pity.  However, as compensation, the skies have been truly spectacular most of those winter nights.  It comes of our recent trend toward high pressure systems, I guess.

I look forward to the completion of our geothermal application in the new building, plus installation of photovoltaic solar panel support for the electricity it uses.  Since we cannot rely on a strictly seasonal approach to production due to our meat sales, we must take what measures we can to reduce our impact upon the environment due to fuel use.

And perhaps next time on the blood moon.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

polar vortex

Well, this week's "polar vortex" is coming in right on schedule.  A foot of snow predicted. Wonder if it will continue right through April?  I want to be thinking about crop seeds and turning animals to pastures, not whether to move or wade through one more layer of snow.  One thing is that the the sun gets stronger daily and will eventually win out over the cold air currents.  May, perhaps?


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

long winter

Now the legislature is rushing money out to help people with huge heating bills, especially those who use LP gas.  This is one of the things they can be sure is right to do.  Nobody should freeze in this wealthy country.  On the farm, this winter has been savage and tiring, too.  Our new hog farrowing facility is not completely finished and we have been able to use a fuel oil heater in there on a temporary basis, rather than rushing into the gas-fired heater which will be the permanent installation.  We are out there each cold night at three or four making sure everything is working alright.  This winter teaches, among other things, that we need to link the geothermal in there with some additional solar heat so that the fuel truck visits us less often. 

Much time and fuel is used in clearing the yard of snow every few days as the wind constantly blows it full again.  Each episode ties up one of us for most of a day, getting us back into working order again.  The snow piles here are huge.  Each midweek, it seems, when we must deliver animals to the processor, features its own snowstorm or blizzard.  Diesel fuel tends to gel in the sub zero temperatures. 

Most of the non farrowing livestock depends upon bedding and windbreak to tough it through the winter.  Cold stress is a heavy burden on health, for them and for us.  Feed use nearly doubles.  We will applaud the end of winter. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Now we have warmer weather for a few days, with temps collapsing this weekend, but not to their typical (for this winter) lows below zero.  The soil is showing up in places as the snow pack compacts and melts back.  This will soak up the heat from the late winter sun and enable a good runup in temperature the next time a warm front comes through.  Ever the farmers, our thoughts turn to new baby animals and seeds.  The longer days and warmer temps invite long snowshoe tramps across the fields and pastures.  It is our annual awakening!


Monday, January 13, 2014

Out to the sun

The weather took a turn for the better, with calmer winds and temps in the low thirties for the past few days.  Not warm enough or long enough to melt the glare ice on the yard, but nice enough to tempt the sow herd out and get them started on the silage bales we set out for them.  We like to see the sows having forage in their diets for their good health, but it has been a problem when the pastures aren't available.  This year we set out plastic wrapped grass/alfalfa wet bales and they are really tearing into it.  They like the silage smell I think.  We know it's good for them.  Improves their temperament too, and makes them easier to work with.  That's good for us as well.


Monday, January 6, 2014

winter weather

Winter descended savagely on Sunday.  Temps dropped to -15 the night before and struggled to get to a positive reading on Sunday.  Winds came up out of the northwest, perhaps 20mph.  Temps fell to -25 last night and today predictions are for winds to rise to 25 or 30 mph, temps to stay below zero today and drop to -25 tonight.  The governor has called school off statewide because it is too dangerous, which shows him to be somewhat more sane than many other people, who persist in believing their cars can be depended upon in this weather.  Any farmer knows better. 

The yard is glare ice on top of partially melted snow.  It is dangerous to walk on.  Today the ice cleats go back on the shoes.  In this kind of weather, I question my own sanity for keeping livestock.  The cattle who are on unlimited high quality hay are doing all right behind their windbreak.  The market hogs are reasonably comfortable in their hoops, though they don't gain well because they don't care to get out of bed to get to the feeder.  The younger animals, for which we have adapted the old farrowing quarters are doing ok, as are the sows and litters in the farrowing quarters, but both of these are benefiting from a huge drain on the gas and oil fuel supply.  The heaters run constantly, and very many more days like this will see the end of whatever profit there was in the livestock.  Petroleum is expensive.  We are burning through the bedding as well, trying to keep animals comfortable.

The gestating sows are a difficult problem.  We got the drinkers moved out of their hoops last summer, improving conditions for them considerably by reducing the wet bedding problem.  But they are still not cozy, their numbers are not high enough to provide the body heat necessary for comfort in unheated quarters.  We still need to modify things for them.

And the farmers?  Impossible to drink enough water to stay properly hydrated.  Impossible to stay awake in the evenings.  Difficult to wake up in the morning.  Difficult to stay upright working outdoors.  Machines break down.  Hoping we don't find a heater broke down when we check at 3 o'clock in the morning. Mounting frustration.  Waiting and hoping for a weather change.  And for the return of optimism.