Monday, July 24, 2017


It is a farmer thing.  On the seventh of July, we hooked up the haybine and went to cut hay.  One round made and nearly ninety acres to go, we were broke down.  This was the death knell for the old haybine as we had agreed to no more significant spending on it when we looked at the loose gears in the gear box this spring and hoped for one more season out of it.  It appeared the main shaft underneath had snapped as only half the knives turned.  It was done.  We pulled out the standby, the fourteen foot swather, greased and fueled it and headed for the field.  Two hours later, we were back on the yard, the splines on the end of the main driveshaft of the sickle were completely rounded out.  It was Saturday afternoon.  Everything was shut.  We spent the evening disassembling the machine, and Monday morning headed with it to the machine shop.  After a two day wait in line there, they called and said they couldn't cut the splines in a replacement shaft.  We started looking for a replacement hay machine. 

We called John Deere.  They wanted eight hundred for a replacement shaft and nearly three hundred for the connector, which was also shot.  We thought this was more than the machine was worth and said no.

We told the machine shop to grind the end down, bush it and put a bolt in, hoping that would hold for one hay cutting.  By the time they got it done, it was Friday, a week after the start and still no hay down. We reassembled on Saturday and started cutting the oats which we were taking for hay.  Meanwhile, a cutter bar to replace the haybine had been found but couldn't be brought home until Tuesday.  We immediately put it to work then and finished  cutting all ninety acres by the weekend.

It rained.  The following days were highly humid and the only thing we could do was to bale the oats, which we were going to wrap anyway.  It was forty percent moisture and the hay was no drier.  It was Thursday now, nearly two weeks after the start.  Each day was more humid than the last.  It rained again, just a light shower.  Sunday, we moved on the hay.  Today, we finished it up, close to two and a half weeks after starting. Why do we do it?

The hay is a perennial, so it is good for the soil.  It is necessary for the cattle and also to clean up weed problems and fix nitrogen to make our organic crop rotation work.  We also feed it to the sows, which they find pretty satisfying, causing them to quit chewing on the barn for awhile.

We spent most of July, a lot of frustration and way too much money making one of three crops of hay.  So why do we do it really?  We are farmers and it is what we do.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Farrowing, the agricultural term for the birthing of the female’s litter of piglets tends to be a demonstration of a farmer’s approach to livestock production as a whole. Here at Pastures A Plenty, we place the farrowing sow at central position and try to surround her with an environment that will result in good production by making it more possible for her to birth her piglets as she instinctively wants to do. We provide a roomy pen of about sixty five square feet, compared to the industry standard thirty five. The sow is able to move freely to turn and lie down as she wishes, having the use of all the area except that reserved for the piglets to creep into soon after birth. Each sow thus has free use of fifty five square feet in our barn, where she gets only fourteen square feet (2’ X 7’) in the conventional system, not enough space to turn around.
Now the pen is bedded with chopped straw, because the sow wants to manipulate and push material around to make a nest to farrow her pigs into. She can get quite oblivious to her surroundings while she busies herself with this job, even to the point of ignoring us as we observe. This process may take from an hour to a day to complete, depending upon the individual personality of the sow. When she finally has the pile of straw pushed and manipulated to her satisfaction, she will push her nose through the center of it to make a channel ending by lying on her side and beginning the labor process. Human commotion and interference must be kept to a minimum during this process.
After farrowing, care is taken to make sure the piglets have found the creep area and heat source there. Piglets need a higher temperature for comfort than does the sow and will huddle close to her udder by instinct. If we can tempt them into just a bit of separation, it makes it easier for the sow to get up for feed and water without damaging the babies. This nursing or lactating phase is continued on our farm until about five or six weeks, longer than the conventional practice, which is more like ten to fifteen days. We think that important strengths, such as disease antibodies are passed to the piglets by this practice. We also think both sow and piglets want this longer period together.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Getting it done

Saturday July 15th was our solar field day.  We were host to forty or fifty people, friends, solar installers, agency people and others with an interest in our new array of solar panels, which so far have performed admirably, producing enough electricity to operate our two large walk in freezers and a variety of office equipment with a bit of power over to sell to the grid.  Very satisfying.

This week Josh and Cindy are in Ames, Iowa for a week long class and seminar featuring a master German sausage maker.  This is the second such class.  We expect good results for our business and you should expect good things for your taste buds!

And the rest of us are here on the farm, taking care of customers, scheduling meat and filling orders, raking and baling hay and helping the livestock through the 100 degree  heat index days.  Cooler weather and slower times ahead, we hope!