Saturday, April 28, 2018

calves



 The snowstorm of April 14 and 15 demonstrated once again how powerful the life force really is.  As was pointed out before, we had two calves born before the event and then the cows took several days off.  The calves in these two pictures were all born since the storm, born wet and onto snow.  The boys got some corn stalks spread for help in getting them off the snow, and soon out of the mud.  You can see in the pictures how very hard this was on the pasture paddock, with the pugging and the mud showing, where they are being fed.  But there too, we can have some confidence that the same strength that is in the calves will also be in the grass.  Livestock farms teach this over and over.  Nature is anything but weak, if we would just try to stay out of her way a little. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

spring

It is a slow and difficult spring here at Pastures A Plenty.  Sometimes a livestock operation as exposed to the elements as is ours suffers from it.  And yet, we managed to luck out in the late April snowstorm.  Two calves were born before the storm hit and were doing well.  Then the cows took a five day break while the weather blew through before they started calving again.  So far, they are all happy and healthy out there.  Andrew needed to spread several bales of cornstalks to give the cows and new calves a way to stay out of the mud, with which we have been plagued since middle March.

Another big concern is the hog production.  We use bedding in every aspect of it and by this time of year our hoops and buildings are all bulging with mixed stalks, straw and manure.  We itch to start hauling to the pile where it will soon be applied ahead of the crop, but the frost is in very deep this year and is keeping the soil surface soft and wet.  Too soft and wet to haul heavy loads of manure out.  So we are faced with the choice of piling it temporarily closer to the yards and house and hauling it out when we can.  Extra work and an unsightly mess.  But that is what farming is sometimes. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

"Man shall explore without ceasing
and the end of all his exploring
will be to come to where he started
and know the place for the first time"
T.S. Eliot (from my memory)

How much better could our farming be if we kept this poem in mind?

Monday, April 2, 2018

biomimicry

The idea is that nature has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with.  Animals, plants, and microbes are the consummate engineers.  After billions of years of research and development, failures are fossils, and what surrounds us is the secret to survival.

Biomimcry Institute, posted at the Niagara Parks System

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

curious

It is curious that those who are advancing veganism as a one size cure all for everything from obesity to climate change have not seen fit to talk to any farmers.  Now by "farmers" I do not mean commodity groups or political pressure groups or traditional farm groups.  I mean rather some of those farmers who would respond favorably to being called biodynamic or organic or grass farmers.  If an emissary from the intellectual capital of the world-New York and environs-were to make it into the great middle part of the country, she may find a satisfying number of people involved with the land who know that the Middle East is an area desertified by civilizations that fed the overwhelming majority of their people plant based diets. 
She might also find farmers that could tell her that in this time of complete compendiums of knowledge-ask Google-we know fewer than a tenth of the species that we think live in the soil, and even less what they do.  These farmers would know that most of what they know of the soil, they have learned from observation, not academic study.  They would be able to say that perennial agriculture such as pasture and hay crops is most beneficial to the soil, that some of this benefit could be mimicked by using cover crops in and between annual cash crops, that the soil needs animal impact.  Most of these farmers keep steadily in mind that bison, wolves and Indians built the hugely productive grasslands in the country's midsection. 
These farmers know that the best measure of soil health we have today is the percentage of organic matter, that this percentage drops with regular tillage and compaction but is built with perennial plants and grazing animals.  And they are beginning to understand that good grazing practice can build it faster than we previously thought.  People who understand increasing organic matter and its function know that it reduces erosion on land in use and it sequesters carbon. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

grazing land

I spent the morning and much of the afternoon tromping across 120 acres of possible rental land coming out of CRP.  I was trying to investigate the possibilities for a cow calf herd being maintained there.The whole experience was difficult in the snow melt and through the volunteer trees and brush, but there are some things to be happy about.  One of these, though, was not when I happened upon the southwest perimeter, a high steep knoll sloping down toward an occasional creek behind me.  We had already told the owner we would rent the land for grazing only, that it was not suitable for row cropping and to do so would be wrong.  Looking down from my perch on the knoll, across the property line, I could see the effect of corn cropping on inappropriate land.  There was a six foot drop off from the perimeter to the tilled corn field and the soil on the corn field was completely yellow in that location.  The topsoil that should have been there, and was there on my side, due to the CRP use, was gone on the other side, run to the bottom and the creek that drains it.  Perhaps five feet deep on the near side to a foot down to the yellow on the far side and a width of seventy five feet and more.  Tons and tons of valuable black soil, gone forever.  As a farmer, I was sick looking at it

This is on us, both us farmers who have forgotten how to be farmers and the politicians who aid and abet our view of ourselves as economic animals only, with no agriCULTURE anywhere to be found.  


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Sunrise at Pastures A Plenty



We made an important change in our farrowing pens to compensate for sow behavior.  As you can see in the top photo, which shows two empty pens, sows are able to come up toward the black gate and visit with each other across our center alley.   This results in manure and urine being deposited too high in the pen and the slope toward the gutter-on the near side of the photos, but not visible-causes the entire pen, bedding and all to be constantly wet.  We found we needed to blind the pen so that the sow could not see the animals across the center alley, but would need to stand down in the gutter end of the pen in order to visit through the fence.  (This grate in the pen partition is partially visible in the lower photo) 
The materials used for blinding the pen were medium weight sheet steel welded on to the pipes of the pig creep gate and primed and painted.  We invested perhaps three hundred dollars plus time spent to make this changeover on all of our thirty strawed pens.
You will notice that the sow in the lower picture has given up on seeing her mate across the center alley and is concentrating her attention on the animals next to her.  To encourage this behavior, we do all our feeding from the outside alley, on the floor, as well as cleaning the pen, which of course must happen there.  We do distribute bedding from the center.
It is important to add that this is a good layout for farrowing as well, for the sow at farrowing wants to back into a cave like surrounding so that she may birth her pigs while keeping a watchful eye on the open area from which danger might approach, which is us, in this case, from her instinctive point of view.  That deposits her piglets up into the warm well strawed area.  This kind of understanding of pig behavior is important in layout of any new farrowing construction.  It is easier not to fight Mother Nature.