Friday, December 30, 2011

Iowa State Univ. managed grazing.

This is a pretty good video on how managed grazing is done.
and here is part 2

In this video, we learn that forage weighs about 200 lbs per inch per acre.
So if your grass is 10 inches high, you have about 2000 lbs of forage available. If you have a six day paddock system, and you cows weigh 1200 lbs:
1200 *.03 lbs of forage per cow day, 36 lbs per cow per day, times six days, 216 lbs of forage per cow, or 4.6 cows per acre to eat the desired 1000 lbs of forage.

We also learned about paddock shape and storing food (hay) to overwinter.

We learn about low impedance electric fence energizers, which are clearly best for our purposes.
We also learn that a main line energizer is much cheaper to run and maintain than a battery energizer.
Each paddock should have it's own water sources to reduce the traffic wear and tear. If they can be moved, all the better.

In part four, we learn about the plants on a pasture, how cool and summer grasses, along with legumes can be used to maximize growth in the pasture.  Growth is enhanced by the foraging of the animals, but at most 50% of the plant should be removed.

In part five, we learn about how to extend our pasture feeding into the winter months. Leave some pastures fallow and allow the cattle to graze on those until snow covered.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Soil, or dirt?

On the question of "What kind of soil is there" you can take a look at the USDA soil survey on the web at which will allow you to look at different soil types to see if ti will work for you... Clearly, some soils are better than others...

Monday, December 5, 2011

So my 14 year old told me last night that there is going to be a replacement for oil, because technology will save the day. He doesn't exactly know why, nor how, much less when this will happen.

This should be my response to him on this point..

Friday, December 2, 2011

so what are the best farms ever?
Sepp Holzer is probably #1 in the world..

Joel Salatin is number 2

Seems to me that  everyone think pigs smell and tear everything up. If you have a high density, you are doing it wrong. These people seem to be doing it correctly!

What triggered my desire to make a life change?

Why in the heck would I want to be a farmer?

compare that with what you are getting in the grocery store.

any questions?
We have been eating organic, farm market eggs for awhile now. But all Organic labelled eggs are not the same..

Click here to find out why all eggs are not equal...

a nice video on selecting the chickens for you, check this one out

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So, how much can you grow on a speck of land?

"Well son, that sort of depends? What are ya growing, and where are you growing it?"
A little back of the envelope (excel spreadsheet actually) tells me that I can plant about 75 trees of all types of fruit and nuts upon an acre and obtain about 16000 lbs of quality foods in a single year once established.
Now it might take ten years to get close to full production, and in years 1-4 the results will be slim indeed. But each year after that third year will get better and better.
So, how does this work on the investment side?
I estimate that in year one, had we the money, we can invest $5000 an acre into the property, including the cost of the land itself, cover crops and 75 Trees at $22 a pop, 50 blackberries at $12 each and a $500 for skid house for chickens (see the link on the previous post with chickens).
If we raise broilers on this acre, perhaps one hundred chicks at a time, 6 cycles at 35 days to "harvest", netting $2/lb, and assuming that we have no other significant harvest, we net $5400 on this acre, a 100% return on our original investment.
Let's say that in year two we double that to 200 chicks at a time still netting $2/lb with a 4.5 lb weight per bird. We then net $10,800 on this one acre.
You could continue to do this for a few years, but then the fruit starts to come in in year 5 and we might harvest 3000 lbs of fruit, which might net $4000, so in year 5, $14,800 net
After the trees are more established, you might run a cow under the system, and then maybe a sow and her happy little piggies.
In a dozen years when everything is well established and in a permanent state of equilibrium, the income from this acre might rise to as much as $30,000 with 15,000 lbs of fruit, 4000 lbs of hog, and one half lowline angus cattle raised on this acre with some chickens run on the property for fertilization purposes.
So, this is assuming pretty good growing conditions, a seven month chicken season, April through early November, and it assumes that we can harvest and pick it all and sell it all.
How do we grow this much food? Consider that each semi-dwarf Apple tree can produce 6-10 bushels of apples, 42/lbs per bushel and that you can plant about 110 of these trees per acre, this can produce 36000 lbs of apples on that acre. Of course I don't want 110 apple trees, the pests would kill us over that. I want 8 apple trees on that acre, spread all around. Then I want 8 each pear, peach and persimmons, five cherries, apricots, filberts and black walnut, a dozen mulberry trees and perhaps 20 or so nitrogen fixing trees spread throughout to help improve the soil, along with a handful of native trees, just for the diversity.

So now it goes to selling this stuff… But I promise to start small and work my way into it…

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How do you make a small fortune in Farming?

Well, Clearly by starting with a large one!

Or so the old joke goes.
But if you start out middle class, doesn't farming make you poor?
Isn't farming just a transfer of wealth from you to the bank?

Let's examine this idea for just a second...
I found a guy online bragging that he had made $550/acre in this (2009) his best year ever, but that some guys down the road were barely breaking even. I have heard that many industrial corn farmers will average about $100 per acre after subsidy and all expenses in a good year.  Afterall, the expenses for a corn farmer can be very high.
They need to buy fertilizer by the truckload. The big tractors cost $300 a day in diesel. The equipment costs can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The herbicides, fungicides, the pesticides, and of course, the 1000 acres aren't cheap either if there is a mortgage on it at 5%? Add to that the frankenseeds that Monsanto makes you buy (seriously, they will sue you if you save your own seeds) which costs about $100 per acre.

Then if they irrigate there is a whole new expense or pipes, pumps, water, infrastructure and more...

"So", you ask, "what makes you think you can make any money at it when even the big guys can't live without taking a second job in town?"

I'm glad you asked that. Really I am. Sharon asks it all the time, wondering if I've lost my ever loving mind... I wonder too, if there is something to that... After all, of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.

There are a few differences that need to be considered.
1. With permaculture, the long term goal is to have as few external inputs as possible, other than water (as rain), energy (as Sunlight) and human input.
2. The outputs of the permaculture farm are not commodity priced. They obtain a much higher price in the market place.
3. The small farm does not sell a commodity, it is a business, in business to make money, or at least a living.

So first off, do small farmers have the ability to sell food that can make them money?

I think you will find that they most certainly can.

For example, a typical CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm will charge $30 - $35 per half bushel of food, each week. Compare that to $7/bushel for Corn.  Big difference eh? In that half bushel will be about 12 - 16 lbs of food, mostly greens, cukes, tomatoes, squash and the like... So the CSA is getting about $2 per lb for their produce.
Many CSA farms around here have as many as 500 customers generating $15,000 per week during the growing season. I could live on that, if I had to, but putting 500 boxes together would be quite a chore I think.
Some Farms only have 100 customers generating $3000 a week.Certainly some have fewer supporters, but I don't want to be one of the really small farms... Too hard to pay the bills.

My Second Example is that free range organic beef  and pork tends to go for around $6-$8 per pound in the farmers markets around here. If you sell a smaller lowline angus beef per month, dressed out to 350 lbs each, you can clear about $2100 a head. Lowline need about 1/2 acre each and since you need enough room to maintain mom and calf for 18 months, you need just over one acre per head sold per year. So sixty acres can produce as much as 50 head of cattle worth $2100 each at market (butcher costs about $1/lb plus feed, gas, and other costs)
Add to this  that you can free range hogs at a much higher density and that they are much more prolific. You should be able to keep about 1 sow per acre, and they throw off a dozen piglets each year.
Pigs are quite efficient at converting food to protein. They will need about 4-6 lbs of feed to make about one pound of pork.
It takes about 6-9 months for a pig to be finished, If there are a dozen piglets per sow per year, you can sell 12 piglets per year from each acre at 250 lbs each. We should be able to sell each hog for about $700. Subtract a couple hundred for feed (if we aren't in full pig food production yet) $4800 per acre. Not a bad living at all. if you are running them on thirty acres. Of course you will need as many as a thousand customers, so I won't be able to get to this point quickly. It might take many years to get to this level of production.
Here is a nice reference article on raising piggies: how-much-land-per-pig.

And, since pigs and cows eat different "stuff" they don't compete all that much for food.

And then there are Chickens!

Here are some other ways a farm might make some money:
herbs and herbals
bed and breakfast
farmers market
fruit stand
equipment rental
farm tours
Pick Your Own
Backyard Bar-B-Ques
fish (aquaponics)
salad greens (aquaponics)
Out of season hot house vegetables
vanilla beans
various crafts

Some ideas are better than others, but a diversity of income streams is always a good thing.

So, let's just start with the assumption that IF we can grow food, we can sell it for a decent amount of money if we cut out the middleman. The question is what are the costs of the inputs, what labor is needed, how much can we grow and how much can we sell?
We will discuss those issues in the next post.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to heat that farm house...

This is a pretty cool (hot?) way to heat a house. It's construction should be exceedingly simple.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How to grow stuff without having to water it.

Number one answer:

How to passivly cool that new farm house...

With energy prices going up up and away, I am always looking for new improved ways to cool the home...
Great way I've discovered is the earth tube. A passive (or nearly so) cooling method..


Monday, May 9, 2011

Slippage of Time

I really dislike paying bills. While this certainly isn't a unique sentiment, it's not so much about the payment part. For the items I can't automatically debit, I loathe having to:

1. Locate a checkbook.
2. Write out a check.
3. Find an envelope.
4. Address the envelope (with a hand now cramping because it's unused to using a pen)
5. Search vainly for a stamp.
6. Resort to borrowing a stamp from a co-worker.
7. Walk to the mailbox just after the postal carrier has come for the day.

Today, #4 really got to me...again. I don't really mind penning the recipient's name and address. It's having to write MY name and address that's so frustrating. WHY haven't I gone to Zazzle or one of another billion sites and created self-adhesive return postage labels?

Just moments ago, I vowed to do it. Right now! And then stopped. Because I can't. We're moving.

For the TWELVE years we've lived at this address, I've doggedly written my address over and over and over again on envelopes.

Opportunity lost.

What, you might ask, has this to do with the "farmer wannabee" theme of this blog?

First, I never promised I wouldn't post anything unrelated to our quest for wildness.

That aside, I wonder if I have something to think about, regarding inertia. Have I been sitting behind this computer too long? Is "wannabee" as close as we're gonna get?

Today is my 48th birthday. I don't think things will have changed at my 49th. And that seems more intolerable right now than having to write my return address on yet another envelope.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is It Wrong to Want Cute Livestock?

Farmer Hub is reading a book authored by Sepp Holzer - I don't recall which - and last week showed me a picture that made me melt. It was of a Highland cow and a European variety of miniature cow, peeking out from behind the trees. Oh, the unbearable cuteness!

And just yesterday, I visited the Agarita Creek Farms Web site. It's a "working experiment in self-sufficient and sustainable family farming" (their words, not mine.) And they are raising a terrific heritage breed of cattle: the Dexter. They are small, and (at least some of them) short-legged, and just, well...cute.

A pattern is beginning to emerge. I want a farm that is "cute." The kind of place where animal "stuff" is neatly bagged in sanitary, multi-colored bags. (That's what we do now.)

I imagine a slice of land that is manicured and filled with adorably long-lashed livestock and frisky companion animals with coordinating collars. And butterflies, and rainbows, and unicorns, and...

And there's a problem. Two, actually:

1. Farmer Hub isn't into cute. He's into efficient and expedient. And he's not particularly tidy. I'm not judging. He just doesn't see the need.

2. Animals that are cute are gonna be hard to slaughter.

Hmm. Adjusting to a new aesthetic might be hard.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Really. Really?

OK, so I said I'd post about our rampant chickenmania next. But my dear husband just sent me this, so I had to do a follow-up post:

He says: "I've just found your new home."

Dearest Richard, love of my life,

We are absolutely, positively, undeniably, not going to live in a missile base.

With love, and some concern for your sanity,

Kicking off the New Year. Whining Ourselves into 2011

Happy New Year to all our friends and family! We realize that none of you is reading this blog...yet. But we hope that you'll join us as we try to transform ourselves.

What are we now? Slovenly, suburban slaves to the system. What do we WANT to be? Satisfied, sustainable...(OK, I've run out of alliterative words)

Yes! I said the "F" word: Farmer. Funny (in the ironic way, not the haha way) how this label conjures images of dirty overalls, missing teeth, and lack of education for so many urban and suburban dwellers. I've shyly mentioned our new-found passion to a select few friends and neighbors. Their responses range from bemused looks to complete disbelief.

But here's what's really funny (in the joyful way): In the past few months, I've met and talked with a number of farmers, mostly at organic markets and local organic farms. They are intelligent, educated, and literate. And they are passionate about the RIGHTNESS of their stewardship of the animals, plants, and land that God designed for us. That's where we very much want to be.

The big problem: We're having some trouble letting go. It's hard to let go of our lifestyle. It's hard to shake up our children's expecations. One (in college) is safely launched. The other two - one headed into high school, one into middle school - aren't at all certain they want to trade their friends and posh schools for...unknown country-fied and country-fried horrors. In the words of that creepy Lion King monkey: "Change can be hard..."

Well, you have to eat an elephant one bite at a time. (Disclaimer: The previous statement is not an endorsement of elephant consumption.) So we're daintily choosing small morsels, hoping that if we chew slowly and choose wisely, that with a little time the elephant won't seem quite so large. (Which reminds me: we need to invest in a large FREEZER. Perhaps we can trade in our wine and drink refrigerator for that...)

How did all of this start? I'll post the story later but will say this much now: It's partly because we watched the movie "Zombieland." (And NO, we do NOT think there is an impending zombie invasion. Unless, perhaps, if the Democrats return in force to office in 2012. KIDDING!)

Whatever its cause, our passion has "stuck" for most of 2010. So almost a year later, we've decided to start a blog to share the things we learn and try. We hope to learn from our mistakes, so by the time we actually get to farm in earnest, maybe we'll avoid some setbacks. (More likely, we'll do different stupid things.)

Next post: Chicken Fever