Monday, November 12, 2007

Harvest and Planting

It works out that harvest season and planting season are the same season around here. That makes for a very busy time on the farm.

The summer rain cycle ended a bit later than normal (yea right, normal weather, sure!).

In mid October we had almost no hay in the barn. I crossed my fingers and cut one hay field. That was immediately followed by just over six inches of rain in a week.

The rain stopped and I doubled my bet, cutting a second field and just let the first lay there and attempt to dry out.

I set the rake to tedder mode (just to toss the hay around without putting it in a windrow) and fluffed up the rained on hay. Then raked up the fresh cut hay. Then baled it all up, about 125 small square bales from each field.

The we went to work on the planting.

I plowed up about an acre. It got disked and run over with a spring tooth harrow and made into a smooth seed bed. I broadcast both winter rye and Rye grass (Gulf) separately then ran the drag over it.

Another acre just got torn up with the spring tooth harrow and seeded the same way.

The idea is to see if the extra work of plowing is justified by the resulting growth.

The cooler dry weather continued through last week when the last hay field was cut, raked, baled and put up. The barn is nearly full.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The future of food

Herrick over at The Deliberate Agrarian sent the DVD "The Future of Food" around to a list of folks with blogs. The idea was, as I recall, was to watch it and do a review on the blog.

I watched it and here is the review.

It describes a set of problems, then suggests what can be done to improve things.

As for the problems, the subject matter of the DVD is basically the application of technology to food products in the last decade or so.

This includes emergence of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in plants used as food and/or feed crops. It also briefly talks about the same sort of thing with animals.

It deals with this in the context of the centralization of the ownership of the large agribusiness corporations.

It also make the point that patents have been granted to corporations for living organisms, all be it genetically modified organisms, for the first time, within the last decade.

These patents are being protected with harsh measures, basically big companies suing the socks off ordinary farmers.

I don't exactly where the description of a problem, any problem, crosses a line into OHMYGODWEAREALLGOINGTODIE!!!!!! territory, but I think this film gets very close at several places.

That's a shame, because in my opinion, it isn't necessary.

It contains a bunch of throw away lines that add no information and actually serve as a distraction and, for me at least, and caused me to question the credibility of the rest of the information presented.

For example, when pointing out that farmers spray herbicides on their crops, a fact that will surprise no one, they describe 2/4D as "a chemical similar to agent orange".

Well, 2/4D and agent orange are both broad leaf herbicides, so I guess the statement is true enough, but the implication is that agent orange was a scary substance used as a weapon in war, so we should all be afraid of this other stuff as well.

As I said, all this over the top stuff isn't necessary. It runs the risk or causing the viewer to dismiss the whole message as the rantings of a bunch of tin foil hat wearing nut jobs.

I am still not sure what the agenda of the folks that produced this film are.

Here's the deal in my opinion.

All this gene splicing that has been done cannot be undone.

I don't know for sure that this presents any danger to the public. I don't know for sure that is does not.

The pro GMO interests claim that this is all perfectly safe and overall a good thing. They claim science supports their position.

The science they site is beyond the ability of the average person, beyond my ability at least, to evaluate in detail.

They are not of course, disinterested parties. They profit from this technology, selling it or using it.

The film makes the point, not anywhere strongly enough in my view, that the gains provided by this technology do nothing for the consumer. GMO vegetables are not "better" or more nutritious that traditional food.

It is only better from the point of view of the producer. It is (at least in theory) cheaper and less trouble to grow.

The ordinary consumer, anyone is our society today, is exposed to lots of "scientific evidence" to support any number of claims.

Not all of it can be true, science is used to support lots of contrary claims.

From "global warming" to the "heartbreak of psoriasis", junk science is everywhere.

Everyone knows that much of the "scientific evidence" there hear is crap, the problem is that it is difficult or impossible to tell the junk science from the sound science.

Consumers are sceptical, and rightly so.

And herein lies the good news.

Those of use who are willing and able to provide food to the marketplace that does use this technology find a ready market for our product.

We do not need to prove that bio technology is a bad thing, we just need to truthfully claim that we don't use it.

This whole situation presents the small scale farmer an opportunity that we did not have before. That I think is a good thing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More Farm Toys

One requirement for a farm toy is that must be "funky". Well, this one's funky.

This is an essential tool in wheelchair accessible farming, which as we all know, is a goal of just hoards of people.

This is what it looks like, and old electric golf cart. I use it to zoom around the farm.

Our farm is all flat grass land. This would be useless in steep, rough country.

It is set up so that I can toss my wheelchair into the back, the blue box behind the seat, without taking it apart.

Before I got this, I just used my pickup truck to get around the place.

That works fine, but I have to take the wheelchair apart and fold it up every time I get in and out of the truck. On a normal day of running around and working on the farm, that happens about a thousand times.

I like the gator UTV's and similar vehicles people use for this kind of task, but I'm just too cheap to buy one. This thing is old and relatively cheap. And funky, of course.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Yard Birds

Several years ago when we started raising a few chickens we had one hen who would escape over my electronet fence and hang out in the barn and the adjoining barnyard all day.

Every evening she would go back over the fence and roost with the other birds.

Mama named this hen "Harriet" as in Harriet Tubman, on account of all the escaping she was doing.

Now any hen who goes over the fence is called Harriet.

This year we had a different hen that did that. This hen would also lay eggs in a mostly unused corner of the barn. We didn't notice the eggs at the time.

Eventually, she want broody and hatched some of the eggs.

She is now a yard bird. She show no interest in re-joining the rest of the flock. She stays out with her chicks all the time.
So this is Harriet.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Family farm, farming family

Some time back one of my brothers digitized a bunch of photos and other documents that had once belonged to my father. He sent us all a copy.

Thanks Jay.

I had not seen most of this before.

This first photo is my grandfather in front of his dairy barn. My guess is that the picture is from the 1930's.

I don't remember ever having seen this barn. I've been to this farm many times. By the time of my earliest memories it was my uncle Al's farm.

As far as I can recall, uncle Al never raised any livestock at all, just row crops.

My dad did talk about the dairy business a few times that I can remember. If you had asked him to list all the jobs he would never want to have, I'm sure dairy farming would come in first.

His beef (no pun intended) with dairy work was that it involved getting up WAY to early in the morning. Pop was one of the most completely nocturnal people I have ever known.

This is my dad with a dairy calf. It would be from the late 1930's, dad was born in 1929.

My dad was the youngest of eight children. The family farm was (and still is) in Southern Minnesota.

Uncle Al took over the farm from his father. Eventually my cousin Mark took it over from his dad. Cousin Mark lives and farms there still.

My grandfather never spent much time in school. He want as far as the seventh grade I was told.

He wasn't too impressed with what he saw formal education doing for his friends and other farmers he knew. Many times he had seen the children of other farmers go off to school and then come back and try to implement what they had learned at the Ag school at the land grant Universities.

This seemed to always result in that farm taking on lots of debt and eventually failing completely.

According to my dad, grandpa offered to pay him to stay on the farm and skip school.

No doubt that had a lot to do with why pop left the farm and went to school. He stayed at school so long he wound up with a PHD and a faculty job. Contrary runs in my family.

Still he could not stop being a farm kid. By the 1960's he had seven children, six of them boys. We lived in Southeast Ohio, pop was on the faculty of Ohio University.

He bought a farm, actually three adjoining farms, a total of 392 acres in S.E. Ohio. He would joke that it was either that or put a bail bondsman on retainer, to keep his kids out of trouble.

Very recently I read reference to a farmer stereotype. You know, some yokel with three teeth who is too stupid to do anything else.

That is not at all the way I was taught to view farmers. Pop said many times that in his line of work it was necessary only to know how to teach and to know a lot about whatever subject you were teaching.

A farmer, on the other hand, must know Biology, Agronomy, Meteorology, Economics, Chemistry, Mechanics, and a long list of other subjects. And if you got any of it wrong, or worse yet, just had a bit of bad luck, no payday for you.

It's a lot easier just to be a College Professor.

Anyway, that how I wound up bailing hay, building fences, chasing girls, and drinking beer during my teenage years. As opposed to just chasing girls and drinking beer like most kids I knew at the time.

That is why I still play at farmer. I blame my dad. And his dad, and his dad.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Farm Toys

A while back, my old friend Mr. Cooney came across a "disk plow" that he thought would work with my small tractor. We made a deal.

I had never heard of a disk plow. A plow, yes, a disk, yes, but never a disk plow.

On my dad's farm we made hay and we planted fence posts, but we never plowed anything.

This is a disk plow.

I used it to till the little garden patch where I grew corn and cow peas this spring.

It did a nice job I think, in this light sandy soil we have here.

The plan is to plant it into something I can use to help finish my market lambs.

I would like to get to the point where I don't have to buy supplemental feed for anything.

Finishing lambs is the first thing to do in that regard because I have customers that want meat that has never been fed any GMO or conventionally fertilized/sprayed feed.

Most customers don't need that but those who do will pay a premium for it.

American Farmer

Way back in the 18th century, a book was written made up of letters between an American Farmer and a European. It was intended, at least in part to explain Americans to those across the pond.

More information about Letters from and American Farmer. I had read it years ago as no doubt many of you have.

Anyway, a blog I often read that previously had nothing to do with agriculture is using this as a basis for a discussion thread that, from what I've seen of this blog in the past, will be interesting.

I have no idea where the discussion will lead, but it would seem that Mrs du Toit has "discovered" our little corner of the universe.

Having been in and around farming all my life, I forget what weird zoo specimens we must seem to be to those who have never been exposed to things agrarian, which is to say, most everyone.

Long time, no post.

Nothing has been added to this blog all summer. It's not that nothing is happening here, just that I got bored with the blog and seemed to always have something I'd rather do that create a new post.

So far I had mostly limited my posting to issues directly related to farming. I think I will not stick quite as closely to that rule as I have in the past.

I read lots of "How To" sorts of information on the subjects related to agriculture, and of course almost never put the suggestions made there into practice.

Folks write, as I have done in the past, about what they do on their operation, and of course it worked well in the situation described, but likely would not be a "best practice" in a different situation.

In farming there are almost always many, many correct ways of doing a thing. A farm is the ultimate cosmic gizmo and there are so many variables in play at any given time that no two situations are ever the same.

So, I intend to at least try to include a lot more than just the "what" but also "why" and all manor of musings that go along with the avocation of agriculture.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Intensive rotational grazing

Since weaning I have begun a new form of rotational grazing.

It involves using electric nets (from Premier) to contain sheep on a rather small paddock for a period of just a few days.

This is not a new idea of course, but it involves more frequent moves than what has been done here in the past.

The fencing is comprised of 164 ft sections of net set up two nets long and half a net wide. This works out to something over half an acre. The photo shows two such paddocks (click on the picture to enlarge), the near one populated by this springs lambs, about 50 of them.

I have just enough netting to set up two paddocks and leap frog over the active paddock.

Much of what I am attempting I got from the book “Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence” by Bill Murphy. I think I bought the book from the Stockman grass farmer web site.

Like all the other “How to” books I’ve seen on farming, it does not offer a system I can use on our farm as it is. It does not pretend to do that.

The author lives in Vermont, a very different climate than ours here in North Florida. So the details of his system may not work here but the basic principals are the same.

The main idea is to use the livestock to maximize the production of the grass, rather than using the grass to maximize the growth of the livestock. That does not mean that the livestock are not important, but the idea is to focus on the grass.

Anyway, there is lots of good information out there on rotational grazing. What I am trying to do is adapt them to fit my situation.

For me, that means finding way to make these frequent moves without too much work. We farm part time here and time is always in short supply.

I’m using 2 50-gallon rubber water troughs and filling them from a 65-gallon plastic tank a carry in the back of my pickup. I fill it with a garden hose at the house and just use gravity to get the water from the tank to the trough.

To move the netting I just lay it on the grass and drag it along to its new location and set it up there. If I try and gather it up to move it, I get a tangle that takes a long time to un-snarl.

The move process is still clumsy but I hope to smooth it out with a bit of practice.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fence line Weaning

There have been lots of farm happenings that should have found their way into this blog, but have not.

We hired a professional sheep sheerer this year for example.

He averaged three minutes per sheep. It sometimes takes me ten times that long.

Anyway, this post is about weaning. We did that the weekend of June 22.

We put all the sheep through the chute and wormed the ones that needed it.

Now that summer has started and the weather is hot and wet, we need to do this about every three weeks. Most sheep will not need to be wormed, but the ones that do can go down fast if we don’t take care of it.

This time we sorted the lambs from thier mammas as we worked them.

Then we took the ewes down one side of the fence and the lambs down the other, back to the pasture they had just left (for the ewes) and the one next to it (for the lambs).

In theory this reduces the stress of weaning to it’s minimum. I guess that’s true, but the next few days were a bit noisy in any case.

Now the lambs are being moved in a very short rotational grazing pattern. More on that in the next post.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Suits and Farming

One of my favorite people to read is Victor Davis Hanson. This is my good fortune because even though I stay busy, he seems to be busier still. Every time I’m in the mood he has plenty of new material for me to look at. The man writes prolifically.

In the not too distant past he has commented on farm politics as well as the lack of historical knowledge of the MBA crowd. See and .

I farm part time and do software engineering as my day job. I do the software work from my office here on the farm for the most part. A sweet situation if I do say so myself.

I started doing software, programming and system administration mostly, some systems analysis, twenty some years ago as a Telephone Company employee (GTE). It’s reasonably interesting work and the money’s good.

I’ve met quite a number of MBA types over the years, collectively known as “suits” among the geeks and propeller heads that inhabit the cubicles of the corporate world.

I’ve been working within the same technical niche for all this time, software systems used to manage voice/data networks.

I’ve changed employers four or five times, but I still work with many of the same people I did years ago, and serve many of the same customers. The people that stay are the technical people.

Suits invariably have a planning horizon that does not extend past the end of the quarter, and time in place on any given job that is not much longer. I don’t know where they come from or where they go, I just notice that they don’t stay around long.

This all leads to the subject of historical prospective. See, I’m trying at least to tie this thing together.

I got interested a few years back in Civil War history, and the period leading up to it. I did a bunch of reading and ran into some ideas I had not come across before.

It seems that in the early 19th century there was considerable discomfort in some quarters with the whole notion of working for wages.

For one thing, almost no one did it. The vast majority of people were farmers and of course, self employed. Most other people were artisans of some sort, or merchants.

Cobblers, blacksmiths, store keepers, and the like. Wage labor is a product of the industrial revolution, a new thing at the time.

The thought was that if you were not in control of your own time, you were slave.

Slavery was a common enough situation at the time, not just black chattel slavery in the South, but all sorts of indenture and servitude. The sort of thing people endured to repay debt or learn a trade.

Selling your time by the hour was thought to be something like whoring.

Obviously, this became by far the most common way to earn a living. All of us who have done it have felt at times like the whoring theory had something to it.

This brings us to farming. The sort of farming we do here, part time though it is, is pay cash for all inputs, and direct market everything we don’t consume ourselves.

Yes, it’s easier to do this with an off farm income, would not be possible with out it for most folks like me. Still, the USDA’s own statistics show that most farmers today are folks like me.

And this brings us to farm politics, even though the reader may have lost all hope I’d get back to that.

Like I said, most people who farm are like me, part time or a member of a farming family with considerable off farm income.

One habit I have is watching farm shows on TV. Most of this stuff is mainstream agribusiness.

If all one knew of farming was learned from these shows, a casual observer could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that agriculture is mostly run by the Federal Government as a mater of national policy. They might even worry that a long congressional recess could cause famine, if we don’t all die of bird flu first.

Or that would be the case if anyone took this political noise at face value, but of course we expect the same sort of doublespeak with the politics of agribusiness that we get with the politics of anything else.

See for some or Mr. Hanson’s observations (from the Wall Street Journal).

What is discussed in Washington under the guise of agriculture has little in common with what comes to mind when people think of farming.

Certainly farmers like me are not much involved in the politics of agriculture, at least not by choice.

For example, most of the money in the last several farm bills is spent of things like food stamps and school lunch programs. Much of the rest is subsidies paid for commodity crops that the market does not want at the threshold price set by fiat in the farm bill.

Please understand, I don’t believe that the government should spend this money differently than they do now, change things so I get a bigger cut.

This is like any number of government programs that do more harm than good and would just go away if it was up to me. I also know it is not up to me.

My observation is that meaningful change in agricultural practice is not just difficult, it is almost always illegal.

As near as I can tell, regulations about how farming, or the processing and sale of farm products such as food items, must be done are crafted when bureaucrats are told how established market shareholders do things and then decree “This is how it must be done”.

Doing things differently, also known as innovation, therefore becomes illegal.

Taking any product all the way from production to the final consumer without going through some organization big enough to have lawyer on staff is a risk.

There is simply no way to be sure you know what the rules are.

The risk is that at any time some entity you never knew existed may decide you are doing something wrong and hassle you for it.

This could result in anything from a scolding to losing your farm and/or doing jail time.

The odds are you won’t be bothered, if you do things on a small scale and keep your customers happy. Bureaucrats are not prone to go out of their way to do much of anything, even if they can. They have no real reason to notice the existence of most farmers, even less reason to cause them problems, still it can and does happen.

This keeps most small-scale producers out of the retail market, and greatly slows the pace of innovation. That is too bad, because new ideas and practices are needed in agriculture more than in most industries.

I advocate just going ahead, and when I think an idea is good enough, that is what I do. Farming is all about risk after all. We deal with heat, cold, drought, flood, and all the rest.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Last of the lambs born

I'd been tying to keep up to date with lambing information but (obviously) have failed again.

April 27 ewe # 427 had twins, a white ram lamb and a black ewe lamb. We tagged them 66 and 67 respectively.

On April 28 a yearling ewe with # 42 had a single ewe lamb we tagged 68.

Nothing happened birth wise until May 4, when ewe 410, the last mature ewe yet to lamb, had a single ewe lamb.

That will probably do it for the season.

We had 10 yearling ewes in the herd this spring, four of them had lambs, the other 6 most likely will not. We have had about this sort of result with yearlings in the past and consider it to be acceptable.

It is possible one or more of the yearlings will lamb later. We left the rams in with the herd for quite a while over the winter, just because it was convenient to do so.

Any way, with a herd of 30 mature ewes and 10 yearlings we had a lamb crop of 49. We have 21 ram lambs and 28 ewe lambs.

Only one did not survive. Over all we had very few problems and a relatively sort lambing season compared to what we have been through in the past.

No records were broken for productivity either high or low. We certainly had fewer twins, as a percentage of the crop, than last year.

We are pleased with the crop so far. Now all we have to do is get them to market age and sold. So far, so good.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Single Ram Lamb

Thursday (4/26) ewe #428 had a single ram lamb. She had no problems and needed no help.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Local Wildlife

My bride was out in the pasture with the camera the other day and got some pictures of this eagle.

We see it around from time to time, it no doubt nests within a few miles of here.
Click on the photo to enlarge.

Five more lambs since Sunday

Monday ewe #413 had a ram lamb tagged 32.

My bride pulled it, perhaps unnecessarily.

In any case, ewe and lamb are fine.

Tuesday ewe #104 had a single ewe lamb.

A large black ewe lamb.

Also on Tuesday, the yearling ewe #15 had a ram lamb tagged 62.

On Wednesday, ewe #60 had twins, both female.

This ewe was so enormous we had her picked as the one we thought would lamb first.

She was one of the last, obviously.

The lambs were good size, but certainly set no records. Go figure.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Catching Up with the Lambing data

Man, I've let this get out of date. Things have been busy, both with lambing and otherwise.

Thursday (4/19) ewe #37, who is herself only a year old had a single ewe lamb we tagged 58.

This ewe (the mother, that is) did everything she could to turn this lamb into a bummer.

Although she did not reject the lamb outright she would not allow it to nurse.

We made a field jug out of a cattle panel in the corner of the pasture and penned them up. Then we put a rope halter on the mama and tied her to the fence so she could not stop the lamb from nursing. The lamb nursed this way several times a day for a couple of days before the mama allowed it to feed with out being tied up.

Ewe #415 also had a single on Thursday. She had a lamb last year, the first of the season as it happens. She had no problems and needed no help.

On Friday ewe #8, another yearling, had a single ram lamb that was tagged #5. She did fine and needed no help.

Saturday ewe #802 had twins, one male and one female, tagged 17 and 16 respectively. No problems.

Today (Sunday) ewe #437 had twins. She went off by herself under a tree to lamb, as they often do. By the time we noticed, one lamb was fine but the other was dead. Both were ewes, we tagged the survivor 18.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Single ewe lamb

At some point yesterday, ewe number 169 had a single lamb. It is a female and was tagged # 56.

I wasn't around for the event. When feeding last evening she was well back away from the others and did not come all the way in to eat.

The lamb was up following its mama and except for the fact that it had no ear tag it could have been any of the 30 some lambs we have bouncing around the pasture now.

By the way, we don't just look at the lamb to decide who the sire is. We ran the ewes and rams in separate breeding groups last fall for breeding season.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Two Single Lambs

The ewes gave us Monday off, I guess the with the cold front over the weekend anyone who was close went ahead and lambed.

Tuesday (April 17th) ewe #411 had a single ram lamb that we tagged 54.

In the evening ewe #155 had a single ram lamb that we tagged 55.

My bride thought this last lamb was taking too long and should be pulled. I didn't think so.

We pulled the lamb. Mother and lamb are fine.

It was getting dark by the time we got a picture of 155. My camera doesn't do well in low light so I won't post that one.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Another single ewe lamb

Late last night, nine or ten o’clock, ewe #416 had a single black ewe lamb.

The lamb was tagged #53 and is a female.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Six more lambs and the day ain’t over yet

A cold front came through at daybreak. By 9:30 we got over and inch of rain. Man, we needed it.

We have noticed that weather changes seem to cause lambs.

Ewe # 59 and a single ewe lamb tagged 46.

Ewe #414, who we call grandma because she is the mother of our black breeding ram, had twin ewe lambs tagged 47 and 48.

These lambs are the first “Holstein” lambs of the season.

Ewe #6, who spends most of her time training the other sheep to go through electric fences, had a single ewe lamb we tagged number 49.

She had it on the wrong side of the fence of course.

Ewe #1, my bride’s special pet, had twins. One ewe lamb tagged 50 and a ram lamb tagged 51.

All this before noon.

Four sets of twins

It was a beautiful day for lambing here at the a3farm and indeed lots of lambing was done.

Four different ewes delivered twins. All the ewes from the new bunch we bought last spring, all had had lambs before but not here. They had been on a winter lambing schedule at the Oak Lane Farm where we got them. Most are three year olds.

Ewe 103 had twin ewe lambs.

Ewe 419 also had twin ewe lambs.

Ewe 432 had twin ram lambs.

Ewe 435 had one of each.

Ewe 435 was the first one this year that needed any help.

My bride went to check the sheep just at daybreak while I was working on my first cup of coffee. She came back in saying she needed help. The lamb needed to be pulled and the momma sheep wasn’t going to stand still and cooperate.

The first lamb, the female as it turned out, had one front leg tucked back under her. She had her head and one front hoof out and got stuck right about there.

The mother is rather small and still had a second lamb in her so there was no room to reach around and straighten things out. I have great big hands, which didn’t help.

New lambs are built like gumby dolls, flexible in ways that you never expect. That’s a good thing at times like this. For a while I thought that leg was attached to a different lamb, but eventually I decided it was the right front leg of the lamb that had emerged to its shoulder.

Eventually I got her eased all the way out and as far as I could tell she had all the usual parts in the usual places. She was still breathing too.

I set her over by the mothers head, and after mom rested a while she decided she could take it from there. She started cleaning the lamb, and then had the other one a few minutes later without problem.

We didn't get pictures of everything. The picture here is one of the group from yesterday, but I'm not sure which one.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Two ewes and a ram

Thursday the 12th ewe #106 had twin ewe lambs sometime before noon.

They were tagged 29 and 30.

Later in the day ewe #3 had a single ram lamb.

He was tagged number 31.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Single Ram Lamb

Tuesday before noon ewe #412 had a single ram lamb. We tagged it number 28. No picture yet.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


About 24 hours ago our ewe #2, the funny looking blue faces Leicester, had a set of twins.

They are a ewe lamb numbered 26 and a ram lamb numbered 27.

Neither was weighed (the scale is officially dead) but both are quite small, in the five pound something range. The mother is also small and the lambs seem healthy.

Sorry about the photo, it was taken at a distance in poor light.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Lots of lambs

Last evening about suppertime ewe # 115 delivered twin ram lambs. We numbered them 11 and 14.

She had no problems and needed no help. She is also one of the new group of ewes we bought last spring.

This morning at daybreak we had five more lambs on the ground.

Ewe # 4 had twin ewe lambs. They are numbered 21 and 22.

Ewe #170 and twins as well, one ram and one ewe. They are numbered 23 and 24.

Ewe #400 had a single ewe lamb. She is numbered 25.

No weights on any of these yet, the scale was acting up but it seems OK now.

We have two breeding rams, one white Kathadin and one black that is mostly Florida Native. It’s easy to tell who sired who.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Lambing season starts Easter Sunday.

The plan was to move the ewes to new ground so the lambs will be exposed to fewer pathogens when they hit the ground.

We got the fences set up and went to get the sheep from the dry lot where we have been penning them up at night.

We found the first lambs of the season in the dry lot with everyone else.

No one explained to them about pathogens, so they simply proceeded to bounce around the way new lambs do.

The Ewe was #101, we tagged the lambs #9, a ram lamb @ 7lbs 1 oz, and #10, a ewe lamb @ 6lbs 15oz.

While we were at it we moved the chickens to new ground as well.

One down, thirty nine to go.

You all may be seeing lots of baby pictures in the near future.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Scratch the ground and shoot up the sheep

Over the winter the chickens were more or less confined in an area for the pasture near the house.

Lots of junk hay was tossed in for bedding. This area is destined to be this years corn and cowpea patch.

The original post is here: Big honking chicken tractor

Mr. Nelson brought his funky old Farmall tractor over and disked it all up.

He is 50% of the “Over the hill gang” that sometimes helps out around here, Mr. Cooney being the other half. Both these guys are 80 years old and have forgotten more about farming that I ever hope to know.

I asked him why the tractor wasn’t red like they usually are. He said that he has this one dressed up like the ones that the hi-way department had for mowing the roadside back in the day.

He shows this tractor and some old hit and miss engines he has at the County fair and such places.

Mr. Nelson is the guy who keeps my 1960 vintage New Holland hay baler going.

Saturday was spent watching Mr. Nelson work and fixing some fence. Sunday we gave the ewes their yearly CD/T vaccine boosters and helped butcher out friends Rhonda and Brian’s last nine broiler chickens.

Us part time farmers must sometimes do things when we can rather than when we should, but we muddle through somehow.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Small World; Who’s a farmer?

Quite a few years ago now I came across a title in a bin full of marked down hardback books at a chain bookstore outlet near where I lived. I had never heard of the author but the subject matter had to do with farming so I picked it up.

It told the story of a young California farmer trying to continue and grow a family farm that had already been in place for several generations.

That plot line by itself would be enough to interest me, but the author, aside from being a farm kid was an academic, specifically an authority on classical civilizations (Greece, Rome, etc) in the California University system.

The book contained some interesting information about the ancient Greek Yeoman farmer and comparisons to the modern family farmer that has become more and more stressed these past few decades.

Anything that portrays individualism in a positive light is sure to get my approval. I very much enjoyed the book.

I have a good friend who I lent the book to after it came up in conversation. He took it home and read it. His wife pointed out that the author had been published lately in the National Review magazine. The author is, for those who haven’t figured it out already, Victor Davis Hanson. The book was “Fields without Dreams”.

He still writes prolifically, here: and other places. Most of what I see out there is political. I often agree with him, I often disagree. I always admire his well-reasoned logic.

I think he sees himself as a farmer more than an author or an academic. I think he would give the title of farmer a loftier status than the others. I have not seen him say that in so many words, but that’s how I read him.

He did a blog entry the other day that touched one the subject of “Mad Farmers” that gave me a chuckle.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Was it really Raining?

I'm fairly sure it rained around here once, long ago.

In the last post I said we got nearly half and inch. Guess how much we have had since then. That dry dusty cough was the answer.

I just looked at the ten day forecast. A 10% chance of rain was the biggest number in the whole forecast.

I read on the other farm blogs that everyone is struggling through mud season. If you are in that situation, please feel free to send some of that moisture down here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

It's Raining!

Rain and just in the nick of time. We have had about one half inch of rain since last night.

If I listen close I swear I can hear the grass grow.

I have a load of supplemental feed coming today for the ewes to get them through lambing and lactation.

But there should be no need to supply forage, and a good thing to, since one thing I have in common with everyone else around here is that I am out of hay.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How to buy a bull

Anyone who has attempted to raise livestock for any length of time is all too aware that even though we do all we can as far as animal husbandry goes, some times the beastie just insists on dying.

Sometimes this is caused by some mistake, but that is a different matter. We can and do expend great amounts of effort to create an environment where our stock can be healthy and productive. Past that, their survival is just not up to us as farmers.

A friend’s bad time with kidding got me thinking about this. This person keeps goats primarly for livestock shows.

I was at a place last weekend where folks were discussing livestock for show, like the 4H kids do. I know nothing about show stock. I’ve never done it, never been around it.

The notion of looking at a group of animals and by that contact alone passing judgment on which is best always struck me as odd.

Show stock seems to have the same relationship to production stock that theology has to religion; that is, none that's obvious. *

Judging stock by its looks seems odd to me because my dad used to tell a story about how to buy a bull. To be honest I though this was a long dull story when I was growing up. He told the story many times.

It went like this; there was this farmer who had a reputation all over the area for being able to find and buy the best bulls. He had done this for many years and as far as anyone could remember he never got a bad one.

He was present at a sale where several bulls were on offer and was asked by a group of prospective buyers how they could tell which was best. They asked about size, top line, muscling, color, and stance, any and all the physical attributes of a bull.

They asked the old farmer all sorts of questions about bulls but they couldn’t seem to keep him on topic. He had all sorts of unrelated questions he wanted answered.

Who is the seller? Have you been to his place? Is it extravagant and showy or simple and functional? Have you met his family? Have you gone to the town where he does business and asked about him?

What do the production records tell you about the animal? Does he through good calves? Has he been bred to heifers and if so how did they do?

My dad would go on and on about the things that needed answering before even looking at the bull, no doubt that’s why I though the story was so dull.

At every point, with each new fact learned, if the result was negative, the old farmer’s advice was to give up on the bull and look for a different one. No need to even look at the beast unless all the background checked out well.

The punch line of the story was that when the prospective buyer finally did look at the bull, the advice was "If you like it you buy it".

The fact that I listened to this story many times growing up does not make me an expert on show stock of course.

I can’t help but suspect that what was selected for in breeding these animals has not been the sorts of pro-survival traits that are used for production stock.

* I came up with this line, something shamelessly stolen from R. Heinlein on a different subject, when I was composing this post in the shower the other day. When I wrote it down I forgot the line. I do shower regularly, so I remembered it this morning.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Maintenance Mode

We have been in sort of a maintenance mode for the past several months here at the A3 farm.

The cattle have been next door with my neighbor’s herd all winter. Each day we feed horse, dogs, cats and sheep.

We collect eggs. We feed the laying hens when they need it. Since Mid January we’ve had broiler chickens to feed water and move each day.

Some of the equipment has been serviced and some fencing work done. Mostly farm work has been as minimal as farm work ever gets.

I’ve done two business trips related to my day job. One trip was to Arizona, which was pretty, and one to the DC suburbs, which was not. OK, Montgomery County Maryland is fine for those who like that sort of thing, but traffic and snow are two things I would be happy to do without.

Things here on the farm are about to change from maintenance mode to the more usual state of affairs, which is “way too much to do and not enough time to do it”.

The laying hens have been moved away from their winter quarters, that spot is ready to disk.

I started processing the broilers yesterday and will finish, I hope, next weekend.

It’s time to get more feed into the ewes, lambing is just a month off.

The grass will start to grow if we ever get rain.

All the hay we put up last summer is gone.

I bought two rolls of peanut hay, not perennial peanut, regular peanut. We have one lonesome roll of it left.

If we get rain any time soon it will be enough. If we don’t get rain I think I’ll take the ewes down to the welfare office and sign them up for food stamps :-).

One great thing about farm living is that the seasons have meaning beyond switching the thermostat from heat to AC and back. Even down here where we have fewer seasons than some places.

Just to get everyone in the mood for lambing, a new calf was born Saturday across the fence on the neighbor’s place.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

January Broilers

I got a new batch of broiler peeps a little over two weeks ago. These are Cornish Cross meat type chickens.

I have a small battery brooder that is about the right size for a batch of 25 chicks. That’s where these birds have been since I got them.

This is the first time I’ve started a batch in mid winter. At other times of the year I leave them in the brooder no more than two weeks. They grow so fast they get too big for it.

I left them in the brooder almost three weeks this time because we had a cold snap and I thought it might be too much for them to be in the pasture pen. It was just an overnight frost, only the second this year.

I put them on the pasture yesterday. Overnight lows were in the forties. They seem fine today.

I think the bigger they get the better they will handle cold. I know that in the summer the heat is a real problem for older birds.

I have customers that want chicken. I’m out myself.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


This 11-week-old English Shepard pup moved in with us on Sunday. The goal is to train him into a general-purpose farm dog that can herd sheep when necessary.

The name “Pepper” was chosen after we got him home and was not even suggested before that. I told my bride quite sometime before we got him that I thought I’d call him “Bubba”.

She said that it was going to be my dog and I could give him any name I wanted to, but that I didn’t want to name him Bubba. Then she gave me that look that means, “Drop it or I’ll have to hurt you”. So much for the name Bubba.

I considered trying to come up with a name that played off of how the dog looked. I also considered coming up with a name that had something to do with his job as a farm dog.

He is a black dog with a little white, like salt and pepper. But Pepper is the name of the Ben Johnson character in the John Wayne movie “Chisum”. The Pepper character is the trail boss/ranch foreman.

Way back in the mid 70’s my dad and his business partner ran about 3000 sheep open range style on a bunch of leased coal company land in Southern Ohio. This was done with horses, several 19 and 20 year old kids, and one very well trained Border Collie.

I was one of the 19 year old kids, and that dog was better than wonderful in that situation but it needed full time work or it would go crazy. In my opinion Border Collies are just like that, they can’t be really happy with out a full time job.

We met some women that raise English Shepard’s at one of the Meat Sheep Alliance meetings a few years ago. That breed seemed like the a calmed down Boarder Collie, able to cope with herding and other farm chores but also able to cope with snoozing on my office floor while I play computer geek.

We made a deal with the breeders some time ago for a pup, and this is it; Pepper.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Zap the beasties - for their own good

I've been trying to learn rotational grazing since we started fooling with sheep a few years back.

The farm is divided into three different pastures with permanent fence. The leased land would count as one more pasture I guess.

I subdivided the big home pasture, 10 acres give or take, into four paddocks with temporary electric fences.

I subdivided the leased land into four paddocks originally using the same sort of fencing. I have since dropped that down to two paddocks. This is because there are only two water sources over there and sharing them between paddocks was not working too well.

What I have is a bunch of small pastures rather than a proper rotational grazing system.

I still have a very low stocking rate. Something like half of what this land should carry. I want to grow my way larger instead of buying my way larger.

In the late fall I was having trouble with the sheep moving through the electric fences.

I tried several things to fix this including changing from plastic twine to 14 gage aluminum.

I went to three strands from two on the rented land. I got a better energizer.

I had a notion that the sandy soil and the dry weather had something to do with it but I had no idea what to do about it.

So a few weeks ago I was reading though book "Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence" by Bill Murphy. He teaches a much more intense form of rotational grazing than I have been using. No suprise he uses electric fences.

At one point he states that in dry sandy soils as many as ten grounding rods may be needed. He recommends grounding to a metal culvert under a roadway or an unused well casing.

My energizer was connected to one grounding rod. I moved the unit back to the well house for our old (no longer in use) well. I has a two inch galvanized well casing about 80 feet deep.

All the paddock fences are hot now even though most of the gates are open. So far they seem to be staying well clear of them although I haven't seen any of them get shocked.

So far so good.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Winter is for projects

The warm season grasses are dormant. The cool season grasses are slowly starting to grow but are not yet ready for grazing. There is no hay to make. Lambing is still months away. Breeding is done.

Sounds like there’s not much to do on the farm, right? Wrong!

The tractor needs it’s fluids changed. The chicken pens need repair. Several gates are dragging the ground and hard to use. The generator won’t start. The barn lot fence needs fixing. Last springs ram lambs are market age. All the ewes need a pedicure.

Most of these things have been done this winter and the others are in progress.

This far south a January day could be 80 degrees (yesterday) or it could be in the thirties (today). I’ve got a fresh batch of broiler chickens in the brooder. I hope they don’t turn into just so many little peep-sickles.

All the market lambs are sold but five. I’m tempted to have them butchered before I sell them. They are cheaper to keep in the freezer that in the pasture, but it is best to sell them live if I can.

This year all lambs have been sold directly to the consumer, nothing went to the sale barn.

I’m trying to work out a way to sell meat by the cut rather than by the head but I don’t think I’ll have that worked out before this lot is gone.

All together this is plenty enough to fill these short winter days.