Category Archives: free range

Fencing Followup

Well, now that I ranted and talked about all the issues I have had with fencing companies. I would like to gladly report that after making some phone calls and venting to people I know who used to be in the business I have come up with a solution to the problems.

A post pounder – √

A post hole digger – √

Suppliers for materials – √

 

And here is the real kicker…it’s going to save nearly $25,000 of funds!

Yes it’s going to take some work…but I can get it done. I can even hire some hands to come help me out. Guys I know that will work for their pay.

NO JOKE!

I will be finalizing the order of materials today…which is a full tractor-trailer load by the way! Delivery should be sometime by Wednesday of next week!

As the old saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way!!!

So there…take that you ego-maniacs!

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My Rant!

Do y’all remember back when I did the “13 Questions” blog post and I talked about how differently women get treated within the Ag sector. WELL….let me just explain how different women are treated!

A little background first…I am no stranger to digging deep to get what I want. An example of this is the grant we just received. I have done my homework, spent countless hours researching and networking to learn all I could about rotational grazing. Even went to the extent to build a small area as a “test plot” to try the whole concept out. I was told by our local NRCS and Soil & Water representatives to NOT move forward with permanent fencing until we were completely approved for the grants being filed. Alright, I will admit I am not a patient person and I drove them crazy with phone calls asking for updates, double checking on dates, etc, etc. BUT, low and behold we finally got approved for a $60,000 project that includes new seeding, soil amendments, perimeter fencing and a water system to ensure water supply to the cows.

Problem one: I don’t really know the first thing about high tensile fence. It has been a SEVERE crash course in construction, post holes and rock formations. But in the end and after several serious conversations, I feel equipped to talk to people about what I want. Five strands, three of which will be “hot” or electric strands with two that work as grounds on posts every 50 feet or so; 13 gates, 10 are spring gates while the remaining 3 are tubular steel….Does anyone notice anything too difficult yet? Didn’t think so. Now there are 26 corners and 22 ends. I can even give you a rough estimate of the number of posts. Then there are the extras like tensioners, the gizmo to supply juice called an Energizer, ground rods, crimping sleeves and some other odds and ends. Still don’t see anything too difficult, do you? Nope me either.

Our allotment of funds is equal to around $2.09 per foot. Okay, well that’s a little low so I know I am going to need to put in some line posts myself and that I will need to also string the wire myself…with a little help here and there of course. During my conversations with these various fencing companies, I have been continually asked if I want it done the right way. Seriously? UMMMMM….NOPE I THINK I WANT IT TO FALL DOWN IN A YEAR!

Okay, well what is the worst is that I actually had a contractor tell me he would be willing to come in to do the job for around $2.00 per foot, completely installed. NOW that I have a quote in hand, the price is more like $2.50 a foot. I ask how much for just corner post and end post installation…to which I seriously got this response: “I will pay you $14 an hour for any work you do.” Okay, you are billing me at $30 but you are going to “knock off $14” and if I get hurt too bad because I am the landowner? And I’m using my own equipment (ie: four wheeler and the spinning jenny to unroll the wire)? What’s wrong with this picture? OH MY GOD wait…this is for 4 strand, not 5!!!! Did you listen at all? Apparently not!!!

The issue above is just one of many but it continues over about four different companies. Alright fine. I’ll start calling locally to find out just what equipment is available. One guy, Bub, has a post pounder I can use for FREE. Another guy, Troy, has a post hole digger with a rock bit (we have lots and lots of shale rock) that I can use. SCORE!!!! I have a tractor, truck and four wheeler. I CAN DO THIS! So I sit down with Rich and we come up with a lengthy list of supplies needed. I make a phone call on a price quote for just the supplies (which will total around $15,000 prior to shipping). Yup, they will send me a quote to turn in. Yup, I think you have everything listed you need. Yup, we will email you the quote. SIX HOURS LATER another fence company CALLS ME.

Oh, we are the fence company for this supplier. I’ll bid it all out for you. We understand you are extremely upset over the way other fence companies have been. I’ll get you a quote directly. Give me an hour. THREE HOURS LATER STILL NO QUOTES FOR THE JOB OR THE SUPPLIES.

So let me explain something to all you MEN out there! Listen close because you are really starting to wear on my last nerve and Tractor Supply is about to get my business. Be respectful of the ladies when you talk to them. We are a growing sector within the industry and YOU DO NOT NEED MY PARTNERS APPROVAL FOR JACK SHIT! It is my fence. It is my project and the fence is going where I WANT IT TO GO. I know what I want and I will get. Don’t want to work with me…FINE! I have no issues with that. I will do the whole damn job myself! No big deal. I am sure there are enough people out there I can offer to pay $14 an hour and they would love to have the work. Or maybe I will just be greedy and keep all the money in MY POCKET SINCE IT’S OUR TAXES THAT PROVIDED THE FUNDS ANYWAY!

Seems to me y’all would want to work with someone who is having issues keeping animals inside a fence. I would have been forever grateful to anyone who could have pulled their egotistic male head out of their own ass long enough to actually be respectful.

End of my rant!

13 Questions

13 questions that were posted on another blog called An Irish Male in America asked recently for people in Agriculture, inspired a couple other people I follow to write their own responses. It got me thinking about the answers. As I read through several other blogs linked below, it got me thinking about what my answers would be and wondering if they would be different. Considering all of us in farming do different things for different reasons, I decided that I would take the time to put my own answers together.

Megan Brown writes her blog The Beef Jar. Even though her operation is in California, I agree with many of her answers. Ahnna writes her own blog Ahnna On About Anything and also answers the questions with much different answers that I would come up with. And Jenny Dewey writes her blog j.l.d. photograph and answers the questions from her perspective of being a butcher’s daughter.  Her blog gives a great insight into what it feels like being behind the scenes at her parent’s butchering business.

I’m sure by now, there are more blogs than these out there but these are the ones that made me think about doing one myself to answer these 13 questions.

13 Thursday Presents…

13 Questions I want farmers/ranchers/AG people to answer (or even blog about!) (Update, I’m now editing this for content…… mainly because there was a real lack of content before… !)

1: What is the worst time of year for you?

I would have to say the worst for me is winter. Not because of the snow we get here on the East Coast in Central NY because I actually like the snow. I just don’t take the cold well. I don’t like getting bundled up in layer upon layer of clothes to go hang out in the barn. It limits my time in the barn too because I can’t take the cold. I manage but it makes me wish for the warm spring days.

2: What is your favorite farm job?

I love all of my jobs on the farm but the one I like the most is caring for the babies. It doesn’t matter what kind…cattle or poultry, doesn’t matter. I’m just a mother at heart.

I even share kisses with the cattle! I love them THAT much!
I even share kisses with the cattle! I love them THAT much!

3: What is your least favorite farm job?

Without a doubt, it’s cleaning out the bedding pack in the spring. It stinks to high heaven and takes days for the smell to come out of my hair. It’s a pain to get it all scooped out and you can’t do it by hand (packed too tight). I hate using the tractor for this job. It’s seriously the one job I really wish someone else would do!
4: What type of truck do you drive (on the job) and why did you choose it? (this one is a must know, not only do I find American trucks awesome to look at, but with all the truck companies trying to advertise themselves as the “biggest toughest” truck out there, I think it’s about time we round out the truth from the people that put them to use!)

I drive a 2004 Dodge 1500 Extended cab 4×4. I absolutely love this truck! I probably use it harder than I should but I haven’t had any issues with it to date. It’s a tough truck to beat down. Not only that I LOVE the dual exhaust rumble!! I’ve hauled two big ol’ round bales in the back more times than I can count and more animals inside than I have people. I’ve towed wagons loaded down with 10 round bales during hay season. It gets me through wet fields and slings a little mud. Hands down this is the best truck I have ever been fortunately enough to drive. Even overtop of those Chevy’s I used to swear by.
5: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned in your line of work?

This might be lengthy! One of the hardest lesson I have learned is that farming is still a man’s world. Women might be nurturers by nature but men still seem to control the destiny of what happens. I can’t tell you how many times I have called for parts or in search of equipment to have a man tell me he will get back to me and never return the call. I can’t tell you how many times I have stood on a tractor dealers lot to have them tell me what I wanted and didn’t want. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have almost been over charged for a good/product/service because I am a female. Being in this man’s world takes BRAINS AND GUTS…enough so that you know what you are doing, what you want, why you want it and know what to expect. It’s tough for an independent woman to learn that not everyone will see anything but the exterior.
The second hardest lesson I have learned is that sometimes you need to check your emotions at the door…this is one that I am still working on because I get emotionally attached to EVERYTHING! Emotions also tend to take over my conversations because most of the time I lead with my heart, not my head. It gets me into some tight spots sometimes too. Of course, if I was male I probably wouldn’t have this issue. Just sayin’
6: What do you think is the most valuable tool you have, the one you probably couldn’t live without?

As Megan Brown put it on her page, THE INTERNET! I honestly don’t know how I would educate myself to have the brains to stay on top of things happening in the world. Without the internet, I wouldn’t have met all these great women out there across the world that are struggling to fit in, education consumers and agvocate. I also wouldn’t have kindred spirits out there that I could talk to about the struggles, trials and tribulations of life either. I wouldn’t have a great network of advisors who have helped me set goals, learn different methods of production and give me some encouragement along the way.
7: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your business/what you do?

Personally, I think too many people lump all of agriculture into a tiny little box when in reality every farm is different from the next. Neighboring farms operate differently. I also think that people tend to think that micro and small farms are inherently better when in reality, many of them are worse than some of the biggest operations in the country.
8: If you could invest in a new piece of farm equipment tomorrow, what would it be?(and I mean it, just one!  let’s not get greedy!)

This one is simple! A new tractor that I would be comfortable with. I even have it all picked out. Massey is her name! She’s a red-head too…just like me!

 
9: What was the most serious injury you ever suffered in the line of work?

Hmmm, probably the most painful was the time a steer dislocated three bones in my hand. Hurt like hell when they had to reset the bones back in place.
10: Least favorite animal to deal with?

YEARLING BULL CALVES! They are still playful like calves and don’t realize their size. They are also the only brats they escape the fence…in turn demonstrating to the whole herd how to get out~GRRRR
11: (excluding all of the above) What’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked?

Hmmm….I guess it would have to be about the cattle horns. Most visitors think that only bulls have horns. It usually goes something like this….”What are those calves doing under that bull?” Which is actually a cow…but I’m sure you get the point.
12: Favorite beer? (come on, out with it!)(I’ve seen people take their beer pretty seriously, and it’s time to know what a real working persons beer of choice is!)

I, personally, love LaBatt’s. Honey Brown used to be another favorite. But, that being said….I haven’t had a beer in about four years and I think that was a Corona on a very hot summer day after working out in the sunshine all day.
13: Thing you’d most like the public to know about what you do! (I admit you do this every day on your blogs no doubt, but was looking for something addressing maybe a misconception you hear the most about your business!)

I wish people could understand that I am not just an animal care giver. I’m also an agronomist, soil specialist, mechanic, book-keeper, accountant, marketing specialist, graphic designer, writer, photographer, housekeeper, landscaper, consultant and much more. I wish people could understand that being in farming doesn’t mean that life is simple…it’s actually very complicated and complex. Many of us don’t only work on the farm but do other things outside the farm. It’s hectic. It’s chaotic. But we still love it! But just because we love it doesn’t mean that we are sitting back enjoy a 9 to 5 job. It doesn’t mean we get paid every Friday either. It means we go without to do the things we love the most. THAT said, I wish the public would also realize that all I would like to do is get paid (in a timely manner) what it costs to produce our goods with a little bit left over for me…to buy a pair of boots that I would probably wear to the barn. 90% of the time, 100% goes back to the farm in one way or another. We aren’t rich. We don’t have loads of money but we are building memories to last a lifetime and property to pass down through the generations.

Muddy Tires, Sore Knees and Baby Chicks

Spring equals mud! Mud makes farm girls happy!
Spring equals mud! Mud makes farm girls happy!

Nothing like starting right out with a photo that can manage to bring a big ol’ happy grin to my face and a twinkle to my eye. I love mud. Spring mud specifically. That greasy, slimy stick to everything kind of mud.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the truck or the four wheeler…I must drive/ride to get “dirty” every spring. It’s my way of saying GOODBYE OLD MAN WINTER! HELL-LO SPRING!

I think that thing that makes it best right now is the simple fact that my knee has been driving me insane over the last week. I think it has something to do with the 5-6 mile walks everyday, chasing loose cattle and sliding down very steep hills. Could just be old age too. Not really sure…all that matters is it gives me an excuse to get muddy! Mud makes me happy!

As the paper lining the box says...Great Expectations
As the paper lining the box says…Great Expectations

Babies make me happy too! Doesn’t matter what variety, two-legged or four. Covered in fur or feathers, doesn’t matter either. This time, we have NINETEEN babies! Little associated, mutt mixed chicken chicks ranging in all sorts of colors and color mixes.

They are so much fun to watch running around, learning how to peck at food and scratch the paper to shreds. The first day is always kind of quiet. It takes a lot out of the chicks to hatch…but they are just too adorable to watch as they run around and just flop down to take a nap.

Of course, all those fluffy feathers make it that much cuter!  Nothing like babies to make a grown woman act like a young child.

Needless to say, I am definitely young at heart….now I think I need to act my age and take a nap. Maybe I can take this little chick with me?!?! Nah…maybe another time!

Napping newborn chick
Napping newborn chick

Why Rotational Grazing?

Since this is a question that has been asked several times over the past weeks, we decided now would be a good time to discuss what actually drove our decisions.

A few years ago, we allowed a local large-scale dairy farmer to utilize the 80-ish acres of tillable ground for producing crops for his farm. What we didn’t realize at the time was how he intended to use the ground. After tilling the soils around  half of the farm this first year, we started noticing some issues with soil retention. We held conversations with him to communicate our concerns about the erosion and run off issues. Unfortunately, our concerns fell on deaf ears or he just didn’t care.

He continued to till the ground from lowest to highest points, providing “alley” lanes for the water to just run toward our pond. Water wasn’t the only concern, it was also the over abundance of manure waste from his farm that he began applying as well. Every field slops toward the pond.  Concerned over contamination of our pond, we started really paying attention to what was going on. Even to the extent of documenting through photographs what was happening. Our Department of Environmental Conservation started doing water samples too. Low and behold, the phosphorus levels started to increase in the pond water. Not to the point of dangerous…but close.

Look at the top, you will see bare ground and corn stubble
A closer look at the “silt” or soil erosion
All the water funnels to a pond…can you see the “silt” along the ice?

There are ways this could have been prevented all together!

With just the simple motion of NOT plowing the field straight up and down the slope, much of this erosion would have stayed in the field instead of heading directly into the ponds. Cover crops that establish root systems would have worked too. Unfortunately, neither happened and now, we as the land owners need to repair the damages.

What started out as major concerns over erosion and run off, we stumbled across some information that has undoubtedly changed the course of our entire farm. The recommendation to start rotational grazing for our small herd of cattle has altered our whole perspective on farming. In April of 2012, we started rotational grazing on the lone 4-1/2 acre piece of the farm that wasn’t plowed up and bare dirt. We spent around $800 for step in post, braided wire and an energizer. It took us a few hours to put in the posts and another couple of hours to string all the wire.

We started grazing April 1st, 2012. We started noticing after the first month that the grass was getting greener in spots from the cow manure patties. We started noticing less and less water running across the field too due to the small pieces of matter laying between the plants. We noticed that our grass was still growing in July when every one else’s in our area had dried up and turned brown. Benefit after benefit started to show.

We planted the highest elevation piece into grasses for hay and future grazing too. 30 acres were planting with grass and legumes. After the first three weeks, we noticed less and less run off from that field too! Another 14 acres was reseeded and we started noticing spots of no growth. That got us to wondering why some spots were growing great and others barely at all. After walking through the field, the explanation was simple! All of the topsoil was GONE! Literally, it had all flowed off of spots and deposited in others. All that was left was the shale rock base. We knew right there that something had to change dramatically!

After talking with our Natural Resources Office and our local county Soil and Water representative, we all came to the same agreement. Based on the success of our rotational grazing trial and the erosion issues, we would all work together and apply for some grant funding to put the entire farm into Managed Grazing. March brought us the approval and the contracts for two separate programs! We are happily reporting that the full 90 acres of acre we deem as “farm” will soon be pastured and used exclusively for rotational grazing and hay production ONLY. There will be no more tillage, other than by cattle hooves.

Which do you think would be better if it was your property?

Erosion from water on tilled ground that was left bare after the corn was harvested fall of '12
Erosion from water on tilled ground that was left bare after the corn was harvested fall of ’12
Water draining out of the pasture.
Water draining out of the pasture.

 

Lots of Activity

I thought life was crazy before! I have changed my mind. Currently, we have added in the woes of fence construction, new seeding, grazing management, frost seeding, and relocating temporary fences.

Let’s start with the temporary fence. A great deal of our fence areas are set in with step in posts and braided wire. I hasn’t been a problem until now. The issues that have come up now are long-haired animals (see photo below) just walking through the fence. Hair seems to NOT conduct the electricity within the energized wire. Needless to say, about two to six times a day…I am putting cattle back inside the fence or getting a phone call while I run errands because the cows are out.

Two Irish Dexter calves on the wrong side of the fence.
Two Irish Dexter calves on the wrong side of the fence.

It really doesn’t make much sense. As you can see, the grass is very low to the ground in that area. Inside the area fenced in, some of the grass under the laid over hay is several inches long. In this case, the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence!

This shows the grasses inside the fence
This shows the grasses inside the fence

Now let’s talk about this photo a little more. This is part of our pre-spring grazing management. We have an area fenced in that needed some “work”. The area gets very steep and doesn’t allow for any type of tractor work. So we are using the cattle to do the work for us. As you can see in the photo, the old forage growth within the paddock has provided a sort of blanket for the new grasses underneath to sprout and grow quicker than the worked up field areas that we grazed last fall.

This is just part of the area that we are "working" with the cattle
This is just part of the area that we are “working” with the cattle

The standing stalks of weeds will get eaten, trampled and the ground develops as the cattle hooves dig into the ground. We have already seen improvements…in 2 days! Take a look!

This is at the end of day one in this paddock. Note how the stalks are broken or eaten. Also note the addition of cow pies for fertilization.
This is at the end of day one in this paddock. Note how the stalks are broken or eaten. Also note the addition of cow pies for fertilization.

I will be posting follow-up photos with before, during and after shots. We are trying this as part of an experiment for land reclaiming. They are eating the briars and the weeds! Proof in these next two photos.

Here is Tommy eating Golden Rod stalks that grew last year (2012)
Here is Tommy eating Golden Rod stalks that grew last year (2012)
Cow clipped briars!
Cow clipped briars!
Here is Tommy, sniffing to see if he wants to eat the briar.
Here is Tommy, sniffing to see if he wants to eat the briar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next stage for us will be fencing in the 90 acres we will be using for rotational grazing this year and for many years to come. It’s a big job with over 14,500 linear feet of fencing, posts, wires, etc to have put up! Once it’s all completed we will have enough area to grazing 45 animals. To someone like me with an obsession with cattle…it means I can buy more cattle! (Reminder: I like to buy cattle like most women like to buy shoes!)

We also have 30 acres to get seeded for another grazing area too. Rich has been researching, reading and learning what types of grasses and legumes will be best suited for both the soil and the cattle. He thinks he has finally figured out which blend (a custom mix with lots of plant diversity) he wants to go with. In the meantime, we will be frost seeding clover on last years pastures to start building nitrogen in the ground. Did you know that clovers are nature’s way of providing nitrogen? I didn’t…but it’s very cool! No more synthetic fertilizer for nitrogen!!!

Saturday, we will be headed to a grazing seminar that will help us learn how to become more adapt at managing our grazing plan. I am super excited to go and I will make sure I take LOTS of pictures!

For now…it’s back to chasing cattle, taking more photos and reading more books! Thanks for stopping in to read about my adventures and sharing our little piece of Heaven!

 

 

Winter Blues

They say the life of a farmer slows down in winter. I beg to differ. Winter time is usually the time we catch up on reading, sit through forage classes and plan out for the coming year. This year isn’t much different for me other than I am reading more on Holistic Land Management and taking some additional business and financial planning classes online. The extra course work, which takes a couple hours per week per class, really isn’t that much but it still takes time.

I have some other classes that I am taking too. Ones on the food system in the US and another on human nutrition. Why am I taking these classes you ask? Looking at from my perspective, I feel as a farmer who works extensively with consumers about food production, it’s my job to be as informed as possible about how food impacts choices when it comes to how you eat. It’s also important for me to know and be able to express how food moves and travels because you never know someday we might be selling our goods all across the US. As for the business and financial planning classes, no matter how you want to look at farming or agriculture in general…it’s still a business where we need to make sure that we are planning and spending funds appropriately but also ensuring that we are making enough money to stay afloat too.

Farming doesn’t have the profitability of many other jobs but it is rewarding in other ways. That’s one reason why it’s important to look at management from a Holistic standpoint since those methods also take a look at lifestyle too.

On top of classes, I am still doing all of the same stuff…dealing with frozen water, cold stress in cattle, feeding hay bales, changing bedding, filling water jugs several times a day, gathering eggs, feeding chickens, caring for calves, keeping the fires going, cooking the old style home cooked meals and still trying to keep up with laundry, dishes and housework.

Life doesn’t slow down for much on the farm. Sometimes we are forced to take breaks from the daily routine due to illness (and believe me, I have to be SUPER ill to keep me away from the barn) but it isn’t often. Even if we aren’t doing the manual labor involved for the farm, there are still other things we do. Research, reading and formulating crop charts, rotational grazing map or looking through seed catalogs…there is always something that can be done.

I have been down and out for a couple of days with one of those illnesses that prevents me from standing too much…but I still didn’t miss the birth of the first calf of 2013. I even managed to capture a video!

I didn’t get to stay out there too long and I am thankful for a cow that is awesome about birthing. I missed the first steps and the first suckle, which happen to be some of my favorite moments on the farm. It’s rather depressing to miss such moments too but, sometimes we have to take care of our own health first or we won’t be any good for anything at all for a very long time, if ever again. So for now, I will deal with my winter blues the best way I know how…learning, researching and communicating via books and the internet. I have to say, I have had some awesome conversations over the phone too about our grazing plans, the success we have had and why I think it’s important for others to consider rotational grazing. Being down isn’t all bad…it just takes some adapting.

I will write more soon about extreme animal care and welfare. I want to give some details about how we cope with winter months when temperatures hover around ZERO with freezing cold wind chill factors, what we do to ensure animal safety during winter, and how grazing has also been incorporated during the winter months. I may have to write up a series of articles but, I think it’s important that people see just how much care and planning goes into animal care during extreme weather.

Hope you are all staying warm…and I will leave you with a photo to contemplate for the next blog! Have a blessed day!

Here is Abel...warm, relaxed and sound asleep. What's "off" about this photo?
Here is Abel…warm, relaxed and sound asleep. What’s “off” about this photo?