Category Archives: farming

Classes

It’s hard to believe but I have started taking classes as part of the 2013-2014 Holistic Management Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Program for women in the Northeast. I wish you could all understand that this is an honor for me to be accepted into the program and become part of such a great group of women from all over the world, not just the Northeast.

I wouldn’t have even filled the application if not for a couple ladies encouraging me to do so. I know that many people have different opinions on what is the right way and wrong way to live life, run a farm or business but I have my own ways. Since 2006, I have been forced to continue looking forward and at the bigger picture. The Holistic Management training will help me do all that with new key insights and with better tactics.

Life has been floundering. Two different people involved in farming with two different aspects. One who has been around farming and ran a day to day operation in the past and another who may have grown up on a small dairy but has no clue about grasses, soils, fertilization, etc. I’m the second. One area that I handle is the cattle and small animals around the farm. I work with them to be friendly, halter trained and care for them. Sometimes, I have felt disconnected from tasks that I just don’t understand. My opinion is kicked to the curb because I just don’t know what I need to know to make a viable choice. These classes will not only give me a crash course in some of these steps but will also help us plan better for open communication and planning.

I have been reading and studying Allan Savory’s book titled Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making since January of this year. We have been actively putting these management practices to use since 2012. We just didn’t know it until a copy of the book was borrowed from the library. I think I have been using the same concept of planning and life choices actively since 2009 on a regular basis. Was it done right or with an intention of doing so? Nope, it wasn’t. Could/can it be refined to use and help eliminate planning issues, work issues and more? You bet it can! That’s why I’m taking these classes.

In section One, the topic was how to enhance success, meeting challenges effectively, addressing environmental issues and how all this works together inside your “toolbox” of management. The key is knowing who’s involved, what you are managing (an inventory of what you already have) and then knowing what quality of life you want and what you need to have or do to get there. The key is to PLAN-IMPLEMENT-MONITOR-CONTROL.

Section Two takes you from principles to practice and really starts digging into your Holistic Goal, defining what you manage and testing your decisions. It makes you take a look at who are decision makers and what human assets you have. It makes you look at the “stuff” you already have, including equipment and money.

If you want to test yourself on creating a holistic goal, it’s also important to know how you want people to see you. By people I mean your neighbors, vendors, suppliers, customers, etc. You also need to think about how you want the environment around you to look and how you want your community to be. I will admit, this task was rather daunting for me. I spent time talking with my advisor and one of the key things for me was to develop not one, but two holistic goals…maybe even three now that I think about it. Having the farm and knowing that this is something I am extremely passionate about is one things, but my own personal goals and even my photography have overlapping goals but ultimately, they are very separate and on very different levels.

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Costs of Products

I was part of an interesting conversation today about the prices of Organic Food versus Other Food. I’m going to attempt to break it down so non-producing people can understand.

Each farm does things differently, each step costing a different amount. In a traditional business, we call this production. In farming, the consumer associates that word with assembly lines of animals or parcels of land providing goods at the expense of those who care for it or them.

As a farmer, each thing I do has a cost associated with it. We call this the cost of production. It covers everything from seeds, fertilizers, wages, marketing and feed. It also covers taxes and fuels and every other thing in between. Businesses call this overhead. Small farms are like those boutique shops where everything is done on a smaller scale and products are limited. Larger farms are like chain stores where they get discounts for what we call “purchasing power.”

With these comparisons, just why is Organic more expensive if it doesn’t involve costly fertilizers and spray chemicals? It’s actually rather simple to do the math. For example purposes, I am going to use the terminology of convention and organic with no line drawn in the sand between the two. I am not a supporter of either system for various reasons.

Let’s take a look at things that are the same for both systems:

1. Land taxes – Yes they vary from town to town, county to county and state to state but each acre of land has an associated cost of using that land.

2. Insurance – It doesn’t matter what type of farming you do. Building insurance, farm machinery insurance and auto insurance all have fees associated.

3. Electricity Consumed – Unless a farm is providing its own electricity through wind, solar or capturing methane gases, there is always a cost for fences, lights, milking pumps, water, etc.

Here’s where things start to drastically vary:

1. A Consolidated Feeding Operation (CAFO) will utilize more harvested and stored materials while Organic utilize more pasture based systems.

  • CAFO have high costs associated with planting, maintaining and harvesting materials. Organic has high costs for fencing and electricity to charge the fence.
  • Most farms purchase supplements grains. Let’s say Conventional or GMO corn is selling for $4.25 per bushel provided, Organic Corn for feed is selling for $10.00 per bushel. Most Organic farms do not have the “buying power” discussed about to play the market futures for corn commodities either, which results in slightly lower price structures. On these market based reports, Organic corn for feed costs 242% more.
  • On CAFO operations, the overhead costs of lights are at a lower input rate on a per head basis. If you are comparing at 100 cow dairy to a 1,000 cow dairy the prices to provide lights, heating/cooling, water and other associated costs are normally close to the same cost per month. So if that monthly bill is $200, it’s a $.50 fee per cow on the small dairy and $.20 fee per cow of the larger farm. It works the same with fuel to provide feed.

2. It isn’t that Organic farms don’t use fertilizers, sprays or chemicals. It’s that what can be used is limited. With any other “specialty” market, we expect to pay higher prices for these goods. You can do some research via the internet and discover the differences in pricing structures and what’s allowed for organics according to the USDA.

As you can see, Organic is in my view-point a much costly endeavour due to feed costs alone. Organic farms also deal with different commodity brokers or do much of their own marketing on smaller farms. No answer is ever simple and it’s difficult to express the real differences in costs. Again, this is another reason I suggest you purchase from a farm you can talk too. Boxed goods on the shelf, unfortunately, do not tell us the real story behind the scene.

If there is anyone who would like to sit down and discuss our pricing structures, we always welcome you to come look over the books. Here on our farm, we do not fit into the brackets of conventional or organic. We base our choices on economic, environmental and animal benefits. The system we use isn’t a marketing tool, but instead a sound decision based off those three aspects. I will keep all opinions on both of these productions to myself today. If you want to know more, feel free to comment or send us a message via twitter or Facebook.

New Bridges

Let the day dawn bright and new, full of passion for what I do. Cock-a-doodle-do!
Let the day dawn bright and new, full of passion for what I do. Cock-a-doodle-do!

I post a lot of farm photos over on our Facebook page and lately I have gotten a ton of requests to build a photo book. After doing some digging into some options, I’m now working on building one through MixBook. I’m hoping to have it all set by the end of the month to use as a fundraiser!  I will work on a calendar after that like I did for last year.  Sometimes, I feel like there is so much to do and so much to get done. I’m slowly working on getting all this stuff figured out and still managing to keep up.

The research is the worst by far because it’s so time-consuming. It’s all worth it in the long run through. Without new knowledge, we never expand our horizons. My horizons keep going and maybe I will never be able to fully attain my goal on what I build for years down the road, I hope that my dreams can inspire another generation. A generation that makes it to my horizons and their own beyond. Maybe it will be family and maybe it will be a random stranger, I don’t know but the possibilities are endless!

It’s still kind of hard for me to grasp that I am a farming photographer. Five years ago, if you had asked me where I would be in the future and what I would be doing neither choice would have been considered. I wish I could pass on half the feelings I get now when it comes to both. I feel so entirely blessed to be able to photograph and share my life in transition. I have photographed so many people along the way, so many different events and through it all I have come out of it all with a true dedication and passion for all things agriculture.

I love that I can photograph my everyday world of cattle and country. I love that I can create artistic images that capture the “feeling” within those moments that inspire me. I am truly blessed with talent through my passions. To those that say it’s all a hobby, I have this to say. It still takes time to care for each animal. I would bet my camera that I spend more time per cow in a week than most farmers do in a year. I may operate something closer to a petting zoo but, for all those kids who are here experiencing a hands on thing with cattle that give them kisses, it means more than a stroll through a barn to watch cattle eat. Maybe it’s all those years I worked in sales and marketing that make me see and do things differently. I honestly don’t know.

Maybe it’s all those years of cruel people who’ve been involved in my life that makes me more compassionate to the animals. And to clarify, I’m  not saying the “standard farmer”, whatever that may be, doesn’t care for their animals. I’m saying that I feel. I’m passionate about each cow, calf or bull. I touch them many times a day and not just during a milking chore. I touch them like we humans do when we gentle touch someone’s hand in comfort or their arm when we are talking to them. Being the photographer has made me observe. I’ve observed countless farmers who will scratch a head as they walk by or talking to an animal when they need them to move. I’m just different. It’s difficult to explain.

My herd is my family. I love them all for different reasons. I still have a favorite or two and spoil them with extra attention. I know that some will go on and others will become food for my belly. It doesn’t matter to me, they are still something I get rather passionate about. They provide me a counselor when I need to talk my way through a problem. They are my friends who are always happy to see me (usually because I give attention or have treats). They share affection when I need it the most.  The greatest thing about them is that they make me happy. If you’ve ever watched calves playing, you know that warm fuzzy feeling that comes over me when I get around my cattle.

Each one is individual yet part of a whole, kind of like us. Each one with unique personality difference, yet all part of the same community. To me, cattle are inspiring. To them, it doesn’t really matter if it rains or is sunny. As long as they have food to eat and a dry place to lay (unless they are idiots and go lay in a mud puddle), they are happy. Nothing sparks an inner peace like cattle grazing on the top of a knoll with green grass under their feet and nothing but a cloudy sky of blue above. You can imagine it, can’t you? That’s my life. That’s the moments I live for. That’s my bridge to a better me. That’s the bridge that inspires photographs.

I’m working hard to expand those bridges. A bridge of knowledge for the younger generations to hopefully find the same inspiration I have managed to find in farming. That bridge that leads to that moment when all in the world feels right inside your soul. Maybe that bridge can be built on the farm through physical contact with the cattle or maybe through the visions I create through a photography book or calendar. Maybe that bridge will be through a video or seminar. I honestly don’t know what’s going to bridge the gap for the next generation to feel the same passion for the cattle, animals and the land like I do. I was fortunate to have grandparent’s when I was young but so many don’t have that privilege. It’s something I want to share…or as the title says, building a new bridge to.

Lots of News

So much has been going on that I’m not really sure even where to begin. A year or so again, everything that has been happening was just a dream. A pipe dream of wishes written out on a scrap piece of paper and internet page links stored in favorites full of useful information. Twitter conversations about plants, seasons, materials and lots of questions were happening then too.

I have made so many great friends in the past two to three years of my life. Some of which I haven’t met YET but share the same kindred spirits. This is a group of people who have inspired, encouraged and guided. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that can attest to the power of the internet, in good ways and bad. What I’m discussing today is the power of knowledge, prayer and positive thinking.

As many of you that read this blog know, I’ve had some big transitions in mind for the farm I live on. Earlier this year, I thought those dreams were shattered. I’m not going into gory details but I will tell you that the whole ordeal took it’s emotional, financial and health tolls on me. It wasn’t the worst situation I had ever been through but I will admit that it ranks right up there in the top 5 fearful months of my life.

I opened up to a few of my friends about concerns I had. I talked to advisors about what to do about myself in the role I was holding to in a death grasp. It’s when I truly learned who to REALLY listen too and whose opinions to dismiss. I do have this word of advice….NEVER LET ANYONE DISCOURAGE YOU FROM LIVING THROUGH WITH A DREAM THAT YOU ARE SO PASSIONATE ABOUT THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE YOURSELF WITHOUT IT!

I had an advisor that told me that I wasn’t the one to make difficult decisions about the farm I have managed and that the animals are a business only. He proceeded to inform me that what I did do with the animals here didn’t have much worth in the “big” picture of things either. He never asked me about what type of protocols or plans I had set into place. All he seemed concerned about what my overall dollar value. It was rather insulting to tell you the truth. Okay, I admit that I am a pauper working toward a bigger dream. I struggle to pay my bills. I work hard and go without to work toward a bigger goal. But seriously, is that all I am viewed for? Nothing more than my “worth” on paper or my bank account? Well, to make a long story short, it was determined that my “real worth” was $675 a month. How about them apples?

I struggled for weeks with this new information. I doubted myself and what my long-term goals were. Then it suddenly hit me. I may only be worth $675 a month now but what about next month or even next year or better yet three years down the road? I started thinking about that kid going through college, building up debt, and working part-time at McDonald’s. I am at a stepping stone. The first step into a new life with a new future. Everything for the past three years has led me to here, worth zero when I started and look, I’ve increased my “worth” by what percentage rate? Just imagine how much I can change that worth in the next three years with proper planning, some of my awesome marketing skills, my photography and my networking!

I decided to take a risk and file an application to a Holistic Beginning Women’s Farm Management Program. I GOT ACCEPTED! Classes start in TWO WEEKS! Whoa, I’m doing what? Oh yeah, I’m not letting some or anyone for that matter tell me my SELF WORTH and I’m sure not letting anyone tell me to let go of what really makes me WHO I AM. You know that passion for nature, animals and the environment? You know that dedication and love I have for the cattle? Well, those are all something that God has given me that don’t have a dollar value! Just ask that rescued cow who lived another 5 years under my watchful eye and who know how it felt to be well cared for! Go ahead, look up into the sky and just ask yourself…is that something you could have done with tenderness and compassion when she first came here? Would you have taken the chance to get to know a scrawny cow who looked like she stood on the edge of starvation? In the end, that same cow you would have made into hamburger provided me with beautiful calves, LOTS of milk, butter and cheese but most of all, she provided a vision of what MY future may hold.

So again, I ask you to not let anyone judge you by what they see in paper or in bank accounts! Only you know what passions are held in your heart and soul. For me, it’s farming and photography combined. For you, it may not be. Look to people who are going to POSITIVELY encourage your own personal growth, NOT what society says it should be. Find what you love to do and NEVER let go of that internal drive that ultimately makes YOU happy!

After months of fighting my “worth” internally, I want to report that my “hobby farm” as this kind man put it, is now up to 21 cows, around 75 chickens and a handful of turkeys. I have 110 acres surrounded by beautiful high-tensile five strand fence. I have a full fledge water system for the fields going into the ground in the spring of 2014. I have increased our sales of meat products by 100%. We supplied chicken and beef for our first catering event this year. We have more and more people coming for visits. I am preordered on beef for next year. Demand is blooming for the rose veal. Contracts are in the works for some direct marketing for poultry. Eggs aren’t building up in the refrigerator. AND contracts are in the works to rotational graze additional animals for around $2200 per month until I can build my own herd. To say the least, my next worth has increased double since those fateful words back in June of this year! Just imagine what that worth will do next year as I am raising more chickens, selling more eggs, beef, rose veal, rabbits and pork.

Sometimes we all just need to take a step back and evaluate what our future is really “worth” to ourselves! I can’t even begin to tell you the changes that have happened since I told myself I’m worth more than just a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper. My passion has proven enough that maybe just maybe I can inspire another generation with the help and encouragement of someone like me. In the meantime, I’m going to keep on trudging….and getting better at this blogging thing. After all, I want to share all this new and exciting information I am going to learn!

For now, take a look at this picture.

Not my camera but that is my cattle on the farm!
Not my camera but that is my cattle on the farm!

I look forward to comments on speculation of what’s going on around the farm! This image holds a bunch of clues…can you figure it out?

Miss Belle

I’m writing this with so much sadness in my heart. Yesterday, probably one of the hardest afternoons of my life, brought an end that I tried to prepare for but found myself severely lacking.

As many of you know, several years ago we took in a Jersey cow in very sad shape.

Belle and Danny the day they arrived. Malnurished, she still provided love to her calf.
Belle and Danny the day they arrived. Malnourished, she still provided love to her calf.

I’ve talked about her countless times because she had such a profound affect on my life. I remember the day she stumbled out of a cattle trailer and became part of my life. I remember sitting with her and the two calves that came with her in the pasture with tears in my eyes. A promise was made to her that day. A promise that she had a home here on the farm for the rest of her days, no matter what may come. A promise that she would be cared for and loved. A promise that every day forward would be what she deserved in life, respect. In a matter of hours, she showed such grace and such a motherly devotion to her calves, she was named Belle and nicknamed Ma. She ended up becoming a mother to many and in one summer season came back to her full potential. The photo video below shows that transition.

As the years went by, she inspired so many changes. We developed the whole future of the farm based on her needs and care. You may all think I’m crazy and say she was nothing more than a pet cow but you couldn’t be more wrong. If anything, I was her pet human. She was the epitome of a lady inside that bovine body of hers. She was gentle enough to stand for anyone to milk her. She provided me with something I never thought possible; a calm personality. She taught me that no matter how bad your life may become, God will bring a change that will have a profound impact. She was a blessing to a woman who was lost in the depths of depression. She gave me purpose and showed me what I should be doing with my life. I will always hold a very special place in my heart for her and I know that there will never be another cow that comes into my life that will be like her. She was unique and special. I want to always remember her like the video and photo below.

My sweet Belle as I picture her in my head now grazing in God's green pastures.
My sweet Belle as I picture her in my head now grazing in God’s green pastures.

Beef Cattle Woes and Wonders

There are some things that I guess I should explain.

I was raised as a small child on a dairy farm. Dairy cattle are what I know the most about. Dairy cattle and Beef cattle are NOT the same thing!
Being raised on a dairy and gathering lots of knowledge over the years does NOT mean that I am an expert either. Somethings I know but there is and always be a ton of stuff I don’t know. There is always new research, new methods, and tweaking to systems. Dairy cattle require different food values than Beef cattle too. High protein, high energy and lots of different nutrients. Don’t get me wrong, Beef cattle still need good food they just require different levels than Dairy cattle.

I have never been around beef cattle until 2011. I don’t know much about them other than they are still cattle. I did a fair amount of research on a couple of different breeds until I found one that I thought was suitable for what I wanted to do. I started my journey into beef way back in 2008. It took 3 years before the breed was found and could be purchased at a reasonable rate. Did I get animals with a pedigree? No, I did not. It has created some issues on it’s own by not having them but they weren’t all that important.

So what’s the breed you ask? Well, Irish Dexter Cattle is what they are. I’ve heard many different takes on how to describe them. Overall and from experience, I will say this. They are a short breed of beef cattle with stout legs and solid feet. The three original cows purchased are 42″, 39″ and 37″ in height. When it comes to frame scores (based on body height at the front shoulder) these ladies don’t even register as a Frame one! They give birth to small calves too. The largest I have seen has been 60 lbs or so. Irish Dexters are efficient grazers that will forage on just about anything, including low protein forages and still have great daily weight gains. Irish Dexters are also a dual purpose cattle too. They can be milked and will give up to around 2-1/2 gallons of milk a day if fed a high protein diet. We do NOT milk them currently.

In the process of learning and building the herd, there are characteristics about them that are not all that wonderful. When you are producing an animal for meat, you want muscle bulk. This is something that the Irish Dexters severely lack in the rear quarters or buttocks region. It’s not that they don’t have muscle, it’s just small. This is something that can be improved through genetics by choosing the right animals to breed them with.

This is the second generation of Irish Dexter on the farm. He is ONE YEAR old in this photo.
As you can see, the rump muscle isn't nearly as rounded as what most beef cattle would have.
As you can see, the rump muscle isn’t nearly as rounded as what most beef cattle would have.

For a year, I have followed Pharo Cattle Company through their facebook  group. I have learned so much from the likes of Kit Pharo, Chip Hines and many others who discuss grazing, drought, genetics and so much more. I’ve been fortunate enough to gain mentors through this similar like-minded people who have established themselves as herd quitters (I’ll explain this more later). Recently, Kit and I have been holding conversations about what kind of options are available when you are breeding an animal like an Irish Dexter to improve the quality of the next generation. This whole process is all about learning for me and I will take all the advice given by him to heart. He probably doesn’t know it but he is also part of the inspiration behind my goal of 365-grazing. I am thankful to have such a great network of people to build knowledge from and the modern technology that allows me to be able to connect with them.

Now, as many of you already know. I’m a strange bird, doing different things and always experimenting with things outside of the box other farmers have built. This is the real reason I starting following and learning from Kit and others like him. Kit has come up with a name for those of us who don’t follow the “herd” and do what everyone else is doing. As I mentioned before, Herd Quitters, is the name appropriated used. He told me the other day, there is a phrase that fits me to the T.  His Cowboy Logic for me: “If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you will never be better than average.”

I don’t want to be average, far from it actually. I want to be different. I want to try new things, not only in life but with the farm.  I want people to visit and say, “WOW! Can you believe that?!?!”  I don’t have everything figured out and probably never will create the perfect situation for everyone but I can keep working to create better for me and for me to be better. I can continue to work to develop animals that are efficient grazers. I can continue to develop and improve the land I work. I can continue to tweak what I do with rotational grazing. I can continue to work harder, develop more and still keep my feet firmly planted.

To end this message, the meaning of being a herd quitter:  “The term “Herd Quitter” refers to people who have enough courage to break away from the status-quo, herd-mentality way of thinking. It is more about thinking for yourself than anything else. Following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing – WITHOUT KNOWING WHY – has never been the best way to manage your business. If you are doing what everyone else is doing, you will never be better than average.”

I think this should also include that is not the best way to manage business or life! And I couldn’t agree more!

Here’s to the Herd Quitters… The crazy ones… The rebels… The troublemakers… The square pegs in a world full of round holes… They see things differently… They have no respect for the status quo… They make things happen… If it weren’t for the Herd Quitters, the earth would still be flat… While some call them crazy, we see genius… Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do… Dare to be different… Dare to be a Herd Quitter!

Busy Spring

I am horrible at keeping up with everything that is going on within my life and on the farm right now. I am horrible at time management when it comes to blogging too. I apologize for this and will work harder at doing better at staying in touch and keeping all informed of what’s happening.

Update on Fencing: Still nothing started. Another meeting scheduled for on the farm this afternoon that will hopefully change that.

Update on calving: Including the calf born in February, we are up to 4 new calves born this year. Three of which are heifers!!!! The newest one came last night at around 11 pm. We have just one more to calf. I’m almost hoping it’s a bull so that we have something around to raise for beef.

Update on grazing: Things have been going good. We have extended the rotational grazing out to total around 13 acres for the time being. It’s still all set up with step in posts and single strand braided wire but it’s working 99.9% of the time. We have had just one issue since Spring turn out in April. That was Monday morning…I will explain more further in the section on new seeding.

Update on crops: I am excited to report that the entire farm is now replanted in GRASS! No more bare ground at all!!! So if anyone is interested in a good old Brillion seeder, give me a shout! The last 26 acres planted on May 18 is growing good. The forage oats and grasses are growing great…well, other than where they were grazed due to loose animals anyway. They only “clipped” a few of the tops and minimal damage was done thankfully. Some of the growth is now to our knees! First cutting will be ready before we know it!
Last years new seeding came in fabulous this year! We’ve had some issues with harvest…so let’s discuss the next topic.

Update on Spring Hay Harvest: This is the one area that we are having a horrible time. Between the rain and inconsistant people who have backed out on us (three to be exact) we still have yet to get first cutting done. Last years new seeding is all headed out and not necessarily a bad thing but it would still be nice to get the grasses cut since they are as tall as I am at 5’8″ now.

All in all, it’s been a busy and productive spring. Even with the issues we face as a small farm with limited capabilities, we are managing. Are we managing to the extent we want to be? That’s a big NO. Unfortunately, without the purchase of equipment we don’t have funds for, we just have to go with what other’s working with us do. At some point, this will be easier due to the fact that we do have our own equipment but until then we will make do. Hopefully we aren’t spending out another $1,000 for hay over the winter again.

We have lots of irons in the fire between the beef, dairy and poultry. Between the eggs, meat and milk we are doing okay. But that’s just it…okay. Not great, not fabulous. I hate feeling that we are in a rut but it drives me to work that much harder to get things done. I’m optimistic that someday, I will be able to kind of sit back and be able to look around saying, LOOK at everything that has been done. LOOK at the struggles we overcame! Nothing that’s rewarding ever comes easy and the struggles make us remember how important hard work and dedication are.

I’m out for now…more work to get done. Big meeting to prepare for and hopefully a little more good news by the end of the day today!