Sunday, November 20, 2016

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Took pics of these two Spanish Black poults six months ago -

They grew up fast and are in the freezer now.

I have pics/movies elsewhere on the site of them as adults. Beautiful, interesting animals.

Go to the wikipedia page on Black Turkeys for more info.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bird Slaughter

My friend Andy's two sons came up from Chicago this past weekend to help on the farm. My parents (dad is riding the tractor in the blog header) came too. Among other things we put about half the birds in the freezer. They'll come back in a week or two to help me finish them off.

I grilled, whole, one of the guinea fowl tonight for dinner. Tasty.

bonus (graphic) movie -

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

There's Something Wrong With This Picture

From the Wisconsin Farmer's Union.  (click on image for a clearer view.)

The economics are no better for grain farmers.  At the moment the organic prices/profits are slightly better, but large Turkish/Ukrainian producers with questionable organic standards are flooding the US market, driving down those prices too.

Monday, October 17, 2016

How a Combine Works

It's an amazing machine. I'm cutting and pasting this diagram from Wikipedia.  Click on the image to make it bigger/clearer. 

To give you an idea of how efficient these things are, our combine - a 35 year old John Deere 6620 - can produce (that is take in rough dry stalks and give you clean kernels of corn) about 15,000 lbs in an hour.  Try doing that by hand.

Switching Heads on the Combine

The head of a combine is what collects the grain and delivers it to the body of the combine.  You can harvest most grains, including soybeans, with what we call a "bean head".  Once beans are harvested, in order to harvest corn you need to install a "corn head".

Sounds simple enough.

I took several short videos during the day while we got this done. On a related note I heard from a Sony rep regarding my complaints about fuzzy/grainy videos taken with the new camera.  He said that it was due to the autofocusing feature and that if I wanted clear videos I'd need to use a tripod.  Hard to carry one of those in my pocket.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Up With the Birds

Setting full moon and early morning fog over bean stubble. Trees starting to change color.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Pumpkin/Squash ID

I could use a little help IDing these. I planted two hills and got about 30 squash of 5-10 lbs each. I planted about 15 other mounds of other varieties and got similar results. A few of the mystery squash shown below.

I'm making a stew with north african flavors: cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, raisins, tomato, chickpeas and potatoes. The squash itself is fairly mild. One nice thing about this variety is that there were no pests that, like the squash vine borer, have killed a lot of my winter squash in the past.

Farmhouse Construction Update #6

Another movie.  Might have to buy another camera, this one is pretty disappointing.

I finished framing in the old staircase opening.

Guinea fowl and turkey out my kitchen window.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Q and A - #1

I've been asked "With all those birds and a dog, do they get along?".

Yes. I don't have any video, but this gives you an idea

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Two Americas

I moved from one to another.  Chris Arnade, someone I follow on Twitter, has plenty of interesting things to say on the subject.

Here's the link, I'll give a screen capture image of his first post to get you started -

Trucking Soybeans

From the combine the soybeans are augured into our old grain truck, a 1971 Chevy C-60. The truck has a lift, much like a dump truck, which we use to dump the grain into the floor grate at the elevator.

My new Sony camera shoots blurry movies. I've searched/asked online and can't figure out what to do about it.

Harvesting Soybeans

The current price at the local elevator is $8.74/bushel, about break even. For those who wonder why farmers don't grow anything but corn or beans, the elevator won't even bid on wheat, barley, oats, rye, canola, or sunflowers.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

George and Calvin Visit the Farm

My parents brought my nephews, George and Calvin, up here this past Sunday. I turned the camera over to George and below is all the raw footage he shot. I'm not sure what's here, I haven't had time to look at them all.

They fed the birds, then picked milkweed pods. After lunch we dug potatoes and picked corn. That's what I remember - now for the truth!

Hey George, I Found the Eggs!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Farmhouse Construction Update #5

I finished putting in the joists and subfloor in the old farmhouse. The steel support for the fireplace pad is almost ready. Once that is done I'll pour a 5" thick concrete pad on top of the steel.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Turkey Fight

Shot with the new camera. I'm not happy with the focus/crispness. Don't know if I can do anything about it (save it as 1080p vs. the 720p currently?).

Monday, September 19, 2016

Three Thousand Nine Hundred and Sixty Pounds

Sixty pound concrete bags unloaded and placed in two spots in the farmhouse.

Tomorrow form work and mix/pour concrete.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Good Question

The question for each and every one of us is: in our own lives, even in tiny ways, are we falling eagerly into the void at the end of the world – or are we charting a path to brighter shores?

Friday, September 16, 2016

Troubling News For Organic Producers

 The whole thing is held together by the certifying agency (MOSA). If you can import/sell conventional as organic you'll make a lot of money and drive everyone else out.

This is something my "mentor", a nearby organic grain farmer by the name of Bob Keatley, has said to me repeatedly.

From the latest Organic Broadcaster -
Turkey and Ukraine have exported significant amounts of corn and soybeans to the U.S. Both countries are dealing with massive civil unrest. It raises the question of how organic on-farm inspections and integrity can be maintained in those circumstances.
The European Union and Canada were so concerned about the integrity of organic imports from these countries that, in late May (EU) and early June (Canada), they cancelled the accreditation of ETKO, the agency that certifies organic production in Turkey and the Ukraine. As a result, traders from Turkey and the Ukraine had to scramble to find markets, such as the U.S, where there is less risk of rejection. That shift to non-EU destinations would explain the drastic swings in exports to the U.S. in comparable year-to-year data. There is an apparent perception that the U.S. is an easy target to dump “organic” grain.
The U.S. organic market has seen growth in annual sales consistently above 10 percent. (Source: Organic Trade Association) The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) data shows that 40 percent of organic corn and up to 70 percent of organic soybeans are imported. Will continued growth of the U.S. organic market be at the expense of U.S. organic producers, which further stifles domestic growth in organic acres?
U.S. organic grain farmers produce the highest quality organic grains. Producers are subject to rigid certification standards and an audit trail back to the fields where the grain was grown on their farm. It is what the organic label has come to mean to consumers. To ensure organic integrity, all organic imports and producers in other countries should meet the same standards that U.S. producers proudly meet.
What Farmers Can Do
1. Ask potential buyers if they are importing grain.
2. If they are, explain that these imports are lowering domestic prices to unprofitable levels for you.
3. Call your Senator and Representative to ask them to inquire what USDA’s NOP is doing about potential fraud in organic imports. Why is the U.S. viewed as an easy destination to ship “organic” grain?


The overall ag picture isn't looking good either.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Farmhouse Construction Update #3

Rather than edit these I'm just putting them up as is. My new camera should be here next week.

Next up is tearing out, and then burning up, the old flooring that remains. Then put in the new joists in their place. Following that - building the steel frame to support the fireplace pad.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Our Daily Bread

The industrial system is all around us. In us. In me, in everything I eat.

I found this movie disturbing, hypnotic, creepy, haunting. 

Eat up.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Farmhouse Construction Update #2

The big reveal - 

My new video camera will be here in a few weeks. Until then the fuzziness continues.


Updated to include some pics my dad took - 


Tuesday, August 23, 2016


Prior to planting my 65 acres, Dad let me plant part of one of his fields in oats/red clover so I could get familiar with the no-till drill.  We'll compared to my acreage, his field was a mess -  with so many variables it's hard to know what part I played in the situation.

Apologies for the audio; I thought I could talk over the tractor when it was idling. Not true.  In the middle section I was talking about the white tree tubes that are protecting all the hardwood trees my dad and his grandkids planted along the creek.

With an average height of 4 feet, in places up to 7, the lambsquarter overran the oats, and limited (in spots) the establishment of the clover.  I'm curious to see if the clover is able to get any traction now that the weeds are off.

There were a lot of lessons learned from this, the most important one might be that if the weeds start to take over get in there and mow!

The video quality seems poor. I'm not sure if that's my fault or the fact that its an old camera.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Update on Farmhouse Construction

I didn't mention it in the video, but the reason for the new concrete was that the old joists, where they rested on the old foundation, were rotted. I've put in new sill plates, which are bolted to the new concrete, and lowered the house back down on to them.

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Taken after wacking weeds, ahead of tomorrow's rain, in the garden. Hot and humid, I feel a lot stickier than I look.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Oats and Clover vs. Rocks and Weeds

The results are in...

This little tractor...
Near the end of July my 65 acres of oats (underseeded with red clover) were looking good, at least I thought they were. There was a fair amount of foxtail mixed into portions of my fields.  I thought I could deal with them by running them through the combine (wrongly, as it turns out).  We had some heavy storms and approximately 90% of the oats "lodged", or fell on the ground. This makes it very difficult to pick up with the combine, especially since I had 12" or so of red clover beneath the oats. I also knew that I had rocks left in the field, this past spring I didn't get them all, and they ruin machinery. 

This meant we wouldn't be harvesting any oats. Which itself was problematic as the local elevator stopped accepting oats a month ago (an unprecedented act according to locals). Oats no longer have feed value - modern animal rations based on corn/soybeans promote faster weigh gain, hence profitability. There is no room for a second place finisher. Put that bit of knowledge up against the insistence by the soil preservation and university researchers who say that you should add a small grain (e.g. oats) to your crop rotation. Well, what to do with the oats?

Prior to the decision to stop taking oats, grain buyers were paying just about the out of pocket cost of production for them. If, and it's a big if, you can get the "test weight", or density, high enough, the oats can qualify as "food grade" and there's a slight premium paid for that. But you need to store them after you harvest them, you can't just truck them directly to the buyer. I don't have storage bins.  The farmstead near my 65 acres has 2 old ones, which I contacted the owner about renting.  He was open to it if I needed them (if my oats were dense enough). That said, I'd have to pay to store them and hope that no mold appeared. I'd augur them out of the combine/grain truck and into the bins. Then when I sold them in 6 months, I'd augur them into a truck. A lot of this had to go right to get  a couple thousand dollars.  But everything didn't go right.

The reason I grew oats was to provide a "nurse crop" for the clover, and then after harvesting the grain, the roots/stems decay into the soil to build up it's organic matter. Both oats and clover would crowd out weeds, and if they couldn't, we'd "harvest" the weeds along with the oats. The clover would remain after the oats were harvested and continue to fix nitrogen for the following 2 years. Then I can plow it under and plant corn, hopefully without having to add too much (expensive) fertilizer -- I spent $4000 on composted chicken manure this year.  That year of corn (2018) will be my first organic harvest.  That is why I need to get rid of weeds and build fertility. And get rid of rocks that bust up metal blades.

With no oats to combine - and too many weeds even if the oats hadn't lodged (green material clogs the augurs in the combine, you need dry seeds so everything flows) - I decided to mow the 65 acres with a five foot wide Bush hog. There was too much foxtail to make hay and too many rocks that would destroy the hay making equipment.

The short green leaves are red clover. The brown are oat stems/hulls. The taller green plants are foxtail.

Foxtail has very tough stems, forcing me to drive slowly through them in order to cut them all off.

For a long time I couldn't figure out why I had these wispy strands after I mowed. The blades were dull! I had to buy a cordless grinder - no power in the field - to sharpen them up.

There's a church and cemetery in the corner of my land.

This is one of the larger rocks. I could feel the tires bump over them and I'd stop and get out. Many rows I'd have the floor of the tractor full of rocks. At the end of the row I'd throw them in the fence line next to a tree.

It took me seven days to mow the 65 acres. I think I mowed down all the foxtail before the seed heads were viable, we'll see.  If not, I might have to do it again to knock it back. Foxtail also does well in compacted, poorly drained soil. The previous farmer ran his equipment through the low areas when they were wet, probably so he could get the crops off, and left large ruts. This is one possible cause of the compaction. Also, I might add a drain tile to one of the wetter areas to remove excess water.  I'll probably leave the clover intact all next year, mowing the weeds if they come up. That should help build up soil organic matter which is said to reduce preexisting compaction.

Spending so much time on the tractor going 2-3 mph gives you time to look at the weeds, among other things.  I saw, in order of decreasing frequency - foxtail, ragweed, lambs quarter, giant foxtail, bull thistle, canadian thistle, giant ragweed, burdock.  To give you some idea, by volume of plant matter over the 65 acres, I'd say there was roughly 50% clover, 25% oats, 20% foxtail, 4% ragweed, 1% of the remaining weeds.

Bottom line - I'm happy with how things are shaping up. Tired but happy. I have a solid stand of red clover, one that should stay viable for 2 years, with a lot of chopped up green and brown material to feed the bugs/microbes/worms. The possibility of a new stand of oats coming up this fall. The hope that I've put a big dent in my weed "seed bank", thus making my future a little brighter.

You know, this could actually work!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Out and About

Late this afternoon I opened the doors to the corn crib coops and let out the birds.

Fun to watch.

As dusk approached I put some vegetable trimmings inside the coop and they climbed back in for the night. Tomorrow, weather permitting, I'll leave them out a little longer. Ultimately they'll spend all their days out of the coop. Or at least the doors will be open.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Poultry in the Corn Cribs

I converted the two old corn cribs into chicken/poultry coops.

I wanted to reuse the structures. They are still strong and have concrete floors, good for keeping predators from tunneling into them.

To start I put up two roofs, positioned to deflect the prevailing westerly winds. The challenge was to build the whole thing from below - framing, plywood, and waterproof membrane.  An angled plane through a cylinder (aka a corn crib) is an ellipse.  So I laid out one of the proper size on plywood using a string, sharpie, and 3 screws.

Then welded up some angled metal brackets to bolt onto the corn crib frame.  Set built up beams into the brackets and laid rafters on the beams.

Put the cut out plywood and waterproof tarps on top of the beams. Cut a passage way between the two corn cribs. Lined the whole thing with 1/2" hardware cloth to keep out weasels (apparently they can squeeze through a hole the size of a quarter.) Built and installed doors, water piping, roosting bars, nesting boxes.

Time to move the roughly 40 birds from their brooders over to the new housing.  There are 25 guinea fowl (about 4 weeks old) as well as 10 laying hens, a rooster, 2 geese, 2 turkeys, and 2 ducks (all 2 months old).

They'll spend the next two weeks in the cribs day and night, getting used to the idea of their new home. Then I'll open the doors during the day and let them back in at night, where they'll be secure from predators.  At this point I'm planning on killing/eating the geese and ducks. If it turns out I have a male/female pair of turkeys, I'll keep them over the winter and hope they have poults in the spring. The guinea are meant to eat ticks; the laying hens to lay eggs.

To winterize them, I'll still need to wrap up the outside of the cribs with a few more tarps.