Sunday, November 10, 2013

This is the hard part of the year

This is my 8th year of full-time farming;  November is the hard part of the year for me.  It's the part of the year where my discipline and mettle is tested; i don't look forward to November, now is where I find out if my preparations for winter were good enough.

The big problem with this time of year is that we get the most rain and the most wind, and it's never cold enough to freeze, but it's cold enough to stop growth.

Which means that anyplace that has mud now, or turns into mud, remains mud until next March, 5 months from now.  A little under half the  year.

The primary challenge is keeping the animals bedded well.   In warmer times, better weather, a couple of domes and a pasture are all that's needed; they spread the manure out on the fields and grass, the growth takes care of the composting, and life is good.

The cold season means that I need to keep the animals indoors, or on a hard surface, and it means a lot of cleaning.   I tried a deep litter system last year for the pigs; and it worked pretty well; but I haven't moved that building to the new farm yet, and the barns that I have on the farm are really poorly laid out for tractor access.     Not to say that I won't be using the barns for agriculture -- I have plans for them.  But for my pig operation, I really do need some specific things that would be hard to get with the existing barns on this property.

What I've been contemplating for winter pig housing is a bigger version of the hoop barn that I built last year on my other property.   Why?

Labor costs, primarily.  Either my labor, or someone elses.  The easier cleaning is to do, the more often it will be done.  And the easier it is, the less it will cost to do it.  With deep litter you're replacing the bedding every six months or so, so the frequency is pretty low, but the amount of bedding -- hundreds of yards of wood chips or sawdust -- means that you really need to do it with equipment.   the wood chips/sawdust actually come out manure-enriched and make pretty good soil, and the fact that it's a solid makes it easy to handle with a loader.  

The hoop barn can be completely cleared of chips and pressured washed in an 8 hour day by two guys.  One to run the tractor, the other running the pressure washer.

So I've converted the smallest of the barns here into a pig house, and it's working ok, but the access to the barn really isn't very good at all.  When the farm was laid out this guy though an 8' wide lane was plenty big.  For my tractors that's a very tight turn from one 8' lane into another.  To make this farm work better I've been thinking about trading in one of my tractors for a skidsteer.

But I have to say that this is the first year that I've had a roof over every single animal that needs it, and I'm very happy about that.  Grateful.  

Because there's a roof over my head, too, when I'm working.  Big change for me.


1 comment:

curiousfarmer.com said...

Skidsteers are very handy. Mine is a purchase I don't regret.