Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Doom and gloom! We will all die without young farmers!

I've written about the medias obsession with young farmers before, and now I see that backyard poultry is writing a piece that is titled

Young Farmers Going Extinct and it got picked up by a hardware blog (and your humble writer here)

Extinct is a pretty alarmist title.  In that story the author talks about a study that says that the average age of farmers in wyoming was increasing, and that the percentage of all farmers that were younger was decreasing.

First, lets talk about what a "farmer" is.  I'm going to presume that someone who they count as a "farmer" is actually a landowner; because if they count people like immigrant workers, the average age is pretty low -- I'd say way under 35 -- and the total number of farmworkers is probably either steady or decreasing (as automation makes it possible to farm with less labor, but very slowly).

Some types of farm work are a young mans game, and part of the automation push that american farms have is that it's hard to get a young person to buck bales of hay for minimum wage, or do any of the other jobs that are a lot harder than playing with an xbox.

So the average age of landowners is increasing.  I've got to question why this is an issue.  Someone will work that land if there's a profit to be made.

I've written many times about farms that didn't work out for one reason or the other.  But I'll bet that if you go to the land that thundering hooves farmed, or tlc ranch ( farmed, you'll find people today that are tilling and farming that same ground.

Good farmland stays in production basically forever -- at least I'd hope so.  In my area they keep flooding and ruining good farmland because there's no cost too high to pay for salmon recovery (see footnote 1), but that's rare in agricultural areas.

Take home lesson?

There will be no shortage of food, or famers, in the near or far future.  If the labor situation does get worse, we'll either automate our way out of it, or we'll raise wages to the point where it becomes competitive with other employment choices that people have.

We don't have articles wondering why the average age of CEOs is increasing, or the average bank president is 60 years old.  We probably should move right on to more important topics.  Like what we're going to eat tonight, or what the cat is doing in the kitchen.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Spring piglets

I'm always happy to see pigs born at this time of year.  It's not great weather wise (although this years very, very mild winter is very nice) but it's great for the market.  Spring pigs, particulary those born in january and february, are usually in short supply, and are desired as show pigs and fair pigs.  

 So we've got quite the color pallete of piglets.  Pink and red and solid and spotted
 This group is showing its yorkshire heritage, but they are crossbred piglets.  We do have purebred sows, but we breed (and sell) hybrid pigs.  They are more thrifty with feed and are healthy and bouncing.  More pig for the customers dollar, I think .
 The litter above is only a day old, snoozing next to mom.  She'd really like them to nurse, but they're all sleeping now.  She'll wake them up shortly and remind them to eat.

 Each little pig hits the ground running.  within minutes of birth they're on their feet and suckling.  the next day t hey're a little wobbly, but oriented and determined.  The first order of business for a piglet is to figure out which nipple is theirs and protect it.
Now while you have your own nipple, it's perfectly ok to snack off of someone elses nipple if you can.  Another day-old litter.

Right now I'm carrying 120 piglets ranging in age from 1 day to 4 weeks.  I run this sort of schitzophrenic path when I have this many piglets -- "what am I going to do with all of them", and then I'll have a good sales weekend, and sell 60 pigs, and then I switch to "I'm out of piglets!  I need more".

Kinda like that stress.  Beats the heck out of staring at the back of a car in traffic.

Monday, January 26, 2015

New blogs on my "blogs I read" list.

Welcome The Tiny Homesteaders to the blogs I read list.  he's dealing with some sort of predatory cat right now.  Hoping that the game camera pictures show it soon.

Over at he's working on a massive reading list and appears to be another techy who's second job is the farm.  there's a fair bit of discussion of both sides of that equation, and it's similar to my thoughts over time.

I'm always open to new blogs to read, or new farming-related publications of any sort.  if you have suggestions, feel free to email me at

Feels like spring

60 degrees and sunny today.  Frogs are croaking.  The trees haven't leafed out, but thats the only thing missing from a very spring-like day.

cows are out grazing the growth I left out there last year

the dogs are happily hunting rats in the hay barn.  

She was laying in the sun, but apparently it's too hot for her, so into the shade she goes

The boar decided to join her in the shade

Rat hunting gun, part 2

I wrote about a rat hunting rig that I assembled, and this is the 2nd generation rat hunting rig attempt.

This is based on a .177 calibre pellet gun, the Umarex Octane.  It's a break barrel rifle, you charge it by folding the barrrel forward towards the trigger.  It's a fairly powerful air rifle, boasting a 1400fps rating, and although it claims to be quiet and silenced, my experience with this gun is that it's not much quieter than a .22 rimfire, which is what I've shot tens of thousands of times.

Mounted on that gun is an ATN Spartan MK 410 night-vision scope, and on top of the scope is a small infrared flashlight that improves the vision through the night vision scope.  The flashlight has a dull red glare that is visible down range.

I didn't want to spend an arm and a leg, and I chose this particular scope and gun combination to keep the cost of a night-vision gun as low as possible.  Total the two cost about $800, but the rats were getting wise to the visible light/laser combo that I was using, and I wanted to be able to take out more of them.

The gun itself is very heavy; and with the long barrel, it's hard to shoot offhand.  Out of the box it seemed well assembled, and attaching and zeroing the scope was fine.  But the night vision was substantially less useful than I wanted it to be.  At 2.5x magnifcation, the scope really doesn't qualify as a scope, and it didn't lend itself to distance shots.  I sighted the rifle in at 25 feet, figured out what the drop was for 50' (the longest shot) and started using it.

Between the weight of the rifle and the weight of the scope, this thing weighed in at something that felt like 10lbs.  Which isn't a lot unless you're having to keep it precisely still enough to hit something about the size of a 50 cent piece.    I did manage to kill about 50 rats, but I didn't ever get a second shot at a group of them.  this rifle is loud.

I kept having shots go someplace other than my aim point.  I finally figured it out:  This isn't a rifle.  It's a smooth bore gun, and while I was able to make hits, I never felt like I could consistently make the shot.

One of the bolts holding the scope on the rail broke, and ATN didn't respond to my email (other than with a "we will respond to you in 24 hours" - and then nothing.  The flashlight ceased operation on the 4th day, and I'd had enough.

I sent both the gun and the scope back.  The gun back because the stock was too long (and I'm a big guy) and it just didn't fit my body; i couldn't tuck the butt into my shoulder and see the scope.  The loudness of this gun and the lack of rifling made it inaccurate, and that's really the kiss of death for me with a weapon.  I want the gun to be more accurate than I am.

I sent the scope back because of the broken mount bolt and malfunctioning spotlight, lack of magnification and a general feeling that ATNs customer support sucks.   I'd also like a solution that allows me to use the rifle in daylight without having to remount and zero a scope on it every time I switched.

I'm working on version 3 of this gun, which will be using a standard telescopic site with a night vision clip-on of sorts.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Why you should charge an outrageous price for your farms production

So I'm going to put a theory out there for you folks to think about.  Here it is:  

Charge an outrageous price for your farms production -- your customers will be happier.  

I know, it seems pretty silly -- how can paying more money make a customer happier, especially when it comes to food.  We live in a culture that has made price the biggest factor that a lot of people choose food by.  

Now I know that everyone here is probably concerned about food quality, more so than most  - and all of you want the animals involved in farming to be treated well at all times, so this isn't a typical audience.  But for most consumers, the choice about their food is mostly about price, and there's a segment of the market... pretty large segment, that considers food that is higher priced to be more satisfying than cheaper food.  Even when it's the same food.  

Seem hard to believe?    Lets take Wine as an example.   There are hundreds of thousands of people who talk at length about wine.  Where it's produced, the production method, the variety of grape, how its crushed... all sorts of stuff. 

but... study after study has shown that the more people pay for wine the more satisfied they are with the wine they purchased.  No matter what the actual qualities of the wine.  'Cheap' wine tastes better when you pay more for it.  

It's a little worse than you think.  I had to laugh at this study that showed that a good number of people actually preferred the taste of dog food vs various pates.   Could it be the expense of the pate makes it tastier, and more satisfying?  I would think so.  Certainly dog food is cheaper -- and since the taste is pretty similar, we can probably save a whole bunch of money at the next cocktail party!

The truth is that wine people really can't tell the difference between wines very well at all, and people are using price as a surrogate for quality.  If it is more expensive, it's better.  

So the next time that you sell something, consider carefully the satisfaction of your customer.  A few more bucks paid might be the difference between just an average chicken and the best chicken they ever ate.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - part 3 is a website that caters to various interests related to homesteading and small farms.  On their website they claim, and I quote

"Website - Website Forum is run by enthusiasts and not a company. We are not linked to any store and do not receive any corporate backing. All costs are out of our own pocket. We have monthly bandwidth and server rental costs, software registration fees, domain registration fees and other maintenance costs.    
We rely on member upgrades to help keep the community online.  "

Which on the face of it seems pretty reasonable and sounds good.  It's an amateur venture to help people with their homestead needs.

But it doesn't appear to be true.  In fact, here's the quote from the company that owns

Carbon Media Group is the largest digital media company in the world targeting those who live, work and play outdoors. We connect with these audiences through a variety of digital news, videos, websites and communities. Our network reaches over 20 million people every month through contextually relevant content built to engage all outdoor, adventure and agriculture enthusiasts."
I've often warned you that anything you see on the internet should be taken with a grain of salt, and it appears that there's a disconnect between the largest media company and the world and an amateur operation that is funded by the donations of its members.  I don't think that the two can be the same company, do you?  
Carbon Media group was very proud of their purchase of, and issued the following press release:  
I'm all for companies and profits.  But I'm not so much for companies that claim to be small and recieve no company backing actually turning out to be apparently the largest media company in the world in this topic area.  The largest company in the world.      
How about a little integrity, Carbon Media.   Whatever the reasons here, in my opinion this appears deceptive - a way to solicit money from people who think that they are supporting a small amateur operation. 
Would you care to comment, Carbon Media? - response from administrators

This is a followup to an original posting which you'll find here.   The  administrators of Homesteadingtoday demanded that I remove items from that posting, and you'll find an explanation of those edits in that original posting.

I wrote the following to the administrators:

Originally Posted by bruceki
Hi Austin:

I took a break from homesteading today because I felt that the moderators of a forum that I liked were too biased in favor of their own views and deleted posts that they disagreed with.

When I returned, I found the situation to be, if anything, worse.

I've posted an example of this sort of behavior on my blog, which I'd appreciate you reading to give me a feel for whether you think that their comment was unwarranted.

Bottom line: If you have a forum there's going to be differences of opinion, and if the moderators use their position to stomp out anyone who disagrees with them, well, I'll just go elsewhere.

Deleted post & angry message from moderator
I copied both of the administrators I had an issue with so all three individuals got a copy.  I recieved the following reply from AngieM2:

[You have violated our terms of service by posting items from here on your blog!  You must remove the items IMMEDIATELY!  YOU HAVE VIOLATED OUR TERMS OF SERVICE REPEATEDLY!  DO WHAT I TELL YOU!  I AM VERY ANGRY!!!  I STILL HAVE MY GUN!!!]

Maybe the last sentence or two ore three is an opinion of mine.  I sure wish I could post you exactly what she said to me, but I must comply with her wishes.   My response: 

Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 338
Re: Still Homesteading?

I will comply with your request, but will post paraphrases and impressions of our conversation to replace what you have said.

I think you are better served by quotes from you, but if you wish, I will absolutely make the changes you demand.

If you are ashamed of what you have said, or think that it reflects poorly on you or your organization, I would suggest that you change what you say, or what you do to better represent your views or intentions. 

after thinking about this for a while, I also sent ANGIEM2 this message:  
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 338
Re: Still Homesteading?

Angie, you mention that I have broken the sites Terms of Service often. Since I haven't been here for more than a year, would you please point me to where and when I broke the terms? 

HSTadmin also replied to me in a seperate email:

Maybe some of that is my opinion.  His message to me was much more entertaining.  

So in my previous post I did say some nice things about -- And I still do.  If you agree with every opinion of each forums moderators, you will be safe from any ideas or concepts that don't agree with you.  And that's a good thing, right?   Because there's only one true opinion on any subject and an informed discussion should be avoided at all costs.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Breaking sacred images- 800lbs of butter and 30,000lbs of cheese


  This blog entry originally quoted the responses that I recieved from the administrators of   The administrators informed me today that they do not wish me to quote their response, and consider my copying of their response to be a violation of their websites terms of service, and provided a copy  of their terms of service to me in their request to have me remove their quotes.
  While I completely respect copyright law and rights, what applies here is subject to the fair use doctrine, which allows the reproduction of copyrighted works , particularly for nonprofit educational purposes.

I do not accept  paid product placements or advertisements, donations or any other revenue from this blog.   I never have.  This is a non-profit educational purpose and has been for its entire life.

With that said, I have left the quoted portions of my and other users messages (with my and other users permission of course), but I have paraphrased what the administrators said to me.

I would much rather have used their quoted words, but I will respect their wishes to remove them.

The paraphrased entries are in bold time, with square braces around them [like this]

One of the things about blogging is that you can pretty much say anything you want.  No matter how true or false, sane or insane, you're pretty much able to state any opinion you want.  In fact, there are even places you can go to talk about your opinions, and some of those places even involve farming.
Walter objected to me posting a picture of his wife juggling some of the 800lbs of butterHope this is a fair rendition of his Lovely wife Holly.  

Homesteading today is a pretty interesting site that covers a variety of topics that relate to homesteading, and has a number of forums devoted to animals.  Each forum covers a particular type of animal, and being a primarily-pig farmer, I'm all about the pig forum.

Now this particular pig forum is moderated by two people, a fellow who uses the name highlands, and a woman who uses the name angiem2, and it contains various topics that are under discussion.  At the top of the forum is one labeled "pasturing, planting & rotational grazing", and there are 82 messages in it, at the time of this writing.  One of the messages from the moderator "highlands" caught my eye:

highlands (moderator)
[highlands claims that the vast majority of his herd of pigs diet is derived from plants growing on his thin mountain soil and short growing season.  And that Santa Claus is real and lives in a hole in his yard, an equally true statement]

Another visitor to the forum commented:

pastured pork
Diet isn't really quantity it's calorie. Highlands it sounds to me that your pigs are getting most of their calories from whey and milk products and eggs, not the forage. 

I do managed rotational grazing without feeding 2000 gallons of whey a week or eggs. Highlands your pigs diet is, on a calorie basis very little pasture. I think you have a neat system and probably great pork.

I agreed with this comment, and wrote the following to support him:   

Just a note: I challenged highlands to raise pigs without any supplemental food, offered him $10,000 to do it. Published the offer on my blog; and he declined. 

If it were a viable option to raise commercial pigs to commercial slaughter weight without supplemental feeding I'd expect to see that happening all over the country. 

you're absolutely right that the vast majority of the calories that highland produces pork from are derived from the thousands of gallons of whey, milk, cream and butter he feeds his pigs. 

$10,000 sugar mountain farm challenge

Oh yea; did I mention that highlands is Walter Jefferies, over at Sugar Mountain farm?

So I get a message from the moderator of this forum, which follows:

[The administrator AngieM2 left me a very angry message, scolding me for "insulting another user" and told me I had recieved some sort of demerit.  She swore at me, said that I was spouting excrement, and told me that I could not be skeptical about any claim that any user makes about anything, ever!   And that she owns a gun and isn't afraid to use it!]

Darn it.  I've got an infraction.  And it may never expire.   That's probably terrible.

So here's the take-home lesson -- always take whatever you see on the net, particularly those things dealing with animal husbandry or promoted practices, with a big grain of salt.  In this case, on a forum about pigs, in a topic specifically about raising pigs on pasture, you cannot bring up any sort of alternate view of the topic at hand.

In this case, even though the farmer in question advertises that he gets multiple tons of dairy products and feeds it to his pigs, his claim of most of his pigs diet coming from his poor mountain soil is something you can't even be skeptical about, not even in public.

Guest post: Eggs & farming in Australia

The farmer who wrote this emailed it to me, with the concern that he couldn't figure out out to post anonymously.  I'm happy to post it in his stead.
Australia is similar to the US, in that only 2% of our own population still work within the agricultural industry. That is, the industry that produces your food! Our challenge is also that the vast majority of our population live in our big, coastal cities. Together, this means that most of our own population have lost touch with how their food is produced and why it is produced in a certain way.

Late in 2014 the global fast food chain, McDonalds, decided to phase out the use of all caged eggs in preference for 'free range' in their products by 2017. This then led to Subway and others following their lead.

Consumers (& McDonalds!) thought they were doing 'the right thing', helping chickens live better, more 'natural' lives in free range systems rather than in cages. It seems obvious, yet the reality isn't quite as clear.

In Australia all caged chickens already have room to stand, move around, sit, eat and drink and were often in a cage with 2 or 3 chicken 'friends'. Their lives are lived in hygienic, climate controlled sheds. No hot summers and cold winters in there! Food and water is 'on tap'. Diets are balanced and they are well cared for, and as a result, their mortality rate is less than 1%. Even at the end of their egg producing lives, these chickens are feathered and worth money to sell. So how about their 'free range' cousins?

Every commercial free range egg producer I have spoken to explains the need to use antibiotics in the feed to help keep the chickens alive. Their mortality rate is much higher. 'Bullying' amongst the free range birds is a big issue and as a result their lives are more stressful. Supplements are needed to balance their 'free range', natural diets to reduce cannibalism. And of course eggs are laid in less hygienic conditions and so can require 'washing' which removes the protective film on the porous shell, in turn leaving the eggs more exposed to salmonella or other bacteria that then can poison us.

Australian consumers fail to realise that just a few decades ago we actually put chickens into cages to keep them alive! Every chicken in Australia used to lay eggs in a 'free range' system. In fact, some of our Asian neighbours are currently putting their own 'free range' birds into cages right now...for the welfare of the animals.

So have we really got this right? Is the consumer driven pressure of McDonalds, Subway and others actually helping our chickens? Is it co-incidental that there is significantly more profit for Australian supermarkets in selling 'free range' eggs today rather than caged?

I am a farmer, though not of chickens or eggs. However I too am very concerned to provide the best welfare practices possible for all animals. In pursuing this quest together, let's make sure we actually put the chicken before the egg!

Monday, January 5, 2015

California eggs - what price animal welfare?

Only about 2% of the population of this nation are farmers, and the other 98% typically have very little to do with how their food is produced; be it animal or vegetable.  Their experience with food is to find it neatly wrapped on the shelves and in the display cases of their local store, perfect, glistening, lovely.  

Food in America transitioned from a protected industry in the first half of the 20th century, where the government managed the total crops planted by paying farmers not to plant - making sure that there wasn't an oversupply - to one where farmers were told to plant "fencerow to fencerow" and to "get big or get out!", famously by Earl Butz, the secretary of Agriculture in the early 50s.  

Most of the people who are reading this have only experienced the commodity farm economy and rush to the bottom in terms of prices and production, and while there's more interest in the last 20 or 30 years in local food, the local food market is very small even today - a few percentage points at best.  for 98% of the American public, you make your food choices primarily on price, and only decide on quality if the price is comparable.  Quality is a tiebreaker, but price is the primary choice.  

Every now and then, some practice that farmers have adopted to meet the ever-present demand for larger quantities and lower prices becomes public, and the 98% notices, and now and then decides that the practice is something they would rather not support, and if the reaction is strong enough, it becomes an initiative or a law, and is imposed on farmers.  

This happened in the state of California.  In 2008 an initiative was put in front of the people that talked about farming practices.  Initially titled "Prevention of farm cruelty act", it was retitled "standards for confining farm animals" and put in front of the people. 

And the people voted.  63% of them decided that adds a chapter to the california health and safety code, specifically:  

The proposition adds a chapter to Division 20 of the California Health and Safety Code to prohibit the confinement of certain farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The measure deals with three types of confinement: veal crates, battery cages, and sow gestation crates.

The definitions of how much space must be allowed each animal is vague -- it'll probably take some court cases to flesh out exactly how many square inches a laying hen gets, or a pregnant pig, or a calf destined to be veal, but the writing is on the wall, and 7 years later, the law is in force.  

Chickens are the most-affected animal, in terms of number.  A typical egg production farm houses tens of thousands of birds, and a large farm might have more than a half-million birds.  California voters extended the law outside of the state -- you can't import eggs from somewhere else and sell them in California unless they're produced in facilities that at least arguably meet the standards that they enacted.  So if you want an egg in California, the way its produced has now officially changed.  

With battery egg barns, where the chickens are kept in cages in tiers, some farms met the new rules by reducing the number of chickens in the cage.  Some redesigned their facilities and cages completely.  Some went to "free range" barns, where the chickens are on the floor of the barn, and some just decided to get out of the egg business.    

Egg prices have gone up a reported 35% to 70%, and consumers are now seeing the other side of the equation -- farmers have worked tirelessly to provide you with the lowest cost food in the world, as a percentage of income, and you, the consumer have said in california that you want us to concentrate on welfare.  

Ok -- we're right there with you, 98%.   We have now made chickens and veal calve and pregnant pigs lives better.  Will you consider paying a bit more to solve some other issues, too?  

I wonder what issue will next catch the publics attention -- and whether they'll be willing to foot the bill for that, too?  Farmworkers wages or rights?  Child labor?  Pesticide use in countries that we import food from -- like china?  

Friday, January 2, 2015

Beef slaughter day - oxtail stew, beef tongue, beef heart

Sent a beef to market (which is a polite way to say we slaughtered a cow today) and we get to enjoy the fruits of the slaughter.  Most of our customers don't want the tongue or the tail or the heart and liver, so we get these whenever we slaughter.

The heart we can either slice and then grill directly, as you would any bit of steak, or it can be slow cooked; think pot roast, or shredded beef.  This particular heart weighs in at 5.5lbs.

We do the tongue a little simpler.  Grab a couple of cans of french onion soup, wash the tongue well, and then pressure cook the tongue in the onion soup.  About 40 minutes at 10lbs pressure, then remove the tongue, peel off the skin (kind of like peeling off peach skins when you're canning) and slice thin.

Once pressure cooked, allow to cool so you can handle it and then remove the skin from the tongue:
Tongue meat with the skin removed; shredded beef consistency

Slice off a hunk, peel off the skin, repeat.  

The oxtail (which is really a cowtail) takes a bit more doing.  Here's the recipe that I like:  

20 minute prep time, 4 hour roast time

1 cow tail (2.5lbs or so) chopped into 2-4" pieces
3 sticks celery
2 medium leeks
6 medium carrots
a little thyme (fresh or dried), 1-2 teaspoons
a little rosemary (fresh or dried) 1-2 teaspoons
4 bay leaves
4 cloves
3 tablespoons wheat flour
2 cans crushed tomatoes (12oz or about)
a cup of a good beer or red wine

Preheat oven to 425
Coat the tail pieces with olive oil season with salt, and roast in a hot oven 
until golden, 20 minutes.  

While the tail is roasting
Split the celery, leeks and carrots lengthwise, and then chop into 1-2" long pieces.
coat pieces with olive oil and saute in a deep sauce pan until tender and sweet, carmelized.
probably 20 minutes or so.  
just a little carmelized is perfect.  stir frequently

Red wine version,  tail and spices and wine added-ready for the oven!

Pull the tail out of the oven, and reserve.   Reduce oven temp to 325

Add the flour and spices to vegetables, and stir in.  Add a little olive oil if it's too dry.
Add the tomatoes, and then place the roasted tail into the mix.  
Add beer or wine
Cook in a warm oven for 4-5 hours at 325.  Add liquid as needed to maintain volume, until meat falls off the bones.  

pull the pot out of the oven, remove the tail and strip the meat, discarding the bones.  add the meat 
back to the stew

If you'd like a soup, add more liquid.  Serve with steamed vegetable (spinach is a favorite here) and with mashed potatoes.  

Natures harmony farm - out of business?

Update:  Tim never replied, but he's put his main farm page back up after being down for most of a week.  Welcome back from the dead, Tim.

I've sent the following email to and, Tims new blogging venture he started a few weeks ago:

"Tim:  Have you closed your cheese business?   Your website is down, referring folks to your facebook page.  you've cut off comments on your new blog...  

Impression you're giving is that you're out of business.  I've gotten several questions.  

Maybe a public statement would be good.  Otherwise folks will fill the vaccuum with their own speculation, and I t hink you'd rather shape the conversation yourself.  

Transparency can be painful at times.   "

After 7 years,, the primary farm website is down.  Comments are disabled on his new blog, and no updates are posted to his facebook page.  

Wonder whats going on here?