Thursday, February 25, 2016

Spring piglets - pictures

 Piglets on the ground right now.  The sows are given private stalls for the first three weeks, and then they're moved to a group housing situation with other sows and piglets about the same size.  The group-housed sows are given access to the fields and seem to like grazing for a portion every day.

of course, if you're going to go out and graze, the piglets will follow.  Pretty cute seeing them out there in a group.  The last two pictures are the same pigs.

the 2016 crop plan

Click on the picture for a higher resolution

This is the rough crop plan for the 2016 growing season.

I tried to establish a new stand of alfalfa last summer in the "grain corn" area, and honestly, it just didn't work out, so I'm going to plow it under and try again.  I tried a different strain of alfalfa there, and then had a drought, and between the two just didn't get results I'm happy with, so I try again.

  I pulled roughly 3000 yards of manure out of my manure lagoon last fall, and I'll be loading that into my dumptruck and distributing it over the "grain corn" area and tilling it in. Figure 10 acres of grain corn there.

I'm going to be planting some barley and some wheat as a test in the area labeled "small grains test area".  I have a grain head for my combine, so I have the ability to harvest small grains (actually, that's what my combine was made to do!) and I'm interested in seeing what sort of yields I can get.  There's a fairly active market for grains for brewing, but before I commit to growing some under contract, I'd like to make sure that I can do it.   The grains grown will probably be used for pig feed this year.

That little triagular portion is a real problem area for me I'm going to grow some squash/pumpkins there this year, but I'm going to have to do something about the dirt.  Unlike most of the rest of the fields it's got a lot of rocks and not very much soil, and the drainage is poor.  That combines to make it difficult to grow forage there -- it gets flooded out and drowned in teh winter - but for warm-season crops it's a pretty good fit.  My neighbor has a vibratory screen, and I figure that 5 or 6 days of screening and then amending with 8" or so of manure will put that field into the shape I'd like it to be.  I'll grade it also, to see if I can't get the water to drain a little better.

I'm expanding my vinyard area with 100 concord grape vines; they won't produce a crop for 3 years, and the vines are aimed for sale at the local produce/farm stands in the area.  They are a fall crop, and sell pretty well fresh, but make excellent juice as well.

The alfalfa is pretty popular with the cows, so I'm putting in more alfalfa this year.  The alfalfa is also pretty good at preventing erosion - the floods in late 2015 put a lot of water over these fields, and having the tough-rooted alfalfa there I think helped keep the soil where it should be.

Click on the image to see a higher resolution picture

The blue area is just too wet to get to in the early season, but I think it'll work fine for something like buckwheat.  I could plant fescue there; it's grass that is wet-tolerant; I think I'm going to say that what goes there is "to be determined".

I'm going corn-on-corn for the grain corn area; I know what I got out of it last year, and the test comes back ok, so I'm going to try it again this year, and then probably put alfalfa in after that.

The cows like the orchard grass hay, and it has the added benefit of being able to be sold to the local horse people, so I'm going to till, level and plant the grass seed.  Planting this year gives me a first cutting around july 4th, which is when the weather usually gets good enough for haying.

Around the edge of the grain corn area it's really wet and covered in reed canary grass, which tolerates the wet really nicely.  Sometime in late july or early august the ground dries up enough that I can get in there and  hay it, and I use that grass for bedding purposes.  I get about 150 bales/cutting, and usually get two cuttings off of it.  It's pretty straw-like by the time that conditions allow me to harvest it, but it works pretty well as straw, too.  The sows like to make nests when farrowing, and having a couple of hundred bales makes it easy to toss one fo the sow.

I have been seriously considering leasing some corn ground.  The grain dryer works pretty well, and I've got storage bins for it, and the ground is leasing for $50-80/acre/year.  Given the yields I got last year, its pretty tempting to put in 40 acres of corn.  It's a lot cheaper to grow it than buy it from the feed mill.

Monday, February 15, 2016

What do you do about manure?

Manure is the original fertilizer - and in fact, if you're eating organic food, the chances are very good that it was fertlized with manure.   For commercial farms it's composted and sterile - at least that's the way it's supposed to be.

Manure is actually stuff that I like.  It makes for fertile fields, good crop yields, and since it's produced as a by-product of my livestock operation, it closes the loop for me, too.

That is, I collect the manure, spread it on the fields, harvest the crops, feed it to the animals, and then collect the manure - repeat.

Manure is only really useful when temperatures are above 40 degrees F, however.  That's because below that temperature plants really aren't growing or using manure, and soil microbes and residents - like earthworms - aren't active and breaking down the manure.

So in Washington State, the best-practice for manure is during the times when plants aren't growing it's to collect the manure and keep it under cover until temperatures warm up and plants can use it directly.

Lots of pasture-based operators seem to think that manure on pasture at low temperatures is ok - there's a guy over in vermont who boasts about his pigs spreading manure on the snow.  Here's the quote:

There's a problem with this theory; the manure deposited on snow doesn't break down, and in fact, when the snow melts and runs off, the manure probably just runs into the surface water, especially if the area where it's being deposited has any sort of slope.

For my operation we put the pigs into the barns during the portions of the year when the plants aren't growing.  they're fed hay and feed and produce and other stuff, and I'll scrape the manure and any food that they haven't eaten twice a week or so.  It goes into a pile, and that pile is turned (the top of the pile is rotated to the bottom) twice or three times, about two weeks apart.

The natural heat of composting keeps the breakdown of the manure going, and by spring we have a couple of hundred yards of really nice, black compost.   That's spread on the fields and tilled into the crops, and I've usually spread all of it by late spring.

I've worked on this for years; I've had trememdous problems with mud and conditions, and I worked very hard at keeping the animals warm and dry for years.  Putting the animals in the barn for the winter isn't the milk-carton view of farming, but I believe that it's more comfortable for the animals, and certainly more sustainable for the farmer.

My goal is to keep all of the nutrients on my property at all times, and to keep surface water clean and pristine.  It's part of being a good steward of the land and environment.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Feeling a little like spring

It feels a little like spring right now, with a little sun and some rain mixed it.  But what's really making it seem like spring are the air temperatures - looking at low to mid 60s for the next 10 days, and that means growth.

forecast courtesy of
Things start growing when it's above 40 degrees; I'm already seeing some growth in the pastures, and I may be able to get a little early-season grazing in for the cows, which is good.  My hay supply is probably adequate to get me to march, but stretching it another week by doing a little bit of free grazing adds a little insurance.

the long-term forecast is "warmer and drier" for this spring, and I'm looking at the next 3 or 4 days as a chance to get out and chop up the crop residue, disk some ground that has weeds just starting to pop up, and possibly do a little bit of field leveling.

The flatter the field the easier every other crop operation gets - easier to plant, easier to weed, easier to harvest, and you can do everything faster if the ground is flat and smooth.

I've got 100 concord grape vines coming pretty soon here, and I'll need to build another section of vineyard to accomodate them, too.  So a little bit of sun and warmth gives me a choice on outside tasks to get done, and the more I get done now the better.  Spreading the work out for the planting season is always a good thing.