Thursday, May 31, 2012

We like your content, so you should give it to us for free!

I don't know if you guys realize it, but the content on my blog is pretty much generated by me.  The pictures taken, the text written, the subject ideas, it's all original.   Sure, I link to other stories or sources (like the references in American Hutterites), and this sort of original content is interesting because it's new.

Many sites out there are some sort of aggregate site -- they take content from other sites and put them on a list.  You'll see them as "the best farm blogs" or they'll write a sentence or two, put in a quote, and a link.  Like the huffington post -- who generates little or no content on their own, but collects stories and republishes them.  Personally I find this very lazy.  It's not easy coming up with unique content and it costs money and take work.  In the case of the huffington post, it was sold to AOL for $315 million dollars...  and none of that money went to the content providers/bloggers. 

I get these requests about once a week.  I've deleted the identifying info:

Good Afternoon!
My name is firstname lastname and I operate [deleted].com in townname, state. I enjoy reading blogs from across the country from small farmers who are producing food for their community and sharing their experiences. I would like to bring all these blogs together in one place, so I acquired the domain, [deleted].com 

This site would be a news feed of sorts where your blog entries would automatically be posted to a feed on the site's main page. You would still operate your own blog with all the rights and ownership that you currently enjoy, we would simply give people one place to go to find all their favorite bloggers for our local, sustainable farming niche. This would give you access to an incredible increase in readers and allow you to connect, communicate and network with similar bloggers like never before. I also want to emphasize that this site is and will always be completely free.

We would like to build the back end with bloggers that choose to participate and launch with content up and running. If this is something that interests you and you would like to move forward with this project
  I am eager to hear form you. Feel free to shoot me an email at or call me at xxx-777-zzzz Thanks for your time and have a great day!

Firstname Lastname
Thanks for your email, Firstname. I'm presuming that your news feed site would be advertiser supported, and that there would be some sort of revenue stream from those advertisers. I'd be happy to provide you content for your site, but I seem to have missed the part where you compensate me for providing it. Please do forward your proposed revenue split or royalty agreement so that I can see the whole proposal.  
Bruce King

"american hutterites"

As far as farming ventures go, I find the hutterite communal colonies one of the most interesting, and I watched with interest the series premier on National Geographic tonight of "American Colony:  Meet the Hutterites"

The pilot episode centered around a young woman and her rebellion from the rules of the community; she was talking to a boy that had run away from another colony, she wanted to wear her hair down, and she was on facebook. 

I found that less interesting than some of the details.    Carefully watching this show gives you an idea of the hutterite colony.  They have an integrated farm setup, very similar in structure to the farms that you'd find all over the country last century.

There are a mix of animals and crops; their market garden feeds the colony.  Extensive use of canning and preserving of their production feeds them during the winter.  The production for this particular colony includes beef, pork, geese and vegetables.  They also sell baked goods at a local farmers market, and they have big field equipment, so I'm assuming that they grow something as well, and it wouldn't surprise me if they grow a substantial portion of their animal feed.

I had to watch around the teenage girl drama, and there were a few things that I didn't see that were interesting.  One big thing was timestamps on the footage.  Most of the colonists that I've met work a 12 hour day, 6 days a week, as a standard thing, and during a crunch they're working 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I wrote about my impressions in a previous blog entry, here.    Some of the scenes were clearly shot before dawn, some long after dark, and unlike other reality series showing work, like deadliest catch,  there was no idea of the scale of work.  They showed the teenage girl shirking her carrot processing duties to text a forbidden boy, but didn't say that she'd probably worked 8 to 10 hours that day already. 

 This colony stated a couple of times that when someone is elected to run one of the colonies many businesses, that position is held "for life" -- which isn't what I was told when I went to another colony located about 150 miles away from the Kings colony.  I was told that the position was held for 3 years, and then possibly rotated, possibly re-elected.  Making the selection for life seems very risky.

Hutterite colonies are very good at acquiring and amassing huge farms.  Communal living and pooling resources means that they have a lot of self-generated capital available to buy the latest, and best, and it really shows.  Most of their equipment is better than the average found on most farms these days. 

One thing that they did show is that the hutterites are keenly aware of the price of their product, and depend solely on their production for the colonies upkeep.  No off-farm jobs for them, which runs counter to standard american agriculture.  Most farmers have an off-farm job these days. 

I'll watch the next 9 episodes with interest.  I'm hoping that the teenage girl isn't the focus.  Their culture and challenges are interesting enough by themselves; we don't need a "real housewives of the hutterites".  I'd like to see more about the basic culture, and decision making, methods and practices of the basic colony life. 

Lots of people want to go back to the country and farm.  The hutterites have a completely different vision and seem to be making a go of doing what the preppers and back-to-farmers want to do:  Live completely off their land in as self-sufficient way as possible. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

The fence claims another lamb

lamb being strangled by premier1 e'net sheep fence
 I am not liking this electric mesh fence at all right now.  Found this lamb with its head tangled in it, and took this picture before I realized that it was still alive. 
 What appears to be happening is that the sheep knock down the fence in one area; I haven't seen them do it yet, and I'm wondering if they're trying to run from a coyote or something -- what's motivating them to crash the fence? Once it's halfway down, the bigger sheep can just hop over.  It's the lambs that seem to be getting caught, and they're getting caught in the top two or three courses of the fence.  
Once freed, the lamb ran back to the flock.  Lucky lamb
 In the picture below, the top of the fence (this is the poultry version) as at the left.  It's the top two rows that seem to provide enough "space" that a lamb thinks that it can put its head through, and then get completely tangled. 
 This could be solved pretty easily the way that it's been solved for no-climb fence.  Just make all the holes smaller so that it isn't possible to get a head through.  
The holes are absolutely big enough for even a full-sized sheep to get its head through.  This is the sort of fencing that is very popular for rotational grazing.

But every producer I've talked to so far has lost sheep to this sort of fence, and usually in this way.  They get tangled and strangled, or tangled and shocked to death.

Really not happy with this product.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The pig business

This year seems to be the year of the pig business.  I've been selling a lot of weaner pigs to various people, and I've talked to them a bit about what their plans are, and the common element is that I don't think that they get what the hard part is about this business. 

It's actually pretty easy to produce a batch of pigs;  they're pretty simple animals to care for.  Food, water, shelter and a good fence will usually mean a trouble-free existence. 

As far input costs go (input is the "farmer" term for stuff you have to buy off your farm) the biggest single item is feed, and feed prices are high this year.  So here's how the conversation goes: 

"Hi Bruce.  Would you have (25, 50, 100) weaners that I could buy?"  

Yes; we usually have a couple of hundred weaners around at any given time; you're welcome to pick your pigs out of the sale pen.  We're here 10-4pm, 7 days a week.  

"that sounds good!  I've got this idea on a pig venture; would you mind talking to me about it?"  

Sure, time allowing.  I've got a few minutes now, what would you like to know?  


At this point they usually ask about some particular thing; like how many pigs per acre, or what sort of pen, or what kind of shelter would I recommend - basically husbandry questions.  At some point I'll ask them what they plan on doing with the pigs that they're raising.  Breeding stock takes a year go grow to breeding size, and the folks who ask me usually don't know about vaccines to cover the most-common stuff in this area that effects pigs and fertility and piglet survival. 

Most of the people that I talk to want to do some sort of feeding operation; basically feed the pigs to market weight, and then sell them. 

So that's when I ask the question that seems to be last thing on the list:  Who do you plan on selling them to? 

You see, when you raise a batch of pigs to market weight, you've got a finite period of time to sell them.  In this area, the USDA slaughter folks won't accept a pig over about 300lbs, and while pigs are popular, it's pretty hard for a new producer to come up with (25, 50, 100) customers in a month or two.  That's a lot of pigs all at once. 

And it's complicated by the fact that there are virtually no outlets to sell the pigs wholesale for a price that makes you any money at all.   Just counting the feed and piglet costs, it will cost them roughly $250 to raise their pigs and that pig will auction for $190, and that doesn't give them any money for labor, fencing, land, water, mortality or any of the other costs.  When you auction pigs, at least around here, that's usually when you've thrown in the towel and given up. 

It takes a while to come up with regular customers; in my 7th year of operation I'm guessing that about 2/3rds of my sales are previous buyers, but it took years of providing a quality product consistently to get there. 

The hard part isn't producing the pigs (chickens, turkeys, eggs, lambs, beef).  The hard part is selling it.  Work on your marketing plan before you work on your pen. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Suicidal sheep and grass fed animals

 The picture above is a pasture that I kept pigs in last year; I frost-seeded the grass (planted it in the fall) and it's come in beautifully, lush and green.  The bare spot to the right is a low area in the pasture that had a pool of water, so the grass didn't survive there, but the rest is looking pretty good; vibrant fast-growing green.  I'll go back and replant the bare spots pretty soon here. 

But I am showing this picture because I'm trying a new (to me) fence.  This particular one is from premier fencing, and it's the poultry version of their electric net fence.  I got the poultry version, even though it's a little more expensive, on the advice of another sheep producer -- the bottom weave is small enough that lambs can't stick their heads through, and the hope was that this would prevent accidents.    It didn't though. 
fold near ground is a big problem
 The fence is pretty simple to put up.  the posts are attached, and you walk out each 160' length, pressing the posts in with your foot.  I this was the first time I'd used it, and there were a couple of problems right off the bat. 

First, look in the picture above -- even with the top and bottom lines taught, there's a fold in the fencing in the center.  With the 8-10" long grass I've got, this fold basically put 4 of the conducting wires on the ground, and when the grass was wet, it made my fence charger ineffective for the 480' of fencing here.  
fence cut to free the tangled lambs
The fencing was put up in the afternoon, the sheep were put into it, and watched for a couple of hours.  everything looked ok.  I got a call from a neighbor though, about an hour after I'd left the farm, that two sheep were tangled in the fence, and that it looked like one was dead, and that the other wasn't doing well. 

It looks like the larger sheep pushed the fence down and walked over it.  This years lambs, smaller, walked up and managed to their their heads through the large gaps just below the top of the fence.  Once of them strangled itself to death, the other was tangled and the neighbor cut it out of the fencing to free it. 

Pretty disappointing performance for this particular combination of fencing and charger.  The field that they're in has a secure perimeter fence, so the sheep defeating the mesh here doesn't really matter, but it matters a great deal on where I'd like to put them.  I'm hoping that the fence will both keep the coyotes out and the sheep in, but so far, with my car-battery charger and the posts inability to keep the fence off the ground, I'm not so sure that it's going to work. 

I'm using a power wizard pw2000b battery operated charger that is only powering this 500' of fencing.  It should be plenty strong to do this, and is sufficiently powerful to control pigs, which is what I've used it for before.  I need a battery or solar operated charger so that I can graze remote fields that don't have access to power. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

family milk cow project - progress

I've written a number of entries about my family milk cow project.  They're linked together -- you will find the first entry here. 

To see the previous entry in this series, click here.  To see the next entry click here.

 It's raining hard when I'm taking these pictures, so her coat doesn't have the normal glossy sheen to it, but she looks good to my eye.  We have a "I get to graze" ritual, where i lead her from the corral over to the pasture to graze for the day, and then back.  Point of it is to get her used to being led around and to associate things she likes with that process.  I usually unclip her and let her graze; I've still got the lead on in these pictures.  She's quite happy to be lead around.

I check her weight using the holstein weight tape I've got, and  her weight now is ...  238!  what?   Ooops.  one side of the tape is printed in kilograms, the other in pounds.  Turning it over she's 519 pounds right now.  So I go back to the chart. 

The last time I checked her weight it was on April 6th, and she weighed between 421 and 444 pounds, which was right on the growth curve for an 8 month old heifer.  A month later at 519lbs, shes gained (519-444) 75lbs over 47 days, for an ADG (Average Daily Gain) of 1.59lbs, which is right in the middle of the range I'm shooting for (1.5 and 1.7 pounds/day)

I'm a little amazed.  I look at this cow every day, and I wouldn't have guessed that she's grown 75lbs.   

 So this is mostly just a confirmation that things are going well.  She's exactly where she should be at this age.  This has been mostly painless, actually.  The basic feeding regimen is as much hay or grass as she can eat, and 2lbs of dairy feed per day -- call it 2 to 3 quarts of feed, by volume.  The hay/grass is free choice, the grain I feed in a small trough. 

At this rate, I'll be at breeding weight in October of this year.  That would have her calve in July, which is a pretty nice time of the year for me.  No risk of flood, warm weather, good grass and at least 90 days before the cold-and-wet season.   Sounds like a plan.  

  She tolerates my fussing with the tape with aplomb; she's much more interested in the green grass.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

auction, piglets, clover and grass

 It's been a busy week or so.  Lots of litters of pigs; I particularly like this color combo, which we get when we cross a hampshire and a berkshire.  Weaner pigs aren't much into mud; they prefer to keep themselves really clean if they have the chance, and these guys are spotless.  Not stripeless, though. 
 The width of the shoulder strip varies; here's a wide and a narrow. 
 Was at an auction last week, and was a little horrified at the prices of cattle.  To my buyers eye they are VERY VERY expensive.   There's usually a spring bump in price, but I'm seeing 300lb calves go for $1.60 to $2.00/lb.  In my book that is way too expensive.  I'm used to seeing them at about a buck a pound.  In the picture above, the auctioneer is the guy in the checked shirt seated in the alcove.  Above his head is a sign with red Numbers that say "580".  that's the weight of the cow being auctioned off; the holstein, to the right of center.  The two guys in white hats are the ringmen; who move the animals through the sale floor.   To the right, and above the auctioneer, there's a second sign.  (click on the picture to expand it).  that lists the last sale; in this case it was a 620lb cow that sold for $580.00.  these are all live weights. 

 Had a business trip to oregon, and on the way noticed huge fields of white.  Took me a minute to figure out that these were seed beds for white clover.  If you click on the picture you can see some blue-green boxes, right in the center at the top of the white.  Those are bee hives, put there to pollinate the clover.  Ever wondered where clover honey comes from?  This part of oregon, apparently. 
It looks a lot like snow.  They also grow a lot of grass seed in this area; miles and miles of tall fescue and other common pasture grasses, managed to produce seed, which is then used all over the country. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


We've been selling a lot of piglets recently.  Most sales are 2 to 4 pigs, with the occasional 10 pig order.  

 "Hi.  Is this Bruce?  "

 yes, indeed.

 "Do you still have piglets available?"

  yes, quite a few.  How many are you after?

"Well, we usually buy a whole litter at a time.  What kind of a price can we do if we buy a whole litter"

hmm...  right off the bat inquiring as to price. 

"What are you asking for your pigs"

Well, in quantity 1-4, we get $95 a piece for them.  If you're interested in 5 or more, I could come down a little -- $85.   How many are you after? 

he asked me for a discount before asking me what I sold them for.  Got it. 

"We'd like a whole litter; maybe 10?"

I'm sure we can handle that.  When would you like to pick them up? 

"Well, can you do any better on the price?"

This is where I made a mistake; when the conversation happens this way it's almost always someone who is just shopping for the cheapest piglets; they're almost never a serious buyer.  that said...

If you'll buy 14, I'd go to $75 per pig. 

"ok, that sounds great.  Can I pick them up in a week or so?" 

We sell pigs every day.  if you want to reserve those pigs, you'll have to put down a deposit.  Otherwise, the first person to the farm gate gets them.  I'd take $25 per pig, and hold them for 2 weeks for your pick up.  If you don't pick them up I'll keep the deposit.  Sound fair?

"oh no!  I don't do business that way!  I won't put down a deposit!"   quite emphatic

To hold that many pigs I'm going to be telling other folks that they're sold.  Otherwise they're for sale to whomever -- and I could sell them as you drive down here.  We've never done business before; I feel that a deposit is fair to both of us.  And the deposit applies to the pigs.

"I completely understand what you're saying, but I just don't put deposits down.  I'll call you in a few days and see what you have"

I sold that entire litter the next day for $95 a pig.

[a few days later]
"Hey, do you still have that litter?"

No, I don't.  it was sold a few days ago.

"What price did you sell them at? "

$95 each. 

"oh.  Would you have any more?"

Why yes, with a deposit.  But otherwise I'll sell them to whomever gets to the farm gate first.

"I won't put down a deposit!"

That's fine with me.  Perhaps I'll have some pigs left when you stop by.  Have a good day.

The fellow negociated a very good price 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My favorite time of year

The last few days have been really glorious.  Blue skies and 75 degrees, the ground is drying up, so less mud and lots of really amazing grass growth.  It's this time of year that I enjoy the most. 
 I spent the day at the north property, working on the lights and outlets, and then on the fencing.  Last year this property flooded and part of the fence got damaged; a few hours of work put it right.  I walked the pasture and looked at the cows. 
 They're chest-deep in fast-growing grass; lots of food for them.  Checked the mineral block and they're all set. 
 Weaners like green stuff, too.  Got the idea of planting peas as weaner fodder from a customer.  They like it a lot. 
 My holstein wasn't impressed.  She's looking pretty good though; grass agrees with her.  Glossy coat.    Very satisfying day.  Some work with my hands, green growing things; lots of happy animals running around on fertile ground.  Doesn't get much better. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The new barn

This is the new barn; it's 24x36, and I think it's 12' tall.  The previous owner built a second story into it, from what it looks like they took another smaller metal building and kinda grafted it on to it.  The view is actually pretty good from up there.  I think it'll be fine for storing lightweight stuff. 
It looks pretty good in that picture.  Here's what it started out as: 

 3 gallons of red paint, 2 gallons of white paint, 1 new steel security door and lockset, 1 replacement deadbolt lockset, some trim and a bunch of elbow grease to clear out the junk. 

 The inside was pretty trashed.  Took a day to clear out all of the stuff and toss it into a pile, and then another day to repaint the outside and replace the locks and broken door. 

The electrical service box was missing its cover and all of the circuit breakers, but they hadn't cut the supply wires.  A quick trip to the hardware store got me another identical panel; so I used the parts from the new panel to complete the old one, and I'm all set to get the electricity turned back on. 

They did steal all of the copper wiring to the outlets and lights, so I'll have to rewire it, call it another day of labor, but all in all, not bad.  The roof doesn't leak, the concrete floor is good, and with a good coat of paint on the inside, it'll be just fine.  I'm sure the chicks and poults and piglets will enjoy heat lamps and other modern luxuries. 

It has a hookup for a phone as well as electricity, so when the power goes on I'll install a security camera system that I can monitor from the house via the internet. 

Rural areas near urban always get hit hard with petty theft and vandalism.  I think that the city kids think that somehow it doesn't matter what they do when they're "in the country".  I don't understand it.  No matter -- the damage in this case was all cosmetic; the building is sound and secured now. 

Drat.  I missed some graffitti.  I'll get it tomorrow. 

"yea, it gets drier farther in"

 I spotted a sign by the freeway, "Round bales for sale", and called the number listed.  We dickered a little on price, and I sent Dan over with a truck and trailer to pick up a few bales.  On arrival, the farmer directed Dan to drive to the far side of the field.  Dan got stuck pretty close to the county road, but the farmer assured Dan that it got drier farther in. 
 The truck got stuck a few times on the way in, and the farmer helped by pulling the truck with his small tractor until the truck was hopelessly stuck.  Dan called me, and I came over, and looked at it, and decided that I'd either have to call a tow truck or bring over my big tractor to pull the truck and trailer out.  These pictures are after we've detached the trailer and pulled it out. 

Dan, what's the take-home lesson here?  "Don't take the farmers word for the ground; check it".  Yep.  Ok.  lets get it out. 
The big tractor made short work of the job, and since I had transported it to the farmers field, I used it to load the bales.  But look at the picture above.  To the right of the truck is a pretty substantial group of dandelions.  After looked at that, I looked carefully at the field we were in (that was probably where the hay was cut that we were picking up. )

I asked the farmer about it -- do you fertilize?  "I'm not allowed to", he said.  Why not?  "This is land that is owned by the natures conservancy, and they will not allow me to fertilize or till.  So all I can do is cut and bale.  "  So that explains all the weeds -- and the amount of grass.  On my fields the grass is about twice this tall.  This hay field looks green, but it's really farming theatre.  All of the fertility is being slowly cut out of it. 

So, what would you do if you were allowed to fertilize?  "I'd spread chicken manure.  On my fields where I spread it, the grass is much taller, and no weeds". 

Sometimes getting your truck stuck is a good thing.  After looking at this field, I think I'll buy elsewhere. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

If you're local to the Seattle area...

One of my military customers had a half-pig ordered, but had to cancel due to orders.  If you'd like a half a pastured pig, let me know and we'll get it to you.  It's at the meat shop now.   It was slaughtered this morning. 

This one was a blue butt, about 8 months old,  side is 125lbs.  Nice pig.    Price would be $258
plus kill and cut-and wrap fees, which works out to around $3/lb. or 206 940 4980

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


 "pigpile" is a term people use for a group; this is the original pigpile.  These are weaned pigs in a pretty big pen, but when they sleep they get as close to each other as they can.   In the middle of the pile it's 3 pigs deep 
 They snore softly when they're sleeping; and they sleep really soundly.   If you clap or make a noise, all of the exposed ears flap in unison. 
 They stay pretty still when sleeping, but occasionally you'll hear some grumbling from someone in the pile.  Hey! 
 They are very cute.  This is the point of maximum pig  cuteness. 
 At the edges of the pile some pigs fall off, and there's some sleepy squealing as the pile rearranges itself, and then back to the snoring of the piglets.