Thursday, October 30, 2014

Want to buy some calves. Hating the prices.

Angus bull, my dairy cow, and my hereford heifer cow
I've got a pretty good setup going for winter; I've got enough hay to feed everyone and some surplus, and then i've got 200 tons of corn silage coming.  Between the two of them, i've got extra cow feed.

It helps that I've got a big barn that's easy to clean and all set up to house cows, and ... well, it just seems like it's a good time to buy.  Everyone likes to sell cows now if they don't have forage or hay put up, and I'm used to seeing a little cheaper prices.

A trip to the tuesday night roundup at a local auction cleared that right up for me.  I'd be in the market for 300-600lb well-started beef cows; I'd like to have a couple of steers to raise, and a couple of heifers for calves in a couple of years, but holy cow!  the prices are higher than I've evern seen them.
We're talking $3.20 a pound for a 300lb cow.  That's $960.00 for a good looking calf.  Nine Hundred and SIXTY DOLLARS!

Now if I had calves to sell, that kind of price would cause me to trot them right into the trailer and sell 'em, but I'd like to grow my herd.

The national beef herd is at the lowest point that it has been in 60 years, and at least some of these prices show me that there's a lot of people either betting on $10/lb steaks or they're increasing their herd size.

As it is I'm having to really wrestle with it.  Buy now, at the high price, and hope that in 18 months I can sell at a profit, or wait a while longer, get into winter, and hope that there's some sales later on that are a better price.  Or skip buying cows and just buy bred holsteins.  Even day-old bull calves are going for $200-300.  A bred holstein gives me milk production, a calf, and half the calves (maybe a bit less if they used sexed semen) to sell or raise.

it's $1200-1400 for a 6 to 8 month bred holstein right now; I'm equipped to milk them, and milk replacer is expensive.  Hmmm.

Tim Youngs written a new farming/homesteading book. Help review it

Tim Young over at Natures Harmony Farm has an opinion about farming and over the years he hasn't been shy about sharing it with people.  After a while, he goes and deletes everything he says and hopes that people forget about it, and it's a little funny.  Well, he's at it again, this time in book form.

He wrote this book a couple of years ago under a pseudonym, and it struck me at the time as being a little like one of those ads you saw in the paper.  "Send me $10 and I'll send you the secret to being rich!".  The secret, of course, being that if you put an advertisement out that says "send me $10..." you'll get rich.  So one of the ways to make money homesteading, clearly, is to write about making money homesteading.  Stands to reason, right?
By "dusty bottoms", Tim Young 
Tim (Can I call you that, Tim?) has rehashed something he wrote a couple of years ago called "the farm dreams guide to profitable homesteading", and re-issued it as
The cover is better, and he's getting better at marketing
He's got his farm and cheese business up for sale, and he's closed down his retail store and after trying to raise virtually every animal you could sell to the public, he's closed that down too.

But with all of that said, maybe if the farm sells and he can get out from under that being an author is a good call for this guy.

Here's a link to the current book offering.  Feel free to read the reviews, and if you find one that helps you make a purchase decision, by all means give it your vote.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

the view from behind the produce stand

A pretty funny article about the view from behind the stand at the farmers market.  Some profanity, so keep the kiddies away.

A small-scale organic farmer wants you to know a few things 

Weather and my farming

A little under a year ago I purchased a weather station that tracked some of the stuff that was important to me; the temperature, barometer reading, the amount of rainfall and the speed and direction of the wind.  
oregon scientific WMR300 weather station

It made a big difference in how I farm.  Temperature readings, basically the number of degrees over some minimum, are important for crops, and and it allowed me to get a better handle on what I might choose to grow in the future.

Grapes, for instance, require a certain number of heat units to ripen, and this varies per variety.    Corn requires a different number of heat units.   So having the information on my particular micro-climate at my farm is pretty important to knowing what choices I can make to maximize my chosen crop.

Another piece of data that turns out to be pretty handy is the rain gauge.  Knowing how much rain I've got allows me to make choices about the work I can do.  For instance, between January 1st and March 31st of 2014 I got 57 inches of rain.   The gauge at the local airport didn't show a total anything close to that -- but I'm in a mountain valley that funnels clouds in, and they have to rise to cross over the cascades, and that causes them to dump water.  What difference does that make?

Well, it means I have a pretty good idea of how soft the ground will be when I'm working, and over time, I can get a better feel for when, or maybe if, I need to irrigate.  With this much rainfall it hasn't been a concern this last year, but it may be in the future.  So having the record of what I might expect in terms of rain, and when it comes, will also help with choosing crops.

I'm about 10 miles away from the oso landslide  and the 57 inches of rain we got I believe was a big factor in causing it.  Both from water on the ground soaking in, and from the river being high for months, chewing away at the toe of the hill.

So the weather station that I bought 11 months ago pretty much stopped working.  I've done all the normal things; changed the batteries and checked and reset the display, but it just isn't working.  The first to quit was the rain gauge, and then the wind gauge failed, and about the only thing that works now is the thermometer.

So I did some research and read a lot of reviews, and I think I'm going to try a more expensive unit to see if it'll give me longer service.

I've chosen the Oregon Scientific WMR300 which I found at the best price at the time at costco, although they've raised the price by $50 since I purchased it a few days ago.  Costco had it cheaper than any other vendor that sold it, and they've got a good return policy, which helps a lot.  If it fails I've got a good chance to get my money back.  i

The station has a USB port that allows a pc to download the readings, and the display station itself will keep up to 3 years of data, and I'll let you guys know how it works.

Looks like the sensor array mounts on a single pole, which will be good.  With a 1,000 foot range I can place it in the field itself and get good readings.  I'll probably mount it on a pole attached to a fencepost.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fall harvest

A nice surprise was getting a little bit of sun today between the rain squalls and high winds we had last night.  
 Took the tractor out to the squash patch that I planted in June and collected our years supply of squash.  120 of the acorn squash, 40 of the sugar pumpkins and 10 of the jack-o-lantern type.  We've given away a hundred or so of each type, sold 400 of the acorn squash to a local food stand, and there will be plenty for the pigs to feast on later this week.  What I'll do is just electric-fence off the pumpkin patch and turn the pigs loose in it.  a week or so and most of the vegetation and all of the squash will be eaten.  
acorn squash, halloween pumpkins and sugar pumpkins
 right next door the alfalfa field is looking good; three cuttings this year and its had about 6 weeks to recover from the last one, so judging by what I've read the roots should be in good condition going into winter.  The key will be how well it comes back in the spring.  Alfalfa doesn't like wet feet, and I believe this sandy-loam field drains well...
alfalfa field, corn field in background at the base of the trees 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Speaking of corn...

click on the picture to enlarge it.  Dents showing in about 30% of kernels
 I managed to creak my way out to the cornfield and picked a couple of sample ears.  The dents are showing up, and it continues to ripen, slowly, but its making progress.  We usually get frost first two weeks of november, but indications are that this may be a warmer-than-usual winter, and the temps have been in the low 60s during the day and the mid-40s at night... so far so good.   The corn plants are still green and alive, which is good.    
Inspecting an ear for milk line
 If you want to know more than you even thought possible about corn growth stages, click here.
Getting closer every day.    Hoping I'll be in shape to actually drive a tractor when it's ready to go.

Not the way I wanted to spend a friday night

WARNING:  Fairly graphic description of a car crash follows.

Last friday I was driving home from a candidates forum along a local highway, and a pizza delivery guy turned left in front of me.  I hit him and the impact drove me off the road into two other cars parked on the highway shoulder.
2013 VW passat after collision
So for me it was a normal, quiet drive home.  I noticed two cars on the side of the road, on the shoulder, that were nose-to-nose, like one was trying to jump the other.  On a rural highway you see a lot of vehicles getting fixed by owners, nothing remarkable about that.  I could see headlights of the westbound traffic (I was eastbound).

I saw this guy turn a fraction of a second before I hit him; not enough time to hit the brakes.  I guess he thought he had enough time to make his left turn; and misjudged.  I think he's a younger guy, and I sure wish he had waited another 30 seconds for me to pass.

When I hit him everything went white.  I remember wondering what was going on until I saw the airbag deflate and I could see the shattered windshield.  It felt initially like I had done the mother of all bellyflops and I could tell I was hurt but I couldn't tell how much.  I could see one of the cars on the side of the road (a light truck) that I was resting against, and I wondered briefly if that was the other vehicle I'd hit.  I didn't know if it was.  but there it was.  weird.    I really couldn't draw a breath.  There was a white powder drifting through the drivers compartment.  i switched the ignition off, (not realizing that the battery, and the whole front of the car, was just gone) and when I did so I noticed I had blood on my left hand.  and I looked at my right and there was blood there, too.  I was wearing a suit and tie, and I noticed blood on my shirt.  I started wondering where all this blood was coming from.  So i kind of gingerly patted myself down, and wiggled my toes and fingers and didn't find any obvious wounds.  not a gush, more a drip, and seemed to be coming from my hands.    
My blood
My face and chest were covered with the airbag when the windshield hit my knuckles and cut both hands up.  I didn't see any bone showing, but it was hard to tell.
The car that turned left in front of me I think
  Dr. Leonard, an emergency room phsysician was driving to work and turned out to be one of the first people on the scene.  He talked to me a bit, and looked at my hands, and said "I'll be seeing you in about 20 minutes I think.  " and the paramedics got me out of the car on a backboard with a collar and I was in the emergency room for a few hours.  x rays and a presecription for muscle relaxants and pain relievers ("you are going to be very, very sore for a number of days" , said Dr. Leonard) and in truth the real pain didn't start up until about 4 hours after the accident.
takes quite a blow to bend the steering wheel like that.  no airbags.

after 3 vehicle impacts

Dr. Leonard said to me something that I heard very clearly.  "10 years ago this wouldn't have been a survivable accident.  You're lucky you had a good, safe car with airbags.  That car failed in exactly the right way to direct the energy of a head-on collision away from the passenger compartment.  You're very lucky.  "  Guys, I'd buy another passat again in a heartbeat.  probably will.

Most of a week later I can finally think about putting my own socks on again.  Separated rib, neck strain, back strain, cuts on both hands, intermittent back spasms...  It hurt any way I lay down, or stood up.  Tears-in-the-eyes pain.

I really don't know the extent of the injuries to the other drivers, I asked the paramedics but they didn't know either but they did say that no one died.  thankful for that.  Was amused to learn that the guy who caused the accident was insured by my insurance company, too.  Glad he has insurance, not sure how this is going to play out as far as claims go.  State patrol issued a ticket for something to the jeep driver; probably failure to yield.  insurance company accepted fault was his.

Kinda put everything into perspective.  I didn't think about the corn until today.

Monday, October 13, 2014

I'm running for office.

I haven't mentioned this before,but I'm running for political office; I filed for this position on May 12th, and I've been campaigning since.

It's been an interesting process; this is the first elected position I've run for, and I've been doing all of the things that campaigns need to do; public appearances and signs and advertising and fundraising and it's been a good education in the process.   I've probably talked to 5,000 people since the start of the campaign.  That's a lot of talking!


I'm running for the position of  Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) commissioner;  I am running to become a member of a 3 person commission that oversees the PUD; the commission approves contracts over $25,000, accepts or rejects rate changes, and can hire and fire the professional manager of the PUD.

To explain what a public utility district is, the closest analogy I've come across is the difference between a credit union and a commercial bank.  A credit union is a not-for-profit institution run for the benefit of its depositor/owners.  A commercial bank is run for the benefit of its shareholders.

The mission of the PUDS was to give the ratepayers in the service area a better deal than they might get from a commercial entity, and for most of the PUDs in Washington State (there are over 20 of them) they do.

But the Snohomish county PUD seems to have drifted a bit.  They have the highest rates of any PUD in the state, and they've had recent troubles that point to a management problem.   These troubles have led to the loss of millions of PUD dollars, and millions of federal dollars, too.  And they are studying a much larger project, at 180 million dollars, that I'm  that I'm skeptical that they can manage.

In addition, the basic job of the utility is to keep the lights on.  The number of days of power outages that the average customer experiences has climbed over the past 12 years

The job of commissioner is to make sure that your neighbors money is spent wisely, and that's what I'd like to do.  I think it's time for a change in the leadership, and for fresh eyes and ideas to take the PUD to the next decade.

You'll find my campaign website here, and here's a some recent letters to the editor that put it better than I can:

PUD needs King
Change Definitely needed at PUD
PUD commission needs a shakeup!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The chopper

Gehl 1075 on right, grass and corn heads on truck.  
 Picked up the forage chopper; a gehl 1075 with a grass head and a two-row corn head.  The tractor I'll use to drive this chopper is a 125hp, and I'm hoping that it's powerful enough.  The previous owner was running it with a 150hp tractor.  Guess I'll see what sort of speed we can do.

Going over it with a grease gun to make sure that everything that should be greased is.  Checking chains and belts, making sure tires are full.  Takes a couple of hours to get everything all set and then I'll run it slow for a while to make sure that everything is spinning the way it should.  Got the tank of farm diesel full for refueling...  can't think of anything else that needs to be done before we start chopping.    

Rain forecast for saturday; partly sunny sunday and monday and then rain for the forseeable future.  looks like chopping will be on sunday; hope to get it all done by then.  Tires and tarp are all set, silage pit is repaired and scraped clean...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Prey drive starts early

Our dogs are farm dogs; they keep larger predators from our stock, guard the house and driveway, and are the constant companion on walks.  Airedales are very loyal and pretty intelligent... and can be stubborn, too.  Its a terrier trait.  They keep going despite difficulties.

We had a litter of pups recently, and it's been fun watching the personalities emerge.  Here, in his web debut is "blue" -- named for the color of the collar we initially put on him.  he outgrew that collar, but the name stuck.

Airedale puppy eating a rat and growling at other puppiesn from bruce king on Vimeo.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"all farming is done on a bet" - the corn conundrum

I was reading some commentary about a farming documentary, and the comment "all farming is done on a bet" stuck with me.  It's really true.

For me the bets I make every year are what people will eat in 6 to 10 months... and how much, and what kind and that's the market bets.

But there's the second bet -- the weather.  Climate plays a big part in what I do -- more so in the last 18 months than ever before because i've started growing my own feed, and while I can carefully test my soil and do my research on seeds, and till the ground in the best way I can... if the weather isn't there I'm not going to get the results i hope for.

All farming is done on a bet.
my corn, Sept 21

So this week I'm looking my my corn.  Here's some pictures
alberts corn, Sept 21
 My corn is making progress, but my late planting time is showing right now.  The weather has been temperate -- highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s and the corn is progressing.    Alberts corn was planted 3 weeks or so ahead of mine.
Alberts corn Oct 8

my corn Oct 8
After consulting a couple of local dairy farmers, the basic opinion is that I can chop the corn at any time; I'll lose some value because of the immaure kernels, but the risk is that if I don't chop before the heavy rains come in I may lose a portion of the crop because I can't harvest it.  There's a couple of low areas in my fields, and if the water stands there after a storm, I can't run the chopper there.

The long term forecast is for the rain to start on Oct 11 and basically keep raining for a month.  They're saying that we may have flood conditions around October 18th.  So I'm sitting here looking at the corn, and wanting it to grow faster, but with the growing sense that I should chop it and get it into the silage pit sooner, vs later.

That said, I'm pretty happy with the corn itself.  It to my novice eye I think that my spacing is ok (having some unfertilized kernels at the end of the cob is desirable, apparently.  ) and the size and number of ears is good.  Between the orchard grass and alfalfa and corn, this has been a pretty good year.

Pretty happy about this bet so far.  Crossing my fingers I can follow through correctly and get it put away before the serious rains start.
Red, my airedale, loves the crop walks 

Corn is about 10' tall.