Saturday, May 30, 2015

Soil tests and growing things - the worst field

Did soil tests on 5 fields, and they should me a variety of different conditions; generally speaking my land is in fair to good shape, with the new land I'm farming in pretty poor shape overall.  Shouldn't be a surprise; it's been cut for hay for a decade with nothing put back on the land, and so the soil is pretty weak overall.

Soil test for top half of new acreage
This field needs the most help to get it back into production.  Lots of lime - 6200lbs per acre is what is reccomended, and needs lots of potassium and phosphorus.  So how do you fix that?  Well...
Applying lime with the spreader
 You order up 35 tons of lime, and you load up the 10' spreader, and have the nephew earn his summer spending money by having him listen to an audiobook while he drives around and around.
Applying lime with the nephew
I calculated the amount of lime as about 1lb per 8x10' area; used a tarp under the spreader, collected it, weighed it, and adjusted the setting.  6 hours of tractor passes later the field is limed and ready for planting.    

The fertilizer issue is a little more of a problem.  First, it's expensive, and second, there's an application issue.  So I'm going to apply fertilizer when I plant the corn; the corn planter will both plant the corn and deposit dry fertilizer in the row.   The corn will use some of the nutrients, some will stay in the soil, and I'll do a soil test at the end of the year and see what the soil is like then.  the lime will definitely change the PH.  

The corn is also an indicator of general fertility.  At harvest I'll be able to look at the field and tell where the problem areas are by the growth of the corn.  

So the lime was $1050 ($30/ton).  the fertilizer mix for the planting was another $1600.  The corn seed itself was about $1000.   I'll have a total for tractor time when we get it all done, but it looks like my costs are going to be something like $250/acre;   that seems high, but as long as I'm under $1,000/acre I'm paying less than I would if I purchased this corn from the local feed mill, so although I hate writing the checks, the long-term still looks doable.  

What's it like to go from traditional dairy to robotic dairy?

There's a blog written by a long-time dairy family about their transition to a robotic milking system.  I'ts interesting to me because that's one way to get to where I want to go with with farm.  current robots can milk between 40 and 60 cows, with the cows choosing the time they get milked, and the robot tracking everything -- down to the milk production from each individual teat - cows have 4.

You'll find the blog here

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Raking, baling, watching the sky

bales on the right, raked hay on the left.  Lots of work ahead
 Haying weather is really a roll of the dice around here; most of the local farmers don't bother with trying to guess, they just round-bale the first cutting of hay and wrap it, and sell it as silage.  Wrapped bales don't really have to be picked up on any sort of schedule; you'll see them out in the fields for weeks or months until the farmer gets around to it.

The unfortunate part of that is that I don't have a round baler... but this year I watched the weather and saw a little window coming up that looked like haying weather.  So I cut the grass and crossed my fingers; tedded it, and tested it every day for moisture content.   This morning I thought it might work out, so I raked a row and tuned up the baler for bale length and weight.  Around noon the hay tested at 17% moisture, and the race is on.
First cutting has some seed heads and some weeds.  2nd cutting will be finer and better quality
So I had a guy on the tractor baling, and I was working with a crew of four to pick up the bales and toss 'em on a wagon.  One driver, one on the wagon, two people tossing bales up to the wagon deck.   The truck pulling the hay wagon followed the baler, slowly falling behind, until we'd baled about 850 bales.  Took 3 hours to put all of the baled hay into the barn, and then we quit for the night.  If it doesn't rain tonight we'll bale and stack the remainder tommorow.  If it does rain I'll use the grass head on my forage chopper to pick it up, and feed the wet grass to the cows while the field regrows.

I need about a bale a cow a day.  So my herd of 25 cows needs 25 bales a day, or roughly 750 bales a month in hay.  The non-growing season is about 5 months long, so my goal for this year is 3,750 bales of hay stacked and in the barn by september.

If I can get this cutting into the barn without mishap, I'll be more than half-way there.  Crossing my fingers and hoping it doesn't rain tonight.  20% probability.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Make hay while the sun shines: new tedder!

Bought a bigger hay tedder at the auction on saturday.  There were two six-basket tedders at the auction, and the other one sold for $6500, so I was figuring this one (that had highway wheels) was going to go for as much or maybe more... but it didn't.   the Fella th800 that I bid on ended up selling for $2200.  Part of the reason that it went so low is that it was missing teeth; about 10 of them were broken, and the tires were in very poor shape.  But someone had greased it, and all of the bearings looked good, and the hydraulic cylinders didn't leak, so...

My old tedder is only a 2 basket, so a 6 basket is a substantial steup up, with a working width around 20'.  So it only took 2.5 hours to ted the main field.  Big improvement.

$110 in replacement teeth, $400 for new tires all around, $60 in assorted nuts and bolts (replacing the shear bolts with proper grade, replacing too-long bolts with the proper length, replacing standard nuts with lock nuts where called for, about 2 hours of wrench time and it's out on the field tedding.

The unit itself seems to be missing a guard rail that goes around it; the mounting brackets are still there, so I'll probably make a replacement out of electrical conduit when I'm done tedding the field.

New hay tedder from bruce king on Vimeo.

"i will make sure to post this conversation in a review!"

I get questions on email all the time; the blog has international reach, so I'm never sure where the person I'm talking to is.   These emails are edited only to remove the persons name and location, and presented in the order that they were received:  I offer this conversation with no further comment

Subject: pig
From: Rachel xxxx <>
Date: Sun, May 17, 2015 4:13 pm
To: "" <>

How much can I expect to pay for a smaller half pig

From:"" <>
Date:Mon, May 18, 2015 at 7:41 PM
Subject:RE: pig
You can eat a pig at any size; a half-pig at regular slaughter size is about 100lbs, and from that you get about 75lbs of cuts, sausage, a ham and bacon.

Subject: Re: RE: pig
From: Rachel xxxx <>
Date: Mon, May 18, 2015 7:43 pm
To: "" <>

I am actually just interested ina 70 lb whole pig for rotisserie.  how much could I expect to pay

From:"" <>
Date:Mon, May 18, 2015 at 7:47 PM
Subject:RE: RE: pig

The price varies by region.  We sell that size pig for $220 live at the farm gate.  We charge $60 to kill, scald, scrape, gut and chill the pig so that it is bbq ready.  

Are you local to the seattle area?
Bruce / 206 940 4980

Subject: Re: RE: RE: pig
From: Rachel Syson <>
Date: Mon, May 18, 2015 7:48 pm
To: "" <>

yes we live in xxxxxx

From:"" <>
Date:Mon, May 18, 2015 at 7:51 PM
Subject:RE: RE: RE: pig

The closest pig that I've got to that size is a 110lb pig, that will dress out at 85lbs.  If you'd like us to hold that pig for you and have it ready on a particular date we'll need a deposit of $50, with the balance due on pickup.  You're welcome to come and look at the pig and drop off a check, or mail me a check.  

Bruce King
28611 139th avenue NE
Arlington WA 98223

206 940 4980

Subject: Re: RE: RE: RE: pig
From: Rachel xxxx <>
Date: Mon, May 18, 2015 7:54 pm
To: "" <>

so I would not need it until aug 8th and im assuming it will no longer be that size

From:"" <>
Date:Mon, May 18, 2015 at 10:53 PM
Subject:RE: RE: RE: RE: pig

I'm going to give up on this conversation.  this is a little like pulling teeth.  

From:"Rachel xxxx" <>
Date:Tue, May 19, 2015 at 5:18 AM
Subject:Re: RE: RE: RE: RE: pig
Wow you have to be the most unprofessional person I have ever met. I am so sorry that I have never done this before I just wanted to make sure I was giving you all the details you needed. I will make sure and put this conversation up on a review for others to decide which of us is in the wrong here. I am so glad I did not do buisness with you.

From:"Rachel xxxx" <>
Date:Tue, May 19, 2015 at 5:25 AM
Subject:Re: RE: RE: RE: RE: pig

..... also in the future if you don't want to do buisness with someone just say so, there is no reason to be nasty, you must be a very misserable personal to be so rude for no reason. I feel sorry for you

Thursday, May 14, 2015

(pics) What is eating my peach and nectarine trees?

 These trees were planted bare-root last year and did well.  But now this spring they're looking terrible.  Virus?  Bug?  disease?   Only the peach and nectarine trees; the apple and cherry are not affected.

grazing and pigs and hay

pigs on alfalfa
 While the cows have shown a preference for the grass/alfalfa mix, the pigs have shown a strong preference for the pure alfalfa.  So much so that the herd of 80 sows has managed to keep it about 6" tall through the last two months of growth -- and that's good.  We don't have weather to hay it yet, so grazing it off is a great use until I get a round baler to bay haylage.
An airedale herding
 This dog takes his job seriously.  He's positioned himself on the plowed field (nothing planted there yet) and is warning the pigs off the bare dirt.  
some clover, alfalfa, grass and cowslip
 the pure-alfalfa area is where I planted pure alfalfa, but we've got a little bit of weeds on the edges, particularly towards where we planted pumpkins last year (and had mature weeds).  It's still good fodder, and everything eats it, but it'll be hard to eradicate these weeds organically.  I think that mowing/haying will help a bit, though.  All of the weeds are edible - not much in the way of thistles, which is good.
the Angus bull checking out the pig herd
We've got a weather window coming up that is on the edge of haying weather.  I'm watching every day to see if we'll get the right combination of heat and days to make some of the grass into hay.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Difficult customers: Shedding them

So I sell a lot of weaner pigs, and to a lot of other farms and homeowners.  The basic transaction is pretty simple; here's the pen of pigs, pick out the ones you like, we figure out the price (usually a little lower if they're buying a quantity) and we load them up, smiles all around, and off they go.

Sometimes we don't have weaner pigs ready at that moment, and people do want to know that they've got pigs, so we take them back to the farrowing pens and show them litters, and they pick out the pigs they want pre-wean, and we note which ones, and set a date for pickup.

So what I say goes like this:  "ok, we'll take a deposit of $50 per head for the pigs.  The deposit means that we will keep the pigs for two weeks past the agreed pickup time.  If you don't pick up your pigs, we'll keep the deposit and resell the pigs:  is that ok with you?"  Most people are a little surprised by my mentioning reselling the pigs, and just about everyone comes and picks up their pigs on the day that they're ready to go.   Honestly, everyone comes on the day.  I've only had one customer not.  So here's the story:

It started out last year; we had a customer that wanted a specific set of breeds that we have, and wanted 10 piglets, with a preference for barrows (castrated males).  I work hard to accomodate that sort of request, so we looked over several litters, picked out the pigs, and set a date.  deposit paid, date set.

So the pickup date arrives, and they don't come, and don't call.  So I wait a couple of days and then call them.  They're busy, they can't come, there is something going on on their farm that is very important.  I understand that -- when can you come?

Well, they say, maybe a week.  Ok -- I don't mind a little delay.  what day?  So we set a date, and 8 days roll by (we're now 10 days past the pickup date) and I call them and ask them when they're going to pick up the pigs.  I get another story, things are tough, times are busy, we can't get away, how about another week?

I like them as customers; 10 pigs is a nice sale, I'm working with them, but at this point, 18 days past the agreed pickup time, it's getting to be a nuisance.  we've got a pen tied up with these pigs, we're having to tell other people that they're sold already, we're feeding them... it's not really what we're set up for.  So I call again, and set another date, and they don't show again, and 3 weeks after the pickup date it is very annoying.

So a month after the pickup date (the pigs are 3 months old, growing nicely) I call them, and I tell them point-blank:  you have to pick up your pigs or we're gonna sell them.  They agree, saturday at 11am, and I heave a sigh of relief.  they'll be here.  Silly me.

11am saturday, 12.  1pm .  2pm.  they call me, tell me they are on their way.  what time?  2:30.  3pm.  4pm.  5pm.  6pm.  They call and say they're almost there.  7pm.  around dark they roll up and we load the pigs, and I'm trying to be nice about it, but I had things to do today, errands, and hanging out for them was bad enough, but it comes across as arrogance to tell me  you're going to be there and then blow me off for hours.

So that's how I got to "we will keep them for 2 weeks past the pickup date, and if you do not pick them up, we will keep the deposit and resell them".

They were happy with their pigs last year, and this year they call and up their order from 10 to 12, which is fine with me.  i have pigs to sell, they specify the breeds and sex again, and I pull pigs from 4 different litters to meet what they're after.  I get a deposit in the mail, which is fine, and I have a pickup date.

  Fool me once, shame on you.  fool me twice, shame on me.

So the pickup date is a saturday, and they call on friday, and say saturday at 11am.  Saturday at 11am they call and say sunday at noon.  Sunday at 11am they call and say monday at 11am.  After I got the call on saturday, I sat there while they told me the story of why they couldn't make it, and I thought very seriously about just sending their check back.

Monday at 11am no show.  No call, either.  I call them at noon.  Where are you?  We're almost there.  1pm.  No show.  2pm.  3pm.  4pm and they show up.  I'm biting my lip.  trying to be nice about it as I chat with this woman about her farm and the pigs; she picks the pigs she wants from a larger group, we load them up, and I am pretty happy to see her go.  Nice person, just really really poor at time management I figure.

So then I get a call back from her about 2 hours later.  the pigs aren't what she wants.  She thinks one is acting weird.  they're not as big as last year.  (yea, you're darned right they're not as big -- they are 2 months old, not 3!) and so on.

And i will honestly admit I blew a gasket.  this was the last straw with this customer for me

the pigs you picked out of the pen aren't to your liking?  I will be right there with a stock trailer.  I will refund your money and collect the pigs, and I will not do business with you in the future.  She objects, no I don't have to do that, and I reply that I'm already on the road (I'd gotten a voicemail, and hooked up the trailer and started driving before I returned her call) and I'd be there.  Somehow the journey that took her 6 hours takes me an hour, and I pull up to the farm.  I hand her the checks, explain that I have brought a check of my own to cover the deposit, and she says "I need to talk to my lawyer".

So it turns out the the lawyer is her husband, and he comes out and they huddle, and say that they won't accept my check; (I accepted their check for the deposit, and returned their payment check uncashed) that I might stop payment on it.  That is actually the furthest thing from my mind, I will cheerfully refund every cent to get rid of this customer, but I ask when a good time tommorow is, (8am) and say that I'll be back with the cash in the morning, and I drive back, and then the next morning (at 7:55am)  I arrive at her farm, hand her the cash, and pick up the pigs.  And one of them was acting weird; it looked like it was having balance problems, but the rest were pretty much the pigs that she'd picked -- and I ended up selling all but the balance pig the next day for $25 more a pig, so I made another $200 on the sale.   Balance pig turned out to have some sort of ear infection; two weeks later it was 100% and is now sold and is off gaining weight somewhere.

She's probably a nice person, and probably does a great job on her farm; this is nothing personal.   I realized that no matter what the profit was from that sale, between the no-shows and the complaints (and I'm not sure if it was a negociation for a lower price she was revving up for, or what) my life is probably better by not doing business with her.   Her idea of a good customer and mine were just too far apart.

Selling pigs and planting things and getting stuck

Here's a quick summary of the farm over the last week or so:

Sold 460 weaner pigs in the last 10 days; have another 200 yet to sell; a good weekend and we'll be done with this batch of pigs.   Price is good this year; partially driving by the extremely high price of beef.  Some of our sales are people who would normally buy a steer or two but are buying a pig instead.  500lb steers are going at the local auction for $3/lb live weight.  Amazing beef prices.

Ground prep and planting is wrapping up.   The corn goes in the next sunbreak we have; I'm probably going to have to drive a long ways to get a rotary hoe implement, which is my next attempt to grow herbicide-free corn.  

there's a local farm auction happening at the end of this month that has a combine in it; thinking about it.  Anyone know anything about a john deere turbo 7720 combine?  It's listed as a 1979, diesel engine.

Got my tractor stuck exploring the neighbors land in preparation for tilling it.  Picture below

 My little trackhoe make the dig out and tow out a lot easier than the usual shovel work.

I'll have a breather after everything is in the ground, but until then it's go-go-go time.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Automatic water for pigs

I needed to have a way to get clean water to pigs that fit with our mobile pens and use of hog panels.  So I worked out a simple waterer that I built with 1/2" galvanized pipe.

I chose steel pipe because it's very tough and will stand up to the pigs pushing on it.  I built this waterer out of pre-threaded nipples from the local hardware store.  Heres's the material list:

Side outlet elbow   2
1/2" pipe caps 4
12" pipe nipples 8
 1/2" pipe T 3
stainless hog drinking nipples 2
1/2" 30" pipe nipple 1
1/2" Street elbow 1
1/2" PT to gardon hose female 1

All of the parts cost about $50 new.  A jar of pipe thread and we're ready to put it all together.

Side-outlet elbow, forms end of the unit and supports legs

bad picture of garden hose hookup at top
The advantage of this waterer is that it can be put inside a pen and tied or wired to the panel that forms the pen wall.  It's strong enough to stand up to the pigs, and will provide them clean water without any additional labor.  So $50 may seem like a big cost now, but over the course of a year or two it'll save many tens of hours of labor.  Well worth the cost.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Video: Spring piglet pen

This is our piglet sale pen; we've got roughly 500 piglets in it right now.   Folks interested in piglets come to the edge of the pen and select their pigs, someone from the farm picks them up and carries them out.   We do that for biosecurity; folks come from other farms that have pigs or other places that have pigs, and we're interested in keeping our pigs safe from things that they may catch.

034 from bruce king on Vimeo.
They usually sleep in a big raft of piglets; one piglet will decide it's sleepy and lay down, and then they all start collapsing around until there's a carpet of piglets snoring away.  When they get up in the morning it's a little like watching a pot of boiling water -- but it's piglets popping up and down and oinking and squealing.

At this time of year I alternate between feeling like I have too few piglets and too many; right now I feel like I have too many, but we sold 200 piglets on wednesday, and 130 more today... so at this rate we'll be done with this batch mid-may -- they'll be out at their new homes doing what pigs do best.

For orders of 50 piglets or more we offer free delivery anywhere in washington state.

035 from bruce king on Vimeo.