Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017: 10 years of farming

This is a narrative of what I did today on my farm; at the bottom I'll talk about why I do things this way and what's changed (a lot) from when I first started farming

At this time of year I'm killing a pig or two every day; the niche that we have found and filled is for people who want to see their meat before it's dead, and who want and value processing the animal themselves.  

So I met a group of friends who are from Moldova, who live in the Seattle area at my farm gate this morning.  They did what most of the people who come to the the farm do.  They called and asked about a pig (or sheep, or goat, or chicken, or cow) and in broken english we talk about what they

I hadn't sold anything to this group (it's usually a group, 4-6 people, two or three households) and I tried to get a feel for whether they understood what they were asking for, and that I understood
what they wanted as well.  This particular group spoke english and russian, and the most-experienced of the group seemed to speak only russian, so there was a lot of back-and-forth where I'd ask a question, it would be translated to russian, and then the russian answer would come back, and then get translated back to english.  

So we would go back and forth "how big a pig" "have you processed a pig before?"  "what do you need to process a pig in terms of tools?  Knives?  hot water?  scrapers?"   "I will kill the pig for you for free, is that ok? "  

Over the last 5 years I've gotten adept at this conversation; and I've learned about the food traditions of many different cultures.  Samoans and Marshall islanders, Hungarians, Ukrainians, Mexican, central and south america, and southern USA, Cubans, Germans.  

So over the phone, when everyones questions are answered, I ask when they want to do this, and they ask when I'm open.  I say 9am to 3pm (it gets dark at 4:30, and I don't want them to be here after dark for a variety of reasons - mostly because everything is more difficult after dark), and they almost always say that they'll be there at 9am.  

They are never there at 9am.  

I actually am ready to go at 9am, in the sense that if they should actually come at that time I could accomodate them, but I have other chores to do, so I use the skidsteer to deliver fresh sawdust bedding to the cows, and check on the pregnant sows (piglets born at this time of year are especially valuable - they are the right age for show pigs next year,and command a premium price), and I keep my noise-canceling stereo earphones on so that I can hear the phone ring if they call, and I go about the chorse.  My guess with this group is that they'll be there at 10:30 or 11, but they surprise me.  At noon I call them and ask, and they haven't left seattle yet.  So I explain that I'd like to run an errand and I'll be back at the farm at 1pm, and they say that works for them.  So I run my errand and am back at 1:10, but they still aren't there.  At 1:30 I get the call that they're at the front gate and i go meet them.  4 young men, in their 20s, one speaks pretty good english, 2 of them a little, and one none at all.  

"you guys have done this before?  " yes, of course.  I smile a little at the dismissive attitude, kind of "of course we have!  we are from Moldova!", but that's fine.  It's a pretty relaxed day for me.  Back to the barns we go, and I show them some pigs; they pick a barrow sleeping on a pile of sawdust, we haggle a little on the price; I raise it $25 because they were late, they don't notice, and since there was no resistance to the increase in price I pitch them on $10 for using my knives, and think about bumping them another $20 for the propane, but heck, it's the holiday season.  I think to myself that I should have charged $50 more for the pig, but no big deal.   Happy new year! 

Pig selected I go and get the sticking knife and the .22 rifle and the clip of non-lead .22 bullets, and walk back over to the barn where the pig is.   Taking careful aim I shoot the sleeping pig in the head, and then pushing it over with my foot place the rifle down.  Tracing the collar bone in from the left shoulder I find the mark and stick the pig.  A gush of red arterial blood comes out, a fountain, telling me I've gotten a good stick, and I pick up the rifle and step back.  The customers watch this process intently.  The blade comes up coated in blood.  I unload the rifle and clear it, and then walk over to the hose to clean the sticking knife.  Some groups catch the blood; the blood itself is part of the cuisine, others don't.  This group doesn't show any interest so I don't get to watch the rodeo, but that's ok.  

When I come back into the barn a few minutes later they're busy laying out the supplies they want to use; a couple of knives, some paper towels, some plastic bags.  I give them the bucket of my knives and have a couple of them go and grab the pig and bring it over.  We put it on a couple of pallets and I walk them through how to use the torches, and start some water heating for them, and then stand back and watch them work on the pig.  

This group wants to do a torch-based dehairing, which I've started calling the "russian way", when in truth its pretty much all of eastern europe, and they ask about how I process a pig, so I talk about scalding and scraping  and they conclude that their way is superior (doesn't every culture think their way is paramount?  I have to smile again at that)

It's interesting to watch people do their traditional things, and over the course of this particular session they bring out some home-made wine that is pretty tasty, and they're trimming little bits of the burned skin off and salting it and eating it, and they are maintaining their cultural connection with their history and their country.  

Since my work is done for the day I hang out and watch them, and they do pretty well on their own.  They want to know how I gut the animal and there's a bit of conversation with our hands as a couple of us crouch looking at the anus on the pig.  Brief gesture, outline of a circle "i cut here, and then use my finger to work around until it comes free, and then I tie it off with a string to keep the contents inside, but remove it from the cut in the belly" - this is complicated, so we rotate around to the side, and with a couple of gestures they get what I'm talking about .  

I check to make sure that they've got everything they need, and ask that they put the tools back in the bucket when they're done, and head back to the house.  I can hear them speaking russian as I walk away, laughing.  It's a holiday feast for them.  

A half hour later I walk back, and provide them a garbage can "put whatever you don't want in here and I'll take care of it" and they're pretty much done.  they've cut the pig into quarters and sacked it, but they've cut the head off; do I want it?  Sure.  So I walk them out to the gate holding the pig head, and close it behind them as I wave them bye, and into the house.  

My girlfriend sees the pig head in the sink and askes what I'm going to do with it, and I say "crispy braised pig jowels in cider" and she says "yum!" and a couple of minutes with the knife, and then out to the concrete pad with a small sledgehammer where I crack the skull and then call the dogs over, who quickly decide this is worth eating and run off with it.   The jowels have a mix of fat and lean that looks like american bacon, and they are actually very tasty.  So I adapted the recipe above to make a tasty way to eat something that I ran across pretty regularly.  

A little bit of prep work, and the jowels are in the refrigrator later that night, and then cooked the following day for dinner, along with some apple-mash (mashed potatoes with apple mixed in).  

What's changed from when I first started farming

My first farm venture was roughly based on some sort of pastured poultry exercise.  I was going to raise the chickens, process, bag and sell the resulting chickens, and maybe some eggs as well.  Over time I found that it was just too darn difficult to make that whole process work.  

The first problem is regulation; to sell dead animals to people you have to have a license to do so.  then you have to have some way to process them that's inspected by someone - either state-level or federal level - and then you've got regulations and inspections related to the storage, packaging, delivery and so on, and there's quite a bit of detail in there.  If you do it  yourself  it's a little easier, but unless you're getting $30 a chicken it's just not a business that I could make work.  
  the raising of the chicken wasn't hard; in fact, the math is pretty attractive.  Buy a chick for $1, put $4 worth of feed into it, sell it for $15 or $20.   The processing often cost as much as the entire cost to raise the chicken, or more.  

The same is true for pork.   I might sell some pork off my farm for $2.75/lb, but the farm kill guy needs his cut, and the meat cutting shop needs there, and by the time the side of pork gets to the consumer the bulk of the sales goes into folks who aren't the farmer.  Who aren't me.  And while I'm fine with providing revenue for other businesses, my main goal is to provide revenue for my business.  Scheduling in a farm kill guy makes the sales process pretty slow - sometimes they can get in with little notice, other times they're 4 to 6 weeks out.  I do enough volume that my main farm kill guy actually does a great job of responding to my requests, but I'm not fighting him - I'm fighting the supermarket where they can get their meat in a few minutes, not a few weeks.  Americans in general want cheap, and they want convenient, and that's not a trend or desire that is likely to change soon.  

So when I discovered that there were consumers who wanted to buy the live chickens at my farm gate suddenly I was able to cut out two whole regimes - the licensing portion and the outside contractor, and I was able to offer a product at a price that the consumer liked, substantially lower than they could get elsewhere and still make a good profit, it became a matter of finding the equivalent market for each of the products I wanted to sell.  

A little concrete, some stainless steel counters, hot and cold running water, a bucket of knives.  A plucker for chickens, a scalding tub for pigs.  A knife sharpener.  I charge the customers for the use of my facility, and make a few dollars with that past the cost of the cleanup.   The cleanup is with a pressure washer and a bleach solution and the stainless and smooth concrete makes it easy.  

It's a completely different mindset and product than I thought I would be offering, but economically it works pretty well, and is pretty easy.    

I'm going to note that people in my area that are trying to get USDA slaughter for their animals like the Puget Sound Meat Cooperative,  or the North  Cascades Meat Cooperative don't seem to be making a go of it despite the best efforts of a lot of good folks.  Instead of trying to swim against that tide I've chosen to go a simpler way with a clearer path to revenue for me.  

I sell the customers a live animal, and require that they process it in a humane manner.  with pigs, cows and sheep I require that I kill the animal; my experience has been that I cannot determine whether a customer is skilled enough to kill the animal humanely, so I do it for them for free.  Once the animal is dead the processing is up to them.  

After I made this switch I was able to reduce the number of people working on my farm, and generally speaking life became much simpler.  I don't have delivery routes or distributors, walk-in freezers, inventory (other than live animals) and I do a little advertising the word-of-mouth in various enthic communities is often all I need to sell everything I can produce.  

After the group left today I loaded up the dishwasher with the processing knives, pressure washed the processing area, and then went into the house for the evening where the smell of the braised jowels made my stomach rumble.  Yummy dinner the the first day of the new year.  

10 years of farming.  Most of the hard edges have been worn off.  

Happy new year to you and  yours!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Farm business - distributors, profits and products

I've gotten an unusually large number of requests by folks who are operating farm distribution companies for product this year.  Turkeys, chickens and pork as well as beef.  I'm not sure what is driving the interest, but in October I've been asked by 18 different operations for products of mine that they can resell.

On one hand it seems like a no-brainer - that is, who wouldn't want to sell more of their product?  And if they're going to do the work, why, it's a sure win, right?

The problem is that the retail markup for the product is usually 100%.  That is, if the product retails for $10 they'll need to buy it from you for $5.  And honestly, if anyone gets that extra margin, I'd much rather that it be my operation, no offense to the middlemen, I just don't see a value.

In order to make it work economically for me, I'd have to increase my production volume - make less on each sale, but make more sales.   Why not?

Well, it costs money to produce product, and it costs money to grow.  Think about it this way;  if I raise 50 turkeys, the capital I have at risk is  about $1,000.   If I raise 500 turkeys,  it's $10,000.  If it's 5,000 turkeys it's $100,000.00.  At the lower end of that scale if I blow it in some way - like a dog gets in and kills my turkeys, or i have a disease issue, or the turkeys just don't grow as they should or whatever, yes, it hurts and yes it sucks, but the loss of that small crop doesn't sink my farm all by itself.  As I get into bigger numbers it's less likely that I'll lose the entire crop, but the percentage of my total farm enterprise revenue tied up in that crop also makes it critical, crucial, to the economic health of the farm.

So my solution is to produce small quantities of several different products - enough that they make a nice contribution to the farms bottom line, but the amount at risk in each isn't sufficiently large that if I have a failure of that particular product that it'll put me in the red for the year.

To get to that sort of balance I'll set a revenue goal for the farm as a whole, a net profit goal specifically, and then work with what I can produce until I have a plan that hits that goal + 10%.  So I might say that I want to net $50k on the farm this year.   I'll look back on my previous years for costs and experience, and then come up with what I'm going to produce in the coming year.  X tons of alfalfa, X tons of corn, X chickens, X turkeys, X auction steers, X market pigs, X weiner pigs.  For each of those I'll set an approximate revenue goal, and then I'll double check by looking at my expenses in previous years and figure out how many of each I'll need to produce to hit that goal.

Remember that for each product there's storage and marketing, feed and labor and mortality in the case of animals can also make an impact.  So I'll come up with a plan that takes all of that into account, and that becomes my business goals for the next production year.

This whole process takes me a couple of weeks to complete - remember that I'm doing it after doing all of the normal stuff on the farm, along with whatever is happening off the farm (and yes, there's other stuff I do - like most farmers I have an off-farm job).  Once written I view it as a goal, or a guideline, but I'll modify it from time to time as the year progresses.  Maybe costs are higher, or lower (this  year feed costs have gone down because grain prices in the US have crashed, which is good for the portion of the pig operation that depends on purchased feed) - all of that goes into the mix, and when I go to make up the plan for the next year I'll look at the notes and modify as required.
I figure about 20% of my farm time is spent doing this sort of planning - about 1 day out of every 5 days that goes by.  this is higher than I would have believed when I first started farming 10 years ago, but it's been pretty consistent for the last decade so I'm pretty clear that it's a fixed cost - a minimum.  Sometimes I spend more time.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Fall chore: Putting the berries to bed

wood chip mulch at base of each plant
I put in a vinyard in 2015  and while I was at it I put in a row for berries,  I like raspberries and marionberries, so I planted 50 row-feet of raspberries and 100 row-feet of marion berries (I >really< like marionberries!).

The county utility was out trimming trees, and I flagged them down and asked for the chips, and they delivered about 10 yards of chips that day.   I love wood chips for mulching under the berry vines; provides organic material in the rows, supresses weeds (which means less work next year) and provides moisture retention in the summer.  Our summers have been pretty dry the last few years, and I'd like to build in some help with the drought if I can.

what I do with the raspberries is just make a loop with baling twine that is big enough to hold all of this years new growth.  The trellis I built for the berries has two wires, one about 6' up, and one at 3'.  For the raspberries I'll tie them to the top line.

If you look closely you can see a loop of orange baling twine to top wire
Raspberries fruit off of one year old wood, so the string gives me a good idea of what I need to prune next year.   So the yearly task is to go and prune off all of the older wood and then tie up the newer wood, and next year repeat.

I wasn't sure what kind of raspberries would do best here, so what I did was buy a couple of plants of each variety from a number of sources, and I ended up with 6 varieties.  Not surprisingly the winner seems to be meeker raspberries judging by vine vigor and shoot growth.   A close second was cascade bounty.  If you'd like a list of common cultivars in this area, you'll find it here.  

I'm mostly interested in the best-tasting raspberry - this is personal consumption gardening, and i don't need a particular yield here.  If you're going to grow your own food you have the luxury of growing what you like best :)

  I'll wait until I get some fruit and take a second look at the plants, and either leave it the way it is, or I'll split the plants I like best and make the whole row that.  The trellis really makes this sort of berry management easy; probably 2 hours of work, most of that with a wheelbarrow to move the chips for 15 plants.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

big storm coming. No, 3 big storms coming

My favorite weather guy, Cliff Mass, has an entry on his blog about the big storms (there are 3 of them) that will hit my area in the next 5 days.

So the chore schedule for tomorrow changed a little.  Everything that isn't secured gets tied down, nailed, latched and weighted.  Animals get extra bedding, sows with piglets get moved to the most sheltered positions, and all of the equipment gets moved from flood-prone areas up to high ground.

It's pretty much the standard seasonal chore;  I hate feeling like my tail is on fire, so I'll do this sort of thing before the bad weather gets here.  I've already checked the standby generator, and most of the equipment is already put away, but I'll take an extra look around tommorow and make sure that I didn't miss anything.

And I might as well take the dumptruck over and get a couple of loads of gravel.  The driveway could use an extra layer for this year, and everything I can do to control mud is a good thing.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Change of season

One of my boars, Pigget, out on the alfalfa  The heard is off in the distance on the horizon
I turned on the heater in the tractor for the first time this year, and I'll miss the warm and sunny fall weather.  There's a price for living in a lush, green marine environment, and rain is it :)

For me the farm year is from the growing season to the non-growing season; the winter is more a time of inside work.  Having animals in barns means more inside work, and higher feed costs and labor costs, but it saves the pastures for next year, and having a good green cover on my fields protects them from floods

The utilities on my farm are erratic at this time of year; I'll have 3-5 minute power outages four times a week, and in the last 4 years I've had 1 to 8 day outages.   I've installed a backup generator mostly to keep the freezers and pumps working, and the power has been annoyingly reliable for the first part of this winter, which is a good thing.  :)  I still get the several-minute-outs, but I haven't had a 1 day or more outage this calendar year, which is a first.

I'm keeping the animals out on pasture as long as I can, but I'm approaching the date when everyone goes into housing and the hay consumption starts.

Hay prices have been very low this year, reflecting low exports and low milk prices.  Which would matter more to me if I were buying hay, and I may buy a little, but most of what the cow herd consumes is hay that I put up.  I've been seriously considering a round baler for silage purposes.

The pig business itself is pretty mature.  I don't talk about it much because it's become routine.  Some are sold live, some are dead, some to raise, some to breed.   I did have to cull a number of pigs this year because they'd just aged out of successful breeding, but I will admit that there are a couple of pigs on my farm that will just die of old age.   They are the characters in my barnyard, and they know me, and I know them, and I'll be sorry to see them go, so I'll keep them for a while.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Craigslist tractor scam (also other vehicles)

There's a scam on craigslist that has this basic outline:

A new, or very lightly used vehicle or tractor is advertised for a price that is 1/3rd to 1/4 of the price that it would normally sell at.  The seller lists a telephone number or  you can contact them via the craigslist email system.

The telephone number is almost always one of the fake internet telephone services (think google voice) and the email address is almost always a semi-anonymous one, (think gmail or hotmail or yahoo).

The seller will sell  you the vehicle, and wants you to complete the transaction via the ebay escrow service, claiming that your money 'is safe and you can send the vehicle/tractor back in 5 days' if you aren't satisfied.  Here's a longer explanation of how they get your money courtesy of reddit user raevnos.

I'm in the market for a particular model of john deere tractor.  they sell, used, for between $60 and $80k - so it's not cheap.  When i found one that looked brand new being offered for sale for $21,500 it rang warning bells.  Here's the whole transaction:

Original craigslist ad:
original ad from craigslist
 Note that the tractor tires show no wear at all.   This is either a brand-new machine, or machine that has just had brand new tires put on it.  Fair market value for this model and year of tractor in the $60-80k range, depending on hours.  New ones sell for more.  that's the used price.

The sellers contact information lists what looks like a local (area code 253) number.  It's an internet phone number not tied to any local phone.  No idea where the person who posted this ad is.  You can get these numbers anywhere.

Here's the email exchange:


Is this tractor still available for sale?  

I'd like to come and take a look at the tractor you've got on craigslist.  I'm at xxx-yyy-zzz


Hello, yes the JD tractor 6430M is still for sale. Can you please text an email where I can send you some pictures and more info. you are interested? I'd really appreciate if you will.


You can reach me at

Vanessa (in reply to that email address):

Hello, my name is Vanessa McFadden happy to see you are interested in my JD tractor.
This is a 2008 JD 6430 Premium, Premium cab, heat, ac. 748 hours 115 engine hp 4 cylinder JD diesel w/turbo 95 pto hp 16 speed power quad transmission Left hand power reverser 540 and 1000 rpm pto-e. Hitch with controls on both rear fenders to raise and lower 3pt-telescopic links Corner exhaust 2 entry doors Rear wiper Command center Deluxe suspension seat AM/FM radio w/cd player 2 mirrors Toolbox Like New!!
Hard to find a nicer model machine like this. The machine is loaded with options it has Premium cab, the heater works, the air conditioner blows cold air, Joystick w/ powershift. Tractor is 1 owner and is like new inside and out. Tractor does not have a leak anywhere and no issues.  Like new.  No emissions on these , hard to find anymore like this.  Tractor has been used to feed cattle.  Clean as a pin.  Needs nothing. The machine was never used in manure. Cab is clean seat is still like new, the engine compartment is like new and not oily or greasy it is absolutely like new, we did put a new battery in it 2 weeks ago.
I have placed recent pictures below so you can see it really looks great. This is a great choice for performance and versatility. Make your work and chores more enjoyable, time and cost effective. Great machine...strong, dependable, and almost no wear.
The tractor is registered on my name, with no liens or loan. The price was reduced at $21,000. Because of my divorce settlement, I own this tractor and I don't need it so I'm trying to get rid of it as soon as possible (that's why I'm selling it so cheap). This machine is as close to new as you will find without buying a new machine and is selling to much more. I can help load and help arrange delivery I will store the machine for 6 months if paid

Thank you
If you have any other questions, or need more info and photos, please feel free to ask.

Can I come and look at that tractor in the next few days?  

Hello again Bruce,
There's an old saying: “Every tractor has a story” .... as I told you I got divorced recently so this was a gift for the 4th year anniversary. Right now I'm in Indianapolis, IN (the tractor is here with me ) because i got a new job here. I supposed to ship the tractor few days back to another buyer, in your area, he told me that his funding should be available by the weekend then he told me this "I don't want you to think I am dragging this out, but it doesn't look as though my funding will be here on Friday. " I have some financial problems right now, so I want to sell it ASAP and I already paid the shipping charges.  Now I want to use eBay's escrow protection, so we can both be protected and insured. With eBay, you get free delivery and it will arrive at your address in 6 to 10 days depending on were you want it shipped. In addition, you will have 5 days to try out prior to making any purchase and if by any reason you find something you don't like about it you can send it back at my expense! I doubt you will let it go once you see and run it. I want to make it very clear, that eBay will hold your money, and I won't be receiving a single dollar unless you call and tell them to release the money to me. If you are ready to buy it, please reply with your whole name, address and phone # so I can notify eBay that you are selected as my buyer, and they will contact you with the electronic paperwork.

Thank you,
Vanessa Mcfadden

My brother drives a flatbed semi and he'll be in chicago, pretty close to you, day after tomorrow.   If you'll give me a location to meet you, I'll have him meet you, and he can look at the tractor for me.  If it's good, we can fedex a cashiers check out to you the next day, or tranfer funds into a bank account, whichever you prefer, and load the tractor directly.  

Let me know if that works for you.

Vanessa:  [sound of Crickets]

Attached to the email were more pictures of this brand-new tractor

No wear inside of top link.  Factory plugs in hydraulic lines
I'm not sure how the money leaves ebay, but I'm very sure that if you did proceed with this scam it would, and this tractor would never appear.  

Buyer beware

Monday, September 12, 2016

A tale of 2 farms

Over at Thoughtfulfoodfarm Jeff writes about his farming venture 5 years in.  It's an interesting read.

Meanwhile, Tim Young who can't figure out how to make a profit farming, is trying his best to make a profit by telling other people how to make a profit.  The blind leading the blind?  And there's some prepper stuff there too.   Oh, and he's podcasting again.  

Tim Young has tried every possible farming thing, and I don't think that he's ever made a profit on any of them, but this writing thing seems to be his latest scheme.   What's nice is that he can recycle all of the pictures from his failed farming ventures to show him happily homesteading or whatever. 

Tim writes from his house on 120 acres that he's been desperately (my opinion)  trying to sell for years; first listing it for sale for $1.5 million, then decreasing over time, and he's now offering it at the bargain price of $649,000.00  -- less than half his original asking price.    How low will he go?

listing as of 9-12-2016

Previous listing.  Price is dropping fast!
Of these two farms, I think I like Jeffs approach better.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Volcanos, bones, geology and the land I farm

A couple of years ago we had a major disaster just up the valley from me - the oso landslide, and I've got one of the most active and dangerous volcanoes in the united states up the valley not too far - glacier peak.
The landslide, and the volcano, were on my mind when I was looking at river bank erosion on a patch of the bank on my property.
Click for a larger version
 Near the top of the bank, the most geologically recent, there's a clear record of pretty stable conditions.  what's nearest the top is what appears to be lake deposits; very fine silt and mud that probably settled out of still water.  That's what I farm in; it's 4 to 6' deep, and rock-free.  The only rocks in that layer are ones that people added.  Below that is some stream deposits; small rounded stones and gravel, put down horizontally.  Below that is another settling pond of that I think is glacial sand and gravel - it's got less very fine silt in it, and it's a few feet deep.
Below that, about 8' below the surface, is where things get interesting.  When the oso landslide happened the trees in the area just got ripped apart; splinters.  Even big trees got split into small pieces.  And that's whats in the mud layer below the 2nd lake deposit.  A layer of mud and tree debris, with the trees showing every evidence of getting ripped to pieces.  Below that is river cobble, and below that is another lake deposit.

It's hard for me to tell the difference between lahar deposits and landslide deposits, given that they're both pretty much composed of the same materials.  If it didn't come down the valley when the volcano erupted last, it came down when the landslide pushed it down later, maybe thousands of years later.  

The trees in the debris layer might be 10-12,000 years old; old enough that there might be elephant bones in there if any had the bad luck to be in the valley when the event happened.  I regularly scan the river bank for artifacts, bones or fossils exposed due to erosion, and I've found a few bones.  One gave me pause - it looked a lot like a human fibula

I'll leave it to you to give your best guess.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Farming is looking ahead

We have had our first rains of the fall, and I'm busy doing all of the things that will wrap the farm up for the winter.

One thing that I'm doing is some late-season planting.  I've got between 45 and 60 days until the first killing frost, and that's enough time to plant ground cover on any bare dirt that exists anywhere.  Not just in the flood plain; anyplace where animals have worn down the cover it's the time of year to replace it.  So I'll be planting some alfalfa and some grass and a little bit of clover on 7 to 10 acres of fields just to make sure that they're all set for the winter.

The driveway and walkways around the farm can get muddy, and so a few loads of gravel and some grading are in order to make sure that the footing is good for the winter.   In one high-use area I may put down a concrete slab - the area directly under the augers that I get the feed from seems to sink pretty rapidly over the year, so I may put down a concrete patch there so that the wear-and-tear from the tractor going by doesn't dig a hole.

There are some drainage issues that I ran across last year, and I may address those as well.  Most of that is just making sure that clean water remains clean - so downspouts go into drains directly off the roof, and then into swales or wetlands from there, which keeps the water from picking up anything on its way though the farm.   I'm not required to do this, but I am surrounded by salmon streams and it is a best-practice for farms, and it'll be required if I do decide to get a dairy license, so might as well get it done now.  Plus it reduces the amount of water on the concrete slabs, and when it gets colder, it reduces ice buildup.  All pluses.

A final mowing for the orchard area, maybe some tilling between the rows and eradication of anything that I don't want to keep for next year, which basically means working down fencelines and trimming back everything that interferes with the fence.  I want the electric fences to be good and hot, even though all of the animals will be in barns when it gets cold.   A hot fence will kill young vegetation that grows next spring, so might as well help it along.

I've still got a little bit of time to spread the final manure from the lagoon, and then there's the equipment maintenance.  Everything with an engine gets greased and run, oil change, filter changes, and tires checked.  Stuff that needs to be welded can be done when it's colder, but I'll update my list.  I'm also thinking about some sort of heat source for one of my barns to make shop work more pleasant, and maybe some insulation.

Busy busy busy

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Working dogs and pet dogs: Where do you draw the line?

I read an entry on another blog today that reminded me about the different ways that people approach their farms.  Michelle Canfield writes a blog in which she talks about her sheep and sometimes her dogs, and generally speaking, she's on the high-end of what I'd like to call the "non-profit" farmers.
RIP Monster

I don't personally know if she makes a profit or not, but having done the math a few times on her sheep operation, I can't figure out how you could make a profit given the stuff that she does; the description of hiring a vet to do surgery on an old ewe was one that made me shake my head, but that's what she chooses to do with her livestock, and more power to her.

The entry that I read today talked about her livestock guardian dog bronte getting diagnosed with bone cancer, and in that post she talks about all sorts of heroic measures that she could use to save the dog.  Radiation, medication, amputation, and this for a dog that she says in the entry she's not going to miss very much, at least compared with the house dogs.

On some level I guess it's laudable to spend any amount of money and time trying to save every single animal you own, but it's not very common among livestock farmers that operate their business with the goal of making money.

I too have stock dogs, and they do indeed get the standard range of injuries and illnesses that stock dogs do, and we do patch them up and send them back out pretty regularly, but with a terminal illness diagnosed, I'd be hard-pressed to spend much money at all.

I'd watch the dog carefully to make sure that it's still having a good time, able to get around, enjoying its time on this planet, but at the point at which it was clear that it wasn't, well, I'd shed some tears and put it down.

This is true of all of the livestock that I keep; if a cow has difficulty calving I'll look carefully at culling it; if a pig isn't a good mother, well, there's a reason you're here.  It's a hard line to keep sometimes; particularly with animals that I've had to bottle feed because of some issue and knows and likes me.  It's nothing personal, and it's tough.

I have to say that it has gotten easier over the years, but there are times when I read something like this and I wonder if there's ever the realization that there is another way to handle this.

Folks who don't do livestock tend to cheer people who do heroic measures.  But I really question sometimes whether the heroics are for the animal, or the owner.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Why should rural people be poor?

I live in an area that has decided, mostly via citizen initiatives, that the minimum wage is too low.  So they've raised the minimum wage in various places, to somewhere between $11 and $15 per hour.  Since the raises are being done on a city-by-city basis it varies, but the old minimum wage, which was one of the highest in the country already at $9.xx/hour is being raised.

When the issue first came up there were a lot of people who basically said the sky would fall if the minimum wage went up.  Businesses would shut down, disaster!  But the effect over time has been to increase the pay of the lowest paid people, and you know what?  That's not a bad thing.

Well, after a couple of years of this, including one city that just went straight to $15/hour, life is pretty much unchanged.  Pizzas are still being made, cars are still being rented and sold, houses are being cleaned and, in the case of seatac washington, even  your baggage is still being handled at the airport.

As the debate about minimum wage goes national, I hear a lot of people saying something like this:

"...The negative impacts could be especially big in lower-cost rural areas. Raising the minimum wage to $15 is one thing for bigger cities where the cost of living is more expensive; these are the places where the movement has flourished in recent years. But in rural areas, Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell has written, "would likely throw many, many more people out of work... source

Rural areas are areas where it can cost you less to live, but our wage structure is basically seemingly designed to offer workers the absolute minimum wage that can possibly be offered.  that is, it is apparently a sin in the business sense to contemplate offering a wage to people that gives them the basic ability to pay their bills, pull even, or even get a little bit ahead.

It comes up over and over again, this concern about the difference in cost of living.  Folks, we have a situation where our farms and rural areas need more people, and honestly, if I had a situation where I could be poor and live in a city (where things cost more) or maybe not so poor and live in the country, well, I know where I'd go.

The basic debate we are having here is what 40 hours of hard work entitles someone to.  In my belief if you work 40 hours or more a week you should be able to afford a place to live, food on the table, a decent, reliable vehicle and have 10 to 20% extra every month so that you can do what smart people do:  Save and invest.

Poor people have all sorts of ways that they lose money.  Credit costs them more.  Credit cards charge higher rates, payday loan companies charge them horrendous fees.  They're more liable to incur bank fees for things like bounced checks, and this sort of situation means that 50% of the households in the USA can't handle a $500.00 surprise bill.

Let me restate that:  Most american households don't have $500 to their name.  Our business culture has been so successful in taking every penny from these folks that they're broke.

I want people who can afford to buy my pigs, my hay, my beef.  I want people who can afford to buy my farm when I retire.  I want people to have enough money that $500 isn't an emergency.

Rural areas, more than most, need the full $15/hour wage.  And if people who live there do better, well, that'll probably mean that more people will move there.  And that's a good thing.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Breaking things, repairing things

Irrigation facet installation
 had a cow knock over and break off one of my faucets.  This is how I typically install them now; I usually use a 4x6 post that ends about 8" below where the faucet head is, and then put a block down about where the ground level is, and tie the two together with plumbers tape (metal strip with holes in it; wrap around and nail).  If I do it right, even if an animal gets right up to the faucet and pushes there's no harm done.

This particular fitting is a frost-proof model, which I don't really need too much in my mild climate, but for the 2 weeks of below-freezing weather we get it's nice to have running water and not have to worry about it.

broken pin
 I was towing the grading implement around, and broke the pin that I was using; the retaining clip on it was at the bottom, the grader was at the top, and it snapped.  What I needed to do was get a pin with a hole closer to stop the implement from riding up, but I couldn't find one the right length, so I used a longer pin but wanted a hole at a particular place.

So out came the cutting torch, and I practiced cutting a hole through the old pin before I did it on the new pin.  You can get a fairly small hole in steel with a cutting torch if you're careful, and a little bit of grinding to remove the slag and I was all set, and back to grading.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Lovely day for making hay - raking

Cut the hay on tuesday, tedded it on wednesday and this morning, and then raked it this afternoon.  It looks great.
Love the look of raked hay.  Photo doesn't do it justice!
 I do love the look of raked hay.  This is orchard grass hay; it dries into a blue-green color that is part of the reason that it's so popular.  Everyone is convinced that greener hay is better hay, and this stuff is very green dried.   The seed for this grass spiked this year because of last years drought in the area - orchard grass seed is usually about 50% of the cost of alfalfa, but this year it was the same, so I didn't buy any for my reseeding - I just planted alfalfa   Same price, more calories and food value per acre.  Why not?
The speed rake (red thing behind the tractor) is very efficient
 In my area powered rakes, or rake-tedder combos, are pretty popular.  I've found that this 8 week speed rake works very well for picking up virtually all of the grass, and my only complaint with it is that sometimes it's hard to get a smooth windrow out of it.  if the grass is particularly thick in an area it can get kinda bunched up, but care in operating gives you that consistent row that you want so your baler can be run at the same speed down.
After I rousted the calf - mom in distance
 I spotted a calf in the long grass at the side of the field, and when I was driving back I wanted to make sure that it was with momma, so I rousted it, and at that point noticed I was on a cows radar screen.  She was maybe 500' away, but you could see her perk up when i got close to the calf, and she trotted over to make sure that I wasn't bothering her baby.  I wasn't, and they turned and joined the rest of the herd, who tends to migrate to the far end of their pasture every evening.
The cow in question is a herford cow, and she's been very good about calving every year, and has been a good mother.  No problems with her calves, no good weight.  this one is a little bull, so I made a note that I'd have to round it up and band it pretty soon here.  My cow herd has grown by 9 steers and 6 heifers this year.

the hay that I'm cutting here will be used primarily to feed the cows and their calves over the winter.  My first cutting put 1800 bales in the barn.  this second cutting should be a little less - perhaps 1200 bales, and then the third cutting, sometime in august, should put me over the top for my goal of 4200 bales in the barn.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Making hay, crown of thorns, pup

Weather looking good for hay; doing my 2nd cutting today.  Takes me about 7 hours of tractor time to cut the hay, about 3 hours per pass for tedding.  

Found some fence wire where it shouldn't be; not sure how it got there, but the mower found it, and made what looks like a crown of thorns
the wire

the part of the mower it wrapped around
the pup, enjoying the farm dog life
When I get a new pup I try to spend as much time as I can with it in the first six months.  For me, that's most of my waking moments.  So this pup got to ride in the cab of the tractor, and then swim in the river when I soaked my shirt, and the back into the cab.  I've never owned a border collie before, so it's interesting to see the differences between this pup and the airedale pup that I'm raising it with.
It's a pretty intelligent dog, and "soft" - tone of voice is pretty effective for correction.  Very different than an airedale, where you sometimes have to physically intervene to get them to stop doing something - like killing a littermate, or dragging the cat off with puppy enthusiasm.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Puppy update

The taken pup is t he one on the left.  

Update 7-23-2016:  The toppenish police department retrieved the pup and I picked it up last night.  The pup is happy to be back with its little friend after a week-long adventure.
  The man who took the dog "thought that it was a stray" and intended to keep it.  He didn't contact anyone about the dog or ask about it at the auction.  The police department said that since there's no footage of him opening the trailer that they're be a problem at trial, and honestly I'm just glad to have the dog back, so I think this will end it.
  And I'm going to get a tag for the pup and have him microchipped.

This is a followup to a previous post

A helpful person on the internet was able to figure out that the last 3 digits in the license plate; 23N  the 2 and 3 are pretty clear, the N is probable.

Turns out that someone at the auction knows who the owner of the truck is and provided the deputy investigating this with the name, address and phone number of that person.  I don't know that the owner of the truck is the person who was driving it that day, but it's a great lead.

The deputy is on her way over to the auction yard now, and I suspect that there will be some movement in the case in the next day or two.

Fingers crossed.

Puppy update

The taken pup is t he one on the left.  

Update 7-23-2016:  The toppenish police department retrieved the pup and I picked it up last night.  The pup is happy to be back with its little friend after a week-long adventure.

This is a followup to a previous post

A helpful person on the internet was able to figure out that the last 3 digits in the license plate; 23N  the 2 and 3 are pretty clear, the N is probable.

Turns out that someone at the auction knows who the owner of the truck is and provided the deputy investigating this with the name, address and phone number of that person.  I don't know that the owner of the truck is the person who was driving it that day, but it's a great lead.

The deputy is on her way over to the auction yard now, and I suspect that there will be some movement in the case in the next day or two.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Making the grade

So after making mistakes with previous tillage (which I talk about in this blog entry) I'm using a land-leveling device to make my field smooth and level.
The green and yellow thing is the land level device
So you plow up your land to loosen the soil and make it easier to scrape and move.  There's a laser on a tripod that isn't visible in the photo (it's a few hundred feet away) and there's a laser receiver on the top of the post (you can see a cord going up to it.  When the device sees that you are going above or below the laser it'll adjust the blade and basically what you do is drive in circles until the ground is level, and then move on.
broken and welded laser reciever post
 The post that holds the laser receiver broke, (you can see it broken in the picture with the tractor) and I had to bring it in and weld it.  I had a piece of rebar laying around, so used it to reinforce the original pipe.  This pic is before painted it.  My welding skills are farm-capable but not pretty.
the next problem I had was a hydraulic leak on the leveling cylinder.  Wasn't sure what the problem was, so took the whole thing apart and inspected it.  The valve is pretty interesting.  Just a pair of electromagnets, and inside the valve there's a little metal tab that slides back or forth based on the magnet.
since I wasn't sure where the problem was, i had the whole thing apart, but it turned out that it was an O ring failure
you can see the rubber o ring bulging out in the picture above.  the post that the electromagnet mounts on got loose, unscrewed a little, and  the pressure of the fluid forced the O ring out and eventually broke it.
this device works pretty well as long as you're dealing with a difference in elevation of about 16".  Bigger than that and the receptor on the blade loses contact with the laser and the blade freezes in the last position.  So I dealt with that by doing smaller moves.
to level 5 with a + or - 6" diffrence took about 20 hours of tractor time.  That seems like a lot, but this only has to be done once - EVER - so while it's a little slower than I would like, it's done.  I was able to see the level the next time it rained - the water didn't pool anywhere, just made a very flat pool when it rained hard, and then soaked in straight down.

I'm using it to make level fields, but it can be used to make two-axis grades by adjusting the sending laser.  So you can have a field that is flat in one direction but has a slope in another.

The operation was relatively easy, and I'm pretty happy with the final result.  The fields are flat and smooth.

I have a few hundred yards of composted manure that I'll be dumping on this field and then using this same laser level device to spread it evenly over the entire area.  I'll put down 1" of manure using the same laser technique as with dirt.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Lost or had a puppy stolen, and then got internet pitchforked!

So I posted the following on an internet site in the hope of getting some help with this:

I need the plate of this truck
I had a puppy in a stock trailer behind my truck, and either someone let it out or it got out itself. About an hour after I parked, at 13:47:41 the pup ran out from under my truck to the nearest person, and at 1:48:01 over to the feet of the guy who picked it up and put it into his truck.
When I came out and found the pup gone I checked with the auction office, had them do an announcement, called the police, called the human society, and finally remembered i had the dashcam footage, which explained what happened.
So I need the plate to help get my pup back. any help appreciated.
Sorry about being a dufus and posting long videos. i would cut it down to size if I could figure out how to do it.

Pretty straightforward, and the license plate of the truck of the person who took the pup is visible.  Posted that late last night, and woke up to the following:

[–]WorldTravelBucket 4 points  
It looks like the high yesterday in Toppenish, WA (where the video was taken - I found it by searching for this building) was 82 degrees. I'm not sure how hot it gets in the shade/sun, but that may be why the dog got out.
[–]coastdweller69 -2 points  
The puppy isn't livestock and doesn't belong in a stock trailer.
It is not ok to keep a puppy in the bottom floor of a double decker pig transporter in 80 degree plus heat for over an hour.
[–]GonemuddinLifted F250 6.7l diesel, ITrue X3 camera 5 points  
Wait, wait....wait.... let me get this straight. You put a puppy in a trailer on the back of your truck while driving.... then you left said puppy in the trailer in a parking lot... in the summer time... and are upset it ran away and was taken?
So first off I want to say (if I have all these facts right), you are a complete and total scumbag. Secondly I want to say that what you did is a crime in most states depending on if the trailer was enclosed or not.
[–]GonemuddinLifted F250 6.7l diesel, ITrue X3 camera -1 points  
Transporting animals in a stock trailer = legal
Leaving animals in the heat inside a locked trailer = illegal
[–]DammitDan 1 point  
It's still a locked stock trailer, and I fail to see why it matters whether the trailer is moving or not.
[–]GonemuddinLifted F250 6.7l diesel, ITrue X3 camera 1 point  
Because kiddo, I am going to give you a real quick run down on the difference between livestock and horses and a puppy. A Stock trailer is meant for livestock and horses. Even then, you don't leave the animal in the trailer for a long time in the summer sun. Unlike a dog, a horse has sweat glands which help it cool much much much easier than a dog. It also is much larger and can handle much more stress than a dog. Same goes to cattle (minus the sweat glands part).
The moving issue is because if the dog is small enough to slip out in a parking lot, that means it can walk out while you're driving.
You are an idiot and the kind of person that doesn't deserve to own an animal.
Edit: I am just going to assume you 1) dont own livestock or horses 2) dont have a stock trailer and/or 3) dont care about animal safety. So I am just ending the argument here, where I can't say anymore to your stupidity.
[–]DammitDan 2 points  
First off, the dog wasn't in the summer sun, because he was in the shade of the trailer.
Second, how hot is too hot for a dog? If you know so much about dogs, you should be able to give at least a ballpark answer to that.
[–]CaptainDiptoad -1 points  
100% would have taken the puppy aswell
[–]i_have_severe 5 points  
You left your dog in a stock trailer in the middle of some south/mid western state in the middle of summer for well over an hour? Yeah, I don't care about you or you getting your dog back. I hope you're blacklisted from all dog adoption places.
[–]DammitDan -1 points  
Better in the shade of the stock trailer than outside in direct sunlight.
[–]i_have_severe -1 points  
Better neither.
[–]DammitDan -1 points  
How hot do you think is too hot for a dog to be outside?
[–]i_have_severe -3 points  
How stupid do you have to be to not realize maybe it's not okay to bake a dog in a stock trailer or to have them in direct sunlight? It's not an either or. Go back to debating your dumbass friends.
[–]DammitDan 1 point  
How the fuck are they going to bake in a stock trailer? The trailer provides shade.
[–]coastdweller69 -1 points  
Your profession has nothing to do with it.
Answers by Dan? That was clear covering.
Was I siding? Absolutely and I would in person and it wouldn't be a good day for you at all.
I'd be in your face asking what the fuck is wrong with you and hoping you'd have excuses.
You shouldn't have animals as your hobby will get you in trouble.
[–]DammitDan 2 points  
How hot is too hot for a dog to be outside in shade?
[–]coastdweller69 2 points  
But you're not sorry for being a doofus PUPPY KILLING scumbag dipshit moron fuckhead dilhole micropenis asshole for leaving a puppy alone in a auction lot for that length of time though eh?
That puppy is alive and is better off not under your care.
This is a grade A fuck head.
It is not ok to keep a puppy in the bottom of a double decker pig hauler in 80 degree plus heat for over an hour and it magically break out of it's locked compartment and run away.
[–]coastdweller69 -1 points  
How do you know the PUPPY KILLING Scumbag Dipshit Moron Fuckhead Dilhole Micropenis Asshole did have water and food available?
See, speculation works both ways and is irrelevant.
Its a livestock trailer, not a puppy trailer and an hour in 80+ heat at the bottom of a livestock trailer is not where a puppy should be contained
[–]coastdweller69 -1 points  
Zero? You mean the OP being a 0.
So the OP posts video showing the puppy not being cared for. Claims ignorance (As you have) how the puppy got away from an enclosed vehicle in 82 degree heat and you're presuming innocence? wut?
You have no point other than to troll every comment with a positive view of an obvious scumbag which makes you connected to this PUPPY KILLING PRICK.
That's the real difference.
[–]coastdweller69 0 points  
/u/DammitDan claimed arrogance by posting: I still don't understand how he is a scumbag! What the fuck did he do wrong? And how is he a puppy killer? Are you still assuming he wasn't feeding him or something?
I get it, you don't. That's the difference.
This is what puppy killers do, they think they're livestock, contain them (Very badly) in the bottom compartment of a double decker pig hauler in 80 degree heat for over an hour and then ask for help finding their puppy when obviously someone who cared more about the puppy saved the puppy.
Hobby farmers don't see a difference from hobby livestock farming and a puppy in a livestock trailer. If you need any more information about why the OP is a douche you're intending to be ignorant.
[–]coastdweller69 -1 points  
an theory
I've got an theory? I'm going entirely by what you posted, what you wrote and you're saying I have "an theory"?
You're fucking nervous because you're a fucking douchebag. Attempt to dox? I'm holding back.
HappyPaws knows about ya and you don't want to meet me to for me to clarify how badly you're handling your canine. It's not a pig, and doesn't belong in a livestock trailer ill cared for.
[–]DammitDan 2 points  
What don't I get? If you get it, why can't you articulate it into a complete thought?
[–]coastdweller69 -1 points  
Articulated obvious shit: It is not ok to keep a puppy in a unlocked compartment of a double decker pig hauler in 80 degree plus heat for over an hour without supervision.
You don't seem to be able to read an articulated concept let alone understand any sort of common sense.
[–]Valensiakol [score hidden]  
I get it, you don't. That's the difference.
God damn, you're a dense one. That isn't how reality works.
[–]coastdweller69 0 points  
The puppy isn't livestock and doesn't belong in a stock trailer.
Post the specs of your trailer cowboy.
[–]coastdweller69 1 point  
There is a difference between idiotic ranting and doing something about it.
The video has been submitted to the local agencies that provide support for careless owners of pets and livestock.
[–]Valensiakol 3 points  
Repeatedly posting PUPPY KILLING Scumbag Dipshit Moron Fuckhead Dilhole Micropenis Asshole in this thread and reuploading OP's video with the same thing in the title and description fits the bill of idiotic ranting, especially when you're making just as speculative and baseless statements as you just accused another person of doing.
As well, this video is not enough evidence of anything to affect OP so good luck with your pointless report, keyboard warrior.
I'm all for taking proper care of animals but Christ, grow the fuck up. People like you give a bad name to people but who care who aren't also overreacting fools.
[–]coastdweller69 -1 points  
PUPPY KILLING Scumbag Dipshit Moron Fuckhead Dilhole Micropenis Asshole
Thanks for repeating that, helps the OP
If you don't like a message repeated (Which is the only way nimrods will hear a message) then put me on ignore.
Got it, you're sensitive to repeating, swearing, troubles in your youth it's ok. Substituting your parenting skills with my behaviour isn't going to change that the OP doesn't know how to care for his pets.
[–]Valensiakol 3 points  
What the hell are you on about? It has nothing to do with being sensitive to swearing. I swear all the fucking time. I'm pointing out that you sound like an autistic imbecile when you keep repeating something a ten year old wannabe edgelord on 4chan might think sounds good.
I mean, you didn't even attempt a rational educational post at first, you just jumped right into the retarded shit some batshit crazy loon would start screaming at the kid on the other side of the McDonalds counter for putting too much ketchup on your quarter-pounder.
And what's this about substituting parenting skills with your behavior? What the fuck does that even mean? I don't even have kids, you dumb twat. And if you think your irrational, emotionally-unhinged ranting is going to change how OP cares for his pets, you're just as insane as you come across.
[–]coastdweller69 [score hidden]  
You only understand what you type lol.
[–]DammitDan 2 points  
For having an animal a trailer that is specifically designed for animals on a mild day? What do you expect the authorities to do with that report besides laugh at it and toss it in the trash?
[–]DammitDan 1 point  
Hopefully they just make sure the puppy is ok and check the collar to contact you.
[You'll find the original post/thread here](