Brooder Blues

So after I bragged to the internet about how great I am at brooding chicks I have to talk about my failures too.

These are management issues. Totally management issues.

The blame falls on me. That’s it. I failed to follow through on a conversation Julie and I had. Julie moved a heat lamp to the third tank in preparation for moving birds. We just wanted to warm things up a little bit. We made a bad decision.

The second failure was a lamp burned out and we didn’t have a spare. I thought we could make it on two lamps.

The third failure was using a lamp that didn’t produce as much heat as expected. So the chicks in brooder #2 weren’t as warm as they should have been. And they all crowded up under one lamp.

The fourth failure is a lack of fresh bedding in the brooder. The remaining birds aren’t as clean as I would like them to be.

I should have bought extra lamps. I should have made sure the temperature under each lamp was consistent. I should have spread the birds out among the brooders immediately. I also rolled the dice on weather, trying to brood chicks when it’s negative infinity outside.

But here’s the end result. For four hours brooder #2 was a little cool. Over the following 48 hours 32 chicks died.

One little mistake.

I’ll recover from the loss of chicks. It hurts. It hurts badly. But I can never take back words said in anger and frustration.

My worst mistake in this was blaming others.

That too is a management issue.

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A Week in the Brooder

We drove to pick up our CX chicks a week ago bringing home 309 birds.

One week passed.

You know all those horrible things you hear about CX chicks? How fragile they are? How many chicks do you think we lost this week?

Zero.

They are doing great. I don’t want to brag or claim that Julie and I are the best in the world at brooding chicks. There are a couple of things we have learned.

First, we have been lucky so far.

Second, CX don’t deserve their reputation. Chicks die. That’s kind of what they do. I don’t know that CX chicks are any better or worse than another breed on day 1. If you do anything wrong you will lose birds of any breed.

Third, not all CX are created equal. Whatever Ross cross Schlecht hatchery hatches are perfect for our style. We have tried birds from other hatcheries. We had one batch from somewhere else that slept with their face in the feed and really never moved. No thanks.

Fourth, it pays to drive to the hatchery. Well, it costs a lot to drive to the hatchery. I could lose 20% of my chicks before I began to pay for the fuel I used to drive to Iowa. SO it doesn’t pay. But it does pay because I didn’t kill 20% of my chicks. They are all alive and that’s a big boost to farm morale.

Fifth, make sure they get plenty of protein. We add in enough fish meal to make the feed 21%. Fertrell has a recipe to help you make the adjustment.

  • For brooder chicks needing a 21% protein chick starter mix, add two pounds of fish meal to 20 pounds (or a five-gallon pail) of 19% Broiler Grower.

I have known folks to raise non-CX chicks on 21% feed all the way through. You can’t do that with CX. You’ll end up with a bunch of flippers. Cut the protein back to 19% after two weeks or you’ll be sorry.

Sixth, don’t skimp on the riboflavin. We drop in hay chaff we dust off of the mower after each hay cutting, loaded with all sorts of weed seeds. If your chicks are crippled with clenched claws or are waddling around on their legs, not their feet, you haven’t provided enough riboflavin. This was pointed out in Pastured Poultry Profits. We have really only seen this one time, with an early batch. Ever since that batch we have included Poultry Nutri-Balancer in our chick ration. Also, we have given plenty of green material and seeds and we rarely have an issue. Beef liver and kelp make good alternatives. I might say PNB is the six and a halfth item on this list.

HayChaff

Seventh, the brooder matters.

Let’s talk about the brooder. Here it is from the outside. It’s a retired pig nursery.

PigNursery

The building should have power but…well, it doesn’t right now. It’s a small, insulated box that is surprisingly easy to warm with heat lamps, body heat and composting bedding. More on that last one in a minute.

Inside of the building we just took apart the pig pens and moved the feeders out of the way, making room for 300 gallon water troughs. To help trap heat when the temperature is below 0 F we keep scrap tin on top of the troughs. This is both low-cost and effective. What more could you want?

ChickBrooder

We try to keep one lamp per 50 chicks but this is easy to adjust. If the chicks are all huddled together under lamps, suffocating each other trying to stay warm you need to make adjustments. If they are all spread out panting and trying to cool off, make adjustments. The photo above is what we needed to see happy chicks running around, eating, drinking, scratching and napping comfortably without piling. The chicks can tell you what they need but you have to be attentive or they will die. I agree with Salatin’s notion that birds that die in the first 5 days were either defective or mishandled by the post office. After that, it’s all on your management.

The first week we are fine putting 150 chicks in a 300 gallon tank but week 2 we try to split them into a third tank. That’s a little more difficult than just moving the chicks because the third tank is not warmed up. We have to shovel out a portion of composting bedding from both active brooder tanks to help jumpstart the new space. We usually toss in a little fresh horse manure too…just to add a little more diversity to the compost biology.

Each day we add fresh sawdust and a couple of handfulls of hay chaff. Julie feels health is improved by stirring up the bedding regularly, mixing old and new, keeping things more fluffy than matted. The jury is still out from my perspective. Otherwise we keep the water and feeders clean and full. That’s really it.

We have brooded chicks in a square box. We find chicks tend to pile up in the corners. Watering troughs solved this for us.

We have brooded chicks under 4′ X 4′ hovers in the greenhouse. That worked really, really well one year, much less so the next year. Our greenhouse fluctuates greatly in terms of temperature and is hard to make cat-proof. So. We don’t do that anymore.

We have brooded chicks in our back room (not recommended), our garage (less than ideal), our garden (not bad, seasonally) our greenhouse (already covered that one) and now in the pig nursery. I love brooding in it. It’s so choice. If you have access to an unused nursery I highly recommend using it (h/t to Ferris Bueller).

There is one thing we like to do but have been unable to do to this point. We like to provide our chicks with creek sand. The creeks are Frozen so to this point…we have just…wait for it…Let it Go! LOL. I crack myself up.

Good luck brooding your chicks. It doesn’t always turn out this well. But when it does, I hope you crow about it.

Because I Didn’t Do It

My boss is a remarkable man. Truly. I believe he can do anything he sets his mind to. I’m not wanting to embarrass my boss but, really, I admire the man. Like in real life…and I’ve known him for 15 years. I’m not up for a review or anything.

At Christmas he installed a new car stereo in his wife’s car. This included removing the wiring harness and soldering a new one on because an adapter wouldn’t fit in the dash. He also replaced a broken powered, heated mirror. The replacement he ordered from a junkyard didn’t match the color so he disassembled both the new and old and made it all work like new.

Because that’s what he does. He makes stuff work.

I don’t know how to describe him. He’s my boss. He’s a programmer. He’s a carpenter who went to help rebuild after Katrina. In his younger years he could walk up stairs on his hands. Father. Husband. Cool dude. You got the picture? Good. I’ll get to the point.

I drove somewhere with him recently in his car. On the way to the car we walked on a salted sidewalk and I noticed I was leaving salt footprints on the floor mats in his immaculate car.

His IMMACULATE car.

“How do you keep your car so clean?”, I exclaimed more than asked.

He replied, “Well, I just clean it when I get a minute.”

Just like that.

I think everything he does works that way. He just gets it done.

He just gets it done.

He also reads, plays guitar and keeps up to date on tech. He balances life at home and excels at his job. And he keeps his car squeaky clean.

He just goes out there and does it.

Why aren’t my dishes done right now as I type? Because I haven’t gone to do them.

Why are my fences in the condition they are in? Because I haven’t gone to do it.

Rotted beams in the barn collapsed under the weight of hay. Haven’t done it.

Why are the thousand other things incomplete?

I just need to go do it.

I sound like a 90’s shoe commercial.

Let’s just get some stuff done today.

Reading Journal 2015 Week 8

This week I continued with Malabar Farm by Louis Bromfield. I also read World War I: The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today by Richard Maybury and started The Man With Two Left Feet by P. G. Wodehouse. The last is a collection of unrelated short stories. I have not finished it but I will. My week ended almost as fast as it began so it was a bit of a scramble to do any reading at all.


Malabar Farm by Louis Bromfield

I’m going to skip what I covered last week and just dive into new quotes. Here’s one…speaking about not using chemicals and working to balance the soil health and mineral content:

Insofar as the garden is concerned, I am convinced that preventative medicine is more effective than patent medicine and for three years no one at Malabar has eaten sulfur or arsenic or rotenone or D.D.T., or any other poison contained in the dusts and sprays which are the patent medicines of the plant world. I also believe that the people and the animals on the farm are getting their minerals and vitamins through the food they eat rather than in pills and capsules taken to cure poor eyesight, tendencies to colds or “that tired feeling.” I know that the animals at least have shown a remarkable response in health and vigor and breedability.

Hmmmm. Health. Vigor. Breedability. Hmmm. Seems like I know more than a few couples who are having fertility issues and football game commercials seem more concerned about the bedroom than my wife is. Better not go there. I’ll stick with my cows. Our soils are thin. Our fertility has been hauled off of the farm in beef and bones for…well…centuries. Hay? Gone. Grain? Gone. Calcium in milk? Well, I guess there has been some lime added to the farm. But looking at our cows, looking at our forages…not enough. My goodness! Fescue didn’t stand a chance where fertility was high. Clovers come in hard where we spread a little lime. It’s amazing. But we’re talking ongoing recovery. Ongoing. Still happening. It’s visible but soil health is not what it could be. So my cattle conception rates are not what they could be. My milk production is not what it could be. My animal health is not what it could be.

CloverField

Mable got sick this fall. In part because she is not well adapted to standing in freezing rain for three days straight. But in large part because I was not addressing her needs at a nutrition level. She is a HEAVY milk producer. Did you see I used all caps? HEAVY! She gives more so she needs more. And I failed her. In some way. But part of my failure was a failure to provide healthy soils. Things are getting better. There’s a great coating of manure on the pasture where the cattle have strip grazed. I have a plan to apply lime. We have a feedlot full of manure, at least a foot deep, from years of prior cattle. These are the blocks that will build future health.

Bromfield talks about how important barnyard manure is to boosting organic matter and soil fertility. In fact, you need the organic matter to make nutrients bioavailable…to harbor life forms that will concentrate and accumulate what you need for later. And it’s happening. But too slowly.

I need to feed health. To my family. To my cattle. To my soil. If I get the soil right, the rest is covered.

Take Home Messages:

I don’t know what else I need to say. I think that’s the take home message for the entire book. Make the soil healthy. Feed health. Done.


World War I: The Rest of the Story and How It Affects You Today by Richard Maybury

This is one of the Uncle Eric books. Never heard of them? Well, let me change your life. You can start reading these anywhere but do yourself a favor and read Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?. Our kids are reading through these books as part of our home school and I am reading with them. I strongly encourage you to read these books. Books should challenge and change the reader. These are no exception. Let me give you an example from chapter 17. These books are written with the voice of an uncle writing letters to his nephew.

Chris, sometimes Americans are told they must send their sons and daughters to war to protect our access to oil sold by other nations. This oil is regarded as a “vital interest” and is, therefore, thought to be worth American lives.

Rarely does anyone ask the question, how much blood are you willing to pay for a barrel of oil, and are you willing to pay with your own blood or only with the blood of others?

Besides, if a regime that hates the West captures an oil field, what are they going to do with the oil, drink it?

They can get little benefit from it unless they sell it.

They might somehow charge a higher price, but the question then becomes, are you willing to die to keep the price of gasoline down?

Did you get upset and stop reading that? Why are you upset? Isn’t that what books are supposed to do?

Maybe you’ll like this one better:

When historians examine wars, they rarely look at the people who found ways to stay out of them. To me this is strange. I think one of the most important lessons that history should teach is how to stay out of wars. What skill could be more valuable?

I know conflict resolution is high on our list of things to teach our children. They already know how to fight each other. They have to learn to live and work together. And that’s hard. Why is it any different at a national level?

Keeping this review short, this is a book you can read in an afternoon but you will revisit later. The information presented will need to percolate over time. And it comes with a sprinkling of H. L. Mencken quotes. I love H. L. Mencken quotes. For example:

Democracy is the theory that common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Or this one:

All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.

I encourage you to read Maybury. I also encourage you to read Mencken. Let me know how that turns out for you.


This Week in Media

This week’s The Beginning Farmer Show is pure gold. He presents an article that basically says there is no money in farming and you shouldn’t buy the lie. Ethan doesn’t respond to the article so much as just discuss it with the audience. Let me repeat the quotes he offers about how to make farming pay. First from You Can Farm by Joel Salatin:

Farming is not a “thing.” It is a life, and a business. Plenty of farmers are awaiting the magical “thing” to become profitable. We make all sorts of excuses to explain why the farm isn’t doing very well and why we need to drive in to town every day for that steady paycheck.

Well, that cuts to the bone. I find that I agree. Entirely. And I want to explain, I, Chris Jordan, in no way feel entitled to own a farm. I don’t deserve to be a farmer just because I want to be a farmer. I work my tookus off…seriously, there’s not much back there. I owe a quarter of a million dollars to a bank. My list of excuses for leaving the farm is one item long. The bank and the tax man need dollars…and lots of them.

But hang on a minute. I don’t feel entitled! Family farm or no, I’m here because Julie and I made some very serious sacrifices to make this happen…and continue to. And it may not work. You know that dream of living in the country and having a horse and a couple of chickens? A place of your own where you can get away from it all? Look more closely. Yours is the last house to have power restored when there is a power outage. The last road to get plowed during a snowstorm. Yours has the slowest internet imaginable and no cell coverage. You have to drive 30 minutes to buy toilet paper. It seems that there are a lot of new farmers who are quickly discouraged and cry out in a loud voice on the internet, “It’s not fair! I deserve to farm!”

No. It’s not fair. Businesses fail every day. Talented bakers flop because the whole town goes paleo. That’s life. At some point SQL Server database administrators will no longer be needed. I may script myself out of a job. Yup. Why would anyone think farming would be as easy as dreaming?

So the other quote Ethan shared was from The Contrary Farmer by Gene Logsdon.

…do not try to make your entire livelihood from the farm, at least not at first. Do like almost all our ancestors did, even in pioneer times: Pay for the land with a job not directly dependent on the farm’s income. Even a casual reading of rural history in the nineteenth and early twentieth century shows that almost every farmer financed his initial land purchases by earning money in a hundred different ways – from teaching to blacksmithing to carpentry to working as a hired hand.

A decade or more ago I read Fields Without Dreams by Victor Davis Hanson. He talked about the necessity of at least one family member working in town to keep the farm alive. Got that?

Salatin is an exceptional marketer. Exceptional. He gets out there and moves product. And he is also an exceptional worker. His hands are big and meaty and calloused.

Salatin

He gets it done and he gets it sold and keeps his nose to the grindstone. There are no vacations, no fancy cars and no off-farm work. BUT he didn’t have to acquire the initial land. His father acquired the land while working off-farm. That is no secret. But it is a key point that I think Logsdon makes clear. I have heard numerous ranchers say that cattle can either pay for the farm or cattle can pay you but cattle can’t do both. That may be a little different when cattle are $2.45 but what happens when cattle are $0.60?

So I continue to work in town.


Ethan also quoted from Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard, a book that has lingered on my bookshelf unread for at least 6 months. Maybe a year. That may be next week’s book.

I may also read Robinson Crusoe with the kids. I discuss marginal utility frequently and Crusoe economics is a great way to illustrate it…along with the notion that profit is measurable and savings are desirable even if you are alone in the world. If you haven’t heard of Crusoe economics previously, you’re welcome. Then again, it’s a little like taking the red pill…you can’t un-take it.


Well, you made it to the end. I appreciate that. I really do. Maybe I should break this into several Sunday posts rather than one lengthy marathon of a blog post. Let me know what you think.

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.

Not Much Happenin’

We are hunkered down in the cold. In fact I am, perhaps, too hunkered…as in too hunkered in front of Minecraft. But that’s how it is. And I’m not the only one.

Dad put plastic around the chicken house. These old biddies shouldn’t even be alive at this point. There are 50 birds left laying maybe a dozen eggs each day and they all need to go to the stew pot. At this point we’ll probably just butcher them with the broilers in April. Anyway, they are toasty and warm sitting inside their shelter. They come out to eat, drink and to lay eggs. Otherwise, they are on their roosts.

SnowChicken

The cows are in a similar situation. We have been adding and adding to their bedding day by day. While they are out eating I stay busy adding bedding. I want them to be clean and warm. I also want to capture the nutrients as effectively as I can so I can apply them to my pastures in the summer. I think we paid $1.50 for the straw so each day they are in the barn costs me $4.50 in bedding. The fertilizer we are collecting is worth many times that amount. Plus the savings of labor and the health and comfort of my cows in the cold weather has value. The jerseys, specifically, are not as cold-hearty as one might like but the shorthorns don’t seem to mind the cold.

DeepBedding

Matron has wrote a nice post about deep bedding recently. I don’t have much to add except to say that we do the same thing in our greenhouse for the main layer flock. The bedding in the greenhouse is so deep we really just add water and feed at this point then collect the eggs. The living mass of bedding seems to be assimilating everything that falls on it and is releasing no odor. Pretty cool. No picture though.

Egg production is increasing rapidly now. It’s a little scary in the fall to see egg production drop and know customers are going to be disappointed. Now we have to gear back up, hoping those old customers will be interested again. Ugh. So hard.

So we carry hay. We shake out bedding. We fill water. We carry feed sacks. We gather, wash and pack eggs. This week we put chicks in the brooder so we spend a fair amount of energy making sure those babies are warm and well fed. But otherwise we just try to stay warm. It’s so cold the kids aren’t even sledding…much. Good times though. It’s going to get really busy soon. Rest while we can.

This weekend I’ll rest by parking my tookus on the couch with a small stack of books and I’ll tell you all about it on Sunday.

Hope you are staying warm.

Iowa and Back Again. A Chick Tale.

Iowa. Miles, Iowa.

11 hours. 520 miles. 5 degrees with strong winds. Nail in my tire.

It is cold. So cold we asked the hatchery not to ship our chicks to us. There is no way any of them would survive sitting outside on a post office dock in these temperatures. Not only did the hatchery agree, they ended up cancelling all of this week’s shipments.

So we drove. Miles, Iowa.

We left the house at 8:30 and dropped off three of the kids with Julie’s mom. Then we headed North. We had 6 inches of snow over the weekend and another inch overnight. The wind kicked up and made a mess of everything.

DrivingTo

On we drove. Semis were weaving in the road as gusts of wind pushed them to the side. I brought a stack of books to read but Julie asked me to drive the whole way.

Mile after endless mile of wind, snow, weaving trucks, limited visibility and a tire pressure warning light…losing 5 pounds of pressure each hour.

StillDrivingTo

Things got better as we continued North.

Four lanes turned to two. Two gravely lanes in rolling hills, unexpected stop signs. But the Iowa roads were well maintained and clear of snow. We meandered through. It felt like we drove to Kansas then to Nebraska then back across Iowa when, suddenly, we saw it. Schlecht Hatchery! The localest hatchery I can find.

Arrival

What a sight! Wow! A real building dedicated to hatching chicks, not just some crazy lady hatching birds in her living room! WHEW!

Our chicks were started on feed and water in a battery brooder. They were clean and warm and happy. In fact, that sentence describes the whole place. Schlecht hatchery was a clean and warm and happy place. She has capacity to hatch nearly 10,000 birds each week! And she nearly does!

I would have loved to spend more time visiting with Etta. We have spoken to her on the phone for years and never met. She is every bit as nice as she seems on the phone. But we have to get home and that tire isn’t going to air itself back up.

Speaking of air, the car was soon filled with that wonderful new chick smell. If you don’t know what that is, get some little chicks and you soon will.

Slightly different route on the way back, rather than take the interstate we just stuck with 67 the whole way…which turned out to be a 4-lane road most of the way, meandering through small towns. Some gas stations have free air available. Some charge $0.75. That’s better than walking home and $1.25 later we were in our driveway.

WesternIllinois

We were surprised to find one of the brooder tanks was still a little cold. I’m not entirely sure what was going on. Julie and I decided to put four lamps in one brooder and put half of the chicks in there. We took the other half of the chicks home with us in their shipping crates. This way we didn’t have all of our eggs in one basket. The chicks we delivered were doing well when we left them at 7:30. They were doing well when I checked them again at 9. We give them sugar water when they first arrive to get them off to a flying start and make sure feed is at floor level in several places.

Chicks

We will have to spread these chicks out in a week or two, adding a third and maybe a fourth tank to our brooder capacity. I really should just cover the floor with plywood and brood there but…well, this is where we are.

We will surely lose a few chicks. That’s just part of the deal. The long drive was awful but receiving a box of dead birds would be worse. We take a risk getting chicks this early in the year. But in normal years, they are well feathered out and ready to thrive on pasture just as things are greening up. Then they are in the freezer well before buffalo gnats emerge.

There is a little more I want to add in though. I could have stopped at an auto parts store and plugged my own tire. I had my coveralls and boots and tools with me just in case. But the wind chill was something like -30. So we tried option #2: Find a repair shop. Even armed with Google this proved impossible. On a Wednesday even. So we drove our slow leak home. I have concerns for a world that can’t maintain small, privately-owned garages in every town…or in any town.

At some point in our trip someone mistakenly said “Ohio” instead of “Iowa”. Well, I can’t let that go. We celebrated the error by listening to this song which was then stuck in my head all day. Kind of the theme song for the trip if you will. (Really just the chorus.)

One last addition. 6:52 the next morning, all chicks in the brooder are fine. By fine I mean alive, scattered about pecking and scratching, not barely hanging on, huddled under heat lamps. Now off to unpack the rest!

Reading Journal 2015 Week 7

Malabar Farm by Louis Bromfield

What a great book. Special thanks to SailorsSmallFarm for sending it to me. I would not have gotten to it so quickly otherwise. In fact, SSF has suggested a number of books I have enjoyed and may be my favorite librarian.

I’m going to have some fun with this book because I really am enjoying it. But I also think the author was a bit windy here and there. Please don’t mistake my humor for a lack of respect. I will revisit this book soon and encourage you to do the same.

I am currently at the halfway point of this book. My goal is to read a book each week but I just couldn’t muscle through this book in a week. There is too much to think about.

What is the book about?

That should give you the basic idea. There was a certain tone expressed in the book…that of a wealthy intellectual out to set some things straight, addressing his adoring public. Maybe that was just a style of the time. Let me give you an example. As you read this, contrast it to Oliver from Green Acres puffing out his chest and pontificating on the virtues and values of the brotherhood of American farmers.

…our own philosophy that the good farmer is a man who knows as much as possible, never stops learning, and has the intelligence to apply his knowledge and information to the conditions and the program of his own piece of land. It is the kind of farmer we must have in the nation and in this world; it is the kind of farmer we will have inevitably because the other kind is certain to be liquidated economically, despite bribes, subsidies and price floors and their land will be taken over eventually by those who cherish it and can make it productive and maintain that productivity. In the world and even in this country, where there was once so much good land that we believed it inexhaustible both in fertility and in area, mankind, if he is to survive, cannot permit agricultural land to be owned and managed by the lazy, the indifferent and the ignorant.

I don’t know that I disagree. It’s a fair summary of capitalism too. But there’s something in the tone. Oliver sounds naive but entirely lovable. At times, Bromfield is just preachy.

I would also like to add that this book is a follow-up to another of his titles, Pleasant Valley. I haven’t read Pleasant Valley but I think I would like to.

Is it a classic?
Yes. Published in 1947 and affecting my farm today. For large portions of the book I felt he was dragging it out but every so often, in unexpected ways, he would cut to the quick. I would stop and read aloud to Julie.

Will you read it again?
I almost can’t wait. Reading this in a week is like trying to go to seven family Thanksgiving dinners in a single weekend. Too much. Even spread over two weeks it’s a lot to digest.

Does it belong on your bookshelf?
I think I always say “Yes” to this question. Yes.

Can you relate a favorite passage?
Brace yourself.

Mrs. Johnson appeared and turned out to be very intelligent having had many years of experience working along dietary and nutrition lines. She was very interesting about her experiences with the dreary Okie camps in California during the bad years. She agreed that after the post-war boom dies down, we shall have the armies of migratory workers, dispossessed from poor, worn-out land, back on our hands, a liability, not only in relief and taxes but a moral, physical, and spiritual liability to the nation. The economic-human problem of the “poor whites” and “Okies” is an extremely complex one which in the end can be solved only be dealing with fundamentals – soil, diet and education in that order. Poor, worn-out soil produces specimens handicapped physically, mentally and morally from the very beginning. Food grown on such soil from which calcium, phosphorus, and other vital minerals and elements are exhausted can only produce sickly specimens, both humans and livestock. Wretched diet aggravates sickliness, and poor, under-nourished, stupid people make bad farmers who only destroy the soil still further. Education comes third because it is useless to attempt education with people sick physically and mentally from deficiencies of vital minerals. It is no good trying to solve the problem by taxes, WPA, charity and relief, although these may be necessary in time of acute crisis.

From Chapter 4, he is often lamenting large cities and industry…though he is also pushing for more efficient, industrial farm production…away from generalist farming. (Cue the fife!)

It is remarkable how people are becoming interested in these things – a very hopeful sign. If we can overcome the evils, economic and social, which industry and great cities have brought us, we shall be making progress. That is the frightening element in the recent elections. A growing urban proletariat without economic security can wreck everything that America has been in the past and darken the whole of her future.

Going back in time to chapter 2 we can see what he wants for the regular family (as inspired by The Have-More Plan). Farmers should specialize. But everybody else?

The general, widely diversified, and self-sufficient program is, however, admirably suited to the small-scale enterprise of industrial, white-collar and middle-bracket-income citizens with a few acres in the suburbs or in the country itself. This category of small, largely self-sufficient holdings is increasing constantly in numbers and it provides not only a bulwark of security for the individual but a source of strength for the nation as well. A well-managed small place with vegetables, fruit trees, chickens, perhaps a pig or two and a cow provides not only a source of large saving in the family food budget, but it also is a source of health, recreation, outdoor life, and general contentment for the whole family.

At this point, I have to hand the reins to Oliver again.

On the topic of The Have-More Plan, I just want to point out that farms don’t solve problems. Relationships are hard. Business is hard. Work is hard. Life is hard. But harvest comes in due season…if you can survive that long.

When Ed asked for a divorce, Carolyn told Judge House, “I felt like a work horse being turned out to pasture.”

There is a chapter titled, “Malthus was Right”. I think Malthus was right. At some point, it is theoretically possible that we could breed beyond the population we can feed. But I think he is also wrong. The chapter is in support of the notion that we should scream in terror as we approach the Earth’s human carrying capacity. He points to inefficient agricultural methods as some of the reason but, really, proposes no solution. In earlier chapters he bragged that he could keep a cow on every acre of his land. There are 2 billion acres of agricultural land in the US. But there is no proposal to raise cattle and sheep instead of corn, corn, corn…though he does complain about the practice of raising corn, corn, corn and hogs, hogs, hogs and, worst of all sins, of feeding corn to cattle…though he feeds corn silage to cattle. All of Africa. Australia. Russia covers 12 time zones. What do you mean we can’t feed ourselves? We have not yet begun to graze! There were two chapters about what a great healer of the Earth grass is…and anecdote after anecdote supporting the idea that the Earth is better for our management than it would be without it…and yet, he suffers from hysteria and despair that there are too many people. Let’s not be hysterical. Let’s start doing. And while you take a break from all the doing, do a little writing, make a video…find some way to share what you are doing with others to help them get started. Then they can do the same. And on it goes. Like network marketing of global agriculture.

Who should read this book?
There are portions of this book that I thought were fluff. Whole chapters of journal entries that I thought I should skim. A chapter about dealing with bluegill populations (by catching them and dumping them in a stream or neighbor’s pond) and another on his love of his pack of boxers. But overall I think this is a great book…a book you should read to further your understanding of “modern” agriculture.

But there is a lot of fluff…or what struck me as fluff. Let’s talk about growing grass for two chapters, shall we? OK. Here’s the low down. Lime your soils with two tons to the acre then rip the hardpan. If you have weeds and poverty grasses, rip those out and cover the soil with them. Now, add in chemical fertilizer, barn compost, 9 pounds of alfalfa, 5 pounds of brome grass and one pound of ladino clover. Focus, over time, on increasing your soil organic matter so the land can sponge up more moisture. That’s it. Sure, it won’t work just anywhere but it worked great here.

I summarized two chapters in that paragraph above. Two whole chapters. However, Bromfield was writing to help change the future. I live in the future.

Take home messages:
I’ll wrap this up next week when I finish the book.


Can you believe that’s the only book I worked on this week? No links to articles about space. No lecture on the positive virtues of Minecraft. Just keeping busy and staying warm.

Hope you are doing the same.

Cold weather this week. I plan to spend a fair amount of time by the fire reading a book. I need to do some recreational reading this week too. Maybe another book by Wodehouse or a book in the Dune series.

Please discuss this book with me. I hope you are reading it too. Share your favorite quotes or let me know if I have missed the point. Please don’t let me remain ignorant. Help me explore these ideas.

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.

My Valentine

January 29, 2015

It’s going to happen again. Valentine’s day. Julie’s February birthday. Shoot. I need to plan for that somehow. Two weeks.

Two weeks.

Two.

Weeks.

No idea what to do this year. Chocolate covered strawberries?

February 1, 2015

I still don’t know what to do. Just…you know. And you do know, don’t you? I love you. I love you a lot.

When we read Love Languages we identified what yours is. But that’s not mine…so I don’t know how to do it. Quality time? What do I do? Just hang out? I have stuff to do. Can’t we go do that stuff…but together? Doesn’t that count?

Probably not.

February 2, 2015

I have daughters!

Now what? OK. Maybe I could give them a block of diamonds in Minecraft? I could code in an unbreaking pick axe for both. Hmmm. What are their love languages? The older girl likes to cook. Acts of service? The younger one is a snuggle bunny. She likes to be with me, holding my hand when walking. She usually gets up when I do and she stays near me. But the older one? What is her language? How can I make her understand that I love her? How can I meet her at her level? Bake cookies together? Zucchini bread?

February 4, 2015

Julie, do you know that I love you? I love you every day. Why do I feel all this pressure on some arbitrary day in the winter? I love you.

February 6, 2015

Julie found this in my drafts, read it and asked me to omit certain details. Particularly a note about how great she looked in her workout clothes. So I took that out. But still, she looks great.

February 13, 2015

Shoot. It’s here. It happened. There was some discussion about going out to dinner or going to a church activity or something. That’s not what I had in mind. I thought we could get a couple of steaks and a bottle of wine and just spend the evening together at home. She got some steaks from Steve today and asked me to pick up a bottle of wine on my way home. Wine is difficult. I could get the $5 bottle of funky stuff that smells like a wrung out gym sock or the $10 bottle of funky stuff that smells like a wrung out gym sock or the $4 bottle of sweet red who knows what that doesn’t taste too bad and isn’t too sweet. $4 it is then. What a great date I am.

What about the girls?

Let’s revisit that chocolate-covered strawberry thing. Maybe that’s something I could do with the kids. I think “With” is more important than “For”. With. OK. Good deal. Need a bag of white chocolate chips and a bag of milk chocolate chips.

OK. The whole Valentines Day, Dad/Husband thing is in good shape.

If you haven’t figured out Valentine’s day for yourself I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom from Brak.

Well, They Were Full…

The cows were checked at 3:00 in the afternoon. Everybody was fat, full, napping and chewing cud  in the sunshine so she decided they didn’t need another section of pasture for the day.

The next morning? Empty bellies all around.

What happened?

She looked at the wrong data.

You know to look at the cow’s left side, between the rib and the pelvis to see if there is an indentation or if the rumen is full, right? Cool. That’s what she did. The cows were full. But she didn’t look at the pasture.

When the cows got up in the middle of the night for a snack there was nothing left to eat. The cows were full at 3:00, seventeen hours later they were not.

Being people who want full cows, we took several lessons out of this experience. We have to look at the cow. That’s good. But we also have to judge the pasture. That is particularly difficult as everything looks brown to us and the cows seem to graze fairly selectively. But we have all kinds of pasture remaining ungrazed. All kinds…like 15 acres. And grass will start growing in a month so there is no need to be stingy with it.

And we have all kinds of hay remaining. As extra insurance, I’m going to just put out 20 or so small squares right in the paddocks so Julie just has to untie and spread them a little. If we offer too much hay and the cows use some for bedding the chickens will scratch it out later.

The cows didn’t get enough to eat overnight. One night of that treatment is not a huge deal. But it shouldn’t happen again tonight. Tonight they will get an extra move.

Reading Journal 2015 Week 6

So what’s the deal? What’s with all the books?

Some years ago (maybe 2006?) Pastor Mark used a Charlie “Tremendous” Jones quote in a sermon. I’ll just let Mr. Jones tell you in a couple of clips.

Here is the quote pastor Mark shared:

That’s what it’s all about. I would encourage you to find more of his materials and give them a look. Apparently he had a spare house to hold his library. Julie just rolled her eyes.

I’m making a few formatting changes each week trying to make this more of what I want it to be. I don’t think I need to publish an in-depth review of everything. Sometimes I just want a record of what I have read.

This coming week I plan to read Malabar Farm. A friend sent me a spare copy she had. I’ll be pressed to get through that book as it looks meaty and Spring is upon us. Chicks will arrive on the 17th. I still don’t have pigs. We are putting garden in a greenhouse but otherwise we are a little behind on our work list. My reading time is suffering.


Farming Manual by George Henderson

What is the book about?
How to get it done by the man who got it done. The Farming Ladder is Henderson’s overall farming philosophy wrapped up in a neat little package. The Farmer’s Progress is more detail focusing on getting young farmers started. This book is more about Henderson as an older farmer passing on hard-won experience. He is detailing everything from training youth to work efficiently to training us in hedge laying. There are things that just don’t transfer well via text but I’ll save my criticism for later in the post.

Is it a classic?
Yes. All three of his books. I don’t care how many aluminum cans you have to pick up to pay for these books. Buy them. Read them. Treasure them. Not kidding.

Will you read it again?
Oh, yes. Several times.

Does it belong on your bookshelf?
Get the other two books first. A reader linked me to a .pdf of this book but the file was structured so facing pages were presented both at once. There may be a way to present single pages but it was beyond me…and beyond frustrating. I couldn’t read the .pdf on the screen of my phone. So I bought the book. And it wasn’t cheap. So my long-winded answer is that I didn’t find the .pdf readable so I had to get a physical copy to read. And it will now live on my bookshelf forever. Your shelf? How much of a completionist are you?

Can you relate a favorite passage?
Well, let’s start at the beginning.

Start at five o’clock and do an hour’s work until breakfast time. An hour for breakfast and start again at seven o’clock. A twenty minute break mid-morning with a  glass of milk, fruit or a scone. A good meal at midday and a rest until one o’clock. Half an hour for tea at four-thirty. Another two hours’ work, followed by a light meal will complete the day without any sense of exhaustion at any time. If one rests on Sundays between the mid-morning break and tea time, it gives you a seventy-two-hour week, and if every hour is properly planned and organized the output of work will justify the effort involved and will leave a sense of quiet satisfaction and achievement. The work must also be planned to give variety and interest, one would not want to hoe sugar beet for seventy-two hours. From labour health, from health contentment springs.

Well, that certainly fits with last week’s ideas from Elon Musk but I like his notion that you need a variety of work throughout the day. There are certainly seasons when it is appropriate to work 10 hours on a single task but every day for a few months? No thanks.

The habit of reading, and deriving knowledge from books, is essential for any young man who wishes to go far in farming. It is worth studying how to read quickly. A practiced reader will read the introduction carefully, which should describe the purpose of the book, and then flip quickly through and make brief notes on the sections which will merit closer study. In some books there are whole chapters which may be skipped altogether. The skill in quick reading lies in directing the eyes between the lines, and it will be found that whole phrases instead of individual words are being taken in at a glance.

But all you read are mere theories until we have tried them out in practice. Whatever comes to us, good or bad, is usually the result of our own action or lack of action.

So work hard and read a lot.

At a later point in the book he is talking about seeking maximum efficiency as we move toward mechanization on the farm. He points out that it costs

£4 to the acre for custom combining, often leaving a lot of grain behind on the ground (one grain to the square foot is 4 lb. to the acre), and then a further charge for baling the straw – if weather permits.

And later,

Nine-tenths of the crops we grow are cashed in through animals.

You know what I want? I want an hour to drink coffee with George Henderson. I know he is frugal but he’s suggesting we build a rick with our grains. Why? Because that’s a cheap way to store it. Sure, why not. But then what? Well, you have to thresh it. OK. So what if you have to combine 3,000 acres of wheat? Well then, we’ll use a machine and leave some on the ground.

Have you ever seen a corn field in the fall? Around here they get the corn (maize) out in September most years. We get a warming spell in October and the fields that haven’t been plowed will look like they have been replanted with corn. Not just the end rows where the corn head knocked the stalks down leaving whole ears in place, the whole field. Terribly wasteful. But it makes more economic sense than putting an army of people to work gathering $3 corn out of the stubble.

And if 90% of the grain goes to livestock anyway, why not let the livestock glean the fields? They’ll add fertilizer while they are there.

So, Mr. Henderson, I await your answer. In the meantime I’ll try a few things out on my own. I understand it is easier to transport one pound of pork than to transport three pounds of corn. That’s why so many farmers around here have confinement hogs. I get it.

After a lengthy chapter on human anatomy to help us understand and observe why we need to work certain ways he closes by saying,

A person who would take exercise in preparing for farm work will find there is nothing to equal walking with a good posture.

I think that’s pretty good advice. Go take a walk. It’s February 8th today and the weather is particularly spring-like. In fact, I may have entirely missed the maple sap. We spent the entire day outside yesterday and it was great. We walked to the woods in the corner of our property, cutting thorny sprouts along the way, hoping to find deer sheds (too early). But all six of us, my brother in law and my two nephews were out in the mud, climbing on hay bales, crushing ice under boots and having a good time. Go for a walk. Even if you’re not a farmer.

Who should read this book?
Read through the table of contents in the .pdf. The book is honest about the subjects it covers. If you want to read Henderson’s detail on hedging, feel free to read what he has to say. If you want to learn about hedging though, this book won’t get it done. Watching YouTube might get you a little closer. But you’ll probably have to find somebody to work with for some time to really get it down. Reading this book was, for me, less about the content and more about gaining a better understanding of George Henderson.

Take home messages:
Mr. Henderson read everything he could and, as this book shows, worked to bring it all together. It’s not enough to read for entertainment. It’s not enough to read for information. You have to, as Mortimer Adler points out, read for understanding. Henderson understood.

I think that’s the message to get here. Read beyond the borders of your specific interest. See what else is out there, see how it relates to what you already know and get a better picture of the whole. I think Henderson could see a bigger world than I can at the present time. But I’m working on it.


Article of the Week

I don’t like the “X of the Week” subtitle. I’ll work on that.

Julie and I have subscribed to Graze for several years now. Our friend with the dairy, Steve, recommended it and said he easily recovers the cost of the publication each year. So we did. And I agree.

This month’s issue (Volume 22, No. 2) has an article by Gabe Brown detailing his transition away from a high-maintenance, high-cost of maintenance herd to a low-maintenance, grass-based herd. Basically, Gabe pulled the plug on the herd and kept the survivors. I highly encourage you to read it. In fact, I make it a point to read anything of Gabe’s, though I don’t hold his word up as gospel. He just seems to say interesting and thought-provoking things.

Anyway, he pulled the plug. I’ll quote a little bit here but I want you to make it a point to read the article…somehow. OK? Promise? Pinky-swear? OK.

You have to decide what’s not necessary to your operation. In ours it was all vaccines, de-wormers, pour-ons, grain supplementation and as much hay as we could eliminate in our environment. We got rid of all of them cold turkey, all at the same time.

OK. Great. Now, skip forward.

I’m not going to kid you: That first year, the conception rate averaged less than 50%, which tells you just how wrong our cattle were for what we wanted to do.

HOLY TOLEDO!

But here’s what the article doesn’t tell me…and it’s important. He lost 50%…of how many? A few weeks ago I read the King Ranch book. He talked about keeping 6 heifers out of 1000, culling the rest. Similarly, Phil Rutter talks about hoping to keep 8 of the first 5,000 hazels he plants. So I might suggest that Brown wasn’t aggressive enough. But I might also suggest HOLY TOLEDO! Half of his herd!?!?!?!?

Let’s play with that for a minute. Just a minute, I know you have other things to do with your day. I have 13 cows. Next year, following this plan, I would have 6…plus 3 heifers. What’s the cull rate on the second generation? Was I lucky enough to stop at 50% the first year? Maybe if I had cattle numbered in the hundreds or thousands…I don’t know.

It does seem that this is the time to take my medicine. But I have heard Ian Mitchel-Innes say that you need 300 cows before you close your herd. So what do I do between now and then?

The best I can.

I have to raise my cattle to the best of my ability, selecting bulls with a background on grass. I may even need to cross-breed my herd to increase the value of my calf crop, bring up fertility and take my herd closer to grass. Whatever I do, I think it’s a hoot. And I’m glad you are here with me. Let me know if you are taking the same medicine.

BTW, I recently (within the last 4 months) read Man, Cattle and Veld. Zietsman had very similar feelings but would keep non-performing heifers in his herd to keep mob numbers up. He just wouldn’t keep their offspring for breeding. That’s the approach I’m taking. I don’t like Snowball. Mrs. White and 27 didn’t breed until they were 3. I’m happy to have their calves but I won’t be selecting future bull calves from them because they were late to mature…mostly because they are so danged tall. But this year 70 is going to have to go. She appears to be a non-breeder.

Let’s talk a little more about my cow herd in my post about reading books. I want small cows. I want small cows. I want small cows. Small cows. Not short cows. Not tiny cows. Small. At least in the eyes of my neighbors. Small. There is some concern that if you breed heifers too early you’ll stunt their growth. So what? Why do we care if my cow weighs 1,000 pounds and is frame 4 instead of 1300 pounds and frame 5? We haven’t changed the genetic potential of her offspring, just the expression of her own genetics. So I raise my replacement heifers on grass and they do appear to be a little smaller than other heifers I bought last summer with similar birth dates…but those similar heifers were given corn.

Why does this matter at all? Because every day a cow eats a percentage of her body weight. The more they weigh the more they have to eat. Mrs. White eats a lot. By shrinking my cows I will need less grass to maintain my herd lowering my production costs and, potentially, increasing my output…I just have to make sure my calves have the potential to be everything the market demands in terms of size and weight.

And I think that’s just the kind of change Mr. Brown was talking about.


Please give me some feedback on this post. I read a lot. Like, a lot, lot. I like to share with my readers when I find a book that helps a farmer out. But I also like to be entertained so I include links to movies and music. Fun books too. Please let me know if there are questions I can answer for you or if you have any suggestions to help make this format more meaningful.

Also, let me know if you are doing any of the reading with me…even if you are running behind. Share your favorite quotes. Tell me if I missed the point.

Click here to see all entries in my reading journal.