Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

2015 Kidding Season Begins


IMG_4365 - Version 2
The kidding season is upon us.  One of our does, Jessie, has given birth and Ruby, Samy, Gracie, and Macie are waiting to follow.

Jessie gave birth, unassisted, to quadruplets.  Unfortunately, #3 – a traditionally-colored doeling – was stillborn and could not be revived.  However, the other three – a traditional buckling and two full-red doelings – are doing very well.

Kids will be available for sale, ready to be picked up in the May-June timeframe when they are weaned.

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NPIP – Exam Time for the Flock


Yesterday, at our request, a representative from the Department of Agriculture came out to visit and test our chickens in conjunction with the National Poultry Improvement Program.  NPIP is a voluntary program that provides testing for common ailments in home and commercial flocks.  NPIP helps us to ensure a safe food supply and avoid the transfer of disease through other means (after all, taking care of chickens is not a hands-off activity here at the Flying T).  In addition, it allows those who raise chickens to avoid unnecessary medicines and antibiotics.  Finally, by working exclusively with NPIP-certified hatcheries and home producers, we can reduce the chances that our healthy flock is infected by birds or chicks we purchase as replacement stock.

Some of the NPIP tests are required for 4H and other shows.

The actual process is quite simple for a relatively small flock like ours (23 birds)… or at least it should be.  First,  you need to make sure they’re contained.  To accomplish this, we simply turned off the coop’s automatic door after the chickens had gone to roost for the night.  Simple, right?

However, about an hour before the NPIP representative arrived, our son went to change the chickens’ water, and six of them slipped out the door.  The three kids and I had a heck of a time chasing them down.  Free range means no fences, and lots of places for them to hide, squeeze under, and run through.  It also means that trying to entice them back into the coop with grain doesn’t work well, because there are lots of other, more tasty things to sample out in the woods.  However, after a bit of running, diving, and even climbing the compost pile, we managed to get our escapees back into the coop.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated the exercise, and so I have no pictures to share.  They would’ve been worth sharing!

OK, it is a simple process, once you’ve got the chickens back in the coop!

We enlisted the kids to help, and they crammed into the grain room along with the NPIP tester, Tara.  One kid would go into the coop and pick up a chicken, then bring it out to Tara, who would start by banding their legs with a numbered tag (for our older chickens, this also required removing their previous NPIP tags).

Then, she turned them onto their backs, and plucked the feathers from a small area under the wing.

A quick scratch with a scalpel to draw blood, a few drops in a plastic vial, and the chickens were released to go .

Within about an hour and a half, the vials were filled and the process was complete.  Tara said that she recently did a flock of 250 birds, and that took all day (with several helpers).


The chickens were none the worse for wear (though they were a bit indignant).

We should get our NPIP renewal certificate in the mail in a few weeks!

Unsung Heroes


We’ve lived all over the United States and a bit of time outside the country as well, and we’ve met a lot of great people from all walks of life in the process.  However, one group of wonderful folks we really didn’t get to know before we moved out to our farm.  Boy, have we been missing out!

These folks have been Godsends to us as we’ve muddled through small-scale farming, visiting us, training us, giving us advice, and even helping us teach our kids about agriculture.

Who are these amazing unsung heroes?  They’re the folks at the Merrimack County Cooperative Extension Office, the local branch of the statewide University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension!

How they get to all the things they do, I’m really not sure.  As we approach the first year on our little farm:

  1. A forester has walked our woods with us to help us with our forest management plan.
  2. A poultry inspector has tested our flock as part of the NPIP.
  3. The office has tested our soils and made recommendations for improvement.
  4. We’ve received advice on garden management and care.
  5. We participated in a seminar on goat care (and are starting another 5-week series)
  6. In the next few months, we are attending clinics on fruit tree pruning, gardening, forages and pasture management, and more.
  7. We’ve pored over the volumes of information available on their website, and used some of their curriculum to supplement our homeschool program.
  8. All of our kids are immersed in 4-H activities ranging from animal sciences to riding to crafts.

I’m pretty sure there are things I’m leaving out.  The bottom line is: EVERY one of these activities is supported to some extent (or entirely) by the county extension office, for a minimal fee if not free.  This is all made possible by the superb staff as well as a huge network of volunteers they coordinate.  We have been overwhelmed by how active and involved these people are and are indebted to them for their help.

Here is a video they produced to tell a bit more of what they do:

We have a long way to go at the Flying T, but we’d be much further behind without their support.  So, we’re taking this time to say THANK YOU to Deb, Nancy, Dot, Tim, Mary, Amy, and all the rest of the unsung heroes at the extension office that do so much with so little!

How about you?  Do you have an active and involved extension office, and how do you rely on them?

Is a Degree in Agriculture Useless?


Yahoo just published a story by Terence Loose, “College Majors that are Useless,” and it listed Agriculture degrees as the most useless.  Horticulture and Animal Science also made the top (or bottom) five, together with Fashion Design and Theater.  Ouch.

Unemployable? (Photo by Jack Dykinga, USDA Agricultural Research Service)

One basis of this claim the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) 2012 Job Outlook study, compiled from a survey of employers (Loose says “almost 1,000 employers,” though NACE states the study included 244 respondents) regarding their future hiring plans.  Also included were job projections from 2008-2018 from the Department of Labor as well as numbers of degrees awarded in 2008-2009 from Newsweek‘s similarly-titled slideshow, “20 Most Useless Degrees,” which put Ag as #3 behind Journalism (oh the irony) and Horticulture.

From the DoL numbers, farm manager opportunities are expected to drop by 5% between 2008 and 2018, a cut of roughly 64,000 out of 1.2M positions.  Over that same period, the nation might see 125,000 more brand-new college graduates with Agriculture degrees.

Why bother? (Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service)

A few alibis:

1) I don’t dispute these numbers.  But if you think “Farm Manager” is the only career opportunity for a person with an Ag degree, you don’t understand Ag… which may be the problem here.  And according to Michelle Singletary’s recent Washington Post editorial, and another from the NYT, Ag is currently one of the degrees with the lowest unemployment rate in the US.  But I am not going to discuss that further… now… I don’t think…

2) [late edit] Aw heck, why not… another article by Purdue and the USDA states, “During 2010–15, five percent more college graduates with expertise in agricultural and food systems, renewable energy, and the environment will be needed when compared to 2005-10…”

3) I don’t have an Ag degree, and actually feel a bit slighted because NACE, DoL, and Newsweek didn’t even bother to address the prospects for the millions of us with our undergrad degrees in mathematics and Masters from seminary.

4) I’m not going to rant about our sad environment in which participate in, understand, and value agriculture so little… Well, I am going to rant, but not today.

Instead, I want to take some issue with the angle from which these articles address the data.

The idea fronted by Loose and Newsweek is that these degrees are valueless because there are so many more degrees being awarded than are needed in the job market.  Now this argument would make a lot of sense if we were talking about printing money.  If we were, I’d recommend What Happened to Penny Candy? as a superb foundation upon which to start the conversation.

About $90,000 pictured - a bit more than what a 4-year degree will cost you for in-state tuition, books, fees, and living expenses at a public university. It won't even cover tuition at the average private school. (Image from Braintrack.com)

If a degree is simply an asset – a piece of paper in which we invest in the hopes that it will provide future earnings – I’d say these articles were right on the mark.  To be honest, this is how some folks have looked at a college degree for many years – spend (or worse, borrow), tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a couple words one can put on a resume that will provide a healthy ROI.  Scarily, others buy one of these “investments” without considering the potential ROI at all.

However, that’s not what a degree is, especially today.  If you merely invest $120,000 on a degree from the other end of the NACE spectrum, say Chemical Engineering, and complete the requirements for that degree, you may have more opportunities after graduation than your classmate that did the same but earned a degree in Agriculture.  However, you won’t have nearly the opportunities of a person in any degree program who invested not only his or her money, but other assets such as time (building experiences in focused internships, employment and volunteerism) and relationships (what we call “networking” these days).

These articles also ignore a good portion of the NACE report, addressing only the degrees, not the skills employers are looking for in this highly competitive environment.  You can click here for a digest of those, but they include the ability to “work in a team,” “make decisions and solve problems,” “communicate inside and outside the organization,” and “influence others.”  You don’t learn this stuff in a book.  Those skills, friends, are the difference between a mere “education” and a comprehensive “training” experience, or as one of my seminary professors put it, “information” vs. “formation.”

If we think of a degree as simply a financial investment, a ticket to a job, we are missing the boat.  Well, actually, we won’t miss all the boats – we’ll be on one with the vast majority of other college graduates who act similarly – but unfortunately it is more likely to be one named Titanic or Costa Concordia than Mayflower.

All Aboard! (Image by Carnival Cruise Lines)

What if, instead, we looked at the degree program from a more multifaceted approach?  Certainly we should consider the financial costs, future opportunities, and potential return on investment.  However, we also should consider what we are willing to invest in time, effort, and relationships, and how we can use the years in which we invest these assets to distinguish ourselves from the crowds.

For sure, some college degrees are more marketable than others, but I like the approach of Singletary’s Washington Post editorial better.

“Too many students aren’t sure what job they could get after four, five or even six years of studying a certain major and racking up education loans. Many aren’t getting on-the-job training while they are in school or during their semester or summer breaks. As a result, questions about employment opportunities or what type of job they have the skills to attain are met with blank stares or the typical, ‘I don’t know.’ …A college education is not an investment in your future if you are taking out loans just for the college experience. It’s not an investment if you’re not coupling your education with training. It’s not an investment if you aren’t researching which fields are creating good-paying jobs now and 30 years from now.”

Is an Agriculture degree useless?  Yes, just like all the rest.  Is investment put towards earning an Agriculture degree useless?  Well, that depends on what you’re willing to invest.

[Edit… this article has understandably sparked a bit of “interest” in the Agvocate blogosphere.  As I come across some of the more interesting responses, I’ll link them below]

Agriculture Now

Allen Levine (Huffington Post)

“I Studied Agriculture and I Have a Job” Facebook Page (Over 3,000 members in less than a day!)

Figuring out the Plot

Economix Blog at NYT – This one shows that recent Ag grads have the LOWEST unemployment rate for all except those with education and health-related degrees!

Feel free to suggest more!

Forages: Timothy Grass


This is the first installment in the Forage Managment section of our blog.  For more information on why I’m doing this, click here.

Timothy grass (Phleum pratense, or Herd’s Grass) is most likely the base of hay you buy in New England – it’s the predominant species for most well-cared-for and cultivated hayfields around here.  This is precisely why there isn’t much of it here at the Flying T, though since I have found a few specimens here and there around the property, I suspect that at one time, there was a hayfield.  Since it is such a quality forage, before I started the Forage course at UNH, my plan had been to try to get Timothy back in play in our pastures.  That’s no longer our plan.

Timothy - Photo by Immunetech, Inc

Timothy is indeed an awesome forage – highly palatable, yielding relatively high yields of quality digestible dry matter (DDM), and with a solid mix of nutrients and fiber (running around 10% protein, depending on quality and handling).  However, it’s a bit more finicky than other forages and needs careful soil management to maintain a strong stand.  In addition, frequent cutting or grazing can kill it, which makes it less than optimum as a pasture crop.  As I lamented in this post, I’m in the process of bringing our soil pH and nutrition upwards, and that combined with the heavy grazing pressure in our primary pasture means we need to target a different species.

However, there is one place on the Flying T where we have no shortage of Timothy – our hayloft.  It’s easy to identify by the compact inflorescence (flower/seedhead) that looks an awful lot like a Labrador Retriever’s tail.  Most Timothy hay sold up here is actually Timothy mixed with other common grasses like Orchardgrass and Smooth Bromegrass, and legumes like Red Clover, Vetch and Birdsfoot Trefoil, which bring the protein levels up a bit.   The thin leaves and stems of Timothy, as well as its tendency not to be too dusty, are what make it so tasty to horses, and it doesn’t get bitter (or even toxic) when it matures, like some Fescues.  Like most other grasses, Timothy can get into the 20% range for protein content in the early vegetative state, which is more useful to grazing than hay (and remember, close grazing will kill it).  By the time it’s ready for haying, Timothy’s protein content usually is closer to 10%.

Timothy grows in small bunches and spreads only through seeds, not stolons or rhizomes, and has somewhat shallow roots when compared to Orchardgrass or Fescue.  It does best in cool, moist environments, but isn’t tolerant to flooding (or extreme heat or draught, for that matter).  It can take slightly acidic soil, doing best in pHs around 5.5-6.5.

Timothy is relatively easy to establish, is best planted late summer or early spring, and isn’t too competitive with other species, making it ideal as a companion crop (as long as its companion isn’t too aggressive).  As I wrote above, it does better for hay or silage than pasture, unless the grazing is well-rotated to keep it from being grazed too short and to allow it to recover.  It produces well, but not as much as the big boys like Reed Canarygrass and Orchardgrass.

Foxtail inflorescence. Photo by Missouri Extension

Because of its low dust, high-quality nutrition, and palatable form, Timothy is also commonly sold at pet stores for feeding small rodents like Guinea Pigs and Chinchillas, as well as rabbits and more exotic herbivores.  The prices, though, are pretty steep!  I paid $5 per 40 to 45-lb square bale (delivered, with help stacking) a few months ago.  I just looked up on Petco.com and found a 6lb bag of Timothy on “sale” for $15.99.  That’s $100 – $120 a bale!  If I could manage 3 tons an acre, that’s $18K per cutting per acre.  Hey, maybe I should start growing Timothy…  or maybe I’ll just sell an Internet pamphlet on how to get rich quick growing grass (the legal kind)!