Posts Tagged ‘smallfarm’

The Flying T Spa


Upon reflection, and after unloading and stacking ~240 bales this afternoon with the assistance of my oldest daughter and Kevin from 3D Farm Products, I have come to the realization that there are few things more redundant than owning both a farm and a gym membership.

This is what 10,000lbs of hay looks like... notice the goats looking longingly at the trailer

That got me thinking more.  People are shelling out good money for gym memberships… why not offer spa and fitness center services along with eggs and meat?

Meet one of our personal trainers as she demonstrates a Flying T signature move – the “45-lb dead-lift-and-heave.”

Step 1 - Select your Hay Bale

Step 2: Twist and Heave

Step 3: Follow Through

Some spas tout their “hot rock” treatments.  At the Flying T, we find cold rocks do a better job of strengthening backs.

Our middle daughter’s favorite exercise is the double bucket lift.

Another oldie-but-goodie is firewood stacking (we also offer splitting mauls to mix aerobics into your strength routine).

The wheelbarrow haul is great for legs, arms, and shoulders, while also building core strength.

Looking for more of an aerobic workout?  Chasing chickens beats windsprints any day.

No chickens were harmed in the filming of this blog

Another aerobic exercise we discovered last week was the midnight horse chase… to set it up, the kids need to forget to close the pasture gate.  The rules for the exercise are that you have to be lying in bed and can’t start chasing the horses until you hear hoofbeats running past your window.

But wait, there’s more!  Goat wrestling, fence pulling, horse saddling, hoof-picking, duck finding… we’ve got endless exercises to keep you trim and fit.

Don’t take a vacation, take a Fitness “Hay-cation!”  Contact us today!

BTW, in all seriousness, if you need quality hay delivered in Vermont or New Hampshire, we highly recommend the Daly Brothers, Kevin and Marshall: 3dfarmproducts@gmail.com.  In addition to their trailer (240 squares or 22 rounds), they also can deliver by the tractor trailer load (about 700 squares).  We don’t get anything for referrals, but tell them the Flying T sent you… and ask them how they liked the jams!

One more note – lots of farmers in New England, including the Daly’s, lost crops or didn’t get much of a 2nd cut due to all the rain late this summer, but costs are still pretty close to last year.  We’re still praying for all those down in the South and Southwest dealing with the drought.  See our poll and tell us how much hay is going for in your neck of the woods!

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David’s Eggs


Our son is responsible for the egg business, and just started selling them.  It’s wonderful to see him so excited to do the work, keep the records, and care for the chickens and eggs.  The text below is from the flyer that he puts into each carton (you can click here to see his webpage).

Hi, I’m David, and I run the egg business at the Flying T Ranch!

I feed the chickens and water them, and I take care of them.  Every morning, I check the chickens to see how much food and water they have, and I look for eggs.  Every morning, I find some!  Then, I wash the eggs and put them in the cartons.  We eat some, and give some away, and sell some to other people.

With the money I make, some of it goes in the egg jar (to pay for chicken food), and some goes in my spend jar, and some goes in my giving jar.  I give the money in my giving jar to people in Haiti.

My chickens are free range.  I don’t feed them any chemicals or other bad stuff, so their eggs taste great!

The chickens roam all around our farm, and lots of times they follow me around wherever I go, so they get plenty of fresh air, exercise, and natural food.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed getting them for you!

– David

Pictures of our First Snow


Pics taken by our daughters of our first snow of the year:

Zip in his blanket.

Jasper loves the cold.

Zip (foreground) and Jasper.

Hugs and Kisses

Jessie thought the snow tasted great.

View out the back balcony.

Occupy Movement Hits the Flying T


I walked to the equipment shed a couple days ago and found that the Occupy movement had hit our farm.

"Occupy Shed" Protest

They weren’t as persistent as protesters in other parts of the country.  By the time I’d come back from occupying my tractor seat and evicting some more Pin Cherry trees from the pastures with my chainsaw, they’d moved on.  Even though it was nice and dry inside the shed, they knew I wasn’t going to feed them there and so they went on their way to forage for food (you can learn a lot from animals).  However, one of them did leave me a symbol of their protest – a fresh egg in the corner of my tractor bay.  Sometimes protests can be so yummy.

Occupy Skillet

This got me thinking.  If the chickens represented the OWS folks, that would make them the 99% (good guys/gals) and me the 1% (evil greedy egg-eater).  But I’m not sure I want to be counted in the 1%.  Maybe I am anyhow.

Occupy Pasture

If we’re talking economic status, I definitely don’t qualify as the top 1% in the US, but I’m also not in the 15% who are below the national poverty line.  In fact, I’m probably in the top half of citizens financially because last April I was one of the only 53% who paid income taxes.

I’m also in the 37% who voted in 2010, the 6% of my generation who are military veterans (and the less than 1% who are combat vets), the 7% who hunt, the 30% who change their own oil, the 95% who don’t go much deeper under the hood than spark plugs, and the 12% who consider faith a vitally important part of our lives.

Occupy Trough

Some of these groups have more significance than others, and a lot of this is a matter of perspective.  Getting back to the financials, 5% of our population in the US is in “extreme poverty” (half the poverty line), so the rest of us are in the top 95%.  If we look at it globally, it’s an even different perspective.  A family of four in the US making $22,350 (2010 poverty rate) is in the lower 15% of the US… but they’re in the top 10% worldwide according to the Global Richlist.  If you currently bring home the US median income (over $50K), you’re a “one percenter.”  In fact, the mere fact that you’re reading this right now puts you in the exclusive 30% of  the population with Internet access.

Occupy Hammock

BTW, if you’ve never spent significant time in the “two-thirds” world, you really don’t know what poverty is.

Still, I don’t feel comfortable with this at all.  Part of it is because when I look at these percentages, what I see is that it is “us” versus “them.”  No matter what X and Y are and what distinguishes between the two of them, the X% vs Y% debates today are taking on the form of ad hominem attacks – accusing “who” instead of discussing “what.”

“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism.” – President Theodore Roosevelt

President Roosevelt was talking about the scurge of those working to assert the specific interests of “German-Americans,” “French-Americans,” “Irish-Americans,” etc into the workings of the United States.  What he insisted was that instead, we needed to work together as a union towards the interests of the nation as a whole.  To extend that idea, I believe we need to stop thinking about who is right, who deserves privileges to be bestowed or stripped, and who has or has not, and instead focus on what is right, why it is right, and how we can do right.

Occupy Barn

So, as I think about the “Occupy” phenomenon beyond my own equipment shed, only one percentage really makes sense to me.  I’m in the 100% of us who should be taking an interest in where this nation is headed.

[Edit:  The following was in my morning readings the day after I wrote this post]

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

– 1 Timothy 6:6-10

May I learn to be content.

Poison in the Pasture – Pin Cherry


Wild Black Cherry (photo: Ohio Extension)

 
Both Wild Black Cherry and Pin Cherry trees are members of the rose family commonly found in Southern New Hampshire.  Pin Cherry is a common first-generation species after logging or forest fires create an opening (thus its alternate name, Fire Cherry) and is one of my chief concerns on our property.  We’ve cut several trees down from the margins of our primary pasture, but the back pasture that we’re restoring is positively full of them.
 

Pin Cherry

Cherry presents a poisoning hazard to all animals, particularly ruminants.  The hazard comes from cyanogenic precursor, prunasin, present especially in the leaves and bark.  When live, these precursors are not toxic, however when the plant dies the compounds break down, producing hydrocyanic acid (cyanide) which is highly toxic.  For this reason, fallen branches and wilted leaves are the most dangerous to livestock.  This hazard can be present in cherry-contaminated silage.  Once the leaves are allowed to dry, the cyanide is lost to the air.  Pin Cherry may contain less of these toxins than Black Cherry (reference). 

Back "pasture" is beyond the far fence... it's essentially a Pin Cherry orchard right now.

Cyanide blocks the body’s ability to use oxygen at the cellular level (the name derrives from cyan, referencing the blue tinge that can occur in tissue without oxygen-enriched hemoglobin).  In most animals, symptoms appear soon after ingestion and start with the body’s physiological response as it attempts to get more oxygen – rapid and labored breathing, anxiety, and stress.  If a fatal dose has been ingested, respiratory and/or cardiac arrest will normally occur within a few minutes to an hour.  First aid exists in the form of a cyanide antidote; however, as it must be given intravenously within a few minutes of the onset of symptoms, it is usually not an available and/or practical treatment (click here for a more extensive discussion on this from the Purdue extension office).

For that reason, prevention is the best cure for cherry poisoning.  We’ve been busy removing cherry trees from areas to which our livestock have access.  In addition, it’s a good idea to check the margins of fields/runouts/pastures after storms, frosts, and/or droughts to collect fallen, branches, and leaves before allowing livestock to graze.

On the plus side, these toxic compounds are concentrated in the leaves and bark, and the fruit itself is edible.  Black cherries can be sweet (watch out for the pit) for eating or processing.  Pin cherries, on the other hand, are quite sour and are best in a sweetened jam or to add tartness to sweet recipes.

Black Cherry wood is also prized for woodworking, though again, Pin Cherry falls short here.  Not only are large diameter specimens rare, but my woodworking friends tell me it is prone to splitting.  However, we’ve found several uses for the copious amounts of wood, and much of what is too small to be good for firewood is in a separate stack to be used for smoking meat next year.  In addition, we’ve been burning all the slash too small for either purpose to use for ash to bring down the acidity and bring up the potassium levels in our fields. 

MORE REFERENCES:

  1. http://www.vet.purdue.edu/toxic/plant46.htm
  2. http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=PRPE2
  3. http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/prunus/pensylvanica.htm
  4. http://www.na.fs.fed.us/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/prunus/serotina.htm

Can Handshakes and the Internet Make Better Food?


Earlier, I explained that while I believe Organic certification has benefits for certain consumers and producers, it also has some inherent flaws and weaknesses.  I believe there is a better solution for many of us.  Like many of the practices we’re finding to help us make healthy and ethical choices in the ways we produce, market, acquire, and consume food, this solution is an old one with a bit of assistance from newer technologies.

The old part of the solution is the handshake.  In lieu of third-party state-managed certification processes, farmers and customers need to know each other and talk face-to-face.  The farmer needs to know what the customer values and desires, in product, quality, and methods.  The customer needs to be able to trust that the farmer will produce according to those values and desires.  Both need to come to an understanding of what this will cost.

Photo by Growmark.com

The best way to achieve this is through face-to-face contact.  Even in this age of smart phones, tablets, social media, and near-instant communication, we haven’t found a true substitute for shaking another person’s hand and looking her or him in the eyes.  Meeting in person allows the best opportunity for the customer to express his or her values and desires not only for the type of food, but also for how that food is produced.  It also allows the producer to present the realities of whether or not he or she is able to meet those values and desires, and the costs of doing so.  If the perfect match of these values, desires, abilities, and costs does not exist, these meetings also present an opportunity for finding the best match through compromise.

I admit, the "Great Compromise" wasn't all about food

There certainly are obstacles to such meetings, especially in today’s world.  Increased mobility, urban concentration, farm consolidation, and the sheer business of life all drive us away from physical, personal meetings.

Consider how car buying has changed in just my generation.  When I was a kid and my folks bought a new car, Dad did most of the research, mostly by talking to friends and going to the library (for those who’ve never seen one – it’s a big building with books in it and these helpful people called librarians who put Google to shame when you ask “What would be a great book for a 7 year-old kid who likes dinosaurs, Star Wars, and hunting?” – they still exist, by the way, and I highly recommend you visit and support them).  A lot of that research was supplemented and guided by his previous experience with different manufacturers.

After he did that research, Mom and Dad (and sometimes us kids) would go down to the local dealerships and take a look at the floor models of the cars they were considering.  Over a couple visits, they’d talk to the salesmen about models, options, and prices, and probably take a test drive before making their final decision and buying or ordering a new car.  The transaction always ended with a handshake.

Spring forward a few decades.  The last new car we bought (and probably the last new car I will ever buy) was while we were stationed overseas.  We did almost all of the research on the Internet, ordered the car through a series of emails (and only one phone call) with a dealership in Germany, completed the paperwork electronically with a scanner.  The car was built, put on a boat, and then trucked across the country to Texas to a dealership there, and we never saw so much as a photograph.

When we returned to the States, my family stayed with relatives while I continued to Texas.  I landed, got in a taxi, and made a cell phone call to the dealership (the first time I had spoken to them) to tell them I was on my way.  When I arrived, the car was in front of the dealership, washed and ready.  It took literally 5 minutes to complete the delivery and temporary registration paperwork before I was driving to base.

To some extent, this is amazing, and in another it amazes me how little human interaction was required to complete such a major financial transaction.

Food is an even more important choice, and it has changed similarly.  Just a couple generations ago, my Grandparents got their milk from the farmer who produced them (to whom my Grandpa had sold the Ford tractor, and for whom my father had worked the past summer).  The following generation, raw milk was produced by local farmers we didn’t know and processed to a dairy we didn’t ever visit, but we did know the “Milk-O” (Aussie for Milkman) who sold and delivered bottled milk and yogurt twice a week.

Nowadays, most people’s milk is produced by immense corporate farms, transported hundreds of miles overland in tractor trailers to huge dairy processing plants, hermetically sealed, and then transported hundreds of miles more to warehouses and then grocery stores before the consumer picks it up from the dairy aisle, rings up the purchase at an automated register, and swipes a credit card, often not even needing a signature to complete the transaction.  In many places, he or she can do that entire transaction online and have the purchase delivered to the door by yet another party.

Don’t get me wrong – this kind of process is essential to a large percentage of our highly-urbanized population.

Yet, for many of us I think we can take the best part of our old ways – knowing who produces our food and how they do it – and combine them with the benefits of technology to overcome obstacles presented by our mobile, urban, and busy society.

As we move forward in our production and marketing plan, we are looking at how we can do that.  One way obviously is through the use of the Internet and social media to market our products.  This blog and our website are examples – with a few clicks, you can quickly research what we produce, how we produce it, and the values behind it.  Through comments and emails, we can discuss better ways to meet values and desires of potential customers.  Resources such as the NH Farmers Market Association,  New Hamphire MadeSlow Money, and others can help us network with consumers and other producers.  As we progress, we may take advantage of other possibilities – maybe virtual farm tours, or perhaps even live “farm-cams.”

These are all great tools, but we will always face-to-face meetings and handshakes at the center of our business.

Organic?


When we first started dreaming about our farm, “organic” was high in our priorities.  This flows out of our family mission, to glorify God in all ways, and to live that out on our farm by raising, managing, and using His creation in a healthy, sustainable, humane, and respectful manner.  Since we planned to produce food for others, organic certification seemed like the way to pursue this mission.

Rhode Island Red Free-Ranging at the Flying T

However, as we started researching exactly what organic certification involved, our dream crumbled a little.  This crumbling was due to two primary factors:

1. A realization that “organic” just wasn’t the utopia we’d imagined, and…

2. The unrealistic requirements for a very small farm to maintain both organic certification and solvency .

At the risk of making ourselves vulnerable to claims of “sour grapes,” I’ll say that the first reason was the most disheartening to us.  Previous to our research, we had held special reverence for the word “organic.”  We’d paid extra for organic produce, animal and vegetable, and assumed a lot about organic certification.

Organic certification requirements are pretty complicated – not as bad as the US tax code, but it’s obvious that the authors went to the same law schools.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because it helps make sure that folks that stamp their goods with “USDA Certified Organic” have met certain standards.  For animals, those standards in a nutshell are:

1. Appropriate housing that permits natural behavior, including outdoor access.  Depending on the animal, this may include a minimum number of days on pasture.

2. Certified organic feed, including pasture.  Again, some types of animals require a certain amount of their feed to come from pasture (I believe Dairy cows are now above 30% of total Digestible Dry Matter, which is a good thing).

3. No antibiotics, drugs, or synthetic parasiticides unless they are published on the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board) list.

4. Organic processing of meat, milk, and eggs.

5. Record keeping in accordance with the regulations.

6. An “Organic system plan,” a lot like a business plan that shows how the farmer plans to maintain organic practices.

7. Measures to prevent contamination of soil and water from production (such as manure runoff).

8. Absence of genetic modification, ionizing radiation, or other such interventions/contaminations.

This sounds pretty good, and it is.  But any time you get a bunch of lawyers to write rules for folks to follow, those folks are going to hire lawyers to make sure that those rules don’t get too much in the way.  Let’s use the organic chicken industry’s lawyers as an example, and to keep this from becoming a book, let’s focus on rules 1, 2, and 8:

Rule #1:  When the lawyers get here, they run square into the 2010 Access to Pasture rule, requiring that any bird raised indoors must have free access to pasture except in certain circumstances.  What this has been interpreted to mean is that a factory organic farm can raise 2,000 chickens in a 100′ x 40′ pen (2 sqft per bird) as long as those birds have free access to outside “pasture.”  This pasture can be enclosed and covered, and doesn’t have to have anything growing on it.  Access can be satisfied with some small openings leading to a few 30 sqft outdoor “porches.”  All the food and water is inside the big room, but if the birds want to leave that behind to go see the reflection of the sun, they’re free to do so.

Organic chicken farm, from http://www.myessentia.com

Rule #2:  Now if you’re running that many birds in that little space, there is no way they can support a majority of their dietary needs on forage.  Any vegetation that might exist at the beginning will be gone in a matter of days, and with it will go all insect life.  So 100% of their feed will have to be what the farmer provides.  Rule #2 requires that this feed also be certified organic, and most of this will come in the form of processed grains from organic farms, the various components of which were grown, harvested, and transported to the mill with fossil fuels, processed using more energy, and then trucked through the distributing train, again with fossil fuels.  Of course, it is possible that this farmer lives next to a grain mill that in turn has local access to organic corn, soybeans, alfalfa, limestone, monocalcium phosphate, kelp, diatomaceous earth, clay, salt, DL methionine, vitamin & mineral premix, garlic, horseradish, anise, and juniper berry (all ingredients of one brand of certified organic chicken feed).

Sadly, the Toyota Prius Combine release date has been pushed back again

Rule #8:  What can the lawyers do with this rule?  They can ensure Cornish Rock Cross hybrid chickens, most likely the organic or non-organic chicken you buy at the supermarket or farmers market, qualify as organic.  They’re not genetically modified, just specifically bred to grow extremely quick (usually harvested from 8-12 weeks of age), with sparse white feathers (easier plucking with no pigment left on the skin), and broad, tender, white breasts.  They also can exhibit extreme mortality rates past around 4 months of age due to heart failure, exhaustion, or skeletal problems.  They taste great, by the way, and I don’t have any problem with folks that raise them.  They just don’t fit into our plan right now.

Cornish Rock Hybrids - from tinyfarmblog.com - notice they're growing faster than their feathers

These principles, of course, also apply to other areas of agriculture, whether producing fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, milk, or other products.

This isn’t to say that organic practices or certification are bad.  We are not to the point yet where we can produce even the majority of our food on our farm, and though we patronize several farms in the area as well as farmers market, we still do a lot of shopping at the grocery store.  When making food choices for our family there, we lean heavily on certified organic produce.  The National Organic Program (NOP) rules and regulations are far from perfect, and subject to a bit of controversy, but by and large, they provide guidance under which which healthier and more wholesome food can be produced.

Not certified organic, by the way...

That’s where the strength of the NOP lies.  Though it’s obviously not perfect, in a world where the vast majority live in densely-populated cities far removed from farms, the NOP provides a framework for consumers to make smarter decisions about the composition and quality of their food.  It does this by holding larger producers accountable to these better (again, not perfect) practices.

Why do I say “larger producers?”

That gets us to point #2.  Besides the fees involved in organic certification, maintaining organic practices obviously carry some expenses that can be difficult for a small operation to bear and still present a price consumers are willing to pay  (Slowmoneyfarm has several excellent posts on this topic, particularly this one).  Much of this is because of competition with larger producers both able and willing to take advantage of the loopholes in the system such as discussed above.

Ability is one obstacle.  A volume producer will always have advantages that come with being able to purchase in larger lots and lower prices while combining and reducing other production expenses.  Still, if small farmers can find a supportive market, it may be possible to approach competitiveness here if they are willing to take advantage of some high-volume practices, though again Slowmoneyfarm does a good job explaining how this is extremely difficult.

That willingness to do this is the second obstacle.  Profitability (or perhaps even solvency) requires taking advantage of practices such as use of non-heritage breeds, stocking stables/pastures/pens at much higher rates, using higher levels of confinement to minimize labor costs, culling rather than treating many sick/struggling animals, and stockpiling feed.

Willingness is the obstacle that stopped us.  We have the facilities that with a bit of modification would make this work with organic chickens and ducks.  It would mean confining them and stocking both our laying and meat flocks at what to us seems an absurd density.  We would need to use non-heritage high-production hybrids for both operations.  Besides the problems these present to our values, such confinement would eliminate the benefits of free-range poultry.

Do you really want to put us in a pen?

We could do this also with meat goats.  Again, we would stock at much higher rates, and manage both the confinement systems and available pasture to ensure they maintained a 100% organic diet.  This would include separation from our poultry, horses, visitors (and probably our kids) to make sure that they didn’t end up eating something improper.

For all of our livestock, this would drive us to breed for size and speed of production, not non-production values such as temperment.

So what is a small farmer to do?

Photo by John Vachon.Oct. 1938. From the Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. America From the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the Farm Security Administration-OWI, 1935-1945.

I believe the solution is an old one.  In lieu of third-party state-managed certification processes, farmers and customers need to know each other and talk face-to-face.  The farmer needs to know what the customer values and desires, in product, quality, and methods.  The customer needs to be able to trust that the farmer will produce according to those values and desires.  Both need to come to an understanding of what this will cost.

The only way this can happen is through local consumption… and that is a subject for another post.