Part time to Full time Farming

Fooling around on the interwebs tonight, I came across a recent video of Joel Salatin that I hadn’t seen before, on a topic he’s really just begun to expound on in the last year or so.  Maybe that’s not quite accurate – much of the content of the video is well known to anyone who has read Salatin’s books or seen other video clips, or even heard him at a conference.  But putting some of the information together under this one topic heading made a difference in the way I looked at it.

Some points(there were many, these are just a few) that hit me during his talk:

  • all the expertise needed to run a farm cannot fit on one torso.  A farmer needs to be a mechanic, a salesman, a carpenter, a bookkeeper, etc, as well as being able to handle animals and grow crops.  Everyone has skills lacking out of the total package, and needs to surround themselves with people who can help in those areas.
  • bundle chores.  He pointed out that a farmer needs to make sure there is time in the work day for making progress.  If the whole day is eaten up doing chores, the farm will never get ahead.  So get efficient with chores, find ways to cut time spent on routine, mundane, repetitive jobs.  Don’t allow chores to take more than 4 hours of the day.
  • Time and Motion studies.  This is old Salatin stuff.  60 seconds to move a broiler pen.  30 seconds to gut a chicken.  He’s got plenty of examples.  He challenges all of us to know this stuff for ourselves.  How long does it take to put eggs away (I think this means once they’re collected, so basically to clean them, box them and store them)?  How long does it take to feed, water and move the broilers?  etc.  We need to know these things so we know how to improve.  This obviously ties in with bundling chores.
  • Scale.  He spent quite a bit of time talking about the egg mobiles, another well known example from Polyface.  He describes the evolution of the eggmobile from 40 chickens to 800 chickens and the amount of energy, effort, time, fuel, etc that it take to do both, and why scale can make a huge difference for the farmer.  This comes up again in the Q & A near the end, and the answer is worth listening for.
  • Margins.  There are a lot of middle men in farming.  Processing, marketing, distributing, etc.  That’s where a lot of the money goes in commodity farming.  The more of that part of the industry that a farmer can keep for himself, the better.  A small farmer needs to wear more hats.  I find this particular point a little at odds with the first thing he talked about – which was leveraging expertise around you, but that might be because both are probably my weak points.  He went on to elaborate that margins are also about value adding, finding ways to make every possible part of an enterprise contribute to the bottom line.  Even chicken necks and backs.

So with that little summary, I want to credit the Practical Farmers of Iowa, who put on the conference at which this speech was recorded, and who have some great resources for all kinds of farmers.  I first learned about them from Ethan Book of The Beginning Farmer, who is an enthusiastic member.

Here’s the video:

Happy as a pig in…mud

The pigs normally spend a lot of time in their shelter on hot days, but I was out working on the fence for their next bit of pasture, and they are curious beings, so were out “with” me. Though they technically have names, I can’t really tell them apart anymore, especially when they’re covered in mud. Much like the declining energy one expends on baby records after the first child, I have not been keeping track on the calendar of how old these piglet are – but working it out from the purchasing info, they are at 12 weeks, or three months. They look about on track for growth to me, which certainly adds up with the voraciousness of their appetites, which increased a couple of weeks ago. If you look closely in a couple of the photos, you can see they are a little sunburnt behind the ears – probably the one place they haven’t managed to get mud.

These pigs are bred to be raised indoors, but seem to have pretty good pasturing instincts judging from their rooting ability and their clear enthusiasm for eating grass. They are quite different from last year’s pigs, which has surprised me a little even though I should have expected it. For instance, last year’s pigs were meticulous about their bathroom corner. These pigs use all the corners. Last year’s pigs never even considered bashing their water bucket around, let alone trying to turn it over. These pigs have managed it a few times, despite it being hooked to the corner, and wedged in with paving stones. These pigs also routinely turn their feed bowls over, which happened about twice last year. On the other hand, these pigs are less pushy, more amenable to tummy rubs, and more respectful of the electric fence.

Their new pasture is one part of a bigger pasture which I intend to rotate them round, and they should be in the first bit by the weekend. Fence is set up, but I still have to figure out how to get water to them there, and though I’ve rigged it so they can go back to the barn for shade and shelter, it won’t be feasible for the next phase of the rotation, so fixing up some kind of shelter is moving up the priority list. With roughly close to zero carpentry skills this is starting to look more and more like a straw bales and plywood kind of set up, though back in the winter, it was going to be an A frame type hut on skids. Originally I didn’t want to go with straw because it’s actually not very plentiful here, and can be hard to get. However, I have about a dozen bales of pretty low quality stuff that I picked up fairly cheaply to use as spare pig bedding if I needed to keep them in the barn longer, and I will probably use that to build a shelter, banking on the fact that I can get better straw from a friend up the road when he starts harvesting grain in a month or two.

Father’s Day

(Thanks to my friend Petkid for the advice on making circle pictures)

Two weeks of secretive assembly work in the barn, and the younger daughter managed to put together the new barbeque we’d lugged home almost a month ago. She almost got caught a couple of times – her Dad arrived home at the exact moment she was shutting the door one night, and when he asked what she’d been up to, she told him she’d been putting away the lawn tractor after mowing (fortunately he didn’t realize she’d mowed the day BEFORE).

After the delicious Eggs Benny breakfast made by our eldest daughter (with our own eggs and ham, of course!), he was thrilled to meet his new toy, already assembled and ready to cook on. Younger daughter was none to confident about actually firing it up (which I’d forbidden in the barn for obvious reasons), but it passed the test with flying colours, so it’s steak for dinner tonight.

Though it rained in the morning, the afternoon cleared up enough to go for a little beachcombing at nearby Coles Bay, where the tide was way, way out.

All in all, not a bad way to honour the special guy in our lives.