It’s that time of year again. We must look at last year, learn, and plan for this year. We had a very successful year last year. We sold all our broilers at the Billings Farmers Market, raised and sold our first pigs, managed our first herd of cattle, and of course we sold a few eggs. On a little more technical side we build a lot of farm infrastructure last year as well, fencing for the cattle took much of my time, but the big project was building a pig pen (including the 2 acre pasture), and the installation of water lines and automatic waterers for both the new pig pen and the horses.
This year has kicked off with a vengeance, not really though it just feels that way because the winter kept us cooped up a little longer than usual.
I really don't know what to say other than this is pretty cool. Truth be told we are very humbled. In many ways we don't feel like we have been ranching long enough or we are not big enough to be able to represent agriculture in Montana. We certainly would not be here without good neighbors to help when things go wrong, pioneers like Salatin and Savory, mentors like the Hollenbecks who were featured on the cover of the magazine, and our customers who help us stay the course.
Check out the full article.
Oh man, it has been a while since I have posted, but that is because with the end of winter, so too did the farmers hibernation. It has been non-stop since March. We have added two new species swine and cattle. Both of which involved a fair share of prep work, but hey, the grass was green and the sun was shining. Spring is by far my favorite time of year, a little work outside sounds like a good time.
Material for a 1200’ Run (flat ground)
Fence building out here is a little different than my native Louisiana where we tack the barb wire to trees and call it a day. In Montana you have miles of fence without a single tree. A few items this newbie had to learn was: How do you make it straight, How do you make it tight, what spacing to use on your T-Post, and what spacing to use on your strands.
Step 1 – Corner post and pop line
Find the corners of your property or pasture and sink in a corner post at each. Then string one strand of wire close to the ground so that you don’t pull the post over. Use fence stretchers to tighten the strand. After each tightening with the stretchers, walk the line “popping” (lifting it up and letting it fall, lifting it up and down quickly so that there is a standing wave in the line) the strand to make it straight. On a long run this might take 5 or six tightening and on a short it might only take 2. After your line is straight build the rest of the H-Brace at each corner.
The Bracing wire should be double looped from the bottom of the corner post to the top of the brace post. Then tightened with the peice of scrap wood. Do not use an X, meaning do not have two runs of brace wire from the top and bottom of each post. The wire will not tighten evenly and therefore will be loose.
Step 2 T-Post spacing and wire spacing
Up here it was suggested to me to use 20ft spacing. For me that is 4 paces (a pace is when you counts only the left foot. 4 paces would be equivalent to 8 steps). Walk the line dropping a T post every 4 paces. Then walk it back pounding the T-post in.
Step 3 clipping the strands in
The first question is how many strands would you like?
For sheep you will want to run 6 strands (3,3,4,4,5,6 – the numbers indicate how many T-Post nobs from the ground on the first one and from the previous nob on all the rest.)
For cattle I am using 2 set ups:
Here you will see our pasture chicken coop designs. We make no claims that they are the best, but they work well for us. The biggest flaw is the weight, I can move them pretty easy, but Emily struggles a bit. Hoop houses would act like parachutes in the strong Montana winds and I was not comfortable using lighter wood. The pastures are not "smooth" so I did not want to have to build or repair coops regularly.
The short side will be referred to as the "back".
The extension or foot can be see in pic 2. The 1 foot board extending beyond the front edge of the wall
The large front door and waters can be seen in pic 3.
Our movable chicken tractors are a bit different than what you often see on you tube. We designed them with our operating style, wind, and shade in mind.
For a brief description as to why we pasture and move or chickens daily, please see. Why Pasture
As a brief farm update, it is cold at a lovely -5ºF this morning, and a few inches of fresh snow on the ground. It has been a pretty good winter with December being a record snow fall and the temps being low enough not to melt off. Farm operations have been pretty quite, but the planning and prepping is moving into full swing. Our newest batch of laying chicks have arrived and are acclimating. Market research and operational research is in full swing on pork, cattle & goats. The plan is to begin all 3 on a small scale this year, then scale based on what we learn next year.
Of course you should start with why you need a tractor. They are pretty expensive, so the money you put into the tractor is money taken away from your core operation.
Why we wanted/needed a tractor:
We already had a Ford N9, it is a great little tractor. We use it to move snow, plow our little garden, drill post holes, and run the brush hog. So, what we wanted out of our new to us tractor was all of those things with the addition of a front end loader, so that we could move hay round bales and pallets of chicken feed (grain totes as we got bigger). We would save time with the feed and money with the bales.
How did the purchase go? Well, we bought a 1951 Farmall M1, it has a loader and can do everything I needed from a loader, but because of the hydraulic set up I can’t do many of the things I wanted to do with the PTO. Unfortunately, now, instead of having one bigger tractor that does it all, we currently have two tractors each with their own use. Eventually we will sell both and get that bigger (and newer) tractor that does it all.
The hydraulic system
PTO Pump – The Farmall was not originally set up with hydraulics, so a previous owner hooked up the after market hydraulics and loader. They did this using a hydraulic pump that slides over the PTO.
The system works well for running the loader and none PTO implements on the three point in the back. The issue as seen from the picture is that there is no PTO to use once the pump is on the tractors PTO. So I went and purchased the PTO extension that you see on the right. This extension slides onto the PTO, then the pump slides onto the PTO extension and there you go!
Not so much. When hooking up the PTO implement the extension then made the angle on the PTO shaft and knuckles to great, so the system did not work. There are probably some implements that this could work with, but it did not work with the post hole digger, which is a vital tool for most farm or ranchers.
Live hydraulics - Another consideration when purchasing a tractor is whether or not it has "live hydraulics". Live hydraulics are a nice to have if you use the tractor rarely, but it is a major upgrade in terms of operability if you plan to be using the tractor regularly. A live hydraulic system allows the hydraulics to work while the clutch is engaged. Without live hydraulics the tractor either must be moving or in neutral with the clutch disengaged in order to use the hydraulic implements.
The 1951 Farmall M1 unfortunately does not have live hydroponics.
It is pretty warm, with daytime temps in the 60ºs and nighttime temps in the 30ºs. We are completely done with the meat birds for the year. We have partnered with High Five Meats, Strike Farms, and Thirsty Street brewery to start "Farm Fresh Wednesdays". Customers can come pick up their vegetable share from Strike Farms, and depending on what type of meat they want they can get their meat from High Five Meats or Blind Dog Ranch.
The hens are still laying, but we wish that we had at least 100 more. A project for next year I guess.
So this will be my first blog post ever, so for any pro bloggers please forgive my armature posting. Also my two professions are engineering and farming, oh and I am from the south so y’all will have to forgive my poor syntax. That being said hopefully you can learn from our mistakes so you can make different ones, and learn from our successes and repeat them.
I am going to skip the “who we are and what we do”, that is what the rest of the website is for. So, today I will just give a brief farm update. Next week I will share a mistake that involves a tractor and a fair share of frustration.
Farm Update: Today is September 10th 2016 and we got the first snow of the year. We currently have 2 batches of 75 birds on pasture. Fortunately the ground temp is still high enough that their water did not freeze. Doing chores in the snow and dark this morning, however, does make me excited that our processing date for half the birds is this Thursday and the other half only 3 weeks away. Next year I will make sure that operations are finished by mid-September. The egg layers are still laying away and snug in there coop with loads of fresh straw. The rest of the farm is buttoned up for winter. Also I got to give the new chainsaw a workout last weekend. We still need a little more firewood, but we are well on our way.