Monday, November 30, 2009

Gleaner Combines

I continue to get a lot of comments and e-mails about my 1967 Gleaner C2 combine. I love this combine. It has a lot of features that were not typical of combines of its era. For starters, it has twin blowers. One is a separator fan and one is a cleaning fan. This made for very good cleaning capabilities and clean samples. Another outstanding feature of the Gleaner combine was the ability to adjust the speed of the cylinder right from the cab! It is a simple affair of turning a large crank that operates a variable speed pulley. It works well with crops that have varying conditions or even at different times of the day. I often adjust the cylinder speed a little higher in the mornings and evenings and then drop it down in the heat of mid-day when things are very dry. This eliminates cracking any grain, but let's you harvest when things are a touch damp too.

Middle Earth Gardens sent me this link to a Wikipedia page about the Gleaner E combine. Gleaner Combine on Wiki . Here also is a page about Gleaners that I have accessed many times...Gleaner Combines . You can scroll over the combine models and a picture and description pop up. The site covers Gleaners from 1922 to present day. It is pretty cool. Another great site for Gleaners is Schmidt and Sons they supply a great deal of parts for the old Gleaner Combines. I have ordered from them before and they appear to be a reputable company to deal with.

I have some video of our C2 Gleaner combine from this past fall. I will post it soon for all the Gleaner fans! In the meantime, here is a re-post of video of the 1967 Gleaner C2 from last year.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Verified Beef? WTH?

I just noticed one of those google ads that pop up under my posts from time to time. It reads "Alberta Beef Producers...Is your cattle operation verified? Protect our reputation of quality."

You are freaking kidding me right? "our reputation of quality"? Is that the same reputation that, in the past or even currently, excludes Alberta Beef from being displayed in the markets of Europe and the Far East? That reputation of quality? As a certain bald headed cartoon character would say...good grief.

Furthermore, what the hell does verification have to do with operating a healthy beef herd? Isn't it the same system of beef production that wants me to "verify" my operation that got us into this whole mess in the first place? Let me tell whomever it is that operates the Alberta Beef Producers Association...I figured out long ago that if you confine cattle in unnaturally populated feed lots for months on end all the while feeding them um, well...what were you feeding them? Oh yes, that's right. Other cows! As I was saying, I figured out a long time ago that you will end up with problems in these types of verified operations.

No thanks to the verification process, I think I'll stay put with my grass-based operation. The same one that enjoys the benefits of healthy, genetically diverse breeds of heritage cattle happily grazing untreated pastures or quietly munching away on their certified organic hay that I grew myself. Or am I doing this wrong?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Winter "Pasturing"

Here is a little explanation of what we do with our critters in the winter. In the past we have fed our animals close to the house where it was convenient to the bales and where we could enjoy watching them throughout the winter months. This is all fine and good but it creates some problems. Firstly, the area where they are kept gets trashed. In the late fall and early spring, before the grass emerges, the cows are trodding about the corral and the ground is completely chewed up and needs to be re-seeded into pasture. Secondly, there is a whole lot of manure and trampled hay to contend with. Even feeding them from a round bale feeder, you would be surprised at how much hay is wasted on the ground. The term "wasted" is a misnomer because we always cleaned the corral in the spring or summer and spread the manure on the various pastures that needed it. This process is problematic because it is terribly time consuming to use the loader to fill the manure spreader and then take the spreader out to the field and actually get it flung! Lots of entire day. Lots of fuel. Lots of repairs to the loader and spreader. Not good.

The solution? Let the cows spread their own manure!

I have to start the tractor each time I need to feed a bale anyways so what's the big deal about driving the bale out to the field instead of the corral in the yard? I simply spear the bale and drive it out to the pasture where the cows are located. I sit the bale on the ground and then move the feeder a little ways down into some clean ground. Then I pick up the bale again and drop it in the feeder. Takes about 10 minutes longer than feeding in the yard.

Now, the cows can poop and trample till their hearts content and I don't have any extra work to do in the spring. No corral to clean. No poop to fling.

This year, the cows are out in the back field where we have grown everything from potatoes to Heritage varieties of wheat like Red Fife. In the spring I will work the ground as I always do and incorporate the manure and wasted hay into the ground for the sake of extra fertility and organic matter. It was a beautiful night last night to go out and visit the cows and take a few pictures for your enjoyment.

I would also like to introduce you to Missy. She is a Galloway and she is by far, the friendliest cow I've ever known. She happily stands munching her hay while I brush her and she was born into a herd of about 200 cows out in a huge leased pasture! It's not like she was bottle fed. Just a friendly cow. Her calf Miley is the same way.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Prairie Mill Bread

The second week of November Prairie Mill Bread Co. recently held a promotion at Planet Organic in Edmonton. Buy one loaf and get one free! It was a huge success with over 300 loaves sold! Great exposure for a great bakery that uses local and certified organic grains. In the photo you can see our little bit of exposure. We supplied Prairie Mill with a framed page of what we are about. They display these frames in their two locations as a sign that they support local farms and locally produced grain.

Ebey Farm Blog...a new favorite

Bruce King writes almost daily on his findings in running a small farm in the northwest U.S. on his blog ebeyfarm. Bruce has a technical background and definitely does his research on various farming topics. A great read.

Pasture Based Pigs

The following is the unedited version of an article I wrote in Small Farm Canada magazine back in 2006. There is some debate ongoing about pastured pigs in several sites including Homesteading Today . Now, you will note that in my article I don't propose raising pigs solely on pasture, but I do believe that it is possible to attain a level of pasture based diet greater than the 60% that I outlined in the article. With some intensive pasture management, I believe it would be possible to hit the 90% mark with a pastured operation. Here, below is the article for your entertainment.

Ground Up
by John Schneider

Pasture based hog producers in Canada do not have the luxury of having their animals actually grazing a pasture for a good part of the year. It is beneficial to duplicate, as much as possible, the conditions of the pasture in your winter feed program. Alfalfa as a major hog feed supplement in winter is probably nothing new, but as with a lot of small farm knowledge…much of what was once common practice has been lost in a few short generations of intensive, modern farming.
Alfalfa contains approximately 17 percent protein. There is a need to increase the crude protein of feed above what any single type of grain can provide. Monogastrics and Ruminants both require protein for growth, reproduction and maintenance. Proteins contain ten amino acids that are essential to an animals’ well being. Ruminants only require a source of nitrogen, or poor quality protein; microorganisms in their rumen can then construct the essential amino acids. Hogs need these amino acids to be readily available in the form of high protein feed. Along with protein, alfalfa also contains high levels of calcium and carotene and can provide pretty much all of the vitamins needed for maintenance. A challenge for most small farmers is to keep costs down while maintaining sufficient protein and nutrient levels for their swine herd. The standard method of feeding barley with supplemental protein and vitamins and minerals does not come cheaply in a certified organic form. The cost, along with a lack of availability has created the need to examine other forms of swine feed.
Two things that are available in abundance in Canada are grains and alfalfa. Alfalfa mixed with barley or wheat is a feed that is quite complete. Another legume feed such as peas can be added where a protein level in excess of 14% is required for gestating, lactating and young hogs. It is advised to use a heritage breed of hog for a pasture based operation as they more easily convert nutrients from a legumous diet. Hogs will take time to adjust to this type of diet; up to two months will be needed for the hogs’ system to begin the uptake of nutrients from a diet rich in alfalfa. Go slow with your introduction of alfalfa to the feed.
The Feed Resource Centre at the University of Saskatchewan refers to a study from 1981 by Pollman et al. This study shows a sow diet containing 50% alfalfa meal resulted in less lactation weight loss, a higher number of live births, better weaning average and a healthier weight gain during gestation. No other known studies have recommended alfalfa at a rate greater than 40% and personal experience has found this to be the limit of palatability for swine anyway.
A Good Recipe for a Young Gilt Ration
Alfalfa Meal or Grindings  40%
Barley 40%
Peas 20%

This recipe will yield a crude protein level of 16.2% and an energy level of about 11,200 MJ per tonne of feed, perfect for the feeding of your replacement gilts. Each pig will require 4-6 lbs per day up until 2 weeks before breeding when the feed will be increased to 6-8 lbs per day. This ration will contain superior levels of all vitamins with the exception of D and B12. With some supplementation of household food scraps containing eggs and/or dairy, enough B12 will be provided. With a larger herd, feeding of a dairy based supplement may be necessary. Vitamin D is manufactured within the body with exposure to the sun.
There are numerous ways to achieve ground alfalfa. Hammer Mills and Burr Mills are easily used to reduce a bale of high quality alfalfa hay to smaller “chunks”. A quick change to a finer screen and running the alfalfa through again will achieve the necessary consistency of a “rough flour”. It is not advised to feed raw alfalfa through the finest screen of your mill in one pass. The resulting green powder can then be mixed with finely milled grain in varying amounts to suit your protein needs and can be fed wet as slop, or dry in the self feeders. The same results could be obtained by soaking alfalfa cubes. Hogs will appreciate a warm porridge on a cold morning and this is one way to make the transition to pastured feed a little easier.
Good luck with your pastured operations and don’t be afraid to ‘go green’ with your hog feed this winter!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cost of Organic Food

I feel like ranting a little.

As often happens I have talked to people recently who dont know that I am an organic farmer. I almost always get the comment once we are on the topic of organic food that it is simply too expensive. At one point in time I would get all riled up and make my points about the amount of work and lost revenue that goes into proper rotations, legume plow downs etc. This would totally blow my cover. Now however, I just politely nod and ask a few more questions as it fits in the conversation.
1)Where do you buy your kids clothes? The answer is inevitably some retail store like Lulu Lemons or Gap or Triple Flip (all great stores by the way).
2) What kind of TV do you own and how many?
3) What kind of car and how new is it?

It always makes me smirk inside when I hear the answers to these questions because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. People are unquestioning when it comes to purchasing a new car every 3 years instead of buying a used one. Instead of doing a little research on reliability and economy they buy Lexus or Mercedes or Audi or as is the case with the latest person I had the discussion with...Hummer. All of these are good cars I am sure, but they are not as reliable as a Honda Accord or Toyota Corolla according to third party researchers and they certainly are not as efficient and they are certainly more expensive.

They are equally unquestioning when it comes to household electronics, clothes for thier kids, gaming devices, etc. etc. They won't think twice about spending $400 on the latest version of x-box or whatever is the latest and greatest gaming system.

What is wrong with people when it is normal to drop almost a grand on a couple outfits for the 9 year old girl in the family yet complain about paying $2 more for a quality loaf of organic bread without all of the processing, additives or preservatives. A loaf of bread whose ingredients were grown in a responsible, sustainable manner. What is wrong with our society when families have children whose bedrooms have multiple gaming systems, computers and tv's but we chose to purchase cheap, processed and plastic enshrouded snacks. I just don't quite get it.

Here's another way to look at it. Is the cheap Walmart food really all that cheap? What about the government subsidies that go into large corporations and large conventional farming and fuel systems? You and I pay for all those billions of dollars through our taxes. That has to be included in the cost of conventional food. The average family spends around $700 per year in government, food related subsidies...did you know that? All of a sudden, locally grown, organic foods are fairly resonably priced and nobody can argue about their value after considering all of the details.

I can see how easy it is for people with common sense to get caught up in the mixed up values that our society thrusts upon us. We are bombarded with the television commercials that make it a common occurance to buy your spouse a lexus for Christmas morning. I spend a good deal of my life feeling just a little bit guilty that I am so cheap and practical. Jeesh.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finished Combining...Finally

Good grief...what a year. Yesterday I went to the field where I still have swaths laying. It is a difficult property that I just picked up this year. Parts of it here and there were tilled, other areas were wild grass and the remaining acreage was alfalfa hay. I did my best to break it this spring, but in hindsight I should have just summerfallowed it for the year or grown a cover crop. As it turned out the areas that were tilled by the owner for his market garden did quite well (aside from the monstrous crop of thistle). The wild areas and the alfalfa areas simply grew up in wild grass and alfalfa despite the spring tillage and seeding of wheat. With the drought, the already established grasses and alfalfa did well and the seeded wheat could not compete for moisture.

I was left with a few decisions to make. Firstly with the shortage of hay in the area it made sense to simply bale up the alfalfa/wheat for feed bales and secondly, the areas that had a half decent crop of wheat could be combined. Then came the October rains, or shall I say drizzle, heavy dews...whatever. Weeks on end of wet soggy, moisture laden clouds hovering over the field. When the sun finally came out a week ago it was too cold to effectively dry anything.

I thought I was pressing my luck with the good weather lately and just decided to combine anyways, dry or otherwise. As long as the swaths would go through the combine I was ok. It wouldn't be enough grain to worry about heating in the bins as I would just bag it in large totes and grind it for feed. So, away I went with the old C2 combine for one last working day of the season (for it at least anyways). Things went well and a couple hours later I had about 80 bushels of damp wheat in the hopper. Everything worked well with the combine.

Now all I have left to accomplish is to bale up the remaining 15 acres of feed. I raked it yesterday,  November 15th and now I can bale it up tonight or tomorrow....or both depending how long it takes with my crappy old baler. Wish me luck.