The Observer

I’m just an observer of the world around me.

I observe the pastures for growth to feed the cows and pigs.

I observe the soils for bug and earthworm activity.

I observe the cattle as they graze, lounge and chew their cud.

I’m an observer of the growth and development of piglets and calves.

I observe Mother Nature in all her glory from changing seasons to playing fawns.

I’m an observer of the weather too and rather dislike that Old Man Winter. Cantankerous ass that he is.

I observe the sunrises and the sunsets.

I observe the big blue sky and the birds that float against her backdrop.

I observe the way the leaves twirl in the wind, the way clouds form and pass by.

I’m only here to observe and guide. To take care of all that I’ve been blessed with. I’m here to observe and manage as best I can. 

As the days pass by, I’m an observer of change and I learn to adapt. Days get shorter and colder, they get longer and warmer. The leaves turn red and fall away, to come back another day in a vivid green.

I am an observer of change. Change never fits in a one size only box, that’s what all this observation has taught me.

Change is unique. Each day is different. Each small piece of ground is different. Each blade of grass unique. Each tree with its own stamp of growth and markings. Change happens everyday in every moment.

It’s constantly evolving and shifting to new patterns. As a farm girl this observation has been crucial to me. As change comes, the best adapters are the observant ones that notice the changes in nature. The shifts from one pinpoint to another.

You learn how to predict and assess. Only you that works the land, livestock and more in tune with natures changes will know how to prepare for tomorrow.

Change is inevitable. Working in symbiosis with nature can give you all the keys you will need. Listen and observe.

Planning

I’ve been working this morning on scheduling and planning. It never fails to astonish me how much difference it makes.

Let me explain a little.

Everything I do is carefully researched and planned. Including pastures, budgets, expansions, improvements, time management, and even butchering and sales.

Each year about this time, I start thinking about my following year and following years after that. I start building budgets and looking at income sources. Maybe it’s a new venture or maybe it’s just different marketing options.

Today, I’ve spent some time with pen and paper researching variations on ways to roast pigs. I wanted to explore additional options for exploration into a new value added process. With two sows, I want to explore options on what to do with piglets and where MY best income options could potentially be.

So here I sit. Estimating the number of piglets (the number is 20 at 10 per each sow). Now here are my options: selling weaned piglets for others to raise, raising them for pork and/or supplying roasters pigs for pig roasts.

As a direct marketer, I know it’s better for me to direct market to the consumer. I won’t be tied into the commodity markets and gives me the ability to deal directly with my consumer.

This thought process also made me consider using a farmers market as an outlet.

With my options lined up, I created a roll call list of inputs and listed income.

Example 1: Raising and selling weaned piglets at 8 weeks of age.

I know I need to house, keep and feed the sow. She’s going to take LOTS of feed to keep her producing good milk for the little ones, up to 25 lbs per day. I started with that number at tallied up how much feed she would need. 

Then I added in the feed for the piglets, the water, the set up needed (prorated by length of time I think it would survive). Eventually, after factoring in a small amount to pay myself at $10/Hr and electricity I need for fencing, I came up with a total input cost of roughly $55 per piglet. That number is based on 10 piglets. Any less means higher input, any lower number means they are more expensive.

If I sell them as weaned piglets, the farm will generate $100 income selling at $75/each. $450 selling at $100 each.

Armed with this information, I went and did some research into current market price for a direct sale on piglets. That $75 range end up being the median average. I found some recent sale barn data that said they were selling between $45 and $60 per head.

I would get MAYBE break even price if I sell them at auction and would run the risk of losing money too. If I sell them at $75, I would make a little for the farm. If I tried selling at $100, I better have justified reasons on why they were worth that high end market value.

My safest bet to sell them in a fair amount of time at a decent price is direct marketing. Less fuss but also much less income.

Sometimes you have to weigh in and factor the pros and cons. In a direct market system, it means you need to take time to advertise. You spend time negotiating the sales. You need to talk to buyers, arrange pick up times and be available for the acual sale.

Now I have to build timelines. The first sow is due December 1st. That means the earliest time I would have piglets available would be March 1st. When do I advertise and sell, when do I want them gone by. If they aren’t gone, then what are my options.

Here’s how I’ve laid out a timeline:

  • Born December 1st
  • Market/Advertise February 15-28th
  • Pickup and sales March 1st-15th
  • Reminders will transition into feeders and butcher hogs

For me, it’s not a big deal if piglets don’t sell. I can raise them to feeders or roasters and if they don’t sell there either, I can butcher them as hogs for pork.

Here’s a run down of how I planned out those 10 piglets based off current farm demand:

  • 4 piglets sold at $75 each – $300
  • 3 roasters $450 each – $1350
  • 3 butcher hogs for pork $600 each – $1800
  • GRAND TOTAL SALES: $3250

I’m not making a fortune by any means but the farm is making roughly 15% of that total sales income. In six months, the farm will make just shy of $500 or $50/head average.

Sure, I could try to make more but would the market demand and consumer demand take to those higher prices. I will advertise at higher values and have the ability for some wiggle room. 

The whole point of doing is now is so I will know exactly where my income level will be and be watchful for ways to reduce input costs.

Every little bit helps me stay in business and plan for profit. Planning now secures my future and eliminates the losses of having to send animals to the sale barn. It decreases my risks and increases profitability.

Today is all about black and white and red. I’m planning to stay far away from the red zone! The further away I stay, the longer I stay in business.

Next time you buy local, ask a farmer about how they price their goods. I think most will gladly share this type of information. We want you, as consumers, to understand that we aren’t price gouging. We want to produce a solid, good quality product, but we also want to generate profit enough to stay in business and grow. 

My $500 in profit may end up going to a new barn and nicer facilities or it may end up in goats. It doesn’t matter where it lands, it will be used for profit and expansions. 

If anyone has any questions or needs more information, please let me know.

Pigs WILL Bite

Last year, I start raising pigs. 4 piglets purchase to raise for meat. 

Downfall, the day I went and looked at them, I feel in love with a floppy earred, spotted gilt.

Baby Petunia

She’s well trained, which means she’s spoiled just a little. Okay, maybe a lot.

I can rub her belly and she flops onto her side for belly rubs. I can ride her around her pasture. Kids love riding on the “big pig”.

Miss Ava rides Petunia the Pig

She goes for walks on a halter.

Here I am walking my pig!

All has been great until yesterday. I’m not sure what’s going on with her. She just kind of turned her head and SNAP, insta-crocodile.

She’s bred to have piglets on December 1st. Maybe it’s that her body is going through hormonal changes. Maybe she saw me as a threat. Whatever it was, it turned her into a 2 second instabitch!

The results could have been much worse. One scratch and one puncture wound.

Little Bo-Bo

 
It hurt like hell where she caught me too. 

Here’s the lesson for you to know. Pigs WILL bite. Doesn’t matter sometimes if you do everything right. Doesn’t matter what you do. It can and probably will happen.

I listened to an idiot comment that “I should have worn boots” or “I told you so” for a full 10 minutes before I lost it and not so kindly told them to just shut up.

Here’s another lesson- Pigs WILL bite. Boots will protect you some but not in all places. They can still bite higher and there isn’t much you can do.

Piglets bite. They can be trained, just like Petunia the Pig was. There still isn’t an iron clad deal that says they won’t bite.

The criticism doesn’t do any good either. The negative comments are put downs. We can all call out hind sight or be arm chair quarter backs. Guess what, PIGS WILL STILL FUCKING BITE!

Life on a farm is rarely without cuts, scrapes, bruises, trampled toes and broken bones. It WILL all happen the longer you are around the farm.

It happens. I’m not telling you not to cry. I will, I don’t care. I’m a girl and dammit it hurts. There’s no need to be vicious to the animal either (unless it’s repeated). 

There’s no point in looking hindsight unless you’re standing out there in full knights armor and/or shark proof materials. If you do that, I seriously want to see it! 

It will happen. You will get bite, stepped on, kicked, run over, knocked on your ass, get charged, fall down, pinch fingers.

You’ll learn that washcloths/paper towels  and duct tape work to cover large wounds. You’ll learn that sometimes steel toed shoes are bad…. Ask the people who’ve had them cut off because a fat ass cow literally weighing a ton (close at 1750 lbs) stepped on their toes. You’ll learn that you’ll need to befriend a good chiropractor to reset that slight disjointed shoulder because you worked halter training calves. You’ll learn you need a good doctor that knows when you come visit, X-rays always come first.

You’ll learn to stock up on peroxide, benedryal, gauze and tape. You’ll learn that callouses will form on your hands and rip off while doing hay. You’ll always find that nail where it shouldn’t be because it WILL stab you in the foot.

These things will happen. You’ll learn to roll with the punches and learn how to “Doctor” yourself because that hour plus at the doc office is just too much time gone when you have 1,000 other things on your plate.

You will learn how to handle pain and keep pushing to get things done. You have too because there won’t be a single person to cover for a “pig bite”.

You become a farm woman. A FarmHer, a RancHer. You throw on your paper towel and duct tape to stop the blood and you keep going…. Usually to find the hole in your boot in a puddle. Good thing you carry duct tape to make a patch.

Farming will leave you battered, bruised, crushed and bitten BUT don’t worry, you’ll call them a filthy name and finish the day. You’ll end up with a smile on your face because YOU are still kicking and NO WAY will one damn pig ruin it.

To that “Stupid Bitch” that bite me, I dare you to do it again. You’ll go for a nice country ride to meet a special friend of mine. I’ll wave so long but I’ll be back in a week to pick you up. Bacon sounds better by the day. PS, then I’ll bite you back! 😂

Until next time ~ Doreen

Drought Tips for Pastures

Living in upstate NY this year and managing pastures has been a tricky thing. Under normal conditions it’s sometimes difficult to see why one pasture performs better than another. Drought years force you to dig deeper, especially when one area grows 10x better than another.

The USDA has declared 15 counties in NY as natural disaster zones due to lack of rainfall. I’m right on the edge of a D2 zone.


See that red blob down in the bottom center of NY on the map? Well, I’m not far off the edge of that. I can also tell you that it’s been weeks since we’ve had rain at all. What we’ve gotten over the past month has hit hard and fast, running off as fast as it hits. The ground is so dry in most areas that it works like city streets.

You’ll hear a lot of grazers talk about animal impact. It doesn’t mean that the ground is bare and chewed up by the cattle hooves. Animal impact creates little divots in the ground. Why is this so important? 

Go back to that drought hardened ground. Now add little pot holes and missing chunks of pavement to that city street. What happens after a rain in the city? All the water pools in low spots, pot holes and missing chunks of pavement. Animal impact leaves a foot print mark, like a pot hole. Now when it rains, it gathers and pools in the uneven soil.

What else is important in a drought? Besides the water retention, it’s keeping what moisture you do get. Many have asked me how locally. (I’ll discuss that more in a second)

When starting seeds in elementary school, what did you do? Did you set them on a damp paper towel and slide them into a zip lock bag? Maybe stick them along the edge of a glass jar?

Those jars and bags did big things. They not only let you see the daily development but they also retained water. Remember those droplets of water clingy to the bag?

I started asking years ago about how to retain water in an open environment. Thankfully, I had a copy of Allan Savory’s book titled Holistic Management. In this book, I read information on soil cover and liter. No, not those plastic bags!

That soil cover and liter comes from other living materials. In pasture systems, that is dead grasses that develop over the soil. There’s additional benefits on that but I’ll save it for another post. 


The photo above shows good soil cover. This section of field was the thickest grass we used for hay. Can you imagine that brown liter of organic material working like plastic wrap? Don’t worry, I can’t either. This section of field also regrew almost 2 times fast than the photo below.


Now, this section didn’t perform well at all. The grass is thinner and regrowth was much, much slower. 

The upper photo has two components, 1- The soil cover retained moisture during high stress level times when we didn’t get rain and 2- it actually cools the surface of the soil so it doesn’t heat and evaporate as much as the lower photo.

This process takes years to build but there are some simple short cuts you can do. My favorite system is to allow the cattle to graze paddocks, after the grasses have matured. That maturity is important too. As the cows eat, they reseed the pastures and what left, you handle in the next stage. That stage is to clip the paddocks.

Most farms I’ve seen clip WAY too short too. My clip height is always over 4″ and most times closer to 6-8″. By clipping the paddocks on a graze half, leave half system, you are automatically gaining soil cover. Grazing creates a trampoling effect too which creates more.

That soil cover is what’s generated more grass than anyone else locally had.

Now back to those locals…

I’m the only farm that grazes cattle in at least 15 miles radius around me that hasn’t needed to feed a single bale of grass or needed to supplement with grain. That’s something I’ll talk more about in an upcoming post I’ll do about lessons learned in rotational grazing.

If anyone would like a virtual pasture walk via periscope, send me a tweet @CNYFarmgirl.

Welcome to The Farm Girl Chronicles

Being able to share the things I’ve learned over the years is important to me. It’s sort of a pay it forward system to thank everyone who has helped me become the farm woman I am today.

A little background:

  • Raised on a farm but it was gone by the time I could really learn
  • Left the farming aspect of life much of my life
  • Came back via a soul searching mission that landed me in front of barns and cattle
  • Been farming since 2009
  • Managed to connect with some awesome advisors
  • I learn a lot by trial and error
  • Literally started and built a farm from the ground up
  • Marketing career background
  • Passionate Ag Photographer
  • All round crazy person (Have to be to be a farmer)

As the posts come about on this blog, they will always be about one aspect or another of everything I go through, discover or learn. I’m only going to try highlighting the good but there will be some discussion about the bad portions too.

I will be discussing different aspects of MY life, what I go through personally and what happens around me.

All posts will be mine and mine alone. They will reflect my opinions and perspectives. I’m not asking for feedback or comments. If you do, keep them positive and constructive or they will be deleted.

Hope you enjoy the journey as much as I do!