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Kevin's Thoughts!

Maybe you agree, maybe you don't… find out!

Buy land…

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2011
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Buy land...

/* Originally posted on June 22nd, 2010 */

I think the future definition of wealth will be based on what ones physically owns, not numbers in computers. The wealthy will have nice homes on large farms (hundreds of acres, but not thousands unless your talking sparse Texas range ranches).

Family and community will become much more important as interdependancies grow. People may actually become nicer to each other since pissing someone off may prevent them from helping you someday when you need it.

People will become valued for the services and products they can produce locally, and exchange locally for things they need.

Too that end, we have bought the 121 acre farm mentioned extensively elsewhere in this system. I’m trying to establish it as the traditional old-time family farm and fully expect it to be complete with cows (done), chickens, perhaps some pigs and/or goats, etc. We have planted enough fruit trees to actually significantly suppliment our diet and continue to plant more. We have bee hives for honey and have found honey works pretty darn well as a sugar replacement (duh!).

We still need to build the real house out there, although what we have would suffice in an emergency (say the collapse occurs in 18 months instead of the 5-10 years I’m hoping for).

I’d like to add a 10,000 gallon rainwater cistern, and get enough solar/wind power together to at least keep a freezer and refridgerator working. CFL lighting requires a trivial amount of relative power, as does a few ceiling fans for comfort.

All it takes is time and money.

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Short Term Emergency Power

– Jun 22, 2010 –

For the short term, buy a diesel generator for the farm (see farm posts). Since people like to eat, I could see farmers getting a fairly big share of any rationed diesel.

For the long term: commercially built solar electric with home build wind power.

Why home built wind? Unlike a solar panel, wind systems have a lot of moving parts. That means they will break. One needs the ability to fix them without a dependance on parts or custom molds that only exist in other parts of the world.

I think draft horses will make a big comeback in rural areas. An hour ride into town (10 miles?) is very acceptible. At the slow speeds, our roads will hold up for a long time too.

– Jun 28, 2010 –

A generator of some type is probably my next major investment. We own a 5KW gas unit which I’ll be taking up to the farm soon – but thats good for tens of hours only (it will run for about 8 hours on 5 gallons of gas).

I’ve been looking at larger units, in the 25KW range, that could pretty much run the house. A tractor PTO unit is one of the cheaper ways to go – but after reading one of the owners manual, I’m pretty sure I’m not thrilled with the concept of shutting everything down every 8 hours to grease the PTO shaft. Voltage is likely to fluctuate a fair amount as load does unless someone is monitoring it full time.

Standalone diesel is an option, but much more expensive. Still, if people want to eat, they will make diesel available to the farmers, so the raw fuel is likely to be available.

Most of the units I’m seeing are propane/LP based. I suppose I could get a large tank and use that. The biggest electrical loads in my house (based on breaker current) is the Range, the Water Heater, and the GSHP. If I had propane anyhow, I could put a gas range and water heater in to keep the supplier comfortable. Suspect such a tank would run a generator for weeks if not longer. The range and water heater are really optional loads anyhow. The GSHP, at 30amps, is pretty light duty honestly (unless, of course, you don’t have those 30 amps).

Lots to think about.

Long term, one needs a hybrid solar/wind system, but thats another post.

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Prairie and Farm updates (2010)

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2011
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Prairie and Farm updates (2010)

I’ve been exchanging mail over the past few days with Roger at highland@rochester.rr.com. He is a small breeder of Highland cattle. I’ve been looking at Belted Galloway and Highland cattle as a breed that MIGHT do better of nature pasture than the Angus raised in the area. I found the letter below very informative and worth posting.

Why cattle? The prairie needs something to keep it disturbed. Bison are the natural choice, but they are NOT domesticated and I won’t expose my family to those dangers. Trying to establish dominance with a 1800lb bison bull is a losing battle, and every animal lower in the pecking order would try the same after you lost to the bull.

Highlands have the advantage of horns. Advantage? Horns? Yeah, at least for prairie management. Apparently they love to use their horns to knock down things like cedar trees – which they consider a treat.

So, more information to consider. Still under the impression this will only be doable after we relocate to the farm and can establish a direct marketing program. Still, the “Nature Friendly Meat Producers Organization”, if it receives its grant funding, might help.

Kevin, 1/14/2010

From Roger:

I and many of the people I know are small breeders. We calve 6-8 animals a
year.

We strictly grass feed and that is the niche market we sell to. We sell
split quaters locally to our customers. We only butcher spring and/or fall
after the flsuh of grass is dying down. So we don’t feed hay all winter
only to butcher – we wait until they eat the spring growth off. We don’t
butcher until they are 2 -2.5 years old a function of slower growth with
grass feeding and the Highland breed.

Grass fed is a popular market – do some searches on the internet and you
will find a lot of info. I don’t feel a little guy can compete in the same
market with people who shave 2 cents off a pound of feed and that makes a
difference in their feedlot profits.

Last fall our price was $3.65/lb hanging weight. We have build up a base of
enough customers who want what we sell.

Search for Grass Farmer on the net. Only periodical devoted to the subject
that I know of. Published in Miss.

BTW one of the requirement fot Certified Angus beef is not that it be Angus
but that it be a black skinned animal. I am told their are Highland
breeders who only raise black animals so they can sell to that market.

What really causes the ding is being different. If everyone raises Angus
then Charlois or Hereford are looked upon with suspicion.

– Feb 15th, 2010 –

Well… my Prius has been converted from a city car to a country car. Hmmm, perhaps I should back up:

As usual, we went to the farm this weekend. It had been three weeks, a week longer than usual, and Mama was not joining us due to a sore back (Evia’s mother has been visiting us from Russia since last December). So, given there were only 6 of us, we opted to take the Prius instead of the truck and save 3X in gas.

Now in the St. Louis area, we have had a bit of snow. Schools shut, but not work (which is good, since I’m currently working a hourly consulting gig), and its mostly melted off. Got a bit north of Columbia and saw more snow. By Kirksville we were seeing a LOT more snow. Still, the highways were good, even Highway 11 out to the farm. The gravel road turnoff was a bit more challenging, however the Prius has a limited-slip front-end (stability control, easy to do given the electric motors powering each wheel), and we didn’t have any real issues.

Got to the property and couldn’t see the little dip between the road and our driveway. Opened the gate and started up, and got about 6 feet. Bottomed out. Managed to rock it back and forth a few times and make a little progress, but it was clear we were not going to make the 900 feet of driveway to the house.

No problem. Nice warm night – must have been 34F with no wind! Walked to the storage shed, got the tractor out, and behind it, the Kubota RTV, and used the Kubota to shuffle the family to the house. Almost got stuck once, but stepped on the transmission lock and managed to back out. No way would the Prius have made it. By 10pm we were safe and warm in the house.

Next morning I got up fairly early, cranked up the tractor, and used the bucket (on float) to pack a path the Prius could manage. Got Nastya to her job without much fanfare, but was real happy we had that traction control (and relatively new tires!). Rest of the day went without much fanfare – the weather was great and we did a bit of sledding. Spent the evening preparing to do some tile work on Sunday.

More snow Saturday night. No problem. It was light fluffy stuff. Took Nastya to work Sunday morning and felt like we were participating in the winter Olympics – snow was flying everywhere – and we were slipping a lot, but nothing to be concerned about.

Alas… it kept snowing, and now it was a bit cooler, about 17F and windy. Not nearly as much fun. Got home from delivering Nastya and decided it would be wise to read the owners manual and figure out how the Prius could be towed. A bit odd, but there is a screw hole for a tow hook in the front bumper behind a cover panel. More snow. Big drifts. No good. Decided around 2:30pm that we should clean and and go home. Lots of delays. Electric fence springs were tangled. Storage shed doors didn’t want to close. More snow. Kevin starting to get REALLY concerned. Unpacked the tow hook prior to packing the car. Made sure I had a shovel handy. Finally ready to leave.

Starting up the wind-swept ridge without problems, through the first gate and stopped to close it behind us. That was a mistake. Gate closed. Car stuck. Tried backing up! That worked, but going forward wasn’t. Tried pushing. Made it 3 inches. Frag! Walked through 18″ drifts to the storage shed, pulled the Kubota out. Pulled out the tractor (with the tow chains I located earlier), went back to the Prius, installed that tow hook, and (yes, with the Prius in Neutral to prevent transmission damage), towed it the 900 feet to the main gravel road. While going back to close that fence we opened while backing up, a neighbor showed up with a tractor. Nice. A bit late, but its the thought (and effort) that counts! Got everything restored and the neighbor lead us to the state highway, just in case there were some drifts. Pretty easy drive from there home. About 25 miles north of Columbia the snow was gone.

Think I’ll leave the tow hook installed. Makes it look like a “Country Prius” now…

– March 15th, 2010 –

From an e-mail exchange with Frank Oberle. Note NEMR – North East Missouri Region

1) I believe we established that NEMR grows grass well.

2) We both believe that native grasses should, without intervention, yield
higher levels of dry plant material than non-native cool season grasses
when viewed from a multi-year perspective (e.g. they are adapted to
survive in all of our glorious weather extremes).

3) Usage as hay would require replacing the lost nutrients exported off
the farm (classic farmer knowledge: its much better to feed your cattle
your neighbors hay than sell your hay to your neighbor. Doing so benefits
your fields at their cost. Kind of dog-eat-dog, but true.).

4) Conversion of solar power -> grass -> beef is pretty darn efficient and
yields a marketable product.

5) Left to graze more field than they need, cattle will selectively eat
what they prefer – benefiting the weeds (“weed”: Any plant not earning
its keep!).

6) Use of Management Intensive Grazing is complex and, well, Management
Intensive! There is significant cost in internal fencing, water supplies
(especially in my case where I might have to pump water uphill), etc.

7) Management Intensive Grazing does, however, solve the selective eating
problem, tends to evenly distribute manure, and minimizes fly and parasite
problems since all manure get a month to decay before the cows come back.
Soil disturbance is also minimized (the classic statement is that its not
the 1st step, or the hundredth, but the thousandth that damages the
ground). By rotating the cattle, the ground is given a break too -
including the fact that they will walk all over it to graze instead of
just going to the pond and hay stack.

8) Patch burn grazing sounds good on paper, works well for wildlife, but
is likely to have selective grazing issues.

9) “Making hay when the sun shines” is a wonderful tradition, but is also
a huge capital and labor expense. Minimizing the need for hay reduces
input cost, making for more profitable cattle ranching.

10) Fescue has serious poisonous fungus problems that peak in the spring
during rapid growth, and during seeding, but are pretty minimal in the
winter. Thus heavy fescue based fields work reasonably well for winter
“stockpiling” (and the dense growth helps for that as well).

11) Native grasses need grazing too to open holes, spread seed, provide a
bit of very natural fertilizer, etc.

12) Kevin needs to make money, but isn’t going to make a living from
cattle ranching 121 acres, so its just supplemental income. e.g. He
doesn’t need to maximize annual profit but does need to have a profitable
farm!!!

This leaves me with a few thoughts:

A) Shy of owning 10,000+ acres and letting buffalo do their thing, I need
to figure out how to manage cattle as a substitute.

B) Management Intensive Grazing has advantages, but the thought of mowing
everything down once a month has got to impact the life cycle of the
plants and provide a different, but no less impactful, selection pressure.

C) Patch Burn Grazing addresses the selection pressure, since most of the
ground (75% if using the recently recommended 4 year cycle) is left pretty
much undisturbed by the cattle. For that 1 year in 4 its being grazed,
the selection pressure is going to be pretty high.

D) Perhaps a combination is required, borrowing a bit from both: Define a
half-dozen or so fields: #1 is timothy/brome CSG for early spring and
fall feeding. #2-5 are patch burned 25% a year, with cattle allowed to
graze for 6 weeks or so (note fly problems after the first week), then
rotated. Doing so, starting in a different field every year would provide
a 16 year cycle (4 fields, 4 portions per field) from intensive grazing
minimize overall selective pressure. Field #6 is fescue, stockpiled for
winter feeding, supplemented with purchased hay as needed.

E) Doing so will restrict the carrying capacity of my farm, but might not
hurt the profit/acre since input cost are greatly reduced. Normally, my
roughly 100 acres of fields could support about 25 cow/calf pairs. Field
#1 wouldn’t have to be huge, since the spring growth is lush and it would
get the rest of the summer to rest. Fields 2-5 would need to be sizable
since only 25% would be targeted for grazing. Field #6 would need to be
sizable since the dry plant matter would need to feed the cows most of the
winter (November/December->end of March?).

What to do?

– March 15th, 2010 –

I’ve had a few follow-up e-mails with Murphy. Much MUCH to my surprise,
pasture management, at least with the inclusion of warm season grasses,
appears to still be under much debate.

Apparently my burn of last year followed by immediate grazing was most
unusual (side effect of nobody telling me not to do that!). It was also
rather successful.

My gut tells me that:

1) We need to burn WSG as part of its management
2) We need to integrate cattle grazing as part of the WSG management
3) QED: We need to figure out how to integrate cattle grazing with burn
management.

I fear that if we take the approach that WSG is just higher cost, but “hey
guys, you can charge more for the beef”, we will be fighting an uphill
battle… It doesn’t benefit wildlife at all, but I suspect I could raise
grass fed beef CHEAPER, or at least easier, on traditional pasture. After
all, if I only have fescue, I don’t have to worry about selective grazing!

Somehow, we have to figure out why having WSG as part of the program
reduces cost, offsetting any extra effort it might require.
Sustainability might be part of that. Maybe just wildlife habitat and an
improved eco-system is enough? Cattle ranchers care about quality of life
too… Maybe an improved ecosystem would result in healthier cattle,
fewer flies (since there would be more birds to eat them!), etc.???

– June 22nd, 2010 –

Well… I’m taking advantage of being between jobs to spend more time on the farm. We are making some serious progress on the house. Most of the drywall is up (one closet to go!), kitchen was rearranged for the new scaled down 1 floor plan, current master bedroom has all the cedar paneling up.

I’m getting a bit concerned about the bees. I seem to be reacting worse and worse to getting stung. This weekend they got me through my socks (boots next time!), 3-4 times in one foot, twice in the other. Both feet swelled and remain that way a day later. Last time I took a couple of stings to my hand and it swelled as well.

GRP program continues to progress, although it feels like it will take some time to come to conclusion.

We did lose power for about 2 hours after a storm went through. That’s making me think about a diesel generator.

– Jul 15th, 2010 –

After a year of contemplation, I opted out of the belted galloways and opted for their horned “cousin”, Scottish Highland.

We know own (4).

Please visit http://highlandcattleforum.org for lots of details.

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Off Grid Power

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2011
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Off Grid Power

/* Originally posted on 12/30/2009 */

I’ve been fascinated with off grid power production most of my adult life. In fact, I’ve been following solar and wind for at least 20 years, and for at least that long being told how $1/watt solar is just 4-5 years away. Still haven’t seen it, although progress is being made. Of course, I’m looking for systems with long lifetimes, not some of the systems where the cells degenerate over 5-10 years. They may be cheap, but not if one has to replace them.

Recently I’ve reviewing where wind power is at. There appears to be two camps: HAWT and VAWT (Horizontal vs. Vertical Axis Wind Turbines). HAWT are the typical “propeller” on a tower systems seen. VAWTs are a variety of designs from “egg beaters” to various cup designs to flap systems – but basically think of the aerometers in most weather stations. HAWTs tend to be the most efficient in uni-directional wind, in no small part because of their high towers. Think wind coming off the great lakes or off the ocean. VAWTs excel when the wind is multi-directional, and can harvest a LITTLE BIT of power from lower wind speeds. Alas, power available in wind is a function of turbine cross section (how much air is “swept” for wind) and the CUBE of the wind speed – so at low speeds, there simply isn’t much energy available for harvesting.

As of late 2009, VAWTs on short poles (placing them above head height as a safety and small efficiency gain) are still quite expensive. A “WindSpire” VAWT rated at 1.2KW and advertised to generate 2000KWHs in a year (perhaps $200 worth in 2009 dollars) cost $10K to purchase and have installed. Current Federal Tax Incentives reduce that to $7K, but its still a 35 year payback. This particular unit is also ONLY designed for Net-Metering – feeding power back into the grid, not stand-alone usage – although off-grid models are expected in 2010.

Larger units have better payback times, but its very questionable if in NE Missouri any unit could pay back in less than 10 years – even $50K+ ones.

So what to do? Well, building small units is always possible. Ed over at http://www.windstuffnow.com has a VAWT turbine capable of generating 500Ws or so in a strong wind that is easily home built. Suspect 50Ws is more likely in normal conditions, but that’s ok. I’m a firm believer in redundancy, so making 4-6 of these would be a fun project with expenses much less than a single commercial unit like the WindSpire. His design should also scale up fairly nicely – perhaps to a 8′ tall unit 4′ in diameter. Best of all, Ed answers E-mail!

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GMO for Biomass?

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2011
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GMO for Biomass?

/* Originally posted on December 14th, 2009 */

1) Do we want to optimize growth for harvestable biomass? If so, GMO may
help.

2) Do we want to optimize growth for carbon sequestering in the root
system? If so, then THIS branch of GMO research may not help, but others
could.

3) Do we want to mono-crop biomass to optimize productivity of a single
species? I believe that to be THE key question.

Most of modern agriculture is designed around mono-cropping and driving
towards maximum yields for that crop. Our equipment is tuned for it, our
mindsets are fixed on it. I think we all are a bit guilty. Who hasn’t
looked at a recently hayed field and think “Isn’t that pretty!” – it looks
like a big lawn! How many of us see that field and think “OMG – that’s a
wildlife disaster!”???

As long as we are in a mono-crop/use artificial fertilizers to replace the
nutrients we harvest/maximize production and economic yield mindset,
things like GMO are going to have a play. The use of GMO to tweak
fermentablility of corn is proof of that: monocropped, specific target
usage, premium price for farmers, ethanol craze – you bet there was
acceptance of GMO “highly fermentable” corn seed. Of course, you have to
buy that seed every year, so there was economic incentive for the bio-tech
companies to create the seed in the first place.

When we talk about using Prairie fields for bio-mass we have a couple of
problems.

First, its bio-diverse. That means our equipment isn’t as well
suited to harvest it as a highly tuned mono-culture tool would be.

Second, its bio-diverse. That means that some species are likely to be at
their prime for harvesting and fermentation at different times than other
species.

Third, its bio-diverse. That means that any fixed harvesting schedule is
going to favor some species over others, eventually changing the mix in
the fields, which would require retuning our processes. People don’t like
such variability.

Fourth, its bio-diverse and those raising it are
wildlife conservation oriented. That means that optimal harvest type and
techniques may well be in conflict with wildlife goals. Think GRP – you
can’t harvest until July 15th, but most hay grass peaks in
nutrition in June. July hay is still good (I have many, many bales of
it!), but its not as good as June hay (lower protein content, less
digestibility, etc.).

Fifth, its not sustainable. You can’t remove plant
mass and the associated nutrients on a regular basis without replacing
those elements not associated with rain and air. Every good farmer knows
you want to bring hay to your fields for your cows to eat, not sell it to
your neighbor. The first improves your fields, the second, however
slightly per year, degrades it.

So what to do? Two options occur to me:

1) Create a sustainable program where items like mulch are added to fields
on a regular basis to replace nutrients removed as bio-mass. NPR ran a
report on that option, as part of mulching to sequester carbon and
generate revenue (some industries would pay to dispose of their waste, our
mulch, on our fields), last week. This would be key. Perhaps it could
even be closed cycle, with the fermenting plants returning their waste
material to the farmer (which I think they currently sell as cattle
feed?). In any case, some source of nutrients would be required, and
would have to be provided in a balance with nutrient removal for
sustainability. That’s just simple chemistry.

2) Shift from Biomass generation to meat generation. The trick here is
providing equal grazing pressure to avoid the cattle favoring one species
over another. Management Intensive Grazing would do that… but as the
name implies, is manpower intensive. Supplemental mineral blocks and the
like would go a long way to replacing the nutrients taken off the land
when the cattle are sold. Again, recycling the cattle waste, in the form
of bone-meal and similar products, would be required to make this practice
sustainable.

I do believe sustainability is the key: having a system in place where all
material going out is balanced with new material being added back into our
environments. The good news is that the primary elements – CO2, water,
sunshine, even some nitrogen (bacterial nitrogen fixation and compliments
of lightening storms), come to us for free. The rest (trace elements,
phosphates, calcium, potash, etc.) needs to be balanced or eventually our
fields will fail.

Currently there is a grant proposal pending that will form the Nature
Friendly Meat Producers Organization if approved. It is my hope, as board
president of that organization, to consume some of its energy addressing
this issue as well as its primary goal of creating a value add marketing
label.

Please share your thoughts!

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Nature Friendly Meat Producers Organization

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2011
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Nature Friendly Meat Producers Organization

/* Originally posted 12/4/2009 */

I’m strongly associated with a federal grant request to form a Nature Friendly Meat Producers Organization whose primary goal is to create a value-added labeling system for those producers who raise cattle in a wildlife friendly environment (e.g. on mixed warm season/cool season pastures – not 100% fescue ones). We will see if that grant receives funding, but it was my intention to push the organization towards utilizing breeds of cattle that flourish on mixed vegetation. Belties are on the top of my list for that. We have a packaging facility – Special D meats up in Macon that is interested in helping and several other sponsors, so its feeling like this might actually become reality.

I’m in the process of converting 30 acres of fescue to warm season grasses this winter. The fields were recently sprayed with roundup for a winter kill, and will be frost seeded in January. Alas, it is likely to take 2-3 years for this field to become completely established and productive. Once done, I’ll still have ~70 acres of mostly cool season pasture.

/* 8/22/2011 update */

The grant was refused several years ago, simply not enough money to do everything in the grant system.  Such grant proposals require a real human to sponsor them and that was me.  To this day, we continue to get calls and catalogs from food processing companies…

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Its the 11th hour…

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2011
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Its the 11th hour...

/* Originally posted in November, 2009 – but still very relevant */

Highly suggest anyone reading this watch the videos at:

http://blog.green-life-innovators.org/2009/11/07/the-brutal-end-of-the-growth-paradigm/

I’ve had the concerns reflected in these videos for 30+ years and suspect its really 11:59pm (the meaning of that will become clear when you watch the videos). Its not good news, but that doesn’t mean its not real.

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Prairie and Farm updates (2009)

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2011
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– Jan 20, 2009 –

My goodness! Its been ages since I’ve posted…

Our basement house/office building is proceeding. We have the basement poured and subfloored, but the carpenter hasn’t been back in over a month to roof it and finish making it weather tight. Apparently the weather has been bad. Still, it would be nice to be able to get started on making the place livable – at least for weekend purposes.

As I’ve been reading up on cattle breeds, I keep noticing Galloways as a breed that would seem to fit well into our eventual grass-fed cattle business. The cattle are required to maintain the prairie – replacing the native buffalo’s role. Why not just raise buffalo (bison)? Well, to be blunt, they are not domesticed, and quite dangerous. They also require MASSIVE fencing improvements (think steel posts in concrete and chain link fence vs. barb/electric wire fences).

When I looked into Galloways, a sub-species, Belted Galloways (black fronts and rears, white “belt” around the middle) showed up pretty frequently. These are unique looking cattle. Alas, the local feedlots and cattle yards shun away from anything other than Angus and pay less per pound when presented with much else. No reason for this really, but they do, and since everything is sold via auction, one has no control over it if you use those avenues for sale.

My partner recently pointed out to me that its about the same amount of work to raise 100 cattle as it is to raise 10 or 20. The downside to that comes into play when you only have enough acerage to raise 30 or less cow-calf pairs. It simply means that my cost of production are going to be higher than a bigger guys, if everything else is equal. So… the trick is to make make things NOT equal. I believe Galloways (probably Belted since they are available and make it pretty easy to tell my future cattle from the neighbors) will help in that regard. They are reported to be better grazers than the more traditional breeds designed for corn finishing. By better grazers, I mean eat a wider variety of vegetation and in more diverse environments. This, in turn, may reduce my need for hay feeding, which in turn allows me to graze more acres and hay less. By nature, the Galloways are suppose to be easier birthers too – meaning less losses due to birthing complications.

Another way to make things “not equal” is to direct market the beef. I’m still exploring options along that path, and have noted that some “Grass Fed Beef” farms simply sell half or full cows directly, and have their customers work with their processing plant directly. I have to admit, thats clean and simple. The plant we have used for our own beef even comes to the field to drop the cow, totally eliminating any stress to the animal.

For now, I have contacted a few Belted Galloway farms, and had a wonderful response from one lady, Mary Sapp of Bear Creek Farms in Columbia Missouri. She has invited us to come out and chat, which we are tenatively planning on doing the 31st.

One a related note: while talking some of this over with my partner, we decided to actually read the label on the “Cattle Charge” feed suppliments we have been using to train our cattle. This is a commonly (VERY commonly) used suppliment used to help socialize the cows to make them easier to handle. Our cows come up to us with a shake of the bag. They LOVE the stuff and it really seems to help them grow quickly when we compare our calves to those that have gone without it. Alas, clearly marked on the lable is “Medicated” – yep, it contains growth enhancers. Looked up the drug, and its considered generally safe, but there are notes about sudden heart attacks and the like if the cows get too much. We have also heard of cows dying with such symptoms. Suspect like people, different cows have different tollerances to it. I had to wonder if perhaps thats why beef consumption isn’t advised for people with heart conditions?

If we do direct market beef, it will at least be done as “Natural”, if not “Organic”. We will vaccinate – just too many other herds around not to do that. I don’t have anything against antibiotics used to save a sick cow, but know that would instantly keep me from selling the beef as “Organic”. I still need to learn more about any other differences. In any case, “Cattle Charge” usage would void “Natural”, at least in intent if not legally. So I guess my cows will grow up slower. I hear that makes for more flavorful beef for those that care. For those that are just looking for a low price/lb – they are welcome to go to Walmart.

– Feb 1st, 2009 –

Yesterday, January 31st, 2009, we had the pleasure of visiting with Mary & Les Sapp. They run Bear Creek Farm and raise Belted Galloways for sale. They have a small herd of about 18 animals which they raise on their 37 acres, along with some land they rent. VERY nice people!

Mary provided us with literature on Belted Galloways, and Belted Galloway Society information. (Membership is $50 the first year, $40 thereafter, with a binder full of information on Belties provided to new members – our applciation will go out on Monday).

Mary and Les have been raising Belties for about 20 years now. Although they started their business raising Herefords, they shifted over to Belties long ago and have been very pleased with them since. Currently, they start breeding their heifers at 18 months. Thats older than current common practice, but since starting this, they have not had to assist in a birth in over 10 years! Mary and Les target fall births – it fits their business cycle better than the traditional spring season.

Bear Creek Farms business model is to raise the cattle for direct sale to other cattlemen – not for beef. Each of their cows, heifers, and bulls are named. The steers feed their large family… Mary is quite proud that Belties now live in all 50 states – quite the change from when they started the business and had the honor of being the western most breeder!

Although we didn’t talk price, the market for this breed is quite strong, with live cattle selling for substantially more than beef prices (2X or more?). Mary thought that this would hold for many more years, and was a better business model for small farmers than raising the breed for beef. I did a quick Google search and found 6-year old unregistered Belted cows for $500 each – about the same as any other breed. Of course, one never knows exactly what they are getting when buying such animals. I suspect registered animals go for quite a bit more, with show quality animals fetching the premium prices – but requiring the effort and expense of showing in order to win the coveted awards.

Les commented that the animals are very containable using electric fences for interior seggregation, but he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the concept of using electric fences for exterier fencing. They also raise horses, and alternate fields between their belties and their horses, so need stouter fencing.

Conclusion: I still remain of the opinion that this breed is desirable and very compatible with our prairie efforts. The concept of raising them for sale to other cattlemen is interesting, but I’m not convinced its practical for us – at least not until we live full-time on the farm.

– April 1st, 2009 — No foolin!

The family had a grand spring break, spending March 20th through March 27 out at the farm. The weekend before, Evia and I planted 250 trees – during the week, Evia and Nastya planted 350 more of the Missouri Department of Conservation seedling.

I disced fields for the first time in my life – preparing fire breaks for the scheduled 60 acre burn on April 10th.

Nastya did some real work on the tractor – after I showed her how to stab, lift, and move a bale of hay, I had her move 17 more of them about a 1/4 mile to an area that should be safe from the burn.

House work continues – with any luck the final carpentry will be completed today. We met with the HVAC guy over spring break and he delivered the main unit. Believe he will be finishing up soon too – so we will be able to heat the basement. Of course, the weather is getting warmer, so the need is decreasing, but I’d still prefer to work a basement heated to 68F than one at 45F. I did manage to get a lot of stud walls built, and started working the plumbing. We caught a shower door on clearance at the local Home Depot – 50% off and exactly what we wanted – great luck!

Actually, once the house is weather tight (again, hopefully today), it will be interesting to see the relationship between outside and inside temperature. Most of the house is underground, with just the east end fully exposed. No insulation though, other than below the concrete slab. One thing at a time.

Nastya has a new best friend: Bobby. Bobby is a yearling heifer, 100% black, that eats from her (and my) hand. She tends to lead the rest of the herd around – once they see her eating, they come to see if they can get some. Bobby’s Mom is almost as brave, and occasionally eats from our hands. Only #2 (a white faced cow) has also joined that club.

Frank had a great time pulling up grass (and eating it!). At least it wasn’t the hair on my arms – another favorite “pull toy” of his…

Gabby is more at home on the farm than in the city. Its truly amazing how brave she is – often walking 500+ feet just to see whats going on, or to catch a ride back in the RTV.

We had bought, but did not get started on building, a playset for the kids. Donnie did get an area flattened for it on Thursday – but the weather turned and we decided to come home a day or so early and relax.

– Nov 19th, 2009 –

My goodness… its been 6 months since I updated?

OK. Lots to tell.

1st – the basement house is coming along. Its weather-tight, we have a working bathroom, shower is installed but not yet tiled (so isn’t working), most of the walls are up, we have insulated the ceiling with R19 and most of the walls with R13. We have some furniture and appliances (stove, refrigerator, freezer, kitchen table, recently beds (goodbye air mattress!)). We are sleeping there now when we go out there.

Property wise: We burned 60 acres this spring which went real well. It was greening up in 2 weeks and you couldn’t tell it was burned 2 months later – beyond it looking better. Lots of flowers, more warm-season-grasses, etc. We are looking to have 30 acres sprayed with roundup yet this year to winter kill the fescue, and will frost-seed that area in January. A second grass-only spraying is scheduled for early spring to set the fescue back even more. Oh, we have had (4) dry-hole structures built to help with some erosion (lots of cost-sharing with the government on that project).

I lost my job after 25 years, but expect to start a new consulting career on Monday with my first client.

Family is healthy and happy. Nastya is working at a local dog farm when we visit our farm, so is making some money and keeping busy. Evia and I need more sleep – Frank is 16 months old now and is still waking us up at night, but Gabby, at 3 years old, is sleeping just fine. Alas they both like to get up at daybreak, so it cost us dearly to burn midnight oil.

I’ve become more active in the Missouri Prairie Foundation and am getting involved in “Nature Friendly Conservation Branded Beef” as a steering team member of the “Nature Friendly Meats Producer Organization”. We are trying to come up with guidelines for raising and marketing value-added prairie raised beef. We desperately need a way to make prairies a greater source of income than pasture alone.

Well… guess that wasn’t as long as I expected. Mostly we have been working on the house out there over the weekends…

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On Consumerism and the American Way

Posted by Kevin on August 22, 2011
Posted in Economy  | Tagged With: , , | No Comments yet, please leave one

On Consumerism and the American Way

/*  Originally posted on November 14th, 2008, but I still agree! */

Somehow, I think we Americans took a wrong turn many decades ago. Its my understanding that near the end of the Great Depression, we were encouraged by the politicians of the time to go out and buy something to spur the economy. It worked! However, back then, most things we bought were American made and therefore the money circulated within our own economy. Over the years, the percentage of our economy that has been based on consumerism has grown, and the percentage of products we purchase that are American made has shrunk (just try and find non-food staples that are Made-In-America these days).

This just seems wrong. Consumerism should be the fruit of our labors, not the most significant economic factor. We need to get back to making things, producing, and using that income to buy things.

Of course, having a balanced budget, and making payments towards retiring our national debt (now over $28,000 per man, woman, and child), are priorities closely related to shifting the balance of our labors.

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Rental Business - 2008

– September 5th, 2008 –

My Corporate Preparation bill came in, along with all the paperwork to file our rental companies 2007 taxes (we used a 6 month extension). $1700!!! Alas, I’m told that’s about right. I was surprised on how much detail was required, including all expenses broke down by each of our six units.

The rental company itself is just doing so-so. Everyone actually paid on time in July, but not since. We had one late payer for August, and two this month – including that one that still hasn’t paid August. They are on the short road to eviction if they don’t make good REAL soon. Seems like everything is breaking too. So far this summer I’ve replaced two water heaters, had one fixed, replaced a stove and a dishwasher, and am dealing with a leaky roof now in one unit. Good thing I’m just looking to build equity, because I’m dying cash-flow wise. At least there are people in all the units – our last one took 9 months to rent (which is a big part of why our cash-flow is horrible). Honestly, I don’t think I would have done this if I had a working crystal ball two years ago. Now that we have the farm, I know I wouldn’t. In fact, as units free up, we plan on selling, leasing-to-own, or leasing each and every one of them. Hopefully by the time I retire, we will be out of that game.

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