Header image alt text

Kevin's Thoughts!

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

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.

Share

Prairie and Farm updates (2010)

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

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.

Share

Off Grid Power

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

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!

Share

GMO for Biomass?

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

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!

Share

Prairie and Farm updates (2009)

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

– 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…

Share

Prairie & Farm updates (2008)

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

Prairie & Farm updates (2008)

1/2/08 Prairie update

Had a great meeting with Grant, John, Chris and Frank on 12/27. We walked and talked for about 3 hours and still didn’t visit all the property. I went wondering if I should try and figure out a way to buy the adjoining 229 acres, and left realizing 121 acres was quite enough property to deal with! That said, I’d still like Mr. Darr to sell me his 20 that is wrapped by mine – both to straighten out my property line, and to give me a larger “back yard”. Good thing too – because I had NO idea how I could have raised enough to buy that 229.

Speaking of the Darr 20, one potential change in plans: We are now looking at the south-west section as a potential homesite – up near the Darr property line. Its a lot flatter there, which would be nice for gardening. Its in view of the Darr house, which means Sonny could easily see our place and notice if anything was amiss. Its also back off the main road, which I’m told has less “undesirable” (read thieves and poachers) traffic than the eastern north-south road.

Evia & Gabby walked with us a bit, but Kirksville had its first snow, and she didn’t bring the right footwear. That snow got me stuck twice, once on the eastern road (oddly, I was slipping on the gravel, not the grass I had pulled partly into), and once when I tried to turn around after seeing Sonny just to say “Hi”. He laughed after rescuing me again! At least this time it was in front of his house…

Came home and created a new website: http://www.mysticplains.org It contains photos of the area, links to relevant articles, and the like.

Unfortunately, Justin got bogged down in paperwork back at his office and could not join us. He is talking about writing an article for the MPF Journal though about our efforts.

Near the end of our tromping around we stopped and looked at the original Simler cabin. It had been moved from down by the spring (still not EXACTLY sure where thats at) up to the top of the hill by the road. Alas, the movement wasn’t kind. Not sure what shape the cabin was in when it was moved, but most of the exterior wall boards are now wavy, and all the plaster inside has broken off. There is an old single bed frame, a table, and a few other odds & ends in the place. It can’t be much over 8′x10′ in size – and it has a hole in its roof and missing windows. Its debatable if we should fix it up – might be fun, and honestly, it is about as big as a family tent – it might make a nice place for sleeping bags. We will take a better look and grab some measurements the next time we go up.

Frank and Judy had us over for some WONDERFUL deer chili. We chatted for awhile, met one of Franks friends, and eventually headed off to the Days Inn (its a bit older than the Holiday Inn, and this was our first visit – but we like it better). Swang by Home Depot and picked up 500lbs of sand to add some weight to the truck bed. Good idea… just wish I thought of it before the trip (and getting stuck twice). We had about 5 inches of snow that night, but the paved roads were pretty clear in the morning. Of course, we were running late, and with the new snow it would have been foolish to try and get to the property, but I really wanted to show Evia the potential homesite. Alas, between the two, we decided to head off to Dadant in Hamilton Il and pick up the bee keeping supplies we wanted.

Managed to get all (5) brood chambers and all (10) supers built over the following weekend. We have assembled about 15 frames with foundation as well. Also bought some primer, white exterior paint, and associated supplies for painting everything. Still (20) brood frames to build and (100) super frames, plus some other misc. hive stuff. Good news is that I have several months to get everything ready. The bees are expected around April 9th.

Oh, back to the land: LOTS of lake opportunities varying from a couple of acres to over 10. We spotted two bad erosion areas – those will be the first terrascaping activities we embark on. There are a LOT of small trees, from 1-10 years old that need to be removed. Roughly something like 300/acre – at least on the eastern south side. The pond dams have trees on them as well. Anything under about 6″ in diameter will be cut down. Its going to be a busy spring.

Kevin

End of January Status

– Jan 30, 2008 –

1) I’ve spent way too much time arguing with myself over a 40′ vs 45′, Regular vs. High storage container. By dropping the rops on the tractor, it will easily fit in a Regular. A 40′ should also offer plenty of space, so I’m opting for a standard 40′ container. Now I just need to figure out where to put it… At 1/10th the cost of a garage, and much better security, this is simply the right way to go.

2) I plan on going with a Kubota M5040 (50hp) tractor. I want a full size mostly for safety – I can spread the tires out, and the unit will have a lower center of gravity. 50hp ought to be enough – if that proves out wrong, I’ll trade it in later.

3) We are proceeding with the fence line cleanup and mechanical tree removal. Cost share paperwork has been signed and sent in. Still awaiting a bid from the bulldozer guy to do the work.

4) Blueprints are being created for our future house based on sketches we provided. The intention is to only build the basement with sub-floor now, and temporarily roof it over – but having the full plans will ensure I get the foundation right! The company doing the work is taking into consideration cost effective building, like keeping rooms to 12′ wide (or slightly less) for carpet, and is designing around the topography of where we are planning on putting the house – including aspects like our desired root cellar and future greenhouse.

5) I’ve started work with Stark Brothers nursery to design our orchard. Looking to have a variety of fruit trees that will bear fruit over as much of the growing season as possible – along with grapes, nut trees, currants, berries, etc.

– Feb 4, 2008 –

Ordered a Kubota M5040 tractor, lift, brush hog, and auger along with a Kubota RTV 900 this past Saturday. Still need to order the steel storage container. Although the rops drops easy enough to allow storage in a regular cargo container – its going to be close on clearing the exhaust pipe. I’ll probably just get a high cube and not worry about it.

We did visit the property on Saturday and determined where we were going to put the storage container, and reviewed our general house location as well.

Kevin

– Feb 5, 2008 –

Putting the check in the mail today for a 45′ High Cube storage container. It will be placed on the north side of our old hay shed, in plain view of the helpful, watchful, eyes of our neighbor – Sonny Darr. We sent direction and expect it to be delivered well before the other equipment, which will be useful.

Next steps:

1) Await cost-share approval. John Murphy is driving the paperwork. Once approval is received, Donnie will start clearing the trees from 40.5 acres, remove the overgrown fenceline between the Shoops and us, and replace that fenceline once the woody cover is removed.

2) Apply for Soil & Water conservation funds in early March during the sign-up. Our first project will be to address the severe erosion in the southern fields near the creek.

3) Stake out where we want a road. No rush on this project, but it would be nice to have a road prior to building the foundation house. Frank has a recommended contractor for building the road – so this shouldn’t be much more than putting in the guiding stakes, and making some phone calls. Basically, we will come off the Persimmon county road along that ridge, past the old hay shed, past the storage container, and back towards where the house will be.

4) Attend a Burn Workshop on March 8th. This is tentatively scheduled on the Shoop property, probably the section across the gravel road from our place.

5) Receive the tractor, RTV, and other tools.

6) Dig holes for all the fruit trees we are currently planning. Fetch the trees. Plant the trees – primary task for our Spring break week on the property.

7) Finish preparing for the bees. The hives are built, but I have a lot of foundation work left, and painting to do. Bees are expected in April, but everything should be setup well before then.

8) Clean out the spring and see what happens.

9) Start brush-hogging the firebreaks around the fields. This is a “build up fuel” year, so I can work on this all summer long if I so desire.

10) Remove trees from the dams.

11) Perhaps do some lake planning – that will be the next land based major event, but is probably a couple of years off.

12) Build the basement house – maybe this fall, I’d be surprised if we got to it before then.

Frank is also going to take some Amish friends over to the property and see if the old hay shed is repairable. If so, I’ve requested blue steel roofing – that will match our country home in Siberia.

– Mar 5, 2008 –

When the parents of Carrol Simler settled in the area two generations ago, they lived in a small cabin south-east of the tree line intersection in Section 1 (of the John Murphy map). Along that east-west tree line is a small spring. Sonny Darr showed me the remnants: a semi-circle of brick in the hill-side, a few moss overgrown boards and some corner post set in the ground. All rather cool! Apparently this once flowed enough that Carrol’s parents used it as their primary water supply for cooking and cleaning. Sonny remembers going by as a kid, when their was a platform, pipe, and tin-cup hanging nearby. Apparently it was a favorite watering hole for people wanting a cold drink in the summer.

Today its just a wet spot. If the water is flowing, it takes more than a minute or two to notice. I’d like to try and restore it to its former glory, but am unclear if I should just take a shovel to it or do something else

– Apr 10, 2008 –

Just a quick update:

The fence cleaning project between the Shoop property and ours is done with the exception of reseeding (in the works).

Last I heard, the contractor was still waiting for his shearing attachment to be completed, but WCC will commence once it has.

We have a 900′ gravel road in.

The “domestic” area is fenced in with a 6-wire, 6 foot, electric fence.

We pulled position 19 on the MDC SWCD funding lottery. 20 projects are expected to be completed this year, and about that many are held-over from the previous lottery – so we may not get funding in 08, but should in 09.

Bees are expected tonight/tomorrow and will be installed in their new home this weekend.

House Architect is SUPPOSE to show up Saturday to figure elevations and adjust the designs appropriately.

We are expecting to arrive around dusk on Friday to install the bees, and will remain until Sunday early-afternoon.

We have signed the paperwork to get public water installed.

– Apr 22, 2008 –

Two weekend ago we established both bee colonies on the farm. We checked last weekend and one was doing well (combs being drawn, and eggs laid). The queen never made it out of her cage on the other hive. Very depressed workers remaining… We ordered a replacement on Monday and it arrived overnight. We will take her to her new home tonight.

If all goes well this year with the two hives, next year I’ll bump up to five. I’m really not out to maximize the honey (or the work to process it!), and rather hope they swarm regularly. Doing so will help repopulate the local environment.

Eventually, when one of the hives has problems, with five I’ll be able to rebalance them. In the worst case, if one or two die out completely, hopefully one of those swarms will find the empty hives and repopulate them for me!

– May 27, 2008 –

Managed to get off work early Friday afternoon, before the 3-day Memorial day holiday. By 3:30pm we were on our way to the farm! The weather forecast was, however, poor: Partly cloudy on Saturday, Thunderstorms Sunday and Money. Fortunately, the weatherman isn’t any better at forecasting than I am at guessing at the stock market!

Friday evening we dropped off supplies at the farm, then headed to Thousand Hills to check in. This was scheduled to be a bit of R&R along with the work we had planned – at least from a Corporate Work World. The laptop was left at home!

We slept in a bit on Saturday, wondering where the sun was, and eventually headed over to the farm. First things first – we checked out the bees, added more sugar-water to the feeders, and added another hive body on the strong colony. The weak colony is apparently queen-less. I hooked up the brush-hog, wondering if it was too wet, but decided to give it a shot. Bush-hogging went fine. I spent about 6 hours on the tractor and managed to make a half-dozen passes around the inside of the fence, got around the berries, and zig-zagged around all the fruit trees.

Had a nice working dinner with Donnie Yantis, our bull-dozer man, starting cattle rancher, and general go-to guy for getting things done. For instance: last Thursday he ran our water line and installed a spigot for use. That came in handy, the replacement plants we put in, and a half-dozen of the trees, needed the water.

Sunday I was pleased to get my gas string trimmer running. It hadn’t been started in years, but seems to run fine on the 40:1 gas/oil mix the chainsaw uses. Trimmed around the electric fence, found a few problems, and trimmed around the berries and fruit trees. Sun came out in the afternoon – it was both hot and humid. Managed to get nicely sunburned. Finished the day off putting the earth anchors in for the berry rows. Cooked half-pound burgers for dinner and collapsed.

Monday was a beautiful day, cloudy in the morning, but cooler, sunny, and less humidity than Sunday. Stopped by Sonny’s and checked out his few-hour-old new donkey – very cute. Spent most of the day spreading mulch and watering plants. OK, OK. I spent most of the day driving the tractor… Evia and Nastya spread the mulch…

Going to have to read up on colony splitting for the bees. I don’t know if I can get away with splitting once to establish a new hive, and at the same time, combining one hive body with the weaker hive to get it jump started. Hopefully in a few weeks the strong hive will have populated the 2nd hive body and I’ll have that option.

Need to start pushing BigLogs for some blueprints, at least basement ones, so we can get that project started. I’m hoping we have enough left to get it poured, roofed, and weather proofed this summer.

– Jul 16, 2008 –

Had the pleasure of spending two nights over the 4th of July weekend camping on the farm. Got to give Evia a lot of credit, she was 2 weeks away from giving birth to our son and the first night we didn’t even have air mattresses. The weather was GREAT, days in the 70s-80s, clear nights in the uppers 50s – and this in July!

A fair amount has happened since my last post:

1) We have bought some cattle: 5 cow/calf pairs, with 3 heifers and 2 steers. Donnie is running the cattle with his and the combined herd is doing just great.

2) We split and combined the bee hives. 3 weeks after I added the 2nd hive body to the queened hive, it was 90% full. We took that new hive body and made it the base for the queenless hive – using a sheet of newspaper between them with toothpick holes in the paper. We replaced the 90% full hive body on the queened hive with yet another empty hive body. Two weeks later, both hives were doing fine. That’s faster than a new queen could be born, so I’m guessing, just guessing, that the queened hive might have been preparing to swarm and had some queen cells in the making. In any case, we added (3) supers to each a week before the 4th of July visit. I checked them on evening on the 4th visit and both hives were fanning their hives, although the old queened one had a few more bees. A quick peek into the top of the supers really didn’t show any activity, but that was expected after only a week. With luck I will get out there around the 22nd or 23rd and perhaps see more.

3) We have ordered (3) more hives and sent an email to get (3) more packages next spring. Also ordered some ventilated inner hive covers – that should help cool the hive.

4) We have staked out the house, and Donnie (who is my General Contractor) has obtained concrete quotes for the basement. He is still working on septic tank, subflooring, and roofing quotes – but I believe we are getting close to getting started.

The fruit trees and bushes are doing well. 47 of the 50 fruit trees are doing great, 3 are struggling but still alive. MUCH better than expected. One of the three almond trees finally budded out – they are problem children, we have historically had problems with them so I’m happy one made it. One other is iffy, the third is dead. I’ll probably replace all (5) problem trees with replacements next spring.

– Sep 5, 2008 –

Wow – it seems like forever, but its only been 6 weeks since my last post. Lets see… whats changed:

Franscious Harry Carpenter was born on July 17th! That’s by far the biggest event!

My mother-in-law from Russia spend the month of July with us. That was a great help, and we miss her a lot.

I gave up on BigLogs.com ever getting me biddable house drafts. That was painful, since I sent them $2500 in January, and they won’t refund it (admittedly, they have put in work, including a site visit, but still I’m out the primary deliverable).

About 3 weeks ago (August 11th to be precise) I engaged Cyril Courtios at RCM Cad Design up in BC (just across the US Boarder into Canada). Last week he sent me a pair of drafts – one a full log and the other a log first with a post&beam second floor. Although the post&beam option had preliminary bids substantially lower than the full log, Evia and I decided we wouldn’t really be happy with it. So, we will either build the full log shell now, or if it ends up we can’t afford it, wait until we can. I was very pleased with the drafts, spent an hour on the phone with him tweaking them, and received virtually perfect ones two days ago (less than a week later).

I’ve now sent those drafts out to a variety of bidders, including Big Logs, Coast Mountain Log Homes, Summit Hand Crafted, The Log Connection, and yesterday, Yellowstone Log Homes. All of these produce Hand Crafted, Swedish cope style homes. Summit and Yellowstone all produce milled log homes, although it is unclear if Yellowstone pre-builds theirs like Summit can (which means the doors and windows are pre-cut, electrical chases are pre-cut, and the package comes in a couple-of-day reassembly order. Yellowstone has been around awhile, but didn’t indicate which species of wood they used – still, it felt appropriate to get at least two bids for a milled solution.

I’ve received one bid back already, and am anxiously awaiting the others. I need to work up an overall house budget that includes doors & windows, roofing, septic and other basics to make the place weather tight. My gut-call is that our ability to afford the shell now is going to be very, very, close.

Hmmm. The basement is scheduled to be poured the 3rd week of September, if the weather permits excavation and allows the concrete work to start. Yeah, yeah… that means I really need to make the shell call vs. basement house call next week, or very soon thereafter. I know. I know.

Guess that’s enough for now.

– Oct 3, 2008 –

Went out to the farm last weekend. My tractor had received its 50 hour service, and the dealer rebuilt my brush-hog after I snapped the main shaft. Hooked everything up Friday and tested it, went to brush-hog Saturday morning and had a flat front tire. Thorn trees and tube tires don’t go together well. Given that this was my third flat, I punted and had the front tires foam filled. Get to try them out this weekend. Now I just need to worry about the rear mega tires…

 

Share

Java Chickens

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

Java Chickens

Found a great article on breeding Java chickens:

http://www.javabreedersofamerica.com/p/black-javas.html

Why do I care?  Well, Javas were once one of America’s favorite mulch-purpose chickens: considered good eating, good laying, and very hardy.  Today they are one of the dwindling breeds that actually remember how to brood their own chicks (sad, isn’t it?).  At that, brooding is a characteristic that is actively trying to be selected for again.

So what happened?

The usual – those that wanted meat chickens breed for meat and meat only.  Now we have chickens that grow from day old hatchlings to 5.5lb roasters in something like 38 days.  They grow so fast they can’t carry their own weight for more than a few steps.  Those that wanted eggs breed for egg production – and now have birds that produce close to an egg a day if feed enough.  Those that were sloppy in cleaning their birds wanted white pin feathers because they didn’t show as much.  All these thinks took Black Java’s almost to the point of extinction.

Fortunately, the interest by small farmers is recovering heritage breeds has lead to the slow recovery of Javas and many other farm species, like the Highland cattle we raise.  Lots of work to go though!

 

Share
Very old Blog posts about our search for a farm (2007)

Some old blog entries from Selfsuccicientish.com, copied here for continuity:

—— August 28th, 2007 ——

Hi,

I’m Kevin and I live around St. Louis, Missouri, USA. As of this post, in August of 2007, I’m 47 years old, have (2) daughters from a previous marriage, and an infant daughter and step-daughter from my current marriage. For the past 16 months, I’ve been blessed with having Evgenia (she’s from Omsk, Russia) as my wife and partner.

Part of my blessing has been being exposed to life in other cultures. Beyond any doubt, I have seen happiness as MUCH lower levels of consumption than the typical American family.

When I was young, like at age 18, I had purchased 20 acres of land with the intention of growing walnut trees for my retirement fund. Spent a fair amount of time watching the solar and wind power world be born and develop. Unfortunately, those acres were sacrificed to my divorce. Fortunately, both my new wife and I like the concept of having a “country place”, and maybe a retirement home there, so the watching and planning has started anew.

Currently we are looking at ~40 acres parcels in north-east Missouri. Often we find such places have Amish neighbors. Much to my surprise, given my mostly “loner” existence, I find the concept of living in an area where people are about as self sufficient as possible in todays world rather attractive.

Such a place will be complicated, since I require a day job for now (thank you court system for awarding my ex lifetime alimony) – but it will be a start: a place to plant fruit and nut trees, grow watermelons and berries, bees, etc. I just won’t be able to do anything that requires daily attention, since we will likely only be there for weekends and holidays. Thus, I consider myself “ish” in that we can’t leave our “civilized” life behind – at least not yet.

The wife and I are already looking at highly efficient homes, currently focused on timber-frame & SIP designs.

I’m starting to refresh my knowledge on PV and Wind systems.

Its silly for us to be “off-grid” from a short-term economic stance – we have power lines running alongside every property we look at; and the local power company will runs lines free to any home greater than 800 sq. ft.

That said, I’d like to minimize my use of coal/gas powered electricity and am willing to buck up the dollars to do so.

Because we are looking in a marginal wind area, class 2 except in the summer, when it degrades to class 1, I’m thinking a combination solar/wind system would be best.

For those who have looked into this, power storage is a big piece of the cost – for that I’ve contacted VRB Power. They claim they will be looking into the rural home/farm market space within the next 18 months – a time frame that works for us.

Curious if three-way systems are doable with commercially available parts: Wind, Solar, and Grid. In my ideal world, I’d have a small, say 24 hour, battery subsystem that would be primarily charged by wind and solar. When that became depleted, I’d switch over to grid, and/or use the grid to charge when there was neither wind or sunlight and the batteries were low. On the other side of that equation, once the batteries were at full charge, excess power would be fed back into the grid. A 2007 Missouri state law requires power companies to accept such input, although my reading is that I would pay retail and be credited something less (that however, is unclear).

Total budget, including a 5KW Pacwind Aeolian wind turbine and a few KW 16-panel tracking solar system is about $50K. Totally not cost-justifiable today (the interest on $50K would pay for any power usage I save), but an acceptable amount to pay for peace of mind.

Cheers,

Kevin

—– August 28th, 2007 —–

Shirlz wrote:
Hello Kevin – and welcome to the site.

I can’t offer any info on the power side of things but I’m sure someone will be along that can.

Best of luck finding your 40 acres – and I do hope that you’ll keep us up to date with progress Mr. Green

Well… we have our eye on 35 acres. I need to sell my stock options to pay for it, and I got greedy. I had a sell order in, the stock jumped $5, and I “pigged out” and canceled the order waiting to see what it toped out at. Next day it hit my sell price, went up another $0.25, and has been well below that ever since. We tried putting an offer in with a sole contingency on stock price, but that didn’t fly. Once things bounce back, and I have faith they will, we will make a cash offer.

Thinking about starting with a Post & Beam garage with an 40 sqm apartment on top. It would suffice for weekend stays, and give us some experience building with Post & Beam and SIPs for a fraction of the cost of the main house. We will need a garage anyhow, and septic systems, cisterns (rain and greywater), etc. so much of the cost will eventually need to be expended anyhow.

Cheers,

Kevin

—– August 29th, 2007 —–

Thomzo wrote:
Hi Kevin

Good luck with your project. How exciting. Do let us know how you get on. Starting small with something that you are going to need anyway sounds like a great idea.

Maybe in the long term you can rent the apartment out once the house is built. Or you might find someone who is willing to work the land and keep an eye on the place while you are away in exchange for free accommodation.

Zoe

Now THATS an excellent idea. Only kicker on the second part is that the place wouldn’t be available for us to use on weekends. It will only be a small studio apartment (say 40 sqm or 400 sq ft), but it would suffice for us after the house was built until we moved out there permanently. I could rent the house. Its country, the income would be small, but having someone live there is of value.

—– August 30th, 2007 —–

Regarding the project: We are off to visit a Timber Frame manufacturer/builder (frame only) this Saturday. Turns out we have one about 50 miles from the property we are looking at, which would be very convenient. If we don’t like them (and I almost scratched them off my list until they agreed to use a different SIP maker), my top two companies are in Kansas – about 200-300 miles away. Still not bad. Many in the USA use Canadian companies or companies from either coast of the USA (1000+ miles away from my location). In any case, the visit should prove educational.

I have started asking public aquarium friends if they are interested in the contents of my aquarium. So far, I’ve received some interest. I really need to shut that energy intensive project down. Last month we averaged 238kwh/day in power consumption. Fortunately, power is cheap here, about 4.7 cents/kwh, but I’m trying to develop a lifestyle that will only consume about 10% of that (what a good size hybrid solar/wind unit could provide). At LEAST half of that is the aquarium and related equipment. Figure cutting the house size in half and having a better insulated one should get me down another half, so 238base-120aquarium-60house size gets me to 60kwh/day. Getting that down to 20kwh’ish should be possible by reducing the numbers of computers to one or two from 7+ today, unplugging their UPSes and using more energy efficient lighting and appliances. At least that is the hope. If the aquarium ends up being more than half, it just becomes all the easier.

Kevin

—– September 11th, 2007 —–

Well… our bid on a 35 acre parcel was rejected – the owners simply want more than we feel its worth.

We bid on an 80 acre horse farm last Friday and were today yesterday that the owners rejected that offer because they decided not to sell!

Oddly, this is not the first time this has happened to us. I think some land sellers are expecting to make small fortunes on their property, and when real bids come in they are disappointed. At least here in the mid-west part of the USA, large track (> 10 acres) land values are way down – they tend to be cash deals (financing unimproved (no building) ground is hard), and money is tight right now.

There was a new 80 acre parcel that come onto the market last Friday. A Google Earth look shows it being heavy in fields and light in woods, but we will at least go look at it this weekend. Suppose we can always plant trees, indeed, I have been planning on restoring some native short-needle pine trees on whatever we buy. These trees were the predominate species pre-1800s in the area. Post railroads and mining (mostly fuel for smelting), oaks and hickories have become the predominate species.

More later!

—– September 11th, 2007 —–

Thomzo wrote:
That’s a shame that your bids were rejected. Good luck in your hunt.

Zoe

We are feeling “OK”, somewhat disappointment of course. Reality was that neither parcel was ideal. The 35 acre lot felt a little small (we ideally want 60-80 acres), and had no natural water. We did like the neighborhood, and it was half-dozen miles from anything calling itself a town (e.g. it was REALLY quiet there). The 80 acre parcel had a VERY small spring (it produced water about as fast as you could pour it out of a coffee cup, but ran year round), was a little heavy in woods – but nice woods, complete with an old graveyard and lots of horse trails. Alas, it was but a half mile from the major Interstate Highway and about that far from the local town on that highway. e.g. It wasn’t as quiet as we liked.

The good news is that we are getting better at understanding what we really want in a piece of property – so should recognize it if it exists and comes on the market. The bad news is that we have looked at everything that is close that is for sale in literally several thousand square miles of land (about 1/8th of the state of Missouri). So now we wait… and are likely to miss this falls planting season.

Cheers!

Kevin

—– September 17th, 2007 —–

We looked at (3) more properties this weekend, two 60 acres parcels and one 80 acre parcel.

The first 60 acres shared a fence with a neighboring 60 acres we have nick named the “Dead Cow Farm” – while touring that land a month or so ago we found about 9 dead cattle carcases. This new 60 acres was used for cattle and pigs and had a variety of buildings on it – none of which particularly attracted us. It was pricey too.

The next 60 acres was only about a quarter mile down the road. Nothing special and about half in row crops (corn this season). I’ve sharecropped land before and don’t want to do so again. You don’t make much money, and your land is tied up preventing you from doing anything with it.

The last 80 acre parcel was about half row crops. Basically flat with a small house. Nothing striking.

We are considering offering a bit more on the 34.5 acre parcel. We have also asked our Realtor to approach the adjoining landowner and see if he/she would be willing to sell us a few acres. There is a wet-weather creek that crosses one corner of our property. I think it would be nice if we could make that creek the southern border instead of a line on the map. Not sure exactly how it runs – asked our agent to figure that out and base the request on the creek if practical (e.g. it added 5-15 acres or so).

Cheers!

—– September 17th, 2007 —–

Having conversations with home builders in parallel. We explored some “random log” homes and had concerns with their engineering. Then we set our sights on a “Timber Frame” home until we got back some cost estimates. Currently we are talking with Chris from biglogs.com about a custom log home. He claims the end cost is about the same as a conventional custom home, but we are pursuing that in more detail.

I’d really like to build something that would be good for generations. Most “stick homes” have an estimated lifetime of about 50 years – thats not good enough. The thermal mass associated with a log home tends to make them very energy efficient, and biglogs uses managed forest lumber without seams (they can provide 12-14″ round logs up to 60 feet long – so a wall layer can all be one log).

Oh, this ties into “sustainability” in terms of material – wood is a sustainable product. Having log walls implies no fiberglass, plastic wrap, or anything similar as well – although the roof may be of conventional material, we will probably go with metal coverings. I have brochures about aluminum roofing that comes with a lifetime warranty, and various coated steel roofs are good for up to 50 years. BTW, the aluminum roofs are made from something like 99% consumer recycled material.

Anyhow, just broached the concept of building the home in phases to biglogs (phase 1: Main house; phase 2: Porches; phase 3: Huge Sunroom for solar heating; phase 4: garage). It will be interesting to see how they respond, given the desire to stretch the phases out over a decade or so (possibly allowing me not to have to finance them).

Cheers!

—– September 20th, 2007 —–

Wife and I had a long talk, and decided to make another offer on the 34.76 acre lot. The last round ended with us offering about $2750/acre, they countered at $3250/acre, we declined. This time we have made a “Best & Final” offer of $3000/acre, no conditions, entire cost to be deposited with the title company upon acceptance. e.g. This will be a cash deal and we have the cash – they don’t need to worry about any financing falling though.

We like the remoteness (nice dark skies for Astronomy viewing, and VERY quiet), and not going into debt to buy it. Indeed, we suspect using the financing we had considered for the 80 acre place would allow us to build a nice log shell home – and we would end up with the house we wanted.

Hope they go for it. If so, it will become very busy – almost time to plant fall fruit & nut trees, and start shopping for bee-keeping supplies for spring! Many other projects will need immediately attention as well, like having county water run onto the property, building a fence around the fruit trees to deter deer, etc.

Cheers,

Kevin & Evia

—– October 1st, 2007 —–

Well.. things are a blur at the moment. We made the $3000/acre “Best and Final” offer, they countered, we rejected.

Happen to be reading the “Missouri Prairie Foundation (MPF)” journal, and caught a side bar article requesting that anyone interesting in buying land contact them. So I did!

By the next day I was chatting the the president of the foundation, and he put me in touch with a local landowner in the “Mystic Conservation Area”. This is a small (maybe 25 square mile?) area of North Central Missouri where there are a few remnants of native prairie left, and where there is a restoration project underway for the endangered “Prairie Chicken” (something like 50 males were findable in 1999).

The MPF asked if we would be willing to purchase land in the conservation area, which is about a 3 hour drive for us. We decided we would at least look at it and made plans for last Sunday to drive up and see (we took a side stop and visited a customer’s house of Biglogs.com and fell in love with the construction technique – at least we know what type of house we want to build someday). The visit went VERY well, with the local landowner showing us around his 600 acres of restored prairie (he now makes his living selling restoration seeds).

While we were making plans for Sundays visit, I got a call from my Realtor that the owners of the 35 acres wanted to negotiate some more. Told her I’d let her know if we were interested after our visit on Sunday. Sent her a note last night letting her know “No for now – we are going to spend more time in NE Missouri looking”. Ok, getting ahead of myself!

One nice thing about the conservation area is that land price is about half of what land near the 35 acres is. The bad thing is that its 3 hours away instead of 1, and will burn a lot more fuel visiting. The good thing is that we can get more land, and help an endangered species. Suppose nothing is every clear and easy!

The MPF has been VERY helpful. Not only are they offering advice and support, they have restoration funds available to assist in restoring whatever property I might buy – so long as I buy within the conservation area. The local contact (Frank Aberle – a fairly well known nature photographer), besides spending several hours of his Sunday with us, put me in contact with a local Realtor, Mark. Mark is literally knocking on doors pulling a list of potential properties together. We in turn have committed to return next weekend, driving up Saturday morning, and looking at property Saturday and Sunday before returning (exhausted I’m sure – the wife and I get to swap carrying our 1 year old!).

Franks tour of his property helped in another critical way: My wife now understands what I’ve been trying to explain to her was our goal. She got to see it, and is now excited.

Alas, land prices have been jumping up about 20% a year in the area for a variety of reasons: Some Montana cattle ranchers discovered the area has land that cost twice what theirs does, but they can raise at least 4 times the cattle – they are buying up thousands of acres (6000 at last count). Apparently the Amish have also taken up a buying campaign – selling their property in the NE of the USA and moving to the mid-west where they can easily get 2-3 times as much land. Both of these mean that I really need to buy as much as I can possibly afford now – I won’t be able to save at a rate that would offset the land inflation. That in turn postpones any building plans.

The other kicker is simply the distance. For the 35 acre plot (or any of the other in that area), we could visit casually – round trip time was about 2 hours. This place has a round trip time of over 6 hours – overnight stays are required if I want to get any serious work done. Not sure how to deal with that.

In any case, I suspect we are now targeting 160-200 acres. I have told the Realtor that if we push past $230K, I’ll need something that is solid, warm, dry, and has a bathroom, shower, and a kitchen – someplace we can collapse in safely. Below that, I could (I think) afford to put something cheap on the property – perhaps a used trailer house or small cabin.

Choices are good, but this is getting insane!

Kevin

—– October 9th, 2007 —–

Spent the weekend looking at property in the Mystic Conservation Focus Area. The previous Sunday we looked at a 101 acre parcel and stumbled across a gentlemen associated with an adjoining property. This past weekend we walked their 136 acres, several times.

Frank Oberle (sorry, spelled it wrong in an earlier post) went out with a teraforming friend and gave it “Two Thumbs Up!”. We made a bid last night! The land is hilly and used for grazing, although a few neighbors row crop. The teraforming guy found several places we could put nice 5-7 acre lakes in. There is about 300 acres of watershed that drains into the property, so filling the lake wouldn’t be a problem (dealing with the overflow might though!).

It does have a single-wide trailer on it, so basic shelter is covered. Public water is also available.

Now we wait to hear back…

Kevin

—– November 10th, 2007 —–

Thought I’d post a status update:

We are now focusing our attention in the Mystic area. That said, about a month ago I got a call from my agent regarding the 34.76 acre parcel. The owners wanted to know if I would split the difference with then. We declined. Last Friday they called again – they would accept our last offer if we would extend it again. We have until Monday to let them know, but I don’t think we will. Had they accepted when we offered, we would have been planting fruit trees this weekend. Oh well.

The Mystic area is proving interesting. The first 101 acre parcel we looked at was trashed – grazed to the ground, trash in the gullies, gullies!, but fixable given lots of dozer time and a few years. While walking it we met the neighbors – and they indicated they might be willing to sell…

Their 136 acres is now in a “pending” state. They decided they didn’t want to list with any agent, but if they can find a place to move too, they will sell to me after January. It is a pretty place – with a large enough dam we could have a nice 7 acre lake without problems (there is about 300 acres of watershed that drains through this property into a nearby creek).

While we are waiting to see about the 136, we have looked at several others. Next weekend we are going up to see a 350 acre tract that is in two parcels – a 229 part and a 121 part. The 229 is adjoining a Missouri Heritage Land nominee – one of the few remaining tracks of native prairie in the state and has a population of endangered Prairie Chickens on it. The Missouri Prairie Foundation is very keen on my buying some of this property, although the 136 would be fine too.

I have played with Google Earth aerials and believe we could carve a 208 acre parcel out of the 229, be flat broke, but have the largest parcel we could possibly afford. Our agent is uncharacteristically upbeat about our chances. We shall see.

Cheers,

Kevin

– Nov 29, 2007 –

Too much to do, but the first thing is to determine what our house will cost.

We had considered putting a cabin in, for weekend use only, and later building a full-time residence. However I’m not comfortable making that type of short-term expense. Yeah, we MIGHT be able to rent it out, perhaps to one of my kids, but it more likely we would just let them stay there free. We think its better to just plan on building my late-life house – even if that takes us several years to be able to afford.

Reality is that I’m 49, my wife is 35, we have a 14 month old daughter and another on the way (yes, thats an announcement!). If I retire around 65, I’ll still have kids in high-school, so we need a real house, not a bare-bones retirement place. Well, “Need” is a strong word, perhaps “Want” would be better…

If the house cost too much, we may settle on building something else we will need long term: A barn. I’m toying with something that could house 2-4 draft horse and a couple of milking cows, as well as some farm equipment. In the short term, I suspect we could fix up the animal stalls as rough bedrooms for weekend/holiday use. We have Amish in the area, and they are known for doing outstanding work on such things. Yet another thing to check out.

First real thing to do is to close on the property – in 48 hours that will have been accomplished, then give it a nice long walk and figure out options around where we would want a house. Once thats done, we can draw up the options and start planning gardens, orchards, and the like.

Alas, this Saturday/Sunday is suppose to be rainy and VERY cold, only slightly above freezing Saturday and below freezing Sunday, so I’m not sure how much walking we will do.

– Dec 2, 2007 –

We closed on Saturday, December the 1st. Compliments of learning that the difference between wet gravel roads and wet dirt roads being that little thing called traction, I also got an opportunity to become indebted to Sonny Darr and his tractor, and meet “bulldozer” Donnie.

Donnie and I spent a few minutes on the property eyeballing lake locations. He will get some elevations and come back with some ideas.

We went back on Sunday and shot a few dozen photos, but an hour+ in 33 degrees with a brisk breeze was about all the family could handle.

The goals remain pretty simple in concept (in no particular order):

1) Fescue eradication and the restoration of native forbs and grasses (yes, I’d like as bio-diverse an environment as we can create)
2) Removal of ALL non-native species of trees, brush, etc. (with a particularly strong prejudice against thorn trees and primrose)
3) Savanna restoration
4) Home site planning (in south facing hillside – I have several potential sites).
A) By spring, I’d at least like to know where it will be so that I can start planting a nearby orchard and put some bee hives out.
B) Establish a road to the site
C) (maybe) Have footings poured, a septic tank installed, a cistern (collect rain water for later watering of orchard and garden)
D) (if C) (1) Either have house build if funds permit (unlikely), or (2) have walk-out basement poured, put in sub-floor, and build a temporary roof over it and finish the basement as our weekend place
5) Build and stock a lake (5-7 acres?)
6) Burn plan for maintaining 1-3.
7) Build a livestock & equipment storage barn (downwind of house site) ) for future use. Any local Amish that like to do that type of work?
8) Either buy and learn to use whatever equipment is necessary for, or learn who to hire to, maintain the land.
9) Somewhere, carve out an acre or so for a small pine forest (do native short-needle pines grow that far north? If not, I’d violate my “native only” plan for these) – both the wife and I just LOVE the smell of walking through one. We know thats not prime Prairie Chicken cover – but they will just have to learn to share some of the land with us. :D Perhaps north of the house as a wind break from that direction if it doesn’t obscure some particularly nice view. Likewise, I’d like 25-50 sugar maples someplace and some nut trees, maybe lining the road to the home site.
10) Figuring out which of the above is a dream, and what is practical.

The next convenient time for us to go up would be between Christmas and New Year – if the weather cooperates (all I ask is mid-to-upper 30s and dry conditions – maybe we will get lucky).

We are planning on spending as much time over spring break (early March?) as we can working on the place. Ideally, by then, planting fruit trees and raising an solar powered (since I won’t have electrical power yet) MDC recommended offset electric fence around the resulting orchard to try and protect them from deer.

 

– Dec 20, 2007 –

Next Thursday (12/27/07), a bunch of people are going to get together to walk the 121 acres and try and come up with a prairie and savanna restoration plan. The trip includes:

Our Family (Kevin, Evia, Nastya, and our baby Gabby)
Chris Woodson: US Fish and Wildlife Biologist
Justin Johnson: Executive Director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation
John Murphy: Missouri Department of Conservation Private Land Conservationist
Grant Phillips: Missouri Department of Conservation Soil and Water Conservation District

and maybe…

Frank Oberle: Pure Air Seeds and overall really nice guy
“Sonny” Darr: Neighbor
Donnie Yantis: Bulldozer man

The next day we will be visting Dadant Bee Supply company in Hamilton, Il.

Share

Меня тут спросили, как я себя чувствую в роли фермерши.  Отвечаю. :)Пока никак! :)) Не успеваю ощутить себя фермершей пока, разве что дачницей. И то.. В этом году Кевин решил посадить огород. Разметил участок, землю пропахал трактором, удобрили, грядки разбили, посадили — сразу только то, что не требует особого вмешательства. И то — жара, носа не высунешь, мы там раз в две недели и траву полоть возможно только рано утром (а темнеет тут рано, в 9, и еще жарко в 9)… Так что теперь на месте огорода бурьян по пояс, подсолнухи высосали клопы садовые, вонючие которые (никогда бы не подумала, вот им бедным пить как хотелось! ), кукурузу слопал прорвавшийся сквозь электрический забор Дункан, еще в зачаточном состоянии — вкусненько, наверное, было. :) Картошка там — я убрала в прошлую поездку траву оттуда, ботвы уже нет, а картошка есть, ну и пусть лежит, пока тепло и сухо… Остальное так по чуть-чуть угадывается под травой, змейки там спят… :) Но работы – выше крыши, и там, конечно, надо жить.
Но я столькому научилась, чего никогда не думала, что буду уметь!
Дом мы изнутри делаем сами — бетонные стены были по периметру,

мы разгородили на комнаты

Всю электропроводку и водопровод в доме Кевин делал сам — а я на подхвате.
И не только я :)

Помощники


Встроенный шкаф в детской делают :)


наша спальня оббита досочками дубовыми, такой же шкафчик, там у нас сауна, которую тоже по набору сами построили, душ огромный, куда при желании всей семьей можно вместиться — выложенный кафельной плиткой, тоже сами все сделали.
Зачаточное состояние будущего душа


Вот эта стекловата розовая — я ее прокладывала и прибивала по всему периметру дома, для тепла. А в сауне она особенная — с фольгой, чтобы еще и отражать тепло внутрь.


Это в процессе строительства:


Душик будущий:

Линолеум положили в туалете и прачечной

Сейчас там вообще красота. Для кухни сегодня поедем заберем панели — будут стены “выложенные серыми камнями”. :)) Потому что спальня — деревянная, а в кухне потом будет камин каменный. ;)
Покажу, как сделаем.

А качели для нас — на звезды любоваться ночью. :)

Ну, и я уже не говорю о том, что все — Кевин, я и Настя — освоили управление трактором, Габи и Фрэнка тоже не оттащишь от техники…

В дальнейшем — наша цель больше не животноводство все же, а прерии. А коровы, пчелы, курочки и прочие твари, которых мы заведем, когда туда переедем окончательно, сад и огород — это, скорее, попытка быть независимым от внешних обстоятельств, что ли…

Кевин и умная корова Николь.

Share