February 24: Wanna farm? Maybe start with chickens!
Dream of walking out to your chicken coop and gathering baskets of fresh eggs – smooth, white, or brown? Maybe selling them to neighbors, or the local food market?
Can you see yourself walking across your yard, tossing feed into the grass and watching the hens come at a run for their daily ration? Or can you imagine watching the birds chase bugs and frogs from under the shrubs?
It’s 4 p.m. and I’m sitting in a room with about 125 sustainable farmers attentive to the hard-earned wisdom of Tim Koegel, Windy Ridge Natural Farms, New York. An experienced and successful pastured-poultry farmer, the focus is on building the business. His very simply slides are a treasure of on-the-ground lessons learned. The questions posed are fairly basic, but those that can be drowned out in the first flush of excitement and busy work. Can you afford to start the business? Will it fit your lifestyle? Build the type of coop suitable to your land and your physical strength. Is your pasture of a quality that will sustain the birds? Can you wait the six months that’ll have to pass before your laying hens begin producing in quantity? Are you a self-starter? Is there a local feedmill that can save you lots of time and money?
Will you slaughter yourself or contract out?
Tim’s tips roll on slide after slide: Set a goal. Seek out experiened people in your immediate area. Visit the ATTRA website for loads of information. Don’t take shortcuts, but do continue to improve efficiency. Pick the breed that makes the most sense for your operation and your market. You will be your own business manager and marketer and well as grower. Plan for food safety – to assure high quality and happy repeat customers.
This workshop is one of 60 being offered at the MOSES annual conf in La Crosse, WI. Earlier today, we all learned that over 3,100 registered for the two-day event. While a large proportion of attendees are from the Midwest, there are farmers here from all over the U.S. The workshops, keynote speakers, bookshop (6,000 titles), and networking are partical. And the food? Organic, delicious, outstanding.
Dave and I intend to add pastured poultry to our livestock at Bull Brook Keep, but not yet. We’re still moving up a steep learning curve with our BueLinog grass-fed beef, and think we’ll be in better shape to take this on next spring. We’re committed to growing and selling great-tasting, highly nutritious product. This year, that means quarter, halfs and whole beef.
Oh, and did I mention that Dave wants to grow a couple of pigs?
February 25: Shared challenge: growing great beef in winter
All summer long, my little BueLingo beef herd grazed fields of grasses, legumes and herbs. More specifically, timonthy, brome, quack and rye grasses; white and red clovers and some sparce alfalfa; and, yarrow, mints, plantain, wild strawberry, and more.
They were fat and happy moving from one plot of fresh forage to the next, out in the bright sunshine and warm breezes. What’s not to like!
But this is the Upper Midwest, and after summer come fall and winter. And with the colder season comes the need to feed hay – dried bales of grasses and alfalfa – that weigh about 1,200 lbs each and cost anywhere between $35-$45 a bale. Given that my little herd can make a bale disappear in one day, you can quickly burn through quite a bit of money over the course of a six-month feeding period.
How can I save money and still produce healthy cows able to maintain some level of weight gain till the grass starts growing again in the spring? One strategy is called “stockpiling,” an approach that extends the grazing season by setting aside a pasture that the cows can munch on late into fall. How do you do this?
That the question about 80 of want to answer, and its why we’re sitting in a 70-minute workshop at the MOSES conference, La Crosse, WI. Laura Paine, grazing and organic ag specialist with the Wisconsin Dept of Ag, is giving us the low-down. This is terrific!