Wrong Direction Farm

Big Pencil Sharpener

I ordered a few fiberglass sucker rod fence posts and I set about installing them in the bale grazing pasture today.  I’ve avoided fiberglass posts because of the splinters, but I wanted to give a try to a few of these because I need a rigid post that also be hand driven.  I have some plastic-wood composite posts that are easily driven, but they sag and flex with any lateral pressure.  My first impression of the fiberglass posts is that they are strong and stiff enough to serve my purposes, but that they will be splinter monsters so this is something where gloves will be essential.

One challenge I encountered immediately was that the rods were all square cut.  I build a sharpening jig this afternoon to fix that.table-saw-jig

Cutting fiberglass will kill a regular carbide blade lickety-split, so I replaced my tablesaw’s wood blade with a 7-1/4″ diamond concrete blade.  I cut guide holes in the jig with a 1-1/4″ spade bit and then screwed the little scrap of wood near the blade as a stop.  With this setup I can insert the rod and just rotate it while feeding it into the blade.  It worked well and gave me decent points in just a few seconds for each one.  After sharpening the rods I was able to drive them with (relative) ease.

sharpened-tip

Not quite as sharp an angle as I intended, but it works just fine.

Just a safety warning for anyone cutting structural fiberglass:  wear gloves and a respirator.  It is nasty stuff.

This Is How We Do It

The nice thing about pigs is that they are pigs to the extreme limits of pigness.  They make no allowances for moderation or nuance.  Por ejemplo:

cremed-pig

“Why settle for just drinking cream when you can stick your whole face in it?  That’s what I’d like to know.”

Wishing for November Rain

nov-2016-snow

Instead we got snow, then 20 degrees overnight, and then persistent winds reaching into the mid 30 mph range.  Sunday’s snow started out wet, accumulating on the polywire fences causing them to droop to the ground.  By mid-morning things turned drier and blustery, causing the chickens to huddle in place on the leeward side of their feeder and a few protective hay bales.  Not much foraging going on there…  It looks like it is high time to move the chickens into their winter hoophouses.  If the December weather improves I can always let them back out, but for now I’ll need to bring them in.

The first dose of winter weather always serves to point out the areas where I’ve procrastinated.  I scrambled to drop off some extra farrowing huts to the sows in the lower pasture because I didn’t want them to have their piglets in the snow.  Also on the to-do is finishing the bale grazing cross fencing, insulating the pond siphon plumbing, getting the heat trace working on the walk-in freezer’s condensate drain, and insulating the whey tank valves.  And of course there are the nagging tasks that encompass picking up all the half-finished summer construction projects, hoses, polywire reels, step-in posts, t posts, corral fences, frisbees, bicycles, broken chicken feeders, tarps, and all the other detritus that accumulated during the summer so I can make the farm safe for snow plowing.

wearing-a-cat

Allie showing off her fur cap.  Perhaps even PETA would approve of this garment.  The cat spent ten minutes snuggled up in there while we added straw to the sows’ huts.

Riding the Paddy Wagon

e450-van

Thursday we drove out to Westborough, MA to pick up our very own paddy wagon.  Actually it is a prisoner transport bus for highway garbage pickup details.  The plan is to strip out the seats and use the van for a delivery vehicle, with the cargo area outfitted with chest freezers and racks for egg coolers.

van-interior

Fiberglass seating, definitely not built for comfort.

The van is 16 years old, but with moderate mileage.  The engine and frame seem to be in good shape, but the bus floor cross-members are severely rusted.  My plan is to lift the body from the frame and sister in new angle iron reinforcements.  It will be an unpleasant winter project, working outside on the dirt driveway, but “needs must”.  It looks like detaching the body mount bolts will require more cutting than wrenching.  Not all the crossmembers are repairable (without tearing up the entire bus box), so my hope is to restore enough of them that the inspectors go easy on my.

van-crossmember

This is one of the better cross-members.  Some are rusted through along their whole length.

Realistically, this van won’t last long.  I hope it can give us a year or two of service.  If I had money in my pocket I’d buy a used U-Haul truck for $10k.  This one cost $1075 and it will probably need another $1k in repairs.  It had a severe exhaust leak, but that turned out to be a simple repair of replacing missing nuts holding the donut onto the manifold.  It also has an ABS problem that is eluding me.  (The ABS light is on, but the ABS-capable scanner isn’t picking up any codes.  Clearing codes doesn’t make it disappear.  I replaced the rear differential VSS sensor just in case, but that didn’t resolve it.  Next step is to look at the front wheel sensors I guess.  In case you were wondering, I am an auto mechanic by necessity, not by preference.)  The dual rear tires need replacing, but that’s a normal wear item so I don’t hold that against the vehicle.

van-cage-slider

I’m thinking about how I can reuse the two sliding gates.  I’ve been assembling parts to build a corral next year, and while I don’t think these gates are strong enough for the chutes leading to the headgate or loadout, they might make good man gates.  Alternatively, they could be fitted into future pig handling chutes.  Either way they won’t go to waste.

 

 

To Cover Or Not To Cover

…that is the question.  And it seems the answer is NOT to cover hay bales.

This summer I put a lot of effort into preserving my bales by storing them under tarps, recycled billboard signage to be precise.  And I have to say that the tarps do a great job of preserving the hay.  The bales look as good as any hay stored in a building.

I bale graze the cattle through the winter.  In my situation it is insalubrious getting the tractor out across deep snow drifts, steep slopes, and alternating hazards of ice and mud.  My only option is to stage all the bales in November before the worst of the winter weather sets in.  But as I discussed in my earlier post, having the bales exposed to the weather from November onward depreciates the value of the care I take in covering bales through the summer and early fall.

windswept-bales

Significant wind losses just a week after bale placement.

One factor that I didn’t count against covering bales is that they fail to develop a rind.  Rain and drying cycles create a crust of matted, spoiled hay around the bale.  When I cut the baling twine or net wrap, the spoiled hay tends to stay intact as a protective layer.  But unweathered bales lose a lot more hay due to wind scouring.  Making things worse, after they have a few inches blown away, then they develop a spoiled layer underneath.  At best I’m looking at the same amount of wasted hay as I would have if I didn’t protect the bales.

In an ideal situation, I’d get bales made up with sisal twine so I could leave it in place. The twine could be left behind to rot, and if the cattle ate it they wouldn’t be harmed since it is a natural plant fiber (contrast that with rumen blockages from net wrap).  Unfortunately, everybody is getting rid of their twine round balers and going to net wrap round balers (or worse, for my outdoor storage, large square balers!).  So it looks like I’ll need to suck it up and accept my lost hay.

Here’s a link to some Canadian graziers working through similar issues:

 

Hay and a Movie

Once again it is time to start laying out the bales for winter grazing.  Bale after bale, row after row, definitely not the most intellectually stimulating farm task, but cows gotta eat…

bales-2016

Repetitive tasks aren’t entirely unwelcome, since they provide opportunity for contemplation.  Today I was thinking over the story of another farmer, one whose love/hate relationship with the drudgery of farming forms part of the storyline for the documentary Peter and the Farm (just released for streaming on Amazon and iTunes yesterday).  This film isn’t the usual farm documentary, being neither a perfunctory exposé of “bad ag” versus “good ag” nor an ingratiating tribute to hardworking, salt-of-the-earth farmers.  Instead it is the most real farm documentary I’ve seen, the eponym seeming to spring from a John Prine ballad: an organic, alcoholic, expert, inept, loving, spiteful character, utterly believable because I know him in the composite from fellow farmers.  To be honest, I know him because I spend time stuck in many of the same paradoxes.  Come for the cinematography, stay for the meltdown.  The movie gets high marks from this reviewer.

Pumpkins a Plenty

AJ and I picked 8 cubic yards of pumpkins last night.  They came from the Mast family farm, the folks whose maple syrup and honey we’ve recently added to our store.  We picked up the obviously unsaleable ones this time, then we’ll go back after Halloween to clear the rest of the field.

Pumpkins are an interesting crop, being a food item that is now grown almost entirely for non-food uses.  Since decorative concerns outweigh all other considerations, nobody wants to buy them unless they are in great cosmetic condition.  So besides the obvious rejections due to green skin (unripe), cracks, or rot, many others are rejected because they are misshapen or have short/missing stems.  Pumpkins are a sharply seasonal product.  They sell from mid September to a few days before Halloween, but after Halloween they are commercially worthless no matter their condition.pumpkin-pile

Gleaning this crop turns out to be a win-win.  It saves the Masts the extra effort of discing the field to bust up the pumpkins before plowing.  And it provides our pigs with a few weeks of vegetables.  Feeding produce to pigs is hard to justify economically in terms of weight gain, but I value the less tangible benefits of vitamins (especially carotene in the case of pumpkins) and plant fibers in creating a more digestible and natural diet for the pigs, as compared to the standard all-grain diet fed to most pigs.

I’ve heard for years that pumpkin seeds help livestock eliminate internal parasites.  Like most non-medicated interventions, I can’t find any studies to validate this use.  I did find one small study on goats that demonstrated no improvement.  If anyone knows of any related research, I’d be interested in reading more.  [Edit 22 Oct 2016:  I found one study demonstrating that pumpkin seeds and calamus root were each more effective than Ivermectin at reducing Oesophagostomum nematodes.  Tansy was almost as effective.  Interestingly, garlic wasn’t nearly as effective as the other natural cures, despite its popularity among many organic farmers.  Those particular parasites aren’t endemic here, but the possibilities are encouraging.]

Now That’s Heavy

crowding-around

This morning the dispatcher at a milk bottling plant asked to stop by with a 4,000 gallon load.  Based on previous conversations I was expecting to get a tanker of near expiration milk, but instead I got a load of 40% Heavy Cream.

Most folks who’ve been to the farm know that cheese whey is a cornerstone to our pig program, for a few reasons.  It is a locally available and free food source, so it makes good sense environmentally in terms of carbon and nitrogen cycling and it makes sense economically.  It provides the protein boost to allow us to remove soy from the grain ration, to reduce overall grain requirements, and to increase the pigs’ pasture and hay intake (think paleo pigs).  And, of course I should mention that pigs love anything dairy.  We’ve been feeding whey since 2011, but occasionally we’ve scored bonus loads of milk or cream.  Whey is pretty dilute stuff, with about 1/4-1/2 the feed value of skim milk, so we’re always glad to get a batch of milk in the tanks.

inside-the-tanker

Inside the tanker truck in case you were curious what they look like inside.  The white stick hanging from the top is the spray ball used for washdown.

Our pigs regularly drink 2,000+ gallons of whey each week, but heavy cream is a different thing entirely because it is so calorically dense.  4,000 gallons of cream works out to 52.5 million kcals.  Technically that’s enough energy to bring a liter of water from absolute zero to a temperature 3x hotter than the core of the sun (how’s that for a good example of a bad use of high school physics?).   For reference, that’s also equivalent to 17 tons of feed corn, 600,000 bananas, or 23,000 pounds of Doritos.  Roughly enough calories to bring about 45 pigs from weaning to market weight.

jump-right-in

Pigs love heavy cream.  If the line is too long, just climb over everybody and jump into the trough.

 

Now I’ve got to figure out how to use this stuff.  It is so thick that I can only dispense it using a 2″ trash pump.  Even 4″ pipes plug up under gravity flow.  I’m going to have to feed this out over some time.  My plan is to continue feeding whey, using it as a carrier for the cream by circulating whey through the cream tanks.  Whether or not I can do this and avoid having the cream set up as a solid brick of butter remains to be seen.

drenched-cats

Never ones to be left out, the cats were underfoot when I disconnected the hose from the tanker.  Normally cats avoid getting soaked, but these knuckleheads just stood there perfectly happy to get drenched in cream.  

Dry Cured Spanish Salami

It’s here!  The first of what we hope will become a lineup of Wrong Direction Farm charcuterie products.

fuet

We’re excited to offer an authentic dry cured salami from the Spanish Catalan tradition.  Fuet is a simple, rustic salami in the larger chorizo family.  Fuet doesn’t depend on heavy-handed spice blends, instead it focuses primarily on the pork.  Fermented and dried for eight weeks in a sequence of carefully controlled drying chambers until half the weight is lost to evaporation, the result is an intense pork flavor.

This was produced for us by the Espuña Company in nearby Gloversville NY using Wrong Direction Farm pork we provided.  Espuña started making salchichón sausage and jamón serrano in the 1960’s in Olot, Spain, so they bring decades of experience.

Fuet is ideal for tapas platters; try it sliced thin with some crusty bread and a tangy sheep cheese.  Diced into small cubes it makes a special addition to scrambled eggs or omelettes.  And of course it shines in a paella or any rice dish.

No added sodium nitrate.  Ingredients:  Wrong Direction Farm Pork, Salt, Celery Extract, Black Pepper, Turbinado Sugar, Lactic Acid Starter Culture.

Available for ordering now!

Maple Syrup in Stock

maple-syrup

I enjoyed photographing our latest addition to our online store:  quarts and gallons of maple syrup.  The timing was serendipitous as this week our maple trees have transitioned to their fall colors.  The three big sugar maples by the road are a mottle of yellow and green and the smaller maple near the greenhouse is a potent red.  All along the hedgerows the same color scheme is alternating in contrast with the other hardwood trees that haven’t quite given up on their late-summer green.  I love it.

Our customers have been asking us for a while about buying maple syrup and raw honey.  These aren’t items that we produce on the farm but we know people who do, so we’re glad to be able to start offering some of these items on our farm store.

The syrup is made by the Mast family nearby in Fultonville, NY.  The Masts are an Amish family who, like most Amish folks, are involved in all sorts of enterprises.  During the winter they make maple syrup, using horse drawn sledges to haul the sap to their sugar house.  But they have so many other enterprises going on their place is always crackling with activity.  They tend to field crops, a pumpkin patch, beef cattle, honey bees on the farm.  They also run a fascinating off-the-grid machine shop complete with lathes and milling machines all driven by overhead belts and pulleys.

They will be bottling the raw honey next week, so expect to see 2 lb and 5 lb jars of honey soon.

maple-leaves-red-yellow

I can’t get enough of these leaves!