Monday, July 22, 2013

Increasing Sustainability; Managing Unintended Consequences

In conjunction with our last post on the woes of hot summers, we are no doubt on high alert to set more plans in motion to deal with an increase in summer temperatures. Can you say "New Year, more of the same, maybe even more?" For the end of July, things around here look eerily like mid-August. And our grazing critters know it, too.

We are feeding more hay and grazing less again this summer. The pastures are taking a pounding when hungry grazers are filtering through dormant pastures looking for their favorite plants. Dormancy coming 3-4 weeks early. AGAIN. Animals coming back to the barn way before August peeks in to our routine. Feeding hay costs more. But we have to do it to save our pastures and grass. Nub anything to the ground it takes a LONG time for the plant to recover. So, we must not let the grass get grazed down too short. The grazing season is shorter this year. AGAIN.

Chickens are stressed in heat and lay fewer eggs and produce less meat. A loss in production costs us in many ways.

So, costs are up. And we needed to react by raising prices. We kept the increase lower on products we feel are a better value for you- ground beef, sausage and our economy steaks and whole chicken.

The harvest window for optimal quality grass- either by grazing or by machine- is shorter and much sooner in the season. We are really scrambling to either get it stockpiled as hay or into the bellies of grazing critters as fast as possible. BEFORE the quality and quantity hits the bottom of the barrel.

Talk about unintended consequences! Grazing is best for the animal...and then in turn for us as consumers. But grazing animals need a constant supply of high quality grass to thrive. But lately, that window of quality and quantity shows up earlier in the season and it is an increasingly small window. So, we must put people and machines to the task of harvesting the grass when it is the best quality. Harvesting from pastures and dedicated hay ground both. Then when the heat comes barreling in and the rains stop then the grass stops growing and we must pull the grazing animals off or else they'll stunt the grass so badly that we can kiss the rest of the grazing year good bye!

We can irrigate our pastures- we are indeed thinking about it- but it takes investment. We can add extra fertility into our grass lands to help them stay productive and of high quality. That takes investment, too. We also need to harvest our grass when the grass is ready.....not necessarily when it is best for us. New and specialized equipment can help us here. Again it takes an investment. And in the dog eat dog world of business and agriculture we may need to turn to the USDA for help. And we'll look at MA state programs, too. We're too small to get great loan rates like Facebook or Goldman-Sachs. The great consolidation and credit crunch of the post 2008 world has produced other unintended consequences- an unfriendly world for small players. At a time when we need them to help pull a load and spur innovation.

So, the caboose to this train of thought? Keep buying local clean foods! We feel we produce wholesome food and we do it in a sustainable fashion. We aren't dumping tons of pesticides and herbicides on our land. We don't use antibiotics. We don't use lots of fossil fuels either. In essence, our footprint is pretty small. Your support of this system can help show others that we hold important answers to producing food for a burgeoning population in an increasingly hot and dry world.

There's an unmistakable knock at the door.........

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thoughts on 2012 and plans for 2013

The hot, dry summer of 2012 battered us a bit- our pastures were stressed and our hay yields were down a bit. BUT- we'll take a hot and dry summer over a cold and wet one! An old-timer once told me "A hot and dry summer will scare you but you'll starve in a cold and wet summer!" How true!! We were able to have a full harvest at the farm- from our vegetables and greens to dry hay with fair ease to boot! In wet and cold summers- no tomatoes or dry, mold-free hay!! There is something afoot on the issue of climate change......the signs are hard to ignore! Thankfully with our rich soils and still adequate rainfall, we should be able to get by. With some tweeking that is......

The implications of climate change have forced changes in our pastured broiler program. The new weather patterns have thrown us some very hot and dry conditions earlier in the season, when the broilers are are busy growing. During this stage, the added heat stress presents us a management challenge. We have to reserve our shaded spots for chickens. During high-summer, there are few of those shaded field borders! And we will be postponing much of our production into the late summer and fall, when conditions are markedly better for growing chickens.  Just when you think you have a system in place..........

We brought chicken parts to market this year with a very warm reception, thank you! We'll bring more in 2013 for sure!

Do you want other convenience items such as pre-marinaded beef kabobs and steaks? How about low-fat chicken sausages with fun ingredients such as sun-dried tomato and feta cheese? We can use your thoughts and ideas as the marketplace seems to demand more and more convenience.

The farm shop has been busy with lots of fabricating! We now have a new BIODIESEL reactor....all custom made in the shop! Our feedstock- used vegetable oil, is from local restaurants. We also have a new hay grabber/stacker to replace a lot of the hard manual labor of putting up our hay. And coming up for 2013 will be plans for a high capacity in-line bale compressor and wrapper for high quality grass silage and this high quality forage will be key for happy and steadily growing cows in winter. This will be another farm-shop invention!

And if we have time, we'll start up a corn and soybean patch for growing some of our chicken feed. Not only is chicken feed becoming expensive, an on-farm production program might be cost effective too. The soybeans, being a legume, can help us incorporate nitrogen into our soils as well. And when brought into a rotation program with all our other cropping systems, we should be able to sustain good yields and improve soil health at the same time. This system of crop rotation is not new, but has been side-lined in modern agriculture as a means to feverishly pursue ever increasing yields in our corn and soy-based society. Livestock (cattle, horses and chickens) will be a key component in a pasture/soybean/corn/small-grain crop rotation.......and it should be fun! Read more on crop rotations here, a no-brainer concept but very well presented in this article- Marsden Farm USDA study.

Thank you for your support of our style of farming- a sustainable road map to the future of healthy food production!

Let us know how we're doing and what you'd like to see!

Bon appetit!