Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Organic Certification Hoop Jumping

Once again it's time to prepare for our annual organic certification inspection. This will be our 6th year and as always...I'm working like a fiend to get the paperwork in order. Although the standards are extensive, at last count 222, each year we do a better job of tracking what needs to be tracked. The problem is of course remembering how exactly we tracked it.

Was it on the computer? Via hard copy records? Those little pieces of paper stuck on the bulletin board? The torn off pieces of brown cow towels scattered on Keith's barn desk? Post-its littered on the fridge? Inked notes on the back on GK's hands? Each year when I find myself sorting through masses of ephemera I think of Jessica Lange in "Country" as she frantically sorts through her stack of papers to find that one receipt for sheep feed the bank needs. She eventually finds it but the bank STILL takes their farm. Bat rastards.

I should think more positive thoughts during this process shouldn't I?

Each year we discuss if we shall continue this process. In the early years we felt it was important as we sold meat to grocery stores to customers who never saw our farm. Although no certification is a guarantee of anything it was at least visual "proof" that the meat they were buying was antibiotic and chemical free. But since we stopped selling to middle men/women almost two years ago and now sell only direct to the consumer via our on site retail farm store, to customers who can visualize our farm methods up close, we did consider not going through the process again. We would still feed certified organic feed, keep all our fields organic we just wouldn't go through the paperwork, the expense (about $1500/year) for the actual certification through the National Organic Program.

But, with a prospective buyer on the horizon last summer who at the time wanted to continue with the organic certification we decided to go through the process so the certification could transfer to them with ownership of the farm. Oh well, best laid plans and all that. So since the fees are paid for this year we go forward. Step by step. Neither of us walk backwards that well anymore anyway.

And if you are one of those geeks who just love to read government rules and/or are considering organic certification yourself here is the link for you to read. hint: they are much more entertaining to peruse if you have a nice bottle of Merlot in your mitts. Enjoy.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

No One Gets Out Of This Alive...Not Even Mad Max


Mad Max as a fine young fellow on the right.

For my long time followers you might remember our very first Red Wattle Boar...Mad Max. Well, get the tissue box out cause he's heading for the locker in about a weeks time. His crime? Shooting blanks or perhaps not shooting at all.

We purchased Max several years ago, along with his little girlfriend Casey, they were our very first Red Wattle breeding pair on the farm. We even had the two of them on our farm T-shirts for a few years. Dang he was cute. Just 8 weeks old and super sweet. He never has lost that sweet nature, always willing to be petted, have his ears scratched and has even served as a great place for Keith to prop his feet.

He has never shown any aggression towards us and why would he? His life has been a good one. well fed, lots of space to roam free, to root, to chase girls; its' been a pigs life. But this past spring we noticed...not enough activity to make us or his woman folk happy. Sows left with him were not getting pregnant and sows in heat he just walked on by. I understand. You get to a certain point in life and Netflix reruns and a big bowl of sour milk is just as tempting as that 1 year old Golden Red Gilt but here, on the farm; it's behavior we can't afford to encourage.

An unproductive pig, be it male or female, has to go. So soon Max, all 1000 pounds or so of him, will be turned into fabulous sausage and brats. Now because he is indeed a male we run the risk of the meat smelling of taint due to his hormone status (if he has any left that is) but we've followed some other farmers advice, removed all females from his immediate area and kept him in his own pasture the last three months.

Hopefully this will tame down the boar smell a bit. (I've never noticed a difference in the taste I just can't get past the boar smell to eat it myself) But if the isolation chamber  doesn't work to decrease the taint it's no worry as Keith has no sense of smell and plans to make good use of Max via some brats. The biggest majority of him will go to the dogs as we have 2 large ones to feed: a German Shepard named Ashland, and a Great Pyrenees, Fannie.

Guard Dog Fannie and Grandson Wes.

Our younger boar Wally will be the only boar up at the plate hitting those home runs until one of Mad Max's sons, Little Max, is ready to take his dads place. He'll be big enough to get the job done in about 8 more months.

Boar number two Wally. soon to be Boar number one

Yes, I feel sad, he was a great boar, literally has fathered hundreds of piglets, the foundation of our farm,his piglets have supplied us with meat for our store and fat for my soaps and he will be missed, but we are not a zoo, or a wildlife preserve.

Lard Soap
One of Max's piglets sold as registered boar named after me.
Of all the things I dreamed would be named after me...
this was not one of them.

We are a family farm which stays afloat by keeping the best and culling the rest. I love watching my kids squirm every time I say that at family events. Might have something to do with why none of the four took up farming as a profession.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Head Count or How Many Steers Does it Take to Make Everyone Happy?

Last winter you might recall we lost a few calves due to the extremely cold winter, the worst winter for us since we started out own farm 22 years ago. It's taken all spring and summer for those animals to recover. Animals stressed to stay warm do not gain much extra weight and thus even those steers we had  (and dairy calves raised for beef) took longer to get to longer weight. Customers expecting beef last spring had to wait until summer. Summer customers had to wait until fall, etc....Finally two year olds  are being taken to market and folks are getting their beef. But it went fast, all our future beef carcasses sold out until June 2015.

Now we are facing winter again and Keith is working hard to get the farm ready for winter. With me in school 4 full days a week the brunt of the work has been on his shoulders. Snow fell today, not much, but tomorrow night we are to get a few inches. Overall reports for winter are calling for more snow here in the Midwest than last year. Hoses can't be used any more for water, instead we'll be back to hauling around buckets instead. The barn must be shored up and more bedding added to stalls and outdoor sheds. As pastures die off, the silage bag is opened and oatlage must be shoveled by hand into the tractor and taken to cow feeders. And the list goes on.

But...with every winter comes another spring. So until then fasten your seat belts...we think it's going to be one cold and snowy ride.