Yesterday was another one of those days that could be added to a list of “Strange Farm Happenings”. I was in the house frying up some burger for dinner, because Florence was working at the Creamery until six. My cell phone rang. It was John (our herd manager) frantically calling…
Hopefully the folks coming to Milkapalooza 2013 will see a smile on this old farmer’s face. It’s easy to smile in June with all the grass lush and green. Read more
Sure is nice to see that the snow is all melted (except where I piled it up with the tractor loader the last few months)! Seemed like a long brutal winter. Especially when I see the woodpile gone and not much hay left for the animals. We all hope for a nice warm rain to get the grass to grow. Read more
Was it a sign of an early spring? I hoped that the cardinal’s spring song I heard at daybreak outside our window was just that. The thermometer registered 1 degree below zero on that morning this past week and it was still February. One can only hope!
One of the first signs of spring at Cedar Summit Farm is the birth of new calves. A walk through the dry cow and heifer group showed many 2 year old heifers in bloom. There are many eminent birth signs to look for, one of them is that their udders are beginning to fill. Read more
Feeding our dairy herd at Cedar Summit has recently become much more challenging. Factors that we don’t have much control over are feed costs, land rental rates and drought. The three are all related.
Gone are the days when we ran a bit short of hay for our cows, and could call any number of organic hay growers in the area and ask them to bring us a load of hay. Our strategy has changed. We now sell cows to meet our feed supply. We recently sold 20 cows, hoping that we will have enough hay until new grass in the spring. Organic hay is not available in our area.
We had hoped that the 36 young heifers and 2 bulls at Heidi’s near Belle Plaine could stay until spring. These heifers are our future dairy herd, so to sell them is out of the question.
With no hay available in our area, we made the decision to move them to Van Der Pol’s farm in West central Minnesota. The Van Der Pols have been raising our young animals for many years and have access to hay. Unfortunately the hay price is about double of what it has been.
I just read about New Mexico dairies importing hay from Canada due to Chinese competition. China plans to buy 9 million more cows in the near future. According to Bloomberg news, ocean container rates are $30 a ton for hay shipped from California to China. A freight rate from southern California, where the hay is grown, to the central California valley dairies is $53 a ton. The California dairies that haven’t been driven out of business are traveling east in search of hay and driving the price of hay up all across the country. Alfalfa hay is the single largest consumer of irrigation water in the west.
Our farm in New Prague consists of 412 acres of pasture and hay land. We own 160 acres and cash rent 252 acres from four different friends and neighbors. While we do not begrudge them a competitive rental rate, our rental costs have doubled in the last few years.
As Allan Nation, editor of the Stockman Grass Farmer magazine, recently said, “What a high corn price fosters is more competition for land and as a land-based industry this is where we are most vulnerable. Turning down $700 an acre cash rent in Iowa takes a mighty strong commitment to grassland agriculture”.
Corn prices have tripled the last few years to about $8 a bushel. I blame it on mandated ethanol and crop insurance subsidies. The American taxpayer picks up the cost of 60 percent of the insurance premium and the crop farmer is guaranteed over a thousand dollars an acre. Both are beyond my comprehension. As grass farmers, we have but little influence in Congress compared to corporate agriculture’s lobbying efforts.
Compounding the high hay and land rental prices is the drought. We are taking some steps to help get us through it. We plan to plant more sorghum-sudan, a high yielding warm season annual that is very drought tolerant and has high digestible fiber. The usual process is to take off the first crop hay from an older hay field, till the soil, apply manure and then plant the sorghum-sudan in early June after the soil has warmed.
Like I have said in the past – as a grazier we always plan for drought. To be farming as long as I have, I must be an eternal optimist!
At Cedar Summit Farm, we have run a non-confinement dairy since 1993. This means that our cows spend every day outside year-round, getting plenty of exercise and breathing fresh air. The two-inch hair coat on our cows is a sign of their adaptability to our climate. Other than their time being milked in the milking parlor, they spend their time outdoors, either in the hoop shed, feeding area, or roaming a 10-acre pasture. Read more
I remember helping my Father raise hogs in the ’40s. By the time I was a teenager the hogs were gone. Dad called them “The Demolition Crew”. This was before we had metal pipe gates. All the gates were made of home-sawed lumber. Many times the hogs ate their way through the gates.
Hogs returned to our farm in the late ’90s when our daughter-in-law Linda persuaded her husband Chris to buy her some piglets. Having a hog on everything in her kitchen wasn’t enough, she wanted the real thing. There were 4 of them: 2 black ones, a red one and a white one. Soon they grew too big to handle at their house so they ended up at the farm. The white one escaped and was seen in the northern fringes of the New Prague city limits. He soon found his way home, and followed the milk cows to and from pasture twice a day.
An elderly farmer neighbor saw the white pig cross the road to the east pasture with the cows. He told us the reason he stays with the milking herd is that he is nursing the cows when they lay down. No wonder he was much bigger than the other three. He would follow the cows into the milking parlor twice a day. That proved to be his downfall because on processing day he was captured there and loaded with the other three. Another elderly farmer in the area once told me that if you want tasty pork, feed the hogs milk. Talk about the wisdom of the ages. The great taste of that white hog far exceeded any pork that we purchased at the store in town.
We have been raising hogs at Cedar Summit ever since. We buy them as feeder pigs usually weighing about 40 pounds. These hogs do not have their tails docked and don’t need to as they are allowed to roam a 6 acre pasture. Hogs that are confined to a pen will bite each other’s tails off because of boredom. Our hogs are fed organic barley and peas soaked in waste milk from the milking parlor or our creamery. In the fall they get a taste treat from Mike and Gretchen’s Sweetland orchard in the form of apples left after their cider squeezing sessions. After Halloween the hogs feast on left-over pumpkins from the Barten family at Barten’s Pumpkins. The wooded pasture provides much to eat such as grasses, clover, acorns and black walnuts. The hogs do not have nose rings so they are free to find bugs, roots and worms under the sod. In the heat of summer they like to cool off in the shaded hog wallow.
Our creamery store sells our pork in half or whole hog, or by the cut. We also sell half, quarter and cuts of our beef. Supplies are limited, so call 952-758-6886 or email Merrisue soon for best availability.
We’ve been told that we need to find a hog breeder that farrows a hog that produces only bacon. So, the search is on!
The big cottonwood grew on the east bank of Sand Creek for a long, long time. Its 8-foot diameter probably dates it to pre-colonial days. As it grew, it became more and more vulnerable to straight-line west winds, as the roots anchoring it were in the mud under the creek bottom.
It was finally uprooted in a storm in 1936, about the same time my father, Val Minar, was about to take possession of the farm from his father, Jaroslav. I remember Dad saying that when he walked up to the felled tree, the roots were 25 feet in the air. Val wanted to milk cows so he needed to build a barn, and the cottonwood was there waiting for him.
The challenge was to have the logs sawed into boards we could use for framing the barn. Val and Jaroslav enlisted the help of the local ”Jack of all Trades” Jim Tuma. Jim was known around town as “Greasy Jim” because his overalls would stand in the corner all by themselves after a day’s work. The tree was too big to move, so they convinced Jim to move the sawmill and the steam engine to the tree. It was so big that, when finally built, all the barn’s major structural timbers and rafters came from that one huge cottonwood tree.
Many consider cottonwood to be an inferior lumber, but if kept dry under a roof, it is of excellent quality.
The men constructed a hip roof barn measuring 64 x 32 feet. It was built into a hill to aid access to the second floor we used for hay storage. The lower level was poured concrete with a glazed tile exterior. The second floor and roof were covered with galvanized metal.
Dad built 22 stanchions where the cows were tied for milking. He was also a Percheron horse breeder, so the west end of the new barn got four horse stalls. Soon the herd grew, and one of the horse stalls had to make way for a milk cooler. We didn’t have electricity yet, and you had to lift the full can of milk up and into the ice bath to cool the milk. All the milk haulers had large biceps and forearms from lifting the full cans of milk out of the cooler and into their trucks. A full 10-gallon can of milk weighed about 100 pounds.
After I had a driver’s license, Dad bought a used van so I could haul the milk into the creamery every morning and he could save the hauling fee. I also picked up the empty cans after school.
When I went off to college in the fall of 1958, Dad purchased a new bulk tank and got rid of the cans. By then the horses were gone, so he expanded the herd by putting five cow stations in the place of two horse stalls, and the other two were converted to a milk house to house the bulk milk tank and milking equipment. I remember painting the new milk house an ugly aqua green, which the milk inspector approved.
We milked cows in that barn for two years after taking over the farm in1969. After our new 60-cow barn was built in 1971, the old barn was used for hay storage upstairs and was used for raising heifers in the lower level.
The lower level is still used for winter shelter for young heifers and in the summer it provides shade for the pigs. The upper level is used for storage. The old barn is in need of repair and is succumbing to the fate of many barns that have outlived their usefulness. The cost of repair is greater than its current worth.
The memories of that barn are many. My Mom used to tell me about the pen they made for me when I was a toddler to keep me from falling into the manure gutter and to prevent me from being kicked by a cow while she and Dad milked. I remember as I grew up how cool it was in the “basement” of the barn. The cows actually enjoyed coming in to be milked on a hot summer day. I remember the summer when the hay fields were very productive and we stored about 10,000 bales in the barn. And, I remember a blistering hot day, stacking the hay bales to the peak of the barn.
The upper level, or hay mow, was used for loose hay in the beginning. The wagon of loose hay was pulled into the driveway and pulled up by using what they called sling ropes. A track at the peak of the barn carried the hay to where you needed it and a rope was pulled to release the sling ropes.
In about 1940, Dad purchased a hay baler that made small 50-pound bales. The sling system was also used for the bales. Horses pulled a long heavy rope to pull the sling. When electricity came to the area, Dad purchased an electric winch to pull up the sling. One of my earliest memories was the day the motor used to drive the winch overheated and started a fire which could have easily burned down the barn. Luckily, Dad was there to douse the flames.
We’ve been recording every rainfall event on our farm since 1994. The rainfall total for May, 2012 is 9.61 inches and exceeds the previous high in May of 2004 by over 2 inches. Needless to say everything is green and growing here.
As the forage in our pastures matures, the cows are becoming much more content. During the very lush growth of April and early May they seem to sense that the grass doesn’t have enough fiber and is not as filling, and it passes through them in a much more liquid form. In the past week the cow patties look much more normal. Come to Milkapalooza on June 23rd and we will show you what a normal cow patty looks like
All the spring calves except one late born calf are now weaned. John, our farm manager, called them “The Hooligans” when they were free to roam the farmyard, nibble on flowers, and occasionally run out on the road in front of the farm looking for Mama. They are now in a large weaning pen and eating hay. In about a week they begin their own slow introduction to their own pasture.
We have no evidence that the wolves have been back to the steer pasture at our McGrath, MN farm since the early May update. The steers seem much more contented now that the wolves are leaving them alone. The state trapper that was trying to trap them said that the wolves are eating fawns now so they are well fed and not looking at our steers as a food source
Our vegetable garden is fenced in to keep out the calves, chickens and rabbits. We have a proliferation of rabbits this year. I think many of them were born under our deck in the backyard. We are waiting for the young to mature. We already have a list of folks that want some for hasenpfeffer (German rabbit stew).
The creek is full, the days are long, and the birds are singing their early summer songs. Onward toward Milkapalooza and the summer solstice.
Big rains this week, slow-moving tropical downpours preceded by several hours of gusty, dusty winds that left dust in our teeth and a calf pen in the back yard
We really don’t keep a calf hutch in our back yard out at the farm, but that is where one ended up after the wind storm yesterday evening.
There are 19 calves in our weaning pen near the house where we keep 5 plastic hutches to shelter them from the elements. One of the hutches was lifted over the 4 foot high panel fence by the wind. If one of the calves was in the hutch at the time we do not know. If there was I’m sure he was more than a little surprised.
I don’t ever recall being in a dust storm like we experienced last night. I wasn’t around for the dust storms in what they called the dirty 30′s, but we imagined this is what it must have been like. The radar showed rain coming all afternoon, but I think it was picking up the dust particles. The dust was so thick that I could not see the barn from the house. Florence and I still had grit in our teeth this morning from the wind yesterday.
Storms like this always prove the value of pasture-based dairying. We imported a lot of topsoil from the neighbors to the west as the storms picked up loose dirt from corn and soybean fields nearby that have not greened up yet. It was our gain, and we didn’t lose any topsoil, as all our land is in hay or pasture. Sadly, we later heard that some neighbors to the west lost the roofs of their buildings to what they think was a tornado.
The two inches of rain that fell was most welcome. It’s amazing how fast the 6 inches that we received earlier this month can evaporate with low humidity and high winds. All we need now is hay weather. A few days of warm sun and light wind would be ideal for cutting and baling hay.
The weathermen say we are officially out of the drought conditions we’ve had the past six months. We have gotten plenty of rain, the creeks look good and lakes are filling up, but our pattern has been for warmer and dryer summers. We have incorporated planning for drought into our farm plans, and we will continue to keep it in mind.