Happy summer! It's been a good one so far. This past month, I celebrated my 17th birthday. Dad and I have been busy with first crop hay, and cultivating corn. Now, we will be busy with cultivating soybeans and also the Chickasaw County 4-H and FFA Fair will be coming up during the month of July.
I spent a week during June at the 25th annual Iowa Agricultural Youth Institute. This was an institute for high school youth at Iowa State University studying leadership and communication skills and modern agricultural topics. I studied the 2002 Farm Bill topic. The other two topics were Agricultural Entrepreneurship, and International Trade. After we studied the topics, we went to Iowa's capitol in Des Moines and had debate and panel discussions over the three topics in the House of Representatives. We sat in the fancy chairs and desks in the large room. We also had guest speakers talk to us about the three topics. Along with the studying, we had a banquet with fancy food and a keynote speaker, Mr. Mark Pearson. Mark Pearson is an Iowa farmer and the host of Iowa Public Television's Market To Market. I had a great time listening to his speech and talking to him personally. We learned how to act professionally, so I am now ready for the Apprentice! Ha! Ha!
Livestock is the main part of our farm. We believe that livestock, in particular, a cattle herd, is the heart of the farm. They help maintain the ecological diversity of the farm. With our crop rotation of corn, soybeans, barley, hay, and pasture, the cowherd grazes each field on our farm once every five years. They keep nutrients in the soil. With two years (hay and pasture) of no till in the fields, we build soil stability and resist erosion. We produce hay and grain for the livestock, and in turn, the livestock produce nutrients for the soil. The cowherd is also important for permanent pastureland along creeks. This again, prevents erosion. We keep our field borders far away from the creeks so floods won't sweep dirt and other foreign material downstream.
For flood reasons, we keep livestock shelters uphill and away from creeks. That way, in flash floods, the livestock has a dry and safe place to go. We always make sure after a rainstorm, baby piglets have enough dry bedding to cuddle in and live with their mother sow.
Dad has been in the livestock business for a long time. When Grandpa farmed this place, he had about 2000 chickens and sold the eggs to a local produce in Alta Vista. Now, that large chicken building is used for wintertime farrowing for the sows. The old egg house is used for our own chickens for our eggs today. We have just a few laying hens for our own use. Our barn was used for cattle shelter with a cattle yard south of the building. Today, the cattle yard south of the barn is still in use for feeder calves, which later this summer, we will be selling to Organic Valley to produce organic meat. The barn is not used for cattle anymore; instead, it's used mainly for sow farrowing in the wintertime. A long time ago, Grandpa used to milk about 30 Shorthorn dairy cows in the barn by hand. He had a few horses when he started farming, but was replaced with a Farmall H in 1945. Grandpa pasture farrowed sows and piglets in his farming years. In the wintertime, he farrowed indoors with straw bedded pens. Dad pasture farrows in the summer, just as Grandpa always did, using basically the same practices. Grandpa farrowed in the barns during the wintertime using straw bedded pens. Dad experimented over the years, doing indoor farrowing just like Grandpa did, to using metal farrowing crates and metal slatted floors with an underground manure pit. This style of farrowing was not the best choice for various reasons. The sow was not happy, the baby pigs were not healthy, and Dad certainly was not happy! Sometimes you have to learn the hard way! After many changes, we now continue with farrowing outdoors during summer months and indoors during the winter season using deep-bedded straw pens. This is a much safer, healthier environment for the pigs and us. In 1997, we constructed our first hoop house building. Currently we have five hoops. We have used them for farrowing but found that small-bedded pens in the barn work better. We finish our hogs in three of the hoops and one is used for sow gestation. Our other is used for hay storage for the cattle. Through all the years of working with livestock, we currently raise everything organically. This was a family choice and we are very satisfied with our decision.
Farm Fact: Livestock add value to the grains and forages produced on a farm. Without that value added process, the farm cannot generate enough income to maintain a family on the land.