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Archive | Farm Management

Biointensive Growing for Smart-Scale Farming

Conventional thinking holds that vegetable farms must be fully mechanized and produce on a certain scale to provide a livelihood, except in extraordinary circumstances, but Les Jardins de la Grelinette (Broad Fork Gardens) in Quebec, busts this myth, using biointensive growing methods.

For more than a decade Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Helene Desroches have operated a phenomenally successful “biologically intensive” microfarm using biointensive growing methods.

By choice they use only hand tools and a small walk-behind tractor and employ only one or two workers. Yet with less than 2 acres under cultivation and one greenhouse and two hoop houses on their certified organic farm, this husband and wife team grosses around $150,000 a year.

Of that impressive sum, they’re able to count more than 40 percent as profit for family living. Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene are in their 30s and have two children.

At a half-day workshop I attended in the company of well over 100 farmers, Jean-Martin summed up some of their achievements. Continue Reading →

How to Build a Portable Chicken Tractor

DIY Chicken Tractor

A modified chicken tractor at 37 Acres Farm in Camden, Ohio.

When building a chicken tractor, keep in mind that in any type of poultry containment the old rule of thumb is to provide at least 4 square feet of floor space per bird, although up to 6 square feet might prove beneficial for some of the larger breeds. There should also be plenty of head space to allow for free movement and natural activity.

Chickens have been used frequently to follow cattle across pasture; utilizing some of the lower, finer stemmed plant materials left behind by the true grazers; feeding on some insect life; and even helping to break down manure pats. They will still need to be offered a full feeding of a good laying ration to maintain desired levels of egg laying performance, however.

The challenges will be how to best tend the birds so contained and to protect them from predation. One- x 2-inch or 1- x 1-inch patterned, welded wire is a strong, durable choice, although it will add to the initial cost of construction. Continue Reading →

7 Keys to Dairying, Cheesemaking Success

No one becomes a dairy farmer or dives into cheesemaking because they are looking for a simple, easy life with a large pot of gold at the end the rainbow. But if a cheesy (I like to think of that as a complimentary word) life appeals to you, and you choose to turn it into a business, it must be one that is sustainable — worth continuing from the aspects of workload and income.

Being a successful farmstead cheesemaker is no longer just a matter of gathering together a beautiful herd of dairy sheep, cows, goats, or water buffalo and making great cheeses.

Not only are feed and infrastructure costs higher than ever, but the artisan cheesemaker faces stiff competition from imported cheeses and those that appear to be made domestically but are made in part using imported milk (in the case of some water buffalo mozzarella), imported frozen curd (for some fresh and ripened goat cheeses), or simply made overseas (utilizing milk from mega-dairies) to make a custom-label cheese. Continue Reading →

Transitioning to Organic: Strategies for Success

The year two spring rye crop — note how few weeds are present. This rye grew well during the spring and early summer, and was ready for harvest in mid-July. Below shows the rye straw after the grain was combined. Yields were about 35 bushels/acre of rye seed the first year and 4 bales of straw/acre. This year, the yield was 52 bushels/acre of rye seed and 8 bales of straw/acre.

With conventional prices for corn, beans, wheat and dairy really low right now and both prices and demand for organic products high, a lot of growers are thinking about transitioning to organic.

For most growers, one of the biggest deterrents to going organic is the 36-month-long process of transition, during which time you can use only organic-approved inputs and practices, but the crops, milk or other farm goods produced can’t be sold as “organic” and receive the price premium.

In my opinion, chasing profits is not the right reason to go organic, and there is more to it than not adding prohibited inputs and getting paid more for your crops. Being a successful organic farmer requires a different mind-set, and the best time to figure out your approach to organic farming and set yourself up for success is during the transition period.

Before Transitioning to Organic 

If you’re considering transitioning to organic, the first thing you should do is sit down and think about why and then think about how. If your answer to why is that you are doing it for the money, maybe it’s not for you. Continue Reading →

Pasture Vs. Shed Lambing

There are many factors to consider when deciding which system of lambing will work best for you.

Profit margins are slim in livestock operations; it only makes sense to match the sheep and lambing system we use with our goals, objectives, resources and market. Shed lambing and pasture lambing both have advantages and disadvantages; it is up to each individual to choose the best system for their operation.

Every year on livestock operations we anticipate the arrival of new life. Months of work go into planning so that we can be as prepared as possible for our busiest season. I have been raising lambs for more than 20 years. I have shed lambed in January and February in South Dakota and Indiana and also pasture lambed in Indiana in April

Dr. Bob Leader, D.V.M. says, “From a profitability standpoint the single most important decision you can make is when to lamb. That is because the costliest animal to feed is the lactating ewe.” Continue Reading →

The Huge Impact of Mycorrhizal Colonization on Plant and Soil Health

Mycorrhizal inoculation effecta

This University of Florida photo shows the effect of mycorrhizal inoculation on maize drought response. Mycorrhizal colonization (front left and back right) helps plants avoid severe drought losses compared to the control (front right and back left).

Leonardo da Vinci remarked, “in order to be a successful farmer one must know the nature of the soil.” Even today in the age of hydroponics, most of our food, over 98 percent by some estimates, is grown from field on a soil medium. Beyond growing our food, the way we treat our soil determines the nature of our environment and the climate.

There is a great and still relatively undeveloped agronomic and environmental opportunity that could make an important global difference. This opportunity is hidden underneath our feet, in the living soil. The soil is home to the most populous community on the planet. Around the seven continents, the living soil is the Earth’s most valuable bio-system, providing ecosystem services worth trillions of dollars. The most limiting resource for global food system is drought, with over 75 percent of the crop insurance outlay related to these events.

The vast majority of our cultivated soils are in an eroded and degraded state. As we increase demands on our soil to feed billions, we are losing it and depleting it at an unprecedented rate. Our ability to transform it will address both of these key issues. In addition to addressing drought and climate, the web of soil life is critical to maintaining and building soil resources we need now and into the foreseeable future.

Continue Reading →