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How to Establish Dung Beetles in Pastures (and Why You Want to Do This)

I only recently became interested in dung beetles, largely because it has only been recently that we have had any to become interested in. As a rancher, I must create the conditions for dung beetles to thrive, and they will come.

The first time I saw dung beetles completely bury a manure pat in a number of hours, I was hooked. I wanted to learn all about them: what they do, how to help them establish in pastures, how they work, etc. My continued observations and research has led our family to develop a deep appreciation of these hard-working creatures. So much so that we created our updated business logo in honor of them.

Our daughter art directed the logo and our neighbor, Brian Taylor, created it. We get a lot of stares when people see our logo on the side of our truck, but we hope it piques their curiosity enough to learn more about dung beetles and the vital role they can play on a healthy farm or ranch. Continue Reading →

Winter Poultry Care

The answer to the poet’s ques­tion of, “What is so rare as a day in June?” was, until recently, a farm fresh egg in the middle of winter. Egg laying was essentially a seasonal activity and was greatest only when the hours of daylight lengthened.

Egg output increased as producer experi­ence and skills increased and were motivated by the demand for eggs in the cooler months when baking is increased and appetites are heartier. Take stock of your flock facilities and management techniques for successful winters to come.

Lighting 

Earlier egg producers learned to make the most of what nature of­fered them. Poultry houses were built with larger southern-facing walls, of­ten with large numbers of windows to catch as much of the thin winter sunlight as possible. They were white­washed inside each fall as both a sani­tary measure and to further amplify the light factor inside the building.

When electricity became more available many began to light their laying houses to stimulate egg produc­tion in the darker, gray months. It is a practice that continues with good effect though not always done well. Continue Reading →

Book Excerpt: Ranching Full-Time on 3 Hours a Day

The book Ranching Full-Time on 3 Hours a Day, by Cody Holmes, provides real-world examples of the success that holistic management systems can create a for your ranch.

Using his personal experience, author Cody Holmes describes the practices that he has found both successful and profitable for ranching cattle, while working only three hours a day.

Many hard-working men and women have wanted to make a living ranching in the cattle industry, but have struggled with very little success. Holmes has found that to be truly successful, the critical factors are your decision-making and planning abilities.

In this book you will learn about:

  • Using diversity to find stability and security
  • Taking a whole-ranch approach to management
  • Letting cattle improve your soil
  • Maintaining a better quality of life while cattle ranching
  • And more!

The excerpt below discusses step-by-step processes for holistic management in agriculture.

Navigating the Dairy Crisis: Hope in Organic Dairy

At a time of profound hardship in the dairy industry, the few farmers optimistic enough to start new cow dairies are going the route of organic dairy. The name of Clover Bliss Farm refers to the contentment its abundant pastures bring to its bovine residents. It also sums up the aspirations that dairy farmers Chris and Samantha Kemnah have for the 190-acre spread and the old tie-stall barn in South Argyle, New York, that they took over from a long-retired farm couple.

Chris and Samantha Kemnah at Clover Bliss Farm, their 190-acre spread in South Argyle, New York. Photos by Joan K. Lentini, JKLentini Photography

From the time they started about two years ago, the Kemnahs have been supplying organic “grass only” milk to Maple Hill Creamery. Maple Hill, which now collects organic milk from 150 farms across upstate New York, pledges to its customers that the cows producing its milk consume only pasture, hay and other forages, rather than corn, soy and other common dairy feeds.

Two years ago, organic production still stood out clearly as a bright spot that might offer long-term economic stability for dairy farmers. In contrast, the price of milk paid to conventional dairy operations had already fallen into what would become a protracted slump, setting off yet another period of economic distress that has reached a crisis point.

Farmers, advocates and policy wonks disagree on how, and even whether, to address the challenges facing the dairy industry. But there’s no dispute about the overriding dynamics behind the sector’s crisis. Milk production continues to increase, yet Americans’ consumption has been falling. Industrial-scale dairy farms, with greater labor efficiency and capitalization, have been the engine driving the increased production, and they’ve been adding cows and land as smaller family farmers give up and leave the industry.

Lately, some of the same economic forces that have plagued conventional dairy farms are showing up in the organic market as well — putting pressure on farmers like the Kemnahs. Continue Reading →

From Grass to Glass: Organic Dairy Farming

Maybe it’s a chance remark heard from a fellow farmer or an epiphany that comes while attending a farming conference. It lands on fertile ground and a way of looking at things, a way of being in the world, shifts. For Evan Showalter a book his father picked up — Gary Zimmer’s The Biological Farmer — launched him down the path he’s on, which includes providing milk for Organic Valley’s Grassmilk brand.

Evan Showalter produces Grassmilk for Organic Valley on his Virginia farm. Photo by Russell French for Organic Valley.

He came to the book in 2007. At the time, Showalter, of Port Republic, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, had returned from working in construction and landscaping to the dairy farm where he grew up. There, he had managed a renting farmer’s conventional dairy herd of 80 to 100 cows. As he and his father considered the prospects for dairy, Showalter decided not to buy that herd and to focus instead on produce and corn for silage and grain; he also continued haymaking. He took over renting from his father in spring 2008.

Showalter, who had planted genetically modified crops and sprayed glyphosate because that was what he knew, was interested in biological farming, so Zimmer’s book came to him at the right time. When he returned to the farm he began to phase out synthetics and by 2009 began to apply for certification for some areas of the farm.

Between 2009 and 2011, Showalter began routinely testing soils and working with consultants. He saw a rapid shift in soil balance as he sold crops and had no animals on the farm to cycle nutrients. Continue Reading →

Book of the Week: Dirt Hog

By Kelly Klober

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an Acres U.S.A. book, Dirt Hog, written by Kelly Klober. Copyright 2007, softcover, 320 pages. Regular price: $25.00.

Hogs are actually very social animals and are quite safe and easy to handle, as long as you avoid situations that are too forced or overly rushed. Most farmers, for example, will feed the animals over a fence not because of any perceived ferociousness, but because hogs have a tendency to function as a group and curiously crowd around any source of activity near them.

Dirt Hog by Kelly Klober

Dirt Hog, by Kelly Klober

Make the animals in a lot or pasture aware of your approach by whistling, humming, or talking to them softly. One of my first jobs on the farm was as the officially designated hog caller. I thought it was a sign I was growing up, but my high, youthful voice uttering “whoa, sow” simply carried farther. I was a bipedal “hog whistle” of sorts.

The hog on the range in many ways functions as a free agent. It isn’t a wild or uncontrolled animal, but in some respects the hogs do get closer to nature and their animal origins.

Continue Reading →