Thursday, September 26, 2019

Reality Check

It is so easy to be upset, angry, disappointed, frustrated and depressed.  In fact, it is frightening exactly how easy it is to give strength to all of the negative feelings.  It has rained too much on the farm again this Fall, so several things aren't going the way we want them to.  I could easily move from there into a mini-tantrum regarding all things 'bad' and that, in itself, bothers me.

Why should I have to work so hard to identify and then enjoy some good things in life?
The answer is, I should stop working so hard to STOP myself from seeing and appreciating positive things.  That certainly doesn't mean that I should turn a blind eye to the rest.  What it means is that I can't effectively deal with the rest if I don't maintain a healthy balance.  And that's why this post is appearing now.

A Strong September for Bees on the Farm
I readily admit that I have been very much feeling that 'doom and gloom' for pollinators on the farm is appropriate.  I remain worried for the health of pollinators and beneficial insects - and for good reason.  But, I have also been reminded this month that Mother Nature has sufficient strength to recover if we just give her a chance.

Our hive of honey bees finally took hold and is very active right now.  We even took a little honey out to give them some more space.  I know better than to get my hopes up that they will survive the Winter.  But, it seems to us that they are setting things up to have a fair stock of food for the Winter.  We have had hives on the farm before and this group is looking better than all previous efforts.

We are also noticing a fair amount of activity on the asters that can be found ALL OVER our farm right now.  Everything from the Thousand Flower Asters to some of the purple and red varieties.  I still believe that the activity is lower than it should be for the amount of habitat we are providing.  But, at least there IS activity.

We have noticed that the bumblebees have declined dramatically over the past three years, but we are encouraged by the bumblers bouncing around on the large marigolds that are inside Valhalla this year.  Does it mean they aren't still in danger?  Of course not. What it means is that some of our efforts are doing something for the bumblebees and other pollinators around our farm.  It's an area we have some control over and it helps to see that our efforts have some positive impact.

Solar Energy for the Genuine Faux Farm
I realize we've put a post out there regarding our new solar array.  We have a good deal more to say about it, but that will come another day when I have the brain space to work on it.  For now, we provide you with a graph from the system that monitors production by our solar panels.

The cool thing about this series is that it shows you how much energy is being generated each day for a week.  Obviously, no power is generated when the sun is down.  Also, the sun reaches the best angle for the solar panels about mid-day, which is why most of these data lines show a peak at that point. 

What I hope everyone can see is September 23, the last day of the week being shown.  Other than a very short period in the afternoon, there were no clouds obstructing the sun.  We were "that" close to a a perfect parabola of production.  Ahhhh.  A goal for us!  And, I got to use alliteration.

Not All Harvest is Delayed or Hindered
Another thing that I know I tend to do is dwell on the things that I cannot do on the farm.  For example, I really want to dig the potatoes and carrots.  I want to pull the onions.  Etcetera.  But, the wet weather is making some of this impossible.  And, the longer it is impossible, the more likely it is that we lose the crop. 

But, that's a negative and we're about positives right now!

The photo at the right shows Rob's typical setup for harvest.  Rosie pulls a running gear with a flat deck to a field that is going to be worked (in this case, the Southwest field on the farm).  Appropriate containers are available along with a scale.  The cart often carries a nipper or a lettuce knife as well as a camera.  Well, ok, the camera doesn't often come along for the ride.  Rainy days often preclude its appearance.  There is also usually some sort of machine playing music for the farmer (also often missing if it is raining or looks like it might rain).

One of the recent projects was to pull in the cauliflower that was ready to harvest.  The wet fall is causing some problems with the quality, but they heads are decent and they taste just fine, thank you very much. 

We are participating in a variety trial with Practical Farmers of Iowa this year and we are measuring how Mardi, Amazing and Goodman perform.  I decided not to allow myself to know which variety got planted into which section, so I harvest by labeling them as A, B, C, etc.  The idea was that I wanted to be as objective as I could be as I took notes on quality.  So, what's the problem? 

I already know the difference based on their appearances.  So, never mind. 

Regardless of whether that worked or not, I will say that I continue to be impressed with Amazing and I am happy enough with Goodman.  I'm not sure what to think about Mardi just yet.

Some folks might be curious to know how I marked sections so I would know when I am harvesting a different type of cauliflower.  So, here is an example at the right.  Use a flower!

I haven't noticed any issues with planting an old-style marigold.  I believe this one is Starfire Signet.  The neighboring cauliflower plants are consistent in growth quality with the rest of their group. 

You might observe that there is still paper mulch under these plants.  This is another positive - despite all the wet, we still have paper mulch holding down weeds.  That, uh... weed free things doesn't apply to the rest of the farm.  Oh well.
We are also pleased with how the grass mulch is performing in the kale crop this year.  The initial harvest after applying the grass mulch was a little annoying because we had to try to clean out the grass that got into the curly kale leaves.  However, since that time, the kale has actually been CLEANER because we don't get soil splash on the leaves. 

The other nice thing about the mulch is that it makes it nicer to harvest on wet days than it would be if it were bare soil.  I think we are sold that the addition of the power rake system was a win for this year.  Now we just have to figure out how to maximize its use and prioritize placement of the mulch. 

The most obvious downsides to this system are that you can't get grass mulch if there is a dry season AND collecting/spreading mulch takes time.  But, I have news for you... cultivating and weeding takes time too.  If we can find crops that like the grass mulch option and identify those that prefer paper mulch and those that like cultivation, I think we will be in our best position to handle the difficulties of growing and dealing with weeds.

I am hopeful that we can keep working on optimizing this particular part of our operation in the future - assuming we continue to grow veggies on the farm!  I suspect we will, but the questions are what types of veggies and how much?  These are ok questions to ask in this post because they are not inherently negative!  Ha!  Snuck out of that one, didn't I?

About Those Onions
Yes, we still have onions to pull out of the field.  Tammy and I managed to pull about 400 this morning.  We really do like Redwing on our farm.  I think we have another 500-600 to pull!  Just remember - don't count your onions before they're out of the ground.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Gathering at the Gateway to Autumn

editorial note: The following was sent to our customer list via email midweek.  We realize there are others who are interested and are not in our email distribution stream.
Important GFF details follow and we would appreciate it if you read through this particular email so we can avoid the spread of misinformation and miscommunication between us and interested persons!  There are TWO items of importance here.

1. Gathering at the Gateway to Autumn at the Genuine Faux Farm
If you plan to attend, please RSVP so we can plan to have enough turkey for everyone.
Sunday, Sept 22. 
11:30 am - 3:00 pm
Food at 12:30 pm
Potluck event.  We will provide a roast turkey, buns and other items to make roast turkey sandwiches.  We would like attendees to bring items to supplement the meal.
We do have plates and tableware, though it would not hurt if you brought your own.  Please bring lawn chairs.
We are celebrating our 15th and final season of the GFF CSA program and we would be honored by your presence to help us close a chapter of our farm's life and consider options for our farm's future.

2. Final CSA Season.
We have apparently gotten some attention by stating that our Sunday Gathering will be celebrating our 15th and final season of the GFF CSA.  If we have not yet gotten your attention yet (or if we just got it recently), please give it to us now so we can be sure that everyone who receives these emails or reads this blog post understands what is happening.
The only certain things are:
1. We will not continue as we have with the program.  Numbers have continued to decline and the model doesn't seem to fit the farmers or our farm as it once did.
2  We must change if the farm is to survive.
3. We know that the uncertainty and diminished reach of local farmers markets is not a solution either.
4. We still want to operate the farm in some fashion, continuing to use our certified organic, sustainable methods to grow quality food, ideally for local consumption.
5. We do not wish to sever ties with those who have supported us.
6. We respect your input and welcome it.
7. Many options ARE on the table, including exiting farming entirely and taking a year off of CSA and returning in the future is also possible, though unlikely.

So, this does not necessarily mean that we are giving you a final 'good-bye.'  We are considering continuing to offer eggs, poultry and vegetables, but doing so as 'flash sales' and/or by using a credit system with those who might enjoy continuing to receive food products from us.  But, this is by no means certain.  After all, we still have the current season to deal with.

We appreciate your attention thus far and we'd love it if you would continue to give us your time for just a bit longer.  I apologize for length, but this is important to us and hopefully to you as well.

Why are we doing this?
You deserve to hear the 'why' of it.  You have been the farm's extended family and we would like to help you see where we are at.

First, we do love growing things and we believe we have developed a decent skill set and acquired a fine complement of tools to do the work.  We do not mind hard work.  We can tolerate setbacks.  We believe farms like ours are important.

But, we are also smart enough to realize when we are beating our heads against a wall that is only getting stronger.  Here is what we are fighting right now:
a. the climate is changing and our weather patterns are challenging 
Tammy and I have ideas about how we can change things on our farm so it can continue to produce.  But, we cannot do those things AND maintain a full CSA program.  We have to release some of the pressures of growing that the current CSA model creates so we can address these issues.  For example, we will need to create permanent raised areas on our farm to keep the roots of our crops out of the water table.  The list is long and will take some time to implement it all.

b. chemical misapplication and overuse is getting worse, not better
We see more and more evidence in our crops of growth inhibitors - agricultural chemicals that don't necessarily kill our plants, but they stunt their growth.  We continue to see a decline in pollinators and beneficial insects, despite increasing our flower plantings (among other things).  There might be some things we can do here as well.  But, again, it is difficult to find the time to make these changes if we are trying to grow enough product to maintain CSA shares.
c. it's getting harder to produce the volumes of quality produce that we are used to growing
We have the normal reasons to struggle.  Weather.  Weeds. Pests.  Diseases.  Time.  And our own human shortcomings.  We have always expected these challenges and we still believe we can address them with reasonable success.  But, when your zucchini crop struggles, you have to pay attention!  Look at a and b above and that gives clues as to some of the reasons.  The deck is stacked against consistency in successful vegetable crops in Iowa at this time.

d. the idea that local foods and organic foods are strong and getting stronger is old news and not accurate in Iowa
We were well-placed when we started because CSA and farmers market were growing in strength at the time.  In the past few years, the small segment of the population that believes local foods are important are being split between direct sales from local farms and items labeled local and organic at grocery stores and larger outlets.  Add to that a trend for less food preparation at home and the rise of national home-delivery food services and a willingness to accept the words 'local and organic' as accurate without verification and we have a problem.  In short, the small dedicated portion of the population hasn't grown all that much and they are dividing their attention between many more suitors. 

e. it is even less clear how a farm reaches customers than when we started
There was a time not long ago when the number of methods for reaching out to the public to promote something were fairly limited.  The advantage of that was that everyone (customers and purveyors alike) knew where to go.  That's not so clear anymore.  Yellow pages?  What's that?  

f. CSA is a difficult model to grow for in the first place
Simply put, you can't become an expert at every crop.  But, CSA tends to force you to TRY to do just that.  We still believe that diverse crops are a positive.  But, when you look at a through c above, it isn't possible to respond to those problems successfully with every crop.  At least it isn't for us - there just isn't enough of us to go around and make that happen.  Clearly, we need to cut our grow list in order to set ours up for the possibility of success.

g. Our adjustments over the last few years have failed and perhaps alienated some of you.
And for that, we apologize.  But, the Genuine Faux Farm CSA was once 120 members strong and is now sitting in the 40's for members  We had to consider and implement changes in hopes of regaining membership.  We missed on our adaptations and accept that, but it doesn't make sense to keep flailing about if the trends are consistent.

To be clear - this is not about blame.  It is about realities.  If what we do isn't working, we need to change.  So here we are.  Looking to change.

Would you be willing to help guide this change?
And, whether you are or not willing to do so - we still thank you ALL for supporting our farm in the past, present and, perhaps, the future.

Rob and Tammy Faux
Genuine Faux Farm
Tripoli, IA

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

September Showers Bring October Flowers?

It's another wet September at the Genuine Faux Farm.  We have to admit that this has been nothing at all like some other Septembers, we're looking at YOU, 2018.  According the averages, Septembers should not be all that wet anyway.  Case in point are the conditions we found in 2017.  But, we can still remember harvesting watermelons in the mud in a September in years gone by and we also recall losing a big batch of green beans at the end of August at one point when we were hit with heavy rains.

In other words, we are not unfamiliar with heavy rain events at our farm in September.  But, sometimes it does seem like we have a target on our farm.  Check out the rainfall amounts for September 8 to 13 this season.  Click on the picture for a larger version.
The Genuine Faux Farm is in the higher rainfall area to the right of the arrow.
This graphic came from KWWL and was highlighting the higher rain amounts near the Mississippi River.  We recorded over 5 inches at the farm during this period and the rainfall map seems to concur with us.  I guess we should expect this by now.  It's just that we hoped we wouldn't have to fight the weather quite so much this Fall.  

Don't think we are complaining about it all that much.  The soil did dry out enough in August that conditions are drying up in a normal fashion.  The problem is that it is just now drying up and we have... you guessed it... rain currently at the farm and more forecast.  Hey!  I know some people in south-central Iowa would like a bit more rain... 

One of the reasons wet Septembers are an issue for farms like ours is that we are trying to bring in crops that are difficult to deal with when it is wet.  For example, we still have two beds of onions to bring in.  Ideally, they are easier to clean and handle when they are dry.  But, we may not have that choice for them.
White Wing and Monastrelle
Carrots are a real bear to clean if you harvest them wet, as are potatoes.  Can you harvest them?  Of course.  But, do YOU want to clean a couple hundred pounds of carrots that have a couple hundred pounds of mud attached to them?  Neither do we.  And, those dry beans needed to come in so they can keep drying.  That's the whole point of 'DRY' beans.  They aren't as good when they are 'slightly damp' beans.

The good news is that we did bring in a four beds of onions already and most of the beets and some of the carrots are also in.  So, again, it is not all doom and gloom.  It probably has more to do with the fact that the forecast for today (Wednesday Sep 18) made it look like I had the day to work before it did rain.  Never mind.

But, I can pick high tunnel tomatoes!
 Speaking of high tunnel tomatoes, we are running a trial in the high tunnel for Black Krim, Italian Heirloom and Paul Robeson.  They all seem to be doing quite well right now and we're enjoying the harvest.  Thus far, Black Krim and Italian Heirloom are providing some slightly larger than normal fruit.  Paul Robeson is sticking to a half-pound average.  The largest Italian Heirloom weighed in at 2 1/2 pounds and the largest Black Krim was a pound and a half.  In all cases, the tomatoes have had great texture and taste.  BLTs anyone?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Give the Frog A Name

What should we name our little frog friend?
Blogging 101: When in doubt about what you should write about, start your post with a picture of a tree frog that likes to observe you washing eggs in the basement sink.

In addition to Bob, the green frog that likes to hang out in the water tub outside and Russell, the Cucumber Frog, we now have this little one that likes to hang out in our basement.  It took to sitting on our faucet handle until the day Rob nearly squished it when he reached to turn on the water without checking to see if there was an amphibian sitting there first.  Happily, no injury occurred and the frog hopped over on to the spray bottle where supervision of egg washing could safely be performed.

The solar panels have had some pretty nice days to collect rays and convert them to eckletricity.  What?  I can call it eckletricity if I want!  So there!  And, we finally have access to the monitoring site so we can see how well these panels are doing.
Solar energy for the week at the Genuine Faux Farm

We both find it interesting to see how the power generation actually provides us with a partial history of the weather as well.  For example, I remember working outside on September 10 and enjoying a nice, sunny morning.  Then, suddenly a bank of clouds came through and I recall commenting to them that they had NOT been in the forecasts I had read the prior day.  My words shamed them into leaving and the rest of the day was pretty sunny after that.

 A task earlier in the month was a harvest of beets and carrots from the southwest field/plot.  On this day, I chose to removed the tops in the field rather than pulling them into a building and setting up to remove the tops then.  It was a nice day with a light breeze, perfect temperatures and just enough clouds to make it the nicest place to do the job.  So, why not?

This harvest had us pulling in come Dolciva carrots, Guardsmark Chioggia beets and Touchstone Gold beets.  They are in storage for now, but they'll come out to be a part of CSA shares soon!  Actually, some of the smaller beets have already been distributed because we find the smaller beets store less well than the larger ones. 

Now, I am getting hungry for beets.

But, I don't think I'll ever get hungry for carrots.  Yes, that's Rob.  The farmer who grows, but doesn't like, carrots.  That means more for all of you, I guess.

Cauliflower rows
Another crop that is approaching harvest are the cauliflower.  I am not entirely pleased with the damage the grasshoppers are doing to some of the heads, but that's just the way it is sometimes.  There is enough there that I am guessing we'll do ok with the harvest.

I am actually showing this picture for a few other reasons.

1. We did a better job this year getting flowers into our rows at the same time as the crops.  This, despite the late planting and the huge push that had to go on to get the plants in.

2. The brassica successions became ONE succession for cauliflower and broccoli this year.  That was NOT an optimal solution, but it is what happened - for a whole host of reasons.

3. The paper mulch is holding on pretty well for the cauliflower.  On the other hand, the cultivation between rows has not happened as we wanted it to this year.  Once again, for a whole host of reasons.

But, the biggest reason of all is to show you (and ourselves) that we had at least one crop that grew threw the malaise that most of our crops seemed to show in July and early August.  Some of the change in plant health seemed to correspond with the point that our soil started working like 'normal' soil.  It was not until July at some point that we started feeling as if we had more than one inch of soil that wasn't mud.

The garden in Eden
 The net results for production in our Eastern plots is going to be very disappointing this season.  The broccoli was ok, but we didn't have the normal spread of production that successions would bring.  The onions have been pretty good and the cauliflower looks fine.  The garlic was also fine this season.

On the other hand, the summer squash, zucchini, winter squash and melons have all struggled mightily this year.  You know there is something going on when you can't get overwhelmed by zucchini.  There were some nice green beans and we're still trying to find time to pull in the taters.  But, we're not expecting much from them.  As long as we get something, we'll be fine.

As has happened other seasons after excessive moisture, the grasses have been the most successful plant type.  Not exactly what we were going for this season.

To end on a good note, let's go visit Eden.

Ahhhhhhhh!  The tomatoes are attempting to touch the top of the high tunnel.  I don't think they will make it this season, but I don't mind if they wish to try.   The sweet alyssum plants are doing well planted at the base of the trellised tomatoes and we both like how this appears to be working.  The raised beds in Eden have done their job and we're very happy with these plants.

In addition to tomatoes, we've had some quality lettuce, basil, green beans and peppers out of Eden this year so far.  The melons were excellent and we are now pulling the dead vines out so we can put in a Fall crop in their place.  I think, perhaps, the nicest surprise has been the quality tomatoes from Tasty Evergreen, Black Sea Man and Cosmonaut Volkov in this high tunnel.  All have excellent tastes and textures and it is nice to have some good, consistent production from them this season.

And, now, if we could just find a name for our frog friend.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Broiler Chickens at the Genuine Faux Farm

Many of the posts on our blog are simply a combination of pictures we happen to have taken combined with whatever is on Rob's mind.  But, nearly half of the posts you read here have been planned out at some level and often are created over a period of time.  This is especially true of posts that are a bit more ambitious, such as this 2015 post that discusses how you can cut up a whole chicken (thank you again for the help Elizabeth).

This is one such post because it has more than one purpose and we'll start by getting the 'business part' out of the way!

The Business Part - A Special Purchase Price September 9 and October 7
Flock number three is due to go to the "Park" Sept 8 and will be processed... er.. prepared for "Freezer Camp..." Sep 9.  Flock number four will go on the 6th of October and be available October 7.  We still have a significant number of birds in our freezers that are looking to be dinner guests as well.  Is your home looking to host a chicken as the main course... um... "Guest of Honor at the Dinner Table?"

Cost is $3.50/ pound.  Weights typically range from 4 to 6 pounds, so prices are typically from $14 to $21.  We have had birds process as big as seven pounds and as small as three.

We will have a special pick up on Monday, September 9 and October 7 in Waverly from 6pm to 6:30 pm at St Andrew's Church (in the parking lot).  We will add a pick up location in Waterloo/Cedar Falls on October 7 if we get at last 30 birds ordered for that trip.

Why should you particpate?
1. We will bring UNFROZEN chickens for pick up.  If we don't have to freeze them, we will reduce the price per bird by 40 cents (our cost to freeze them at the locker).
2. If you purchase 10 or more birds, frozen or unfrozen, we will reduce the price per bird by 25 cents per pound.  ($3.25 per pound price).
3. You help the farmers convert one asset (processed birds) into another (cash) so they can convert that asset into more feed for the remaining turkey, hen and broiler flocks on the farm.  Quite a cycle, that!

Can you buy birds at other times?
Of course!  But, we're only offering these special prices tomorrow.

What do you need to do?
Contact us by commenting on this blog post, sending us a message in email or in Facebook prior to 3 pm on September 9.  It is important that you tell us how many chickens you want because we will NOT be bringing all of the birds with us.  We will bring some additional broilers with us in case someone shows up that we were not aware of, but we anticipate bringing more than five or so additional birds.

And now for the next part!  Please read and learn how we raise poultry for you and allow us to give you some reasons to consider picking up some broilers tomorrow or in the near future.

the Brooder Room
How the Genuine Faux Farm Raises Broilers

It Starts With Day Old Chicks
We do not hatch our own chicks, we are a 'finishing' operation only at this point. Chicks have been purchased through the JM Hatchery and we raise the Red Ranger chickens for meat. While they do not grow as quickly, nor quite as large as the standard Cornish X meat bird, we are pleased with their willingness to roam within their pasture. We believe that these birds taste better and have more consistent meat quality from the whole bird. In general, these birds appear to stay healthy and thrive in our system of growing.

The chicks are packaged into specially designed cardboard crates that are mailed from the hatchery to our post office in Tripoli via the United States Postal Service.  Typically, we will receive an early morning phone call telling us our chicks have arrived and we then drive ourselves into town to pick them up and relieve the poor postal employees of the continuous chirping of the baby birds in their boxes.  We take the chicks to the Poultry Pavilion (an old machine shed on the farm) and put them in one of the sections of the brooder room we built inside the building in 2017/2018.

The process of prepping an area for the chicks includes putting wood chip bedding down and covering that with newspaper.  We get a feeder and a waterer prepared and filled.  And, we connect one or two heat lamps to bring the temperature up to the chicks' comfort zone.  Each chick is removed from the shipping box and its beak is dipped in the water to show them that they have a source of hydration.  Especially in the earlier months, we put a top over their divided area to eliminate drafts and keep the temperature high enough during cool nights.

Get the Birds Old Enough to Regulate Their Own Temperatures
Once the birds start growing in their feathers, we can consider putting them out on pasture.  In the meantime, we have to expand their space in the brooder room.  Each flock has 150 chicks and it is important that we give them enough space to keep them healthy, while still keeping the space small enough to keep them as warm as they need it to be.

The newspaper is removed after a day or two and we add straw as necessary to their bedding to keep it all reasonably clean.  They need food and water daily and we change the height of the heat lamps as they grow and need the temperature support less.  By the time we are ready to put them out on pasture (typically around 3 weeks), they should be getting through the night without any light or supplemental heat.

Of course, once the birds are out of the brooder, we have to clean the brooder out and return the walls to the smaller layout for the next batch of chicks.  We'd like to tell you that we do this right away, but life on the farm rarely allows you to get 'ahead.'  Let's just be honest and tell you it gets done in time for the next batch to move in.  Good enough.

The whole 'brooder room' and raising chicks indoors during cooler months has some risk.  Heat lamps, if they get knocked down into the straw, can certainly start a fire.  We have only had that happen once and we (thankfully) caught that well before there was a major problem).  On the other hand, there can also be a thing with faulty wiring.  In this case, the circuit breaker took care of us and we were able to identify the situation and remove the plug.  For the time being, we bypassed the plug and we'll re-install it this Fall.

mobile feed bin
Many Mouths Mean Much Munching
Since we raise 150 broilers per flock (and we raised/are raising four flocks in 2019), there is a need for a significant amount of food (at least from our perspective).  We cannot expect broiler chickens to survive purely on forage.  For that matter, we do not expect our layers to survive only on forage.  Even if we do provide foraging opportunities and we encourage them to explore their pasture areas.

We have been pleased to support the Canfield Family Farm and their endeavor to grow diverse crops that they then mix into feed on their farm.  We appreciate their approach to farming and we find that we have received top quality feed from them over the past few years of patronage.  Add to it the fact that they are also a local farm (Dunkerton area) and you can now double your effectiveness with respect to supporting local business when you buy our broilers.

some nice clover in that pasture!
The chicks require a different feed mix that is more finely ground than they will receive as they get bigger.  Additionally, broilers require a different mix (more protein) than our hens (added calcium).  This means we find ourselves buying different mixes from the Canfield's and having to find ways to store that feed on our farm as we use it.  The mobile feed bin is taken down to the Canfield farm to be filled with 3000 pounds of whatever feed type we will be needing the most of for the next several weeks.  Other feed is provided either in 50 pound bags or in a bulk bag (usually 600-800 pounds at a time).  To keep rodents from getting into the feed, we transfer the bulk bag into other containers using the tractor.

rain hat over a feeder
Every morning, we let each flock out of their protective building and we provide them with feed and clean water.  By the time the broilers reach full-size (at about week 10 or 11) they will consume three five-gallon buckets of feed a day.  Like other living creatures, they have 'hungry days' and 'not so hungry' days.  We may adjust their feed amounts downward if it is clear they did not get through the previous day's feed. We supplement the broilers' feed with forage opportunities in their pasture and we will occasionally give them cucumbers or other vegetables (though the hens and turkeys get more of that).

By virtue of their stocky bodies and thick legs, broilers tend to be less able to hop up onto things than hens are.  That means we need to be sure water and food is at their level.  Of course, our broilers have surprised us by showing us they like to hop up onto roosts in the evening (about 18 inches above the ground).  But, this is by no means ALL of the broilers and we need them ALL to access food and water.  They get the CHANCE to hop up onto a roost if they want it.

Since the broilers are out on pasture, their feeders are also out on pasture.  That means they get rained on!  Many of our feeders have plastic 'hats' that we can place on the feeder to keep the feed dry, though it does look a bit silly when you see a black hat with a bunch of chicken rumps sticking out in all directions.... and that's ALL you see.

Older portable building and electric netting
Day Ranging Poultry
We do not keep our birds in a 'chicken tractor' during the day, instead we use a 'day range' system. They are out in a pasture with fenced borders to keep them out of our gardens and to slow down potential predators. At night, we make sure birds go into one of our portable shelters to protect them from owls and other predators. We move the birds to a new pasture area periodically to maintain the quality of the grass/clover crop for their benefit.

We have maintained the principle of letting our broiler flocks out on pasture since the beginning, but the processed has been refined each year.

One of the earlier discoveries was the quality electric netting sold by Premiere One (another Iowa business!).  We have acquired a number of sections of netting over the years and have six or seven solar chargers so we can maintain multiple pastures for our various flocks (and to protect some of our veggies from varmints).  The combination of portable solar chargers and movable netting allows us to move the area being used as pasture for our broilers.

Jeff and Rob working on unloading a building.
In prior years, we have not been quite as consistent with moving the building (and thus the fencing) as we have this season.  If you look at the last photo at the right, you can see what passed as a 'portable' building for us.  Tammy and I could lift one of these and move it, but it was far easier with four people (one at each corner).  We didn't always have four people to move it.  And, when it rains, things can get slippery...  Let's just say that the time had come to change how we moved buildings, so we did so with the help of the Bandsaw Man, Mr. Jeff Sage himself!

Jeff had created a couple of buildings (much bigger than our buildings) that were on skids.  They are intended to be moved using a tractor, whereas our old buildings would not have withstood the stress of being moved that way for long.  Jeff is not likely to be using the buildings anymore, so we made an offer to purchase them for our farm.  What a great move that was!

If you look at the picture on the right, you will see why we move these buildings every other day.  It only takes two days with 150 birds for the footprint of the building to look pretty rough.  We are not in the business of destroying pasture with our chickens.  After all, we want future flocks to use these areas as well.  That means we need to keep the buildings moving.

Happily, the fences do not have to be moved every time the building is moved, but they do need to be moved every so often as well.  If one section of fence is being used, it needs moving every week or so.  If it is two sections, we move it every other week.  This might sound like a great deal of work to just pasture raise a few chickens.  And, in fact, there is real work involved.  It isn't magical, it takes some effort.  On the other hand, it is a reasonable amount of effort for the results.

If a fence does not need to be moved, Rob can take Rosie, the tractor, out to a pasture and move a building in fifteen minutes or less (if all goes as planned).  A section of fence has to be taken down to allow the tractor in.  The birds need to be encouraged out of the building and then excluded by closing the door.  A rope is attached to the skids on one end of the building then to the bucket of the tractor and then Rob backs the tractor up to get the building over a fresh patch of pasture.  Unhook the tractor, open the building back up, hang up the rope and put the fence back up.  Not a big deal.


The birds don't want to leave the building or you have to move the fence or you have to do some fancy maneuvering other than a straight back move.  Each of these things are bound to happen a couple times for each flock at some point during their time on pasture.  Even so, these things don't usually take that much time in a day.  It's more the fact that we often have a looooong list of things to do, so we might get a little grumpy if this one task takes longer than we want.  Sometimes, delays working with poultry can make Rob say silly things.
I guess wind can move our buildings too.

Other considerations
Like anything else on the farm, things do not always go completely according to plan.  There are weather events that can impact the flocks.  A recent wind storm moved one end of a broiler building.  Happily, the birds had selected the OTHER end to congregate at the time of the storm, so we observed no injuries the next morning.  It has been mentioned to us that we could consider putting anchors on the buildings.  But, I remind you of the process to move these buildings every other day.  Adding an anchoring process begins to make our approach less attractive.  If we can only have one instance of buildings moving every few years, I think we can manage.

On the other hand, we have had to pay more attention to where the buildings are being moved so we can keep birds OUT of water.  This was especially true last Fall, but it has been a consideration most years.  Setting a building in a spot that is known to puddle is just a bad idea if you know there is heavy rain possible.  The real problem last Fall was finding ANY spot that wasn't a puddle.

Remember, broilers don't tend to leave the ground much, though some will get on those roosts.  Birds sleeping/sitting in water will get hypothermic which, at the least, is going to affect how well they grow.  Our solution for prolonged periods of wet has been to leave buildings in place and just keep adding straw to keep the birds dry.  Clearly, that doesn't allow us to move them to new pasture - but we are talking about a response to extreme conditions.  Thus far, in 2019, we have not had to resort to this - though we have had to re-route where a building goes a couple of times.

Emma and Sophie can use other approaches to deal with gnats
Another issue that has gotten increasingly difficult is the increased buffalo gnat population from late May into early July each of the last several years.  Once again, 2018 was exceptionally bad.  This year wasn't particularly good, but after last year, it seemed like a picnic to us.  Either way, the gnats can cause problems for poultry, so providing shelter with good air circulation is critical.  It is also important to pay attention to how the birds are doing in each location because the gnats can be more populace in some areas than others.  Once we notice the birds struggling, we move the building in hopes of reducing the stress from the gnats.

In addition to gnats, we have had losses to hawks, skunks and raccoons.  This might make it sound like it is a terrible situation, but we typically start with 150 - 152 chicks and we process 142-147 birds at the end.  We consider this a reasonable success rate, especially given the health of our birds and quality of the meat they provide.

Processing - A Day at the Park
This post from 2009 gives you an idea of what a trip to "the Park" is like for us.  We still take our poultry to Martzahn Farm in Greene, Iowa (another local Iowa business!) and they do a fine job of cleaning and prepared the birds for sale.  A state inspector is present, which allows us more freedom in selling our poultry.  Rather than run through that entire process here, we'll let you take the link.  The biggest differences are that we typically take our birds the night before (and we find they are less stressed by this) and we only do 150 birds per flock now.  Oh... and the birds are, on average, bigger than they used to be.  This does mean we often have a late night followed by a long day, but that's just the way it works.

The day after we bring the birds in, we have to clean the truck and the cages they rode in.  Once the birds are ready in the afternoon, we go pick them up from Martzahn's.  If we know some people want unfrozen birds, we can arrange to deliver them.  The rest go to Frederika Locker to be frozen (and another local business).  After they are frozen, we move them to our farm and our freezers (assuming we have space).

so... Why Buy Our Chickens?
  1. We raise our birds in a way that is humane and supports their natural processes.
  2. We work to maintain our pastures and reduce stress the flock's presence might place on that system.
  3. Our birds are healthy and have some character.
  4. The quality of the meat throughout the bird is consistent.  You'll like the dark meat and the white meat.
  5. The quality of the processing is top-notch, you will not find pin feathers on these birds.
  6. You support a local farm business that, in turn, supports several other local/state businesses to raise these birds.
Let's empty the Genuine Faux Farm freezers so they can have space for flock number four in six weeks!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

September Newsletter

Welcome to September
An amazing thing happened on the way to the Poultry Pavilion Saturday morning.  I realized that tomorrow would be September the first.  (Yes, I write the newsletter the day before it is posted.  Shocked, you are!)  Once I had that realization, I also remembered that Tammy and I had made some fairly important decisions about how we were going to go about business this year during our "official" farm retreat in February.  One of the things we agreed on was a time frame for making some decisions about how the Genuine Faux Farm would proceed (and whether it would proceed) in the future.  This installment of the Genuine Faux Farm newsletter will address this topic as well as many others, so hang on to your hats (and read on)!

Schedule Changes
Our schedule has been on the blog for a while and you can go to the original blog post here.  Once I am done with the newsletter I will update that post with the correct dates for a few things.  But, we'll get right down to it here as well!

  • Broiler flock #3 goes to "the Park" on September 9.  There are some nice big birds in this flock and they are looking VERY tasty.  See below for more on them.
  • The November 5 pickup in Waverly needs to be moved to November 6 (Wednesday) due to a scheduling conflict.
  • The August Summer Festival was cancelled due to lack of interest on the parts of the farmers as much as anything.  We simply did not have the energy to promote it and then set it up.  We may talk about that more in a bit as well!
  • Add in our first (and last?) Gathering at the Gateway to Autumn at the Genuine Faux Farm scheduled for September 22.  This will be a potluck that will also feature GFF turkey (we will roast a bird we have in our freezer from last year's flock).  The meal will be at 12:30pm and the event will start at 11:30am.  This is going to be a family friendly, low-key event and we would like all of our CSA members, past and present, to come share a meal with us.  The invitation includes all farm supporters, poultry purchasers, family and friends.
Broilers enjoy the apple trees for shade and the occasional windfall apple
Crop Roller-coaster
It certainly would not be September without a reference to how crops are doing so far this year.  Per the norm, some things are doing well and others are doing... uh... not as well.  Thus far, we have been pleased with the green beans and romano beans this season.  The beets have been good and the early lettuce was excellent.  The high tunnel melons have been a real treat as well.  We've had some gorgeous basil and the carrots are in pretty good shape (the earlier crops).

On the flip side, we are looking at poor vine crop production in general.  The late start, wet soils and likely exposure to other issues have done them no favors.  Add in some weed issues for some of the crops and there you are.  To be clear, the weed issues followed after many of the other issues.  They were already doing poorly and we just couldn't find the energy to spend to rescue things that were clearly doing poorly to begin with.  Evidence is provided by the summer squash and zucchini.  We've weeded, watered, etc etc... and the production is still way below what it should be.
Onions enjoy music, apparently...

After late starts and false starts, we've had some lovely broccoli and the cauliflower is coming along nicely for a mid-September crop.  The onions have been good, but not spectacular (we always hope for spectacular, but good is, well... good).  In fact, we still have 400 row feet of onions to pull in that are just now about ready.  The tomatoes in the high tunnels look very good and the peppers in the high tunnels have already been producing.  The field tomatoes and peppers... not so much.  And, the potatoes are always a mystery until we dig them all.  We're winding up for a batch of short season Fall/Winter crops in hopes that we can finish strong.

Broiler Chickens
We have about 300 broiler chickens in two flocks at the farm at this very moment.  Flock #3 goes to the park on September 9 (as you see above) but we still have a significant portion of flock #2 in our freezers right now.

Allow me to let you in on a secret.... shhh...  don't tell anyone.  We can't put flock #3 in our freezers if they are already full with flock #2.  So, we're putting the word out that we have lots of tasty chickens still available.  We have kept the price at $3.50 per pound for eight (or more?) years and we feel the quality has actually been improving as we continue to make advances in how we care for our flocks.  You actually have two opportunities here.  You could order some birds to pick up on September 9 so you could receive them unfrozen.  Or, you could opt for the already frozen birds.  They all taste good, so why not contact us and order some?

Farm Retreat Goal Check
Tammy and I set a number of fairly specific sign-posts for us to gauge how we were doing this year and to help us decide what we are doing going forward with the Genuine Faux Farm.  We agreed that we would assess where we were at during the August/September period of the season.  This is a dangerous time to assess because Tammy is starting the semester at Wartburg and Rob is now looking at a Fall work period with no other farm workers other than when Tammy is home.  But, it is also a realistic time for us to consider where we are at so we can balance it against the optimism that February often holds with respect to the farm.

One major theme was that we needed to make progress on projects that make our farm house a farm home.  The good news is that we now have a functioning, but not quite complete, kitchen in the farm house now.  We are now up to FOUR plugs in the upstairs floor (up from one) and the project to repair the stair to the basement and create a safer entry to the house is underway.  And, the solar array is now producing electricity!  In order to support all of these projects, we have (finally) completed the refinancing process of our mortgage - a project in and of itself.

The farm part of the Genuine Faux Farm has not been neglected either, with the creation of Casa Verde, among other things.  We increased the number of row feet we have using paper mulch and we re-introduced grass mulch to our repertoire (part of the reason for the green bean resurgence).  However, we have had some major setbacks this year as well.  The wet soils pushed us back four or more weeks for most of our planting.  An illness that prevented sleep in July (yes, it felt like all of July to me) set us back even further.  And, we are becoming more and more convinced that there is an accumulated buildup of herbicides, fungicides and pesticides in rural Iowa that are manifesting themselves on our farm.  That, in itself, is worth a future bit of blogging.

Potatoes and beans with some grass mulch to try and control the weeds

From a sales perspective, our CSA program is down again this year.  At its peak, the Genuine Faux Farm CSA delivered 120 shares per week.  We now deliver 40.  We attribute that, in part, to trends that have been obvious since 2016.   Some of the issue is likely our own fault for changing the program so dramatically this year.  But, we do not regret the changes because we do believe it made for a better product for our customers given the special conditions of this growing season after record precipitation levels.  Many people are warming to the 'credits' addition to our program and some have taken full advantage to stock up on their favorite veggies.  Also on the plus side, the simplification of our growing list has also helped us this season, which tells us that we might be moving in the right direction there.

On the other hand, we have increased sales to other entities (Jorgensen Plaza kitchens, East Bremer Diner, Farm Shed) - which was a part of our plan for the year.  However, we are still struggling to get more consistency with these and we need to add others.  In short, it is still unclear as to whether we can rely on these sales for the income needed to continue with the farm as it is right now.  Broiler chicken sales are also down this year - a year where we actually added a fourth flock of broilers because we anticipated a possible increase in demand.

To be perfectly blunt.  Our farm has not made any money the last couple of years.  My (Rob's) salary for his work on the farm consists of the amount that is our profit.  For that matter, Tammy also does not get paid for her work on the farm.  As unwise as it might sound, we do not pay a salary to myself and include it as an expense for a number of reasons that could ALSO be its own blog post.  The changes implemented this season have been, in part, an attempt to address the situation. 

So, what does all of this mean?  Well, we'll get to that.  But first..

Gathering at the Gateway to Autumn
September 22 starting at 11:30 am.
We would like to invite all CSA members, farm crew, poultry buyers and farm friends and family to join us for a potluck lunch at the farm where our contribution to the feast will be a roast turkey raised at the farm.  This gathering will be similar to our Summer Festival in that it brings us together to enjoy some food and each other's company.  It differs in that it focuses on the middle of the day rather than the end of the day.  At present, we are keeping the event low key so we can focus on making contact with those who are able to attend.

Why do this?
Well, did you know that this has been our FIFTEENTH season running a CSA at the Genuine Faux Farm?  It seems like a good time to request your presence to celebrate this with us and give us a chance to thank all of your for your support over the years that we have operated our farm share program.

Thanksgiving Turkeys Available Again This Year
Somehow the turkeys managed to avoid being mentioned until the bottom of the newsletter.  Don't tell them, they like to be first on the list for every VAP we create.

We will have turkeys available again this year and we will keep the price the same as it has been for several years now as well.  To make it up to the turkeys, we will create their OWN blog post to give details.  But, we want you to consider getting your Holiday turkey from the Genuine Faux Farm this year.

2020 Visions
Our vision for the Genuine Faux Farm in 2020 and beyond has to consider the realities of growing where we live and finding a market that will take what we grow.  We certainly have the right to change anything we say here as we learn more.  After all, Winter is usually the season for reflection and planning.  However, there are a few things that are now clear to us.
No such thing as a straight path forward, so let's just find what looks like a good one.

1. The CSA is dead.  Long live the CSA?
The 15th season of our CSA program will be our last with the CSA program as it has been.  Does that mean that we will not make produce, chickens, turkeys and eggs available to the fine people we have served in the past?  No.  We realize that the Genuine Faux Farm is unlikely to survive if we completely forsake sales direct to you, the consumer.  We value you and we NEED you for this farm to continue.  But, the burden of support has been falling to a smaller and smaller group for several years and we need to adjust.  It's a question of how we will do things more than anything.

We would like to know how YOU would like us to continue to serve you?  The only certain things are:

1. We will not continue as we have with the program.
2  We must change if the farm is to survive.
3. We know that the uncertainty and diminished reach of local farmers markets is not a solution either.
4. We still want to operate the farm in some fashion, continuing to use our certified organic, sustainable methods to grow quality food.

2. Increasing Other Direct Sales
We have always had some opportunities to sell to local entities such as restaurants, retirement villages, schools and daycare facilities.  However, the CSA has always gotten first priority for our growing lists and our harvests.  With the decline of the CSA, we have been pursuing more of these opportunities, but they carry their own uncertainties.  It's always safer for a farm business to have a diverse outlet for its product.

3. Re-assessing Poultry
It is still too early to determine what sort of adjustments should occur with the chickens and turkeys.  We make adjustments on the farm every season, so that is not earth-shattering.  The question is whether we make larger or smaller adjustments here.

4. Adjusting for Reduced Labor Hours
Neither of us has been allergic to hard work or long days.  However, it is clear to both of us that our tolerance for it has declined.  We have to find a way to control the number of hours we labor on the farm.  There are many ways to address this, of course, and we will explore them.  The good news is that we have improved in so many ways over fifteen years that we think this is certainly possible.  In fact, we have put many things in place over the years to improve our farm as a workplace for ourselves (and, likely, others).  We are, in particular, concerned with adjusting the work-load so Tammy doesn't have to essentially work two full-time jobs (teaching and farming).

5. Continuing to "Go Big" with Adjustments
One of the themes of our Farm Retreat in February was that we were at a point where some things needed to show significant progress or change.  In other words, it is still time for us to "Go Big or Go Home."  Since the farm IS our home, I guess we have to 'go big.'  If our farm is going to be our home, we need to continue to make repairs to that home so we aren't wasting so much time on emergency fixes or 'work-arounds' just to get our everyday living done.  And, if our farm business is going to continue, we have to make some major adjustments that will reduce stress and improve efficiency.  If we fail, so be it.  But, we intend to succeed.  We're just not always sure what that success will look like in the end.