grazing

Newsletter December 2017: Winter Quarters

Winter Quarters

               We hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! We almost sold out of our turkeys this year so we are very thankful to all who made us a part of your holiday! We had a lot to be thankful for here for the farm this year as well. We’ve had a lot of people asking about if Emily had our baby or not. Our little boy Soren Powers was born a few weeks early before Thanksgiving, so it was an especially grateful holiday for us this year!

This mild weather has been nice as we continue to button the farm up for winter. There is always a struggle this time of year between the warm and cold temperatures, and that battle can affect the farm quite a bit. I’ve come to learn that the sooner the ground freezes over the better! During the muddy times (usually mid-spring and late fall) the herd is kept to “sacrifice” pastures. These pastures are areas where we know the herd will damage the turf but is necessary to keep the other fields undamaged. With a grass-based herd, no matter the weather or season, we must have a place for them to go and these sacrifice areas are crucial to controlling potential damage. The biggest damage in muddy conditions is hoof damage and “pocking” in the field. The grasses will come back but it will take much longer. Ideally your sacrifice pasture will move around year by year to spread the damage out. A sacrifice pasture can sometimes be ungrazeable until early summer.

As soon as the ground is frozen the cattle can’t damage the fields, so the herd gets moved to their permanent winter quarters. Winter quarters are chosen based on how accessible it is to a water source and then I will try to find a section of poor pasture. The reason for wintering the herd on bad sections is that I can help rejuvenate those areas over the winter months by feeding hay on them. The hay is great because it usually has a large amount of grass seeds inside the bales. Once it warms up again in the spring these seeds will have the affect of reseeding my pasture for me. The other benefit is that the cows will lay down a large amount of manure, which gives the soil a real boost as well. I’ve learned from experienced farmers how much easier it is to work with the seasons… and it makes our lives so much simpler here when all the pieces work together to build a better farm.

We hope you have a great holiday season!

Levi Powers

Newsletter October 2017: Final Harvests

Final Harvests

My personal favorite time of year is here again. I love the chilly mornings and clear, sunny afternoons that mean fall is in full swing. It also signals that we’re getting very near to the end of our farming season. We’re still finishing up our last few items, namely, final batch of chickens go into butcher this week, turkeys still have another month to go, beef will be taken to butcher regularly until the end of year, and if you’ve been past the store lately you’ll also notice a new fencing project as we continue to upgrade our infrastructure.

One of our last items for the year is finishing up our final hay cutting. We take our first hay as soon as it’s dry enough in May, and our final cutting is in Sept/Oct. We’ll usually get three different harvests from the hay fields each year. Baling good quality hay is as much an art as it is a science. Grass needs to be mowed at a particular stage in growth to maximize nutritional value; if it’s too early you will get a low yield, and if it’s too late you will get very poor quality. 

We feed our own hay, which means that we’re kept pretty busy through the summer getting in enough to last us all winter. We have about 200 acres in hay, which is about how much acreage we have in grazing pasture as well. We’ll put up about 700 large square bales, which is about how much we need to keep our 150 Belted Galloways fed. This comes out to about 315 tons of hay to be fed through the winter. You can see why hay is our largest overhead cost! Feeding hay in the winter months is a definite downside to farming in the Midwest, but winter gives time for the soil to rest and rejuvenate so there are benefits to it as well.

I’m learning that not all hay is the same. In the past I think we had overlooked hay quality somewhat, but now I’m starting to understand how much of a difference it can make. It’s important to feed our steers the highest quality and most nutritional hay so they can continue to finish through the winter instead of holding their weight steady. In the grass-fed business, every opportunity to get that animal finished counts! All of our hay fields had previously been seeded in a straight grass seed mix, which makes great hay but not a very complete nutritional meal. This spring I overseeded red clover into the hay fields to add in a legume. Legumes are important to have in your hay because it adds much-needed energy for the animal. Legumes in the field also work as a green fertilizer and add nitrogen to the soil; it ends up being a great symbiotic relationship! We’ll have better hay and better soil at the same time.

I know that hay is not the most interesting topic in the world, but it would be impossible for us to survive without it so it’s very important to us here at Alden Hills! I am always a little more amazed as I continually see how everything at the farm is so connected and dependent on each other.

Levi

Newsletter October 2017: Final Harvests

Final Harvests

My personal favorite time of year is here again. I love the chilly mornings and clear, sunny afternoons that mean fall is in full swing. It also signals that we’re getting very near to the end of our farming season. We’re still finishing up our last few items, namely, final batch of chickens go into butcher this week, turkeys still have another month to go, beef will be taken to butcher regularly until the end of year, and if you’ve been past the store lately you’ll also notice a new fencing project as we continue to upgrade our infrastructure.

One of our last items for the year is finishing up our final hay cutting. We take our first hay as soon as it’s dry enough in May, and our final cutting is in Sept/Oct. We’ll usually get three different harvests from the hay fields each year. Baling good quality hay is as much an art as it is a science. Grass needs to be mowed at a particular stage in growth to maximize nutritional value; if it’s too early you will get a low yield, and if it’s too late you will get very poor quality.  

We feed our own hay, which means that we’re kept pretty busy through the summer getting in enough to last us all winter. We have about 200 acres in hay, which is about how much acreage we have in grazing pasture as well. We’ll put up about 700 large square bales, which is about how much we need to keep our 150 Belted Galloways fed. This comes out to about 315 tons of hay to be fed through the winter. You can see why hay is our largest overhead cost! Feeding hay in the winter months is a definite downside to farming in the Midwest, but winter gives time for the soil to rest and rejuvenate so there are benefits to it as well.

I’m learning that not all hay is the same. In the past I think we had overlooked hay quality somewhat, but now I’m starting to understand how much of a difference it can make. It’s important to feed our steers the highest quality and most nutritional hay so they can continue to finish through the winter instead of holding their weight steady. In the grass-fed business, every opportunity to get that animal finished counts! All of our hay fields had previously been seeded in a straight grass seed mix, which makes great hay but not a very complete nutritional meal. This spring I overseeded red clover into the hay fields to add in a legume. Legumes are important to have in your hay because it adds much-needed energy for the animal. Legumes in the field also work as a green fertilizer and add nitrogen to the soil; it ends up being a great symbiotic relationship! We’ll have better hay and better soil at the same time.

I know that hay is not the most interesting topic in the world, but it would be impossible for us to survive without it so it’s very important to us here at Alden Hills! I am always a little more amazed as I continually see how everything at the farm is so connected and dependent on each other.

Levi Powers 

Newsletter April 2017: Opening Day

Opening Day

Well, spring is very unofficially here. I know we’ll still have a few more cold swings but the warmer than usual February-March has made for things getting rolling here in the first week of April at Alden Hills. April is usually a very productive month on the farm as it’s warm enough to get a jumpstart on summer projects but it’s still too early for hay, and chicken chores are still minimal. Although this is only my second spring running a herd of cattle on grass I am quickly realizing that the beginnings of spring grazing can be a nerve-racking experience. Spring is exciting and intimidating at the same time because it lays the foundation for the whole year. 

For example, if it’s a wet spring it can delay our first hay cutting which in turn means that hay might be overmatured when we bale it, which means that it will contain sub-optimal nutrition. It can also push back the 2nd and 3rd hay cuttings, reduce our yields, and leave us short on feed for the winter.

Raising animals on pasture leaves you completely at the mercy of nature; in the spring this is a unique challenge. A key component of rotational grazing is matching your grazing speed with your plant growth (to ensure cattle are grazing grass when it is at its most nutrient heavy) and spring grazing is a lot harder to sync these two up because weather can keep things dynamic. Grass growth is fastest in the spring due to more rains and milder temperatures before the heat of summer kicks in, so instead of a 6 week rest period for the pasture between grazing it can be much a shorter period. Improper grazing practices right off the bat (such as the ground being too wet and the cows causing soil compaction or grazing too soon and damaging grass before it can establish itself for the summer) can impact your entire grazing season.

We have our first batch of broiler chicks coming in this week. This year we’ll be doing over 5,400 pastured chickens in 6 batches and typically takes 11 weeks to raise a fully mature bird.

 If you haven’t tried our new Tallow Candles you can find them HERE on our store. They make a great chemical free, natural alternative and currently are offered in a lemon scent! We’ve enjoyed being able to use our beef resources fully and eliminating waste.

We were accepted into the new Green City Market outside Wrigley Field! This market will run from 4pm-8pm on Thursdays starting June 15th. We’ll keep you updated on the rest of our summer market lineup as it solidifies. Looking forward to kicking off market season soon!