News and blog
A couple of weeks ago we had some mornings that were just beautiful, and rare for July. It felt more like September, but who's complaining? I captured some pictures as I was feeding and moving the chickens and just really enjoyed myself in the beauty of the morning.
I wasn't able to get the greatest quality pictures with my phone...but still amazing scenery.
There is just something about the morning light feeling so new and fresh. Being able to appreciate the beauty of creation before the day gets all muddled up in the workings of life. Oblivious to what will transpire throughout the day.
Have you wanted to see C/J Farms in person? Now is your chance. We are hosting a walking farm tour on Friday, June 28, starting at 6 PM. Come out to the farm and experience the different animals and learn how we care for them and how they provide fresh, nourishing meats and cheeses for your table. You will see and learn about the milking parlor, cheese plant and sprouting building. You will see the dairy and some beef cows, meat chickens, laying hens, and pigs. Come and walk around the barn yard and out to the pastures. Bring the kids along for an evening on the farm full of great learning opportunities. The tour will last approximately 1.5-2 hours. Questions? Call 419-399-2350, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Our address is 18637 Rd 168, Defiance, OH 43512.
As I mentioned in the last blog post, we have embarked on a new adventure. In 2011 we were introduced to the idea of growing sprouts as a source of feed for the livestock. This interested us on many different accounts. For one, sprouts are to be an excellent protein source. They also could be used as a green feed in the winter. We have been using dry hay, but the prices of hay keep climbing and the availability is not always the best. We were also considering using the sprouts as a 'drought insurance'. When we first started researching this we had no idea that the summer of 2012 would be our next drought. We had priced pasture insurance, which would be similar to crop insurance, but it was too expensive to really even consider. Even if we would purchase insurance, it would not provide the physical feed that we needed. So with all of these positives we went ahead in the Spring of 2012 and put our first payment down on a one ton sprouting system.
Time kept going on and we ended up losing over 80 days of grazing this past summer. We didn't get much of a hay crop, and the surrounding areas didn't have much of a hay harvest either. Things were looking pretty bleak as we headed toward the winter feeding months. We started the cement work and building construction in early November. Here they are digging the footer.
And pouring the footer.
Construction of the building.
Working on the roof.
We got word that our sprouting system was next in line and we were to expect delivery in early December. At that time we had hopes of having sprouts growing by Christmas, or at least the New Year and we wouldn't need to seek out expensive, good milk cow hay. That didn't happen. The truck bringing our supplies caught fire in Iowa and part of the load had to be replaced. We ended up getting our shipment on Christmas Day. Not the choicest of days for us to have to unload a truck, but we needed to roll with the punches. This was the long awaited load!
Taking one load back to the Fodder building.
Brian had to be a counterweight as this load caused it to be heavy on the front end.
The engineer who started with us on this project was not able to be with us as we actually started the assembly. The CEO and a salesman were here to help, but had never actually done and installation before, so it was a learning experience for all.
The trays had ends that needed glued on. This made the whole building smell pretty interesting!
More people gluing ends on.
And the pile at the end!
Assembling the racks.
Preparing the utility room.
Setting the water tank in place.
The racks standing upright.
We finally got the racks and trays all assembled and plumbed up. The last piece to the puzzle was the control box. This box contained electrical components that controlled the dosing of nutrients into the water and the pumping of water to the trays. It is also supposed to test the water's pH. A technician was sent out to get everything wired up correctly. The inside of the control box is below.
A brief overview of the process as I understand it is, first the seeds are soaked up to 24 hours in these soak tubs.
Then the seeds are 'planted' on the trays.
Here the leveler is being used to ensure the seeds are level. Since they get watered by flooding, it is important that the water can flow all the way down the tray.
The water comes from this big tank...
down the pipes and flows into this end of the tray...
And out the back end and down to the back drain.
The drain flows into a sump area and at this point we have the option of recycling the water or discarding it. So far we haven't recycled it as we are not to the point where we have the nutrient levels figured out correctly.
The first day we harvested sprouts was about the best harvest we've had so far. We've been on a major learning curve. We are using well water, and our water is extremely hard. We're thinking the instruments must have been calibrated on city water and we've had to try and figure things out by trial and error. One man we talked to has water at a pH of 7 and is getting along fine, but his water is not near as hard as ours. Other people are telling us our pH needs to be lower, around 6.3 or something. So, we are still trying to work on figuring that out. We haven't been crazy impressed with the nutrients that were supplied to us, so we are also seeking out alternatives in that area. Some days the sprouts look really nice, and some days we might as well just dump the bag of barley to the animals. it's going to take some time and patience and perseverance to get this figured out. What we are excited about is the way the animals are eating what we do have. They are really liking the sprouts and try to eat them out of the bucket before we can get into the pen. So that is encouraging to us. We also see that the milk production has improved some, and we haven't had a large amount of sprouts to feed yet. Again, that is encouraging. We still believe that once we get the bugs worked out of the system that the sprouts will be a cost effective and nutritionally wise feed product. I'll finish here with some pictures of the seeds and sprouts. The motto is seed to feed in 7 days, so you can see the progression over the week. I don't have all the days documented here, but you will get the idea.
The pictures below are of the first harvest we had.
The chickens came up to inspect what was thrown to them. They ate the green off first, but when I went out the next morning the roots and all were gone. The cows did similar, but the pigs just dove in and ate everything all at once.
This picture is of all the racks.
I'm sure there is a lot of other technical information that I could talk about, but this gives an overview of what has been going on here. If you have any questions feel free to contact us.
Seeing as 2013 is well underway, it's high time I get a recap of the previous year posted! Right now I'm having a love hate relationship with technology. I just spent probably an hour making this post up and was just about to push submit when the internet went down! And nothing was saved, except the title...how helpful! Anyhow, I'll try again!
We started out the year with a fairly dry winter. We weren't sure what the spring and summer would hold, but hoped for good growing conditions. The most excitement in the spring is when the cows can go back out to pasture, and when we get the first batch of chicks. http://www.cjgrassfed.com/blog/cows-are-out.
We look forward to moving the laying hens from the greenhouse to the pasture when the time is right. This year Ralph had plenty of help, or something, from the younger generation!
A ride on the 4-wheeler or wagon is always good entertainment.
And sometimes we end up looking like the Clampetts!
As the summer wore on we wondered if it would rain again. We ended up loosing about 85 grazing days and had to feed our winter supply of dry hay during that time. We made two cuttings of hay, but they were poor yields.
A neighbor's corn field in late July/early August.
Our heavy clay soil is notorious for large cracks in dry conditions.
The bottom pond along our road is not very deep to begin with, but this is the lowest I've ever seen it.
On June 29 a Derecho, or straight wind blew through our area. It caused damage to some of our structures and we were without electricity for five days. I had no idea that a storm was even predicted, but it came through and left its mark! http://www.cjgrassfed.com/blog/storm-damage. On July 4 we were blessed with the outpouring of support from our customers. A group came and helped us with the clean up and rebuilding. http://www.cjgrassfed.com/blog/clean-up-and-rebuilding
Later in the summer the greenhouse got restructured and a new cover pulled onto it.
Every once in a while there will be some abnormality on the farm that warrants documenting. About 20 years ago or so, when we were still in conventional farming, there was a two headed calf born. This wasn't quite as exciting, but still a little strange. Don't worry, this one wasn't for sale!
One of my favorite things to do is watch the sky. I love to watch the color displays in the evening while doing dishes.
And this was from just a month or two ago. Usually the most brilliant colors are in late summer and fall.
September brought our Farm Club field day. We had beautiful weather for the day. It had actually rained during that week and the grasses were staring to green up.
Sampson giving a little love!
And to round out the year was the beginning of a major project. We have installed a FodderTech sprouting system. With this we can sprout grains, such as barley, and use the green sprouts as a high protein feed. A more detailed post on this will come soon. In early November the work on the building started. Here they are pouring the footer.
An eventful year, and one not soon to be forgotten I'm sure. We are thankful that we came through it safe and healthy. We don't know what this next year will hold, but we will try our best to make the best of whatever comes.
Another year is swiftly coming to a close. As we look back and reflect on the past year we can easily become discouraged. It was a hard summer, but we have many things to be thankful for. We are blessed with amazing customers who become like family to us. From all of us at C/J Natural Meats we wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year!
A Farmer's Work
Make the hay while the sun is shining, haul the manure while the ground is frozen, and milk the cows twice a day. A farmer’s work is never done.
Move the chickens in the morning’s light and gather the eggs by the afternoon sun. Slop the pigs twice a day, a farmer’s work is never done.
The cows must be milked. The pigs must be slopped. No matter if it’s rainy or sunny, the chickens must be fed.
Move the beef to the next paddock, wean the calves when the time is right. Get the brooder ready for new chicks, a farmer’s work is never done.
Read literature to continue learning, keep up to date with the rules and regs. Order supplies before they run out, a farmer’s work is never done.
The cows must be milked. The pigs must be slopped. No matter if it’s Saturday or Sunday, the chickens must be fed.
Make multiple trips to and from the butcher shop, stock the freezers in the store. Greet the customers with a smile. A farmer’s work is never done.
Answer the phone round the clock. Hope it’s not the sheriff in the middle of the night. “Your cows are out,” leaves a sinking feeling. A farmer’s work is never done.
The cows must be milked. The pigs must be slopped. No matter if it’s Christmas or New Years, the chickens must be fed.
Another year has swiftly passed, taking time to reflect on the blessings. Safely brought to another season, a farmer’s thanks is never done.
A healthy family, safe travels on the highways, and the blessing of caring and smiling customers; a farmer’s thanks has just begun.
Ralph & Sheila Schlatter and Family
It's been 12 days now since the storm swept through and created all kinds of havoc. We were so thankful to get power back on day five. Those were some stressful and very hot five days. A huge thank you to the linemen who worked 14 hour days plus in extreme heat to get power restored. We are thankful that we now know how big of a generator we really need to run the farm in case of an emergency. We started out with a 20kW generator that we've had for about 30 years. When we started hearing that the power outages were going to last more than overnight, we started brainstorming about how we were going to handle it. The 20kW was just not big enough. It was hardly enough to get the milking motors going, let alone run all of our cooling units with the meats and cheeses. At first we were playing hot breaker and switching breakers on and off to keep things going without overloading the generator. We made contact with my Uncle in Eastern, OH, who is also a dairy farmer, and he had a 50kW that we could use. He was kind enough to meet us half way with it. That came on Saturday evening. We soon switched generators and got things humming again. Sunday afternoon I had a wedding to attend (yes, a wedding and reception run by a line of tractors and generators...one for the record books I believe!) and when I got home I noticed I could hear the birds, which was strange because the tractor running the generator was a constant 24/7 noise. Well, we had too many things going and it was too hot and the generator quit on us. So, they had to hook our 20kW back up to milk that evening. One of the perks about being in our business is the personal contact with your customers and building relationships with them. Sunday night we didn't know what to do because, again, we needed more power to keep things going and cool. I was able to text one of our customers in Archbold, who was not hit by the storm as much as we were, and asked if he had any connections where we could locate a larger generator. One of his friends happens to work at a rental business and he checked, but low and behold, all of their generators were rented out. But, this friend of our customer knew a farmer in Southern Michigan who he was sure had a generator. Sure enough. He had either at least a 50kW PTO driven single phase generator, or a 100kW 3 phase stand alone unit. Unfortunately the farm isn't 3 phase compatible, but we were able to rent the 50kW from him. Early Monday morning a trek was made to Southern MI and a generator was obtained! Our electrician came out when we got it home (for the who knows how many times since Friday!) and was going to help hook it up. Well, it was something just a little different and rather than unhook what was already running he thought he would take it over to Ralph's cousin, also a dairy farmer, and try it with his tractor. They went over and the generator they had been using had just quit on them. So, they hook up the 50kW and it seems to work fine for them...but where does that leave us? In about three hours the cousins were able to fix their generator and brought the 50kW back to us. Our electrician came again and got it jerry rigged up, and we say, and we were humming away with 50kW's! Whew! To bring an end to this saga, the generator lasted us until our power came back on. By this time we had at least two more generators we had located privately on standby if we needed. On Wednesday, another customer from Toledo had given us a number to call for a rental up that way for a stand alone unit, because by this time our tractor had been running to power the generator almost full throttle for just about five days. Since Wednesday was the 4th we decided we would call the rental first thing Thursday morning. Thankfully we never had to make that phone call because around 8:30 Wednesday night the power was live again! Let me tell you, that was an exciting moment! We were all threatening to celebrate when we did get power, but by that time we were so exhausted we just stayed put! What we did do was put two window A/C units in our upstairs so we could sleep that night in somewhat coolness. That was an intensely hot week and by Thursday or Friday I heard that there had been 10 days in a row that were 90 degrees or above. Triple digits were the norm those days. So, the whole experience will not soon be forgotten.
Our next item of business was to start the rebuilding process. We had a group of 3 week old chicks in the brooder that needed to be moved out to the pasture, but no longer had any pens to move them to. We were and are so humbled by all of the support shown to us through this by our amazing customers. Some of them were asking how they could help and it ended up that since Wednesday was a holiday, and many of them had off work, a group came out to the farm and helped with rebuilding. My oldest brother is a small business owner down on the Northwest side of Columbus, but still keeps up with us on the farm. He walked in as we were eating breakfast Wednesday was soon appointed to project coordinator and delegator! The cars started pulling in with eager volunteers and they just kept coming. In all we had about 38 volunteers that day who put in a total of about 122 hours. Wow! That's not something you witness very often, but as I said, a truly humbling experience for us. It was a hot day, and the guys were out there sweating up a storm and accomplished a lot! At the end of the day they had replaced the eggmobile roof, mended two chicken pens, completed four new chicken pens and had the fifth one framed, and had taken apart the lean-to roof and demolished and organized the scrap from the damaged chicken pens. What a great group! Of course we needed lunch and a group of ladies were my helpers in the kitchen. Actually, they really did everything as I think I ran around all morning like a crazy lady. Sheila was in charge of the water brigade and made sure everyone stayed hydrated.
One of the first jobs was completing the demolition of the lean-to roof that was back in the woods and the chicken pens.
And just a plug for the Bobcat Loader in the above picture....quite possibly the most important piece of machinery ever to grace this farm. Just sayin!
There's my brother in the red shirt who was chief organizer and delegator. He did a great job at making sure everyone had a job and getting things done!
Taking apart chicken pens.
And yet more demolition.
This crew cleaned up around the greenhouse. The tarp is now history with plans of recovering it this fall.
This is the eggmobile reroofing crew. My cousin from Iowa came out and helped for four days and he was in charge of this project.
The eggmobile crew gets a visit from the water brigade; Sheila and two of her grandsons.
These guys were working on repairing one of the remaining pens that still had some chickens in it.
This was the beginning of the new chicken pens. They framed the pens up in the shop and then moved them out to finish.
Great kitchen crew! They worked with no lights on, no A/C, and no hot water, and no complaining! They made a great spread.
Once the pens got framed up they put chicken wire around them and aluminum on the back half and finished up the other details.
Amazing workers! It was at least 100 degrees that afternoon.
Stringing the final wires across the bottom and attaching the handles.
That's a summary of the day in pictures. We can't thank those of you who came enough for your work that day. You have no idea what that did for our morale at that point. We feel so blessed to have such a great group of customers. Even if you weren't here that day, your help in many other ways was greatly appreciated. Just by being our customer you are helping us out. If it weren't for you we wouldn't have any reason to farm as we are.
We are getting back on our feet now and are thankful for all of the support we have felt and experienced.
Yesterday afternoon a bad storm came through our area. I don't know if there was actually a tornado that touched down, but the winds were so fierce. We heard this morning that in Ft Wayne, IN, they clocked winds at 90 mph, and I wouldn't doubt it. We had some damage to some of our structures. We had 10 chicken pens out in the field and all but two of them were blown to pieces.
Our egg mobile where we have some of our laying hens lost it's roof. I was actually surprised to see that the whole thing didn't go over.
Up at the farm the greenhouse that is our winter laying hen shelter was pretty beat up. The entire plastic covering was taken off and some of the beams were pushed in.
This Spring we had an enclosed porch built around the boxes we use for the cheese aging room and it all went down. I was watching out the window when the roof started flying off. Pretty crazy.
The lean-to where we have some our calves was de-roofed as well.
And here is the roof.
Here is one wagon load of chicken pen debris that we picked up yesterday.
This is the genreator set up that is keeping us going for the time being.
We are most thankful that no one was hurt. This all seems a little surreal right now. These sort of things always seem to happen around us, but when it hits home it's a little intense. This morning the reports are that the power may be out for 2-3 days yet. One of my good friends works in the office at the local electric company and she had to stay late last night and was in again at 6:30 this morning, so we know everyone is working. They even called in out of state help. So thankful for the blessings we have and those around us who are willing to work to get us up and going again.
Thursday morning was quite exciting around here. The dairy herd was let out to green pastures for the first time this year. Kyle let me know before he left them out so I could go out with my camera and capture the moment. It is always quite fun to watch them run down the lane and as soon as they turn the corner into the pasture they kick up their hind legs and run and jump! We plan to leave them out now unless we get some really heavy rains. Then we will have to watch so they don't track up the pastures too much.
So, the cows went from here...
Here they are coming down the lane. Part way down they discovered the grass along the side and had to stop and try it out.
I was also able to catch some short video shots of them, so I'm going to try and load them here as well.
Things are definitely moving toward Spring here. We have chicks coming in about two weeks and just got 18 small feeder pigs. It seems that change is the norm here!
Here we are closing in on the end of February and we haven't had much of a winter, by definition. I think we had enough snow for the snowplows to be out a total of three times this whole season. It has been a different winter than most. One positive is all the sunny days that we have had. This time of year in Northwest Ohio can often be so raw and dark, but we have had a good amount of sunshine.
Every year and every season has its challenges. This winter has been challenging mostly because we have had so very little frozen weather and the ground has been muddy! Our soil around here is heavy clay which gets very sticky when wet and trying to drive through it with any kind of machinery leaves big ruts behind. We also have to be careful where we let the cattle this time of year as they can track up the ground and basically tear up any grass root systems that were established. Our milk cows are directly behind the barn and eat on a concrete lot and have access to a loafing shed where they get fresh straw bedding every day.
I haven't gotten any good pictures this winter because things don't look very nice when it is so muddy. So, I'm using a couple of shots from last year when we did have some snow and frozen ground. In the winter the dairy and beef cattle get fed dry hay. We try to make a good share of the hay from our own pastures in the summer, but we simply don't have enough acres to supply all our needs. So, we do have to buy in some hay. We are very particular about they quality of hay we buy and the suppliers are questioned about their growing practices. The hay usually comes in on a semi and then either Kyle or Ralph will unload it with our Bobcat loader.
Another job that needs done when the ground is frozen is hauling manure. The lot that the cows eat on and the loafing shed get hauled out whenever the ground is frozen enough to do so. This winter has been a little trickier and Ralph was hauling manure one night until about midnight because we had a cold snap and they were calling for it to warm up the next day. Some of these mornings have had enough frost in the ground that Kyle can get a few loads hauled out before the sun warms the ground up. We won't haul the loafing shed out any more this winter but will wait until late spring when things have dried up a bit. It is an excellent fertilizer for the pastures and they try to spread it on pastures that are struggling or that we are trying to get established. This is the only fertilizer that we use, no chemicals. The nice thing about grazing is that when the animals are out they aren't concentrated in one area and do their own manure hauling! But, since we aren't able to graze year round we have to do some of that work during the winter months.
Here is the tractor and the manure spreader.
And here is Kyle loading up the manure spreader from the loafing shed.
Like I said, these pictures are all from last year, but it gives the idea of what gets done. It's hard to believe that growing season is almost on us again. In the past we have usually let the cows back out to pasture sometime around the end of March, and that is sneaking up on us quickly!
We have been enjoying the different songs of the birds that are around and look forward to seeing what this coming growing season will bring us.
What an amazing fall we have had. From the colors of the leaves to the temperatures it has been on for the memory books. We have been blessed with nice rains this fall and the pastures have benefited greatly. Last year by the end of September we were feeding hay to the cattle already. This year we hope to make it into December before feeding hay in full force. The lush grass this fall has caused the milk to turn a nice golden color again and we have thankfully had a good amount of milk to make cheese with. Since we don't sell any of our cheeses before 60 days we have to have a good inventory to keep things in circulation.
One afternoon this week I was put on chore duty as our part time employee couldn't come. It takes me about twice as long to do chores because I like to take my camera with me and document as I go. I feel like I can do two jobs at once that way; feed the animals and take pictures. First off I went out to the pasture to feed the turkeys. I didn't get the best pictures of them, but you'll get the idea.
We usually have all white ones, but this year we have a small group of the brown ones. We started them up closer to the barn and realized after it was too late that one of our barn cats had feasted quite well on little turkey poults. So, we had to try and order more and all the hatchery had left were the brown ones. The only difference I see between them and the white ones are just that, different colored feathers.
Next, I came up to feed the laying hens in the greenhouse. We have moved all of the hens up for the winter now. When we start loosing daylight the egg production starts to drop. In the greenhouse we have the lights on a timer that allows the chickens about 14 hours of light a day. Another benefit of having the chickens up is that we can feed them whey more readily. With having plenty of milk for cheesemaking we have been having a good amount of whey for our pigs and chickens. This is a great protein source for them and they really seem to enjoy it.
This is the whey tub for the chickens. The top is open and we can add more whey easily. When we want a bucket of it to feed the chickens we just open the red valve and hold the bucket up there. It works out pretty well.
This shot is looking in the greenhouse. The far end is the West end and that always stays closed up. When it gets cold we will roll the right side panel down as it is on the left. I'm standing at the East end and that always stays open. There is good air movement in there at all times which is so important with chickens, or any animals really. It seems as long as they can stay out of the brutal cold and wind they winter over really quite well. The nest boxes are on the right side about half way down the picture. These are roll out nest boxes which are really nice. The chickens hop up there and lay their eggs and the nests are at a slight decline to the front so the eggs can gently roll down. This prevents, for the most part, the chickens breaking their eggs either by sitting on them not so gently or eating them. This is also really nice when it comes time for gathering eggs. We don't have to dig through nests to find the eggs and they are kept pretty clean since the chickens can't sit on them.
Last to feed were the pigs. These guys are quite the crowd!
This is what they get to eat. In the blue tub holds the whey and the buckets have ear corn. We are able to get this corn from a farmer just into Indiana who farms pretty much organically, but is not paper certified. I went out and hollered to them and they came romping up ready for something to eat.
This is the high tech way we get whey out of this tub! It can be pretty messy if you can't handle the bucket lifting it out, but I try and not fill it all the way full.
This is looking down at the pigs while they are eating. They can get pretty excited when they are hungry. To the point of almost knocking me down if I don't empty my bucket and get out of the way fast enough.
After they had their fill of whey they started coming up and investigating me. This one was trying to eat my boot. You'll notice that they are a dirty looking and it looks muddy in the background. Pretty much because it was, right here. It seems no matter where you feed pigs they always make a mud hole around the troughs. They are able to go out and root around in the grassy area, and you will often find them out there during the day. Plus we had gotten some rain last week, so that makes things a little sloppier as well.
My last task for the evening was to let the cows out. They were headed across the road for the night so someone needed to watch them go out. If they're not going across the road we usually just let them find their way to the pasture in their own time.
Here they are coming towards the road.
And here they are crossing the road. We try and always have someone here watching them cross the road in case they decide to turn up towards the neighbors. For the good majority of the time they do a really good job at just going straight across. This is one large benefit of living on some very rural roads!
As I followed them out to shut the pasture gate I took a picture of the five lambs we have left.
They don't like to get too close to any sort of action. Here they were playing on some dirt mounds. These are Katahdin, or hair sheep. They don't grow wool as most people think of sheep. This is really nice so that you don't have to spend the energy shearing them in the spring. We have been very well pleased with the meat as well.
And I finally made it out to shut the cows' gate and they were all contentedly eating away. It was still enough that I was able to hear them pulling the grass up as they were eating. Pretty neat!
We are gearing ourselves up for Thanksgiving and all of the preparations of getting the turkeys processed and to our customers. It will be a crazy busy time, but after that we can wind down just a little, or rather, readjust our daily schedules.
Stay tuned for another post before too long. I've got one in the works that will detail our milking process.