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Archive for March, 2013

A Farm With A View

The Newport Bridge is an iconic backdrop for Windmist Farm.

The Newport Bridge is an iconic backdrop for Windmist Farm.

The 40-acre Windmist Farm’s location—on the busy corridor between Boston and the suburbs of southern Connecticut—makes it ideal for many of the Northeast’s discerning foodies. The cars on North Road will often slow down just a bit to take in the view.

But it’s the food the farm produces that is worth stopping for.

George and Martha Neale’s herd of “Belties,” more than five dozen head of Belted Galloway, is eye-catching to the tourists, but it’s a genuine draw for Windmist customers. A coarse, shaggy outer coat makes it well-suited for the chilly New England climate, without the layer of back fat that usually keeps cattle naturally warm. The result is not only lean meat for the customer, but efficiency for the producer; carcass weights are often 60% or more of live weights. At Windmist, Belties are exclusively grass-fed, offering yet another healthy advantage for the foodie customer.

Windmist’s location also allows the Neales to take advantage of an innovative, local process scheduling system. Martha says their beef-processing cycle is the envy of neighboring states, and could serve as a model for others who retail their own beef.

Martha and George Neale

Martha and George Neale

Over time, much of the infrastructure for beef processing has shifted to the Midwestern U.S., leaving fewer and fewer USDA-inspected processing facilities behind for the smaller producer. Rhode Island’s answer to such a shortage is the Rhode Island Raised Livestock Association (RIRLA). Founded in 2005 and supported by grants from USDA and other fundraising efforts, RIRLA partners with meat-processing facilities for a soup-to-nuts option for farm retailers: Deliver an animal, receive meat products from said animal already Cryovac®-sealed and frozen. “In other words, ready to sell!” says Martha.

Farmers’ markets and direct sales to chefs and grocers through web sites, such as Farm Fresh Rhode Island (www.farmfreshri.org), help the Neales clear inventory and sell niche products. “On the weekends I list what I have available, chefs and grocers place their order on Monday, on Tuesday I get my list of what sold, I pack for delivery on Wednesday, and the restaurant has it on Thursday.” Plus, she says, “it’s great to see our farm’s name on a menu.”

All of this, and the farm continues to expand. Their home garden, for instance, has turned into a year-round functioning greenhouse, thanks to USDA’s seasonal high tunnel program. The Neales’ 1,200-square-foot greenhouse extends their growing season by weeks on either side for vegetables, while providing shelter for greens in the winter.

The MF5455 and baler help make quick work of a hay field across the road from Windmist.

The MF5455 and baler help make quick work of a hay field across the road from Windmist.

Meanwhile, other farms in the area help create something of a “slow-food district” on the island. The Neales credit their neighbors with raising grass-fed beef years before they did, and a farmstand across North Road sells fresh vegetables; all the more reason for weekenders to slide down that Newport Bridge ramp and pick up a little something for the week ahead.

Read the full story and learn why a great experience with a Massey Ferguson tractor—and a great deal—helped the Neales decide they “won’t be going back to John Deere.” http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/a-farm-with-a-view/

Tell us what the “slow-food” movement means to you. Is your farm serving the local food movement?

“Doing Good” Series – Rick Gray

Gray (center, leaning on tractor fender) in Uganda.

Part of Massey Ferguson FarmLife Magazine’s  series on farmers and others in agriculture who give ’til it helps: This Massey Ferguson dealership executive is planting seeds. A desire to help others and share his blessings inspires Rick Gray to build an orphanage, school and working farm in Uganda.

Rick Gray has taken five trips to the remote outpost of Kabale, Uganda, with a sixth coming up in June. Staying for as much as three weeks at a visit, the cost for the trips has come out of pocket, but Rick says it has been as good for him as for the people he’s helped. “Every time I go, I come back and realize just how much they’ve helped me.”

Rick is the CEO of Plant-A-Seed, a nonprofit organization based in Modesto, Calif., where Rick lives and works for Stanislaus Implement and Hardware as a territory manager.

The faith-based Plant-A-Seed has undertaken projects in Haiti and Cambodia, as well as closer to home in Modesto. One of the main missions of Plant-A-Seed is for its projects to become self-sustaining. After building a chapel in Kabale in 2006 with his church, Gray continued the work, bringing Plant-A-Seed in on the project to build housing, classrooms and a working farm.

“It’s a kickin’ project, let me tell you,” beams Gray about the school. “When you give these kids hope, and you let them know that they can do it, they feel that self-worth and they move it forward on their own. It’s like a tidal wave.”

Read more about Rick Gray, Plant-A-Seed and the other 7 folks featured in the FarmLife article “Doing Good”, as well as learn about what AGCO is doing to help others around the world.

Who in your community does exceptional charitable work? Tell us in the comments.

Hay-Cutting Tips for Superior Hay Quality

With alfalfa acres uncertain after the 2012 drought and both grass and alfalfa hay inventories low in many areas, brisk demand for high-quality hay is expected again in 2013. Whether producing hay for your own use or to sell, making the most of the available crop begins with cutting. Timing, technique and equipment all play important roles in success. Following are some helpful reminders as producers go into the 2013 production season.

Massey Ferguson disc mower

“Cutting hay is often dictated by the environment and the hay-drying conditions, but a general rule is to cut after the dew is gone and when topsoil is dry, to reduce soil compaction and facilitate better drying of the crop,” says Dean Morrell, AGCO product marketing manager for Hesston by Massey Ferguson hay products and a 35-year-veteran of the quality-hay business. Research has shown that hay quality is higher when hay is cut while the sugar content remains higher in the plant. As daytime air temperatures rise, sugar content in the plant decreases, so cutting later in the morning or early afternoon results in lower hay quality.

The demands of the environment and the individual operation also will influence the choice in equipment used. Modern sickle-type or disc-type mowers, windrowers and swathers are capable of cutting forage crops fast and cleanly, leaving a smooth, even windrow that maximizes crop dry-down. Disc mowers offer the advantage of allowing hay to be cut earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when better leaf moisture means less loss of nutrient-rich leaves.

“No matter what machine is being used, there are several things people should strive for when they cut hay,” explains Morrell. “First, you want a good, clean cut that will leave the plants with as little stem damage as possible, so they’re ready for quick regrowth. Second, you don’t want to leave any crop behind, and it’s also important to minimize dirt in the crop.”

Here are tips from Morrell for maximizing tonnage of high-quality hay with any mower or mower conditioner model:
• Proper blade maintenance is critical to achieving a good cut. Blades must be sharp to cut the forage cleanly and to minimize stem and leaf shattering. Check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations on blade-change intervals, and be sure to stock up on replacement blades before hay season starts.
• Choose the right blade for the job. Shallower 10- or 11-degree blades create less air lift, thus pulling less dirt into the forage. If less suction works for your crop conditions, these blades can be a good choice. Thick, matted forage may require a blade with more lift, such as an 18-degree blade. Bottom-beveled blades have an advantage if they hit a stone or rock because they bend upward, away from the cutter bar.
• Set the cutting height at 1.5 to 3 inches. This reduces contamination from dirt, making the crop easier to rake and to pick up with the baler. To avoid dirt and ash contamination and reduce knife and general mower wear and tear, avoid pitching the cutter bar downward at too steep an angle.
• Set the header flotation height to avoid scalping the soil surface and wavy cutting height from one end of the field to the other. Ideally, the cutter will gently float across the ground without scuffing the surface. If you see scuffs or dirt streaking across the field, you don’t have enough flotation pressure, or the mower is set too heavy. If you see waves in the field, you have too much flotation pressure, or the header is set too light. Where the field surface is rough and uneven, flotation should be increased, making the head lighter to glide over rough terrain. When running the head heavier on the self-propelled unit, optional gauge wheels are recommended.
• With mower conditioners, turbulence (or windage) created by the conditioning rolls can blow the crop from its upright position before it is cut, resulting in an uneven cut. If this is a problem, increase ground speed or slow the conditioning system, or do a combination of the two, to reduce turbulence for a cleaner cut.
• Lay the windrow out as flat and wide as possible by setting the swathboard to its lowest possible setting (all the way down). A wide windrow maximizes dry-down by providing the best exposure to wind and sunlight.
• Be sure to check your owner’s manual for daily and regular service and maintenance needs to ensure peak machine performance. And, stock up on key replacement parts such as cutter blades, sickle sections, guards, drive belts and hoses to reduce costly downtime from minor breakdowns. Dealers often have a list of parts recommended for on-farm stocking and may offer preseason discounts for parts purchases.
Hesston has been providing innovation and solutions to farmers since 1947, and is the industry leader in hay-harvesting products. For more information about Hesston by Massey Ferguson products or to find a dealer near you, visit hesston.com.

History Repeating Itself

Read this story from Massey Ferguson Farm Life Magazine about the Utsey family and how they found ways to live off their Alabama land passed down for six generations.

Much of Jake Utsey’s history courses through the dense, ruddy Alabama soils where he makes his home and his living; portions of the property have been in the Utsey family for more than 150 years. Water Valley Lodge sits on a slice of land in Gilberttown, in southwest Alabama. It is home to timber, gently rolling pastureland, hay fields and woods teeming with wildlife.

Jake Utsey holds dear his land and his family’s history on it. Here, he displays a photo of life as it was on what is now a 30,000-acre operation in southeastern Alabama.

Opened in 1996, Water Valley Lodge, the Utseys’ hunting operation, hosts a range of visitors; the family sees 200 to 400 hunters a year. “People come from all over the world,” Jake says. “The farthest anyone’s come to hunt is Pakistan and Japan, but we’ve had hunters from Scotland, Israel, Germany, French Quebec and [other regions in] Canada.”

Water Valley Lodge has hunting rights to 30,000 acres of land. Most of the farmed land is currently in timber; Jake owns a small hay operation; and he’s clearing land for future livestock use. The property also boasts a large hunting lodge, dining hall, bunkhouse, cabins, an office and the house where Jake resides with wife, Pia, son, John Jacob, 10, and daughter, Gaddy, 9.

It’s one thing to decide to run a hunting operation and quite another to actually do it; the sheer magnitude of the business was often overwhelming at first. “The learning curve was really rough,” Jake admits.

“Hospitality is something you have to do yourself,” adds Pia, who gleaned valuable hospitality expertise in hotels and country clubs. “We don’t run hunters through our business like cattle; we limit numbers each season. In order to make people feel at home, it has to be your home. That’s not something you can easily hire someone else to do.”

Jake and Pia shared a few other operational how-tos:

  • Hospitality is one of the keys to the success of Water Valley Lodge. Meals are served in the dining hall, along with conversation.
  • Water Valley Lodge offers four types of hunts: quail, turkey, deer and hog.
  • To keep the game around, food plots have to be planted and maintained. The smaller plots—anywhere from 1 to 2 acres—generally run north and south to “give plots more sunlight in winter months,” Jake says. Longer plots—up to 10 acres—are easier to plant and are set up, when possible, to allow hunters to be upwind of game.
  • Permits and insurance are required. There are burn and chemical permits, too.
  • Hunting may be the main source of income, but corporate clientele has suffered greatly since the economic downturn, and the Utseys have relied on other ways of making money. “It’s actually the hay operation that’s saved us,” Pia says. Previously the hay business was about one-tenth of the family’s income but it’s become one-quarter.
  • Conservation management goes hand in hand with timber. “We have a total and constant reforestation plan, including the planting of masting trees—which bear food for game—and constant erosion control,” he says.

Running the hunting operation may be an all-hands-on-deck, 24-7 job, but it has allowed another generation of Utseys to remain on their slice of family land.

Read the full story at http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/history-repeating-itself/.

Know of other non-farming operations that help land remain in the family? Share them with us in the comment section, below.

How To Build a “Living Fence”

FarmLife offers step-by-step instructions on using hedges to create a barrier that’s “bull strong and hog tight.”

For our ancestors, it wasn’t uncommon to use materials found on their land to fence in their livestock. Some made their own fences from Mother Nature’s bounty, while others grew them in the form of hedgerows. The latter method may have taken longer, but since most folks tended to settle their homesteads early in life with the notion of staying there for the rest of their days, such a living fence made sense.

A living hedge, strong enough for livestock.

Such a fence is, however, just as viable an option today and FarmLife offers season-by-season tips on how to do so. What follows are the basics steps of growing and creating such a fence. For the full article, visit www.myfarmlife.com/farmstead/bull-strong-hog-tight/.

• Establishing an animal-tight hedge will take a few years and you’ll need to devise a plan to keep your grazing animals away from it until it becomes well established.

• In the fall, lay out your hedge and mow down the grass where it will be planted. Turn a furrow or otherwise till the area; the turned soil will mellow over the winter. If weeds or grass begin to sprout, turn down with a disc, tiller or hoe.

• When choosing the main structural wood for your hedge, consider easy-suckering hardwood trees like Osage orange, black locust, holly, honey locust, elm or oak. Typically, plants native to your area work best.

• Similar results can be achieved when planting seed or transplanting seedlings. You’ll need enough of either, though, to plant every 12 to 18 inches in your furrows.

• Plant the seeds or seedlings at about the time you would normally plant corn in your area.

• As your hedge seedlings germinate, thin and/or redistribute to accomplish the ideal spacing.

• To plash the seedlings the following fall, carefully lay them over at about 2/3 of the way up from the base to the tip. Then secure them to the ground by covering the tip with soil. If simply burying them doesn’t hold the plant tips down, you may need to use anchor pins.

• The following spring, the now-horizontal seedlings will send up shoots vertically along the trunk. In the fall, bend these shoots horizontally and weave them together so you get a woven barrier that’s about 24 inches off the ground.

• In the third spring, these stems will begin growing into one another. By the third fall, new shoots will have also grown vertically. If you wish, weave this growth together or simply prune the hedge to its final height.

• In subsequent summers, prune the growing green shoots several times. This will stimulate the lower buds to produce more lateral branches, which will make the hedge even less permeable.

In the end, you’ll have established a lovely hedge that will harbor all manner of songbird nests and one that will contain all but the most determined livestock.

For the full article, visit www.myfarmlife.com/farmstead/bull-strong-hog-tight/.

Do you have a living fence or another made with traditional materials such as stone or wood harvested off your land? Send us a picture and we’ll share it with other readers.