Saturday, May 23, 2009

Farmer Dan - Hay and Pork

A little while ago, I purchased a small parcel of land, just under 20 acres. This was a big deal for me, as my whole life I have pretty much banked every single penny I have ever made, preferring to "live small". On this parcel are a few buildings, one of which we are rehabbing (the old barn). Oh the surprises you run into when rehabbing an ex-dairy farm. But those stories are for another day.

Approximately 15 acres or so will be farmed as hay. We expect 2-3 cuts this year. The entire crop is pre-sold. We are paying a local farmer part of the crop to cut and bale the hay. I quickly have found out that a lot of bartering is done in the world of farming. "I will do this for you in exchange for that" goes on quite a bit - and neither "this" nor "that" are actual money. Typically these are labor for product exchanges. As a matter of fact, my hay crop is being sold to a person who we are not receiving money from. We will be receiving services instead.

I like these sorts of transactions, since it takes me to places where I normally don't go - in my daily life, it is all about exchanging product for money, or money for product. Both types of transactions (money for product and labor for product) are interesting informational exchanges.

It has always been important to me to have my house looking top notch outside. Now that I have fields, I want them to look top notch too. I contacted the UW Ag College here in Madison to get information on my hay fields. After getting footballed around a bit I was finally referred to a local expert on these matters, who agreed to meet me at the farm (I almost hesitate to call it a farm, it is so tiny) and look at my fields. As a great bonus, he will be writing up a report for me, and this activity is all TAXPAYER FUNDED. He is going to list the different types of species of grasses that I have, recommend fertilizers if needed, and suggest other field management techniques.

My alfalfa hay is a typical hay/grass mix and I was told that it looks pretty darned good. The mix is alfalfa, orchard grass and Kentucky bluegrass. I was amazed that there was Kentucky bluegrass, but apparently it is very common in hayfields in this part of the state.

That mix covers about 12 acres of my production, and I have a pure grass field (no alfalfa) on the other 2-3 acres. I was not sure what to do with this as most cattle farmers/horse people prefer alfalfa hay. I was very interested to know that my options are many with this grassy area. I had a great conversation with the "hay dude" and he informed me that most horse owners are under the impression that alfalfa hay is the bomb for their horses, when grass hay, like I have a couple of acres of, will do them just fine. The problem is convincing the horse owners of this. Beef cattle eat grass hay in and around this area as well. The hay dude told me that there are farmers that would probably do a "come and get it" bargain, where they would harvest the grass hay and take it away in exchange for the product (labor for product, again). It really isn't worth much on the open market. The alfalfa hay is worth a decent amount.

So, in the end, there are a lot of things I can do with my grass hay area, from finding people who want it for horses or cows, to having a controlled burn, to managing it as a birding/wildlife area. This idea is appealing to me as I love birds and know that I have pheasants on the land as I have several photos of them on my wildlife camera.

For those who don't know, a wildlife camera is one that you mount to a tree or something, and takes photos activated by motion. I usually leave it out there for a week at a time. Wildlife cameras are also good for monitoring activity on your property and it is good to get the license plate numbers of those who trespass.

I can also "nuke" the whole grass hay field with a chemical like Roundup and plant an alfalfa/grass mix there for more income. Time will tell.

I also mentioned to the hay dude that I have seen many farms cutting their hay already for the first cut - he said that they were nuts. The alfalfa he looked at on my farm was a good 7-10 days from maturity. Those who cut already have lost a lot of tonnage. But if you wait too long, the alfalfa is harder to digest for the horses, who apparently have weird digestive tracts anyway. Oh well, I will leave it up to the farmer I have hired to harvest it to do it right, and I am glad that he hasn't harvested yet.

I am very grateful for the time that the hay dude took to educate me on the species on my land. He was a great guy and had a lot of good advice - I think he was happy that I was taking such an interest in doing things correctly. And what the hell, I am paying his salary anyway, I guess he should be nice to me.

Also on the ag front, I was perusing the weekly Moo and Oink ad and noticed that they had "Danish" spare ribs on sale. I thought this was some new marketing technique so did some digging. No, they are really from Denmark. I did a little more digging and found out that the Danes have an immense pork industry and that they export all around the world. This is a short writeup by some folks from Iowa State University that visited there. I may have to give the Danish ribs a try just once to say I have had them, if I can find them around here. I would bet dollars to donuts that the difference in taste (if any) won't justify the trouble, even though they look to be .30 per pound cheaper. Odds are I will need to go to the Moo to get some.

Cross posted at ChicagoBoyz.


Carl from Chicago said...

Very interesting stuff. That is good that the state came over to give you farming advice. I also like the wildlife camera. You probably will catch some coyotes on that before you are done

Dan from Madison said...

The wildlife camera also has an infrared flash so you can catch animals at night, and they don't know they are being filmed. Optional video too which is cool.

I have tons of deer videos, and a few other critters too. One possible coyote so far, but it might be a fox. It is hard to tell.

Annie said...

If I'm not mistaken, the wonderful all-seeing government taxes barter, too. Just a head's up.

Dan from Madison said...

You better believe they do, Annie.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Most likely you have already eaten Danish ribs. When I worked on the Applebee's account I became friends with the exec. chef. He told me about Danish ribs and claimed 90% of the baby back ribs sold are from Denmark. They serve a product called riblets which aren't ribs at all. They come from along the spine and at one time it was a by product that many thought inedible. This made it good for nothing but fertilizer. Applebee's worked with the Danish supplier and developed a three step cooking process to make them taste like rib meat. It's a patented process and Applebee's buys all the riblet product on the market."

Snakeye said...

Damn, if my parents didn't live in Texas, I'd hook you up with them for hay sale... they have 3 horses and an ass.

Dan from Madison said...

Huh, interesting stuff Gerry.

johnnyj said...

Farm it out, build or sit on it...Not too difficult...Set up blinds for hunting if you sit on it...My2cents...