The Land Of Milk & Honey

Got Milk ???


(& Honey?) *

Farm gate prices are collapsing. Further. Raw material prices in general are so far below parity and have been for so long that our national economy is now indebted to the tune of umpteen trillions of dollars. If one doesn’t pay for the extraction of raw material at the point of sale credit must be extended to pay for that extraction. Current parity prices for corn stand northwards of $12.00 per bushel. For soybeans parity stands north of $28.00 per bushel. And those were 2012 parity prices. I can’t tell you what current parity for milk is.

I can tell you I have heard reports in the news that some farmers are dumping milk into the manure pits under the dairy barns. I suppose as a protest move to bring the spotlight of public awareness to the recent plight of dairy farmers. Apparently world wide. In Great Britain current farm gate prices for milk have fallen 25%. That’s according to an article in the Guardian dated Monday August 10th. I don’t think dumping milk into the pits has become commonplace but who knows? I imagine milk does have some fertilizing effects to add to the manure.

In this neck of the woods some neighbors have hog confinement units that hold a thousand head each. They stupidly are constructed to house the growing hogs in a pen with slatted cement floors above an open sewer pit. These pits are pumped down once a year or so and the manure is knifed into the soil and recycled as fertilizer. The tank wagon that hauls the liquid concoction out to knife it in is commonly called a honey wagon. But that taint honey in the honey wagon. Even if you add milk.

* (Would that be a shit eating grin?)




& never more employed …….

The holidays are over so I suppose I’d better get back to work. Even though I officially retired years ago. Farms ago. Three farms ago to be honest. I retired but my neighbor and my old man kept giving me the opportunity to farm another farm. If asked I will farm. It’s what I do. I retired a herd or two ago also. Oh, I had a herd when I retired and I had no intentions of getting rid of them. I had every intention of eliminating the work that a herd can become. I quit vaccinating. I quit implanting with growth hormones. I quit catching and tagging the calves when they were born. I quit turning the bull in and only letting them breed for the two traditional months around here, I let him stay with the girls year round now even if it means winter calves. A cow that can calve successfully in the winter is a keeper, just ask her calf. I kept the herd but jettisoned the bullshit. Overboard and out of mind.

I was going to farm the two farms I had rented on 50/50 share crop leases, run my little herds of cows and pigs (oh yea, I had pigs back then), watch the kids when the stay at gone mom was in road gear, and enjoy the rest of my life. Less than twenty cows and less than twenty hogs was retiring compared with the huge herds I had worked on for other people. What I was retiring from was working off the farm to make ends meet. That I did. I eventually got rid of the last few hogs. My last sow’s litter was only one pig. I was amazed when the son in law of a neighbor lady stopped by wanting to buy one forty pound pig exactly when the little shit hit forty pounds. But then I stopped at another neighbor’s lane one day when he was unloading a pickup load of cockle burs to burn in the road ditch and told him if he rented me that farm instead of the guy he had rented it to that I would make sure he never had to cut cockle burs again.

That led to a larger combine …….

Then the government came up with a freedom to farm farm program that allowed us to be in the program without having to maintain the governments base acres for each program crop. My old man said,”If I read it right that law says I can force you boys (two of my brothers and I) to farm it right!” Then he added quite conciliatory,” This won’t hurt you will it, it’s those other two birds I’m gunning for but I have to be fair and do it all around.” I told him no it wouldn’t hurt me to sow it all half down to hay even though it did. I had no real hay tools and had been hiring that done for the little bit of hay I had.

That led to buying a mower, rake and baler …….

Eventually it led to a larger herd after getting stiffed on a hay sale to a neighbor that went belly up. (He says he still intends to pay me but it’s been over ten years) I decided to feed it to cattle myself and use the manure to build up weak spots in the soils around the farms. I will feed it in big round bale feeders right on the spots where the soils need built up. I will only move the feed rings a little way over each time until the whole hard pan area is covered with cow manure. I have been able to get twice the crops on these areas in the years after “treating” them with cattle scat.

That led to doubling the herd …….

Then I had an older brother move to Arizona for his heart and Dad offered me his farm. I was reluctant to take it because up till then no one was renting more than one farm from Dad. How would the rest of the family feel if I rented two of his then three farms? I still had one brother whom never farmed and two who weren’t currently farming. Plus I had an older brother who was farming but hadn’t ever rented from “the folks”. (It was in Mom’s name) After Dad had convinced me no one else in the family needed the farm I agreed to farm it. But I didn’t have enough cattle for the increase in pasture and hay. It was already half sewed down and the freedom to farm program was still in effect.

That led to a newer combine and redoubling the herd …….

After that Dad foresaw the zero interest rate debacle looming on the horizon and he cashed out his CD’s that were paying compound interest in the teens and he converted the cash into farmland. He bought two just as they started to take off from the last high point before the great farm crises of the 1980’s. One he never actually bought. He had taken title to it (again in Mom’s name since she “forced” him into it) when my older brother borrowed funds to get the farm out of hock to another farmer he’d borrowed from. Dad only charged him interest (real interest of 4% not the zirp the banks are on) each year and he had the option of paying it all off whenever he wanted, so long as Dad was still alive. If Dad died (and he did a few years after) the option to buy it back died along with him. So the only brother farming who wasn’t renting from Dad was/is and I’m renting three from “him” for six or seven years now. (two from his trust, one from Mom)

Which leads to doing more work than I did before I retired …….



Rain Fall

I don’t think I can remember a wetter August and September since I started farming back in 1984. I remember one September getting seven inches of rain in one storm. That was the first year I farmed the farm north of town. If you can call running your brother’s equipment farming. To me it felt an awful lot like working for a brother. I’ve done that too many times to count and it’s not felt good since I did it to get out of working for Dad. So it’s all relative, literally. The year of the seven inches was 1988. The first drouth I farmed through. Yields were cut in half during a time when I was farming for half the yield. Try explaining to your new landlord that everything in the bin is everything the farm grew, not his half.

The reason I remember the seven inches was the gullies it left in the fields. 1988 was the first year I tore a wheel off a combine. I tore both rear wheels off along with the axle they pivot on. If you’re going to break it break it right I always say. When they fell through the ground tight into a little tire sized bowl that had washed out under a little four inch gulley I was crossing I didn’t get it stopped until they had rolled up into the straw chopper that ate itself and one of the tires. We could get the axle welded back on but the chopper and wheel was a total loss. I don’t think my brother ever forgave me for tearing up his toy. We parted ways soon there after and haven’t talked much since. Even though we live only a couple miles apart.

I was watching the water run out of fields and the creek top it’s banks the last real heavy rain and the thought of my first bad gully experience came to mind. Here we are a few weeks away from harvesting a crop that has seen nothing but heavy rains ever since it was planted. If there ever was a year to tell us where we need to plant something to hold the soil this one should be it. What’s worse is that this last few storms happened again in a standing crop that can cause pools of water to back up increasing the chance for little tire sized bowls to cut out under the soil’s surface. It could be an interesting fall. Watch where you step and watch where you drive this “fall” season. I’m still healing up from my last fall a few weeks ago.



Opportunity’s Knocks

Replacing road fence. On the north farm. It is a farm with a mile of road fence. We have to replace all but the fence along the building site. We don’t own the building site thanks to a brother that sold it off after he built a new house on it. The main reason my father would never sell me the building site here on the home place. We tried that with your older brother and it didn’t work. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that growing up. You can’t go out for band, we tried that with your older brother and it didn’t work. It’s a wonder I was asked to farm. But I was. Two years before I started. My dad had a way I could get started without using much if any money. How often does that come along. Once if ever.

The only problem is I never took the offer. It was 1982 and Congress had just adopted Reagan’s new PIK program to help rid the US of it’s surplus corn stockpile. After Carter put the infamous great grain embargo on the Russians for invading Afghanistan we were getting quite a pile. It created a lot of knock on effects. America had been planting fence row to fence row corn in the Midwest to meet the Russian demand. Puling the rug out from under the (other) farmers, Carter reshuffled the whole world grain trading deck and America was losing out the most. Payment In Kind paid farmers in grain to not grow grain. A kind of genius way to let livestock producers have their cake and let their animals eat it too.

Dad wanted to bid the farm into the new program 100%. We would have to sow the whole farm program’s base acres down to oats and hay. Then the government would give us a PIK Certificate we could take to a delegated reserve elevator (one approved to store Commodity Credit Corporation crops) to trade it in for the number of bushels of the commodity grain we were eligible to receive. That figure was determined by how many acres of the commodity you had in your farm’s crop base. A number determined by your cropping history on that particular farm. All you had to pay for was the trip home with the corn. All we had to do was promise not to grow corn and they would give us corn for free.

According to Dad it was a no brainer. Sow down the farm to a non program crop. Buy a bunch of heifer calves to run on the sowed down farm. Fatten the cattle up on the corn the federal government doled out. Either sell the cattle as beef when done or, if they weren’t worth what we had into them by then we would keep them for breeding. There was only one catch. I would have to have faith in the federal government. After two years wrestling with the US Navy trying to get the degree they promised me I was no longer going to trust them crooked bastards in the federal government. I told Dad I didn’t trust them. I further told him if he did then I couldn’t trust him.

Needless to say we waited a couple of years before we started. The program had been modified by then to something that wasn’t workable in the sense Dad had designed his system. We still had Payment In Kind but the program was so successful at clearing out the surplus it was scaled way back and became a fraction of it’s original size and scope. So I got started the hard way. The only saving grace was my timing. I was going in when everybody in was going broke. I was able to buy farm machinery on the cheap. I’m still able to buy machinery from that era cheap. Over production of corn led to the over production of machinery.

Especially when the feds idled 30 million acres permanently into the Conservation Reserve Program at about that time. The number thirty million was significant. That was how many acres it took to feed the horses that used to power the farms and transport across rural America. Ever since the adoption of tractors, cars and trucks that 30 million acres had been excess production. Handy to have during the second world war but other than that, not needed. Twenty five million of that is still in reserve. Four dollar gas didn’t even make hardly a dent in it. 13 billion gallons of ethanol production hasn’t made too big of a dent in it.

World hunger ???





Rain. Good. Good rain.

But not before six more bulls sorted themselves. I quickly loaded them up and hauled them off to the sale barn.

This morning when I got up and looked outside it hadn’t rained. I decided to give the cattle a second bale of hay. I’ve been feeding them only one bale at a time for a few weeks because once it warmed up they started wasting too much hay. They were only half done with the bale I had given them last evening. I decided that another bale was timely if it was going to rain since I hate slopping around in the mud to hay them and by evening again they would need another bale. While I was driving by the cattle pens (I’m haying them out in a corn stubble field) I noticed the two herd bulls that are there to breed the cows were in the pen following a cow in heat that was trying to lick the mineral blocks I feed there. A few other younger bulls were tagging along for sloppy seconds. I jumped out of the tractor and swung the gate shut to lock them in.

After I finished haying cattle I unloaded the rest of the hay from the flatbed trailer so I could unhook it from the pickup truck and hook up the stock trailer. I threw a small square hay bale into the catch pen to coax the group in. A few cows and calves were swept up into the catch pen with the bulls and heating cow. They sorted out quite easily since the whole bunch was busy with lunch and not really aware of what was going on. I ran up to the house and asked the stay at gone mom to help me run the bulls up the loading chute. The last six bulls I had loaded were a lot smaller and I had barely been able to get them pushed into the trailer. I needed her to stand outside the chute and give them a little shock on the butt to get them up into the trailer while I stayed in the back of the column and kept pushing them towards it. Mine is a rather dangerous job given that cattle can kick backward very hard. I was fortunate. I was only kicked once and it wasn’t that hard.

Once I had them loaded and the truck and trailer were back up on the gravel pointed towards the road I was safe from rain and the mud that goes with it. I backed the rig up to a drop cord and plugged in the air compressor I keep in the truck box. It’s a thirty gallon tank with an electric built in pump. I like to have extra air out on the road in case I need it to get to the next town should a tire start to leak. I grabbed my hat and a cup of honey tea and we were off to Dunlap, the earliest sale in the area coming up on Tuesday. On the road again …….

On the way to Dunlap I remembered the first batch of calves I had sold way back some 28 years ago. Probably because they were sold at Dunlap also. Back then I hired a trucker to haul the calves the day before the sale. When I went up to watch the calves sell I noticed after passing the last town along the way that I was running very low on gas in my car. Having left my wallet at home I had no way of buying gas. With seven miles to go to Dunlap I began parking the car and walking the ditches for empty beer and soda cans. Here in Iowa we have a nickle deposit on each one. I would go about a half mile at a time and walk up one side and down the other side of the road throwing cans into an old box I had found in the trunk.

I wish I had left earlier. I waited quite a time on the bleachers watching calves sell hoping to see mine. When the killer cows started selling I went to the office to see if mine had sold. The cattle had sold by the time I arrived at the sale barn and they had my check waiting when I walked into the office. It was almost as much money as I had paid for the cow/calf pairs the year before. And I still had the moms. Maybe these cows were worth the effort after all. Maybe my old man was right. Livestock was farming, growing crops was glorified gardening. I pocketed the check and have never looked back.

What I did look for was a service station that would take all those empty cans. Here I was with a multi thousand dollar cattle check but no gas money, both feast and famine. Dunlap isn’t that big of town. I finally had to explain to a gas station proprietor what had happened, showed him my calf check and convinced him I wasn’t trying to con him. He seemed to think I had too many cans for that stretch of highway.  I was a little in awe myself as to how many cans there are along the roads. I had a trunk full and a few on the back seat floor. I think the rest went to a HyVee store to buy beer.

This isn’t what I had planned for a Sunday but then I’m not allowed to follow my plans anyway. Something better always comes up. That’s OK, plans are tentative at best anyway. I had planned on getting the two breeding bulls out of the herd a couple weeks ago so I wouldn’t have cows calving in January next winter. Hopefully those two weeks will be during our January thaw. Sometimes His plans, no every time, His plans are better than mine. Have a great Sunday even if your plans don’t pan out. As long as the gold does it will be alright.

If you’re at the Dunlap sale barn Tuesday …….

See you then, see you there.