Spring Hill Farms

  (Newark, Ohio)
Heritage Breed Pastured Pork, Chickens, Grass Fed Beef
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Training Pigs to Electric Fence

Picture

Tamworth Gilt
Pigs are easily to keep in with electric fence. But training them to respect it is critical.

When we start new piglets out here on the farm. We always take them through a training process.

Without training them you will end up with pigs that get out constantly. That's never a good way to keep your neighbors happy about you having pigs.

Electric fence is a mental barrier verses a physical barrier. A physical barrier is something like a hog panel. They physically can't get through it.

Two little wires would never keep a pig in, but once they fear and respect it they will stay right where you want them.

Every once in a great while you get a pig who runs through the fence and then figures out how to slip the wire. If you don't put a stop to it immediately they will get out anytime they want.

The only choice is to re-train them or they will teach the rest and then you're in for a long chase and possibly upset neighbors. Not to mention they could get out and get onto a road or tear the heck out of someone's yard or flower beds.

By slipping the wire I mean putting their head down and slipping under the wire. They usually get right up to the fence and drop down and squeal as they keep right on going!

These are the pigs you hope you never get. But usually they learn this by not having a good fence charger or the fence wire isn't positioned properly e.g. not enough strands or too high off the ground.

I would never keep a pig that slips the wire for breeding stock. Around here if you don't stay where you belong, you become food! That's the main reason my boys always tell me before they go anywhere. (just kiddin)

So how do you train a pig to electric fence?

You fix a pen for them in the barn or outside and have it so there is plenty of chances for them to get into the hot wire.

The critical part is have the pig get into the wire but never be able to  get past or go through the wire.

A good example would be a a pen made out of hog panels with a couple hot wires around the inside at the proper height, which is nose height for pigs.

If a pig get shocked in front of the eyes, 99 times out of 100 he'll back up. But if he gets "hit" behind the eyes, say top of the ears, he will lounge forward.

If all you had was a wire with no physical barrier behind it, he is out the first time he gets shocked and your fence is torn down. If he repeats that a few times forget ever keeping him in with just electric fence wire.

But if you train in the pen with a hot wire and a physical barrier even if he lounges forward all he gets is more shock!

I've had some pigs that weren't too smart and they would get into the wire and run down the fence for 15 or 20 feet determined to get through it. It didn't take them too long to figure out they were in a losing battle!

Tie flags on the fence every three feet or so. Pigs will learn to associate the flags with the shock and avoid them. That way when you put them out on pasture and use the same flags they won't even try the fence because they "know" they can't get past it.

I have found a good flagging material is the tape that surveyors use. It's bright orange or pink and you can get it by the roll at most any home improvement store. It lasts for a long time and the colorful tape keeps you from running into it with equipment or your bare leg!

The only time I have pigs get out of a new pasture is not enough flags and they can't see it.

When visitors come you can quickly point out to the little kids that the flags will bite and do not get near them.

I love using fiberglass post with insulators that you can slide up or down to adjust the height as the pigs grow.

That way you can keep it at nose height no matter what size they are. The bigger they get the easier it is to hold them in. Little pigs can slip through a wire very easily.

There are a million chargers on the market but a good rule of thumb is use one at least twice as big as what you think you'll need. You usually end up running way more fence than you ever planned to in the beginning anyway so get a charger once and be done with it.

Look for a charger that is low impedance and at least 3 joules.

I currently use a 15 joule charger and even my old sows do not fool with the fence. It can stand heavy weed pressure or even have a deer run through it and be on the ground and pigs stay put.

We use two strands for almost everything and with sows many times only a single strand.

It comes down to training them right the first time and and having the right equipment and no worries.

Until next time....


 

 
 

The USDA - Antibiotics and Chicken

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Bacterial Chicken!
Poultry are heavy consumers of antibiotics in mainstream agriculture. The establishment has assured us for years that it is not really a health hazard. The reside left in the chickens is harmless. Yea, right.

So I wonder why The United States Department of Agriculture has a team of scientist working on introducing what they call "competitive exclusion cultures." They introduced these cultures of 29 different bacterial species into farm raised chickens as part of their diet and then exposed them to salmonella. They found that chickens exposed to the bacterial culture had 99 percent less salmonella colonization than unexposed chickens according to Discover Magazine, March 2011.

Interesting! I blogged on this very topic a while back. I'd love to think the USDA scientist read my blog but the truth is, as always, public outcry over several studies that have been done in the last several years have consumers getting worried about antibiotic residue in their food.

That coupled with the deluge of antibiotic resistant bacterias that are surfacing (which is what prompted the studies no doubt) not only in livestock but humans as well have scientist worried.

So many consumers have been opting out of the antibiotic laced factory farmed chicken and buying from a small farm that doesn't dose their chickens with medicated feed.

But don't be fooled. The USDA is trying to figure out a new way to leave chickens in huge confinement barns and not have to dose them with antibiotics. Granted it is better to have confinement poultry that is antibiotic free than what is available now.

I wonder if they can come up with something besides Roxarsone (an organic version of arsenic) as a growth promoter? I seem to do fine without putting it in my chicken feed.

To me this whole thing is just proof that you can't rely on regulations and inspectors to make sure your food is healthy and safe.

Buy from a local farm. Visit the farmer and ask questions. A good local farmer has no secrets about what they feed their stock and how it's raised.

At Spring Hill Farms I have been growing good bacteria for our animals to ingest for a long time. Maybe that's one reason why I never have a need for a veterinarian.

Until next time...


 

 
 

Small Farmers - Times Are Changing

The demand for local, organic, farm fresh meat and vegetables has been on the rise for the last several years.

This means that people are actively seeking out this type product. Many “marketing type” farmers have been enjoying increasing sales every year.

According to Finding Dulcinea, In Indiana, the number of small farms increased by almost 80 percent from 2002–2007. Greg Preston, director of the Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service, told the Indy Star, “We are getting a lot of newer farmers coming in that are smaller—going into direct marketing, specialty products, organics, locally grown, this type of stuff.”

My farm has been struggling to meet the demand since shortly after we started selling direct. That is in part because I come from 25 plus years of sales and marketing experience.

But it’s also because the market for local farm food is growing and I’m enjoying the fact that people are actively looking for farms like mine.

But I’ve been around enough new and emerging markets to know that won’t always be the case.

Take for instance the big mortgage boom up to about 2008. I owned a company that used mortgage lending as a way to grow our business. We used many different mortgage companies and brokers all over the United States.

There was a mortgage broker on every corner. Many of them were so busy that they wouldn’t even talk to us about working with them. They had more business than they could handle!  New mortgage companies were starting up daily.

Why?

Because it’s pretty easy to take a client who has an 8 percent mortgage and put them into a new one at say 5.5 percent. I mean how much sales and marketing does it really require?

The broker simply says “Mr. Jones we can reduce your mortgage payment by $200 a month and give you a rate that’s 2.5 percent lower than what you had.”

So for marketing all they had to do was let people know they were open for business and give some teaser rates on the radio or internet and people flocked in to refinance.

But ever so slowly I started getting phone calls from those brokers who didn’t want to work with me a couple of years before. They were seeing a slow down in the refinance craze. They didn’t necessarily say that to me but I knew what was happening.

The demand was slowing and the competition was getting fierce.

Fast forward another year and many of those shops were out of business and gone forever.

Who was left?

The companies that had focused on running a lean and mean mortgage shop and had focused on developing long term marketing strategies. They did honest business and had a long term mindset.

How does this relate to small farms?

Because sooner or later the demand is going to slow down and the competition is going to get fierce.

Take the previous quote from Dulcinia. There was a eighty percent increase in small farms in Indiana from 2002 – 2007. That means there were a whole lot more farmers supplying the market in Indiana than previous.

Now if several of those farms were near you…you noticed it!

Farmer’s markets are increasing by leaps and bounds. Farmers are seeing prices come down to be able to move their goods as they face the Wal-Mart shopping mentality.

So called “farmers” are bringing in produce from the wholesale house and selling it as local. In my area if you go to the farmer’s market to sell pork or beef, you will be competing with all the butcher shops in the area.

CSA’s are exploding all over the U.S…..

Folks – times are changing.

Don’t get me wrong competition is a good thing,

BUT IT WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU MARKET IF YOU’RE GOING TO STAY PROFITABLE AND KEEP THE DOORS OPEN.

Then add to that huge corporations are working night and day to fleece the consumer into believing that their food is really pretty much the same as what you can buy off a small farm.

Big agriculture is teaching their farmers how to relate to the public and present themselves as the only solution to the food shortage. They are talking about using Facebook and Twitter to reach out to their communities.

Grocery stores are featuring local farmers that supply them with produce.

Localharvest recently reported many CSA’s experience as high as a 40 percent turnover each year.

Losing that much business per year is unsustainable. If you have to replace that many customers per year you are swimming up stream on your way to broke.

I was talking to a farmer the other day who said he had a lady call him about grass-fed beef. By the time he got back to her (a couple of hours later) she had already found another farmer who had sold her a quarter of beef.

He got a rude awakening that he’s not the only guy in town with grass-fed beef!

In some ways small local farms supplying people with food is still in it’s infancy. But folks things are changing.

What’s your plan to stay on the cutting edge of this growth and rising competition?

  • Do you have system to get new customers?
  • What’s your response time when someone calls or emails you?
  • How easy is it to do business with you?
  • What’s your process for retaining customers and turning them into word of mouth advertisers?

Begin to find answers to these problems now before you end up losing out to the farm that does have it figured out!

Until Next time…


 

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Learning to See Your Farm as Others See It

Probably one of the most important skills you can develop in your farm business and actually in life, is the ability to see things from other people’s perspective.

This is the key to obtaining new clients, keeping present customers happy, and helping others get what they want out of your farm business. All the interactions you have with customers, or potential customers, can be improved by striving to put yourself in their shoes... [More]

 


 

 

 


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Love Your Farmer? Make a Call Today

PictureLet's make sure we level the playing field for farmers in America. For too  long the big players have danced around the laws to keep the smaller producers at a disadvantage. Here's our chance to stop it.

I just received this email from the Center for Rural Affairs.


Do you appreciate the hard work that our family farmers and ranchers do?

If so, please take a few moments of your day this Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday to call the White House and tell President Obama that you support the proposed Fair Livestock Competition rule [PDF] that helps independent farmers and ranchers get a fair price for their hard work. (It's also called the "GIPSA rule".)

On February 14, 15 and 16 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST, hundreds will participate in “Love the American Farmer and Rancher” call in day because the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed Fair Livestock Competition rule would greatly benefit livestock producers across the country. However, the meatpackers and processors have pushed back against the rule, spreading false information to protect their own greedy bottom line.

You can help!

  • Call 202-456-1111 to reach the White House Comment Line (you may need to call back if the line is busy)
  • Share the message below (or something similar)
  • "My name is _______ from _________ (city and/or state) calling in support of USDA’s proposed livestock rule. This rule would level the playing field for livestock producers. Livestock producers need this rule finalized to protect them from retaliation and level the playing field. I encourage USDA to finish and implement the GIPSA proposed rule as quickly as possible. Thank you."

For more information on issues related to fair competition in livestock, go to www.cfra.org/competition. Thank you for supporting independent livestock farmers and ranchers!

You can also go to the Food and Water Watch website and use their automated form.

 


 

 

 
 

When Organic Food Isn't Really Organic

Frequently I'm asked about the difference between local, sustainable food and Organic. Although you could find a small farm that is Organic and it be a great place to get your food, for the most part the Organic label is being adulterated at an alarming rate.

 Two of the biggest offenders: USDA and the FDA. [more]

 
 

Free Protein for Chickens

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Laying Hen Spring Hill Farms
I'm constantly looking for new and free (or cheap) protein sources for chickens. Obviously for us here at Spring Hill Farms it also has to pass clean food test as well. I'm not of the mind that "free" is good no matter what.

While reading Newman Turners book FERTILITY FARMING. which I highly recommend by the way, I came across a section on poultry. Newman makes the statement that " hens will generally mop up all the food which one is able to allow them, even when on free range."

If you have chickens you can say a big "amen" to that. Chickens have a high metabolism and therefore a big appetite.

Newman also says that he found birds ranging on high fertility soil that contained good quantities of hummus ate less feed. Especially on oat or wheat stubble.

He writes, "
They would usually come to meet me when I arrived with the food which in the semi-confinement of folds they would consume to the last morsel, but after pecking away at it for a while they would wander off to their obviously far more palatable and juicy soil organisms -- worms, insects, and much that was invisible to the human eye -- which they were getting from the humus-rich soil without overmuch scratching. If it weren't that I am sure there is much in compost and humus-rich soil which the hen eats, and which I am unable to identify with my own eyes, I would almost venture to suggest that compost is in itself a good food for poultry. For the hens most certainly consume large quantities of what looks like pure compost whenever they get the opportunity." 

I have definitely seen poultry picking away at nothing I could really see with my eyes many times.

Newman goes on to share an idea he used to supplement his hens protein by starting a compost pile in what he calls the "hen yard."

He basically started a compost heap in the yard where he would be running the hens in the fall and winter. Seeded it with earth worms, and then let it compost until he turned the hens into it in early Autumn when he says it will be "an ideal dinning table for the hens."

I'm planning to do this and see how it works. Give it a try and see what you think. If you already do something like this let me know how it works!

**Update** I found this really cool book on worm farming called "Worm Farming Secrets"

“DISCOVER HOW TO GROW BIG FAT COMPOSTING WORMS & PRODUCE MORE PREMIUM ORGANIC WORM COMPOST & WORM TEA FASTER THAN EVER BEFORE...

Until next time....

 
 

Small Farm Direct Marketing Community

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Tamworth Sow
Farmers, have you noticed there isn't much out there about marketing products directly from your farm? I see discussions about it sporadically in various forums and blogs I subscribe to, but over-all you can't get much "how-to" information.

I recently started a blog centered around this topic. I will be posting regularly on the things I have learned and implemented since we started marketing our pork, chicken, eggs and beef direct in 2004.

I also started a Facebook page that will feature even more two-way communication between small farmers for the purpose of learning and growing their farm or produce business.

I've been helping small farmers succeed through teaching them what I know, or bringing them on as co-operative producers to help us fill our customer orders for several years now.

So if it makes sense to you, and you operate a small, (non-industrial) livestock or vegetable farm. Come over and join in. Together we can make local, sustainable farming a force to be reckoned with!

Come over and join us!

 

 

 

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A New Call to the Farm

Picture"Back to the soil" was never a more attractive proposition and never so worthy of being heeded as during these opening years of the 20 century. It is true that social economists have often uttered this cry because they believed, and rightly, that the overcrowded condition of cities could be relieved, to the immense advantage of everybody concerned, if the congested population found in sections of these human hives could be induced to leave their crowded quarters and become tillers of the soil.

The advocates of the doctrine have had in mind a more decent and desirable condition for the objects of their solitude- a place where they could develop a physical, social and moral life superior to that which is possible to them in their present places places of abode. 

The cry with which this chapter opens, however, is not uttered especially to a crowded urban population. It is uttered to all men-to the inhabitants of every city, of whatever magnitude; to the dwellers in villages and hamlets, and to those who are already on the land, that they may be contented to remain there. It is uttered to the dissatisfied of every condition of life, or to those who ought to be dissatisfied. 

It is the cry, not of social economist only, not only of preachers, teachers, and statesmen, as distinguished from politicians, but of seers, of men who look into the future and see the good things that are there and the better things that are coming. - The New Agriculture 1906

It's hard to believe this was written over one hundred years ago. Back to the soil is the call of 2011.

You truly can develop a physical, social, and superior way of life in the country and on a farm. For the last few decades people have been trying to escape the countryside and head for the concrete.

But a new trend is beginning to surface. A group of society that longs to feel the soil in their hands, watch the animals graze, watch their children grow up with an appreciation for the things of the country.

The older I get the more I realize how much living in the country all my childhood effected me positively.

So I cordially invite you, come out to the countryside and grow something.

  • Grow your children
  • Grow your marriage
  • Grow a garden
  • Grow a flower
  • Grow a pig
  • Grow a cow

It does something for your soul to be connected with land, the community, the farm. Even if you can only come to visit, leave the city for a day and come see us farmers....you'll be glad you did.
 
 

The Herbivore's Dilemma

PictureHerbivores have been under attack for centuries. Farmers and breeders have been doing everything in their power to convert them to grain.

As a result, we have made the majority of our cattle and goats dependent on a high grain diet in order to perform at the levels demanded.

In the case of commercial type cows, they finish in half the time and are ready for slaughter. Of course it comes with a price. Out of balance omega -3 and omega-6 ratios in the meat, and little if any CLA's in the fat.

Just as costly is the fact that good grass-fed genetics are almost non-existent as compared to commercial grade cattle.

Then to add insult to injury, along comes a farmer and hears all about 100 percent grass-fed, grass-finished beef. "This is the ticket!" he exclaims.

Off he goes to raise 100% grass-fed and finished beef. The only problem he discovers; it's one thing to throw some cattle out on grass, but a whole different deal to get them to finish on grass.

Many times he discovers this once his cows are hanging at the slaughter house on the rail.

Or worse yet when customers start calling and saying it's tough, or dry, or tastes funny etc.

The farmer has some choices at this point, upgrade his herd, go back to grain, or educate his customer about why his beef is different.

It seems many farmers are opting to educate the customer. I suppose some education is good seeing as how many people are not the best cooks I've ever seen. Over cooked beef of any kind is dry.

But the truth is as I have talked to farmers all over the country....much of the beef out there is not genetically capable of finishing on grass. 

That might not be exactly how they say it, but from what I can tell, that's the translation. Farmers usually say things like "well it's grass fed so it going to be dry." or very lean, or chewy.

Sometimes they say things like "the ground beef is out of this world."
So I asked about steaks and then we're back to "well now it's grass-fed...."

Come to think of it, I'm not sure who is actually having a dilemma:

  • The herbivores - can't get along without grain.
  • The Farmers - can't produce a good product on grass.
  • The Consumers - can't figure out how you eat grass-fed beef.
Let me clear up the dilemma. Spring Hill Farms has 100 % grass-fed and finished beef that you can eat and enjoy it! For those of you who want data, our beef consistently grades choice to high choice and a yield grade of #1 or #2.

Cows can thrive on a 100% grass diet. Farmers can find genetics that will help them upgrade their herd. And consumers can find beef that is out of this world good tasting and tender with marbling. To top it off it's also loaded with all the health benefits of omega 3's, CLA's and all the other things yet to be discovered!

Until next time...
 
 
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