Tag Archives: alfalfa

Makin’ Hay…

It’s hay season and my favorite farmer and his crew are one third of the way through the first cutting of alfalfa. Matt and his guys will harvest 4 cuttings from May to the end of October. Weather permitting, they run 24 hours a day for 7 days a week during the summer months as 3300 acres of alfalfa keeps them plenty busy. We are blessed to have an awesome set of guys to help us out!

In honor of my favorite farmer, this week’s video is entitled “Makin’ Hay” and describes the alfalfa portion of our farm 🙂 Enjoy!

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Filed under General, Video Fun on the Farm

Measuring Care By Productivity…

Thoughtful Thursday

girlschickeneggs.jpg

Every proud mama is entitled to brag every now and then…

This Thoughtful Thursday I give a special “shout out” to my daughters for their outstanding care to our laying hens, and to my favorite farmer for the nutrient filled alfalfa dehy that we mix with the chickens’ regular feed.  Rhode Island Reds give an average of 220 to 280 eggs per year — that equals approximately 0.6-0.8 eggs per hen per day — with the winter months being the least productive due to cold temperatures and short days.

Ashley Grace’s chickens produced at a rate of 1.08 eggs per hen per day during the month of November and the first week of December.

Good nutrition and quality care = Productive Food Animals

Well Done–You make me proud!

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Filed under Ashley Grace's Corner and The Chick Project..., General, Thoughtful Thursday

Gettin’ Our Poop in a Group…

The manure that my cattle make is a very important component of our farm.  My favorite farmer tends to 4300 acres of crop ground, and the health of that soil is critical to our farm’s sustainability.

The alfalfa field behind my house...

The alfalfa field behind my house in its’ full summer glory…

Both plants and animals need a number of macro nutrients in large quantities to operate their metabolisms and build their bodies.  The important ones are carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. A farmer takes molecules which are organized in a low energy state and reorganizes them into forms that have energy and are ultimately available and usable to humans (food!).

Each year when a crop is harvested off of a field, it takes with it the important macro nutrients that nourished it during the growing season.  In order to maintain continuous soil health, these nutrients must be periodically reapplied to the soil.  The specific needs of the soil are determined by laboratory testing of the dirt through sampling.

Tractor and box scraper in a home pen getting the poop in a group...

Tractor and box scraper in a home pen getting the poop in a group

While the primary resource that my feed yard provides is beef and products made from cattle, my animals produce another resource during their tenure on our farm: manure.  This fertilizer is sampled and analyzed for nutrient values, transported to a nearby farm, and applied agronomically to refuel the soil.

A pile of manure waiting to be taken out of the pen.  The cattle enjoy playing "king of the mountain" until the pile is removed...

A pile of manure waiting to be taken out of the pen. The cattle enjoy playing “king of the mountain” until the pile is removed…

It is important that we get our poop in a group several times a year in order to maintain optimal animal comfort and the most judicious use of the manure that they produce. This process requires that Matt’s farming crew works with my feed yard crew —  teamwork is always best!

Loading the manure onto the truck to take it to the field that needs it...

Loading the manure onto the truck to take it to the field that needs it…

Spreading the manure on an old alfalfa field...

Spreading the manure on an old alfalfa field…

The field pictured above has grown the perennial plant alfalfa for seven years.  It is now time to fertilize the soil, and plant a rotational crop to help preserve soil health and protect future crops by breaking insect cycles and preventing weeds.  After growing corn for a year, it will be replanted to alfalfa.

I figure that it makes me pretty unique when one of the many reasons that my husband “needs” me is my cattle manure…

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Filed under Environmental Stewardship, Farming, General

The Hybrid Organic Farmers…

While I do not grow any certified organic beef at the feed yard, my favorite farmer does grow some certified organic animal feed.  Matt began growing some organic alfalfa and corn in 2004 in an effort to diversify our farm.  It has proven to be an effective risk management and marketing tool, but those advantages do not come without a unique set of challenges.

The certified organic alfalfa field that is located around my house and horse pastures...

A certified organic alfalfa field adjacent to my house…

For animal feed to be certified organic, it has to be grown on land that has been free from all prohibited products (synthetic fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides) for a minimum of three years.  In addition, the farmer must use approved seed and also maintain a management plan which protects the soil and water quality of the farm.

In the nine years that Matt has grown certified organic animal feed, the single largest challenge has been weed control.  The inability to use herbicides to spray for weeds creates an enormous task when creating a viable long term farm management plan.  Despite the fact that the crop rotation plan which Matt employs goes a long way to helping control weeds, in the long term we still have a never ending weed problem.

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My favorite cowgirl/chef pulling sticker weeds in the north horse pasture…

One of Matt’s certified organic fields boarders my house and horse pastures.  Several years ago, it was time to tear up the alfalfa field and rotate it into corn.  Along with the corn, the sticker weeds moved in…They then spread from the edge of the field into my horse pastures and yard.

I don’t like weeds.  In addition, it is my opinion that among the weed population, sticker weeds are some of the worst.  They spread like wildfire and develop nasty stickers that are very painful to the touch.  Because I am unable to spray the weeds on the edge of the field, the girls and I try to control the weeds the old fashioned way.

We filled many wheel barrows full of them this summer...

Harnessing the power of my free labor force…

As you might guess, this chore has created some negative thoughts relative to their daddy’s organic farming.  My favorite young women do not relish the character building hours that they spend hand pulling the sticker plants out of the pasture.

Ahh, the fun times are unlimited when doing "sticker weed chores"...

Ahh, the fun times are unlimited when doing “sticker weed chores”…

While the parent in me thinks that this process is a good learning experience for the girls, the farmer in me feels a certain level of frustration with our current inability to effectively control weeds in the long term on the organic fields and boarders of our farms.  Matt is constantly searching for ways to deal with this weed challenge, and the girls and I are certainly hopeful that he will soon be successful 🙂

I think that Shellie, the dog, is the only one that enjoys the chore...

I think that Shellie, the dog, is the only one that enjoys the chore…

Over the years, I have learned that no food production system is perfect—each type comes with its own unique set of pros and cons. 

There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, rather there are hard management decisions that lead to less than perfect results.  The bottom line is that we do the best that we can with our ultimate goal being a long term sustainable farm.

A field of traditionally raised animal corn that will be harvested to feed to my cattle...

A field of traditionally raised animal corn that will be harvested to feed to my cattle…

Because different people desire different types of food products, both production systems have a place in our society.  Matt and I have chosen a diverse blend on our farm in order to attain a broad spectrum of financial, environmental and social sustainability.  My favorite farmer and I have many passionate discussions as we routinely evaluate what is the best course for our farm.

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Filed under Farming, General

The Way Things Used To Be…

Archie frequently tells me stories of farming from the past, but until Saturday I had never had the opportunity to see farming as it was several generations ago…The Smithsonian, in conjunction with volunteers from our town, put together a “Journey Story Family Farm Day” near our town of Cozad.

One of the only mule/horse drawn corn harvesting teams that still is operational in the United States…

Watching the old horse drawn farming equipment was an epiphanic experience.  Because I grew up in the city, I am only familiar with agriculture beginning in the mid-1990’s.  To hear stories of the way things used to be is very different from actually watching it happen.  I have to admit that I was both fascinated and awed.  It gave me a reverence for the past and an appreciation for the technology of the present and future…

It was a thing of beauty to watch, but at the same time brought a tremendous appreciation for the farming equipment that we have now…

I want to take quick break from the feed yard and my tales of weaning, and share pictures from Saturday with you all.  Hopefully these pictures will give you a brief glimpse into the way things used to be…

An old fashioned sickle bar mower that was pulled by horses to cut alfalfa hay…

A draft horse team raking the alfalfa after it has been cut…

Another draft team prepares to gather the raked alfalfa…

Gathering the alfalfa…

Moving the gathered alfalfa to the stacker…

The stacker team awaits the gathered alfalfa…

The stacker team of draft horses pulls the boom of the stacker with a pulley rope system…

The alfalfa is catapulted into the stacker…

In addition to watching the alfalfa harvesting equipment, my favorite equine loving 10 year old managed some up close and personal time with the beautiful work horse and mule teams.  She just couldn’t seem to help herself…

She tried her hand at driving one of the draft teams..

At 18 plus hands they make our quarter horses look pretty small…

This big guy became her friend when she…

“mouth” fed him a stem of grass hay that she picked up along the way!

Our family had a wonderful day learning about the way things used to be—giving us a new perspective on the way that things are now

A special thanks to Bobbi Jo Messersmith and all of the other local volunteers for their hard work in bringing this incredible experience to our special town!

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Striving For Sustainability…

Matt’s grandparents moved from Northwestern Ohio to Cozad Nebraska in 1945.  Originally, they were Mennonite alfalfa farmers in the Archbold, Ohio area.  Converted to the Methodist religion, and desiring to travel west, they loaded their family of four (Grandmother Grace, Grandpa Burky, and sons: Dave and Erv) on the Union Pacific Railroad in 1945 to journey to Nebraska.

Grandmother Grace, Grandpa Burky, Dave and Ann with children Matt and Lara, and Dave’s brother, Erv and his wife Chris and daughter Zoe circa 1976…

The original family farm in Nebraska was a “custom” farm where Matt’s grandpa purchased alfalfa “standing in the field” from neighboring farmers, and then dehydrated the plants into alfalfa dehy pellets.  Over the years, Grandpa Burky and Dave (Matt’s dad) were able to purchase some land as well as lease land to farm.  The farm continued to shift in this direction as Matt and I came home to work, and today our farm is based primarily on family owned and leased land.

Today, Matt and I are raising the 4th generation…

The crop farm expanded to include a cattle feed yard in the late 1960’s.  Surrounded by animal feed and successfully established as an alfalfa farmer, Grandpa Burky and his friend, Ray Bates, dreamed of diversifying the farm.  Matt’s dad, Dave, had just arrived home from Stanford Business school and was a major contributor to the expansion along with my favorite 79 year old (Archie Curtice).

Dave and Archie have made a lifetime of memories together…

What began as a few pens now is home to several thousand animals that are fed locally grown crops, and prepared to become the beef that nourishes your family!  Archie’s son, Doug, and I now manage the cattle portion of our farm and work hard to carry on the family tradition.

Today, we have the ability to trace our animals from birth to harvest: an important component in my plan to raise the highest quality beef using the fewest natural resources…Here I am weighing an animal to track his gain performance at the feed yard.

It has been 67 years since Matt’s family got on the train and moved west.  When I look at what our family has built during that time, I am filled with a tremendous amount of pride.  While I have only been lucky enough to spend the last 15 years contributing, I think that what Matt and I do each day is a testimony to what his grandfather began so many years ago.

So what makes up our farm in 2012?

  • 1481 acres of organic alfalfa
  • 1579 acres of traditional alfalfa
  • 617 acres of organic corn
  • 966 acres of traditional corn
  • 120 acres of traditional soybeans
  • 184 acres of traditional wheat
  • Approximately 600 acres of cool season grass pasture
  • A cattle feed yard that has between 2300-2900 cattle (depending on the time of year)
  • 4 horses, 3 dogs, and 7 cats

Much of the traditionally grown corn and alfalfa are fed to our animals in the cattle feed yard.  In addition, the wheat stubble and a good portion of the corn stalks (what is left after harvest) is baled to feed to the cattle.  We blend these home grown feed ingredients with wet distillers grains to grow our cattle and make beef.  We do also purchase some corn from neighbors to augment our personally grown supply.  In a twelve month period, our cattle farm will prepare approximately 5500-6000 animals for harvest.

Traced from birth to harvest, I am proud to feed the beef from this animal to both my family and yours…

In 2006, with the increasing availability of wet distillers grains for our cattle and the growing demand for organically grown crops, Matt decided to diversify our crop farm by including organically certified alfalfa and corn.  The organic animal feed is sold to organic animal farmers across the country.  While this places a limit on the amount of feed that we grow for our own traditionally raised cattle, it opens up a more diverse marketing plan for our farm.

Matt’s alfalfa dehydration plant…

This diversity is a key player in the search for long term sustainability on our farm…I am pretty sure that Grandpa Burky would have never thought that his grandson would raise a blend of crops that included organic feed, or that his granddaughter-in-law would be the Boss Lady at the cattle feed yard.  But, the combination of team work and outside sales of a variety of products allows our farm to better weather the challenges that both Mother Nature and the economy bring…

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Pictures From The Farm…

I laugh that if you do not like the weather in Nebraska, just wait five minutes and it will change…We are still dry, but patches of rain are beginning to crop up in our area.  Apparently Mother Nature still remembers how!

How could my heart not be filled with hope as I see this beautiful sight?

God’s paintbrush is incredible. It brings me a sense of peace as well as hope…

In spite of the dry and hot summer, Matt and his crew have been busy growing wheat, alfalfa, corn and soybeans…

The morning sun shines on “wheat straw bales” in the field. Wheat is able to grow with relatively small amounts of moisture, so we do not irrigate our wheat fields…After harvest, we bale the left over plant stalk to feed to our cattle…

This is the field of alfalfa behind my house. It is almost time to cut it again (this will be the fourth cutting)—I can tell because it is starting to get small purple flowers amongst the green leaves. The leaves are a bit smaller than normal due to lack of rain—we do not actively irrigate most of our alfalfa ground…

Today our corn is tasseled and looks pretty good—we have been irrigating the crop since late May so that it has enough water to grow. Some years we irrigate very little, some years (like this one) we are forced to irrigate regularly because Mother Nature does not provide rainfall…

We grow a few (irrigated)  soybeans on our farm as well, but it is a very small percentage relative to our other crops…

We are blessed in the Platte River Valley to have access to irrigation water when it fails to rain.  As long as we are diligent in our care, our crops are able to grow despite the dry weather.  The terrible heat in late June and July was tough on everything, but we are hopeful that harvest will bring the resources that we need to make it through another year.

Thursday’s post will bring an explanation of how all of the different components of our farm (pasture ground, alfalfa, irrigated crops and cattle) all work together to ensure that our farm remains viable despite Mother Nature’s challenges.

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The 21st Century Family Farm…

We are simply two determined people who love the life that we are building…

When I received a phone call from a Bloomberg reporter from Washington DC about two months ago asking for my opinion of the Farm Bill that was circulating throughout Capitol Hill, I had no idea that he would decide to pitch the idea of a article about our farm to his editor and catch a plane to visit our farm near Cozad, Nebraska…

What followed were a volley of phone calls, a long day on our farm in May, a second visit again in June from the photographer, and quite a few more phone calls as the press deadline quickly approached.  I have to admit, I experienced a myriad of emotions during this entire process.

  • I was excited that someone thought that our life was interesting enough to write about.
  • I was nervous about my ability to share the extent of the love and the personal commitment that Matt and I have toward our farm.
  • I was just plain scared of what the end product would look like since I had no control over it.

    The next generation of determined Burkholders…

Those of you that follow me on Facebook are aware by now that the article about Matt and I and our farm appeared in the July 2-July 8th issue of Business Week magazine.

For those of you that have not seen it, here is the link to the story: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-06-28/the-21st-century-family-farm.  In addition to the story, if you click on the left hand side of the page at the first picture (the one of the Will Feed, Inc. sign) adjacent to the printed story, then you can see the slide show of photos that the magazine chose to use along with the print story.

My farm is both my livelihood and my passion—When you care about something that much it is a very personal thing to share…

Thursday’s post will have my thoughts on the article, the pictures, and what I learned from the experience.  Matt and I shared so much with the magazine’s team while they were with us, and I find it incredibly interesting to see what things resonated with them and ended up in the article.  I would love to hear feed back from you all as well so feel free to comment!

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Filed under Feed Yard Foodie "In The News", General