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Griffieon Family Farm

Griffieon HomesteadThe Griffieon’s are a family-oriented century farm located just north of Ankeny. Craig and LaVon have four children - the sixth generation to be raised on the land. Currently the Griffieon’s have a diversified farm with beef, laying hens, broilers, turkeys and sheep and they raise corn soybeans, oats, and alfalfa. Their initial start with direct-marketing came when their eldest son, Nick, decided to raise and sell pastured poultry. He built pens, bought the chicks and bought the feed from the co-op. Nick lost eleven dollars on his first 100 chickens and even though he lost money, he set out to do it again and bought 150 more chicks. Knowing costs were a factor the first time, he bought corn from his dad and a non-medicated pre-mix from the elevator and used a grinder-mixer to make his own feed on the second batch. With these changes Nick had a value-added product which could be marketed at a higher price. Soon after, Craig stopped using growth hormones on his beef calves and followed the non-GMO, antibiotic-free plan and began direct marketing beef, lamb, pork and turkeys. Setting their own prices for products assured the Griffieon’s a profit on each animal sold.

Their markets began by Nick reaching out to neighbors to purchase his chickens and friends from the Ankeny Farmers Market. Return customers would then come to the farm to purchase their meat. The majority of their markets have grown by word of mouth. Later on they created brochures and a website. In 2008, the Griffieon’s joined The Iowa Food Cooperative, an online marketing cooperative. Each market account acquires one third of their sales and each year they continue to grow. This past Christmas Season they sold more quarters of beef and whole and half hogs than ever before.

Broilers

Griffieon’s raise 660-740 straight run broilers each year in batches of 220 at a time. The first three weeks they are in the brooder house and then move to pasture for 4-5 weeks. While in the pasture their pens are moved every morning to fresh grass where their feeders and water tanks are filled. When the broilers are around 7-8 weeks they weigh between 3.5 and 5.5 pounds. From here they are loaded at dusk and hauled to be processed in Bloomfield Iowa.

Poultry processing in Iowa is a challenge for small-scale producers, as there are only two state-inspected lockers for poultry in Iowa. One of those locations, in Bloomfield, Iowa, will be closing at the end of 2019, making it even harder on small farmers to process their meat in a state-inspected facility and keep costs low.

Layers

Each year roughly 80 layers are raised for eggs. They start them in the fall and use the poulet eggs during the winter and larger eggs in the summer. In the summer months eggs will be sold out every single day. Once the hens no longer lay eggs they are butchered as stewing hens.

Turkeys

In the spring the Griffieon’s raise pasture-raised turkeys. The chicks are purchased in May and are finished in October, just in time for Thanksgiving. When they started with turkeys, they raised Heritage turkeys but as those grew in popularity it became too expensive to turn efficiently. Currently, they raise Broad Breasted Bronze turkeys.

Beef

They raise Limousin beef cattle that come from a herd that has been on the Griffieon farm since the 1960s. They are typically butchered around 15-18 months of age and weigh around 1200 pounds with carcass weight of 1000 pounds. They can be processed at any state inspected locker as long as the state inspector is present to see the live animal. Beef is available and ready for market year-round.

Pork

Processing is very similar for pigs as it is beef. They can be processed at any state inspected locker with the state inspector present. They are processed around six months of age weighing around 260-300 pounds with a carcass weight around 170-200 pounds.

Lamb

LaVons eldest daughter, Autumn, raises Katahdin sheep. The lambs are around nine or ten months of age when processed. Lambs weigh roughly 110 pounds live weight and have a carcass weight of 60 pounds.

 

LaVon indicated there have been a few challenges along the way…

Pricing is difficult. It is challenging to figure the amount of time you have put into an 18 month calf and really value what your time is worth, while keeping the cost of the meat as low as possible.

“Defending your pricing to the public is another challenge.” Many times the customers who come to the Griffieon farm to purchase meat or eggs are aware of the costs, but the customers at the farmers’ market are often comparing the Griffieon’s prices to the stores prices. LaVon created an informative sheet titled “Why Do These Chickens Cost So Much?!?!” After the customer has read it they don’t question another price. A lot of work is put into producing any of the animals and it takes time to inform them.

Along those same lines, Griffieon’s have “trained” their direct-market-customers. Many who come to their farm to purchase their products know how to find what they want, add up their bill, and pay with cash, check, or credit card without directly interacting with a family member. Others still feel more comfortable if they are there to help.

Advice

“Take care of your customers, answer questions, ask questions and they’ll take care of you.”

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Meet Corey

About The Farmer

Meet Corey Hillebo, an aronia berry farmer from Polk City, Iowa. Together, with his dad, Scott, they produce corn, soybeans, and raise wean to finish pigs. Prior to working full time on the farm, Corey was employed by Pioneer which is where he heard about aronia berries on the radio. Entrepreneurial in nature, Corey became very intrigued by producing aronia berries. He began attending conferences around aronia berries and learning whatever he could. In 2014 Corey and his father planted 15 acres of aronia berry plugs.

 

Planting Process

Aronia berries are planted with a tree/plug planter; they grow very similarly to a hedge row. Corey planted four to six inch plugs in a row roughly spaced two to three feet from one another and fourteen feet between each row. A vineyard grass mixture was planted between rows as well as mulching with the help of a local mulching service and Maxwell’s FFA Chapter to help maintain weed control. Based off Corey’s experience, harvest typically takes place in late August and early September but aronia berries take two to three years to produce a fruit and around seven to ten years to witness full potential of the plant so it is a bit of a waiting game. Although there may not be a harvest during year one or two it is important to maintain the soil. In year one, there is a lot of weeding and hoeing done by hand which is very time consuming and laborious. Once the plants bear fruit they are to be harvested. This is the fun part! The Hillebo’s rent or hire someone with a special harvester from Poland. The harvester is pulled behind a tractor and goes over the rows while rubber coated fingers gently shake the berries from the branches. The berries fall onto a conveyor and are moved to the back of the machine where air is pushed through to minimize any bugs, twigs, and/or leaves that may be attached to the berry. From here the berries are loaded into 35 pound totes, stacked on a pallet, and immediately refrigerated to begin the cooling process. This helps with maximizing the shelf life. Once on the refrigerated truck they are shipped to the processing station where they are destemmed, cleaned, sorted, boxed and frozen until use.

 

The Market

Corey works with the National Aronia Growers based in Northwest Iowa to market his aronia berries. Unfortunately for most aronia berry growers there is a “lack of market,” than anything but many growers are working to expand the current market. Aronia berries do not have the publicity in North America as they do in Eastern Europe. In Eastern Europe aronia berries are recognized for their high antioxidants and other health benefits. Here in the U.S., we are still in the process of educating the population that we can grow them and do not need to import them. Education is also needed on the health benefits of aronia berries - they are higher in antioxidants than acai, gogi, noni, and elderberries and 3 to 4 times higher in antioxidants in blueberries. Antioxidants are beneficial for lowering blood pressure, assisting with heart disease and fighting free radicals which can help fight cancer and reduce aging. You will also find that aronia berries are packed with fiber. The National Aronia Growers are working very hard at creating a market from the ground up. A major factor that is slowing this process down comes from the lack of money and resources to manufacture high quality products to sell.

 

Some Advice

For those who may be interested in growing aronia berries Corey has some advice!

1 “Walk before you run.” The process it takes until you reach the point where you understand the full potential of your plant is a long time. Take caution before you jump in at full force. Try starting with a few plants or acres before expanding.

2 “...talk to several people that have been in the business for awhile.”

3 “Get your soils right; fertility and condition wise” Aronia berries have the capability to grow in most midwest soils, but the goal is for them to be grown at maximum production. Stray away from throwing this crop on poor ground. There is potential for this market to prosper and when that day comes they will produce the best in good, fertile soil. Also, you do not replant this crop every year like a typical midwest row crop. You are limited to one chance at plating the bushes. Take your time and provide an environment that will allow them to meet their highest capabilities.

One way Corey adapted his operation to better meet the needs of aronia berries was implement a drip line irrigation system. This is not a necessity, but with some other advances they were making on their farm it was easy to incorporate. Again, this is not a necessity but when speaking of taking care of the soil this created an easy process for fertilizer application.

4 “Weeds, weeds,weeds!!!” These plants will not be able to compete with extreme weed population. The aronia berries will need all the nutrients they can get. An expensive option could be using specialized planters from Italy that lay a heavy duty plastic barrier prior to planting the plugs, or for Corey, He has found that some pre-emergence herbicides specifically labeled for aronia berries has helped.  

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A Visit with Caite Palmer

Caite's daughter and a calf

Do you have an interest in direct marketing meat products from your farm? Meet Caite Palmer. Caite Palmer is a small farmer located on a century farm in Northeast Iowa. Caite and her husband raise grass-fed and grain-finished Angus cross and Normande beef cattle, as well as Katahdin lambs. Rather than take animals to the sale barn, she markets these meat products directly to consumers. Caite got started direct marketing because it allowed her to decide and control prices for her products. It began with selling whole and half animals. This process came with unique challenges of getting all the meat sold, coordinating customers and the locker. Caite and her husband process their meat at a USDA Inspected locker which offers more flexibility to sell their products across state lines. Once the meat is processed Caite must take a few more steps to abide by regulations. Caite and her husband store the meat in freezers at their house and must obtain a warehouse license. This means the freezers are inspected for cleanliness, temperature, and proper packaging and labeling of products.They are also required hazardous food licenses for every county they sell in when traveling to farmers markets.

Recently she and her husband have explored selling at the Winneshiek Farmers Market, selling beef and lamb cuts of meat directly to customers. Sales through this channel can be unpredictable and it is difficult to change consumer traditions of buying protein from the grocery store. Yet, Caite has experienced success working with this market. You can also find beef and lamb from Caite’s farm at local restaurants and caterers. One thing Caite is expanding toward is a meat Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, allowing purchases to be done online. In a CSA model, consumers purchase “shares” of a farmers crop prior to harvest or processing. Once processing has began those who purchased “shares” will get their portion. This has allowed for more year round sales as well as more flexibility for her family.

To those interested in pursuing direct marketing of meat products, Caite had the following advice from Caite,

  1. “If you’re doing this to get rich, don’t. The public sees the high price of meat and believes you are making large profits. Keep in mind, raising livestock is expensive, processing livestock is expensive, licensing and equipment is expensive, inspections are expensive, and in some cases, childcare is expensive.”

  2. “Make friends with your new coworkers. Create a relationship with your health inspector. The laws and health inspectors are implemented to keep food healthy and safe for everyone. At times you may roll your eyes, but remember they are just doing their job. Get to know each person at the locker, this is helpful when you are in a crunch for time! Use other local businesses, “It builds goodwill in the community.”

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Maple Syrup Production

tapped treeProducing maple syrup and value-added maple products offers an opportunity to diversify farm operations and income. A new publication, "Maple Sugaring: An Introduction to Small-Scale Commercial Production," from ATTRA provides an overview of maple sugaring, including business planning, financial considerations, marketing, equipment and supplies, value-added products, organic certification, regulations, and quality control.

The publication also includes resources for acquiring more knowledge on maple syrup production and determining if maple sugaring is a viable addition to a farming operation.

Download it free today at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=578.

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Value Added Producer Grant

grant calculationA free learning session will be offered for those interested in applying and learning more about the USDA Value Added Producer Grant program. The learning session will be held Oct. 27 at the Jeff and Deb Hansen Agricultural Student Learning Center, Ames, from 1:30-3 p.m. It is sponsored by the USDA Rural Development office, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

Topics include eligibility, resources, grant writing tips and services provided by USDA Rural Development, ISU Extension and Outreach and AgMRC. Value added agriculture producers, producer groups, cooperatives and service providers that serve those populations should plan to attend this learning session.

The USDA Rural Business Cooperative Service announced the availability of $18 million in competitive grant funds for fiscal year 2017 to help independent agricultural producers enter into value-added activities. The grant will fund one of the following two activities:

  • Developing feasibility studies or business plans (including marketing plans or other planning activities) needed to establish a viable value-added marketing opportunity for an agricultural product; or
  • Acquiring working capital to operate a value-added business venture or an alliance that will allow the producers to better compete in domestic and international markets.

Value-added products are defined as:

  • A change in the physical state or form of the product (such as milling wheat into flour or making strawberries into jam);
  • The production of a product in a manner that enhances its value, as demonstrated through a business plan (such as organically produced products);
  • The physical segregation of an agricultural commodity or product in a manner that results in the enhancement of the value of that commodity or product (such as an identity preserved marketing system).

Applications must be completed and submitted no later than Jan. 31, 2018. For more information about the workshop, contact ISU Extension and Outreach program assistant Shannon Hoyle at shoyle@iastate.edu.

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Answering Your Fall Lawn Care Questions

grassAdam Thoms of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach answered all your questions about how to tend to your lawn this fall.

Have additional questions? Send us a note at smallfarms@iastate.edu!

What is the best strategy for weed control as fall approaches?

A healthy lawn this the first and best strategy. Strong competition from healthy turfgrass will help more than anything against weeds. Fertilizing the yard with 0.75 to 1 lb. of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet now, and again in early November will help give the turfgrass the nutrients it needs for optimal growth and health. Also making sure bare spots in your yard have seed in them will help to fill in areas of the yard that otherwise could be open for weeds to invade. 

What are some characteristics of a good herbicide to use in the fall?

Fall herbicides should focus on broadleaf weed control. We suggest spraying for these weeds after the first frost. When selecting a broadleaf herbicide, make sure it has at least 2-3 different chemicals. The reason we want different chemicals is that some chemicals work better on certain broadleaf weeds than others, so getting 2-3 chemicals in the tank will help with better broad-spectrum control. The fall is not the time to treat for crabgrass, this is a summer annual and the frost will kill crabgrass. It will germinate again next April to May so do not worry about it until the spring.

What weather conditions should we apply herbicides in?

You want to apply herbicides when there is little to no wind, the temperatures are less than 80 degrees, and there no rainfall in the forecast for at least a day. If you are using a granular weed and feed product you will want to apply this right after it has rained or after a heavy dew. These products only work if the leaf tissue is wet, as the product has to stick to the leaf.

Is fall a good time to aerate the lawn? What is a good strategy for lawn aeration?

The fall is the best time to aerate a yard, September and October are better than November to aerate because it allows the yard some recovery time. The best aeration is to use a machine that pulls a plug, and go at least two different directions over the yard.

Can we still use grass clippings for composting and mulch even if they have been treated with fertilizer and/or herbicides?

Always read the label to see if you can use the clippings. The label will tell you if it is safe to use the clippings or not.

Can raked leaves be used for composting?

Raked leaves can be mulched up and returned to your yard as extra fertilizer, I have seen piles as high as 18 inches mulched into the turf. Make sure you chop the leaves up fine enough that they fall into the canopy and do not sit on top of the turf and smother it. This may mean mowing the yard two or three times if you have a bunch of leaves on the yard.

Have a funny story or a quick lesson from a project on your acreage? Drop us a line! We'd love to feature stories from our readers!

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Solving Ventilation Challenges in Calf Production

Submitted by Shannon Hoyle
Farmer and ISUEO Value-Added Agriculture Program Assistant
Nashua, Iowa

Raising dairy beef calves has been a challenging, yet rewarding experience. Over the course of the past 16 months raising baby calves, there have been many things that I have learned. There is no system that works for everyone in every situation, but I hope that sharing my experience can help you on your farm.

The number one necessity in successfully raising calves is proper ventilation. I raise calves in a retrofitted 60x40x40 hayshed. The hayshed sits north and south. There are doors on the south end and east side of the shed. There are also two, 4x4 foot fans that we installed on the north end that suck air through the hayshed (negative pressure mechanical ventilation). None, one, or both fans can be turned on by a switch, but they have one speed. Fifty-three individual pens, that we built ourselves, can fit in this shed.

During my first group of calves in this hayshed, we started noticing that calves in the back ¾ of the hayshed were starting to develop some respiratory problems. By this time, it was late May, so the average overnight temperature was 60 degrees and day temperatures in the upper 70’s. This warm air would rise and not exchange with the lower air, and so we concluded that by the time the air flowed to the back ¾ of the shed that it was way above the calf level and not exchanging air. This allowed for the proper environment for respiratory problems to start.

We decided that there needed to be a way to baffle the air so we could get the proper air exchange. We decided to make a baffle out of silage wrap and install it in the middle of the shed. In order for it to work correctly, it had to be cut out to fit the peak of the hay shed. We measured and cut the baffle out in the yard and then installed it with plastic pieces that could help support the weight of the silage wrap on the screws, and then we screwed them into the rafters of the hayshed. The bottom of the baffle comes down to just above the calf pens. The air that is then sucked through the hayshed will run into the baffle and spread out and move to the bottom of the baffle. This allows the fresh air to exchange with dirty air, yet since the baffle is a foot and a half above the calf, it does not create a draft on the calf. As you’ll see in the above picture, we have the east doors open. The fans will pull air from the easiest source. We want to create a tunnel so that the air is even, so we now keep those doors shut.

Baffle in barnWhile we noticed that there was much better ventilation now with one baffle installed in the middle of the shed, we did notice some areas that still had dead-spots where air was not moving. Once this group of calves were weaned and moved to another pen, we made two more baffles and installed one in the front ¼ of the shed and the back ¾ of the shed.

While this system is not perfect, it has allowed us to provide much better ventilation for the calves, and we have seen a significant drop in respiratory issues once the baffles were installed.

Would this system work for you, and wondering where you can get some silage wrap? You have probably noticed the white bags full of different types of feed while you drive around Iowa. Once the feed is removed from those bags, they machine that packs them cannot usually reuse the same material. You could see if they would sell you the wrap once they are done with it.

Have a funny story or a quick lesson from a project on your acreage? Drop us a line! We'd love to feature stories from our readers!

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Learning Something New - Starting Seeds

Submitted by Kris Boyles
Homeschooler/Homsteader/Homemaker
Newhall, Iowa

adding plastic to the greenhouseWe have a long way to go in learning acreage living. We are city transplants from about five years ago. But we did have a success of sorts that I'd like to share. This year we tried to plant more of our garden from seed instead of buying plants. (Seeds are cheaper than plants.) We converted the shed workbench to a temporary greenhouse by making a homemade warming "mat" out of mostly salvaged construction materials. (My husband works construction and keeps a close eye on the dumpster.) We also made greenhouse lights from second hand shop lights, mounted on a salvaged wood frame. We enclosed it with plastic to keep the plants warm. We were able to get it as high as 90 degrees in the greenhouse. We started planting indoors in early March and planted most of our seedlings outdoors by mid-/late-June. Next year I'd like to start some indoor plants even earlier.

inside the greenhouseThis year we probably spent what we usually do in garden start-up costs, but most of the costs went to the reusable mat and lights instead of toward plants. So next year we expect to see a big savings in our garden start-up costs since we will have seed as our primary purchase. (Or we may invest our usual garden spending to grow or improve another area of the acreage, like trees.)

This year, we are done with peas, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, carrots, onions and beans. We are currently harvesting lots of squash, cucumbers, kale and parsley. Potatoes, rosemary, basil, pumpkin and cauliflower are still coming along. Peppers, cantaloupe and eggplant didn't do very well once we transplanted them. I won't do a winter garden until next year because we have some soil issues we want to address this fall. We TREASURE our 80+ tomatoes which are just beginning to mature. We turn most of them into sauce which we use for spaghetti, lasagna, and homemade pizza. We also can some whole or diced and sometimes make salsa or juice. We are a family of six, so we eat most of what we grow.

With the garden, the approximately 50 chickens we keep, and with the cattlemen relatives we have, my dream someday would be to only go to the store for dairy in the summertime. I don't know if it is realistic, but I can dream.

Have a funny story or a quick lesson from a project on your acreage? Drop us a line! We'd love to feature stories from our readers!

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What's New?

Christa Hartsook
Small Farms Program Coordinator
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

 

bee hiveOne year ago, my oldest son received a traditional Langstroth bee hive. He needed to rehab the interior frames, add new foundation and repair one box damaged beyond repair.

During the summer of 2016, he repaired the hive completely. He researched different types of bees and decided that Carniolan bees were what he wanted to purchase.

In April of 2017, we installed a two-pound package of bees. Things have gone well this summer; he's been able to witness all stages of bee development. We've all learned how to properly check the hive and that smoking the bees is crucial to preventing multiple stings.

He's anxiously awaiting the first honey harvest, which is a month or two out yet, but it's fun to watch him learn from this new enterprise.

What's new on your farm? Tell us about it!

 

Have a funny story or a quick lesson from a project on your acreage? Drop us a line! We'd love to feature stories from our readers!

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Raspberry Patch and Meat Goats

Christa Hartsook
Small Farms Program Coordinator
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

 

We have a wide variety of critters on our small acreage. Most are kept at the insistence of our three, animal-loving kids. Each critter variety requires a different feeding, management, etc., and each have provided learning opportunities for kids and parents.

This summer I have learned that meat goats do indeed work well at brush control. (For more information on Utilizing Goats for Brush Control, read our Acreage Living article.) This would work well if they confined their browsing to the thistles and random mulberry trees in the pasture. However, this summer, these little critters have discovered that my raspberry patch, on the other side of their fence, is full of tasty leaves.

I've been left with bare canes. The three kids these critters belong to have been left with some additional fencing projects.

raspberry twigs

 

Have a funny story or a quick lesson from a project on your acreage? Drop us a line! We'd love to feature stories from our readers!

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