Managing March Madness: Mud in Iowa

Significant presence of mud can increase energy requirements by as much as 30%. Wading through mud burns more calories, resulting in reduced gain for developing breeding stock and fed cattle as well as reduced milk production for cows. Confounding things further, cattle to tend eat less by simply avoiding putting in effort to get to feed.

Optimizing Ventilation in Small Scale Production

The environment inside our livestock and poultry houses is important for maintaining a productive and healthy herd or flock. Ventilation or fresh air exchange is important to remove undesirable moisture and noxious gases during winter months and in summer, make sure the indoor temperature is not too much warmer than outdoors.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.”


Solving Ventilation Challenges in Calf Production

Submitted by Shannon Hoyle
Farmer and ISU Extension and Outreach 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!