Feral cats on the farm

In the old days, when every farm family had livestock, they had to have barn cats around to keep the rodents at bay. Dairy farmers used to be able, they say, to hit the open mouth of a barn cat with warm milk straight from the udder. These days we still have lots of cats in the country, but they are mostly feral cats and most farms don’t have any livestock. The cats are sometimes ex-pets or maybe 2nd or 3rd generation feral and are a problem because they breed freely so that we have an overpopulation.

Last night I set a Havahart trap for raccoons and got a gray feral cat. We tried to transfer it to a larger enclosure with the idea that we might be able to train it to stay around. The cat got away as we were moving to the larger cage, so it’s back in the wild catching birds and rodents and breeding freely to keep the problem growing.

Friday I had gone to a local shelter to get a replacement cat for the one that got hit in the road last week. The original cat was also a shelter cat that had been a stray picked up by a local animal control officer.

Our feral cat problem in rural Iowa is serious.

The monarchs are gathering for the long flight south

Monarch butterflies were gathering on my Colorado Blue Spruce on Saturday and then on my Norway Spruce on Sunday. They are gathering strength for their long flight south to Mexico.

Monarchs gathering on my Norway Spruce in the afternoon sun on September 14, 2014.

Monarchs gathering on my Norway Spruce in the afternoon sun on September 14, 2014.

For more on the Monarchs, visit the Monarch experts at the University of Minnesota.

Cover crop 2014

We have flown on oats and tillage radishes into standing soybeans. With the rains we have had over the last two weeks, the seed has germinated quickly. Both the oats and the tillage radishes will probably die over the winter. It will be interesting to see how much growth they will make before killing frost. We hope to have a good cover of vegetation over the winter. The radishes may offer good wildlife feed also.

oatsradishcover_09132014

Young oats shoots and radish plants are just emerging from the 2013 corn stubble. The 2014 crop is soybeans which you can see on the left. The beans are at least several weeks away from being ready for harvest.

Here we are a week later. The oats and tillage radishes are showing more growth. We had some sunny days and another .5 inches of rain since last weekend.

Here we are a week later, September 21. The oats and tillage radishes are showing more growth. We had some sunny days and another .5 inches of rain since last weekend. The beans are clearly drying down fast. I would guess that depending on weather, harvest is about 10 days away.

Here we are on September 27, at 26 days after seeding, and the oats and tillage radishes are doing well.

At 26 days, the oats and tillage radishes stand looks strong. In this time, according to my rain gauge at the farm, we have received exactly three (3)  inches of rain. On September 2, when we seeded, we had just received rain the day before as well.

At 26 days, the oats and tillage radishes stand looks strong. In this time, according to my rain gauge at the farm, we have received exactly three (3) inches of rain. On September 2, when we seeded, we had just received rain the day before as well.

Are farmers primarliy managers of technical information?

The naive notion of Iowa farmers as men who physically labor in the fields and barns from sun up to long after sun down is exactly that, naive. In the past, when my ancestors came from northern Europe to central Iowa, that might have been the case. Erik Tesdahl started with 40 acres of prairie, so he and his two sons might have labored long hours plowing the prairie and building their herd of cattle, but that is a long time ago. Today, I believe, successful Iowa farmers, whatever the size of their operation, must be technology-savvy and able to gather, interpret, and manage large amounts of technical information in order to be successful. A strong back and a strong work ethic still help, but are not enough and it’s no longer solely a man’s world (it never really ever was) either. Men and women work together to make their farming operations go.

Take for example, soil nutrient management. Farmers want to know the N (Nitrogen), P (Phosphorus), and K (Potassium) in their soil, and the acidity level. To make an informed decision about adding nutrients to the soil to get the highest possible grain yield, the farmer must conduct and interpret soil test results, make an informed choice about purchasing the nutrients, manage the application of the nutrients, and then follow up with yield data in order to see the results. With these decisions comes the possibility of both success and failure, since there are variables that cannot be controlled by the farmer.

Farming in the Midwest has, since European settlers arrived in the mid-19th century, carried with it both risks and rewards. It also can be viewed as an activity system. A Midwestern agricultural activity system (for more on the idea of activity systems, see (Spinuzzi, http://spinuzzi.blogspot.com/2012/11/topsight-activity-systems.html) includes seed, land, water, technology, farmers, markets, livestock, weather and numerous other elements. In this agricultural activity system risks such as weather, injury, disease, and unpredictable markets have existed for many years. An increasingly important part of this activity system is the technology and the farmers’ management of that technical information. While understanding, implementing, and passing on technical information in the form of techniques, methods, use and crafting of tools has always been a farmer’s job, recently another element of our Midwestern agricultural activity system has emerged: precision agriculture. So my question for farmers is whether their use of precision agriculture tools (yield monitors, variable-rate applicators, guidance systems, and GPS maps) such as those provided by Agleader, Ames, Iowa, and the data they produce, offers a way to reduce risk down on the farm.

Bright moon

Last night in central Iowa we had an extra bright moon, a super moon. According to the weather guy on Minnesota Public Radio, as I drove home, the moon was about 30% brighter than usual.

Bright moon in the eastern sky at 11 p.m. on August 11, 2014

Bright moon in the eastern sky at 11 p.m. on August 11, 2014

Late summer bounty

Garlic is harvested. Onions are harvested. The potatoes are coming in. We have been using herbs and kale all summer. The beekeeper has taken off the supers for the first round. The yellow summer squash are hard to keep up with.

We picked green beans, peppers, and squash today. I dug some of the russet potatoes. The beekeeper dropped off some honey when he took off the supers on Tuesday.

We picked green beans, peppers, and squash today. I dug onions and some of the russet potatoes. The beekeeper dropped off some honey when he took off the supers on Tuesday.

We had too much rain in June, however, and so we were a little lucky to get a decent garden crop.

This photo of my garden from upstairs in the house shows my PV array and the garden beds. The area between the beds is full of water from the excess rain we've had. As of today, August 10, that array has produced 1.44 mWh of power in 2014.

This photo of my garden from upstairs in the house shows my PV array and the garden beds. The area between the beds was full of water from the excess rain we had up to June 30. As of today, August 10, that 6-panel array has produced 1.44 mWh of power in 2014.

 

Weather is probably the biggest uncertainty in agriculture. Farmers everywhere in the world watch the skies daily and listen to the weather forecasts since their livelihoods are dependent on the sun, the wind, and the rain. One way to have some control in this situation where farmers are at the mercy of mother nature, is to increase pollination by bringing in more pollinators. That is the reason for honeybees (and the fact that we get a sweet product from them). On August 5 the beekeeper came by to check the hives and take off the honey in the supers. While honeybees do not benefit all crops, they do benefit from some. I have even seen honeybees on soybean flowers 1/2 mile away from the hives this summer (honeybees regularly work up to 2 miles from their hives and can go further). We started in April with 20 hives, later on two went bad so we were at 18 hives for June and July. Now I see that we are at 16 hives since August 5. The hives have either swarmed and moved away or weakened and died out.

Beekeepers are working my hives on August 5. They took off the honey-laden supers and left the hives to continue making some honey over the next month or so. The beekeeper's main objective, in addition to making honey, is to have strong hives that he can take to California in the winter to pollinate the almond groves.

Beekeepers are working my hives on August 5. They took off the honey-laden supers and left the hives to continue making some honey over the next month or so. The beekeeper’s main objective, in addition to making honey, is to have strong hives that he can take to California in the winter to pollinate the almond groves.

Here’s a photo opportunity that doesn’t come along very often…

Rainbow to the east!

Imageainbow

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