Spring is around the corner and our farmers are getting ready for all of the excitement and changes that the warmer weather brings. One of our independent farmers, Andrea Brown, gave us a peak into the world of a Niman Ranch farm as the season transitions from Winter to Spring.
By: Andrea Brown
Greetings from Alderland Farm in central Iowa where my husband, Paul, and I live. Alderland is a portmanteau of our three children’s names (Allison, Derek and Landon) who started helping on the farm by the time they were three years old and are still involved in varying ways. Derek is now in charge of much of the hog and cattle portions of the farm, Landon helps with the crops and machinery maintenance and Allison assists in a variety of ways when she is not working at her job in product development for a food company. Our children are seventh generation farmers in Hardin County, Iowa.
Spring is my favorite time of year. The greening grass, budding trees, first sightings of robins, warmer air and longer hours of daylight refresh and rejuvenate me. On the farm, spring also means planting and babies – many of them. Our farm, in some ways, is a throwback to a bygone era as we raise not only pigs for Niman Ranch but cattle and chickens outdoors. Cats and a farm dog also roam the farm so spring means many baby piglets, calves, chicks and kittens.
Many of our pigs are farrowed (born) out in the pasture in individual huts. The pasture is rotated each year so that the manure from last year’s pigs is available as natural fertilizer for this year’s corn crop. Not only is the practice great ecologically but it saves on labor as the manure never has to be handled. Because the pasture is moved annually, one of the first spring jobs is to build the fence, lay water line and move all of the feeders and hog huts from the prior year’s pasture to the new pasture. Cornstalk bales are provided for the sows (mother pigs) to use as bedding and to build nests for giving birth.
Spring Means Planting and Babies
Most sows have 9-10 babies per litter and have two litters per year. Each sow chooses her own hut in which to give birth. The piglets know which hut is theirs and enjoy running through the pasture during the day but return home when they are hungry or need a nap. We grow corn, soybeans and oats so Spring also means that the soil is prepared for planting. We are very glad for the extra hours of daylight as there is a lot of work to be done.
While Paul and our sons are planting the crops, I get our garden seeds and plants into the ground. I plant about 15 different vegetables. It is amazing to see how much produce we get from a few packages of seeds and some purchased plants. We eat a lot of fresh vegetables, freeze and can many in the fall and share produce with friends and family. Our granddaughter especially likes to help plant potatoes.
The Next Generation
In addition to all of the regular spring jobs, this year our oldest son and his wife are building a house here on our farm and hoping to move in before their third child arrives in May. There are still many jobs – inside and out – that need to be completed before they can move in. We are very blessed that our children are able to be involved on our family farm. I’m looking forward to all the new life this spring will bring.