Published Jul 15, 2009

Rise and Shine Field Day

By Suzi Howk

What could be better than eating breakfast on a farm? The chance to get out into the country on a beautiful Saturday morning is beyond compare. This beautiful field day was hosted by Mark and Connie Tjelmeland, pastured poultry and row crop farmers outside McCallsburg.

The field day started out with scrambled eggs, sausage, muffins, and rolls with jam. After breakfast, Mark gave a really great introduction about his farm and about PFI. Harriet Behar from the Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) also talked a little bit about what services they offer. Their Organic Directory is very helpful for those who are looking for an organic buyer or supplier in the midwest. Mark said that he used the directory to find a buyer for his first year of organic grains!

After the introduction, we all hopped on two hay wagons and went for a tour around the farm. Our first stop was the soybean field, in it’s first year of organic certified soybeans. Mark talked about the challenges that he has had while transitioning his cropground. He also talked about where he purchases his seeds, and what his usual planting dates were.

Our next stop was by the chicken pasture. Mark and Connie raise 750 Gold Star laying hens, and market the eggs into 5 grocery stores in the Ames area. They also raise 750 replacement pullets, and replace their flock every year. When asked about what they do with the spent hens, Mark says that “They eat alot of chicken”. They originally started raising chickens when their son was one year old, and Connie wanted an enterprise that would allow her to stay at home, but still make an income. Both Mark and Connie liked chickens and grew up raising them, so it seemed like a natural fit for their farm. He did note that a chicken operation requires somewhat of a homebody, as you have to be there every day to put them out in the morning, and put them back in at night.
The attendees had quite a few questions about how they run their operation, ranging from “Do you mix your own feed?” to “do you have to do any pasture maintenance?”. While answering questions, Mark stood out in the pasture and everyone lined up along the fence. I wonder what 50ish humans look like to 750 chickens, because they were sure curious!

After we looked at the chickens, the wagon took us over to a 5 acre plot of re-constructed native prairie. Here Jennifer Hopwood formerly from Iowa State University talked a little bit about her research on native pollinators and the importance of building habitat and natural food sources for them. She suggested that even semi-small field borders were good habitats for native pollinators.

Mark then took those who were interested downstairs into the basement to see their egg-handling facility. The machine that they use to wash the eggs looked like it was a huge labor saver! He talked about the inspection process for an egghandlers lisence, and showed how to candle and egg. Mark approximated that they spend 3 hours everyday on chores, between feeding, gathering eggs, washing eggs, and making sure all the chickens are
in at night.

Finally, Connie showed her potted prairie plants that she is getting ready for three different booths at the Iowa State Fair. We also looked at Connie’s beautiful garden, and watched the pullets run back and forth across their pasture.

The best part of the whole day, I thought, was sitting in a rocking chair on their front porch talking with Connie’s mother, who lives in a small apartment attached to the house. It is so fun to learn from people like her, and attempt to soak up some of their wisdom! All in all, a beautiful morning plus a beautiful farm makes for a great way to spend a Saturday!