February 2019 Newsletter
Whats Going On At The Farm February 2019
For the past several months, 2 years actually, we have been wresting with the decision regarding our participation in the Summerville Farmers Market. We have asked customers for their thoughts, reviewed our weekly sales numbers, re-evaluated and updated the cost of market participation, and even contacted the new market manager to ask if they were planning on any changes for the upcoming year. I am happy to say that the market is going to enforce 1 major rule regarding bought items. Any farm that is reselling an item must list the farm that grew the item and all farmers must grow 50% or more of what they sell. They have also stated that any complaints from customers or other vendors could result in the market management visiting a farm to insure they are growing what they say they are. The farm application will also require the farmer to list the produce they will be growing and providing to the market. Failure to comply will result in the offending farm lossing their ability to sell at the market. I think those are some positive changes that will protect the market customer and put all the farmers participating in the market on a level playing field.
I'm sorry to say, however, that we have decided to no longer participate in the Summerville Farmers Market. After 12 years of participation it was a hard and heartbreaking decision but one, I think, most of our customers expected.
There are several reasons for this decision, declining sales, declining customers attending the market, long market hours that put our meat at risk during the summer months, and a few other reasons. But probably the biggest reason we have decided not to participate is the fact that we no longer think the market is a farmers market. Over the years the market has added several craft vendors and has plans to add more. Market management wants to be "all inclusive", as long as there is space in or near the market area, they want to fill it. We have nothing against artisans and enjoy going to craft fairs when there is one in the area but feel there is a difference between a craft fair and a farmers market. For the past 3 or 4 years Summerville Farmers Market sales have dropped and are now at levels that are unsustainable for our farm. We really had no choice but to leave the market and concentrate on other areas to generate the sales we need to remain a viable business.
There are now 2 options that are available to help serve you in the Summerville area. Orders can be placed through Pastured Pantry and delivered directly to your door. Deliveries are made every other week and are set to coincide with our dairy runs. Orders of $70 or more are delivered free of charge. Sign up with Pastured Pantry if this interests you, there is a link on our website.
The 2nd alternative is via a drop site that we have set up. These drops will also coincide with our dairy weeks and Pastured Pantry's home delivery. Orders that are delivered to the drop site DO NOT need to total $70. There is no charge for delivery to the drop site. Please contact Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org if this is of interest to you. Drop site deliveries are also made to coincide with our dairy run. If using the drop site, please double check your bags to insure you haven't picked up someone elses order.
The warmer than expected February weather and a little drier conditions, has corn farmers in the Low Country on their tractors and preparing for corn planting. The farm that we purchase corn from has already prepared their fields and expect to begin planting the week of February 18 and finish up planting the first week in March. If accomplished, this would be a couple of weeks before normal. The farm plants several varieties of corn in hopes of offsetting possible problems. Some varieties are best in dryer conditions while others are pest or disease resistant. They plant short term and longer term corn varieties which helps spread out harvesting. They always try to plant as early as possible to minimize weed pressure and damage from insects. They also try to begin harvesting their corn in late July and finish up by mid to late August in hopes of having all the corn harvested in case of a tropical storm or hurricanne.
Days here on the farm remain busy. The warm, dry weather has allowed us time to get a lot of small projects completed and has been a welcome relief for the animals. I don't remember a February that we didn't have to worry about pipes freezing or having to put all of the chickens up at night before calling it a day. I certainly hope this isn't representative of another overly hot and humid summer but I'm sure it will be.
In a week or so we will turn the cows out into the larger field we planted in winter rye and forage oats back in September. The cows grazed this field for 3 weeks in January before we took them out to let the field re-grow. When we turn them into the field in late February, we will allow them to graze the field clean. By late March we should be able to disk the field and prepare to plant Sorghum Sudan grass which the cows will begin to graze in late May to early June. Sorghum Sudan is a fast growing, sweet grass which will grow head high if allowed; the cows love it. Our plans are to let them graze it through most of the summer then cut and bale what is left to use for hay during the cold months.
The farrowiing house project is coming along, a little behind schedule, but not enough to cause us major concern. We finally have the structure complete, have built the brooder boxes, and have put up the hog wire which seperates the pens. We still have to build the sliding front and back doors, run water and electric lines. install the individual pen gates, and put up the side curtains that will be used to provide warmth in the winter, shade in the summer and ventilation year round. I would estimate that we are just over 50% complete on the whole hog project. The alleys, boar pens, and everything associated with them have not been started yet. I doubt we will have the total project completed prior to warm weather but its ok, the size of this project was just too big to complete during the winter months.
There are 2 problems that have always plagued our hog operation; providing cool, clean, water and feeding the sows. We have struggled with this for years but are working on a couple of things that may solve the problem.
Our sows drink from automatic waterers. By biting a nipple, the hog gets fresh water right in their mouth. The nipple waterer is attached to a metal post that can be moved if needed; water runs through a hose. In the winter, the nipples can freeze. When thawed, the washer in the nipple will have been moved out of position and the nipple will constantly leak. The leak will create a mud hole around the waterer, get the animal wet in the winter, or have the animal wallowing in the water in the warm months. Both cause us problems; the wallowing causes a mud hole that we have to work in when the nipples require repair, and the hog will push on the metal post, bending or completly pushing the post over.
We are experimenting with building a portable type of waterer using a barrel and a float valve. Moving the unit should solve the wallow problem and by using barrels, the hogs will have water even when the water spigots freeze. We are also experimenting with using a bowl type waterer instead of nipples. The first test should be built in the next 2 or 3 weeks.
Feeding sows is a chore. The sows are always hungry no matter how much feed you give them or how often you feed them a day. If you go in the pen to feed them, they will push you over trying to get at the feed. They are called hogs for a reason! To try and save ourselves from being trampled over by the 350 plus pound sows, we feed them from the alleyway rather than go into the pen. The sows always fight for the feed and push others off the feed pans even though we have 1 feed pan for each sow in the pen. Its a nightmare!
We are experimenting with a sow feeder system that we found in an old 1970 something booklet from Clemson. The feeder uses individual feed pans but has divider walls to keep the sows seperated and is portable so we can move it when needed. Basically each sow has its own small alley to walk into to get to their feed. Rails on the sides stop 1 sow from antagonizing another and running them off the feed. We have 1 completed and will have 6 more to build. We have used the completed one for a week and feel that it may be a good solution to our problem.
In the past week we have had 2 litters of pigs born and moved 3 litters from the farrowing house to the nursery. The group we moved to the nursery is one of the best looking groups of pigs we have ever had on the farm. At 4 weeks of age, one litter had to weigh 20 lbs each on average; it was a litter of 9. Normally our pigs would weigh 15 to 17 lbs each at 4 weeks of age. These are the first pigs from the new boars we purchased last June. We also feel the changes we have made in our feeding program over the last year has begun playing a big role in the health of our young pigs. Once the new farrowing house is complete we plan on grinding our own sow lactation feed on the farm. Our goal is to provide the nutirents which would allow the sow to produce more milk for her litter while helping the sow to maintain her body in good condition. With the number of pigs born per litter rising, it is important that the sow make more milk to insure the pigs are healthy and grow to their full potential.
The warm temperature has allowed us to provide 24 hour a day outdoor access for our chickens. We have opened the pop doors on the front of all the houses which allow fresh air in day and night and saves us a good bit of time putting the birds up every evening. Though the birds will always go in for the night, they are all out first thing in the morning to eat and most will stay out all day long. Once the warm summer months arrive, the birds will come out to eat but go back in for the day when the temperature gets too hot for them. Heat and high humidity cause the biggest problems for chickens that are over 4 weeks old during the summer.
We continue to process chickens every week. At this time we have a good amount of chicken parts in stock at the farm. We are currently way overstocked in chicken legs and would appreciate any help you can provide moving them. Chicken legs are great grilled, fried, baked, and just about any other way you can imagine using them. We use them to make chicken soup rather than using other cuts or whole birds. In the meantime we have no choice but to cut leg quarters rather then legs and thighs until our stock of chicken legs are gone. It is imperitive that our farm uses the whole animal to insure we remain sustainable.
A few weeks ago we worked an agreement with Postma Brothers Maple Syrup out of Michigan and became their SC distributors. The Postma brothers are 5th generation maple syrup producers. They currently tap 4,000 trees producing 1,000 gallons of syrup annually. They are in the process of building a new store which will allow them the ability to produce maple candies and creams as well as sell right at their farm. Their land has between 8,000 and 9,000 sugar maple trees on it which allows them to double their current production if needed. We have sold their maple syrup for the past 3 or 4 years. Our supply ran out about 4 months ago when their family member moved out of SC. Kevin and Greg are excited about working with us. Two multigeneration farms working towards building a secure future for the next generation to take over. It doesn't get any better than that. If you know of any outlet that might like to sell real maple syrup, please let us know and we will contact them. We are stocking both the 12 oz and 32 oz bottles. The syrup is available for home delivery as well as farm market sales.
Valentines Day marks the beggining of the end of our slow season. With Valentines Day and the Southeastern Wildlife Expo in the same week, our farm has become very busy trying to service all of our restaurant customers. Things will slow down for a week or so before preparation begins for the Charleston Wine and Food Festival. We consider Wine and Food the official kick off of the tourist season and a time when our restaurant customers get extremely busy. On Sunday March 10, Jesse will be in the Farmstead booth with Chef Blair Machado while Marc will be in the Slightly North of Broad booth with a group of their chefs. If your a foody, Charleston Wine and Food is a must.
Last month I mentioned we were asked to participate in a group that will work on finding markets for Colleton County farmers. At the last meeting we decided it was best to split into 3 groups. One of the groups will concentrate on financing issues. We hope to provide a short business course which will teach farmers about things like cash flow analysis, profit and loss statements, and will also provide information on what an ag lender will require if the farmer is looking for funding. A second group will concentrate on production issues and focus on teaching the farmer "tricks' that can be used to be more productive, increase yields, and decrease the need for outside inputs like synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. The third group will focus on searching for additional markets that could purchase Colleton Country produced crops. This group will focus on grocery chains, distributors, or possibly creating a local food hub. I think the great thing about what these groups are doing is building a system that supports each other. For example, if the marketing group works an agreement with a grocery chain for squash, the financial program will help the farmer determine if they have the financial ability to participate, or if they are able to get any additional funds required and what the lender will need in order to provide the needed financial assistance. The production program will help the farmer become a better squash producer, increasing their yields which will lower their cost and make this a more profitable enterprise for them. Like we have done here on our farm, looking at all the enterprises as being a part of a circle, one enterprise helps feed another enterprise, the group is setting up a program with marketing, financing, and production, helping each other and forming a circle. We're not sure how long it will take to build a complete program but work has begun. A major issue is timing, some of the farmers involved are preparing for planting and are looking at their busiest months of the year starting in the next few weeks. Hopefully we can have something concrete built by mid summer and can begin work on finding new markets soon. I'm excited to be a part of these groups and feel this can truly make a difference in the success of both new and older farmers.
We sincerly thank you for your continued support. I'm sure some of you are disappointed in our leaving the Summerville market but please know that we are still here and working to provide you with our products at the lowest cost possible and as hastle free as we can.
Annie, Marc, Amy & Jesse