Whats Going On At The Farm September 2019
Thankfully we dodged a bullet with Hurricane Dorian earlier this month, unfortunately, others weren't so lucky. There is no doubt that these storms are intensifying and will continue to do so in the future. This is very concerning to those of us that practice outdoor animal production and reinforces the reasoning behind corporations moving to a totally confined system of raising hogs and chickens. In the past 4 years we have had to prepare for 5 or 6 storms. This involved finding ways of protecting our chicken houses from high winds which could blow them over, all the way to capturing enough water to last our animals a couple of days if we were to lose power. Each time we have to prepare for a storm it takes us 2 to 3 days before the storm and another day and a half to "unprepared" and get the farm back to normal. Of course if we have any damage, the time and money spent on the storm only increases. With Dorian coming during the week of Labor Day, it caused a considerably greater amount of work for us to accomplish in a short amount of time. The processing plant was closed on Monday for Labor Day forcing us to sort our restaurant orders the previous Friday, travel to the plant to load restaurant orders on Tuesday plus run to Charleston to deliver to the restaurants that were open on Tuesday and wanted their orders delivered prior to the storm. Afterwards, we had to go back and deliver to the restaurants that were closed Wednesday and Thursday and reopened on Friday. All of this was going on while the others were busy getting the farm secured for the storm. We always pay close attention to the weather but even more so during the tropical storm season. Just a few weeks left and we can all breath a little easier again.
In last months newsletter we discussed the business of running the farm and mentioned that we would soon be delivering to a new area. A couple of weeks ago we made a trial delivery to Charlotte and expect this to become a weekly delivery beginning in mid to late October. The trial delivery was to Oak and 5 Church and was made to allow them to work with our products and determine what their actual weekly usage would be. In mid October, Indaco is expected to open and, combined with Oak and 5 Church, will provide us with enough sales to warrant making the weekly trip into Charlotte. This past Wednesday Chef Matt Hoang, executive chef for Indaco in Charlotte, came and toured the farm. He really liked what he saw and said he has all the confidence in the world that we will be able to supply all of his pork needs. We have sold to Indaco in Charleston since their opening and know we will have just as strong a relationship with Chef Matt as we do with the Charleston staff. This is a big step for us and will require us to spend time in the Charlotte area talking with chefs and building a strong market base. Selling this far away from home greatly increases our transportation cost and puts a lot of extra miles on the delivery van we purchased last November. In fact, we now have over 28,000 miles on the van that we purchased with the expectation of running for 7 years; we might want to do some recalculations.
A couple of weeks ago we were forced to let our high school help go. This was a very hard decision and something that we discussed and mulled over for several weeks. One of our original goals was to provide work opportunities for high school kids that didn't want to work at a fast food restaurant or grocery store. Over the years we have hired dozens of high school students but, except for a few, have been disappointed with the results. After several discussions with the full time people on the farm, and more than a dozen discussions with our high school help, we decided it was in the best interest of everyone to make a change. We have hired another full time person that will work the weekends plus a few weekdays.
Along with hiring a full time employee, we split farm chores and gave everyone a specific area of responsibility. Each person will take care of their area, following the procedures set out in the new procedures manual, and be solely responsible for those animals. We feel that this will provide the opportunity for everyone to concentrate on one area of production and to become thoroughly educated in that aspect of the farm. After 3 months of being responsible for a certain area, we will switch and move to another area for a 3 month period. Our goal is to build a farm group that can manage everything that could possibly happen on the farm and provide us the time to mange the growth and sustainability of the operation. For 3 years we have worked towards passing the farm on to Jesse and Amy, and this is a major part of that succession plan along with being the very initial steps toward moving to become Certified Humane.
I know that we've mentioned Certified Humane several times in past newsletters but also stated we were undecided if we would go to that extreme or not. We still haven't made a final decision but know that every step in that direction is in the best interest of our animals. We also feel that, if we adapt those practices, it will be in the best interest of everybody that works out here. Just keeping the animals stress free greatly enhances the experience of working with the animals, it makes everything that much easier. A large part of being Certified Humane is in the record keeping system. We haven't begun to tackle the record keeping part of the requirements yet but feel every requirement that we can meet in the actual production practices is a win for everyone.
We have begun working on a few of the smaller building projects that we required. Several months ago we built a couple of sow feeders that we wanted to try out and see if it helped with the daily task of feeding 400 lb sows. Each of the trial feeders cost us $250 to build and could handle 4 sows. We built 2 feeders about 6 months ago and moved them into 2 of our sow pens. The feeders allowed us to pour the feed into the feed trough from the alleyway without having to get into the pen with the sows. So far the results we've seen have been better than expected. We built an additional 2 feeders this week and plan to build 3 more that are required in a couple of weeks.
We also purchased a couple of 85 gallon hog waterers and will install one of them in a hog grow pen and one in a sow pen. Our hope is that we can move away from nipple waterers in these lots. The hog nipples can leak and create a mud hole that we have to walk through every day when we check and make sure the nipples aren't clogged up and are working properly. Getting water to the nipples is done by water hose which can get really hot in the summer and can easily freeze in the winter. The new waterers can be hard piped into position and insulated to keep the water cool in summer and prevent freezing in the winter. Since they use bowls instead of nipples, the area around the waterer stays dry and not muddy. With a tank that holds 85 gallons, we would also have a good supply of water available for each lot if we lost power for a short amount of time. The major issue is in the cost of the waterer and everything required to build a platform and pipe the unit in. We installed 1 in a grow lot with a cost of $700. The unit is working well and seems like a good option for us. With 8 required initially, its a price tag of $4,200 to purchase and install all 8. What we will probably do is install a unit or 2 at a time and spread the installation costs out over an 8 to 12 month period.
In mid to late October we will begin working on the new hog grow out lots. Just like last year when we were building the farrowing house, we will only have 5 to 6 days a month available to work on this project. We hope to get everyone on the farm involved and have the lots completed by late February. This will allow us a little extra time to do some smaller projects before hot weather returns in May.
Last week we bush hogged what was left in the field of Sorghum Sudan grass. This week the cows will be locked out of that field and the field will be disked to allow any plant residue to rot. Once the weather cools, about 30 days before the first frost, we will plant the field in a combination of winter rye grass and forage oats. At this time we are unsure if we will add more manure compost, foliar feed, or go ahead and add some synthetic fertilizer to the field. We don't have enough composted manure to spread on all of the fields and this field received a good application last September. Once we finish planting in this field, we will plant winter rye grass in a couple of other fields that will provide a good amount of winter grazing for the cows. We do have enough composted manure to give a good coating to the other 2 fields so I am leaning towards spreading the compost on them. We will also be planting winter rye grass in all 17 of our chicken lots. We hope to have good grazing by the first week in January if the weather cooperates.
As we move into October we will begin processing the last 2 groups of Holiday turkeys. In the next week or two, Annie will be contacting everyone on our reservation list to confirm their orders. We expect there to be a few cancelations or changes in the sizes ordered. Though we sold out in mid July, we did start a waiting list for those that didn't sign up prior to us selling out. When raising turkeys, you never know what your death loss will be or how many birds will be damaged during processing. We always hold back and sell only what we feel comfortable with. Once we process we are certain of how many extra birds we can sell and know exactly how many damaged birds we can offer up for sale. Waiting list turkeys will be sold on a first come basis so don't wait to get on the waiting list.
Several people have contacted us about our annual farm day. With everything that happened over the summer, we never had the time to sit down and discuss it. This week we decided that there isn't enough time between now and the Holidays to prepare for a farm event; preparing for Thanksgiving will keep us very busy between mid October and the weekend before Thanksgiving. This will be the first time in 7 or 8 years that we don't host the event and that bothers us tremendously. In December we always have family meetings where we discuss our goals and plans for the upcoming year. Our intentions are to plan for an open house sometime in late March or April.
The next several months will be busy with grazing meetings put on by the local feed stores. I love these because we get a lot of information from the seed manufactures and a free meal provided by the feed store and we all know that I never miss a meal. We will also be attending growers committee meetings, and training seminars put on by Clemson. I went to a financial training seminar a few days ago, which was very informative, and am looking forward to some marketing training that is currently being prepared. These training classes are all results of the committee that we were asked to participate in back in January. We have a lot more planned and are looking for suggestions from other farmers as to what training they might be interested in receiving. The committee's focus is on making farmers better business people. They already know how to grow some of the best crops around, we just need to help them manage their business.
We are praying hard for some cooler, wetter weather. We don't want any tropical storms or damaging winds but really need a good amount of rain. This week we noticed patches of grass dying from lack of moisture and the field we were disking was almost powder; I looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy when I got off the tractor. No winter grazing planting can begin until we get the cooler temps and a good amount of rain.
Thanks for your continued support. We look forward to seeing everyone soon.
Annie, Marc, Amy & Jesse