March 2016 Newsletter
What's Going On at the Farm
For March 2016
Not really sure what to think or say about the weather we have had for the last week or so. On one hand it is great weather to work in and get some projects completed but, on the other hand, it seems too good to be true. With Easter still a few weeks away we can expect to get another cool snap or two. According to the older folks if you hear thunder in February you can expect frost in April; we had a couple of big thunderstorms in February this year. I guess we will play it safe and wait until Easter to plant the garden.
Wednesday March 16 is National Agriculture Day. As nice as it is to thank a farmer for growing the food we all eat it is more important to think about where our food currently comes from and where it will come from in the future. The average age of an American farmer is 58 or 59 years old. Young people quickly realize that they can make more money in other fields and end up working in other professions. The cost of getting into farming is extremely high and most young people can't afford it. We need to encourage our youth to look at farming as a way of making a living and we need to support them and allow them to charge prices that truly cover their cost of production and a reasonable profit. If we don't change things now, we can expect to begin importing most of our food in the near future. Don't think for one minute that major corporations would hesitate to import everything that is sold off their shelves; just take a look at Walmart.
Jesse has come to work on the farm full time as of the early part of January. I can not tell you how much this has helped us in getting projects completed on schedule and help us work more efficiently on a daily basis. Morning chores that used to take 5 or more hours to complete are finished in 3. This is allowing us to concentrate on different areas of the farm that we have been trying to improve. Most weeks he will make restaurant deliveries with me while Annie stays at the farm and works on the books or other tasks that she has had to do in the evening after everything else is done.
Making weekly restaurant deliveries has provided Jesse with the opportunity to meet the chefs that have supported the farm for the past 10 years. He will also be attending some of the farmers markets and will get the opportunity to meet several of our customers. Both Jesse and Amy have been delivering meat shares to the members that opted for the home delivery option and have been doing so for the past 8 months. They have also recently begun offering home delivery of customer orders through Pastured Pantry. Pastured Pantry is a new home delivery service that is owned by our family and operated by Jesse and Amy. There is a link on our website for Pastured Pantry if you are interested in our home delivery service.
The major project for this winter was a new chicken brooder house. Jesse and I started the project in mid January and moved the first birds in early in February. We worked from early morning until dark, 7 days a week, but got it done a little ahead of schedule. The brooder will hold up to 1,000 chicks from 2 weeks old until they are 4 weeks old and ready to move to the pasture. Heat is provided by 2 thermostatically controlled "pancake" brooders that use propane as the fuel. Two wall mounted exhaust fans circulate fresh air into the building and help regulate the temperature. The new brooder will allow us to increase our broiler chicken production by 35% to 40% if required. It is also allowing us to "climatize" the chicks prior to moving them to the pastures. Like hardening off plants before transplanting them, this process is expected to minimize the stress of moving from a controlled environment to one that only has portable heaters on cold nights. The first 2 groups of chicks that used this room were brought to pasture and are doing well.
A lot of people don't know that very few pasture operations raise chickens in the winter. The fluctuating temperatures we have in South Carolina make it difficult for the birds as does the shipping from hatcheries in the North and Midwest; there are no hatcheries in the South that will sell to small growers. If the weather is too cold when the day old chicks are scheduled to ship, USDA will not allow the shipment to go out; this means no chicks for us that week and hurts our processing 8 to 10 weeks down the road. Even normal winter shipping subjects the chicks to cold temperatures and an increased opportunity to get sick. Even a cold can become devastating since we don't want to use antibiotics. Most pastured growers receive their last batch of chicks in September or October and miss all of the problems that we face in December through March.
This winter was another tough one for the chicks. At least 3 chick shipments beginning the last of December through the middle of February were not allowed to go out by USDA. That means 3 processings of 300 birds each will be missed. The cold shipping weather and wild temperature swings at the farm also caused us to lose birds during shipping and in the days following their arrival at the farm; this has also hurt our chicken processing numbers. We have been short on certain chicken parts and some whole birds the past several weeks with the worst to come in the next 2 weeks or so. However we have around 300 birds in the field that will be ready to process the 3rd week in March with a couple hundred more expected to be ready the following week. At that point we should be back to the normal 300 a week processing schedule. We appreciate your patience while we work through this.
The turkeys have been handling the changes in the weather well. Last week we took 65 turkeys weighing 40 lbs or more to process and make our ground turkey products. We still have 120 or so birds weighing around 20 lbs in one pasture and moved another 135 turkeys from the brooder into the pasture last Monday. We will continue receiving 125 or so turkey poults monthly until May through July when our numbers will increase to handle the demand for Holiday birds. If you haven't ordered your turkey yet please do so soon. For the past 5 or 6 years we have been sold out in July or early August even though we increase our hatchery order every year. There is a link on the website that will take you to our turkey order page.
The hogs have been handling the winter weather better than we could have asked. We were concerned that we would see some illness due to the amount of rain and wet field conditions but nothing materialized. The problems for us involved having fields that were under water all winter, in fact, some since October. This prevented us from planting these fields in winter grazing and forced us to keep hogs in pastures that needed to be rested for a few months because they were the only ones dry enough to keep the hogs in. In the last few days some of the fields have dried enough to allow us to take in tractors and begin getting the fields ready to plant. If conditions remain favorable we plan on planting a few of these fields in a heritage corn and allow the hogs to harvest the corn themselves in the fall. Other fields will be planted in peas once the weather warms and chance of frost passes.
We have begun a new cycle of hog farrowings (births). We had a sow farrow 7 pigs three weeks ago and another sow farrow 9 night before last. We have a gilt in the house now and are patiently waiting for her to give birth. Looking out in the fields we have 11 more sows in varying stages of gestation along with 4 gilts in an adjoining field and several in yet another field. In the next week or sow our older boar will be taken to a stockyard and sold; he has gotten mean and too rough for the sows and too dangerous to work with. Our new Tamworth boar is 8 months old and is ready to go to work. Several of the pregnant gilts were serviced by the new boar. We are looking forward to seeing the first of his piglets born.
Several customers and meat share members have asked us about the annual Family Day at the Farm. Normally this has been held the weekend before the Charleston Wine and Food Festival which is held in early March. This was done to allow the chefs we serve and their staff an opportunity to visit the farm and enjoy a day off before the festival and the beginning of tourist season and fit in with our schedule prior to the beginning of farmers market season. It is also a time when the temperatures are normally comfortable and perfect for outdoor activities. Last year changed all that for us. The day of the event was cold and rainy. The fields were muddy, people were miserable and cold, and the expected turnout of over 300 people was down to just over 100 leaving us with a lot of food prepared but not eaten and expenses not covered. We decided it was time to re-evaluate the event and make some changes.
Without going into a lot of detail, we have decided to make the event an opportunity to fund raise while providing customers and meat share members an opportunity to visit the farm, relax, and enjoy some fresh country air. Our goal is to partner with a local charity, donate the food and the location, and let all the proceeds of the event go to the specific charity. We would continue to provide the hay rides, have all of our facilities open, provide details on how and why we raise animals like we do, and have the farm market open for those that wanted to shop while visiting. More details will be provided in the near future as details are worked out and a date is set.
We are quickly coming to the beginning of farmers market season. The Summerville market opens on Saturday April 9 while the Port Royal market is open year round. Remember that you can pre-order through our website and have your order waiting for you at the market. Pre-orders need to be in by noon on Thursday.
There is one more Summerville winter delivery day prior to the opening of the market; a schedule is available on the calendar on our website. Pre-orders for the Summerville winter Delivery also need to be in by noon on Thursday.
We thank you for your continued support or our farm. Please contact us with any questions or concerns you have regarding how animals are raised and why we raise them the way we do. We also post daily happenings at the farm along with information we think might be of interest on our Facebook page. If not a member of our Facebook group please send a request and we will add you immediately.
Have a great month and enjoy the beautiful spring time weather.
Annie, Marc, Jesse, and Amy