June 2016 Newsletter
What's Going On at the Farm
For June 2016
Last Sunday, while loading chickens, we recieved a text message from Annies cousin that lives in Houston. We lease the 26 acre farm that has always been called "the new ground" from her. She told us that a realtor had contacted her and offered to purchase the land from her. This news sent us into panic mode since we use it to grow sorghum sudan hay for our cows. With everything we have had going on we hadn't planted the ground yet, only 2 months behind schedule, but we were getting ready to plant it in the next week or so and expected to get a cutting or two off of it before cold weather set in. Luckily the offer made was way below market value and she turned it down. It seems that the realtor was searching for land he could buy cheap and flip it.
This episode got us thinking about the farm, how we are utililing the land, how we have the farm structured, and what our future growth potential is based on the land we own or are purchasing. When we started farming we quickly realized how important it was to own the land that you farm. We started farming 27 acres but purchased an additional 20 acres in 2006 and 27 more acres in 2011 or 2012. We made these long term financial committments to insure that we would always have land to farm. When you lease or rent land you are always at the merci of the landlord. If land values increase, the land could be sold from under you and you could be put out of business. Also if you lease land the cash rent could increase to the point that it is no longer profitable to utilize the land and you could be forced to look for new land to lease or be put out of business. We choose to invest in the farms future and purchase the majority of the land we farm.
Looking at the current structure of the farm we realize that the land could be utilized more effectively. By installing some new fences we could break down a couple of our fields to allow chickens and steers to be grazing different parts of the field at the same time; the only additional labor required would be to build the new fences. We could plant vegetables in turkey pastures once the birds are removed. The vegetables could be used by us or sold, the manure would provide the fertilizer, and the time out of production would clean the ground of any germs that might be harmful to the next flock that uses that field. This would require a considerable amount of additional labor if the crops would be raised for resale. We could change our chicken grazing schedule to allow the chickens to be in the hay field during the fall and early winter, providing the fertilizer for the winter rye that we would plant in September. This would also allow us to graze the hay field beginning in January and have everything out of the field in April so we could cut our first hay in June. Cutting the hay in June may allow us a thrid cutting which would cut down our need to plant sorghum sudan elsewhere saving us time and money.
We also realized that even though we are fairly effiecient and have a workable grazing schedule,there is room for improvements. If we can find improvements in the farms structure we should also be able to find tasks that could be considered "time wasters" and work towards eliminating them. During the next several weeks we will be looking at everything we do and how we do it. Hopefully we will be able to find ways of improving what we do on the farm daily, making our daily lives a little better, and allowing us to concentrate on some of the more important tasks that are sometimes overlooked.
Why is this so important to us now? The answer is very simple; we need the farm to grow to insure there is a farm for the next generation and the generation after that. We need to insure that we can grow the farm using our existing land without having to look at purchasing more land and committing more financial resources towards the purchase of additional land. We need to be more effective in our daily tasks to allow the farm to grow without hiring additional labor and providing us a little time for some R&R. We need to make sure we have the extra cash to pay for truck and equipment repairs and not depend on personal credit cards to pay the farm bills. Farming is a business and we need to make sure we handle our business properly and profitably.
Jesse has been busy making sales calls in the Charleston, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia areas. He has picked up a few new restaurant customers and it has showed in our weekly delivery schedule. Thursdays have become an 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening day just in restaurant deliveries. We have also begun making a few deliveries in the Columbia area and continue serving a few restaurants in Beaufort. We have recently been contacted about opportunities outside of these areas that we are seriously considering and hope to make a decision in the next several weeks.
Farm market sales continue to decline. We had hoped this would change when we moved to non GMO feed but it didn't. With all of the verbal support we recieved we expected sales to increase but the move has had no affect on sales; in fact sales have slipped further while feed costs have skyrocketed. We really don't understand this and hope that the decline in sales is more of a summer slump due to vacations and the hot weather. Its funny that our Facebook followers have increased by over 300 people in the last 45 days which shows support for the move to non GMO and the way we farm, yet this support doesn't go deep enough for people to actually purchase the product.
The farm market sales slump is causing us to change the way we man our farm market booths. Marc will continue to man the Port Royal booth alone while Annie and Hunter will take turns manning the booth in Summerville alone. We are hoping that this is a temporary move and that we will have to staff up again once the weather cools and vacation season is over.
On the animal side, the move to non GMO feed seems to have been positive. It is still a little early to tell but it appears that we are seeing a little better feed conversion rate in both our poultry and hog operations. Pigs that we recently weaned off showed no signs of weaning scours; a problem we experienced with every group weaned previously. We are also seeing a change in the appearance of the chicken manure left behind the chicken tractors. Previous to using the non GMO feed the manure appeared a little more watery and runny. Now the manure looks more solid and dry, almost a stiff batter consistancy. From what we have learned about the effects of GMO's, what we are seeing shouldn't be surprising since GMO's affect the gut negatively. This would show up in the appearance of the animals manue and also in its feed conversion rate. Its still too early to draw any conclusions. We will need to make sure these changes are due to the new feed and not the spring weather or other outside factors. The next several months will give us the information we need to insure these results are due to the use of non GMO feed.
We are preparing for some extremely hot weather that looks to be coming our way in the next week or so. Without a doubt this will have a detrimental affect on our chickens and turkeys and could result in some high death loses. We have water running constantly to help cool the water lines and keep drinking water cool. We can run water in the chicken houses through soaker hoses but only as a last resort. This would make the birds cooler but could result in other problems which could put the birds health at risk. Both of our chicken brooder houses have several fans in them running full speed, 24 hours a day. Death loss in either brooder has been very minimal so far. Loading of our chickens and turkeys for the processor will now be done when the sun goes down Sunday evening or around 3 or 4 am on Mondays in hopes of beating the heat; chckens will die quickly if too hot and stressed by loading. Our hogs have wallows to help keep them cool so we are not expecting too much of a problem with them. The cows spend the very early morning, evening, and night grazing in the open pastures but head for the woods once the sun comes up strong. They spend the day in the woods laying down in the shade and grazing very little.
The hot weather has spawned several afternoon and evening thundershowers which we always welcome, however, several of these showers have been severe and caused some damage to a few chicken tractors and a hog shade; we have been lucky and haven't had any electric fence chargers hit so far. A normal year will have us getting 2 to 3 lightning strikes that literally blow up our fence chargers.
We will continue our normal processing schedule throughout the summer; we do not expect to be short any product except for eggs. In the past few weeks we have processed 150 turkeys and still have another 100 or so in the field ready to go. Thanksgiving turkey poults continue to arrive with another group expected in July. We are well stocked in ground turkey and turkey sausages along with boneless skinless breasts, legs, and wings. We continue to process 275 to 300 chickens a week along with 7 to 10 hogs. We do not make chicken sausage during the hot months but will do so again when the weather cools off this fall; pork sausage and cuts are both well stocked.
We will hold our annual Family Day on the Farm on Sunday October 2nd this year. The formal announcement, along with where tickets can be purchased, will be made in the upcoming weeks. Please remember that this event is now a fund raiser for The Low Country Food Bank feed the children program; your support is greatly appreciated. Please mark October 2 on your calendar and make plans to be here. We will continue to provide information as it is available.
Thank you for your continued support of the farm. We have always considered this farm to be owned by the people that buy our products; your comments, good or bad, are always appreciated. If interested in the daily activities on the farm, just follow us on facebook. We would also appreciate you posting pictures of meals you cooked using our products or recipes that others can enjoy.
Have a safe and fun summer. We hope to see you at a market soon.
Annie, Marc, Amy, & Jesse