October 2016 Newsletter
What's Going On at the Farm
For October and November 2016
Here we are again, a month and a half since we posted the last newsletter, and I'm just getting around to finishing this one. Seems like we got behind early in October and have never been able to get caught up.
On October 2 we held our annual Family Day on the Farm. This year we moved the event to October from our normal early March date. We also changed the name to our Fall Festival to better reflect the time of year the event was held. We partnered with the Lowcountry Food Bank and made the event a fund raiser for the childrens school back pack program. The program works like this, each Friday children in need take home a back pack filled with food. The back pack looks like the ones all the kids are carrying so no one knows that this particular child needs to bring food home with them. In some cases, this is the only food the child will eat all weekend until they return to school on Monday. Since we often donate chicken legs and other meats to the food bank, we felt this was a great cause to get behind and help promote.
We asked 4 of our chef friends to participate in the Fall Festival and were excited when all of them accepted without hesitation. This solidified how good of friends these men had become over the years and how important it was for them to give back to the community. We can't thank Tito Marino, Craig Deihl, Brian Waters, and Penn Ten Eyke enough for everything they did to make the event successful.
Though the event was a success, we're not sure how we want to move forward in upcoming years. Because of the cost of tickets, several of our young customers that are just starting out and have small children, were unable to attend. We only have 1 annual event at the farm and want to make it affordable and enjoyable for everyone. Another problem seemed to be the move to the fall. There are a lot of events and fall festivals for families to attend this time of year not to mention football games. Early spring events are hampered by weather issues but are well attended because people are looking for outside activities. We'll discuss it over the winter and see what changes, if any, we will make for next year.
On a sad note, we lost a very good friend of ours and fellow farmer, Michael Worrell. Michael and his wife Becky owned and operated Mibek Farm and had built a reputation of raising some of the finest grass fed beef in South Carolina. Due to the failing health of Becky's aging parents, and health issues that Michael was facing, they decided to shut their operation down in June. Michael's booth at the Port Royal Farmers Market was right next to mine providing ample opportunity for mischief on both of our parts. We shared a lot of laughs and were always doing things, or saying things to keep each other on our toes. The customers said we picked on each other like brothers . Though Michaels doctorate was in cattle, I could always depend on him to provide advice if we had a breeding issue or health issue with the hogs on the farm. We miss Michael tremendously and even more on Saturday mornings.
Hurricane Mathew hit the farm around mid month. We had several trees down and some fence torn up. Three of our large chicken tractors were spun about 45 degrees even though we had them tied down; without a doubt they would have been blown over had we not tied them down. One of our smaller chicken tractors was lifted straight up and thrown over into the neighbors field. The ninety chickens in this house all survived. We also lost a roof on the old store and several tarps on some of the chicken tractors. We lost 28 chickens the day of the storm and several for the next few days. There were no turkey, hog, or cow fatalities. We were very blessed to have received the amount of damage we did. Had the storm hit with the force predicted, we probably would be out of business for several months if not permanently.
Once the storm passed we began thinking of what we could have done better. Could we have provided the animals more protection? It was obvious that the chickens had been stressed beyond belief from the pounding rain and howling winds. The driving rain was loud in the house, I can't imagine how loud it was on the tin roofs of several of the chicken tractors. A scared chicken will always head to a corner and huddle with the flock providing opportunities to bruised wings and legs, as well as cut other birds with their nails. The inspector told us that he had seen more damaged birds after the storm than he had ever experienced in the past from all the birds brought in by local producers.
It took us 3 days to prepare for the storm. During the worst of it we experienced sustained winds in the mid 40's with gust to the mid 50's. This was eye opening for us since these are the same winds that can be experienced during a summertime sever thunderstorm; we knew changes in our production model would have to be made. During recent farm meetings we discussed new style houses and production models. We are currently setting up an existing chicken tractor to use in a trial run of a production model that we feel will provide the most secure environment for the chicken and possibly save us time in daily management tasks. Over the next couple of months we will raise small flocks of chickens, both the Cornish Rock cross and the Red Broilers, in the new system and evaluate the results. We will not make a final decision regarding the model until late December or early January.
We have 2 more turkey processing scheduled in the next 2 weeks. We began processing Holiday turkeys the last week of September and are glad we are getting close to the end. Each year we hold our breath until we are sure we have met everyone's size requirements and have all the orders on our list filled. The Summerville turkey drop will be Saturday November 19 from 8am until 10am. I will have the turkeys for the Port Royal customers on Saturday November 19 from 9am until noon. Please try to get to the market early that day to pick up your bird.
We will not be at either farmers market on Saturday November 26.
Several of you have ordered hams for Christmas or Thanksgiving; Thanksgiving hams are sold out and only a few remain for Christmas. As we did last year, these hams are prepared by chef Craig Deihl and Artisan Meat.
In the past couple of weeks we have had 4 farrowings from our new Hampshire gilts that we bred to our Duroc and Berkshire boars. Two of the new moms gave us 11 pigs each, 1 gave us 10, and 1 gave us 9. We are very pleased with the litter sizes, health of the babies, and gentleness of the moms. We will watch this group of pigs for the next several months and may decide to keep some of the females for our breeding herd. Pictures of the new born were posted on our Facebook page. We are expecting the next wave of births beginning late November and early December.
Clemintine had a calf in late October. Pictures of the calf have been put on Facebook. This is the first male calf that Clemintine or any of her offspring have had.
On Wednesday November 16, we will be one of a handful of small farms, fisherman, and vegetable purveyors that will be recognized in a dinner at Lowndes Grove Plantation put on by the Charleston Wine and Food Festival committee. The committee met with several local chefs and asked them who they felt were the "pioneers" in the local food movement; we were listed as the farm that was most influential in bringing meat to the local restaurant community. This is a tremendous honor for us especially when we didn't begin selling to the local chefs with the thought of this becoming a "movement"; we sold to them as a means of survival for the farm.
Since the mid 30's our farm raised corn, soybeans, cotton, cattle, laying hens, and hogs. Over the years one enterprise after another was closed down as markets changed and corporate farming took hold. The laying hens went away in 1974. In 1998, with the passing of Uncle Junior, the row crop operation closed and we no longer raised corn or soybeans. With the closing of the local stockyards, our cattle and hog operations were shut down. Some of the cousins that inherited some land wanted to sell it and we couldn't afford to purchase it and let it sit. We decided to purchase what land was up for sale and begin looking for ways of making the farm profitable once again.
Originally we planned to raise organic vegetables but quickly learned our sandy soils were not capable of producing the crops we needed. We decided to begin raising laying hens using a chicken tractor method to help provide the fertilizer we needed to raise the vegetables. Things took a turn, when a friend of ours who is known nationally as a pioneer in pastured broiler chickens, suggested we begin a pastured broiler operation and sell our product on the internet. We took his advice and started raising broilers but decided we wanted to market our products face to face to local customers rather than impersonally through the internet.
We started selling our chicken at the Walterboro Farmers Market and at the Summerville Farmers Market in 2005. At the time we were the only people selling meat there and had a very hard time getting people to try our chicken; no one felt safe buying frozen meat out of a cooler. After several weeks we started seeing some return customers. These customers were commenting on the taste of our chickens and where telling their friends. We decided to go downtown and talk to a few of the local chefs that we heard were buying produce from local farms and see if they would be interested in chicken. Mike Lata, Craig Deihl, Bob Carter, Kevin Johnson, Sean Brock, and Frank Lee were the first to begin using our chicken and most have also used our pork since we began raising hogs again in 2006. Several of these same chefs refuse to serve anyone else's turkey at their restaurant on Thanksgiving day. We couldn't have imagined that our products would have been served on these chef's tables.
Over the years we have faced several challenging times; the barn fire in 2010 was one of the worst. We have experienced high death loss in chickens when a neighborhood dog got into our chickens and killed over 125 in one night with almost another 100 dying in the next 2 days. Several years ago 70% of a flock of turkeys died within days of arrival due to the extreme weather they were exposed to during the trip from the hatchery to the farm. There have been a few times that we considered shutting down the farm because we could no longer afford to pull money out of savings or get new loans that would allow us to continue to farm. Every challenge we faced forced us to make changes in our production system and learn how to farm better. In fact I can honestly say that we were blessed to have experienced these challenges, they made us better individuals and taught us some very important life lessons.
In this time of Thanksgiving, we are thankful for all of you that make it possible to do what we love.
We hope you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving. Please be safe if traveling.
Annie, Marc, Amy & Jesse