June 2017 Newsletter
What's Going On at the Farm
For June 2017
A year and a half ago, January 2016 to be exact, our son Jesse joined the farm full time and we began the long process of transitioning the farm over to him and our daughter-in-law Amy. We knew this process would open the farm to new ideas and we also knew that some of these new ideas might potentially open the door to some family conflicts as the new ideas met older minds and a feeling that things worked just fine in the older days. I'm happy to say that these conflicts have been very few and minor but the new ideas that have been shared have greatly improved the way we operate and even saved us a considerable amount of time that could be used to improve other aspects of our farming practices.
The very first change made was our move to Quick Books. For years we had utilized our own system of accounting that Annie had set up in our computer. It worked well for us but took Annie hours to get everything entered and more hours to build reports that we could use to monitor our progress. Amy helped us install and set up Quick Books which resulted in a large savings in evening work hours. Just last year Amy helped again with moving us to the new point of sale hardware (IPads) and the automatic, nightly, Quick Book updates. This move alone saved around 5 hours a week in computer entries. Annie still spends a good number of hours weekly on the books but nowhere what was required just a short 18 months or so ago.
Amy also pointed out that our website was old and not as user friendly as it could be. She got with her dad, Mike Hartenburg, and they redesigned and built the farms new website. We are now able to take pre orders through the site making things a lot easier when its time to pack orders for the markets. We no longer have the number of errors created by hand writing down orders and receiving orders multiple ways like phone, text, and emails. The new website allows us to keep our customers informed of what farmers markets we are attending that week, when pre orders are due, and when the market at the farm is open just by clicking on the calendar that is on the site. The new site has saved us hours a week and allows us to easily reach our customers with weekly reminders and monthly farm updates and provides our customers with a quick way of reaching us.
On the farm, Jesse has been the major builder of our new brooder and pasture chicken houses. He has helped us move from chicken tractors which required daily moving to a free range system that provides the birds in each pasture 5,000 square feet of space to roam and explore. This change in production system also required a change in breed of chicken that we raised. We worked over 2 years before finding the breed that worked best for us and finally we began receiving weekly deliveries of this new breed from the hatchery this past January.
We currently have 5 out of 8 pasture chicken houses and 7 of the 8 pasture lots required completed. Next week work begins on the 6th chicken house and also on an additional 8 pastures. After examining the amount of time required for Bubba and his high school workers to build our fenced chicken pastures, and how many projects were currently on their list, we decided it would be best to push things forward and hire this project out. J&J Fencing will be here the middle of this week to build these 8 pastures; it will only take them 2 or 3 days to have it complete.
Bubba and his crew aren't getting to spend their days sitting under a tree however. They have 4 weeks to get a field ready for the next group of Holiday turkeys plus have to get the 5 pasture chicken houses, that are complete, painted. With us preparing to begin work on the new hog farrowing facility in August, they will also have to continue building the new alleyway and sow lots that will allow us to move pregnant sows easily into the farrowing house and back to the lots once their pigs are weaned off. This new facility will have 10 deep bedded farrowing pens instead of crates, 2 nursery pens, fans with misters that will allow the air temp to be 15 to 20 degrees cooler than the outside temp, storage for feed, and will make life a lot more comfortable for the sows, their litters, and those of us that work with the hogs in the farrowing house daily. We will also be able to move towards being Certified Humane if we decide that is the road we want to go down; we already utilize most of the protocols required by Certified Humane except for the farrowing crates.
Daily chores on the farm change seasonally. Everyday of the year requires chickens, hogs, and turkeys, be fed, waterers cleaned, fans and heaters in the brooder houses be checked and adjusted, and a host of other tasks. Summer brings additional tasks that must be completed weekly such as farm grounds and pastured chicken lots mowed. Hay fields must be maintained, cut, and baled and our cow pastures must be maintained and bush hogged to allow the best grass for the cows to graze. Thanks to the time savings found by changing the way we do things on the farm, most of these tasks are now able to be done during the normal work day providing us time during the evenings to relax, do some paperwork, review farm production records, or just chill out. We can even spend every Sunday, all day, with the grandkids and enjoying family time.
Some people may feel all of these changes are moving us closer to an industrial type of farming model, nothing could be farther from the truth. The changes that have been made are moving us closer to the ways animals were raised in the early days of production agriculture. In the early days of production agriculture, hogs were all raised outdoors, in pastures, as were chickens and turkeys. Hogs gave birth in farrowing pens that the farmer used to bed with hay or stray he cut on the farm and that was not high enough quality to feed the cows. The only thing we have done differently is to find ways to do more work in less time and become as efficient as possible, while maintaining the quality and "old fashion" flavor of our products. Just like any business a farm must grow or its future will be in doubt: the changes we have made and will be making will provide us the opportunity to grow.
A lot of us have a goal of being able to provide food, vegetables and meat, locally as was done in the past. We want to move away from the current model of food being trucked 1,500 miles before getting to your table. This will require a lot of farms like ours just to achieve this in the Low Country without even considering the rest of the state or nation. It will require farms that are capable of raising large numbers of animals on small acreage while maintaining the highest environmental standards and insuring the most humane conditions for the animals, all while selling at a price that families will be able to afford. This goal will also require the support of the local community. It will require the support of like minded individuals that are willing to pay a little more for their food while realizing that the food they have purchased is of the highest quality and is helping to support, not only the farmer, but other businesses and citizens of the local community.
Amy and Jesse have brought other ideas to the table during the past year and a half. Some of these are being implemented while others were discarded. There are still other ideas on the table and one that is currently being evaluated closely. Without trying to sound overly dramatic, Annie and Amy proposed a project idea a couple months ago that will truly affect the farm for years to come and will make this farm far more environmentally sustainable than we could have ever dreamed. The project will require a huge investment on our part but will allow us to obtain the environmental goals that we have dreamed about for over 20 years. We will provide more details of this project once we receive our quotes from outside contractors and discuss the project with our lender and accountant. If all goes right, we should be able make a decision within a few months and begin construction next spring.
This weekend we celebrate Fathers Day. People will travel to go see their father, grills will be fired up, restaurants will be busy, and everyone will be saying "thanks" to their dad's for everything he has done for them and the love he has shown. My dad passed away in 1998 and Annies in 2001. Multiple times on Fathers Day our thoughts will turn to them and the years we spent together.
This Fathers Day my thoughts and thanks will turn towards Jesse and Amy. Not many fathers can say they are lucky enough to work side by side with their kids on a daily basis. I'm blessed to have children that share the same dream and are working towards the same goals as I have worked towards during my lifetime. Both Jesse and Amy are concerned about the future of the farm, the future of the environment, and want to provide their children with the same opportunities that they have had. The ideas they have provided and the direction they have begun moving this farm will insure those opportunities will be there for Emmy, Joey, Elijah, and Andrew in the years ahead.
Have a great Fathers Day. If traveling, please be safe.
Thanks for your continued support of our farm. Without your support, this farm would be nothing more than a memory.
Annie, Marc, Amy, & Jesse