July 2017 Newsletter
What's Going On at the Farm
For July 2017
Its hard to believe that half of 2017 gone. Don't ask me where it went, all I can tell you is that it is gone! Everyone told me that as we age we will notice time going by at a faster pace and that there would be nothing that we could do about it but to hang on. Well I'm hanging on as tight as I possibly can. At least I can say that I have enjoyed, and am enjoying, the ride so far.
With June behind us we have to spend some of our evening time focusing on our first half of the year performance. What did we do on the farm that worked and what didn't. Our focus will be on our new chicken production system, our utilization of our farm help, and the cost of our farm inputs along with the benefits. or lack of benefits, of those inputs. We will also be discussing and preparing for the construction of our new hog farrowing facility that is scheduled to begin in August, and will have a serious discussion about our participation in farmers markets. Our 2016 to 2017 Ag loan has to be paid by August 1 and we will have to sit down with our lender prior to getting our operating loan for 2017-2018; I know he will want answers to all of these questions.
Over the years farmers markets provided a large chunk of our farms revenue, however things changed about a year and a half ago causing us considerable concern. When we started participating in farmers markets in 2005, there were only 3 major farm markets in the Charleston area; Summerville, Marion Square, and Mount Pleasant. We decided to participate in the Summerville market and were the only farm that sold meat there, in fact, we were the only farm to sell meat at any of the markets. Today there are at least 10 farm markets in the Charleston area and we are only one of 3 farms selling meat in Summerville; there were 5 meat vendors there at one point but 2 dropped out due to poor sales.
This year alone we were asked to participate in 6 farmers markets including 4 new markets. Of these markets, a couple have already closed down and one or two more only have a couple of vendors that show up weekly. One of these markets closed down after just 4 weeks! A farm market with no farmers will fail just as fast as a farmers market with no customers. Weekly farmers markets appeal to only a small group of individuals; the majority of consumers still shop the grocery stores only. Most of the new markets get a large number of customers from the existing markets and really don't add very many new customers to the mix. That means sales from one market are lost to another with a very small amount of new business actually attracted. We have always limited our participation to 2 farm markets, Summerville and Port Royal, and will continue to do so.
Farmers market participation is a large commitment for any farm. On our farm we spend a solid day, on dairy week, packing orders; this is done on Thursday and takes 2 people. On non dairy weeks orders are packed on Thursday afternoon. On Friday of every week, 2 people spend the morning and early afternoon packing coolers and load the trucks with product that will be taken to the markets for sale on Saturday. Thats a total of 24 hours packing and loading time (2 people, 12 hours each) that is required for us to participate in 2 weekly markets not considering the time going to the markets, setting up and tearing down, market time, and unpacking the coolers upon return to the farm. This is a huge commitment in dollars and time and is the reason a farmer needs a steady, weekly, farm market following. This is also a large part of why farmers markets normally limit the number of farms selling the same products so the weekly "pie" isn't cut too thin, providing an opportunity to cover these costs and make a little profit. In past years our weekly sales at these markets covered these cost but that can not be said for the Summerville market this year.
Sales at the Summerville Farmers Market have declined noticeably this year and have only gotten worse as the weather has gotten hot. We are considering changing our participation in the Summerville Farmers Market to every other week, at least through August. We are not sure if this will only be for the hot weather months or if we will have to limit our participation for the remainder of the season. We have found that on non dairy weeks we have very few pre orders and not enough sales generated at the market to cover the costs associated with participating in the market that week. We aren't sure if this is because there are too many meat vendors at this market or if its because of summer vacations, trips to the beaches or if we are starting to see a drop in community support of the market, possibly from other markets opening in the area. Our location at the market doesn't provide us a good view of the market during the day which would allow us to determine if customers were going to the market or if customer numbers were down. Either way, we can't continue to lose money on non dairy weeks. We really would like to get your opinions on this and would appreciate you emailing us your comments. Please don't post these comments on Facebook but email them to us.
Those of you that follow us on Facebook are aware of the situation we found on Wednesday July 5. We had 101 Bronze Broad Breasted turkeys that just turned 9 weeks old and were scheduled to be allowed their first day in the field to free range on Wednesday. The birds had been in this field for 4 weeks and were being housed in chicken tractors that were moved daily. Turkeys are a lot more temperamental than chickens and can't be allowed to free range before they are 9 weeks old. This was one of the healthiest flocks we had ever had with only 1 bird dying since being received on the farm as day old poults. Normal death loss with turkeys can run 10% on up to 40%; we learned a lot over the years and average around 10% on this farm.
Sometime during the night of July 4 or early morning July 5, two 5 or 6 month old pit bull puppies went under our farm gate and went into the field where the young turkeys were being housed. They managed to get into the houses and kill all 101 birds. Animal Control was called out, picked up the dogs and helped pick up the dead birds. The dogs owner was fined and a court date has been set for Tuesday July 18. On Sunday morning the same 2 dogs were back on the farm and animal control was called again; the owner received a $1,000 fine per dog. I guess some people never learn. These birds were all to be grown to carcass weights of 25 to 30 lbs and were pre sold to chefs that ordered them from us in January. There isn't enough time before Thanksgiving to bring in more turkey poults and raise them to the required weights. Thankfully we work with several understanding chefs in the area.
In late May we hired 2 high school students to help with projects we are working on and to replace our 2 FFA girls that graduated and are going on to college. We also hired a boy that just graduated from high school that said he wanted to work on a farm; he loved working outdoors. The 2 high school students would work part time and the graduate would work full time. This past week our "farmer want to be" quit with no notice. He worked until 10am, found Bubba, said he couldn't do this, and walked off the job; they were only doing the normal daily feeding of the brooder rooms and hadn't joined us in the project work. Bubba, Jesse, and I had a quick tractor shed meeting and decided we would not hire a replacement and will use the high school help to do the daily chores while we do the building and fence projects. Its a shame when a 35 year old, 50 year old, and 61 year old will dig fence posts and build fence all day yet the work is too hard and too hot for the young guys. Part of our goal with the high school students, besides giving them an opportunity to earn spending money, is to teach them a work ethic and some jobs skills. No, there isn't much to learn on the end of a post hole digger except that it is part of the process of building a fence. We hope that teaching them to use cordless drills, saws, tape measures, and levels will help build a little carpenters knowledge. Stretching barb wire or putting up hog panels will teach them why we build certain fences for different animals and for different production systems. Ultimately we want to get a sense of pride in what they accomplished once the project is done and they look back on what their efforts completed.
The hot, humid, weather is causing us issues with our free ranging chickens. We purposely put large feeders outside of the house to force the birds to come out and eat. Because the weather has been so hot, the birds are only coming out in the early morning and late evening. Because chickens are "night blind" they won't come out of the house and eat at night like other animals. This is causing our birds to take an additional 2 weeks to grow and is making it difficult to build our inventory of whole birds and parts. We have started feeding the birds in the house along with keeping feed in the outside feeders. By doing this we are providing an opportunity for the birds to eat throughout the day and are still encouraging them to come outside the house and eat a little grass and a few bugs. We have noticed feed consumption increasing and the birds are growing a little faster. We expect to continue to fight this problem for at least 2-1/2 more months.
The hot weather is also causing us issues in the 2 new brooders. We run 2 wall mounted exhaust fans in each house to help keep the air clean and the air moving. These fans also pull air from the outside, cooling it as it moves through the house. The problem comes in when the outside air is so hot that the fans aren't doing anything but moving hot air. We have had days when the inside temp in the house was 100 to 102 and the humidity was high enough to cause the shavings on the floor to feel damp. We are experimenting with several different ways we think we can correct this issue. We have installed several wall and ceiling mounted fans which help but we are still not seeing the results that we would like to see. We also are adding apple cider vinegar to their water daily and have increased the amount of probiotics we provide. Extremely high temps in a chicken brooder can cause the chicks to dehydrate and die so it is important to find a solution before we begin seeing a high death rate.
Planning has begun for our annual Family Fun Day on the Farm. This year the event will be held on Sunday October 8th; the time hasn't been finalized as of yet. The event will be 100% free except for any food and drinks which you may want to purchase. At this time we are working with 2 organizations to handle the food; Saint Anthony's Church and the local chapter of the FFA from Colleton County High. We will donate both organizations the meat for them to cook and they will retain 100% of the sales of the food. Saint Anthony's is active in providing food for families in need in the area and the FFA is doing great things in building good future citizens and providing local youth with learning opportunities; we have employed FFA students to help with afternoon and weekend chores for the past several years.
Hot weather means its haying season. Each year we begin baling hay in July and continue baling through September. The wet weather so far this year is allowing us to bale our 6 acre Coastal Bermuda hay field and another Bahia grass pasture that we have kept the cows out of. By doing this we can cut down on the number of cuttings needed from our Coastal field and allow us to let the cows graze it in October and November or until it goes dormant. We will also begin letting the cows into the Bahia field latter in the summer which will provide them grazing for several weeks this fall. Sometime in late October these fields will be over seeded in rye grass and will provide grazing beginning in January.
Thats about all that is happening around here this month. We've settled in to our summer routine and are spending a lot of our time working to keep the animals cools and healthy.
As always we thank you for your continued support and welcome your questions and comments. We look forward to seeing you on the farm or at one of the markets we attend.
Have a great summer.
Annie, Marc, Amy, & Jesse