December 2017 Newsletter
Whats Going On At The Farm December 2017
For most farmers in America, Thanksgiving signals the end of a long growing season. Depending on the weather most of the corn is harvested, soybean harvest is well under way, and cotton is finished. This year the farmers in the Mid-West are still trying to finish corn and soybeans while some may have to wait until spring to get the last of their corn out of the field. Here in the Low Country, there are still a few soybeans that are in the field but, for the most part, the tractors and combines have been put away for the season.
Thanksgiving also signals the end of the season for us. Turkey harvest is over, the Summerville Farmers Market closes, and the weather cools down a little which makes it more comfortable doing the daily chores. But unlike grain farmers, we "plant" our "crops" and "harvest" our "crops" fifty two weeks a year. This is the major reason that it takes us so long to finish projects and always has us with a schedule board that seems to never get cleaned. We're not complaining, just stating a fact.
The whole year has had us working on building chicken pastures that would allow us to free range our birds and retire our old chicken tractors. Though not complete, we have built 17 lots and have constructed 9 new permanent chicken houses. We still have 3 more frames in the field that we will try to complete by Christmas leaving us another 4 houses to build next year. We are currently using old chicken tractors in the remaining lots but this is far from what we consider optimal. The sooner we can build the remaining houses the better off we will be.
In July Jesse built a new turkey house that holds 200 young turkeys from the age of 4 weeks through to harvest. The building uses straw as a floor, has automatic waterers, and enough feeders to handle the birds until they are 8 weeks old and are capable of being allowed out on the pasture. Once the turkeys are on pasture, the house can be completely opened on one side providing them shelter whenever they want or need it. When not being used to house turkeys, the building can be used to store equipment. This house has worked so well that we will probably use this system when we need additional turkey houses.
We are 3/4 of the way finished with our sow pastures. Underground water lines have been run and 7 of the 8 shades have been built. Our plans to build a new sow farrowing facility have been put on long term hold. This will allow us time to complete the sow alley and build one more sow lot. We can make changes to the alley and sow lot once we begin moving forward with the farrowing house.
With the farrowing facility on hold, we will begin experimenting with different methods of farrowing our sows. We have a small farrowing house that has 2 pens and can be used to see how successful we can be farrowing sows outside of a crate. In the past we have experienced high death losses due to crushing but think we can eliminate this by using a deep bedded system. We have several sows that will be giving birth in the next few weeks that will provide us opportunities to try these changes.
The reason we have put the farrowing house plans on the back burner is to allow us time to build new hog pastures and provide the money to purchase the material we will need to build them. The new pastures will be based on the same system we are using for the sow pastures which makes moving the animals easier and creates less stress for the animals as well as the farmer. The new lots will also make it easier to grow our pork enterprise which will be a major focus for us in 2018. The first new hog lot was completed last week and will have the first 25 pigs moved in this week. There will be an additional 3 lots built in this area within the next 2 months providing lots for an additional 90 pigs. The older hog lots will be rested for a few months and will eventually be converted to our new system.
For the past couple of months we have been working with a CPA/consultant and reviewing our farm procedures and records. There are still a few more things to look at and analyze but we have been very surprised and pleased with what his review has provided and are in the process of making a few changes that we think will eliminate some of the problems found.
One of the things that we have never done, but should have been doing for several years, is having employees clock in and out. For years we have been using an honor system with people simply writing their start and finish times on a time sheet. I don't think this has caused us too many problems but needed to be addressed and changed as the farm continues to grow and we have more employees. Amy found us an app which allows everyone to clock in and clock out on an IPad or cell phone. This system is working great and is saving Annie a little bit of time weekly on payroll.
Another problem area our CPA found was with our inventory management. We agree that this has been a problem area that we had tried to manage manually for years but haven't had the success we had been hoping for. Amy to the rescue again. She found another app that allows us to manage both our live inventory (chickens and turkeys in the brooder and field, hogs in the lots) as well as our freezer inventory. The app also allows us to manage our hog breeding stock and sow due dates. Whats amazing to me is that it is all done with the use of an IPhone or IPad and provides us up to the minute information that we can use to make better decisions. Who would have thought that one of the most important tools we could bring with us out on the farm would be a phone or an IPad.
One of our major areas of focus during the farm review was pricing. We have had several comments about how expensive our products are. Though we felt we were pricing our items correctly, and the records we had built were showing that we were, we were pleased to see that the CPA also found where the prices were correct. There is no way around the fact that raising animals on pasture is considerably more expensive than raising them in confinement. I guess if we think about it, if the large conglomerates could raise meat on pasture cheaply, they would have done so a long time ago.
Another major focus of the review was on customer convenience. Comments made to a post I made on Facebook back in October pointed to the fact that a lot of people didn't purchase local products because of price and convenience. As I said, there wasn't anything we could do about price but there is something we can do to make it easier for people to purchase local.
Begining in January, Pastured Pantry, will begin making home deliveries of all of our products. There will be a minimum order of $50 required with a $10.00 delivery fee for orders under $70. All orders over $70 will be delivered, to your home, free. For our meat share members, we will offer free home delivery no matter if you signed up for a 10lb or 20lb share. Home deliveries will be scheduled to coincide with dairy weeks which will allow you to purchase all of your meat and dairy needs for a 2 week period. Originally we will only make home deliveries twice a month but are open to increasing this to weekly if demand warrents. If this is of interest to you, please go to the Pastured Pantry website (link on the bottom of the Keegan-Filion Farm website) and sign up. Amy will be happy to answer any questions and will send out order reminders to insure you don't miss out on a delivery date. Please tell your friends and families about this new service.
A lot of you have been disappointed lately with our lack of turkey products. We tried very hard to maintain our stock of ground turkey and turkey sausages but had to meet our commitments for whole turkeys for the Thanksgiving holiday. The loss of the 255 turkeys to the dog attacks and the closing of a poultry processing plant in NC, made it impossible to process the birds required to meet our demand for ground turkey products. The processing plant tried to help out the NC farmers by adding processing days but the result was further processing like deboning and making sausage, didn't get done as expected. The plant is trying to get caught up over the next few weeks but realistically we don't expect to see much of these products until January.
We processed the last of our chickens and hogs yesterday until after Christmas and will make our last pick up from the plant next Monday until after the first of the year.. Between now and the Friday before Christmas, the processing plant is closed to processing for small farmers and will be doing nothng but processing BBQ hogs to meet their demand. We hope that we have built up enough inventory to get us through this period.
Conducting a review our our farm has opened our eyes to just how much we actually accomplished this past year as well as put a light on what we can do better. As painful as the review was at times, it provided us the information we needed to make the farm better and insure the farms success in the future. I don't think we have been as excited to move into a new year as we are now.
Please know that we greatly appreciate your support of our farm and don't take our responsibility to your families desire to eat healthy food lightly; your the reason we are able to continue doing what we love.
Have a Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year. Take a little time every day to look around you and see and enjoy the wonderful things and people this life has to offer.
Annie, Marc, Amy, & Jesse