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Often times we start out our newsletter by saying how busy we are on the farm, this month is no different. This month we’ve been busy in a slightly different way.  During the first week in April Annie’s sister Victoria had a heart attack and had to undergo heart surgery.  After spending 16 days in the ICU, she was just sent down to a regular room yesterday and may get to come home later this week or early next, possibly by the 29th.  Victoria lives here on the farm, works on the farm, and has 2 young boys, Elijah 9, and Andrew 6; Annie and I have been taking care of the boys.  It’s been years since we had to worry about getting a kid to school, getting them fed and ready, doing homework, reading a book to them, making sure they get they’re baths, and all the other stuff parents do.  It is a reminder of just how challenging being a parent can be; my hats are off to each and everyone one of you. 

With Victoria out of commission, Jesse and I split up the tasks that she performed.  Once we found out how long Victoria would be out, at least 3 months and possibly longer, we hired Lisa to take her place and allow Jesse and I to get back to our regular tasks.  Once Victoria is cleared to return, we will re-evaluate things and shift people around to keep everyone employed, after all, Annie and I really need to begin backing away some.

We are finally moving past the frosts and are beginning to see the pastures green up and grow.  We still have soil samples to take and will lime and fertilize once we get the results.  With the high cost of fertilizer this year, we don’t want to over or under fertilize.  We have also ordered our biological and will foliar spray once they are received; we are running a couple of different trials.  The work we’ve done the past 2 years have worked to greatly reduce the amount of thistles we had.  The thistle and dog fennel seed blew in from a neighboring farm that doesn’t take care of their fields.    For years we tried mowing several times during the season to prevent it from going to seed but this cost us time, fuel, and forced us to mow pastures that we needed for grazing; the thistle was taking more and more of our fields.   Last year we sprayed our fields to try and kill the thistle and fennel.  We don’t like having to spray herbicides but can’t afford to let a good field go to ruin. Based on our early scouting, last year’s spraying really kicked the fennel and thistle back; we’re hoping this year’s spraying will take care of the problem for the next several years.

With the grass growing again, we have begun moving the cows to a new field every day or two.  With only 5 fields to graze, it’s important that the cows don’t eat the grass down too short and that we let the grass recover a little before moving the cows back in.  The slow early season growth means we don’t want to graze a field more than a day or two and allow at least 5 days before returning to the field to graze again.

We are preparing to get the next batch of Holiday turkey poults in the first week in May.  The first group was moved out to the pasture this past week and will remain in a house for the next couple of weeks.  Once they reach 6 to 7 weeks old, we’ll let them out of the house and free range.  Young turkeys are too susceptible to temperature changes and predators to let them out any younger.

This past Saturday night we had the first of this sow group to farrow, she had 10 pigs.  We expect the remaining 3 sows to farrow over the next 3 weeks or so and provide us with roughly 40 pigs.  At 4 weeks of age, the pigs will be weaned off the momma and moved to a nursery pen.  In the nursery they will learn to eat a special pig feed and be wormed.  After another 4 weeks they will be moved out to a grow lot where they will spend the next 5 months.  Once the pigs are taken off the sows, the sows will be moved back into the sow lots and rebred.  The farrowing pens will be cleaned and disinfected, repairs, made, and the next group of sows moved in.  If everything goes right, it’s a never ending cycle of farrowing, weaning, cleaning, and farrowing again.  We plan on making a couple of video’s about the farrowing house and grow lots when we get a little time; we’ll post them on Facebook.

Several of you have asked about our spring open house that is normally held in March.  This year we have decided to participate in the Art and Ag Tour that is being promoted by Clemson.  The tour will take place on Saturday May 14 from 10 to 4 and Sunday May 15 from 1 to 5.  The tour includes several farms for you to visit, at your own pace, no groups to join, buses to climb on and off, reservations to make, or tickets to buy, it’s a free tour.  I think there are 5 or 6 farms that will be open for you to tour.  Google Colleton County Art and Ag tour for a list of the other farms and what they offer.

Here on our farm you will be able to walk around and see all the animals.  There will be baby pigs, baby chicks, and baby turkeys to see up close and personal.  If we have time, we’ll be walking around and answering questions or you can just grab us by the neck to get our attention.  We will be preparing food for sale and will have the market open for shopping.  At this time we are thinking sausage dogs and wings but haven’t finalized that yet.  In the market we will have our normal 10% off on all Keegan-Filion Farm and Palmetto meats as we do during our open houses. It will be a great time to come out and see how your food is raised and to stock up on our products.

Speaking of our products, we have expanded our Palmetto line to now include a few different sausages, thin cut bone-in pork chops, Boston butts, bacon, and country ham slices to go along with our grass fed, grain finished rib eyes, NY strips, and ground beef. These items are NOT raised on our farm, are NOT pasture raised, but ARE high quality and priced competitively with the grocery stores.  They are a good alternative for budget minded families during these tough times.  These items can be purchased and delivered directly to your home via Pastured Pantry or here at our on-farm store.

While talking about our Palmetto products I don’t want to forget to mention that our Palmetto rib eyes are served at some of the Low Country’s best restaurants; these are not low quality steaks.  They are well marbled, tender, and have a really good flavor.  These steaks are perfect for our customers that prefer grass fed, grain finished over a 100% grass fed steak.  We have several local, Walterboro, customers that no longer buy they’re steaks from the local grocery store, they drive out to the farm to get them.

Those of you that come here to the market to shop will soon see our raised beds come to life.  In the past week we have planted our cucumbers, green beans, yellow beans, zucchini, and yellow squash.  Within the next few days we’ll be planting our okra and a bed of tomatoes.  If any of you have wanted to garden, but hate weeding or don’t have the tools required to turn the ground, try building a simple raised bed.  You’ll be surprised at how much you can grow in a small space and how easy it really is.  I don’t ever plan on going back to the ½ acre gardens we used to plant.

About a month ago we purchased a Case 1250 grinder mixer (hammer mill) to replace our 51 year old International 1150.  The old mill worked fine but was a little slower than the new mill, the new mill is about 25% faster, and didn’t have some of the features.  The “new” mill is between 35 to 37 years old but has been shed kept and well maintained.  Some of the new features were easier, safer operation, a gear driven discharge auger which makes it easy to raise, lower, and swing the auger into position, and a spring assisted intake auger which make it easier to lift the intake auger and put it into position.  The major technological advancement is the weigh scales that are on the unit.  The scale will allow us to add the precise amount of ingredients needed to formulate our feeds; there will be no more guessing if we added 1,600 lbs of corn or 1,700.  The scale will also allow us to keep better feed records; we will now know exactly how many pounds of feed we added to that particular hog feeder. You’ve probably noticed me saying the scale “will” allow us to do this or “will allow us to do that.  We say “will” because the scale head on the new mill we bought is broken and has to be replaced.

While looking at replacement scale heads, Jesse found one that is actual Bluetooth compatible.  The unit can be adjusted and set right from your phone and keeps track of the amount and types of feed you grind.  The records can also be sent to where you want them from your phone.  If there is a problem with the unit, the problem can be diagnosed and fixed via the internet without a technician having to come out and repair it.  We thought about purchasing this model but decided to go with the old fashion, digital, model instead.  The technology is great but more than what we actually need and we were just a little uncomfortable having to depend on an out of state company with no local field representatives.  Our new scale head should be here and installed this week. I have no problem carrying around my little note book and writing down my feed records then transferring them into my lap top; sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

Most of the farms we know have finished planting their corn and are moving into planting soybeans, cotton, and peanuts.  Some of the farms will begin harvesting oats in the next couple of weeks and will move on to wheat around mid May.  The vegetable producers should all be done planting and will begin harvesting green beans, squash, and such around the last week of May into early June. Everyone is complaining about how dry it is and how infrequent the rains have been.  The old saying is that “rain makes grain” and we sure could use a good bit right about now.

Hope your enjoying your April.  If you’ve never made the trip out to the farm, please consider coming out on May 14 or May 15 for the Art and Ag Tour.  It will be a great time to ask questions and to get to know the farmers that help put food on your table.

Thanks for your continuing support of our farm.

Annie, Marc, Amy, and Jesse

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