SEPTEMBER ON THE FARM
We have all heard the phrase “change is good”. Most of us enjoy the change of seasons a lot more than we do after we’ve been in the season a couple of months; by late winter we’re all ready for some warmer, sunny weather, and by late summer we’ve had about all of the hot, humid weather we can stand. Though a lot of us complain when things in our everyday lives change, we often find that the change has actually made us happier or made our life easier in one way or another. The same can be said for the farm, change often makes the farm better and the staff’s life easier.
Over the past 35 years the farm has been in a constant state of change. We’ve gone from raising hogs and cattle that were sold through stockyards and buying stations to processing animals and selling meat direct to chefs and families. Over the years we have changed our mobile chicken tractors over to stationary houses with fenced lots saving the staff 7 hours or more labor a day and providing the birds a safe, comfortable, living environment. We’ve built a farrowing house that provides a comfortable place for the sows to give birth without having to worry about rain filling the nest and drowning the pigs, all the while making it easier for us to tend to the sow and her litter. About 4 years ago we began grinding our own hog feed allowing us to have more control over the feed formulations and providing the hogs the proper feed for their stage of growth. The feed mill also saved our backs from having to lift 6 to 8 tons of hog feed a week and allowed us to simply auger the feed into the hog feeders. In 2020 we built a bulk feed bin and began filling chicken feeders by using an auger feed cart, saving us additional labor and saving us from having to lift 2-1/2 tons of feed a week. Not everyone wanted these changes, and some were adamant about us not doing these things. But after the changes were made, everyone began wondering how we ever managed to get things done and how in the world we ever managed to be able to lift that much feed every day.
And the changes continue…..
This past week Jesse installed winch lines in the first of our two chick brooder houses. Each of our brooder houses is capable of brooding 2 flocks of chicks. Each side has 3 feeders and 2 waterers hanging from the ceiling. As the chicks grow, the feeders and waterers are raised to accommodate the growing birds. Jesse has attached all of the feeders on a side to a mainline which is attached to a winch. As the birds grow we can simply give the winch a crank and the feeders will be raised to the correct height. He’s done the same with the waterers. When we move the birds to the chicken lots, the feeders and waterers can be winched up out of the way and allows for easy cleaning of the brooder area. This was a quick inexpensive modification that will make our lives a lot easier. The remaining house will get winches installed in the next few weeks.
This coming week we will begin a modification project on our chicken houses. Currently we use tarps to cover the sides of the chicken houses during the winter months. Purchasing tarps every year is costly and installing and removing them with the seasons is very time consuming. This week we will be installing commercial agricultural curtains on 2 of our chicken houses. The curtains will raise and lower by winches that will be attached to the side of the house. No matter the season, when the weather is warm, we can give the winch a crank and the curtain will be lowered to allow air flow and, when the weather is cold, we just crank the winch and the curtain will be raised to allow the heat to remain in the house; eventually we will also attach the waterers to a winch line to make it easier to raise the waterers as the birds grow. We will modify 2 houses at a time and plan on having 6 houses completed by the time cold weather moves in.
In July we made a change in our hatchery deliveries from weekly to every other week. By doing this it allowed a few extra days to clean and disinfect the brooding area, wash all of the chick waterers and feeders, lay down fresh shavings, and get the room heated back up to the required temperature. It may not seem like much but just this one change has helped get things done on a timely basis and removed a lot of the hurrying that had been a part of this phase of the operation. We’re still brooding roughly the same number of chicks, but with a lot less stress on us.
Since the change in the hatchery orders worked so well, we decided to change our chicken processing schedule from weekly to bi-weekly beginning the middle of September. This will give us more time every other week to get more done on the farm, cuts back 2 round trips to the processing plant a month, and will save us fuel and wear and tear on the truck. Again we’re processing roughly the same number of birds; we’re just taking a bigger load every other week.
We are continuing to process hogs weekly but will consider moving to an every other week schedule once our pork demand levels off; Covid is still having a major impact on our restaurant customers.
The changes we are making to the farm have been planned for awhile; however, not all change is expected or planned. In early August Victoria decided to leave the farm. Being a single parent, Victoria only worked about 23 hours a week and had been here for close to 10 years. She cleaned and prepared the brooder house for the arrival of the chicks and cleaned and prepared the chicken houses for the flocks that would be coming out of the brooders. She also helped move the chicks from the brooder to the chicken field and would often help with the feeding of the sows.
A few weeks ago Hunter told us that she would be leaving and had taken a job at a local bank; this past Friday was her last day. Hunter had been with us for over 5 years. Since joining us she had married and had a child. As much as she enjoyed working here, we couldn’t provide the benefits like paid holidays, vacations, insurance, and 401K that she needed. That is one of the main reasons farms have a hard time finding high quality people to work; farms just can’t afford to offer the benefits other professions offer. We’re sorry to see Hunter and Victoria leave but wish them the best of luck in all their future endeavors.
As a business owner, we learned a long time ago to always have a plan A, plan B, and a plan C. Though Hunters departure came as a surprise, we quickly made a few changes and put one of our plans in motion. Hunter had been making the weekly trip to the processor to pick up the previous weeks processing and made the restaurant deliveries to Charleston, Bluffton, and Hilton Head. Starting Monday Amy will come on full time and begin making the weekly trip to the processor and will make the Charleston restaurant deliveries. Amy will continue running the market here on the farm and running Pastured Pantry. Tela, who has been doing our meat share and home delivery packing, will continue with those tasks but will begin making the Bluffton and Hilton Head restaurant deliveries along with running a couple of Pastured Pantry home delivery routes. Annie will continue doing the accounting and purchasing of supplies along with taking weekly restaurant orders from the chefs and making sure we have product here at the farm for both our chef and family customers; inventory control takes a lot of time and coordination with the processing plant to make sure we don’t run out. Jesse and Marc will continue handling the daily farm chores, mowing, repairs, managing the livestock, and making the weekly trips to Kingstree and the other processing plants along with any building modifications and projects that need to be done. Starting in a couple of weeks they will be spending a good amount of time doing the last bush hogging of the year and preparing ground for planting winter grazing.
Before ending this month’s newsletter I need to let you know that we may be seeing some processing issues in the near future. The processor that we use for the bulk of our beef processing is owned by an older man and his 2 sons. The father has a good number of health issues and has been turning the business over to his sons for a few years. A little over a week ago we were notified that one of the sons passed away from Covid. We’re not sure what this will do to our scheduled processing, if anything, but are trying to find ways to insure we can get our cows processed as needed. There are still major issues in the processing industry, and only a few plants that process for small farms like ours, which forces us to schedule processing out 4 to 6 months. Another problem in the processing plants is the lack of workers which is causing delays in getting the processed meat back to the farm. If one of these small plants has an outbreak of Covid, they may have to temporarily shut-down which will cause even further delays.
It’s not only the small plants that are having issues. Pilgrims in Sumter can’t hire enough workers and is only running 2 of their processing lines; even after offering $2,000 sign on bonuses. The same is happening at Tyson and other chicken and hog processors across the country. Two weeks ago a few chefs told me they couldn’t get their shipments from Sysco or US Food due to a lack of order packers and delivery drivers. This has been going on for over 18 months and has forced all of the farmers, not only us, a lot of additional work, cost, and stress. Please bear with us as we continue to try and navigate through this.
We are hoping to have a fall open house sometime in late October or November. We don’t have the staff to handle events like our Family Day on the Farm anymore and would only have the farm open for self guided tours and the market open with discounted prices, similar to what we did in the spring. But it is an opportunity to see how we raise the food on your table and to see how things have changed over the years all while saving a few bucks. Stay tuned for the announcement when we have things worked out.
And lastly, we were told this week of a farmer friend that has decided to close down his operation. Him and his wife raise corn, peanuts, and beef and have built a nice business over the years. The increased costs of his farm inputs like fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, herbicides, and land rent, everything needed to raise corn, peanuts and cattle, are more than he will receive for his crops and would receive for his cattle; fertilizer alone has nearly doubled. There comes a point when farmers can’t absorb these cost increases and only compound the debt that they are carrying. I’ve been addressing some of the issues facing farmers on our Facebook page. If you haven’t checked it out, please do so.
Enjoy the last of the summer weather. We should begin seeing a little cooler weather by the last week in September but won’t see the real fall weather until the Ladson Fair. If you want to visit the market here at the farm, and walk around to see the animals, it’s getting to be the perfect time of year to do it.
Thanks again for your support of our farm. We love hearing from you and really enjoy seeing what you’re doing with our products. If you want to share your recipes or pictures of your meal, don’t hesitate to post them on our Facebook page.
Annie, Marc, Amy & Jesse