JULY ON THE FARM
I have to apologize to everyone for my slackness. In both June and July I never got around to updating the farm calendar and never wrote a June newsletter. In order to write the newsletter, I try to have some idea of the topics I want to touch on prior to sitting down to write it. Normally I start writing it early in the month and add to it as the month goes along which is why it can appear to be a patchwork of thoughts. With the increase of chores that have to be done during the summer months, I just haven’t taken the time to organize my thoughts and sit down to write it. I think I’ll blame it on the heat and leave it at that.
In June a neighbor asked if we would be interested in taking over a 12 acre field that another farmer had been haying for the past several years. This field required a lot of work including bush hogging, fixing fence, fertilizing, and possibly spraying to kill the weeds but would provide us considerable more land to graze in the winter months and would allow us to increase our cow herd by 10 to 15 head if we decided to do that. We thanked him for the offer, fixed the fence, spent a few afternoons bush hogging and turned the cows into it. The bush hogging cut a lot of the weeds back and may allow us to forego spraying for weeds. We try to bush hog our pastures once a month and hope that we can mow the field again before the weeds go to seed. We still have to fertilize the field but will wait until we plant our winter grazing sometime in late September to early October.
Earlier in the year we decided to make a capital expenditure and purchase a 6 ton feed bin. The unassembled bin came in around the 4th of July holiday and we started putting it together the next week. Last week the 8” thick concrete pad was poured and is waiting for us to finish assembling the bin. As of this morning we have the 3 rows and top assembled and have attached half of the ladder assembly. This week we will finish the ladder, build the bottom cone and attach the legs. Once the bin is stood up on the pad, we will attach the 16’ auger and auger motor and it will be ready to go. With our schedule this week we may not get it completed but should have it well on the way.
The 25 or 30 year old Auger trailer we purchased in June has been greased and tested; it’s in good working order. When we have some time we will sand and paint the unit, go over everything again, and it should be ready to be put in service. This auger wagon is what we will use to bring the broiler feed from the new feed bin out to the feeders in the chicken lot. This process will save us from lifting 50 lb bags of feed and will save over 4,500 paper bags that our chicken feed currently comes in, annually. We also expect the amount of time required weekly to feed the broilers to be cut in half.
If you are following us on Facebook you know that we are growing increasingly concerned with Covid-19. As the days and weeks go by, cases of the virus are getting closer and closer to us. We already know a few people that have been hospitalized with it and are hearing of other friends or friends of friends that have contracted it. We have a chef customer that has been out with Covid for over 3 weeks and was told of 2 people at the processor that are currently out with Covid.
Our restaurant business continues to suffer with many of our chefs telling us business is extremely slow. Tourism in Charleston is down about 75% to 80%. Many of our restaurants had the worst 4th of July in they’re history. A few of our restaurants have opened for dine-in only but had to close after a staff member was infected then open again. Other chefs have opted to not do dine-in for the foreseeable future and continue doing take-out only. With the daily increase in Covid cases in SC I expect to start hearing of more restaurants going to take-out only whether the Governor mandates it or not. Normally during this time of year our chefs are buying around 200 chickens and 6 to 8 hogs weekly. Last week and again for this week’s delivery, our combined chef orders are for 40 chickens and 4 hogs. The lack of any national or state wide guidance is causing a lot of confusion and isn’t doing anything to help build consumer confidence. Our local restaurants are getting killed and I just don’t see this getting any better anytime soon.
We also expect our family customer business to slow down considerably during the summer months as families take vacations, spend time at the beach and away from home, and eat quick meals out. This year we thought the virus would keep people at home which meant we would see strong family customer sales numbers through the summer. To meet the expected demand we continued to farrow pigs, process cows, and process 250 broiler chickens a week. We also reflocked the laying hens in April with 650 laying hens purchased from an Amish farm up North. What ended up happening was that sales dropped considerably in June to previous year level. One week in June we had 9 dozen eggs sold on home delivery when we normally sell about 40 to 45 dozen and 11 dozen sold at the Port Royal Farmers Market. With our restaurants only partially opened our egg sales to them were also down. We ended up donating around $1,200 worth of eggs to 2 local church food pantries in June alone.
To try and get our production matching the demand, we sold over 100 laying hens and have stopped all hatchery orders from the first week of July until July 28. This will bring our egg inventory back in line with current demand but will mean we may not be able to meet demand in the fall if things pick up considerably. We still have over 3,000 chickens in the field with all of them being the slow growing breed that we raise. The hatchery had a problem with the breeder flock and will not be able to get any Red Broilers to us until October. In the meantime we will receive Cornish Rock Cross chicks weekly beginning July 28. These are faster growing birds which will mean that we can still process weekly and will not have any shortages in chicken if demand stays the same as it was back in May.
In June we purchased 2 new boars from the breeder we have used for years. We have the young boars separated from the breeding herd and plan to introduce them sometime in August or September. We will sell the 2 existing herd boars prior to moving in our new boars. We are also considering culling some of our sows and keeping a few replacement gilts. We are currently running 25 sows but are considering cutting back to between 16 and 20. The effects of cutting back the number of sows won’t be felt for a year to 18 months.
Those of you that have followed us for awhile will remember that last summer, July exactly, we started working on a proposal for a USDA Value Added Grant. We worked on the grant until early March when it was turned into the USDA. Last month we were told that we cleared the first hurdle and should hear if we were successful or not sometime in late July. We haven’t heard yet but have our fingers crossed. The grant is designed to help us research, market, and produce new products that would be made from our pork. Part of our proposal was that we would come up with a smoked line of pork products like hams and sausages. We liked our idea so much, and felt that it would be a great addition to our pork products, that we started working on a line of smoked products ahead of getting the grant. We figured if it was good enough to spend government money on it was good enough to spend our own. In late May we brought our first smoked products back from the smoke house and put them up for sale; they lasted 2 weeks before we were sold out. We have since taken more products back to the smoke house to be cured and smoked. This week we will bring home more sugar cured hams, sliced hams, smoked pork sausage, smoked Andoulli, sugar and salt cured smoked bacon, and a new product Boudin. Keep an eye on the website to see when they are uploaded and ready to sell.
Many of you have visited the farm during our annual Family Day on the Farm events. At this point we doubt that the event will be held this year but promise to begin the annual tradition again once it is safe to do so. Please keep in mind that our customers are always welcome to walk around the farm on their own when we have the market open on Monday and Friday afternoons. We may not be able to walk around with you but are always happy to answer any questions.
Many of you have met our Chocolate Lab Moose during farm visits or our annual events. Moose was the best farm dog you could ever ask for. He loved being out on the farm and would accompany us throughout the day while we did chores. He would often ride with me to the packing plant to bring hogs for processing or ride with me to get corn from a local farm. Moose also loved people and would always be at the market to greet customers and get hugs from any children that came in. When Annie was at her desk working on the farms books or keying in invoices for the chefs orders, Moose was always laying close by and would stay there until she finished and got up to do the next task. Every morning he was up with me, even if it was 2 or 3 am, and would sit on my lap (he was 120 lbs) while I drank my coffee and watched the news or a farm program. On June 22 we took Moose to the vet to have his right leg checked out. About a week earlier we saw a slight limp but the limp was getting worse. We found out that Moose had bone cancer. We took Moose home with some pain meds to try and get a little more time with this incredible companion. After a couple of days it became apparent that the pain meds weren’t working as good as we hoped and on June 25 we put Moose down, he was 11 years old.
We have our fingers crossed that 2020 will get better. I’m not sure what normal is anymore but look forward to the days when things are less confusing and when we can give and receive hugs again. I don’t like wearing a mask but am happy to do so if it will mean we can keep others safe and stop the spread of this virus. I have to admit though that I miss seeing peoples facial expressions and smiles, things just seem less personal. I pray every day that we can all get our lives back. In the meantime we will continue to work hard every day on the farm and provide you with our pastured poultry, pork, and beef products. We thank you for getting the word out about our farm and appreciate your continued support.
Annie, Marc, Amy, and Jesse