OCTOBER ON THE FARM
Those of you that have followed us for awhile know a common topic around here is change. For us change can take many forms, a change in season and all we have to do to prepare, a change in market like when we stopped selling chickens to the restaurants due to cost and processing issues, a change in staff like we see when a staff member leaves or like will be experienced next year when Annie and I scale back further, and the never ending changes in our production system in an attempt to navigate the labor shortage that every business in every industry is experiencing and will experience for years to come. Being a successful farm is no different than being successful in any other business, it requires constant change to improve and navigate an ever changing market and economic climate. There is one constant however, time. No matter what we do or how much we wish, we can’t stop or even slow down the passing of time. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, time moves past and the next thing you know a year is gone than another 5 or 10. For us this becomes very evident at this time of year as we begin reviewing the past year and look forward to the next.
This process is taking on a new meaning this year as Annie and I begin scaling back and begin turning more control of the farm over to Jesse and Amy. Now, instead of Annie and I looking into the future and building the farm to meet our goals, it’s Amy and Jesse’s time to step up and start planning what the future of the farm will look like for them. What will they need financially to provide for their family? What are their goals for a work/life balance? What will they do to navigate an ever changing economic climate? What will their staffing needs be? If they intend to grow the farm, what are the capital investments that will be required and where will they find the funds to make these changes? In just a few years they will be considering what they will need to do if Emmy and Joey decide they want to be a part of the farm. In the meantime they will have to find ways of including Joey and Emmy in the everyday operation of the farm in hopes that they build the love of this farm that the rest of us have. For now Annie and I are here to help them with this planning and can tell them the issues that we faced and how we handled them, but sometime in the future it will all be on their shoulders; the time for us to teach and them to learn will have passed.
Next week we begin a project that we have wanted to do for a couple of years but haven’t had the time or the financial confidence to start. Our plans had been to build a full size, 60’ long, nursery house that would be a copy of our farrowing house but with a patio outside each of the nursery pens. The design would easily accommodate 90 to 100 4 to 8 week old pigs and would allow us to remodel our farrowing house adding 2 additional farrowing pens and increase the farrowing house capacity to 7 sows producing roughly 60 to 70 piglets a month. As good as a plan as this was, we really don’t see the demand increasing to this level in the near future. The reason is simple, the cost of producing and processing these animals are higher than the majority of consumers are willing or able to pay, especially in times of high inflation as we are seeing now. But as I stated earlier, time is marching on and we have to find ways of lessening the daily labor requirements as I begin to age out of the operation of the farm.
After considerable thought, it was decided we would extend the 2 nursery pens currently in the existing farrowing house. A contractor will be here next week to pour a 15’ long concrete pad outside each of the 2 nursery pens. The pad will slope away from the building allowing the poop and the urine to flow or be washed into a trough located at the far end of the pad. This will allow us to scrape out the solids and hose the pad off for cleaning. The solids will be moved to the compost pile and eventually spread on our fields. Jesse and I will build a roof over the patio to protect the piglets from the sun and provide shade in the summer. We will move the feeders and the waterers out on the pad which will keep the 10’ x 10’ pen inside the house for a bedding area; the bedding area will use wood shavings as bedding. Believe it or not, pigs are very clean animals. They will only use the bathroom in their bedding area if they are forced. By moving the feeder and waterer out on the patio, we encourage them to use part of the patio as the dunging area which will provide them a clean bedding area inside the building. This addition to the nursery area will allow us to increase the capacity of each of the nursery pens and accommodate the total piglet production of the 5 farrowing pens in the house. We can always purchase feeder pigs from a friend of ours and raise them out if demand warrants it.
The hot weather this summer has taken a toll on our sows with us having an extremely large number that were bred actually be open. Because of this, the farrowing house will be empty for a good while and allow us to make these changes and make some other repairs. We will be taking down one of the side curtains, installing tin walls along the bottom half of the outside wall, and reinstalling the curtains on the top half.
We’ve been asked several times why we farrow in a house on concrete rather than letting the sows farrow outside as nature intended. When a sow farrows outdoors, she will build a nest which is nothing more than a hole in the ground that she will bring sticks, leaves, and other things into for bedding. Once the farrowing process starts, her focus is on giving birth, not protecting the pigs that have already been born. She may lie in 1 place for an extended period of time or she will get up and reposition herself. When she does get up, she may lay back down on pigs that were already born and couldn’t get out of her way. The hole she dug may be too deep for the newborn piglets to maneuver in but the major concern is the weather. The sow may give birth on the coldest, wettest, night of the year, her nest could flood and she could lose some or all of her pigs. Piglets that get wet and are cold can also develop pneumonia or other respiratory issues which would require us to use antibiotics to try and cure; using antibiotics is something we use only as a last resort in an attempt to save the animal. By having a house specifically designed to allow a natural environment for the sow to farrow, we eliminate the problems associated with the cold, heat, or rain. The pen has a deep layer of shavings on the concrete floor which allows the sow to build her nest, fans provide cool air during the warm months and the enclosed building and heated brooder boxes provide a warm environment for the newborn piglets and the sow; farrowing in a building also allows us to be present during farrowing to help the sow or pigs if needed.
There is no doubt that more changes will be coming as Jesse and Amy lay out their future plans in the upcoming couple of months.
In the past 2 weeks we have planted 3 fields for winter grazing. The back field was planted in a combination of winter rye grass and oats and should be ready to graze by late December while the 2 smaller, Bahia pastures, were over seeded in winter rye grass and won’t be grazed until late January or early February. We still have an 11 acre field left that the cows are currently grazing down; this field will be planted in mid November and will be ready to graze in mid February. We spread fertilizer in the 3 planted fields immediately after planting and will begin foliar feeding the fields in late November.
As we announced on Facebook, we are sold out of turkeys and hams for the Holidays. Annie is currently confirming these orders to insure we have everyone covered. We will sell any canceled turkeys on a first come, first serve basis beginning the week prior to Thanksgiving.
We have also been asked if we will be having any standing rib roasts this year. We are currently looking into our options and expect to be able to make an announcement soon. These would NOT be from our cows, these would be grass-fed, and grain finished roasts that will be under our Palmetto label. With the current processing issues, and the amount of roasts required, there would be no way of handling the demand using our cows.
In late July or early August we changed the hours our on-farm market was open. We began opening on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturday mornings. We had tried being open on Saturdays several years ago because our customers requested it, however, once we opened on Saturdays we found doing so didn’t cover the cost of staffing the market for the 3 hours it was open and we often had problems manning the market since we also participate in a local farmers market on Saturday mornings. We had also received several requests this time around to open the market on Saturdays but are seeing the same results and running into the same issues, finding someone to staff the market on Saturday morning while I’m at the Port Royal market, and not enough customers coming out on Saturday to cover the cost of opening. We’re not ready to change the hours again but are closely looking at the situation and will make a decision by the end of the year.
Mark your calendars; our fall open house will be Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, November 17, 18, and 19. The hours on Thursday and Friday will be 9 to 5 and Saturday will be 9 to 4. The farm will be open for you to walk around and see the animals and the market will offer 10% off on all our Keegan-Filion Farm and Palmetto meats (turkeys and hams are NOT included). You never know Jesse and I might just decide to smoke a few ribs, chicken wings, or sausages for you to sample; all depends if something around here breaks or not. This will be the perfect opportunity to pick up your turkey or ham if you marked it as farm pick up. We will provide updates on Facebook.
Home delivery of Holiday hams and turkeys will be made on Nov. 17, 18, and 19 if needed unless other arrangements were made. Pick up of both hams and turkeys at the Port Royal Farmers Market will be on Saturday November 19. Amy will email the delivery schedule earlier that week so everyone is aware of the day the delivery will be made. Please keep an eye out for the email.
As you can tell, with the changing of the season and the upcoming Holidays, we are wide open now and will be for the next few weeks. It’s hard to believe that another year is quickly winding down and are already having to make plans for next year and for several years after that. In the next couple of months, as our plans are finalized, we will share some of the plans with you; we think you will be as excited as we are about the farms future and about the changes that we will be making.
Thanks for your continuing support of the farm. We hope that you are enjoying the fall weather as much as we are and that you will have a safe autumn season.
Annie, Marc, Amy, & Jesse