JULY ON THE FARM
As I said in June’s newsletter, it seems like most of what we’re doing this time of year is mowing and bush hogging, but there are a few other things that are getting done. Jesse has been working hard at getting new water lines run to the sow pens and adding a mist system to each of the shades. In a week or so work will begin on adding a new water system that will replace the nipple and bowl waterers in our hog grow lots. We ran a trial on the new system with a group of 50 pigs from the time they were moved into a grow lot until they were ready for market. The system was pretty much trouble free and provided cool water to the pigs no matter if it was summer or winter. A feature that we liked was that there was no nipple to freeze in the winter and the pigs always had water available even when everything was frozen. We haven’t set a time frame to get this project completed but hope to have all the grow lots and the sow lots using this system by December.
The Sorghum Sudan field we planted is looking real good and should be ready to turn the cows in to graze by the last week in July. This field will be grazed until fall when it will be planted in winter grazing. The remaining fields have been so productive that we have had to mow them. Our goal was to graze 2 cows per acre on ground that we have been grazing 1 cow per acre. It is now obvious that the changes we’ve made are working and that we need to bring in more cows. Hopefully we can do so this winter and be ready to double our herd by spring.
There have been a couple other changes here during the past month, changes that the family has been discussing for awhile, but finally has decided to put into effect. Since March of 2020, when Covid first hit and the restaurants closed, we tried hard to make sure we had enough chickens and hogs available to meet the demand of our market customers as well as our chef customers. For a while the changes we made were working and almost everything we produced weekly was sold. As the months passed, the restaurants reopened and the grocery stores restocked, we continued to maintain our production expecting to begin selling restaurants at our pre-pandemic levels. What we didn’t see coming was a labor shortage which meant the restaurants didn’t have the staff required to process our products to meet the needs of their plates. Instead of purchasing whole chickens and hogs, they stopped purchasing chickens from us and bought breasts off the large purveyors. The chefs that had been buying whole and half hogs began purchasing primal cuts from us that required considerably less labor than breaking down a whole animal. We’ve decided to greatly cut back on the number of chickens we produce for the foreseeable future. The production capacity we have set is based on our current market and home delivery demand with a little extra to help cover sales spikes and new customers; we haven’t included any chickens for new restaurant customers. Hopefully this will eliminate our over production and bring us back to more sustainable levels based on our current sales.
Changes are also being made to our hog production. During the pandemic we cut our sow herd from 25 sows to 15. This week we will move 5 new gilts, 4 Berkshire and 1 Yorkshire, into our sow herd bringing us back up to 20 sows with a capacity of roughly 300 to 350 pigs born on farm a year. We will continue marketing our hogs through local restaurants, farmers markets, and home delivery, but will also be supplying a couple of in-state processing plants with butcher hogs when needed. Adding these two new markets will help us get back to pre-pandemic hog production levels and allows us to sell hogs at the proper weights rather than feeding them to heavy weights because of a lower demand at the time the hogs are ready to process. Once a hog reaches a live weight of 275 lbs they begin putting on more fat than meat which affects the quality of the pork. We will be making a few more changes to our hog infrastructure to allow us to participate in these new markets but won’t make those changes until winter. It will take approximately a year before we begin seeing this increase in hog production.
Speaking of hogs, we had a sow give birth on the 4th of July; she had 16 pigs born, 2 were DOA, 14 live. As of this writing she still has all 14 alive and doing great. This litter was 2 live pigs larger than our herd average and, if all the piglets survive, will be 4 pigs over our pigs weaned per litter average. Later this week the piglets will begin getting a pre-starter ration that is easy on their stomachs and encourages them to begin eating solid food. A baby pig’s stomach is very sensitive; if not cared for properly, the pig could develop scours and die in just matter of days. Our piglets will get 2 different pre-starter rations before they begin eating the starter feeds that we grind here on the farm and will be weaned from momma at 4 weeks of age. We posted pictures of this litter on Facebook.
Jesse and Amy have begun doing pop-up markets at different locations to help bring our products to families that may have never heard of us. The first pop-up was held at Brickyard Plantation in Mount Pleasant and was a huge success; thanks to all that came out to support this effort. They are currently looking for recommendations for other neighborhoods to contact. The plan is to hold 1 or 2 pop-up markets, at a different location, every month. Any suggestions you may have, or if you know anyone associated with a neighborhood homeowners association and could get the word out would be appreciated.
With the farms focus over the past 18 months turning to serving families through home delivery and markets, it became apparent that our large delivery truck was no longer needed. The truck was similar to a small moving van and could carry a few tons of meat in the refrigerated box. It was perfect for when we were running to Columbia, Charleston, Beaufort, and Hilton Head but was just too big to use to make home deliveries. A farming friend of ours needed a truck and had wanted to buy this one from us for awhile. We decided to sell it to him and have purchased a van similar to the Promaster van that you have seen pull up to your house to drop off meat shares or your meat order. The addition of this van will help us expand our home delivery option while still providing a refrigerated vehicle to use for our restaurant deliveries, for our farmers market participation, and our bi-weekly dairy run. The van should be at the farm in 2 weeks.
Many of you have commented that you have seen our sausage at a few local Piggly Wiggly stores. One of the local store owners wanted to try our sausage in 4 locations in the Low Country. His stores in Beaufort, Hardeville, Ridgeland, and Walterboro are stocking 4 flavors of our sausage; Hot Italian, Sweet Italian, Kielbasa, and Onion. If you get a chance, stop in, buy a pack, and thank them for carrying a truly local product. You just never know where this could lead in the future.
I’ve been asked several times if I’m enjoying my semi-retirement. To be honest, I have only been able to take a few afternoons off. The recent rains have the grass growing at an unbelievable rate which means I’m spending a lot of time on a mower or bush hog, especially in the chicken lots where the “fertilizer” is always flowing. A couple more months and mowing will slow down and I’ll get some down time.
The recent tropical storm spared us any damage but did bring in the high humidity. I can’t be sure but it felt like June was cooler than normal and humidity levels were lower. Normally we’ve had to load chickens late in the evening beginning in June because of the heat but only started in July this year. So far we haven’t had to adjust the work schedule but I’m sure we will before summer is over; it gets too hot and is unsafe to work during the heat of the day.
We hope you’re enjoying the summer and have been able to spend a lot of quality time with friends and family. Thanks for your continued support of the farm. Please remember that the market here at the farm is open every Monday and Friday from 1 until 5; the calendar on the website will let you know if the market is open or closed, shows the days we’re at the Port Royal market, when dairy orders are due, and the home delivery schedule. While at the market, take a few minutes and walk around the farm, we’ll be happy to answer any questions and explain our production methods.
Annie, Marc, Amy & Jesse