September 2017 Newsletter
What's Going On at the Farm
For September 2017
If a word could describe how we feel about the month of September so far, it would have to be blessed, relieved, or even lucky. We really dodged the biggest bullet to ever threaten the farm and the Low country. This bullet had a name and it was Irma. I have no doubt that if she hit us head on as was a possibility at one point, the area as we know it, including this farm, would be changed for years to come and possibly, forever.
Tropical storms and hurricanes are always a threat when you live in coastal communities. The farm is located 50 miles inland from Edisto Beach and about the same from downtown Charleston. Storm surges and flooding are not issues for us but the winds and driving rains cause us a lot of problems.
All of our chicken and turkey houses, at one time, were portable structures; everyday these houses were moved to clean ground by pulling them forward with a tractor. This portability created serious problems when storms threatened the area. It is almost impossible to secure these building when they are scattered all over the field. We would try to surround each of the houses with hay bales but always seemed to have several houses that were damaged or destroyed by the winds. Houses that had tarp roofs always had the tarps blown off exposing the birds to the heavy rain. Over the years we have moved towards larger houses with metal roofs and, over the past 10 months, moved away from the chicken tractor system to permanent lots which allowed us to secure the buildings to the ground providing a safer environment for the birds during the storms. The system isn't perfect but it is a lot better than what we used to have. Irma tore on tarp off an old house that is still in use and destroyed another old house that was sitting empty, waiting for birds to be moved into it when the storm was over. Other than that, we only lost 1 chicken due to the storm. All of the houses kept the birds dry and protected from the wind. The automatic waterers kept them with water and the large range feeders that we put in each house, kept them with all the feed they required for up to 3 days if needed.
The hogs handled the storm as expected. We had no casualties, in fact, a sow unexpectedly had a litter of pigs about a week or so earlier and didn't lose any during the storm. Hogs handle inclimate weather well, they will form large groups for warmth in the cold and enjoy the wet areas, including heavy rain, during the summer heat. All of our hog fields have shelters for the hogs to go under if the weather gets bad or if they want to get out of the rain or heat. None of these structures were damaged during Irma.
The cows never seem to have issues during these types of storms. The cows always run in a herd and will stick together for protection. During hard storms they will seek shelter in the wooded areas of the farm. The trees provide protection from the winds but cause concern due to lightning or trees breaking and dropping limbs. Irma didn't do damage to the trees probably because Mathew cleaned out all the weak ones last year.
The major problem for us was the two pit bulls that came onto the farm again, during the storm, and killed 155 of our Holiday turkeys. I won't go into detail about this in the newsletter since we have described what happened and are providing updates on our Facebook page. The only thing I will say here is that we have secured 100 turkeys from a friend of ours in North Carolina; we will bring these birds to the farm in the next few weeks. With the birds we have left on the farm, and the 100 birds we have coming in, we should be able to meet everyones pre ordered turkey. The only problem we foresee is meeting size requirements. Hopefully you can be flexible with us on the size birds received. We are hoping to have most birds in the 14 to 18 pound size ranges but won't know until processing starts. Normally we control the birds size by using different hatch dates. The dogs attacked 3 different age groups, 4 if you include the birds they killed on July 4th, taking away our ability to have a workable number of birds in multiple size ranges. If you have a turkey ordered, are dead set in the size you requested and need to cancel, please contact us immediately. We need to sell as many of these turkeys as possible and need time to offer them to others if you decide you don't want yours.
Our annual Family Day on the Farm will be held on Sunday October 8th from 10 am to 5 pm. The storm used several days that we had scheduled for event preparations to be used for storm prep and storm prep takedown. Due to this the event will be a "no frills" event. We will still give hay rides, tours of the farm, face painting, tractors for the kids to climb up on and provide a picture opportunity, and food will be available. The games we planned on building may not get done however. We will still raffle off a $100 gift certificate for dinner at The Lot in Charleston and a $100 gift certificate to Hearth in Beaufort. Tickets for the raffle are $5 each or 5 tickets for $20.00; you do not need to be present to win. Admission to the event is free and everyone is invited. We encourage everyone to bring a blanket, sit in one of the fields, enjoy the country air and the food, slow down and enjoy a relaxing day in the country. If you plan to attend, please RSVP on our website right away; I have to have the bacon smoked, sausage made, and chickens processed. Food will be prepared by the Colleton High School FFA and Saint Anthony's Church; both organizations will receive 100% of the food sales. If for some reason you don't RSVP, come out anyway and enjoy the day with us: food will be served as long as it is available.
Work on the farm projects has slowed down due to the storm and other tasks that have pulled us in numerous directions. We have ordered 4 more frames that will be used to build our permanent chicken houses. The frames are expected to be here within the next 4 weeks and will be built out as soon as the temporary house empties and we can move the new frame into the lot. Jesse completed a new style turkey house in 5 days with plans to build 2 more next spring. The house measures 12' x 40' and will house 200 4 week old turkeys until they reach 8 weeks old and are able to free range. Once they begin free ranging, the house will be used to provide them shelter until they are old enough and ready to be processed.
We expect to begin working on the alley way and sheds in the sow area in the next couple of weeks. The sow farrowing house project has been postponed but we still need the alleyway to make moving pregnant sows easier for us. With no time to build the new farrowing facility now, we are using this time to re-evaluate the building plans and making some changes we feel are needed. Its amazing how fast things change; what you felt would work best a few months ago is determined not to be the best system for your needs now. We're glad to have realized this prior to starting construction.
In the next few weeks we will be receiving the first of our replacement gilts. These will be Berkshires that we will breed to our Berkshire boar Blacky. The offspring from these breeding will be full blood Berkshire. The best quality females will be kept for breeding and will be bred to a Duroc or Hampshire boar. Our pork program has undergone several changes during the past couple of years with us now concentrating on raising cross breeds rather than pure breds. Our crosses are made up of Berkshire, Tamworth, Hampshire, and Duroc. These changes have greatly increased the overall quality of our pork, increased our litter sizes, and helped improve the health of our pigs. Cross bred animals always provide less health issues than pure breds.
The continuous rain during the summer decreased the quality of the hay we cut this summer. Using the bales as shields to protect our chicken houses also hurt the quality of the bales. We have decided to cut an additional field that was to be used as fall grazing for hay. The quality of this field, though not the best, is better than some of the hay we cut earlier. We will also plant an additional field in winter rye grass to help minimize the hay we will have to feed this winter. Plans are to overseed 3 pastures in the next 2 weeks, right after the Family Fun Day, and plant a 4th field the end of October. With decent weather we should be able to graze the cows on these fields beginning mid to late January and force us to feed hay for only 2-1/2 to 3 months.
We are currently signing up for the 4th quarter of our meat share program; the last day to sign up is September 30. Those of you that have already signed up will receive your Pay Pal invoices late the first week or the second week of October. Members with 6 month shares are good through December. We have several members that have participated since the beginning and look forward to seeing what is going to be in the box monthly. Please tell your friends and family if you think this would be of interest to them. Remember that for an additional $15.00 a month, you can have the share delivered direct to your door if you live in the Charleston, Summerville, Mount Pleasant, James Island area.
Our farm market schedule remains flexible. The Summerville Farmers Market remains slow and still has us considering remaining on an every other week schedule. We participate in the Port Royal Farmers Market weekly and will continue to do so. We feel that once the weather cools we will see market participation increase again which will allow us to be at both markets weekly. Please check the calendar on the website to insure we will be at the markets that weekend.
Thanks for your continued support of our farm. We hope that everyone will make it out for our Family Day on the Farm. Bring the kids, the grandkids, or even the neighbors kids. The day is all about them and providing them an opportunity to visit a working farm and see the animals. For the adults its a day to learn about the food they put on their families table and to see that there is an alternative to conventional, confinement raised, meats.
Have a great month.
Annie, Marc, Amy, & Jesse