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FEBRUARY ON THE FARM

We just can’t seem to get caught up around here this year. Just when you think you see the light at the end of the tunnel, you’re faced with several days of rain and get way behind again. Hogs enjoy a little rain and wallowing in some mud but even they are saying enough is enough. Our chickens are enjoying their time outdoors until the rain comes and sends them back inside. The rains also make it difficult keeping the shavings dry and the chicken houses clean. For the past several weeks we have spent 10 to 15 hours a week cleaning out chicken houses and putting in clean, dry, shavings. I know in a few months we will be complaining about how hot and dry it is and will be praying for some rain, but right now we need it to turn off a little while.

We emptied one of our hog lots last week and will begin getting it ready to plant our garden. I’m hoping to get some sweet corn planted the first week in March and begin planting green beans, squash, and cucumbers around March 20 with tomatoes being planted a week or so later.

Jesse and I got a good start on the new hog lots and expect the first one to be completed by the end of February. At this time we have the shade built, alleyway framed out with most of the hog panels attached, and all of the side fence posts in place. We still have to finish attaching a few hog panels to the frames, install a gate, pour a small concrete pad for the bowl waterers, run the water pipe to the waterers, and install an electric fence inside the lot to stop the pigs from digging out under the fence. In the next few weeks we will begin building the second lot and hope to have it completed in 4 weeks or less.

Earlier in the month we were notified of a farm equipment auction coming up in Walterboro. We decided to sell our hay cutter at the auction since we no longer plan on baling our own hay and look to buy a second gravity wagon (corn trailer). Our hay cutter sold at the auction and we were able to buy a corn trailer that is in excellent condition. It’s funny how a farm can change over the years. At one time the hay cutter was one of our most valuable pieces of equipment. Now that we are formulating and grinding all of our own hog feeds, we need the second trailer to haul in the additional corn we need weekly.

We were able to let the cows into a large field of grazing we planted in November and kept them there for a week before moving them to a small 4 acre field in front of Jesse and Amy’s house for a few days. Once this cold front and rains stops, we will move them back into the back field of rye and oats for another week or so. In the meantime they’re getting hay and eating whatever cool season grass has sprouted in the other fields.

There are still 3 cows that haven’t calved yet but are expected to within the next month and a half or so. Unlike our hogs, we don’t have the equipment required to ultrasound our cows to insure they’re pregnant. All we can do is look at them to see if they look pregnant and guess as to when they will calf. We have the required equipment to ultrasound our hogs and can insure which ones are pregnant though we don’t know how many pigs the sow will have until she actually farrows.

Back in July we sold our 2 breeding bulls along with 3 young bulls to insure we wouldn’t be inbreeding. We plan on bringing in an Angus bull in May from the farm we partner with and breed all of the cows here within a 3 month window. We will probably keep him here for a while rather than run him up and down the road from one farm to the other.

A lot of our customers are getting nervous about missing out on Holiday turkeys this year. Don’t worry, the website is now updated and is ready to accept your turkey orders. Annie and I are discussing how many turkey poults to reserve from the hatchery and expect to place our order in the next 2 weeks. Don’t wait to place your order. Once we place our hatchery order, we rarely have the opportunity to add to it. We also have to schedule our processing days now to insure we can get the birds processed. With growers coming to the plant from NC, SC, Ga, and a couple from Va, available processing days are limited and so is the number of birds we will be able to grow and get processed.

As transparent as we try to be, I have to admit that we have been holding out on you, let me explain.

Last spring I was asked to participate on a panel during a Rural Development meeting being held in Walterboro. The panel included 2 farms, a car lot that specialized in selling cars on-line, and a couple of different small shop owners. When the panel discussions began, we were each asked to tell the group about our business, how long we have been doing what we were doing, and a couple of other things that I can’t remember right now. After the introductions, we each took questions from the audience. The questions ranged from what is the hardest part of what we do, what type of new technology we use, how do we market our products, and how do we see the future for our individual businesses. After the panel discussions were over, we had a short meet and greet and got to talk to people one on one. I left the meeting thinking about what some of the questions were to others on the panel and tried to think how I would have answered if asked. All in all I thought it was a well spent morning and headed back to the farm and got to work.

A few days later the moderator for the panel discussion contacted me and said someone from USDA was in the audience and wanted to meet with us. I’m always suspicious when told someone from a governmental agency wants to meet, and hesitated. He told me that the USDA representative was impressed with our operation and wanted to discuss an opportunity the USDA had that would help us grow and provide an option for the future. We decided to meet the following week at the USDA office; I brought Annie and Jesse along for protection and support.

The USDA representative told us about a grant that would be coming out in a few months. She said the grant was a “value added” grant and could be used to develop additional products using our meats, primarily pork. Since there are relatively few cuts (chops, roasts, bacon, & ribs) that come off a hog, and a good deal of meat that is mostly used for ground pork and sausages, a value added grant could help us produce more sausage flavors, find other ways of using this meat, and help us develop new markets for these products in our area. We thought this was a good idea and, in July, began working with the Small Business Administration to write an application for the grant.

I can honestly say that we would have been unable to apply for this grant without the help of the Small Business Association. I know a lot about business and know how to build and read profit and loss statements, business plans, marketing plans, and develop a host of other required business reports but know absolutely nothing about writing a grant. During the past 7 months we looked at every aspect of the farm from production to marketing and built a 3 year business plan, a 3 year marketing plan, and a 3 year financial budget that specified where the money would be used and what financial benefits were expected from this investment. This coming week we will meet to make any final changes to our proposal and put together the final package that will be submitted to the USDA in early March. Once submitted the proposal will be read by several committees and passed up the chain for additional reviews. Grant awards are expected to be made sometime late summer or early fall. We’re not sure how many others are applying for these same grants but know there are farms applying from all parts of America. We will keep you updated and let you know if we were successful or not.

The whole process of working on this grant has taught me a valuable lesson; there are organizations, like the Small Business Association, that are designed specifically to help small business owners solve problems. These problems could be financial in nature but may also involve education, how to staff your business, how to market a product, how to write an annual business plan or marketing plan, or a host of other issues small business owners face daily. These organizations are here to help you when needed but can’t help you if they don’t know you need help. In our situation we weren’t looking for help as such, but had no idea there were funds available to help us expand our products and build a stronger future. Even if we are not successful in getting this grant, what we have learned by going through this process is invaluable.

Please don’t forget to tell your neighbors about Pastured Pantry. This home delivery service continues to grow and is a great way of getting our products delivered right to your door for the same amount you’d pay buying at the farm.

Thank you for your continued support of our farm. We hope you enjoy what’s left of February and are looking forward to March and the start of planting season.

Annie, Marc, Amy, & Jesse

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