AUGUST ON THE FARM
August, in fact the whole summer, has flown by. I’m not complaining mind you, I’m not a fan of hot weather and never will be. I live for the other 8 to 9 months in South Carolina when I can work comfortably and enjoy the days outside.
Jesse and I finished building the feed bin a couple of weeks ago. The mill sent a truck out to fill it and in less than 5 minutes the driver had augured 4 tons of feed into the bin. Last week we hooked up the auger wagon, put ¾ of a ton in it, and headed out to the chicken field to fill the feeders. I was shocked when I filled 300lb feeders in under a minute! What used to take 2 hours or so was done in under an hour and accomplished without the backache of handling 50 lb bags of feed. This project will probably go down as one of the best investments the farm has ever made.
Filling the chicken feeders twice a week will also cut down on the work that has to be done on the farm daily, especially weekends. In the past it has taken someone working half a day on Saturday and half a day on Sunday to do the daily chores. Now, the chores will only take roughly 2 hours to complete both days on the weekends and holidays. This alone is a huge benefit to all of us.
We had hoped that the feed bin would be the last project for the summer and that we could concentrate on doing the daily tasks including the large amount of mowing we have to do weekly. It hasn’t panned out that way however. Once we finished the bin, Annie had an idea that she wanted tested. Our chicken houses and brooders are bedded with wood chips which require weekly maintenance and a periodic cleaning out. Every 4 weeks the brooders are cleaned out and new shavings put down with the field houses cleaned out every 8 weeks. Annie wants us to try using a deep bedding method that was used on farms years ago. This method uses the heat generated from the decomposing shaving to keep the birds warm during cold weather. Any clumps of soiled or wet shavings are removed from the house daily with small amounts of new shavings added between flocks. Using this method requires us to make a few changes to the house before putting in new shavings and getting the chicks set up. The goal of this test is to cut down on the amount of wood shavings we use along with the labor of cleaning the houses out so often. The bacteria in the shavings help to eliminate the ammonia left from the chicken poop and acts as a natural cleaning agent. Old studies have found that a deep bedded system is actually safer and healthier for the chickens than a system that uses new shavings with each flock. When cleaned out, the wood shavings are already composted and ready to be spread on the fields. We’re going to try it on one house and see if we get the same results.
A couple of weeks ago we turned the cows into our 8 acre field of Sorghum Sudan grass. We expected to let them graze the field for a week, pull them out, and turn them back in around the first week of September. We got busy and only checked on the cows when they came in for water rather than monitoring them in the field. In just a little over 2 weeks, the cows have stripped all of the Sorghum Sudan stalks in the field. There’s still some grass out there but the good eating on the Sorghum is all but gone. Luckily the rains have our other fields looking good which will provide the cows enough grazing for at least another 6 weeks. Around the 2nd or 3rd week in September, we’ll disk the Sorghum Sudan grass under and plant winter rye grass and forage oats for the cows to graze on this winter.
The summer heat has created breeding issues with our hogs. In the past we have had an “open”, not bred, sow or two during the hot summer months but this year we have had groups of sows come up open. In fact the last sow to farrow was back in mid June. We aren’t sure if the sows didn’t take when bred or if they aborted early in the pregnancy because of the heat. We are thinking it was a combination of both. We don’t think it is a problem with the boars since it is rare that both boars would fail at the same time and the litters sired by these boars and farrowed in June were large, one sow had a litter of 16. We do have a few sows that are beginning to show and are due to farrow in September with others farrowing in October. Our old boars are with some of our older sows now and will be sent to a friend’s farm in early September. Our new boars are still in a separate pen and are now at the right age and size to begin breeding. We will begin using these boars in mid September and hope to be out of the summer heat by then.
This is the time of year that we always apply for our annual operating loan with Ag South. Part of the loan process is to provide financial documentation including a profit and loss statement, last year’s tax returns, a balance sheet, and an annual business plan. We’re good on everything but the business plan at this point. Normally we are running on auto pilot when it comes to our business plan. We know our production numbers, have a good idea where our restaurant customers will be and what they will probably be using, and have past numbers to use as a guide to determine our farm market sales. All of this has gone out the window with the pandemic. Our restaurant sales are down over 70% and change weekly and our farm market and home delivery business is almost double what it was a year ago though it is slower the past couple of months than it was it March through May when the store shelves were empty. Overall the farms sales are better than expected and at a sustainable level which is a blessing considering how tough things are for most people.
We are currently having family meetings and building the business plan we will operate under for the next 12 months. The focus of our plan will be individuals and families. We’re going to concentrate on serving our family customers through home delivery and farm market sales. We are working on new products like the boneless country ribs we offered a few weeks ago and are looking at the possibility of offering specific “bundles” at special prices during certain times of the year. We expect to increase the amount of smoked hams and sausages that we produce and are working with the smoke house on sausage ingredients and other issues that our customers have expected from our products. We often receive comments about our prices and how much higher they are than grocery store prices. There is no way that we will ever be competitive with the grocery stores due to a host of issues but we hope to be able to offer product specials that would allow families to purchase certain items at lower than normal cost. There is so much that we want to do and so much that needs to be done that we will have to do it over several weeks and months. It’s like the old saying we’ve all heard so many times, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. The same holds true for everything we want to get done in the next year.
Many of you follow us on Facebook. Recently we posted videos of the new feed bin in operation and newly arrived chicks in the brooder. We’re hoping that by making these short videos you can get a better feel of what is happening here daily. This weekend Annie ran across a video made in 2015 for a Proud to be a South Carolina Farmer promotion and posted it on Facebook; it’s nice seeing how the farm has changed in just 5 years. In 2015 we were visited by P Allen Smith and filmed for one of his shows. After filming we kept in touch for a few years and provided each other tips on raising chickens. He was impressed with our “new” brooder house at the time and considered building one like it. Not sure what he did after we told him we were not as happy with it and were building a different type of brooder which we are still using today. Maybe we’ll post that video as well.
Amy has added the Holiday ham order form to the website. If interested in ordering a ham, don’t wait, it will take us 6 to 8 weeks to get the hams to the plant to cure and smoke. We have some there now and expect to take the last batch of hams that could possibly be ready for the Holidays in the next 3 weeks.
Thanks again for your continued support. You’re always welcome to come out and tour the farm on Mondays and Fridays during market hours (1 until 5). Come see how your food is raised and get to know the people that raise it and pack your orders. I promise they won’t bite.
Have a great September and enjoy the Labor Day holiday.
Annie, Marc, Amy, and Jesse