To say it’s been hot would be an understatement. The heat index here has been well over 100 for the past 3 weeks keeping us busy cutting misters on for the chickens and turkeys and sprinklers on for the hogs. Fortunately, we have only lost 1 hog and a few chickens to the heat which is fantastic considering even the night time temps have been high leaving little time for the animals to cool down. Even with high daytime temps, the animals will do ok if they are allowed to cool down over night. Last year there were over 10,000 cows that died in Kansas over a 3 to 4 day period. Daytime temps were hot, the humidity was high, there was little to no wind, and the night time temps remained considerably higher than normal. It was the perfect storm that no rancher could prepare for and the result was over 10,000 dead cows. Thankfully we haven’t experienced anything like that during the years we’ve been farming but we seem to be battling longer periods of high temps and high humidity every year. This coming week we are expecting a tropical system coming out of Florida that will provide some much needed rain and is expecting to drop the temps into the low 80’s. I know the animals will appreciate this as much as we will.
If you have been following us on Facebook you will have seen our posts about the diagnosis of PRRS in our hog breeding herd. PRRS stands for Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome. It is a disease that causes many issues in the breeding herd, sows that cycle into heat but don’t take to mating, mid to late term abortions, mummified pigs, weak pigs if born alive, and a death loss between 80% and 100% in litters that are born live. PRRS is the nation’s most costly swine disease costing America’s hog producers $654 million a year. It came into the US sometime in the early 1990s and spread quickly throughout the country. There is no cure for PRRS and once a herd is infected an outbreak can take 8 to 12 months to run its course; we feel we first got it sometime between November 2022 and February 2023 based on the number of open sows we began seeing this past spring. PRRS will normally have a 3 to 4 month period that has extremely high death losses in any litters farrowed; we feel that we have been in that phase for the past 2 to 3 months and hope to be moving out of that phase shortly. Once a herd is infected, PRRS will remain in the herd forever. The only way a producer can battle the disease is through herd immunity and a strict vaccination plan. We have vaccinated the herd and are currently working towards building herd immunity; the vaccine used is one of the “live” vaccines which have been out on the market since the late ninety’s or early 2000’s. PRRS is transmitted through the air and from manure and urine that can be spread from animal to animal in the pens or on the boots of the farmer. It can also be transmitted through contact with wild pigs which there are a good number of around our area. We discussed a course of action when our vet visited the farm a few weeks ago. He also contacted a large hog farmer friend of his, one that raises hogs in confinement and raises thousands a year, and asked what they did when their herd became infected several years ago. With his friend’s advice, and our vet’s knowledge of the possible secondary infections that we may see, we developed a plan that should move us through this outbreak.
We currently have 3 gilts in the farrowing house, 1 gilt farrowed 9 alive a week ago while the other 2 should be ready to farrow in the next week or so. So far the 9 born are doing great giving us hope we are beginning to see the end of this PRRS outbreak; we’ll know more once the other 2 give birth. We have more sows bred with litters expected in late September into early October, a few in November, and several recently bred and expected to farrow in December.
While the vet was here he looked at our cow herd and computed their body scores. He was impressed how they looked and with the few flys he saw on them. Sometimes it seems no matter what we do we can’t keep the flys away during the summer but for some reason, what we’ve done this year has worked pretty well. We’ve only had to treat them twice and have seen little fly activity on them for most of the summer.
One of the things our vet wanted to look at was our pastures. I took him through the hay field and one of the two 4 acre Bahia grass fields. The Bahia field I took him too had just been mowed 2 weeks earlier to about 4” in height; the grass was now 10” in height and was currently being grazed. He knew we had been working hard on our pastures and that we were working towards raising 1-1/2 to 2 cows per acre as our goal (1 cow per acre is the recommending stocking rate). There is no doubt that even with the dryer spring we had, our pastures could have handled an additional 20 head of cows without doing any damage or lengthening our resting time. The real test will come this winter when we begin winter grazing of these same fields. Last year we raised 6 additional cows on 10 round bales less than we fed our herd the previous winter. We will be extremely happy if we can raise 6 to 8 more head on the same number of bales this year as we did last year.
For the past few years we have been spreading granular fertilizer in the early spring, nitrogen in July, and another 200 lbs of granular per acre when we plant the winter grazing in October. We have also foliar sprayed some micro nutrients along with bacteria and microbes to help build soil health. These foliar additives were added to our 20-20-20 mix that we sprayed 45 days after the granular was put out. We also made a few extra trips across the fields throughout the year to foliar feed our grass. We are currently looking into another product that claims to be able to reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers over a period of 3 years and is 100% organic; we are seriously considering using it on a few acres as a trial. Along with growing more grass, it has to grow higher quality, more nutritious, grass to actually be considered a success for us. If the trial is successful, we would happily use it on all our pastures.
Once September gets here we will begin working towards getting our fields ready to plant the winter grazing. We have been running the cows hard in the 2 smaller Bahia grass fields letting them eat the grass as short as possible. Letting them eat it down makes it easier to bush hog and leaves less thatch to try and plant through. We will bush hog those fields late the first week in September or early the next. The 10 acre Bahia field has been resting for over a month and is ready for them to begin grazing; this field should provide enough grass to last them 30 or more days. In the meantime, the Bermuda field is resting and getting the last of the season’s growth. We expect to turn the herd into this field in mid to late October giving them another 3 weeks or so of grazing before we have to begin feeding hay.
We’d like to say a heartfelt thanks to all of our customers that have been supporting our on-farm market over the years. Many of you have been sharing our Facebook posts and telling your friends about us. In just the past 5 months we have seen our on-farm market sales jump over 300% and are still seeing the numbers rising. Our Palmetto Provision products have been extremely well received while sales of our Palmetto Provision Family Box have exceeded our expectations. Keep an eye out for announcements of whole Palmetto Provision rib or strip loins or Keegan-Filion pork loins that are offered for sale. You can buy the whole loin and have it cut to your desired thickness. It’s a great way to get our high quality meats cut to your specifications while saving a few dollars. Those of you that don’t live around Walterboro and can’t make the drive out here can still purchase our products and have them delivered to your home; we make weekly delivery runs to Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Summerville, Goose Creek, John and James Island, and Moncks Corner. Don’t forget to ask about our loyalty program and the savings it provides.
We’ve been really busy working on some things that will get Amy and Jesse’s plans for the farms future moving forward. We are hoping we can share these things in the very near future and know that you will be as excited about them as we are.
Thanks for your continued support of our farm. We hope that you enjoyed the summer and are ready for the cooler temps of fall and all that it brings.
Annie, Marc, Amy, and Jesse