JANUARY ON THE FARM
January has been one of the craziest months I’ve ever seen. For starters, the weather is more representative of May than January. Our lawn is green, early season weeds are growing, and some trees have begun to have small buds on them. We’ve had more rain than normal which has caused us some issues in the hog lots, around our compost pile, and in some of the heavier used places in our pastures like around the hay rings. The weather issues, delivery schedule changes, and a host of other last minute schedule changes or people being out sick, has prevented us from starting our big winter project and has had us running from one task to another. Last week Jesse and I put up a string outline of 2 pens but haven’t gotten the time to set the first post. And lastly, all of the work associated with ending a year, getting ready for tax season, and the other stuff we all hate doing has taken up its share of time. We’ll be glad to get all of this behind us and get back to a normal routine.
Chicken processing is finally back to normal after being stopped in early December because of the large number of hogs the plant had to do for the Holidays. In the last 3 weeks we’ve taken around 1,200 chickens to the plant and finally have our stock back to acceptable levels.
We are well stocked in pork as well and have plenty of hogs on the ground to help insure we have a good supply of pork into the summer. We continue to have 3 to 5 litters a month and have seen some very good litter numbers. Two of the most recent litters have been of 10 and 13 pigs. They are currently 3 weeks old and will be weaned next week. Last week we had a litter of 8 born and another litter of 12; we have 2 more sows in this group yet to farrow. Our goal is 10 pigs weaned per litter so we are very excited to see the overall improvement in our breeding program over the past 2 years.
We expect to empty one of our hog grow lots within the next 3 weeks. Rather than planting this lot in grazing for another group of pigs, the timing makes it right for us to use the lot to plant our family garden. We’re planning on using the lot for our garden into July before planting it in grazing for the pigs or letting the pigs glean the remaining vegetables and the plants. We think there is plenty of fertility in the ground to allow us to grow a good crop without any additional fertilizer. Hopefully we can keep the deer out!
In late October or early November we planted winter rye grass and oats on 3 of our fields. The cows are grazing one of the fields and will be moved into the back field in the next week or two. Normally we try to plant the winter grazing the first week in October but the weather was still too hot and it was extremely dry. We decided to wait until we had some rain and got closer to when we normally see the first cool down. I think we made the right decision. Our grazing is looking very good and will provide fresh grass to the cows for most of the remaining winter and early spring. Our best estimate is that we will end up using only 70% of the hay that we anticipated using this winter.
We have begun discussing our turkey requirements for 2020 and expect to be placing our orders with the hatchery by the beginning of March. This past year turkey sales remained about average but our total amount of lbs sold was down roughly 2-1/2 lbs per bird. Doesn’t sound like much but it adds up when you’re selling several hundred birds. Some of the issue was the hot summer, like us the birds don’t eat as much when it’s hot. We also lost a shipment of turkeys in June. The hatchery did make the order good but it took a month to get the replacements which took off the growing time we needed to get them to the weights we required.
Normally we begin taking turkey orders the first of January but are currently unable to do so. Please be patient, we are trying to get the turkey order page, as well as other pages on the website, up and running. We will keep you posted when the page is in operation and capable of taking your reservation.
We’ve been asked several times when we would be hosting our annual Family Day on the Farm. We didn’t hold the event last year due to a variety of issues that got us way behind on things on the farm and prevented us from spending the time required to prepare and host the event. This year we are looking at hosting 2 events. The first is a new event to the Low Country; it’s the Art and Ag Tour. The Art and Ag tour has been held for several years in the upstate but in December, the committee decided to bring the format to the Low Country. Colleton County has been asked to be the first county in the area to host the event and has asked us to participate. We have filled out our application and are awaiting the committee’s approval.
For those not familiar with the Art and Ag Tour, it is a free self guided tour of participating area farms. Each of the farms involved will be paired with an artist. While visiting the farm, tour goers will get to talk with both the farmers and the artists. The farms will be open for either self guided or guided tours and the artist will be practicing his or her craft. Tour goers will have the opportunity to purchase items from the farms and the artists. The scheduled tour dates are May 30 and 31. We will keep you posted as the committee makes they’re decision and as we get closer to the tour date.
Because of our participation in the Art and Ag tour, we will probably hold off on our Family Day on the Farm until sometime in the fall. The last one was held close to Thanksgiving which provided some cooler temperatures and made it more comfortable to be outside. It also provided an opportunity for people that ordered a turkey to come out and pick it up and tour the farm. It was a good start to the Holiday Season and a good end to our Thanksgiving rush. We’ll discuss it in some upcoming family meetings and announce it once the date has been set.
One of our major projects this year is to find ways to be more environmentally sound. We want to find better ways of packing our products that will work at both the farmers market and for home delivery. Currently we use paper bags at the market but paper doesn’t work for home delivery. The bags stick to the cooler and if the meat sweats, the bag tears which can cause problems with delivery. Reusable cloth bags are one solution but keeping up with them, or getting them back so they can be reused, can be an issue.
We are looking at other areas on the farm to try and be friendlier to the environment. We have set all of our delivery routes up to be as efficient as possible and are trying to make fewer runs to the processing plant. Just 1 less trip to the plant weekly saves roughly 15 gallons of fuel. If we can do this every other week we will save 390 gallons of fuel in a year. We are also sticking to a strict maintenance schedule to insure our vehicles and equipment are running as efficient as possible.
As we grow we are hoping that the additional waste from our chicken and farrowing house will provide us more compost that can be spread on additional fields. Right now we only produce enough waste to fertilize one of our larger fields or two of the smaller ones. We are also searching for ways of producing a large volume of compost tea that we could spray on our fields. We feel that using compost tea will fertilizer the grass as well as provide beneficial bacteria to the land. Farming has been blamed for a lot of problems we are facing with the environment. We are trying to do everything we possibly can to minimize the damage our farm does and to try and make our land better than it was when we got it.
The Port Royal Farmers Market has been a little busier than usual so far and our restaurant business will begin picking up around Valentine’s Day and be in full swing come early March with the start of the Charleston Wine and Food Festival. 2020 has just begun and we are really looking forward to what the next several months have in store.
We have a lot of stuff in the works that we will talk about in the upcoming weeks and months: let’s just say we are very excited to get this year going. Have a great February and enjoy the great winter weather. Thanks for all of your support.
Annie, Marc, Amy & Jesse