April 2019 Newsletter
Whats Going On At The Farm April 2019
Lots happening around here right now. In fact at times we're not sure how it will all get done.
On May 3rd we have a group of pre-schoolers visiting the farm from First Baptist Church in Walterboro. We expect about 50 people in the group including teachers, parents, and the little ones; should be a lot of fun. On Monday May 6th we have a group of ministers and their wives, about 25 total, coming out to see the farm and sometime during that week or the next, the Charleston City Paper is scheduled to be here to take pictures and interview us and two of the chefs that purchase from us. It will be a busy couple of weeks.
As much work as hosting these tours is, we feel its important to be as transparent as possible about how we raise the food that our customers put on their tables. That's why we send out monthly newsletters and post frequently on Facebook. We post lots of pictures on Facebook so our customers can see that we truly are doing what we say we're doing. We want you to see the green pastures, the chickens out in the lots early in the mornings, and the pigs wallowing around in a mud puddle on a hot afternoon. Being transparent also means that we show and tell you about the bad; though we try, things don't always work out and bad things happen. What we do here is different than what the big corporations do and we want everyone to know about it. We want our customers to have confidence that the farm they purchase from is doing things right, that the animals are being cared for and treated with respect. The market at the farm is open every Monday AND Friday afternoon from 1 until 5. Our customers are always welcome and encouraged to walk around the farm and see everything for themselves.
The new farrowing house is nearly complete. We've built a temporary alleyway to move the expecting sows from their lots to the house and have everything in the house completed. We still have to purchase new baby pig feeders and waterers, install fans, and build a sliding front and back door but everything else is complete and the house is usable. On Friday Jesse and I moved in a couple of our older sows that are expected to farrow in the next few days. We felt that the older sows would be better suited to use as the test group to make sure everything is working as expected. We are keeping close eyes on these sows and plan on being present during the farrowing to make sure everything goes as planned. Pictures of the completed house, the pig brooding areas, and straw bedded pens with the sows in them, have been posted on Facebook.
With the farrowing house nearly completed our attention is turned to formallizing the final design of the permanent alleyway, the new boar pen, and the 4 or 5 new grow-out lots that will complete our hog project. This has been a massive project that I, as usual, totally underestimated as to the amount of time it would take us to complete. I had hoped that we would have the building, alleyway, and boar pen completed by now leaving only the grow-out lots to be completed next fall and winter. Though behind, our plans for not working on these projects during the hot summer months hasn't changed.
Clementine finally had her calf. We got to her just as she was finishing up cleaning the little calf and pushing the calf back to her utters to feed. Both momma and baby are fine. By far, Clementine is the best momma cow we have ever had. She trusts us completely and will allow us to get close enough to inspect her and the calf. We have posted pictures of Clementine and her calf on Facebook.
With our hayfield and pastures greening up, we can disk the remaining winter rye grass and oats that we had planted in the back field and used as winter grazing. Once disked, the field will be planted in Sorghum Sudan grass and used as supplimental summer grazing. Sorghum Sudan is fast growing and should provide grazing from mid June through mid September when we disk the field again and plant for winter grazing.
The home delivery service provided by Amy and Jesse through Pastured Pantry has really taken off. Recently they have had so many orders that we have begun disussing the need to possibly add additional delivery days. They're not there yet but it is an issue that will have to be faced if things continue as they have been.
Pastured Pantry has begun working with John Zander to provide vegetables to their home delivery customers. John is a farmer friend from Smoaks that was in the commercial vegetable production business for most of his life. Several years ago he retired from commercial production and scaled down to a small market farm. During past years we have worked with John to supply several of the local restaurants with vegetables and are doing so again this year. John isn't organic but uses as little chemical inputs as possible on his crops. Amy will send out a list of what he has available when she sends out the home delivery reminder email.
Pastured Pantry is also working with G & M Farm this year to provide lamb and quail to their home delivery customers. Its early in the lamb season but we expect to be able to supply lamb through July and possibly into August. Now you will be able to get your chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb, and quail, vegetables, milk, butter, cheese, maple syrup, and Amish jams delivered right to your door; and at the same price as you would pay at the market.
Something that has really gotten my attention lately, and is something I really don't understand, is why a lot of farmers, especially smaller operations, are either afraid of technology or just flat refuse to use it. This has become increasingly obvious while working with the local committee we have participated in since January. I know a lot of the smaller farmers dislike the large operators but those farms got large for a reason and taking a close look at those farms might provide some insight as to what they are doing differently and what might work on the smaller farm.
Most large farmers have adapted modern technology into their operations. Most run tractors that are equiped with GPS technology and auto steer. Once the tractor runs accross the field once, the field is mapped, and the tractor will run within an inch of its original track each and every time it goes into the field. A lot of the new tractors and equipment come with other technologies that operate through the GPS system. Some of this technology will map a field and allow the farmer to apply just the right amount of fertilizer, herbicide, or other needed chemicals rather than the farmer applying the same amounts over every inch of the field. This saves the farmer money as well as keeps the amount of chemicals sprayed to a minimum. Anything that lowers the amount of chemicals these farmers spray is fine with us.
Combines are equiped with technology that is connected to the tractors GPS system and to the farmers IPad. As the combine travels the field harvesting the crop, the yields are displayed in the cab for the operator to see. This same information is sent out to the cloud and is later downloaded on the farmers Ipad to allow them to review the data at home, in the shop, or sitting in their pickup at the edge of a field. This technology allows the farmer to see every inch of their field and see what the yield was in small areas. The information can be reviewed, problem areas identified, and changes made to fix any fertility problems in these smaller areas in the field.
There is a ton of technology out there that provides the farmer with information through their phone. Today farmers that utilize center pivots for watering they're crops can monitor the amount of water applied to each field and turn the pivots on and off right from they're phones. This used to take hours for farmers to drive to each of their fields, check the rain gauges, and cut the pivot on or off. Confinement chicken and hog farmers can now monitor their houses through their phones. They can raise and lower curtains, cut fans on and off, and are alerted when one of the systems fail. It wouldn't take but a few minutes of the fans failing in a large chicken house before birds would begin dying and not much more time before all 20,000 birds in the house would die.
All of this technology isn't cheap and does take some time to learn how to use, but most of the larger, successful farmers, believe that this technology adds to they're ability to be successful. It allows them to produce the highest yielding crops at the lowest possible cost and allows them a profit. But not all of this technology is expensive or hard to use.
A lot of this technology would have no use on our farm. We don't plant crops and don't have large confinement houses. Our operation is very simple and does things the way farmers used to farm. However, we do use a good bit of technology and are always looking to find new technology that would help us farm better.
A few years ago we installed Quick Books and began using it to keep all of the farms financial information. Within seconds of sitting down behind the computer we can have specific reports run to provide the information we need to make decisions. Quick Books is attached to the POS system we use at farmers markets on Saturday and here at the market on the farm. A click of a button and all of the sales we made at the market are sent to us via an emailed report. We can see total sales along with how many of each product we sold. This keeps us informed on what products are selling and whats not selling so we can adjust our inventory accordingly. Another program we have automatically downloads the information into Quick Books saving Annie over 5 hours a week of entering the information manually. That alone adds a lot of time that can be used more productivly than sitting behind a computer screen entering old information.
We also use apps on our phone to help us on a daily basis. One app that everyone here has loaded onto their phone allows us to maintain inventory records. This helps us keep track of feed usage, how many chickens or hogs we will have ready to process, when they will be ready to process, and what we have in stock in our walkin freezers at any given time. We can also see when sows were bred and when they will be due to farrow plus we can see what sows are giving us the number of pigs we need and which ones don't. Like any computer system, it is very important to take the time and enter the correct information and keep things updated. Old information or incorrect information doesn't do any good and can actually cause issues down the road.
A couple of years ago we purchased an old 1970 International hammer mill. At the time, this was considered "modern technology" and allowed the farmer to grind feed right on the farm rather than having it done at a feed mill. This one purchase has saved us both time and money and allowed us to formulate our feeds to meet the animals needs for the different stages of its life. We couldn't raise the number of animals that we do annually without this piece of equipment. Each week we fill 5 hog feeders that hold 2,000 lbs of feed each. The mill grinds our feed and an auger moves the feed from our mill into the feeders. The mill is powered by one of our tractors and the tractor pulls it to wherever we need to unload the feed. We used to fill these feeders using feed from a mill that came in 50lb bags. We would lift 200 of these bags weekly and empty them into the feeders, thats lifting 10,000 lbs. Before we could put the feed in the feeders we would have to move it from the feed room out to the field which meant lifting those same 200 bags and putting them on the back of the gator to transport them to the hogs. Thats 20,000 lbs that had to be lifted weekly to keep the hogs fed. When you added in what was fed to the chickens and turkeys, we were lifting around 36,000 lbs of feed a week. There is no way that that would be sustainable and would surely hamper our ability to grow.
No matter the size of the farm, technology is something that should be looked into providing an opportunity for the farmer to determine if the cost of the technology is worth what it would save the farmer in time or how much it would increase the farms crop yields. A farm will never grow to profitable levels if the farm family isn't willing and able to invest time and money into looking for technological advantages for their farm. A farm can't expect to raise a few hundred chickens, some hogs, and a few steers and expect to generate enough income to support a family. Farming is a numbers game, you have to raise enough crops or animals, and sell them at a price that customers can afford while covering all of the farms cost of production. Technology can help acheive this and allows the farm to increase the number of animals it is capable of producing. We are all proud to be small farmers, but have to look at ways of becoming small, profitable, farms.
We thank you for your continued support of our farm. Please tell your friends and family about Pasture Pantry and their home delivery service; it really is a bargain and allows you to enjoy your off time and still get high quality, locally produced products. If you have a chance to come out to Walterboro, try to do so on a Monday or Friday and stop by the farm. Take a walk around and see how the meat you put on your table is raised, there really is a difference.
Have a great month.
Annie, Marc, Amy & Jesse