Wow! It has been a long time since we wrote a newsletter- so… lots to cover.
This year has been a struggle. A struggle that is necessary to get where we want to be as a farm/business/citizen. The elimination of corn, soy and GMOs in the broiler ration has been difficult. The growth rates on the broilers went from 8 weeks with corn/soy to 14-16 weeks without. This added a lot of expense to a pound of chicken. We ran a trial last year with good results, so we were slow to react this year when things weren’t going well. We tried different hatcheries, leaving the one we have used for years in hopes that it would solve the issue- it didn’t. So we sat down and started working on the ration again. We have made some tweaks- mainly the addition of safflower seeds from Maupin to raise the fat content that may have dripped too low when the corn was removed. The last batch of the season is out of the brooder and is looking pretty good. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we will have a chicken day after Thanksgiving.
So is it all worth it? Not sure. Sometimes I feel that we are having a bit of mission creep. The life of the animal is where we differentiate ourselves the most from the other guys- and this remains our primary charter. We cater to the animals’ natural instincts before we consider the convenience of the farmer. We have never deviated from this practice. The mission has crept off the farm a bit- getting more and more engrossed with the politics of each grain, how it is processed, and what is its primary purpose. It gets complicated- quick. But on the other hand…we have to practice what we preach. We cannot say ‘ know your farmer’ and then buy grains off a train car from Minnesota- we have to know too! Right now we are working under the philosophy that if we can- we should. So, if we can raise our animals without importing grains from around the world, without corn, without soybeans, without byproducts – we should. As it stands now – I still believe we can do this. In the meantime, production is down and costs are up…a struggle that we hope is worth it. I would really like to know how you feel about this- is this important to you?
The hog operation changed significantly this year as well (the hog ration has always been corn, soy and GMO free –BTW). We farrowed all the little ones on the farm this year. This was a fantastic learning curve and we plan to stick with it- with one major modification. We are planning to only farrow in the spring. Farrowing year round has created ‘drifts’ of pigs everywhere on the farm- the boars by the pond, the last litter on the North field, the sows in the far East paddock. This has made it difficult to grow crops specifically for the pigs, limited our ability to rest the land as long as we would like, and it is difficult to manage.
Next year we plan to farrow 12-15 gilts all at once. We have a paddock of triticale growing that should be ready by the time the girls will ready to give birth. We plan to keep all the pigs together until weaning time where the little ones will be off to the alfalfa field for finishing. This means that we will finally have shares to offer! This is by far the biggest request we get – can I get a whole/half pig? We will finally be answering yes- how many! Right now we are farrowing and harvesting all year round- which really helps with the cash flow. Raising a hundred pigs without harvesting any will be difficult and we will likely ask for a deposit well in advance of harvest. More on that soon!! We are really excited about this method- far more sustainable than our current methods.
Eggs are stable and we do not plan many changes for next year. Last year we were able to rotate the hen huts throughout the winter and will do so again this year. Our dilemma with eggs has always been lighting. We do not use artificial lighting for our hens. 14 hours of light means eggs….less than 14 means very few eggs. We price eggs knowing that we will have very little production for half of the year. It does frustrate us to know that customers are willing to pay 25% more for eggs that are force molted, artificially lit, non- pastured, and fed dried-up extruded paste- just because they are local. But cheaper, fatter, faster is not our mission….you are not paying for the eggs as much as you’re paying for the life of the hen. And hens do not eat extruded feed, or shed their feathers quickly, or need night lights.
Things will pick up for eggs after the winter solstice and we will start up the Winter Drops after the New Year.
FFA Fruit and Potatoes
We have decided not to work with the FFA group this year. Last year there were complaints about the quality of the apples, a couple of order mix ups, and we didn’t get a single response on our Facebook survey to stay the course. We will continue to look for ways to connect you with other producers, however, this offer may have run its course.
What a nightmare the sheep have been!! Okay, maybe that is a bit extreme. The ram wants your knee-caps, the ewes will stand on a foot of grass and still push their way through the fence for no good reason, hot wire has been useless, and herding sheep should be left to qualified dogs…not short-tempered humans. Now for the good news- we think we have a working model! If the ewes like leaning on fences….let ‘em…and let them move them too. We have made a corral of cattle panels to hold the sheep, however, we have turned them upside down so the smooth side is on the ground. Now when the ewes lean through the bars they can actually slide the pen to fresh grass. Now that the hay is up the sheep can really make tracks around the farm- continually moving to fresh grass whenever they need too. This is management intensive grazing (MiG) without the management. If we can continue to refine this model we may be adding more sheep to the farm.
I saved the worst for last. We will not have any turkeys this year. Early in August we had a predator (possibly a Raccoon) get into the brooder house and wiped out the Turkeys. Turkeys are very fragile early in life and when the raccoon was in the brooder; the entire group dog piled in the corners. We had great luck with the early Turkeys and the breast steaks were well received, so we will try again next year with both off-season parts and Holiday birds.
Thanks so much for supporting us- we are thrilled to be able to live this life!
The Crew at the Great American Egg