This year marks our second full year and we are facing very real struggles and obstacles to our very survival as a farm. Recently, I posted on our blog about a new direction for our farm, but I primarily spoke of our cows. If we are going to have any longevity, we are having to sit back and weigh some very significant choices, options and strategies. Many factors are at play, among which include: 1. The weather, 2. Feed cost, 3. The market, 4. Our family.
The weather this year has been absolutely unlike any year I recall in the past 20 years. Already, we have surpassed our yearly average for precipitation. This has hit us extra hard in regards to the garden and in some cases, our animals. After years of extreme summer heat with severe drought, finding a way to adjust with this year’s shift in weather pattern has been overwhelming. We can almost always add more water with irrigation, but there is nothing that can be done about excess water. We are chomping at the bit to start planting fall crops, but mud can’t be tilled nor can it be planted in. I am finally having to declare the vegetable production a complete bust for the remainder of the year. If by some miracle we can get something planted and if we see a promising result, we will gladly call all CSA customers in to get more shares. For now though I am having to say that I am not very optimistic, but I am hoping for the best. I am certain however, that there will not be a veggie CSA in 2014.
This year we made the decision to switch to soy-free organic feed. We mad this decision because we learned what a detriment Genetically Modified Organisms are to our health, the environment, and our entire food system.This brought about a very sharp increase to our feed bill and those of you who buy chicken from us since the beginning have seen this reflected in the price of the chicken. This has also presented a problem in managing our poultry production as well. When we first started, we were basically feeding the same stuff the commercial growers feed (minus the antibiotics). Growing chicken without soy is a whole new ball game and getting dialed in on balancing feeding volume and weather conditions has been extremely challenging. After losing a large number of birds at the beginning of the year and then having a batch that grew extremely poor in size, we made the decision to extend the growing period for the next batch of birds to guard against the risk of another under-sized chicken harvest. I believe we are going to some good sized birds on the 31st, we really need them to be to get ourselves out of the red.
We’ve also had to look at those areas of the farm that are not making us money or worse, are strictly costing us money. There is virtually no market for rabbit, they are a tremendous amount of work, and so we are completely shutting down our rabbit operation. Our laying hens consume more than any other animal on the farm, with exception to our broilers and the volume of eggs we sell is not sustainable enough to manage the flock we have. We’ve had to sell off our excess eggs at a wholesale cost to see some cash flow, which can leave us short at times to have eggs available to loyal customers. We bought two batches of baby turkeys this year, and all we did was lose money on them as they all committed suicide, so no more turkeys. I do see a viable future for raising pork, but not here. I am working to set up an area on land my grandmother owns near Rockmart to raise pigs on pasture and in the forest.
I at first was quite resistant to the idea of producing raw milk for sale, because I knew just how demanding it would be. So we started off with cows just for our own milk consumption. Now I see an increasing demand for it, yet there are no other farmers getting into it. I also see that producing milk will be the anchor that keeps this farm here, and so we are going to make raw milk our primary product. What this means is that we are going to have to sell off our Dexter cows. Though they are good little milk cows, their volume just isn’t enough to be sustainable. Plus we need the cash to purchase a top quality Jersey or two and to make some needed improvements. This has been one of my hardest decisions. These are the cows I learned to milk with and I have come to know each of them as individuals. I will always have a place in my heart for them, but those who are seeking raw milk are not willing to pay a premium simply because it came from a rare breed cow. We do have a Jersey cow who is lactating, and we have her heifer who will be a future milker so we are still accepting just a few more dairy customers. After we meet capacity, we will start a waiting list until we can increase production.
Choosing to farm has been a tremendous adjustment for our family and to be perfectly honest, it has been a strain. Our extended family thinks we’ve lost our minds, ok they think I’ve lost my mind. Our children put in as may hours per week as most do at a full time job, but they do not enjoy the compensation one would expect from their employer. They have worked very hard and accepted farm life as a matter of fact, but I’ve struggled with whether I’ve denied them some of the enjoyment one expects from childhood. Katie has been my number one supporter and has trusted me to make the right decisions for our family in this endeavor. Every third day, while I’m away at the fire station, she takes on the full weight of managing the farm, feeding/watering all livestock, gathering eggs, pulling weeds, milking cows, moving chickens. Then she has an OLD house to manage, kids to feed (they like to eat 3x’s a day), kids to teach, kids to bathe, and kids to discipline. She does all this without pulling out her hair or a bath tub to soak in. Yes that’s right, for two years she’s had to go to her parent’s house to take a hot bath rather than a shower. So, after the September 23 chicken day, we are going to take a very short but much needed family vacation. Some very good, supportive friends have offered to take care of the chores, and hold the farm together while we are gone.
I apologize for such a long narrative and thank you for taking the time to read this. I feel it’s important for me to be completely open, honest, and transparent not only about what we produce, but the toll it takes to do it and frankly, I’ve only touched a tip of the iceberg. I cannot express enough my thanks to all of you who’ve stood by us, support us, and believe in us. So many of you have celebrated our successes and without a moment’s hesitation, comforted us in our failures which are really tough lessons. From those lessons, we are learning to hone our skills as well as business acumen into what we hope translates into a long lasting success. From the very bottom of our hearts, thank you and bless you.