Archive for the ‘Daniel’ Category

No More “NON-GMO” Feed

As of 2018, we will no longer be feeding feeds that are NON-GMO. Oh, we’re not switching to GMOs if that’s what you’re thinking, we’re switching to Organic.

Some folks make the mistaken assumption that because Genetically Modified Organisms aren’t permitted in certified Organic products, on equates (or comes close to) the other. That’s far from the truth. I’ve recently learned the truth and it makes me sick. I have long believed that organic feedstuff contains far superior nutrition and would be the best choice for our animals, namely the ones we would be eating. We actually fed organic feed several years ago and suffered a financial loss when one of our freezers that was packed full of organic fed, pasture raised chicken quit working. We estimated that we lost about $3000 and for a very small operation, that was a huge loss. It was a loss big enough that we became hyper-cautious with our budget and sought out an alternative.

When I found Non-GMO feed from Tucker Milling, I thought I had found the holy grail. Well not holy but I believed this was the answer to all of our feed problems, but not just ours, this could be the answer for all small livestock producers. There’s no gmo corn, gmo soy, gmo cottonseed, gmo rape (canola) and it was so much more affordable! I thought that I would never look back, but here I am. After feeding it for several years, I can definitely say that it does not deliver anywhere close to the nutrition that an organic feed does. First of all, the birds we raised did not perform as well as the organic fed birds we raised in the past. They seem to be much more susceptible to environmental extremes and were not as robust. Plus, I have been able to do a near side by side comparison between the birds we raised this year and the ones raised by a friend who feeds organic.

Now when I first made the decision that we were not going to use feed from Tucker, I initially considered other Non-GMO feeds. Both Hiland Naturals and Resaca Sun Feeds are certified by the Non GMO Project. I was speaking with a friend about this and she shared with me an experience she had while picking up feed from Resaca’s feed mill. While sitting in their parking lot, she observes a tanker truck pull in, on that truck is the name  Monsanto. This tanker is delivering Glysophate (Roundup) and she watches as they fill the tank of a spay rig on a tractor, which then goes out into Resaca Sun’s fields and starts spraying. After hearing this, I called the Non GMO Project to ask if they certify products regardless of pesticide/herbicide use. Their answer, “Yes we do.” So even though they certify a product as being GMO free, it very well could (and probably does) contain grains that were sprayed with Roundup prior to harvest. Here’s a video I did on our YouTube channel about this.

So what are we supposed to do? How can I feed something I now know to be poisonous? I can’t. There is no other choice but to go Organic.

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What to Post…

Life has become extremely busy as of late and it’s difficult to find time to focus on writing. The only reason I am right now is because I am still up from a 3:00 call at the fire station.

Making the transition to a private food buying club has been exhausting and a bit tedious, especially with answering the endless stream of questions. I attempted to write a FAQ post, but as one can see, it hasn’t happened.

We’ve recently switched the breed of broiler we raise on the pasture from the commercial “Heritage White” from S&G to the Freedom Ranger. We are window shopping for cows to keep our growing number of farm club members supplied with milk. We presently have 8 pigs we are raising on pasture and expect them to be finished by November. We’ve lost the battle in the garden and are just trying to hold on to 10 tomato plants.

On a personal note, my oldest son graduated from high school and starts college this fall. Talk about feeling old.

Now it’s about time to clock out from fire fighting and clock in farming and relieve the most amazing woman from 24 hours of solo farming.

Could Confidence In Organics Be Overblown?

As our farm members, online followers and friends know, we now only purchase organic feed. There are a few reasons why.  Organic grains are grown without  synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides so they are better for our environment. Because they are grown without the chemicals, they are more nutrient dense and better for our livestock. Most importantly for me, using organic feed is the surest way to be confident that we are not feeding Genetically Modified Organisms to the animals who in turn nourish us. After coming to grips with what GMOs are, I tried to find a way around them.

Someone told me about a co-op that purchased bulk organic feed from Reedy Fork Farm and Feed Mill. I got on their email list and studied the price list, trying to figure out how to manage switching to organic feed that is considerably more expensive than conventional feed. I called up the farmer who headed up the co-op to get his take on switching over to organic feed. What he told me was somewhat disheartening. He told me that there is no money to be made feeding organic feed because consumers will not pay more than $5.00/dozen for eggs nor would they pay more than $4.50/lb for chicken.  He said that this was the reason he was no longer feeding organic, he was just keeping the co-op going to supply those who still wanted it. He urged me to look into a feed mill in Northwest GA that was producing non-GMO, conventional feed and so I did. I bought three tons of their feed and found out later that they could not promise me their feed was non-GMO for the next order. The last email I got from the Reedy Fork Co-op was that it was shutting down because the one coordinating it didn’t have time for it, especially since he was no longer feeding organic, and everyone was now on their own.

I had been going through the headache of finding a solution to the GMO conundrum along with my friends at My Dad and Me Family Farm. We agreed that the only way to ensure that we were collectively producing the best food possible (sans GMOs and Soy) was to go organic. We crunched numbers, prayed and one day they called me up and announced that they were now Countryside organics dealers. Here we are a year later, hundreds of chickens, thousands of eggs behind us, and now raw milk. It took us a good bit of trial and error to understand how to feed the organic feed rather than the crumbled soy and additive loaded conventional GMO feed to grow out a broiler, and the trick to keeping hens happy is just keep the feed available at all times. We also learned that alfalfa had been genetically modified and we started buying alfalfa pellets for our cows.

I think back to the statement made by guy who told me no one would pay more for eggs or chicken that was fed organic feed. Well he was wrong and customers of mine and My Dad & Me proved it. We found that once people were educated on what the significance was in feeding organic feed to produce the best food possible, they are glad to support it.

So how does all this even come close to reconciling the title of this post? Well I’ll tell you. A couple of days ago, I spotted a post on Facebook by the farmer who told me no one would pay for organic fed chicken and eggs. He had put up a picture of some free range chickens, out on a pasture, next to a shelter. I immediately recognized this as a photo of White Oak Pastures in Blufton, GA. His caption read “Pastured poultry or not in this photo? Anyone up for a respectful discussion?” Now at first one would perceive that he took the photo himself, but it came out that he had lifted the photo from the web. Below is the exact picture he posted.

 Everyone is certainly entitled to an opinion, but it is not fair to declare one based on one photo that shows such a narrow view. I’ve been to White Oak Pastures. I sat and talked with Mr. Harris. He gave me free rein to look at anything there on his farm. I walked among the shelters that the meat chickens leave and enter at will. This other farmer has not, and yet in a public forum, drives what is easily perceived as a smear campaign against another farmer. But he didn’t stop there.

The discussion soon turned to organic feed and the challenge for small farmers to source it and afford it. I made the statement that the tide was slowly turning and that there actually were small farms feeding organic feed and that as the concerned public continued to support those farmers and the farmers with the goal of going organic, the demand for organic feed would be such that it would be on a more level playing field as the conventional, GMO grains and we would see a decline in the cost. THIS is where it got really interesting and is where the inspiration for the title came from. The farmer I have not named stated (and I quote), “The confidence in certified organic feed is overblown containing soy, corn or alfalfa. There is no testing required by USDA or done by most feed mills, Countryside included unless things have changed recently…” This statement astounded me. Wow, what a revelation. I then asked if he was implying whether Countryside, Coyote Creek and Reedy Fork could be lying or are these feed mills just as duped as the rest of us. He replied, “You’re not lying if you don’t know… I know this stuff is hard to stomach but it is true. GMO are in there.”

Jaw dropping is what this is, and a slap in the face to the folks who operate the feed mills and the farmers who work their tails off to provide organic grain to those mills. I saw that I needed to move on but I let him know that I’d pass this news on to the before mentioned feed mills. And I did. I sent email messages to all three mills, letting them know of this newsflash that has come out on Facebook. Of course they all had some choice words to say on the matter. Which is what I will discuss in my next post. I fear I have rambled on long enough here.

It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance.

Thomas Paine

Emotional Roller coaster, High’s and Lows of Farming

Being a skip generation farmer, I find the roller coaster of emotion that comes with it to be exhilarating, exhausting and frustrating. I guess for those who grow up on a farm, there is an ingrained ability to take it in stride without stumbling too much.

It never fails that if something catastrophic happens, I am away at the fire station and Katie is the one who must deal with the situation. I get to come home and try to make sense of what transpired while I was gone. Being gone for 24 hours sometimes puts me 2 or 3 days behind.

To keep from loosing all hope and giving up when we lose a cow, a dog runs away, there’s too much rain, there’s drought, the garden fails, rabbits die, and hawks attack; we have to look for the small miracles that our society has lost sight of. We get to experience the mystery of witnessing  grass and hay convert into milk, seeing new kits in a nesting box, watching a calf come into the world, digging a potato from the earth, gathering eggs, plucking black berries from the brambles, and watching our children grow in an environment that allows them to grow in and explore the fullness of creation. To revel in wonder at what so many are oblivious to and take for granted. Most of all, we have come to understand true thankfulness and gratitude to our Maker for how we are blessed.

Nothing like a swift kick in the…

Butt for a dose of reality.

When you think of a farm, what are the three critters that immediately come to mind? C’mon. You know it. Cows, chickens, and PIGS! Every family farm prior WWII had these three animals. They might also have horses, mules, rabbits, goats, sheep, turkeys but… a milk cow, some laying hens and a pig behind the barn were the staple livestock no matter what else the farm might produce. So of course I wanted to add pigs to our farm. Not just because I have a flair for agrarian romanticism, but I LOVE pork. Bacon, ham, pork chops, ribs, Boston butt, shoulder roasts, fat back, grease… all the good stuff a growing boy needs, so long as it doesn’t include soy, GMOs, antibiotics, and torture.

So we started off with a pair of Large Black pigs to breed and a Tamworth to be our first feeder. All was goiung well until they started escaping. And they always did it while I was at the fire station and Katie had to deal with them on her own. The straw that broke it all was when Katie and the kids were rounding up an inordinate number of roosters destined for processing when one leaped into her face, gouged her cheeks and lip, and then both boars got loose. Yes, I was at the fire station when she called me hysterical and crying. When I got home, she had managed to round the pigs up, but for some reason the LB boar was literally raping the Tamworth. Why? Dang if I know, maybe he sensed that our stress levels were particularly high and he thought it would be a good way to add icing to the cake. They had to be separated and the only way was to just grab hold of one and drag him to another, slightly less penetrable pen.

I don’t know if you’ve ever wrangled a pig, namely a 200 pounder, but they scream as if they are being eaten alive. There we were. Katie with gashes in her beautiful face, blood running down; kids scared and crying; me in my uniform, dragging this pig, kicking and SCREAMING bloody murder. It was something like this video, only louder.

The end result was, we took two pigs off to be processed, and sold another to the same fate.

Did I learn my lesson? NOPE! Some friends had three barrows (castrated males) for sale and I couldn’t pass them up. My mother and I had already been talking some about raising pigs in the forest behind her house. So I paid a deposit on the three pigs and she paid the balance when we picked them up. Initially we brought them to our farm where I would train them to electric fence. If you are going to have pigs, electric fence is the ONLY way to go. I especially recommend using netting. There’s a reason the old timers say to build a fence “hog tight”. THEN, I was contacted by someone at another farm who was looking to get rid of some pigs and made me an offer, did I refuse? I think you know the answer. We (my mother and I) took a trip to Dacula to fetch some more pigs.  On our arrival, I saw why she was getting rid of them, Pigs were loose and running amok. After a couple of hours of vain cajoling, chasing, and maybe a little cussing, we were considering just packing up and leaving. BUT, we caught one. So of course we kept at it and caught another. After this point in time, I did call it quits. I was done and really considering my lack of sanity.

So we get these two additional pigs home, and I was met with a grim stare from my lovely bride. She was already annoyed with the three, but since they weren’t getting loose, she’d held her tongue. Now two more (who were much bigger) were being added and she couldn’t hold back. “I thought they were all going to your mom’s” “Yes, once we have them all trained and we get things out there set up.” “Hmmmp.” Any lesser woman would’ve divorced me by now.

The condensed version of the rest of the story is that all five made it to Talla Glen Farm and were set out in about 4 acres of forest, contained with electric fence. Until. We had a visitor. A pot bellied pig from who knows where. A  pot bellied pig who was not trained to electric fence and proceeded to destroy it. Now our pigs found there was a greater world beyond their patch of woods, and in that world they found the home of the lady who brings them food. I tried containing them but now that they knew where the good stuff came from, they would not be held. So now it was my mother having hysterical moments with pigs swarming her back door and cows in the road (another story I don’t have time for). Besides, the cost of feeding five pigs was getting beyond our means, so the decision was made to have the three barrows processed.

Now I had pre-sold two of the pigs to help pay for their up-front costs. After I took them to the processor, and got their hanging weights, I was very dismayed at what the final numbers were. We didn’t even come close to breaking even. Yikes. So my good people who had paid deposits, agreed to chip in some extra cash to pay for the processing fees (BTW, if I am ever so stupid as to sell a whole pig again, the person buying it will deal with the processor). I’m still in the hole but at least it’s a little shallower. So folks get me their money (and tell me they’re out of town, have plans, can’t make it Saturday but….sigh.) and I get on down to the processor. I get the meat loaded up and head for home. Now I have to start divvying up. I open boxes and start sorting when I find a huge slab. It’s a whole pork belly. Not the one pound packages I expected so folks could easily salt cure their own bacon. Then I find the hams. Monstrously huge hams that the average person would be challenged to find a pan to cook it in, let alone find enough people to eat it. Holy Moley. Then I found that certain cuts weren’t there and that we had THREE times as much sausage as I had wanted, hence the missing cuts. I got sick. I got angry. I even felt a little panicked. The only way I was going to get out of my hole was to sell some of the meat I had intended for me and my family, but the only cuts that were really marketable were the chops and a couple of Boston Butts. So we shall see, maybe someone wants a HUGE Christmas ham for $130.00.

A New Direction, continued…

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.

Neither Rain, Nor Sleet, Or Snow…

Will stop the farming. This Saturday was our first scheduled processing day for our broiler chickens and thank goodness for the ability to forecast the weather. We’ve been receiving gargantuan volumes of precipitation this year and with the knowledge that a significant storm front was moving in, I knew i needed to do a lot to get ready.

I asked for the shift off from the fire department on Thursday and spent the day tilling and planting, getting 60+ tomatoes in and 30+ squash. A part of that time was spent putting my burgeoning mechanical skills to use to keep our tiller going. Farmers have to be handy and somewhat mechanically inclined because if you use any machine long enough, it’s going to break. I’d go broke if I hauled something to the repair shop every time a belt burned off, a fuel line cracked or a head gasket needed to be replaced.

Friday I had two things that I knew would absolutely have to be done; pick up our feed order and prep a covered area for chicken processing. We have a large car port type shed next to our barn that I suppose was once used to keep a camper or  other large vehicle under cover. In the past year and a half, it became something of a “catch-all” for various junk like an old riding lawn tractor, leaking hose, an antique freezer, a recliner, and garbage cans full of… well garbage. So we went to work pulling out all the junk and the worst thing was there wasn’t time to go to the dump or scrap yard. I got the call that our feed order from Countryside Organics was ready to be picked up, so I hitched up the trailer and picked it up. Then we had to sort through it and separate the order into individual orders for those who order with me (otherwise we could barely afford to feed this stuff) and get it covered up.

Once we had the new processing area cleaned out, I realized it was time for me to run to Douglasville to pick up my oldest son from his mother’s. After returning and eating supper, we moved the processing equipment into the newly cleaned out area. (Somewhere in the middle of all this we got all the critters took care of.) The I got to thinking about how we were going to move chickens from the pasture before the rain arrived. Our wagon had finally bit the dust after 14 years of hauling kids, toys, rocks and chickens. The only other option is to use a wheel barrow. So we go down to where the broilers were in the pasture and start catching and loading them into a crate. I then pushed a loaded crate with about 50+lbs of chicken uphill to the barn. That was killer. The second trip just about did me in. 

If I was going to get all these birds up to the barn, I needed to do something else. So we decided to have a chicken drive. We moved the poultry netting around to make something of a long paddock that stretched from the chicken tractor to the top of the hill which would get us half way to the barn. We used a bucket of grain to try to lure them to follow us and after a bunch of chasing errant birds, frustration, and persistence we finally got them corralled in a small area. We went back to hauling birds to the barn but after a few more trips, I was done. The week had caught up with me and I could not carry another loaded crate. so we pulled a vacant chicken tractor over and loaded them in it to spend the night and weather the storm.

As I was getting into bed, Katie says over her shoulder, “Are you going to sharpen knives in the morning?” Sigh. I got back up, went to the kitchen, got out the knives and went to sharpening. The storms moved in and buckets of rain fell.

When I woke up Saturday, it was still raining. I roused up the kids and we got busy with our chores. While I was filling the scalding tank, my 9-year-old comes to me and says something bad has happened with the next flock of broiler chicks that we had moved out onto the pasture a few days ago. I walked down to the tractors that housed them and in one, there was a pile of dead chicks. These tractors are mostly covered but there is an area covered with wire. These poor, stupid, immature birds had tried to huddle together in the uncovered section and all died from exposure. I began picking up their cold limp bodies and counting. 15 small corpses were place in a bucket and two more that I could tell were on the verge of death, so I went ahead and ended their lives. I said a prayer, asked God for a positive attitude and carried on with our tasks.

The processing actually went quite well. The covered area was great and there is just enough room to get the entire “disassembly” line under shelter. I wasn’t surprised that about half of those who had said they’d be coming out to help didn’t show but our two consistent stalwarts, Amanda and Sandra joined us as did two first timers, Brad from Atlanta and my very own mother! I made an executive decision that to save us time, we would be leaving the necks attached and boy did it. It also saved the blades of our knives. The day went without a hitch, anytime there was a lull in the downpour, we’d fetch a load of chickens from the pasture. Our volunteers had to depart and in the end we finished the last eight birds simply as a family and we got done right as our first customers arrived. Everyone was super gracious and as always we received some tremendous words of support and encouragement. The worst thing that happened was that as one was slowing down to turn in our driveway, she was rear ended by someone. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Now for the icing on the cake; several days prior, I had been in tentative talks with some folks who were looking for a second vehicle as a trade for a young Jersey cow. I had (somewhat jokingly) offered to trade our Tahoe since we have three fuel hogs. I was rather surprised that they decided to go with the barter. I was looking at selling it anyway  and with my bottom price being about $1200 more than their asking price on their cow, they offered to include her heifer calf en lieu of cash. So after the final customer had left (barring a couple of stragglers), the Barnett Family arrived from Elberton with Rachel and her calf whom we’ve named Rosemary. Now we just need to see how Rachel is going to take to being a milk cow.

~Daniel

Post Script: Katie called me at the fire station today to tell me that seven more broiler chickens have died. Seems we’ve got some serious figuring to do.