Last Saturday we had a touch of snow. Since this is North Carolina and the actual word snow causes the Governor to declare a state of emergency, we didn’t really expect to see anyone at the store. But we were open regardless, at least till about 4:30.
What that meant was, the girls were in the store with very few customers to wait on. Which meant they got bored. So they asked, very sweetly I might add, if they could play with my old fashioned type writer. Sure, why not.
I was busy in the shop working on a project so as long as they were entertained, I was happy.
There was a lot of screaming and laughing coming from the store, which is what I normally hear when there isn’t a customer in there. The girls are super polite and helpful when you folks show up, but they are wild women when you aren’t here, which is fine. As long as they know the difference then I’m glad they are having fun.
However they started bringing me type written papers and dropping them off. I’d smile and make nice but I was running a lathe that was spitting metal at me and happy to pull my arm off if I wasn’t paying attention, so I really didn’t read them very well.
Finally later in the day I collected the stack of papers and read through them. This is an example of what I found.
Since it’s a bit hard to read, I’ll transcribe what is typed here in plain text below. Most of the papers were in the form of an interview. This is probably the calmest and sanest of them. I only fix typos where it helps with understanding what they are saying.
Today in the new[s]
You let go!
you let go!
I got it
yeah thats what I thought lady
No i have it lady
uh you dumb dog [ed. Ruby was in the store]
attack that wahy
I dont have any arms
come here Ruby
how is your story coming?
okay lets do this
(Humming intence music)
attack her already
You cant use that because thats what were fighting for
put it in Ruby’s bed
you cant steal it
rin [run] ruby
i am going to fight to the enf [end] and i am going to wis[win]
Ruby your dezd [dead]
i need water
oh break time.
Crystal can you please not steal the broom
this doesn’t really hurt
that was some dwlicuos [delicious] water
breaktime over lady.
if you get cornered you die…
ready no touching.
haha you touched me
no it was your fault
(arguing about the rules)
I must admit a few things.
One, I had no idea the Princess could type well enough to be a court stenographer for the crazy that was occurring. She has pages of this stuff.
Two, I thought it was sorta cute till I got to the “singing opera” part. Then I started cracking up.
Three, the last statement about arguing about the rules reminds me of my favorite sport in the world.
If they look back at their lives growing up and in their memories it looks a like a strip from Calvin and Hobbes, I’ll consider my work here well done.
Folks, we received in 1.5 cows this week (counting the one coming Friday). I just put pork and chicken in the freezer. We are well stocked for your Christmas needs. We even have some beef prime rib roasts available (and therefore no ribeyes). The weather looks marvelous for Saturday. Don’t leave me here alone with these crazy people this weekend. Stop by so they straighten up and pretend to act normal for a bit.
This article is really written for my fellow farmers out there, or people who like to tinker. Yes it is farm related, very much so. But this is about the technical side of farming, and how we keep our products cold and safe while being transported from the processor or from other farms.
When I first started getting serious about moving meat for the farm, I had a friend (Hey Paul!) who had a truck that was sitting idle. It was an International medium duty reefer truck that had come back in from lease and was just sitting. Since we’d put about (literally) 1.5 million miles on a truck pretty much just like it at my old company, I felt pretty good about running a truck like this for the farm. It would cool to 20 F and I was more than familiar with the operation and maintenance, so I bought it. For the past four years or so, this has been how we’ve moved meat, eggs, milk, cheese, etc everywhere.
Most farmers like myself just put some coolers in the back of the truck and figure it’ll be ok. But I never trusted coolers. What if I get stuck in traffic (it happened), what if I break down on the road in the summer (it happened). I have 600 pounds of meat, or 30 gallons of milk going bad in a cooler. Nope, I like the box truck and how it cooled itself down, independent of ice or time.
But after four years of running this truck, I’ve realized that it is simply too big for what we need. When fully loaded, with all the goodies from all the farms, everything was single stacked with room to walk around. We were not utilizing 90-95% of the space we were cooling.
Also there is a failing of the particular model cooler that I had. During the summer, if you are sitting still, it tends to overheat the reefer engine and shut down. Not a problem when you are moving, and not a problem period because I just get everything cold and then turn the cooler off when I stop to load. As I leave, I turn it back on and it quickly recools everything. But it always made me nervous that maybe it would shut down when I wasn’t prepared for it.
Plus, the fuel and maintenance bills for a large truck are, well, large. The oil costs more. The filters cost more. The belts cost more. What I needed was a different solution. One that costs less to own and maintain.
Our chicken farmer, Brittany Ridge, has a truck with a dedicated cooler in the bed. It is run from a compressor hooked to the engine. Crank the truck, the box cools. Turn the truck off, the box is a big igloo cooler. It seems to work very well and I was quite jealous. I looked for a solution similar to theirs for a year or so, to no avail.
I know some other farmers have pull behind trailers that they use. They mount a generator to the trailer and run freezers from the generator. Pretty much the same thing that food trucks do so they have kitchen power on the truck. As long as the generator works, then everything is cooling. This would also let me use my existing truck which is really nice. The radio plays my station. The seat fits my butt. That kind of thing. It’s also nice because you can back the trailer up to a building and pull a drop cord and run the freezers from that, saving the generator. That would help when we have a big load of meat like when turkeys show up for Thanksgiving, or someone orders 1/2 of a cow. We could just leave things in the trailer and cool down or freeze depending on what we need.
I wondered about insulating a trailer and putting a CoolBot in to keep things cool. I utilize a CoolBot in our walk in cooler here on the farm. It does fine to keep things cold, but I wasn’t sure about keeping things frozen. Plus I’d need to put a window unit in the trailer, then drag it up and down the highway a lot of miles. That means that some day, that window unit that was designed to sit still is going to bounce one time too many and break. That could be a very bad day. Nah, I needed something with some redundancy.
When I was at Chaudhry’s dropping off a cow, I saw they had a flier for someone selling a used cooler trailer. It had an actual compressor and cooling, not a CoolBot. It looked pretty serious. And used it was $20,000 asking price! Yikes! That is WAY too much. So I was back to freezers and a generator.
I purchased a trailer (harder than you’d think) and then bought three chest freezers that would fit well and hold what I needed from Lowes.
I made metal corner brackets that would hold the freezers in place, and secure them to the floor. But as I was working on this project, I had another thought. Just how much power does it take to run three chest freezers? They are pretty efficient. Why couldn’t I run them from an inverter?
I hooked all three freezers up to my Honda 2000 watt generator and low and behold, it ran them just fine. Usually you do a power calculation, but I had a generator sitting right there so that was the quick and easy solution (the calculation said 1800 watts, btw, when I ran it later).
So if 2000 watts would run the freezers, what did I need for a bit of headroom and future expansion? Looks like Amazon sells a 3000 watt inverter at a good price. Click. Done.
I installed the inverter, with heat shield, and it’s associated 2/0 gauge wiring. (Don’t you just love drilling holes in something brand new? Ugh, me either. But it worked out nicely and looks good.) I routed the cables from the freezers to a central power strip, and then moved to the front of the trailer.
Here I had some issues. Everybody sells V nose trailers now. But I needed room for what I thought then would be my generator but was now my batteries. Finally I found a flat nosed trailer the right size and I had this tongue area to work with. I routed the cabling from the inverter to the batteries, but only after welding on and reinforcing a battery platform with retention. A good bit of wiring, soldering on connectors, etc. and I was able to hit the on button.
So I could run my freezers from my batteries. But that is only half the battle. Now I wanted to recharge the batteries from my truck, which is already merrily producing electricity as I drive. I looked at battery isolators of all varieties. I knew about them from my teenage job as a car stereo installer and also from boats. But I wasn’t really excited about how they worked. Then I came across something I’d never heard of before, an automatic charging relay or ACR. One side goes to the truck electrical system, one side goes to the trailer. It does the smart work in between. Couldn’t be simpler.
So I ordered 50 feet of 2/0 gauge cabling and set about installing the ACR, circuit breakers, quick connect plugs, fuses, and auxiliary grounds. After some troubleshooting (it’s called reading the instructions and doing that part you skipped) I got the ACR online.
That’s pretty much how I felt.
Thursday was the first day I used the new setup. I hooked the trailer up, which takes about .2 extra seconds with the electrical connections. I cranked my truck and watched the volt meter first show the recovery from cranking. Once it hit about 13.5 volts, it dipped back to 13.0 as the ACR switched over and bridged the trailer to the truck batteries. About 20 seconds later, it came back up to its normal 14 volt range and then maintained it for the ride to my first stop.
At one of my stops, I hopped out of the truck and purposefully took my time, giving the freezers about 30 minutes to run on battery power alone. When I cranked the truck, it was the same story. First recover the starting battery, then the ACR bridges, then about a minute before we were back to 14 volts. 30 minutes of run time is recharged in one minute? So several hours of run time will fully recharge before my next stop easily? It truly does work well. This means I can stop for lunch (remember how the box truck couldn’t run when stopped?) or spend a few extra minutes talking to a farmer without worrying about my product on board. It’s not only still cold, it’s actually freezing it down to temp which is an issue sometimes as I get fresh product that hasn’t been frozen yet.
The best part is everything is off the shelf (or off the web) standard stuff. No having to call a repair man or, heaven forbid, having to go to ThermoKing to get anything done. If a freezer dies, it’s still a heck of a cooler to get me through the day and I can stop at pretty much any store and buy a chest freezer off of the floor. Truck stops carry inverters. The ACR is solid state. Everything else is basically wiring. And the best part is I sold the box truck for about double what I have in this entire setup and the maintenance going forward is almost zero. No I don’t have the capacity of the box truck anymore, but that wasn’t a problem to start with.
We’ll see how this setup does over the years, it it can survive the harshness of driving up and down the road, but for now I couldn’t be happier.
Except I have to decide if I’m going to decal the trailer with our farm logo and info. That part hasn’t been decided.
When we started the store here at the farm, we really didn’t plan on it getting as big as it did. My term for what we do is it is really a kid’s lemonade stand that has gotten out of hand. So the first time we were giving a tour and someone looked at me and said, “Where is your bathroom?” I said,
“Oops, we really don’t have a bathroom for customers. I mean, we have a shop bathroom, but…”
“That will be fine. Where is it?!”
Our bathroom was fine for us guys. It had a sink, and a toilette, and even lights. There was no heat, and since it’s a bunch of farmers using it, it’s not exactly clean or tidy. I mean, realistically, at its dirtiest it was probably cleaner than we are half the time. But as SWMBO pointed out, repeatedly, it was NOT clean enough for a lady to use. The problem was over the past few years we were too busy to do anything about it. But that all changed when we changed our operation this fall. We now have time to actually get things done instead of hopping from emergency to emergency.
Since we’d had such awesome weather right up till this week, we concentrated on outdoor projects but with winter now officially here, we moved indoors. The bathroom project was high on the list.
Vicente spent about a week in the bathroom, adding paneling to the walls, cleaning up the mess that was in there, framing in around the sink so that there is a cabinet now with doors, painting, etc. It is now a nice blue color with white accents.
The floor is still concrete, and we still store shop things like welding masks and aprons in there. It’s still a shop bathroom. But at least now it is a presentable shop bathroom.
We still have some work to do. There are going to be curtains on the window as soon as The Princess sews them for me. I bought the material on Wednesday. And Spork and I are going to forge the stanchions for the curtain rod.
Yes, as in that kind of forging. Hopefully both of these projects will get done shortly and the bathroom will be ready for VIP butts (those would be yours).
After spending all day on the farm the previous day where it was completely uneventful, the following morning I received a call from Miguel about 8:30. Normally Miguel only calls when something significant has gone wrong, or it is a topic that is too complicated for text.
“Jefe, do you know anyone that has ostriches?”
Mexican’s eat ostrich meat? Hmm, didn’t know that. Sometimes when Miguel has a friend that wants something that he/she used to get in Mexico I’ll get the request. Maybe I know a farmer that has it. Maybe one of my existing farmers has it but we just don’t stock it. Sometimes I can get it, sometimes not. After thinking for a minute, today was going to be a not day. I don’t know any ostrich farmers.
“No, sorry Miguel, I don’t know anyone that has ostrich. I’m not even sure who I might know that would know someone.”
“Oh, ok. Well, there are three of them walking around with the cows right now.”
I quickly mentally transitioned from sourcing ostrich meat/eggs to birds big enough to ride are walking around on the farm. Apparently they’d been quite enthralled with the farm until the cows took interest and chased them off. The cows really enjoy anything new and exciting. Chickens big enough that you can ride, that checks both boxes.
The cows had chased the ostriches off of the farm and they were now next door, on the golf course. Since whenever a critter escapes I get a call from the golf course, I figured I better call my friend Kelly who manages it.
“Good morning Dan.”
“Morning Kelly. Hey, just so you know, there are ostriches walking around on the golf course. They just came from my place but they aren’t mine.”
“Dan, have you been drinking already this morning?”
What resulted was a quite hilarious conversation with Kelly via telephone and text over the next 30 minutes, filled in with humorous explanations to the lovely airport manager (Hi Natalie) I was standing in front of at the time. Thankfully pics showed up from Miguel proving that as well as my sobriety, Miguel’s was intact as well.
The first picture was kind of hard to figure out what was going on. Like it was a shadow bird or something. Then the second one rolled in.
Yep, Miguel isn’t crazy.
I forwarded these along to Kelly, who sent them to a family member that was in wildlife. She confirmed that these were in fact emus, not ostriches. A fact that mattered not because whatever they are, they aren’t from Johnston County and I’ve never seen them walking around before.
Kelly said that a couple of deputy sheriffs were on the way and that they’d take care of it. I pictured them trying to herd emus in full sheriff gear, much like what happened to my friend the deputy during our own lost animal adventure. I told Kelly to take video. Sadly he did not. It turns out we have a neighbor who apparently bought these critters and they’d escaped the day before. With several people, none of which were me, sadly, they walked these giant birds back to their home and got them secured.
Two weeks ago, we had a guy wake up dead in our ditch. This week we had emus cruising around. Things seem to always happen in threes, I’m afraid to even guess what is next. Locusts? Pterodactyls? If things go quiet on the blog, you’ll know that we are dealing with the loose Tasmanian devil that showed up unexpectedly.
Just a reminder that we are closed today for Thanksgiving. We look forward to seeing everyone tomorrow when we will be back to normal and open 8-5. Plus, the girls are making cookies for Saturday!!
Also, since we are closed today, there is a rumor that the girls and I will be making cup cakes as well. I’m not saying I already bought the ingredients for the worlds best, from scratch, cupcakes. I’m just saying that the pantry is stocked with unusual items.
So, we have the results in. People overall think what we are doing works. However there is a contingent of people who would like Mondays added to the schedule. There is also a contingent of people who would like to expand the hours. I have already interviewed a great new employee and she’s just waiting on us to decide what days/ hours we want to be open so that she can start. We are sitting on go, except I have no idea what is best for you fine folks. I can’t both be open Mondays, and expand our hours. That’s just too many hours for our people, and too much payroll for our little store. I can do one, or I can do the other. I cannot do both.
So, I’ve created a ONE QUESTION survey. It should literally take you a minute to answer. Do we expand to Mondays, or do we change our store hours on Wednesdays and Fridays? Saturdays as a reminder are unaffected.
And our last customer comment that we will highlight.
Wish you had produce for one stop shop.
This is one that is interesting. This past year we dabbled in some produce in the store. We brought in mushrooms from a great local mushroom farmer right down in Willow Springs. We ended up feeding most of them to the pigs. I know not everyone likes mushrooms. Heck, even Spork, who eats just about everything doesn’t eat mushrooms. But these were beautiful mushrooms that tasted great. The price was good and nobody bought them. After a few weeks, they were no good anymore.
I don’t think with our hours and our days open, we are the kind of place that can carry produce. Produce has to turn daily as it’s shelf life is VERY limited. That’s why the produce guy is always roaming around restocking and removing stuff from the produce section in the grocery store. What I think instead is we need to partner with a local CSA. If your CSA drop was at Ninja Cow Farm, you could swing by and get your box of produce, and grab some meat while you are here. It would be a one stop shop for you. We’d have produce move in, and produce move out so it would work well for us. Maybe we could bring in a bit extra for the weekend for last minute items, I don’t know. But I just don’t see us being a produce stand based on experience and how we run our operation.
Does anyone have a CSA they recommend I contact? Somebody they already love dealing with?
The rest of the comments that we received were all very positive and made me feel really good. I love getting feedback that what we are doing helps people, that our kids do a good job, etc. I’m not highlighting those comments because it feels self serving but to all you kind people who left wonderful comments, thank you!
Now we are back to the purpose of this survey. What days and hours should we be open. Except for one ambitious soul who thought we should be Wal-Mart, the majority of customers thought our existing days were fine. But there is a reasonable amount of people who think that adding Monday in makes sense. As do I. When I created this survey, I thought adding Monday to the week was a good idea. Then you can pretty much come today or tomorrow any time of the week. Of course there will be people that forget and come on Tuesday but at least we’ll have reasonable time frames to shop. So if we are going to expand the days, it looks like Monday is the day. However…
Since I was asking about days of the week, and remember I’d already figured that Monday was the day to add, I thought I’ll ask about hours as well. In retrospect, I should have thought this question out a bit more. It was kind of a throwaway question about hours. The top two choices were, your current hours are fine, and noon to 7pm would be better. Third in popularity was 10am to 7pm with 8am – 5pm coming in last of the ones with any volume of response.
So, noon to 7pm is the number one choice, barely over our normal hours are fine. Noon to 7 was a terrible choice of an answer. Is coming at noon what is attractive? Or is coming at 7pm what is attractive? I don’t know, which one helps the customers more? Like I said, this was a bit of a throwaway question and I messed it up by not asking the question better. Let’s handle the last question and then we’ll go to conclusions.
Our last question was do you care who you meet when you walk in the store? Some people like to come on Saturdays and see the girls and maybe get a home made cookie. At least one person likes to see Lucy when they come. But the majority either don’t care, or don’t care as long as they know what they are doing. Good, that makes hiring another person easier since you are ok with whoever takes care of you, as long as they take care of you properly.