Our awesome vegetable farmer Jenn at Chickadee Farms sent me a text last week that she had some spots left open on the CSA for this year which just started. Unfortunately I was out of town when she sent it, so I’m just now posting about it. So… if you want farmer fresh veggies to go along with your farmer fresh meat, sign up for Jenn’s weekly or bi-weekly CSA. The details are on her website. We don’t make anything on the CSA, it is just a service we offer to our customers so they can get great produce and it helps a small local farmer tremendously.
It has been a rough couple of months for us in farming. Our pork processor burned down, leaving us with nowhere to take our pigs to be processed. We went to another processor to try to get by, but they needed two months to do incorrectly, what our normal processor did in a week.
Then we had a problem with our beef processor. I don’t want to get into what happened as it was an honest mistake. But it cost us a cow. Understand we produce one cow per month. So costing us a cow costs us 1/12 of our annual production. It is a big deal.
Then our chicken farmer was coming off of winter and we were unexpectedly out of a bunch of chicken parts for longer than expected.
Pork, beef, and chicken make up about 90% of our total sales and all three have been hammered in the first quarter due to availability in the store. It has been rough.
In addition to all of the above, our seafood and premium cuts freezer died on us and took a week or so to get fixed. That means all those items had to be stuffed in other freezers, which fortunately due to the above had room in them.
So what are we/did we do about it?
We were blessed to form a partnership with BB Organic prior to all of this and we were able to buy a cow from them which offset our missing cow. We label their meat with their farm name so folks that want just our beef know the difference but their product is excellent and raised beautifully. We’d been working on this relationship for some time prior so it was just a blessing that their first cow for us came up right when we desperately needed it.
For pork, our hogs FINALLY got processed so we were able to stock up for a time. Now we have our next pigs going to a different processor for the kill part, and back to our normal processor for the value add. That means it will look and taste just like normal. It took us over a month to get an appointment at this new processor and those hogs are going next week so give us a a couple of weeks and we’ll finally have some fresh pork back in the freezers.
For chicken, our wonderful chicken farmer finally made it through the winter and has started processing again so we are back in business on chicken and chicken parts. She also is greatly ramping up her rabbit production with some fancy new rabbits from Alabama so we should be solidly in rabbits going forward.
Lastly, during all this Jeanette has been bearing the brunt of our lack of stock. of course she hasn’t sat on her laurels. She has found sources for farm raised, pasture raised elk, venison, boar, and water buffalo. Pretty fancy stuff. She’s brought in the meats, plus she’s bringing in the organs of these animals because we have a large contingent of customers who buy organ meats for their pets.
In addition to all that, we have some new seafood options as well. Oysters on the 1/2 shell plus the normal seafood we’ve been getting already. I’m having oysters and beer one day soon, that I can promise you.
I am taking a cow this Friday to the processor. One that we won’t have any trouble with this time as we are all a little smarter. So we’ll have our beef heading back in the following week. With more beef from BB Organic following shortly behind.
Lastly, $800 later, our freezer is fixed and full of product again so we are back to speed.
I get emails and calls routinely.
“Do you have any ribeye steaks?”
“Is there raw milk in the store?”
“I need (insert ice cream flavor here). Do you have any?”
Everyone knows me, because I’m “Farmer Dan.” The guy who runs the show. El Jefe. Plus the voice on the other end of this internet thingy. So of course I am the one you ask. Here’s the truth. I’m barely in the store. I go in once per week, for about 30 minutes, to drop off all the goodies I’ve picked up from our other farmers. I put most of it in the stock room (not the customer area). And then I go about the rest of my day blissfully unaware of how much butter we have.
Jeanette does all of our store management. And our ordering. At this point in our farming career, I just drive the truck and pay for stuff. She’s El Jefe when it comes to the store, and the source of all the information when folks need to know what we have. So my answer to everyone when they call/text/email is either, “Call the store during store hours and ask Jeanette.” or the ever popular, “Forward this to Jeanette and get her to answer it.”
Usually I’m not even here when these requests come in so it isn’t like I could walk over and look. Why am I telling you this? Well because I feel like an idiot for not knowing the answer to your question. Confession is good for the soul and all that. Plus, if you are looking for an answer to a stock level question, your best bet is to follow one of the two solutions above. If you are a regular you probably have Jeanette’s info. If not, call the store during store hours.
I’ve decided I’m going to write the definitive book on internet marketing. I feel my unbridled success as an internet marketer uniquely qualified me as an expert. Here is my rough draft.
Step 1. Content is king. You have to supply your audience with consistent, engaging content. When you look at what we do here on the farm, we post exciting content every… um. Scroll back a bit further…. Crap does that say December?
Ok, I suck at writing content lately. Like the last year plus. Here is the dirty truth. Back when I used to work in corporate, I had terrible insomnia. Most nights I’d get a few hours of sleep, at best. Sometimes none at all. What could I do to take my mind off my day job and its stress? How about writing about a calmer, happier topic. Cows, pigs, funny stories of happenings on the farm. I wrote those at 2am. Usually during the middle of the night when everyone was asleep. Getting a few hundred words down would help with my stress levels. If nothing else it made that time productive.
Now I am cursed with relatively sound sleep. Plus my time spent at my desk overall is greatly reduced compared to those days. Now I barely have any time at my desk at all. When I do get there, there is a stack of bills, questions to answer, accounting work to be done. All things that have a higher priority on my time (hard to farm when the power has been turned off from lack of payment) so I end up knocking out the must-dos before the to-dos and writing just hasn’t been a must do. With that said, I’m taking a bit of time this morning, before I head out, and get some updates out so at least you know our status.
Raw goat AND cow milk is back in stock. I didn’t get a post out last week because I’ve barely seen the house much less my computer but I’m able to get a quick note out today.
As a reminder, we do NOT hold milk for people. Call and check. Speak nicely to whoever answers the phone, and we’ll do our best to let you know what is in stock and how fast it is moving. But calling and expecting us to hold milk for when you show up later isn’t going to happen. Sorry, it is first come, first serve. We get asked to hold milk every day. The answer is the same. We don’t have enough to go around and we can only do our best.
As a reminder, we are bringing another cow online for milking this year and upgrading our storage so again, we are doing our best.
I know I know. I should have posted an update a week ago. To be honest, I kept thinking the call would come that “Milk is ready!” any minute.
Kind of how a mom shouts “Dinner is ready!” and all the kids come running.
It has been sadly quiet.
Jeanette has been in routine contact with the dairy farm and because they had so much going on (births, training, testing of milk, getting back into milking, plus normal farm work) I’ve purposefully stayed out of it. Having someone constantly tapping you on the shoulder asking if you are ready yet, when you are DESPERATELY trying to get ready, isn’t the most helpful thing.
Here is what I know now.
It has been babyapalooza at the dairy farm. Baby goats have been hitting the ground like crazy and at this point the babies are everywhere.
The normal process is some of the babies are sold to other farmers who want these milk goats for their own herds. When they are sold, that leaves mom with lots of milk for the remaining goats and some left over for us.
All the farmers who are supposed to come and get their baby goats have been delayed. The goat pens aren’t ready. Their truck broke down. It is too wet. The sky isn’t blue. Whatever you can think of, it has happened, and of course all at once.
Cow milk was always scheduled to be a few weeks from now. Our first cow to calve isn’t due for a couple of weeks so that is on schedule, but not happened yet.
Milking is happening. Mostly by the babies, but milk has been sent out for testing to our normal lab to make sure everything is as perfect as it is supposed to be.
Our estimate of when I’ll be picking up milk is now the week of March 9th. And again that will be limited supply until things ramp up.
So that is the bad news.
The good news is, once we get rolling in milk, we should have more milk than ever coming in. We also will not dry off our dairy cows this year (actually we will, but there is overlap of other cows so we’ll never run dry this winter).
So in summary, our promise of February has been broken. It is outside our control (other farmers not doing what they said) but regardless we have to deal with the results. I’m sorry for the false start, but we are working diligently to get milk in as soon as possible.
With that said, we spent from 7:30 to 1pm this Tuesday loading ONE cow onto the trailer to go to the processor. Normally this takes less than an hour. Heck I’ve loaded the entire trailer full in 15 minutes before. It was so muddy that we just couldn’t get anything done. So maybe the other farmers aren’t just making excuses. I want to think that anyway.
We’ve been telling everyone all winter that raw milk will be back in February. Wait, wait… I’m not finished.
It WILL be back in February. I’m not backing up on that.
Unfortunately people started emailing and calling on 1 February asking if they could come and pick up milk, like TODAY. Um, no. Raw milk being back in February is kind of like when you mom says she’ll be ready in 5 minutes. And 60 minutes later she STILL isn’t ready. Yeah, it’s like that.
You see, the girls have to calve and kid (cow and goat) before they start making milk. I know, you’re thinking, “Well duh. Of course it is baby, then milk.” I’ve had to explain this to people. More than once.
Then we have to give the baby’s first dibs at the new milk. Plus we don’t collect colostrum for us humans (although I do get that request) so we need to let the little cuties get a week or so of nursing so they get all the freshened goodness and we get pure milk when it is time.
THEN, our amazing farm manager has to teach the mom’s (remind is probably a better word than teach) how to come to the milking parlor each morning and get their treat and their milk. The first few of those mornings are always fun. Not ha ha fun. The kind of fun like if you were to decide to go roller skating.
At your age.
I mean, you grew up roller skating. You know how. It’ll be easy. You can show those kids a move or two.
Yeah, about that.
So anyway, we need a couple of days to get everyone back in the groove with milking.
Then I need to get picking up the actual milk on the schedule, since I only make that route once per week, so we need to know that milking is happening, then plan out a week.
So while raw milk is almost here, it isn’t here yet. I expect the earliest possible date is the week of 16 February. If we get any that week it will be limited. The following week is more of a sure thing. At least as sure as it can be in this business with all the moving parts. Worst case it will be the last week of February but fingers crossed it won’t be that long.
Whenever we get word that the milk taps have been turned on, I will post here so people know when they can plan on stopping by.
Some good news is we should have milk through this coming winter, at least cow milk, so we won’t go without for a good amount of time once we get to milking again. Plus we have a new cow in the mix so we are also going to be increasing production over 2021.
Tomorrow is Christmas and even though we have a week of the year still in front of us, I think most people are already relishing the thought of being done with 2020. Unfortunately we still have COVID and with everyone heading inside for winter, it seems flu season has become COVID season. I’m personally looking forward to spring more than Jan 1 2021.
But as we wind up 2020, I thought it was appropriate to reflect on where we’ve been on the farm this year. We are blessed to still have the same great people working for us.
Jeanette, Miguel, Vicente are all still here making our operation possible.
We did loose Crystal in the store. But since she’s turned 16, we knew it was time for her to move on to bigger and better things.
While we try to have the best food possible, make a little money occasionally, and generally run a business that heals the land, the main goal for our operation is to allow kids, who couldn’t get a job otherwise, a chance to grow and learn in a real business. Crystal leaving us isn’t a sad day, it was a day of celebration.
And now Eva and her sister Yori have started taking some shifts filling in when my girls cannot work. Sometimes the girls don’t charge things out correctly, or count the change correctly, or restock the freezers from the stock room. Those are all frustrating but our wonderful customers as so kind, and always look out for the girls and the store. I had a call yesterday from a lady who was undercharged and wanted to come out today to pay the $6 difference. I told her Merry Christmas and pay it forward.
I haven’t mentioned Spork lately. My son has been our tour guide for years, giving tours to thousands of people.
This little blond kid has become a 6’1″ man who has a job off the farm, is finishing high school, starting college, and plans on flying helicopters in the Army as soon as he joins.
He’s also built an airplane and is getting his pilots license currently.
With all that Spork has going on, and with all the concerns about COVID, we ended our farm tour offering this spring. I’m still doing large group tours when they make sense, especially for NC State when they come since they partner with us so frequently. And of course home school groups when we can since we always try to support home school. But the one off tours every weekend are over and not coming back. We just don’t have the time and the boy doesn’t need any more practice.
Jeanette has been adding new products to the store. Chicken pot pie, pasta, elderberry jelly. I don’t even know what all she’s added, but I know it has all been flying off the shelves. While beef, pork, and chicken are our main staples, we always need to add and remove products from the shelves. Both to keep the store fresh when you come in, and to always cultivate the best products. I give Jeanette pretty much free rein to add and remove what she likes. She’s the one in the store and seeing what people like and don’t. She continues to find good products to add, even though all the food shows we would normally attend didn’t happen in 2020.
I can’t talk about 2020 without talking about our raw milk. Our dairy farm is run by Tamryn and has been for years now. She does all the magic when it comes to dairy. Breeding, calving, milking, feeding, mucking. She does it all, almost always by herself on a farm about as big as ours where we have multiple people working full time. While she’s the sweetest lady you’d meet, with all the work she does every day I wouldn’t fight her, not even if I could sneak up on her. Which I can’t.
Tamryn has had some health problems recently and has had to have a series of surgeries. She’s soldiered through all the previous ones, but this last one was a doozy and she needed to dry off the animals, both cows and goats, because she just couldn’t do the farm work needed post surgery. That shut us down on raw milk from November all the way to February. Tamryn is doing much better now and is back to light work (light being relative, it would kill most people) and she’s even managed to get some lamb produced under her own label so we can have a bit of lamb in the store now. It didn’t last long, as we never have enough lamb, but as my dad used to say, part of something is better than all of nothing. She’s slowly ramping up production for more lamb next year so look for that in 2021.
We may be light on lamb, but for the first time in a long time, we are full on beef. I was lucky enough to meet some new beef farmers who we producing great beef, but having trouble selling it. Bob and Elissa with BB Organic Farm have a beautiful spread and plenty of land to produce quality beef, something we have need of in the store as we are always out of something, mainly steaks but even hamburger through this crazy year. I already picked up 150 pounds of hamburger from them, and probably another 100 pounds of steaks, roasts, etc. They have a cow scheduled to go in February, as do we, so in partnership with them, we should be able to produce some excellent animals and keep much better stocked in 2021 than in 2020. Of course I gave their place the check over to verify their practices and they came out squeaky clean. In fact they had a few things I’d like to adopt so I think this will be a great partnership.
This doesn’t mean we are getting out of the cow business. Not by a long shot. We are expanding what we do, and who we work with, to better serve you.
Speaking of serving you. This year has been one to write home about. We’ve grown every year since the beginning but by about 2019 we were starting to slow our growth. Still double digits, but getting down to a more reasonable level of growth. Since we don’t advertise, or heck, even have a sign out front, I was ok with growth slowing. Then COVID hit, and the rumor went around that beef would be unavailable in stores. Then beef WAS unavailable in stores. We went from someone wanting a whole cow (which we really don’t sell) maybe once per month, to several wanting a whole cow EVERY DAY. It was crazy. I very quickly made the decision to stick to our roots and not jump into any shenanigans to try to slip someone a sale barn bought cow (saw that done) or slip them someone elses beef (saw that done too). We put limits on what people could buy per visit, and continued to do our thing right here in the little farm store only. We turned away hundreds of thousands of dollars of business, sometimes to irate people who just didn’t understand why we wouldn’t sell them what they wanted. Despite that approach, we still increased our sales 52% for 2020 vs 2019. The second quarter of 2020, when COVID really hit, our sales increased 117% vs 2nd quarter of 2019. But in the 4th quarter, we are up 49%, 2019 vs 2020, much more inline with our overall growth of 52%. That 49% growth is very encouraging, because it means that the people we took care of, our normal customers, are still rewarding us with their business while the panic buyers have returned to Costco or Food Lion or wherever they normally shop.
Yes we could have tripled or more our business. But at what cost? I don’t want to be in the whole cow, freezer filling, high volume, shady meat dealer business. I want to be in the family focused, holistic local farm business. Thanks to each and every one of you, that is exactly where we are.
Thank you for your continued support of our family farm. Merry Christmas and God bless you all. I hope Santa is good to you tonight and you have lots of happy memories being made tomorrow.
We will be open today, Wednesday 25 November from 2-6pm.
We will NOT be open Friday, 27 November.
We will be open Saturday, 28 November, from 9am – 1pm.
With people stressing that we are already out of turkeys, I need to warn you about another pre-order you should be thinking about. We always receive requests for prime rib/standing rib roasts for Christmas. We’ve already had someone order 1/2 of a cows total and it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet.
To put that in perspective. We have two cows available between now and Christmas. That means 25% of all the prime rib roasts are already spoken for and that was one person. He had a big order but you get the idea.
Prime rib pre-orders are just like turkeys. You can either come in store and place a deposit of $40 for your roast, or you can call the store on Wednesday, talk to Jeanette, and place a deposit via telephone. Until we have a deposit, you do not have an order.
When you do call for your order, you need to have an idea in mind for your size of roast. This would be in number of pounds. For a family, you’ll be looking around a 5-6 pound roast usually.
Fo those that don’t know, a prime rib is simply the bone in ribeye not cut into steaks so for everyone else who isn’t getting a prime rib roast, know that there won’t be any ribeye steaks until January’s cow returns. This is normal this time of year so it shouldn’t be a surprise to everyone.