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.
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.
I think we set a record for the number of fresh turkeys we sold this year. It is going to be a busy process getting them all to you, and we are limited on space so it is important that everyone is able to meet on time.
I will be meeting our turkey farmer Monday, 23 November and picking up our turkeys. I will be returning to the store where we will stuff the turkeys in every refrigerated space we own. We will be opening the store at 2pm for pickups and we are requesting that you pick up your turkey on Monday between 2pm and 6pm. If you want to grab anything else while you are here that is fine but PLEASE come and get your turkeys Monday the 23rd.
Apologies to all the folks who are asking about them, but our chicken/turkey farmer has informed us that ALL the turkeys are spoken for at this time. Last I looked at the list it was a LONG list, so don’t find yourself thinking, “Well, why don’t they just raise more turkeys?!” They did. And we still sold out.
I’ve had the follow up question of “When do you normally sell out of turkeys each year?” So I’ll answer that as well. Normally you want to get your order in before the 1st of November to be sure you are on the list.
Thank you to everyone for your support of our annual fresh turkeys. I always wish we had as many as everyone wants.
So this project has been several years in the making. I actually started looking at buildings in 2016 and finally was able to purchase a used metal building out of a guys field near Virginia. By used, I mean it had been erected for 20 years, then torn down, moved to this guy’s field, then it had sat in pieces for another 10 years or so where I found it, with trees growing out of it. Now it has been moved to my field, where it has sat for another year. At least no trees have started growing through it yet.
Normally I don’t like things to sit like this, but the area where we want to put the building has some issues. The biggest one being that it sits too low, and is therefor susceptible to water intrusion. “But Farmer Dan,” you say, “A barn with a concrete floor wouldn’t matter about a little bit of water. You are storing hardy farm stuff like tractors and, um, concrete blocks, and I’m, I don’t know… farm stuff.”
Alas, you’d be correct if we were only storing tractors. But in this case, we are storing stuff that cannot be wet. Things like a bunch of my machining tools from our metal shop. Those things are not only heavy and expensive, but they really enjoy rusting. It is their favorite activity. So I keep them as far away from water as a ring bearing Labrador that is supposed to walk cutely down the aisle in his little tux at the wedding, but no. The fool girl insisted on both having the dog involved AND having her outdoor wedding in a park with a pond. What was she thinking?!…..
Um, anyway. So water is bad, even for a barn. The easiest thing to do is to bring in dirt to raise the level of the building pad. This not only gets our feet out of the water, it also raises the barn up to a more level position with the pasture, meaning we aren’t sliding downhill into the barn or having to be winched out of the barn when things are wet/muddy/snowy/etc. A win-win.
The good news is we have lots of job sites ongoing around us so all we need is a contractor who needs to get rid of some dirt to hook up with us and we can take his dirt. He gets it off his jobsite, and we get it for free. So I started that process and found a guy in Garner needing dirt gone. Perfect. He hauled about 5 truck loads of dirt in March 2020 and then all the dirt magically disappeared off his job. Ugh.
So we set out again.
We had several false starts till a job on Old Stage happened not a mile from us. Perfect! The contractor said not only could we have the dirt, but he’d come and build the pad for us too, no charge. Woo hoo! Now we are talking! Just give him a few weeks.
And some more weeks.
And some more weeks.
And a few months.
Finally I said what if I came and got the dirt and built the pad myself? “Yeah, ok, that works.” So I arranged trucking, loading, etc.
And then a hurricane hit the day we were to haul.
So we took a few weeks off and planned for the next time.
And then a hurricane hit the day we were to haul. Yes you read that twice. No it was not a mistake.
And then another contractor called. He had dirt for days and he’d haul it. And he’d start ASAP! Except instead of 2-3 trucks, he was going to send 15 trucks at once! Argghh!! We don’t have the equipment to handle that much dirt that quickly. I called my friends at James River to get a bull dozer as quickly as possible and they came through with something from my past, a genuine John Deere 550K dozer.
Man it was like coming home getting in the seat of that dozer. I’ve run every model of dozer they’ve made since the 80s.
This was several weeks ago and against all odds, the dirt began to actually arrive. I honestly didn’t believe it till the trucks were done hauling on the first day.
We started at 6am. The road we were using was barely above grade. It was an old road that was here when we moved here in 1980. We’ve never really used it or maintained it. We did go in and fix it up a bit with some drainage last year in anticipation of this but its height above the surrounding area, and associated water would be akin to walking along the beach just above the water line. Sure, you’re above the waves, but not by much.
The cows were completely unimpressed with all the work we were doing. Multiple dump trucks. Tractors zipping hither and yon. Yelling, both good natured and urgent (ask Miguel about the yellow jackets), the munched merrily away as if this was just another day.
Unfortunately our promised 15 trucks per day has never materialized. We’ve been averaging about 5-6 per day running, which equates to about 25-35 loads per day delivered. That means that instead of having this dirt hauled in and being done in a few days, we are on week two of running a dozer, roller, backhoe, etc.
Also, since we are able to get the dirt for free, and the equipment is all already here, I figure lets get all that we can while we can. So we have one to two more weeks of hauling before we are done.
Part of the reason I keep hauling dirt is because I remember being Spork’s age and we were building something like this. Dad, normally busy at work, would instead be running a dozer, directing trucks, directing employees, and generally being the head honcho he always was. But instead of a coat and tie, he was in his work clothes, outside in the sunshine, moving dirt. You see before he was an equipment dealer, he was a contractor for 18 years. Sitting in the seat of a dozer was like coming home to him. No phone calls, no meetings, no TPS reports. Just move dirt and get the job done. He was happy. I, as the head gopher in sight, had the unenviable task of running to get this, or relaying this message to that person. Being a stupid teenager, I’d rather have been doing anything else. But I could see the joy in him when he was running equipment. Now, here I sit not much younger than he was then, in the seat of a dozer on this same farm, moving dirt to get us on grade. I think about him a lot as I sit there unable to hear my cell phone ringing and I too am happy. Yeah, keep the dirt coming, I can make the time.
Of course it isn’t all peaches and cream sitting in the seat. We’ve had our share of problems. One morning the first three of four trucks got stuck. Not because we hadn’t prepared our road, but because the grass was so slick they couldn’t get traction, even unloaded, to turn around. Miguel and Vicente had to pull every one up and around to send them back outbound.
The fourth truck?
Oh he broke down as soon as he arrived. Brakes locked up. And an oil line popped off the engine and started leaking oil. At least he didn’t get stuck! I mean he would have, but he broke down before he had the chance, so we had that going for us.
So after hauling dirt for two weeks, nearly every day and definitely all day, we’ve counted 147 trucks in and out of here. That is 1,617 yards of dirt, approximately. What does that look like?
The sloping grass is the original land grade. The building pad is the orange clay flat thingy (sorry for all the technical terms). This is only a portion of the dirt. Probably 20 -25 loads of the dirt went to build up the road where it was the roughest, so that we could keep hauling.
So you can see that the pad it actually almost 7′ tall at its tallest point. Now it would take rappelling gear to get up the face of this pad, so our next steps are to build out the slopes on three sides to shallow the grade and make it usable by both man and machine. That will take another 20-30 loads at least, 50 would be better. Then we’ll take another 20 loads onto our road to build it up nice and solid. After that, we should be done(ish).
I mean, I do enjoy running a dozer, and our chip pile was getting out of hand. So may as well push 1000 yards of wood chips and reshape those for the future too, right? What would normally take all day with the backhoe I knocked out in about an hour with the dozer. We’d been piling chips in a level pile, with very steep slopes just down from the barn. That worked great for making a flat place to store our hay for this winter, but didn’t work so well in the overall plan. Plus it made for one heck of a drop off that was sorta dangerous. I mean you’d fall in a big fluffy pile of chips so that was ok, but if you were in a vehicle or tractor, there would be a few bounces on the way down. Now we have a more sloped mound with access from both sides.
There is no substitute for having the right piece of equipment and the bulldozers ability to, well, doze, was leaps and shoulders better than the backhoe. A backhoe is kind of like a Swiss Army knife. It does a lot of things, but none of them exceptionally well. In fact, I’m wondering if we don’t need a dozer full time around here. It sure is a handy thing to have….
Like I’ve always wanted to dress up our chip road better than it is usually kept. We just can’t grade the road like I would like. We dump new chips here or there, and dress them out with the skid steer or backhoe but basically we are just flattening them out, not shaping the road into the grade we’d like. One morning I had to go get fuel from the barn so I took the chip road to walk the machine over to the fuel pump. Hmm, wouldn’t take much to drop the blade and fix this road on the way there and back.
Two quick passes with the dozer and the road was as smooth as silk. I wonder how I can talk SWMBO into letting my buy a bulldozer….
Not every day on a farm is fuzzy new born calves and slopping the hogs. There is a lot that goes into maintaining a property this size, even more if you are actively farming it. Things like maintaining roads, fixing barns, cleaning behind hogs and prepping hog pens for winter all have to happen routinely.
Another thing that happens with hogs is wherever we put them in the woods, they trees die within a few years. This isn’t a problem as we have 1/2 of our farm covered in trees and we have areas we’d actually like to clear. So a “simple” solution is to put hogs in the area where you don’t want trees any longer. Once the trees die, you move the hogs, cut down the trees, and split them for firewood. Since we heat with wood in both the house and the shop, we always have a need for more firewood.
Of course, cutting down trees isn’t always a simple process. Sometimes the tree is a bit too close to the power lines. Or sometimes instead of leaning towards the wide open pasture which is RIGHT THERE, it is leaning towards the barn you’d really like to keep in one piece. When the trees are moderately straight forward, Miguel fells them with no muss, no fuss. But when he’s gonna have to explain to the Jefe why there is no power, or we need a new roof, and maybe a new wall on a building, he calls me to cut them down.
Now I’m no logger, but I did work in the logging industry for most of my career. Not logging myself, but selling and maintaining equipment for the loggers. I had a lot of opportunity to attend training put on for the loggers, so I at least have some training.
And I grew up on this very same farm. A farm that about every 7-10 years gets hit by a hurricane. When you live in the middle of the woods, and a hurricane comes through, you learn how to run a chainsaw pretty quickly.
This is some video Miguel took from the truck while winching the trees to make them fall in the direction we wanted. Having a digger derrick on the farm for this kind of work certainly makes things a lot easier, and safer.
We used our huge hydraulic winch and a snatch block to get this huge pine tree to lean away from the barn instead of towards it. Of course we also had to thread the needle between some existing trees, not all of which we missed. But the small trees weren’t the ones we were worried about so no harm, no foul. All the trees that day were ones that were challenging for one reason or another. All were already dead so the danger of falling limbs was also a constant threat.
The last tree to fall in the video above is one that was in a wet area, surrounded by older trees that had fallen around it. It was slippery and a pain. And it was last so I tried to pop it over with wedges instead of using the winch and a chain. After hammering for all I was worth, the tree just sat there laughing at me. Miguel was kind enough to hook up the winch for me while I ran the controls for once. It looks simple, but it is actually pretty technical and mighty dangerous.
Six trees down, about 100 to go. Just another day of farming.
So I stumbled across an article about the worldwide phenomenon of cow hugging. I’ve heard of tree hugging. Cow hugging, not so much. I mean, I’ve hugged a cow. It was trying to kill me at the time so I don’t recall it being especially therapeutic but hey, what do I know?
For those of you who want to know how this cow hugging thing works, here you go.