Big changes coming at the farm

We have a number of fundamental changes coming to the farm. Nearly all are on the production side rather than the retail side that you see. But as always, we are transparent with what we do and want to share not only what, but why.

As I’ve written about in the past, Miguel is leaving my full time employment to go back to the construction industry. His brother Vicente will be transitioning back to the farm part time, but with 1/2 the labor we’ve had in the past, we have to make adjustments on the farm to match production to labor. That means we need to either cut production itself, or cut back on the amount of labor we are spending for the production we need.

Step one was to look for a pig farmer I could work with that produces a quality product that our customers (and the Mrs!) will be happy with.

A regular load of produce, leaving the market
A regular load of produce, leaving the market

Pigs, and the produce they consume, are about 80% of the labor on our farm. Cows are a vacation comparatively. We handled, at our peak of production, about 9 million pounds of produce on the farm, and all its associated waste streams. Cardboard, totes, boxes, plastic, etc.

Today we are loafing comparatively, handling about 2 million pounds of produce a year. But that 2 million is still a massive undertaking for a small farm. We are fortunate that we’ve finally found a hog farmer who feeds produce to his pigs, and does it full time as his primary business. We’ll have more information about that farmer as we move forward, but we’ve already received our first test hog from him and all expectations are that going forward we will be exiting the pork business in favor of supporting another local farmer through our operation very similar to what we do with our chicken and turkey and lamb.

For anyone who just HAS TO HAVE our pork, I’d say we’ll have our own pork through the end of the year at least. And then we’ll be moving to our new farmer starting next year. The good thing about this move for you is that he will sell us cuts as well as whole hogs. That should mean that we have things like tenderloin in all the time. Our long time customers know we are always out of something because there are four feet on a hog, but only two tenderloins. Guess which one sells out first.

So that is the summary for the pigs. Over the next month or two we will be getting out of the pig business while simultaneously increasing our pork stock in the store. That will cut out a LOT of road miles, fuel, and hours sorting produce and feeding hogs, and about 80% of our daily labor.

Enough about pigs, what about the cows?

The cows have been here as long as I have. Longer actually as the people we bought the farm from in 1980 also had cattle. The cows have always been a big part of our tours. I can’t tell you how many people have been slobbered on, giggling hysterically the whole time, while feeding the cows. Our cows, especially our momma cows, are a huge part of the tour. But out #1 tour guide, Spork, isn’t a little kid giving tours anymore.

Spork helping the piglets stay warm and latch on.
Spork helping the piglets stay warm and latch on.

Spork isn’t the little kid you see above any longer. He’s nearly an adult.

Spork and the Princess on their last day at the POD
Spork and the Princess on their last day at the POD

At 6’2″ and about 180 pounds, he’s grown into quite the man. He’s attending college classes already, and is applying to full time college as I write this with plans to move away and get his own place. All the while continuing to take flight lessons on the path to an aviation career as a pilot.

Spork taking Grandma for her first ride

We stopped doing tours during COVID, and with our tour guide moving away to college soon, we simply didn’t restart them. The exception is large groups, which I handle personally.

So what does that mean to the cows? It means we need to clean up our production on cattle as well. We intensively manage our grass, and graze 50 cattle year round. That is a very tight amount of cattle for the grass we have. This farm should optimally have about half that many. Also, we produce our own calves, which means we have to be in the pasture daily, banding and tagging calves whenever they are born.

Our most recent bull on his first day

It also means we have a 2200 lb bull wandering around keeping the moms in babies. That bull eats enough for two cows, and requires swapping for a new bull every couple of years. When we are doing tours, the cute little calves and super friendly moms make for a great tour. But it is terribly inefficient to have cows, bulls, calves, finish cows, yearlings. Basically one of every kind of animal. For the number of animals we finish every year, we could have 15 finish cattle on the ground and get all we need. That would keep us in grass forever and cut our hay budget by 2/3.

The final key element is that my neighbor has agreed to sell me cattle each spring. This all started when his cows escaped and ended up in my pasture during their adventure. Possession being 9/10 of the law, we got to talking about me getting some of his cows. So now we are going to be purchasing cattle in the spring that are already a year old. We can keep them here the next 12-18 months, eating all the grass they can stand. We can also switch from daily paddock moves to weekly. Basically less labor and the same production and product.

That means we have to say goodbye to almost all of our moms and all the calves. We’ll keep two of our oldest cows. They are the herd leaders and will help keep the new cows in line in the spring, showing them the ropes. They also have sentimental value as they’ve been the queens of the herd for years. But everyone else is leaving unless they are one of our cows slated for finishing.

The end result is we should have considerably less day to day animal/feed work and time to complete maintenance and building projects that are never ending on the farm. All the while we should have better inventory in the store for the items that you need when you stop by. I hope this is a win for you. The first morning I’m not out there feeding in the snow, I know it will be a win for me.

5 Replies to “Big changes coming at the farm”

  1. I have learned so much from you and your awesome family!! Truly amazing to see all that goes into your labor of love,😊

  2. What a fascinating read about the intricacies of running the farm
    and handling so many animals.
    You are also raising fine children from what I see too. Your son will be a wonderful pilot – hopefully he’ll take photos from above some day and we can actually see your beautiful land!
    Good luck with all the changes – even though I’m a vegetarian it’s great to read about the way you raise and care for your animals – not enough of that way of farming exists, which is the reason I became a non-meat eater over 40 years ago!
    Best of luck to you, your family and the farm.
    Mary in Raleigh.

  3. Dan,
    So very glad Spork is on the cusp of emerging as an excellent human being. Congratulations to you all for raising such a fine young man. Your a smart and wise business man, and a good farmer. I believe and pray that your reorg will work out even better than you hope.

    Karen Keys
    aka The Oxtail Lady

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