Humpty dumpty fell off the wall, almost

Anyone who visits regularly knows that we deal with a lot of wood chips here on the farm. We are a dump site for the tree service companies in town, where they can dump their wood chips rather than taking them to the land fill. This saves the environment, the tree service company some money, and gives us fresh organic mulch to use wherever we need on the farm. It has been a great system for the past several years and we have tens of thousands of yards of wood chips here to work with wherever we need. We’ve only ever had two problems. One guy backed into our gate, smashing the gate and the expensive controller. We fixed that and all has been well, until this week.

I’m in my office and hear one of the chip trucks rumble by. Then several minutes later I hear a horn blowing, beep, beep, beep. There is no good reason for the horn to be blowing, especially at 7:30 in the morning, unless something is wrong. I jump up and head out to see what is wrong and discover this. 

Well not exactly this. There were no tractors with chains, keeping the truck from falling over on its side. We quickly grabbed both the backhoe and the farm tractor and hooked them to the truck to secure it from rolling. This allowed the two guys inside to carefully slide out as prior to that they were afraid to move or change the weight in case it might tip. Based on how it was wobbling, they’d made a good choice.

Once we had the chains secure, and the tractors well in place, we tried giving the truck a tug forward to see if we could get it headed back uphill. It only slid farther. I looked at the hapless driver and explained a few things:

  1. You need to call your boss. I’m not doing anymore till he signs off on it. Sorry
  2. All the chips are weight that is trying to pull the truck over. The chips need to come off of the truck
  3. The only way to get the chips off is to hand shovel them off
  4. Yes, really

The two guys started slowly shoveling the chips out of the truck. Vicente tried to jump in to help, but we were already down one man with Miguel sick that day. We don’t get paid to shovel chips so as harsh as it seems, I needed him doing farm work. The chip guys could handle their own chips.

Eventually another crew showed up, along with the Jefe who seemed a great guy. By this point I did have Vicente back because we brought another tractor down, our full complement. The tree guys dug all the chips out of the truck, then dug the tires down to somewhat level the truck, digging out the high side tires. During this time, SWMBO called me and asked if I was ready to go? I was supposed to take her plant shopping for her Mothers’s day present. It went like this.

“Hello?”

“Hi Honey. Are you ready to take me shopping?” she said happily.

“Look out the front window.”

“What?”

“Look out the front window, into the pasture. What do you see?”

“Um….A truck. It is falling over.”

“Does that answer your question?”

“Um, ok. So are we going or not?”

“Yeah, but it is going to be another hour.”

Sorry, even moms have to wait for stuff like this. 

Eventually we had all three tractors, with chains attached to the truck. We used the green tractor to apply upward pressure to the front end so it wouldn’t slide off. The backhoe was used to keep the truck from rolling, and the skid steer was used to pull backwards and hopefully uphill.

It didn’t work.

The skid steer just couldn’t get enough traction in the wood chips. We tried several ways and it was a no go.

By this point there were about 8 Mexicans working around the truck and the Jefe was doing all the directing. I was simply running the backhoe. Not my circus, not my monkeys. After some more digging, and some conversation in Spanish that I didn’t follow (I can order a taco or a beer, that is about it) the entire group decided that we were instead pulling the truck forward with the green tractor. That was a great idea, except nobody told the gringo in the backhoe. I quickly figured it out and was able to follow along as we pulled the truck back onto level ground so it could continue on its way.

Vicente did some quick work with the skid steer to dress the road back into a level path and I took mom out for Mother’s Day shopping, only about an hour late.

Crisis averted.

Big tour groups on the farm

YMCA bus with kids
They care coming in by the bus load

It was so busy on the farm yesterday that this picture isn’t even the correct one. This one is from our last YMCA tour earlier in the year. I never had time to take any pictures yesterday.

We started off the day with payroll and a bit of office work. Just a normal start to the day on Wednesday, the same as every Wednesday.

Then I left the office to take an empty grain box to Mule City Feed for a refill. I only do this every few months, as we only give the milk cows a scoop of grain in the morning for a treat. But the box was empty so off I went to Benson and back. That took 1.5 hours.

While I was in Benson, waiting on the box to be filled with our custom blend, SWMBO called me and casually mentioned that the house was on fire. Well, not quite on fire but there was smoke coming from an electrical outlet in the floor. The wooden floor. Wood burns. Uh oh. Unable to diagnose the problem from the phone, I had her turn off every breaker in the house till I could get there. That entailed explaining where the load centers were in the house and telling her how to turn off breakers.

When I returned, the bus you see above pulled up and disgorged a full load of kids eager for their tour of the farm. The power would have to stay off a bit longer.

Tours take about an hour, and large groups take a bit longer so this group took me to around lunch time. During this time, I received a phone call from my friend Dale with Wake County Soil and Water. Apparently I’d been randomly selected as a spot check of our processes, and she was letting me know that she and some board members would be stopping by around lunch time.

Our processes set the standard so having a surprise inspection is no big deal. In fact, I was glad she was coming because I was doing some new things she hadn’t seen and I was glad for a chance to show her and her board members around.

Girls on John Deere Gator
The girls, enjoying a break and acting silly

I retrieved the Gator from where the kids had left it last and took everyone around to see the farm. With Dale taken care of, I went back to the house to find the Mrs. eating lunch and all the power turned back on. However the problem receptacle had not been addressed.

I located the proper breaker for the receptacle and turned it off. Then addressed the fact that the internet didn’t come back online after having the power off. Sigh, of course it didn’t. Some rework and changeover of hardware and Wildflower had her computer going again.

Young girl picking apples
Wildflower, just before she ate the next apple.

You see, today is Spork’s birthday and Wildflower needed her computer to make art for his special day. “Daddy, can you please fix my computer?” Sure honey.

With the power on, the fire out, and the internet restored, the house was in decent shape. I headed back to the barn after grabbing a piece of cheese for lunch (I’d skipped breakfast). That is when the first of two Exploris tour groups showed up. I wasn’t sure how big these groups were, but as the cars kept coming I grew concerned. There are two types of groups that are hard to give tours to. Kids groups. And groups larger than 20 people. This was a kids group much larger than 20 people. Uh oh.

Generally we limit our tour groups to 20 people max, but this time I had not. The first group had 34 people, the second group had more I think. I didn’t count. And they were kids. I like kids, I have a few of my own. But kids are hard to settle down and get quiet. And with large groups it is hard enough to talk loud enough for everyone to hear. Add kids that are scampering about, talking, laughing, and cracking jokes, times nearly 40 people, and it makes for a tough tour. Couple in the fact that I’m getting over one cold, and beginning a second one (thanks SWMBO for sharing) and I started loosing voice part way through the second tour. We had about 100 people come through on tours today. Since my typical Wednesday average is about 2, this was a busy day for tours.

During all of this day, and for some reason especially during the tours, my phone was blowing up. I had 30 inbound calls yesterday. That isn’t counting the outbound calls I made which were probably another 10 or so. Some were just a quick minute. Some were rather in depth as a few were to and from my lawyer going over some important details. I had to take these calls in spare moments when I could. The other spare moments were spent answering my approximately 100 emails I receive a day.

Sound like I’m complaining? Nope. It was 80 degrees and there was not a cloud in sight. It was a stunningly perfect day and everyone was happy and laughing.  I was “at work” in the sunshine making people happy for a living. The milk cows were hand fed two cases of bananas, for which they were very thankful. Lots of kids went home telling stories of the cool farm where they saw animals. And hopefully they learned a bit about where food comes from.

 

Once I was done with the last tour, I hopped in the truck to head to the airport. A new plane (to us) had shown up after being rescued from the back of a hanger where it sat unused and unable to be flown. A group of us at the airport had gotten involved and gotten a ferry permit to get it over to our airport to breath some life back into it.

457MC sitting outside after being washed
Sitting outside after a bath

It is a 1976 Citabria. It is about as basic of an airplane as I will ever fly. No navigation source, two seats, one in front, one in back. It is aerobatic but I have no experience in aerobatics and no real interest at this point.

Citabria sitting in the hanger
Washed and tucked away in the maintenance hanger

We spent some time washing the years of dirt and bugs off of it and then wedged it into the maintenance hanger to get it ready for the mechanic to go over it since it hadn’t been annualed in a couple of years. That will be for another day. For now at least it is clean and safely put away.

Sunset at the farm
Sunset at the farm

Once I finished at the airport, I headed back home where the Mrs. was waiting on the front porch watching the sun go down with dinner already made. We sat in Lucy’s borrowed chairs in front of our house and talked while the sun went down.

It was a glorious end to a busy day.

 

Another farm tour is in the books

Sunday was the last day of the CFSA farm tour. We had amazingly perfect weather both days. Well, Sunday was a bit cool but as long as you had some clothes on it was fine. A few of us showed up in shorts thinking it was another 80 degree day. That didn’t last long.

The Princess, giving one of her tours during the CFSA farm tour
The Princess, giving one of her tours during the CFSA farm tour

We had all hands on deck for the farm tour again this year. Lucy was coordinating everyone while her husband Jason (aka Abe Fruhlman) manned the grill cooking up bratwurst samples for our guests to enjoy.

Crystal stayed over for the weekend and worked her normal Saturday but also Sunday as well. Plus she helped make cookies Sunday morning, getting in on my girls normal Saturday morning routine of wake up, fire up the bakery, then get to work.

Spork did his customary tour guide duty on Saturday, giving our normally scheduled tours as well as CFSA tours all day. Sunday a cold he’d developed got the best of him and he convalesced while SWMBO took over tour guide duties.

Wildflower and Crystal both manned the store, and directed traffic. The Princess was everywhere, manning the store, directing traffic, and giving tours as you see above.

Erin and Mark were both on hand to teach people about milking cows, and Erin’s girls brought their award winning show chickens up to the yard and taught people about chickens and more importantly gave people a chance to pet a chicken.

Dustin broke out his drone and captured some video from the farm while the tours were ongoing. It is always cool to see your environment from above. I especially enjoyed getting to check my roofs without crawling up there!

Overall we had a pretty good turnout on Saturday. Sunday started off slow, but by the end we had a good crowd visiting and at one point we had three tours going at once.

Takeaways for our 2018 CFSA farm tour were:

  1. This is the easiest event that we do all year. We don’t do the marketing. We don’t schedule the people. All we have to do is open our doors and host everyone when they show up.
  2. This event is fairly sedate. We probably maxed out at 20 people here a few times. Usually it was 4-5 at a time. Easy. We could double the number of people without even noticing.
  3. We did 75 transactions in the store Saturday and Sunday. Most transactions represent about 3 people visiting, which means we had about 225 people here total.
  4. We did a little more than double our normal Saturday business dollar wise. But we were open another day so that sort of evens out.
  5. Probably the most actionable takeaway is that we had roughly half of our visitors stop in because of the signage we put out rather than because they were part of the CFSA tour. Putting out signs on Old Stage Road, and at the entrance to our farm, brings people in. I’ve been reluctant to put out permanent signs but I am going to have to rethink that strategy. Signage works.

We’ll do the event again next year, CFSA does too good of a job not to be part of it.

Instagram comes alive, meet Emily of Wilders Homestead

I’ve never worked in an industry where everyone is trying to help you. Usually the government is trying to either shut you down or regulate you out of business. The tax people are taxing you to death, customers are trying to steal or at least beat you down to the point where you are loosing money doing business with them. Employees are either wanting a raise, or in some sort of HR involved tiff with one another. As a business owner, it sometimes feels like it is you against the world.

Our new little girl calf, #94

Then there is farming. Nearly all the government people I know are actually here to help. We are exempt from many of the requirements of a normal business, for things like a business license, unemployment tax, etc. Even our license plates cost 1/2 as much as normal.

Our customers routinely remind us we forgot to charge them for something rather than stealing products off the shelf as happens in a normal store. We have people routinely asking if they can volunteer to work here, for free.

Recently we had the daughter of one of our customers mention that she was pretty good at Instagram.

Grumpy farmer who accidentally walked into this conversation, “That’s nice. I used Instagram before. My Goddaughter signed me up. I didn’t really like it. Too cumbersome.”

Random girl I’m being nice to, “Well it works pretty good. We have a tiny little farm and we have a lot of followers.”

Mostly distracted farmer, “Uh huh. Good for you. I use Facebook because, you know, I’m old. That is what old people use. We’ve got like 1800 likes or something so we are doing pretty good.”

Girl who seems to know what she’s talking about but probably doesn’t, “Well, we do well with Instagram. I have about 23,000 likes.”

Idiot farmer who should have been paying attention, “Wait, what? On a farm that doesn’t sell anything?”

Really smart and beautiful young lady, “Yep.”

Stupid farmer who is now paying attention, “Soo…. Do you work for chocolate milk?”

So everyone, meet Emily of Wilders Homestead. She is taking over our LONG dormant Instagram account and teaching me the dark and mysterious ways of internetting and socializing with media. This will be a stretch since I’m not exactly social anyway, preferring to stay home and mind my own business. But according to Emily, if I want to be one of the cool kids, I have to step up my game.

Emily has already started posting some items to our Instagram page and there is plenty more to come. Emily is indeed working for chocolate milk. She just wants to help us and see us succeed, and we are very thankful for the help. There is no way to tell who is doing the posting because she is basically logged in as me. However for our normal followers, you’ll know because her posts are well written, thoughtful, positive, detailed, and uplifting. Mine, as usual, are not those things ranging more towards sarcastic, snarky, funny, and usually completely skipping the info you needed in the post in the first place. Hey it’s not a bug, it’s a feature! This way you’ll be able to tell us apart.

Resharing a post from last year

I was looking for something in an old post recently. Remember, this blog is my record book. What cow was born when, did we process number 23, how much hay did we buy last year? That kind of stuff. While scrolling back through the archives, I came across a post about the girls and what they do on a slow day in the store.

Kathy Bates with knife
This isn’t actually my darling Mrs. But….

I giggled reading the post, remembering that day. The girls are crazy, and they were kind enough to document their craziness for me this time. Maybe it is funnier to me because I get to see them when customers aren’t around but I thought it was worth reposting for those of you who don’t get to see them off duty.

Here is the original post. 

The end of winter feeding

We have two seasons here on the farm. Grazing season, and winter feeding. The goal on a cattle farm is to make grazing season last as long as possible, thereby shortening winter feeding to be as short as possible. Winter feeding involves purchased hay, which is a large expense on a cattle farm.

Part of achieving that goal is completely counterintuitive though. Step one is to keep the cows off of our pastures as long as possible in the spring. This lets our grass get a good jump on growth, establish plenty of leaf material, and be more than ready to graze. That means grass that is at least 12″ tall before we turn the cows on it. The cows then graze off about 4-5″ of grass in their one day grazing rotation, leaving 7-8″ of grass soaking up the sun and steady making new grass to eat. By leaving grass behind, we actually grow more grass long term because the grass is a much more efficient solar collector when we leave some leaf material. Basically we have more grass on the second grazing than if we turned them in early and/or let them eat more of the grass.

before grazing, with grazing marker in view.
Before grazing, the grass is full and lush. 100% ground coverage and averaging 12″ tall.

Back in February, when it was 80 degrees and it seemed that summer was nearly here, we had grass that was already 6″ tall and looking great. I had a wall of hay left and we were discussing how long till our momma cows went to our leased farm, and what we were going to do with all the leftover hay.

Enter March. Which was colder than February on the East coast. Argh! March is supposed to be when spring has sprung. Instead it snowed, it has frozen all the buds off of my fruit trees, and as I sit here on April 10th, typing away, I’m still wearing long pants, shoes, an overshirt, a vest, and I’m cold. Basically my winter apparel. I should be in shorts and flip flops in April, in NC.

Yesterday we fed our last bale of hay. We ran out. Today our cows go onto grass that is basically the same height as it was in February. The sun hasn’t been out, except on cold clear days, and I cannot recall an 80 degree day although we are supposed to finally get to 80 degrees by Friday. Instead of being well ahead of the curve, this cold weather has us behind. No hay, not enough grass, and cows that need some fattening up asap. We’ll be fine, once the heat shows up the grass will explode and we’ll be playing catchup. We have so much organic matter in our soil that the grass really responds once it has some spring weather to work with. But I don’t like running up against the edge of things.

The good news is we’ll be able to start our tours going back out to the herd in their daily paddocks. And the sacrificial paddock will finally be able to start recovering. I flew over the farm a few weeks ago with a cadet while on an O flight. It looked green, except for where the grass hasn’t recovered yet, which was a fairly large area. It kinds looked like the farm had been bombed. I’m looking forward to my next flight and seeing everything green everywhere!

Our CSA has started!

Jen delivering her first load of produce for our CSA program
Jen delivering her first load of produce for our CSA program

I had a surprise visit on Wednesday from our CSA farmer. She’d apparently lost her phone and couldn’t text me she was coming, but that was ok. I was just glad I saw her and all her fresh produce!

With this never ending winter, even a few warm days didn’t have me feeling like spring yet. Isn’t there still snow in the forecast for Saturday night?!

But seeing boxes of fresh produce unloading from the car, and seeing all the customers come swarming in to pick them up, made me feel like for just a few hours it was indeed spring.

We are super excited to finally have a produce CSA. Thank you to the customers who stepped up and committed for this spring season. We’ll have signups for more CSA positions later in the year for those who missed out this time.

The CFSA farm tour is coming this month

Lynn and daughters from Lee's produce
Lynn and her daughters at our event.

When we first decided to be part of the farm tour, we wanted to be part of the spring tour because that was the big one. However they had implemented a fall tour and we ended up on that one instead. We enjoy the fall tour, and we’ve had good weather, but I always wanted to be on the spring tour to kick off our warm season rather than winding it up with the fall tour. Plus the spring tour is the original one, it is where all the cool kids hang out.

Guess who is on the spring tour this year?! Actually, everyone is. They have consolidated the fall tour into the spring tour making for one gigantic tour this April 28th-29th. You can see all about the tour  and purchase tickets here.

We’ll have brochures showing up this week so you can grab one when you are in the store but mark your calendars. This will be the biggest farm tour I’ve ever seen with many, many farms that you can go and visit. The cost is per carload, not per person, so designate a driver and grab some friends for a fun weekend. And make sure you come and visit us. We’ll have on our Sunday best.

A tractor trailer load of cantaloupes

Miguel sorta casually mentioned there was a truck coming. Not too unusual. Normally we go get the produce but sometimes we get a delivery. We like deliveries. They save us time, fuel, tires, brakes, etc.

Then he slipped in it was an 18 wheeler. Oh, now that is a little different. We usually get one or two of those a year. What are we getting this time?

Cantaloupes. Oh goody, those are almost as good as watermelons. Everyone on the farm eats cantaloupe and they are easy to unpack and get ready for the animals.

Food bank truck full of produce
Food bank truck full of produce

The truck was late, of course. The downside to deliveries is they are never on time. Apparently the driver had had a flat tire so that is understandable. Often it is just they didn’t come when they promised so at least this time it was legitimate.

Bringing the pallets to the edge so we can offload them
Bringing the pallets to the edge so we can offload them

The problem with something like a tractor trailer of produce is that we don’t normally have the setup for offloading them. Miguel borrowed this pallet jack so we could move the pallets from the front of the truck to the back where we could reach them with the tractor. We certainly aren’t complaining about all this goodness showing up, but it is different from what we are normally setup for. It just takes a bit of a different approach.

Pallets of cantaloupes
This isn’t even all of them

Everyone on the farm is munching on cantaloupes for the next few weeks, which is a God send. We have been doing well this winter on produce, but having something like this gives us a ton more flexibility. Almost as much as the truck driver needed to get out of the farm. He was too tall to get under our power lines so we had to back him up onto a side road. While good natured, it was obvious he was frustrated with our tight quarters. I felt bad for the guy, but he did a great job getting out.

Now if I could just talk Duke Power into raising out power lines up to where they are supposed to be. I’ve tried in the past. No luck.