Is this the new normal?

The year so far. I’m feeling this post by Kate Beckinsale

Things on the farm are progressing to be the new normal. From March till about July, it was like this on the farm.

400% + of normal volume. So many requests we couldn’t answer them all. Lines to get in the door every day. Being out of stock on just about everything almost instantly after restock. One year wait times to get an appointment at the processor. It was crazy.

Yesterday we didn’t break $500 in the store. That is after restocking a ton of chicken and our normal weekly restock of milk. Last week, I actually had a little bit of raw milk left over. We’ve been rationing raw milk for months. First time I’ve had any real amount left over probably in 2020.

I said back in mid June that I thought we’d jumped the shark. Looks like that was fairly accurate. Our beef processor has gone from a year out to actually having some short term spots on the schedule. But short term I mean within a few months.

Our normal pork processor burned down, so that is bad but not pandemic related. Fortunately for us, I already had appointments at another processor that is a similar distance away. Using a new processor is always a challenge. The first few times through the process is always a mess and product comes back late, wrong, or not at all. Communication with each processor is always unique and it takes a couple of trips to get things ironed out. For instance, the pigs I dropped off several weeks ago are STILL not ready. I don’t know why. I can get a couple of days turn around at the processor I normally use. Well, when they aren’t literally on fire that is. These folks are slower for some reason. We’ll figure that out and plan for it moving forward. Of course we haven’t even seen what the returned product looks like yet and I’m sure there will be issues there so that will have to get worked out with the hogs I’m dropping off next week. We’ll get it. The good news is I was already on the schedule with this other processor before our normal processor burned down so we aren’t scrambling like our brethren are trying to adjust to their new normal.

Our chicken farmer is still doing great. This is the heart of her production season, assuming a hurricane doesn’t drown another barn full of birds. She’s fulfilling our orders, which have slackened as she’s gotten birds into production meaning we are meeting at the middle and fulfilling nearly all of our orders each week. I don’t expect us to go short on chicken at least till sometime this winter, if at all.

Our manager of our dairy farm is going to be down for a surgery this winter, so all of our dairy animals are going to be dried off 1 November. That means no raw milk till about February. Since we already sell just about everything we get each week, there really isn’t much opportunity to stock up for folks, either customers or the farmer. In fact, we don’t even drink the raw milk anymore. Haven’t for several years. There is so much demand that we just use the Simply Natural milk and save all the raw milk for customers. When someone complains to me that they didn’t get all the milk they wanted, they pretty much get this reaction from me.

My family gets NONE of the milk. At least you got some.

There is a reason Jeanettte keeps me out of the store.

We are still looking for a reliable sheep and/or goat farmer. We have some sheep coming this fall which will be coming from a much more reliable source so hopefully that will solve itself. If you know a goat farmer that is reasonably close to us, let us know.

So the summary is, product is back in stock and pretty much staying that way. We have a cow going to the processor this week, coming back next week. We don’t have the hordes pulling from a freezers like we did, meaning our normal inventory levels on beef, with the monthly ebb and flow, will be back to the good ol’ days. Pork and chicken will be there to backstop the beef supply, and dairy products and seafood should be able to compliment your choices.

All in all, if you come to the farm, you should be able to get mostly what you need and that is a good thing for everything except the bottom line. Coming off 400% of volume can be a shock to the profit and loss statement. Fortunately, we foresaw this coming and didn’t flex to try and meet an unsustainable demand. Our expense levels are pretty much exactly where they were in February. That means we didn’t capture an extra six figures in volume over a few months, and it means that our focus, our weekly and monthly regular customers, are as important to us now as they ever were. If you’ve been avoiding the store for the long lines and low inventory, now is the time to stop back by.

Our pork processor burned down and I was there

Normally I make my run to the various farms we represent on Tuesday. But this week, Christy could only meet on Wednesday so she asked if I could reshuffle. We don’t do this change of plans often, but it isn’t completely uncommon either. Sure, Wednesday it is.

But this week, I needed to make a pickup at Dean Street Processing in addition to my normal meetup at Custom Quality Packers with Christy. So a bit of extra time was needed in my schedule.

Except I stayed super busy trying to get computer work done right up until it was time to leave. As I headed out to the garage at a sprint to get to Dean Street, then get to Custom Quality to meet Christy, after hooking up the trailer which was hooked up to the charger, which needed to be disconnected and stowed, I skidded to a halt, realizing that all the trash was still in the back of the truck. Argh!! I forgot to go to the dump on Tuesday!

So hair on fire trip to the dump, then back to get the trailer, then race to Custom Quality to meet Christy. THEN I’ll have to go to Dean Street after instead of before, so I need to text Tamryn and let her know I’ll be late.

Sigh, just another day for me.

As I turned onto the road leading to Custom Quality, I noticed smoke in the distance, in line with where Custom is. I’m still several miles away and there are some farmers fields around Custom so maybe someone is burning off a crop? As I get closer, and get sight of Custom Quality I see that my hope is dashed. Smoke is pouring out of Custom and so are people. Employees are moving their cars away from the building and it isn’t just a little bit of smoke. Something is really on fire. Christy pulls to the side of the road in front of the building. I do the same. Barrett, the owner of Custom Quality comes roaring around the building in his truck still pulling a pig trailer loaded with pigs. About that time the first fire truck arrives and I watch as all the employees cars block the fire truck from getting access. Everyone is scrambling to move cars and let the fire department in. It is quite a scene.

Christy and I pull around the corner and find a quiet spot to exchange pleasantries and farm goodness. Fire trucks continue to arrive and once we are completely cross loaded we walk back over just to see what is going on. The pigs have been turned loose from the processor, getting a stay of execution they seem rather non-plussed about. They are just milling around the parking lot in between the firemen. The building is rolling smoke from all sides but I don’t see any flames. Maybe it is one room that is burning and it is just smoke damage everywhere else. Hopefully.

I head over to Dean Street, where it is a bit non-standard there. Brooke, my normal point of contact isn’t there so Rachel is helping me. After our exchanges, Brooke comes racing in grabbing water for people who are at Custom. I help her load a flat and she roars back off to go help. I decide to swing back by and just catch a glimpse of what is going on. It seemed every fire truck in three counties had responded so surely it was out by now. As I pulled by an hour after first arriving, I took this pic.

Custom Quality Packers burning
Still burning an hour later

The place was surrounded by fire trucks and it was still burning heavily an hour later. I couldn’t believe it. Later I found that the fire wasn’t officially put out till around 5pm! Here is a news article about the fire.

You can see the pigs walking around while they are fighting it

So why does all this matter? Custom Quality Packers is where we normally take our hogs to be processed. Dean Street does all the sausage, bacon, butchery, etc but Custom does the actual kill and initial work. Normally we’d be in a bind but we’d just switched over to taking our hogs to Micro Summit Processors in Micro NC. Remember that with Corona all the processors were super backed up? We’d had to shift what we were doing and literally dropped off our first hogs at Micro this same week and we are already on the schedule there for additional hogs next month. That was close!

We have friends at Custom Quality and regardless of our relationship, this industry doesn’t need to loose a processor. They are VITAL to our continued business. This is no bueno.

So with smoke in my nostrils, I raced to make the rest of my runs, arriving home in time to be late for lunch. By the time I got back, it was almost time to open the store. Jeanette had already unloaded some of the trailer but I jumped in to unload the rest of it. By this time, we had a crowd out front waiting for us to open (a normal Wednesday occurrence) and one of our regular customers poked his head in and asked if I needed help.

Sure, says I. Never one to turn down help unloading a trailer bulging with meat and farmy goodness.

Trent jumped right in and helped like he’d been working here already

So Trent got out of line to get into the store and instead helped me unload the last of the stuff from the trailer. It goes much faster with two people. Seemingly more than twice as fast because there isn’t as much walking back and forth. I was most appreciative.

With the trailer unloaded, I snuck Trent in the back door to get him into the store. It surely wasn’t fair to put him back in line waiting like everyone else after he’d helped me. We chatted and visited a bit as well. Nice guy. Turns out his former roommate and I chatted last time I was in the store and he’s in the real estate business like we are. Small world!

So that was the first half of my day. I can’t even tell you what the rest of it was like. Probably paying bills of welding something. Who knows at this point. Just another day on the farm.

Reminder!Virtual farm tour at 6pm today

This is a legit farm tour, the same thing you would see in person. Just without the drool of the cow on your hands. Actually Spork and I are going to do the tour together, so you can see a bit of how we interact. That part you wouldn’t see on a normal tour since either he or I give the tour normally. We don’t have a comedy routine, but we normally end up laughing when we work together. The normal people usually look a bit bewildered (and laughing) at how we interact, but it is normal to us.

You need to sign up to see the tour. It starts at 6pm Friday afternoon. That is TODAY!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ninja-cow-presents-sustainable-livestock-farm-virtual-experience-tickets-110168460832?aff=NinjaCowBlog

The cost is $5 and that is for however many people you can fit in front of your screen. That is a deal compared to the $20 we normally charge.

As a reminder, we are NOT conducting in person tours now, so if you want to see how the farm works, then this is the time to do it.

Beef is back in stock

You’ve noticed that I haven’t been publishing daily updates to our stocking levels recently. That is because most things are in stock all the time now. Chicken is coming in nicely, we were able to get a couple of pigs processed to get us back to normal levels, with two more going next week (instead of October!!) and then two more to follow them. So really beef is the only thing we are running short on lately.

Ribeye steaks, ready for sale
Ribeye steaks, ready for sale

The good news is we were able to get an extra slot at the beef processor and that cow was picked up this week, fully restocking us on hamburger, steaks, roasts, etc. I got back late afternoon last Wednesday with the cow so only a little bit was sold at the end of the day Wednesday meaning we are fully stocked as we open today.

If you are looking for beef, today and tomorrow are your days.

Virtual tour of Ninja Cow Farm

Seems the whole world has gone virtual, from higher learning to doctor visits.

Not to be outdone, our farm is going to be part of a virtual tour this Friday in partnership with People 1st Tourism, which is an outreach program of NC State University.

We’ve already done a dry run of the tour, which will be pretty much exactly like what we do on the farm when you come for a tour, including the Gator ride that larger groups don’t get to experience. Our normal tour is $20 but through People 1st the cost is only $5.

Since we are not conducting in person tours right now, this is the best opportunity to see what we do on the farm and how we do it. It also will be interactive so you can ask questions and find out the answers you’ve always wanted to know.

The link to sign up for the tour this Friday is here.

Sign up. Sign up your friends. Don’t leave me alone with a camera and nobody to talk to! I’m dangerous if left unsupervised.

Extra beef

As things progress from extremely crazy to only somewhat crazy, we’ve been able to do something that was unheard of just a few months ago. We were able to get an additional slot with the processor to take an EXTRA cow to the processor. By extra I mean above and beyond our normal one(ish) cow per month. We just brought a cow back to the farm last week, and we have another scheduled now to go 8 July. That means we should be able to be well stocked with beef for the foreseeable future.

We are also now staying well stocked on chicken.

We are also still well stocked on pork, with more slots coming with the processor this month (ones that we couldn’t book just a few weeks ago). That means we will have our own pork as the primary product in the store for the summer most likely.

All other items are in pretty good shape and are back to pre-COVID levels.

Beef is back

Today our processor pulled another one out of the hat and was able to get our beef back to us early. I picked up our latest cow and have it sitting on the trailer waiting to be unloaded and placed out for sale in the store.

We will be fully stocked tomorrow for opening.

Inventory update for 17 June

I think we’ve officially jumped the shark on this whole corona virus, can’t find food, buy all the toilette paper in the world thing.

A few months ago, we had NOTHING in the beef freezer. Except cob webs and dust. We kept that empty freezer running for weeks until we could get another cow in from the processor. Then it was emptied in just about 1.5 days and we spent more weeks with an empty freezer.

Friday we have a cow going to the processor and while the beef freezer isn’t exactly full, there are actual cuts of beef in there that we still have for sale. We haven’t had this much beef at the end of the month since March. Yes we are still out of hamburger. And the ribeyes were gone before I could blink. But ribeyes disappear anyway no matter the conditions so that isn’t new.

I shared in my last post that I thought the craziness was over, and that demand would be dropping soon. This past Saturday we did revenue numbers that were comparable to pre-COVID levels. We are out of a lot of items so there is that, but the foot traffic was much lighter as well. The store is matching the internet trending.

Finally, this week we received back both OUR PORK and every single item on our order list from our chicken farmer. We haven’t had a full chicken order since early March, and we went several months with no chicken so this is a huge turn around.

The processors are still booking out into next year so we aren’t getting anything extra processed any time soon. But as retail demand slows, I think we’ll see farmers start dropping appointments. Once that starts, we’ll be able to work through our own backlog and get our pork back in the store more consistently.

With all that said, I’m not posting pictures of the freezers this week. Jeanette was taking well deserved time off and she won’t be in to restock till before we open. Just know that we have pork back fresh from our hogs, chicken in full supply, milk/cheese/dairy fully stocked, and seafood in good supply. We event got in some lamb. Beef is a bit sad but a cow is going Friday so we’ll be back fully stocked next week. After next week, I think you’ll see beef stay in stock going forward.

At least till the murder hornets breed with the locusts in India and make the next 2020 plague.

Chicken is back in force

Yesterday I received the largest chicken order we’ve gotten in several months. Not only did we got lots of whole chicken, but we received the gamut of cuts as well. Drumsticks, wings, whole cut up, etc. I’d say we are officially back in stock, and should remain in stock going forward as demand drops off (restaurants are open again), and the birds Christy had on the ground continue to grow out and finish.

I’m not posting pics of the freezers today because all in all, everything is in stock. We have beef, pork, chicken, goat, sausage. Not every single item every time, but overall we are well stocked. We did receive a bigger than normal order of milk this week (Thanks Tamryn!) so we are even beyond normal stock on raw and pasteurized milk.

With all the big items back in stock, I can spend a minute to talk about some new items we have on hand.

Jeanette mentioned to me that she wanted to bring in some new items. Chicken pot pie, shephards pie, those kinds of things. She’d found a new company she wanted to try and wanted to know if it was ok. If she likes it, then I like it, so sure. I noted that they came in and hit the freezer, but since I’m trying to get back on my no carb diet I didn’t pay much attention beyond that. Then when I was looking for some random thing and ended up having to use Facebook (I NEVER get on Facebook) I saw that someone had left a comment about her purchase at our farm.

“I picked up The Shepard’s Pie today, my husband and I absolutely loved it. I will definitely purchase again.”

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3349680351711281&set=p.3349680351711281&type=3&av=113097675411854&eav=AfbJYyaky82IfBxNYaHOE7aSe7zQ5NWeKIjy12U3LRn37B-m6p63R5cMeLyREo_vwaQ&theater

Shephards pie cooked to perfection
With a lovely picture of the shephard’s pie she made.

Cool. I’m happy that the customer is happy. I still can’t eat one right now till Ioose some weight, but I’m formulating my plans for when that will be.

Then Dustin, my neighbor, is looking for something out of the store, so I tell him, “Hey, we have shephard’s pie and chicken pot pie and I don’t know what else. Jeanette just brought in new stuff.”

Next morning. “Man, that was some seriously good shephard’s pie!” Dustin is particular about what he eats. He’s coming back for seconds as well. I’d say Jeanette is on to something. We don’t sell many things that are easy or convenient. Most everything we sell requires a lot of cooking. Not these items. They are take home frozen and pop in the oven. And of course made with the kind of ingredients you’d expect from our store. It is a win-win.

Next time you are in, I recommend you give them a try. And tell me how they come out since I can’t have one right now.