So here we are wrapping up our 4th season on the farm.
Yup – just 4 years ago in November, we purchased the junkiest, most worn down, and forgotten piece of crap “farm.” But, we could afford it with the down payment we scraped together from our first post-college jobs and the mortgage payment would match our rent at the time.
Every task seemed insurmountable – fencing, electric, water lines, livestock purchases, infrastructure improvements, equipment purchases and upgrades…not to mention the house, which met our qualification of “livable” (but not most people’s!)
Let’s not talk about how we barely had heat for the month of February the 1st winter, or that we woke up and started our day by turning on a hair dryer to defrost our well so we could have running water in the house. And, all this with the most resilient and adventurous one year old that anyone could ask for.
It’s been an incredible journey for our family and we’re grateful for every person who has been a part of it. From angelic (albeit, wacky) neighbors to supportive (and wacky) customers – there’s never a day without a story.
To be honest, we’re not too sad to see 2016 go. It was a mixed bag overall – lots of challenges, but lots of victories. We started the year with a small barn fire in the winter, thanks to Bruce our boar, and started the summer with an intense drought that had us on the ropes in terms of grazing capabilities for the cows.
In the midst of that, we finally renovated and opened our on-farm store and put a new steel roof on the hip roof hay barn. (Thanks to the generosity of many patrons & cheerleaders!) Both had been huge goals since day 1 on the farm and it was a surreal experience see their fruition. At the end of summer, we switched from an intense drought to one of the rainiest Augusts on record, and eased our way into a beautiful, mild fall. We were gifted a lovely November and are now enjoying a snowglobe-esque white Christmas!
2016 required a lot of faith and fortitude, which I suppose are honorable virtues to cultivate, but many days it felt more like a crucible rather than a refinery around here. Still, I couldn’t have imagined being at this place after just 4 years. It’s been just over 2 years of me (Whitney) working full-time on the farm and Dan for 18 months. Somehow, we are still surviving, and thriving, on these 12 little acres.
A (very) rough estimate of production for 2016 includes finishing 41 of our farrow-to-fork Berkshire hogs (by the half/whole & retail cuts), 27 Thanksgiving turkeys, 500 pastured meat chickens, 5 beef animals, a handfull of meat rabbits, 1100 dozen eggs, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,200 gallons of fresh raw milk. In addition, we sell quite a few weaned feeder pigs to neighbors and homesteaders in the area to raise their own backyard pork.
What we do is so tiny in the grand scheme of food production, but we are proud of the fact that the food we produce graces the table of over 150 families each year, through our herd shares and pastured meats & eggs. We don’t provide their entire diet but we’re happy to be part of their choice to participate in an alternative food system. Every dollar makes an impact when you buy local.
So, what does 2017 hold for us? Of course, we don’t really know but, we are continuing to really dig into the profitability of every enterprise on the farm. We started a little of this in 2016, and since we have so many of the large start-up costs now behind us, we can “increase” the farm’s income by tweaking and improving where we can.
A dream on the list of improvements would be to find our own hay ground to rent and purchasing hay equipment. By making our own hay, we can dramatically reduce our winter feed bill and have excess to sell for more income. Another item would be to run above-ground water lines to each of our pastures, reducing the need for cows to walk to the main highway for water several times a day. The more water they (conveniently) intake, the higher their milk production and health, and the less time water breaks take, the more time they spend grazing which also equals more milk production. As milk production increases through these means, we can work to reduce our herd size slightly, and save on another mouth to feed in winter.
It’s these kinds of discussions and calculations we’re always having, running numbers and various potential scenarios. Part of our effort to cut costs this fall led to halving our beef/dairy herd size to cut down on labor and save on our hay bill – this meant we had to say goodbye to Millie, Trixie, Sally, Thelma, Grettel, Major, Ferdinand, Junior, and Melvin.
All of these animals went to good homes or empty freezers! By keeping only our highest producing cows, we are actually producing more milk with fewer cows than we were producing previously.
There are so many moving puzzle pieces in a business like that, and it’s a challenging game for us. We both thrive off the challenge to improve and compete with ourselves.
The forecast for 2017 includes…
Pork next available (half/whole) end of January – reserve your pork here!
Beef available in October (quarter/half/whole)
Whole pastured chickens June – September (small batches)
Milk & Eggs available year-round
Turkeys available at Thanksgiving – we usually sell out by September so reserve yours early!
Our family will also be expanding again at the beginning of July when we’ll add a new baby to the mix! It’s OK – we totally planned it because we have 3 cows calving within weeks of Whitney’s due date. So. many. babies.
Cheers & best wishes to your family!!
-Dan, Whit, Ceci, Beau, Baby + the Farm Crew
P.S. Check out some of our favorite photos of 2016 below!