Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Building a New Routine, Take Two

Well it has been a very long time since I have posted. It would have help if the first iteration of this post had not been lost to depths of the internet.  This has been the longest break since I started blogging several years ago. A lot has happened since the last post. Zane was born in November, we closed out our 2012 season, I have flirted with off-farm full-time employment, and we have stared to look toward the 2013 production season.

Zane was born in November, one day early. That happened to be the Des Moines delivery day for Thanksgiving turkeys. Janice blazed through labor and was done by early afternoon. Not long after things settled down, I looked at here and ask, "are you OK here, because I could still do our deliveries." She said she had nurses and would be fine. So, just after Zane was born I was racing back home to get orders packed and get into Des Moines. I made it back that evening just after my folks arrived.

Zane is doing well. He is a big boy (90 percentile for height and weight). He is a pretty mellow guy and most people who interact with of him, think of him as a pretty serious baby. That being said, he reliably cracks his big grin when he is being difficult or when he gets his diaper changed.

Hazel & Zane lying on the bed

Hazel is still adjusting to the change & wants to be held more. She is not used to sharing Daddy. She is getting better at helping, but you do have to channel it toward some thing productive that she can handle at this point. I am glad he is such a stout boy as I am slightly less concerned about her inadvertently hurting him.

Right now, the farm is in a winter holding pattern. The cattle are out on their winter pasture and the sheep are in their winter yard. We bolstered our limited hay supply back in November by purchasing 18 bales at auction and hauling them all to the farm ourselves. Based on our current trajectory, our hay should run out in early April. That is about a week or two before what I would prefer, so we might have to buy a couple bales in March.

Cattle grazing on their winter pasture

Sheep in their winter yard

We have not been working outside a great deal. Much of our time goes to juggling children. I have consolidated all of our layers into the new building, but I still have some work that I would like to do for the layers.  Jim, our supper helper, has been out a few times and we got steel cut and put up around the tractor. When we built the chicken building it became apparent that a simple lean to could be added for the tractor to keep it out of the elements. We finally got steel walls put up on that end of the structure. The building still has some trim work and eaves on the outside and more roosting racks and nesting boxes inside. After that we need to bring water around to the building, tile the area around the building and finally rock the high traffic areas.

Tractor storage now complete with walls

I interviewed for two off-farm full-time jobs in December. One of them, I did not get, and the one is on hold for for a few months while the organization works out some internal issues. I don't know what will happen on that front, but it will have an impact on the business and we will keep our customers in the loop if things shift around.  I will discuss some of the changes we are talking about below and how full-time work might affect things.

Looking at 2013, we will be raising fewer poultry. We raised three batches of broilers this year and next year we will only plan on two batches. We still have quite a few broilers in the freezers and with two children, I am not sure if I can juggle three batches of chickens. If I am working full-time, this will likely drop to a single batch of broilers. We will also reduce the number of turkeys we raise and change our chick supplier. We have attempted to raise 150 to 200 turkeys the last two years and we have been punished for it. The turkeys have been so variable and that volatility has been very hard on our business. In 2013, I think our goal will be 60 to 80 turkeys. I hope we are able to focus on them more as they grow up and have much better survival rates coming into the fall.

The biggest question for 2013, is what will become of our sheep herd.  We once had a herd of over 40 head and now we are now down to 12 head.   We culled our herd aggressively as we struggled through the past two years. This culling helped us bottom out through the worst of our struggles. What we have left are our best ewes and their daughters. We have made gains with our ewes, but the loss of our breeding rams has put us back to square one on the male side of our breeding program. Sheep are easy on water, but require a great deal of work  to fence and they can more easily over graze pasture then cattle.

The biggest problem is that lamb have not been a very profitable enterprise for us. We raise hair sheep and they are smaller then wool sheep, but have a more mild flavor. Unfortunately, we pay the same price to butcher a sheep with out smaller animals as folks with larger animals, so the locker ends up getting around 1/4 to 1/3 of the sale value of the lamb as processing fees. Because sheep need special fencing, it takes a lot more time to rotate them and as such they do not yield a very compelling return on my time. If I am working full-time, then this product offering will be phased out.

For 2013, we are looking to double down on cattle. Cattle are easier to fence, and if you have the water infrastructure in place, it is as easy to water 4 animals as it is to water 12 animals. We are working with the NRCS EQIP program to expand our watering system in 2013. We will likely use our PFI SIP money to complete that task. Right now, we are trying to locate some quality grass-feed steers that we can bring on farm to bolster our production as we try to build our herd up to the point that we have consistent supply levels. When we send out our customer newsletter in March, we will ask people if they are interested in purchasing quarters of beef. If you are, we will ask for a $500 deposit. This money will help secure a supply of cattle and help us to continue to recapitalize the business after several rough years.

Well that pretty much brings things up to date. I am struggling to get a handle on having two children at home and I am a bit nervous about what happens when you add in our production season. Stay tuned as we move into 2013 and build a new routine.

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