Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer Routine & Happenings

We have not sold the house yet. We have had several productive showings, but nobody has put in an offer yet. It is hard to plan for what this production season might look like or how long it might take before we get to work on actually moving livestock out to the new place. The uncertainty about things is really wearing on both of Janice and I. 

Now that it is Summer, my Daughter is out of school and is out helping me around the farm to get chores done every morning. That currently involves watering sheep, feeding and watering baby turkeys, releasing layers, and moving, feeding, and watering the broiler chickens. 
Supervising a Cattle Move

New Chicken Pen on Pasture

The broilers are running large again, and are scheduled to go into the processor at the end of this week. Just in time to start doing deliveries next week in Des Moines and Pella and in Ames the week after that. I look forward to a break from taking care of these guys as broilers are quite labor intensive  and parts of that labor can be very physical. 

 Excited about Baby Turkeys

Turkey Pullets at Play

Turkeys arrived two weeks ago and are doing "knock on wood" great. We started with 103 and still have 101. That is the best start turkeys have had since possibly our first year of raising them. 
They have about two to three weeks left in the critical development stages where they are prone to dying, but so far I am very pleased with how things have been going.

Juneberries Getting Ripe

Elsewhere on the farm, the berries are ripening. June berries and sour cherries are getting picked right now and frozen down for later use. Mulberries look to be ready and will likely be next on the list. My Son loves Juneberries so much that he often points at the trees and makes some sounds to let us know he wants us to pick him some berries to eat. 

New Calf, One of Three

Cow Herd Following Me to New Pasture

The cattle herd seems to be doing well. We have two animals going to the locker next week, so beef should be available again by the middle of July, just in time for high grilling season.  We are still working on selling off two breading animals and then we will get our herd down to a more confirmable size and bring in some needed income. We had one heifer calf two weeks before I moved cattle into our warm-season grass pasture, and then two bull calfs were born shortly after the move. 

Leadplant on Growing in the Pasture

After moving the cattle into the warm-season grass pasture, I noticed that there is finally Leadplant growing in a few places down there. I put a little bit in the planting mix in hopes of getting some more established on this farm, but I had pretty much given up on it since it has been around 5 years since that field was planted from crop ground  to native prairie pasture.

Not so Little Guy that Loves the Outdoors

I figured our little guy should make an appearance lest his sister dominate the photos. He loves being outside and soon will be out with the livestock more. We will keep you posted about the move whenever that happens and we look forward to seeing customers again at deliveries starting next week. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Non-GMO Conversion

We polled customers this spring and they said overwhelmingly that having a non-genetically modified (non-GMO) ration for the poultry was very important to them. We listened to your feedback and talked with the farmers that mix our feed and together we set out to build a ration that is free of GMOs (the most common GMO soybean is also known as Roundup Ready).

Customer Survey Results

Until this year, our ratio has been primarily composed of open pollinated non-GMO corn and purchased soybean meal. Although it is possible to buy non-GMO soybeans, it is much much harder to find non-GMO soybean meal. The real problem with soybeans is that you can't just throw them into a grinder-mixer, you have to roast them. Soybeans have to be heated to break down enzymes that make it hard for mono gastric stomachs (Chickens, Turkeys, Pigs, Humans) to absorb the protein in them. This roasting process is usually done at very large facilities and creates a system where farmers sell their beans on the open market and buy back this generic roasted product. In the US, 85 percent of of soybeans are GMO, so it is easy to see that most of the soybeans in the purchased meal was likely GMO.

Chickens on Pasture in Recently Constructed Pen

To get around this, we will be using soybean meal that is made from food grade soybeans for human consumption. There was an exhaustive search done to investigate where a roasted non-GMO soybean product could be located and that list was very very short. The resulting change is not a cheap one. Generic soybean meal used to run $450 per ton and the non-GMO version comes in at over $1000 a ton. In other words, our feed has gone from $0.20 per pound to $0.33 per pound.  Our birds are eating right around four pounds of feed per pound of gain, resulting in a cost increase to produce the birds of $0.52 per pound. With high chick prices and a bump in locker fees, we must raises prices to try and preserve the small margin that already exists on our birds.

The change resulted in a $.60 rise in chickens per pound, a $0.50 rise in turkeys per pound. Our eggs have been sold at a loss for over a two years now, so we moved to correct the price and roll in the added feed cost with a $1.00 increase per dozen eggs.

Whole chicken: $3.90/lb
Cut up chicken: $4.10/lb
Large eggs: $4.50/doz ($4.00/doz with return of our clean container)
Medium eggs: $4.00/doz ($3.50/doz with return of our clean container)
Whole turkeys: $4.25/lb
Smoked turkey halves: $7.00/lb

Cattle and lamb prices will not change, as their diet is already GMO free and they do not eat grain. Demand for lamb has been very soft and we are strongly considering phasing out lamb over the year. 

Despite what the customers and my wife were telling me, I must admit that I am terrified by this price change. It is a massive shock to our system financially on the front-end of this process. I can understand that some customers might want to retract their orders. They are welcome to do that, and I would not hold that against them. As I see it, this is a leap of faith. We are taking the first step.