Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bigger Farm

Some of our Berkshire pigs enjoying new pasture

Have you ever found yourself playing a board game like Risk or Monopoly where you go all out in an effort to win the game?  Where you make moves that are somewhat risky, where you spread yourself a little thinner than is comfortable?  This is how I often find myself playing such games.  Usually I end up losing but every once in a while I catch a break and the strategy pays off.  Usually it requires a little luck to gain some momentum, but once you get going, you see the light at the end of the tunnel and you know you are going to win.  I am sure that there is a smart person out there who has a term for such a situation/strategy.  Well, apparently, I like to play life the same way as this is the situation I now find myself in.  Only, I am still hoping for that little bit of luck to gain some momentum.

Our little farm continues to grow and we continue to learn along the way.  This year we decided to start offering pasture raised chicken and turkey.  We have raised poultry for years, but never on this scale.  As we now know, raising poultry 10-20 birds at a time is vastly different from raising 400-500 birds at a time.  There is very little room for error as we sadly learned when one of our brooders went out last month.  Of course, as luck would have it, it went out on a particularly cold night causing us to loose half the chicks in one of the brooders.  Combine that with a slower than expected growth rate from our Plymouth Rock and Delawares has left has feeling spread thin.  While we look forward to harvesting our first chickens of the year, today, we were sad to inform many of our customers that we would not be able to meet our delivery goals.  That one brooder incident also cost us a lot of money.  Our spirits were lifted however, when email after email returned from our customers expressing sympathy and understanding.  We were so nervous that some would be upset, and while I am sure that some are annoyed, all have been very good and easy to work with.  Several reminded us that such incidents are part of membership in a CSA.  While we acknowledge this fact, we will still deliver the chickens we said we would, just a little late.  We would like to thank our customers for their loyalty and understanding. 

New Hampshire Reds (aka Red Rangers) on our pasture

While it will take until July to get fully caught up on our chicken orders, we are optimistic with our chicken operation as our mortality rate is getting lower with each group of chicks/chickens.  Also, in seeking out the best chicken breed for our climate (by experimenting in raising 6 breeds), we have found a breed of chicken that we particularly like.  We have selected the Red Ranger which as it turns out is actually the New Hampshire Red.  This chicken is very meaty and hearty.  They grow well, range well, and don't peck each other like other breeds do.  They are well proportioned, not slender like some of the other Heritage Breeds, and not unnaturally large in the breast like the Cornish Cross.  They are just right for our farm when all things are considered.  Being able to discover the right breed this early in our chicken venture is that "little bit of luck" we need to get some momentum going.

Some very exciting (and scary) news is that just as our little farm was busting at the seams, we were able to close on a new piece of farm ground.  The piece we are on now is 3 acres with the cows on leased pasture.  Our new land is 20 acres in size and located just 1 mile down the road from where we live now.  While 20 acres is a lot of land to most city folks, it is scarcely a building lot to some country folks.  However we are grateful and happy for this land and will utilize it to the best of our ability.  Since we can't afford to keep our current place and buy the land, we decided to build a home on the new land and sell our current home.  This will also give our family a little more room as we too are busting at the seams in our 2 bedroom 1 bath house.  The land we just bought offers beautiful, unobstructed views of the mountains and is on the edge of town.  The land has only been used to graze cattle on it for decades.  This means that the ground is clean of any pesticides and gives us a completely clean slate to build our farm upon.  However, now is when the real work begins.  While keeping up with our current operation, we are going to attempt to put up new fencing, build a barn, drill a well, install irrigation, establish new pastures, set up new pens with sorting and loading chutes and run power and water to all the areas where we will be raising animals.  Somewhere in there we will likely sell our house which will require us to move to a temporary location until our new house is finished.  We are still not sure how that is going to work out, but will figure it out as we go.

In purchasing more ground, we are hoping to raise more animals and reduce our long wait lists.  We are especially going to focus on ramping up our pork and chicken production.  We also are planning to offer more on farm activities like regular farm days where customers can come tour the farm.  We are even thinking of doing some camping activities where our customers can spend the night and then help out on the farm the following morning.  The starry nights that Vernon's remote location offers is a site few people have experienced.  We have lots of other ideas we are bouncing around as well including my own secret project that will take transparency in the way your food is raised to a whole new level!

While expanding our farm involves some risk, we are confident in our investment given the strong response we continue to receive.  Hopefully with a little luck, we can gain the momentum we need to make offering locally grown, pasture raised, all natural, humanely treated, gourmet quality pork, beef, chicken, and turkey a winning venture here in Utah.

PS. If anybody would like to spend some time helping us on Fridays and Saturdays on our new farm we could sure use it.  We can offer you fresh air, a good work out, beautiful views and drinks (Gatorade, Coke, Water, sorry no apple martinis!).  : )   


Matt said...

Very exciting news.

Anonymous said...

Good for you and best of luck.

Jesse said...

Congratulations on the farm expansion! Best of luck to you.

We just ate two red broilers yesterday that we had actually kept with our laying hens since last summer since they were a bit small at processing time. The taste was absolutely fabulous. Being 9 months old they did need to be slow cooked, but it was the best chicken I've ever had. So your customers ought to be excited. :)