Monday, November 29, 2010

In Good Company

I hope everybody had an enjoyable Thanksgiving.  Last week started out hectic and stressful but ended well.  After 8 months of carefully raising our heritage breed turkeys, the time had finally come to butcher them.  Sunday evening Hollie and I went out to catch the turkeys that were to be butchered on Monday and Tuesday.  We naturally chased after the largest turkeys first.  As we ran around, the weight of the turkeys we were catching began to feel lighter and lighter.  I was a little concerned but reassured myself that these birds had been fed high quality feed and were 8 months old, nearly twice the age of the commercial breeds when they are butchered.  We were scheduled to deliver the turkeys on Tuesday evening.  Well Tuesday morning came and all the news stations were getting quite worked up over the "Blizzard of 2010" that was forecasted to hit Utah that evening.  We decided to be safe and reschedule the turkey delivery for the following evening.  Of course this threw a few of our customers off as they were planning to be out of town Wednesday evening.  We felt bad to have interfered with their plans but couldn't think of any other options.  Tuesday afternoon we picked up our turkeys and hurried home to get the animals tucked in before the storm hit.  We were so busy getting our animals situated that we never had a chance to look at the turkeys.  We stored our turkeys in the walk in freezer but left it turned off so that we could keep the turkeys fresh rather than frozen.

The next morning was cold.  I got up at 5am and went outside to check on things.  The thermometer was reading -11F!  Dreading what I knew I was about to find, I went and opened the freezer.  Sure enough, the turkeys were partially frozen.  Immediately a wave of stress swept over me.  If you can believe it, we placed a space heater in the freezer to raise the freezer temperature to 35-40F in an effort to thaw the frozen portions of the turkeys.  I went and checked on our last group of meat chickens.  I counted 15 dead from the cold despite heat lamps, shelter, and straw bedding.  The pigs were fine and snorted in annoyance when I shined the flashlight on them.  The Berkshire pigs are very hearty and able to adapt to a wide variety of conditions.  I checked their watering stations and found they were frozen solid.  More stress.

As I was leaving our farm to go to work, the truck was acting a little sluggish, I figured it was because the engine was cold.  Soon, I noticed I was losing more and more power.  Pretty soon the truck stopped all together.  The diesel fuel had gelled.  I called my brother in law, Stan who gave me a ride to work.

Hollie called me at work to report that she had been out weighing turkeys and didn't have good news.  Most of the turkeys were considerably lighter than we had planned on.  We were hoping for an average dressed weight of 15 lbs.  Instead, we were looking at turkeys in the 5-10 lbs range.  I literally thought I was going to throw up and grabbed the trash can as a precaution.  If I was stressed out before, now I was freaking out!  I kept thinking of all the customers who would be let down.  I wondered how many customers were going to give us an "earful".  I prepared for the worst.  I realized that there was nothing I could do but be honest with our customers.  On my lunch break, I drafted an email explaining the situation.  Hollie called me in tears thinking we were ruining everybody's Thanksgiving.  I understood her feelings.  As farmers, the products we deliver are literally the fruits of our labor along with some blood, sweat, and tears.  It is very personal for us.  However, I put on a brave face and told her that we had done everything we could.  If somebody was going to be upset all we could do was apologize and offer a refund.

Then a miracle happened.  We began getting all kinds of positive responses to our email.  Hollie and I felt a wave of relief as we realized (once again) what amazing customers we have.  There are so many good people in this world.  The delivery went smoothly that evening.  We seemed to be able to get larger turkeys to those who were really banking on them and the smaller ones went to those who didn't need tons of meat.  We heard many words of encouragement.  We would like to thank our customers for being so understanding.

In trying to figure out why we didn't get the weights we were expecting, I did a little research.  The website we ordered our turkey chicks from listed the weights next to each breed of turkey.  I mistakenly thought that these weights were dressed weights when they were actually live weights.  Then to compound the problem, because the turkeys are not the heavily muscled turkeys, the live weight to dressed weight percentage yield drops quite a bit.  Fortunately we raised a few different breeds some of which were a larger breed which gave us the larger turkeys that some people were counting on.

We would like to apologize again for not being able to deliver the weights we had planned on.  Raising poultry has proven to be very difficult (and costly) for our location.  Fortunately, we have done better with our Berkshire pork and Grass Fed Beef.  Thanks again to our wonderful customers.  Below you will find some of the responses we received to our email.  As you will see, we are all in good company.

"Thank you so much for all your hard work!  Starting a new business is not an easy thing.  I hope this year's learning experiences won't deter you from continuing the great work you do!"

"No problem! I am so proud and excited to have a REAL turkey from a free range, local farm this Thanksgiving. I don't care what size it is. They're probably just a natural size, not the genetically altered, freak turkey's we've become used to. ;-)  And really, how much turkey can you really eat? It seems like we throw out a ton of Turkey anyway. People can just eat more yams.  See you later tonight!"

"I feel very bad that you think you need to apologize for your turkeys. This is what a CSA is all about, in my opinion. You guys have been wonderful to deal with and bend over backwards for your customers. And you have wonderful products! We will take whatever you have for us. And if you have folks turn you down, maybe some of your other customers will buy some of those smaller birds. I know I would!"

"We'll be there to get our turkey and we want you to know that we support and encourage all you're doing.  Certainly there have bumps and things haven't worked exactly as you planned, but I'd much rather put my money in the hands of a local farmer who is providing for his family and raising quality and ethically cared for meat than in the hands of the mighty [Corporation A]!  Good luck as the weather gets colder and colder; we have a flock of nine egg-laying hens who are having their first winter and are not sure what to make of it all."

"Not a problem for us, Christian.  We'll happily take whatever you have.  Thanks so much."

"No worries - we are happy with anything!"

"HI There, Don't worry too much!  I think that any of us that love doing business with you understand the challenges of a small farm.  We will be there tonight to pick up one(maybe 2 if you have extras)!  Thanks for everything you do."

"No problem for us at all, I am sure the little guys are just as delicious and worked very hard to get as big as they could. :)"

"Sounds like a rough morning for you...but keep your chin up!"

"Sorry to hear about the turkey yield.  Considering it is a first time, moving farms and all, a good learning experience.  I am sure the next year will improve.  Would prefer a turkey, but can see others may not have an option or be able to wait.  Either way, a substitution would work."

"Thanks for being straight with us. It's all very interesting and part of what we signed up for. And thanks for not being [Corporation A] or [Corporation B]!"

"We would like to pick up our turkey on November 4th, if that is still okay.  We were not going to use it for Thanksgiving, so this was not an inconvenience for us at all.  Thanks for offering local poultry.  I believe most of us understand that there is a learning curve and just appreciate that you are willing to try and offer us all an alternative.  I hope you are able to get through the deliveries and enjoy your holiday."

"Oops.  I swear, this holiday is setting a record for messed up plans.  As it turns out, we can't make the pickup after all.  Would it be OK if you kept our turkey (your pick but smaller is better) until the first of next week and we'll drive out and pick it up.  And it's fine if you let it freeze.  What else can you do.  I'm sorry about this last minute change and I wish all  had gone better for you, too.  Just think how slick it will all go next year.   Thanks for you fine pork, beef and turkeys."

"I am so sorry that you guys have had to go through all this!"

"I don't mind the smaller birds.  Thank you for all of your efforts."

"You guys are great - we are looking forward to the turkey, regardless of the size."


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tough Times

What a crazy couple of weeks we have had!  Now I know why so many old time farmers have stayed at their farms their entire lives.  It is an incredible amount of work moving equipment, animals, setting up new pens etc...  I have used up nearly all my sick leave and vacation from my "off farm" job just trying to get everything done.  It also is very expensive to move/expand the farm.  There are many little costs that we didn't think of that sure add up.  With our energy gone, bank accounts low, lots of work ahead, and the days getting shorter it would be easy to get down.  But this is something we will not allow!

This past weekend we were reminded of just how fortunate we are.  After fighting and fighting the ground with the post hole auger attachment on the tractor, I finally broke down and rented a Bobcat Skidsteer with a hydraulic post hole digger for a day.  With hundreds of posts needing to be installed I was struggling to find enough time to dig this many holes.  For being on the edge of the West Desert, we have pretty decent soil.  However, about 18-20" down there is a miserable hard pan that is very difficult to penetrate.  It is so hard that it takes about 1 hour for me to chip out a hole with a digging bar.  (On a positive note, I am starting to see a little muscle tone return.)  When I purchased my post hole digger for the tractor, I opted for a hydraulic kit that adds a little down pressure.  However, even this wasn't enough for this hard pan I have been fighting.  So, I rented this Bobcat thinking I could punch all the holes in one day.  However, I quickly realized that I was severely limited by my ability to maneuver this piece of equipment.  It takes a few hours on a machine to get comfortable with the controls.  With the time ticking I quickly realized that it was going to take a couple of days with the Bobcat to get everything done.

After an hour on the Bobcat, I had a few holes completed.  I heard Grizzly (our Anatolian Shepard Livestock Guardian Dog) barking and looked up to see what was going on.  I saw an old van parked by our house and a scruffy looking man approaching me in the field.  I shut down the machine and jumped out to greet the man.  He extended his hand and introduced himself as Mike.  He explained that he was construction worker recently laid off and was hoping to buy a live pig at a reduced price.  He wanted the pig live so that he could save money butchering it himself.  While his introduction had initially impressed me as few people seem to shake hands these days, I was suddenly put off a little.  Perhaps I was jumping the gun a little and perhaps he was nervous asking for help but the way he asked me made me a little leery.  I explained that all of my butcher sized hogs were spoken for and that if I sold him a pig that I would be shorting somebody else who had already placed a deposit months in advance.  As I walked him back to his van, he then saw our turkeys and asked if he could purchase a turkey for his family's Thanksgiving dinner.  I began to feel like a scrooge as I explained that they too were all sold with deposits.

We continued to have a friendly conversation, during which Mike explained that he had four children.  His wife was a substitute teacher was pays something like $50/day.  He told me that they had a house in Tooele in the same neighborhood that Hollie's sister and her family live.  Mike was somewhat of a chatterbox and as he was talking, a verse from the New Testament came to my mind.

"35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
  36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
  37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
  38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
  39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
  40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. "
Matthew 25:25-40 
I thought to myself, here is a grown man with a family, who lives in an average neighborhood, yet he is out visiting farms looking for food.  My leeriness went away.  I explained to him that because of our recent move, we were low on cash, but that if he was willing he could work with me for the day and I would pay him in meat.  He eagerly replied that was willing to do whatever he could to keep food on the table.  He ran back to his van to get some work gloves.  I began walking back to the skidsteer realizing that I was in a situation that reminded me of movies I had seen where the story takes place during the Great Depression.  A time when men literally went door to door looking for work.  It made me wonder what kind of visitors we would have if the economy gets worse. 
I climbed back into the skidsteer and Mike grabbed a shovel.  As I struggled with the skidsteer, Mike offered a few suggestions for smoother operation.  I began to ask what kind of construction he had worked in realizing that he knew a lot more about the Bobcat than I did.  Turns out he was a heavy equipment operator!  I jumped out and told him to run the skidsteer while I did the shovel work.  Mike thought this was backwards.  He thought he should do the grunt work while I ran the skidsteer.  I explained that I needed to get as many posts in the ground as possible and that this would be the most efficient way.  Mike proved to be very good at operating the skidsteer and we accomplished far more than I would have been able to had Mike not showed up.
At the end of the day, I went to our freezers and began pulling out meat.  We had never agreed to what cuts of meat or anything like that.  We simply made a verbal agreement and shook hands on the deal.  Knowing full well how good food can lift your spirits during tough times, I made sure that Mike received a good mixture of cuts including roasts, steaks, chops etc... During our move, we had a discovered an extra turkey buried in the freezer.  I pulled it out and added it in addition to our agreed amount of meat.  I figured his family would appreciate it on Thanksgiving.  As I handed Mike the bag of meat his face lit up.  I fought back tears as the day had been very humbling and rewarding for me.  Mike had been a blessing in helping me get my money's worth from the Bobcat rental.  More importantly, he had helped me get a good portion of the overwhelming work done.  His situation reminded me of the struggles that we have had in the past as well the struggles that so many people go through.
Our family and farm have been blessed incredibly over the past couple of years.  While it is a lot of work, we have a steady family business that has grown rather quickly during the one of the nation's most challenging economic times.  We have healthy, wholesome, comfort foods on the table that nourish our bodies after a hard day in the field.  I have stated it before, but there is something about good food that helps one cope with life's struggles.  I invited Mike back anytime.  We parted ways both being better off that evening than we had been when we started the day.     

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bad Blogger

It's official.  I am a bad blogger.  I can't believe how much time has gone by since our last post.  If anybody is still following this blog, please forgive our silence.  In our defense, we have been incredibly busy this summer and fall.  As some of you know, we have spent this year expanding our farm.  We had the opportunity to buy a larger plot of land on which we are in the process of moving our farm to.  We also built a new house which in and of itself was surprisingly time consuming.  This past weekend we moved into our new house which has been very exciting for our family.  We have also been moving all of our "farm junk" from the old place to the new place.  Farm junk includes barrels, railroad ties, containers, pallets, fencing, feeders etc...  It is stuff that isn't being used, but is handy to have around.

The turkeys and chickens have all been moved to our new place as well.  We haven't moved the pigs yet, but are hoping to in the next week or two.  The new pig area will have 12 watering stations compared to the two we have now.  It will also have a much better handling, sorting, loading area that will make rounding up pigs a breeze.  In order to provide water to the pigs, we had to dig a trench that was 800 feet long and 4 feet deep!  We also ran power to each watering station so we can keep the watering stations from freezing.  We are now needing to build pens and shelters which we will start this weekend if the weather cooperates.  There has been a lot of thought and time spent laying out the new farm.  We want to utilize the ground as efficiently as possible.  We also want to be as energy efficient as possible.  While we have accomplished a lot less than we had hoped in terms of setting up our new farm, we are pleased with the results.  We certainly want to thank our family and neighbors who have helped and continue to help.  We especially would like to thank our loyal customers for supporting our farm.  It is because of our customers that we have been able to justify the expansion of our farm.  Thank you!

We promise to post pictures soon!