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."



Rob Harward said...

Thanks for your stories, Christian. Starting a new business is quite the roller coaster ride! I am looking forward to the challenge myself! We have many reasons to give thanks.

-Rob Harward

Rose said...

Christian, I feel your pain. The first time we processed ducks, we started a week too late--they were growing a new set of feathers under the old ones and they had all these short little pricklies all over that did not want to come out and they were so short we couldn't grab them. We had to wait several weeks til the feathers grew out. Of course, we didn't know that until we'd started processing a few.

It is scary putting together those notes and trying to figure out what to do when things don't go as planned, but it sounds like you have great customers who appreciate your efforts (we have great ones too!!).