Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lessons from year one

We are constantly analyzing and reflecting on our choices and progress. Sometimes (often) we make changes and adjustments to our methods, materials- whatever based on our reflections. We don't like to reinvent the wheel, but every farm is different and we have to find what works best for us.

There have been several things we have been re-evaluating recently, and in an effort of keep organized and maybe help those setting down a similar path, I decided to lay some of them out here.

Veggie Field- Phew! By now many of you know this drought seriously kicked our butts for much of the season, but we still were thrilled with the production from August until the hard freeze last week. We knew going in that it would take at least three years for us to even feel moderately comfortable with our soil, and five to seriously assess the best crop options. But a few more things have become apparent:
-We need to build up our soil beds rather than dig down. With the amount of rocks, we will be better off adding material. The rock provides excellent drainage though.
-We can't hand plow the field again. Our backs and time constraints say its time to move forward. Either we get a draft program running, or pay for field work.
- We need more pollinators. We noticed a serious lack of bees this yer, which didn't help our yields any. We have hoped to install a hive this spring but we had to cut back the budget. Next year, this is a non-negotiable.
-We need to mix some non-gmo hybrids into our heirlooms. We loved the flavor and color with the heirlooms, but it seems like we need some of the hybrids to round out the shares. I feel great about many of the heirlooms we chose. But by adding some hybrids, I think we can continue to preserve biodiversity and add more consistency to our production.
- Our onion crop must be trenched. Near our whole crop was lost this year, which was one of our biggest disappointments. We used the same growing method I've always used- but it was a catastrophic failure. Next year, we will try again. At least there are scallions!
-The greenhouse will revolutionize our growing. We will be have bigger, stronger, more numerous seedlings and a much expanded growing season. Horray!

Livestock- All said and done, we are very happy with our chickens this year, stoked about the popularity of rabbit and looking forward to the turkeys.
- The laying hens proved to be a huge headache. Our flock had unplanned molting and we lost a big number to predators. Egg production has been unpredictable at best. Purchasing new hens has been costly, risky, and not that beneficial. This winter we will be overhauling the entire operation. We need to raise almost an entire new flock and cull out all non-productive hens.
- We are only raising the giant Cornish-x in the spring. All of our subsequent batches paled in comparison to the first early birds (haha). The rest of the season will be the beloved freedom rangers. We need to alter our growing schedule for meat chickens to do larger batches spaces further apart. We need to upgrade our butchering equipment to streamline that process and can't schedule butchering weekly. We still need to figure out what the new schedule will be, but weekly was a big commitment and less efficient then we wanted. We also pushed the weather limits too far, next year we need to be done with meat chickens by the first week in October.
- Turkeys! We still will need to do a lot of assessment on these guys, but it looks like we will be doing an extra spring-summer batch. Turkey is so tasty- and not just for the holidays!
- With the HUGE popularity of rabbits it looks like we will be upping our breeder population. The cost of chicken grain is astronomical and rising fast. Rabbits are most cost effective in that we can raise much of what they eat without special equipment and not have to ship in tons of grain. We go through about 4,000 lbs of poultry feed in 7 weeks. We will go through more next year. With prices for our grain (even at our bulk rate) near 16.00 for 50lbs- relying more on rabbits makes sense. Plus, they are less labor intensive and we have big plans to convert our feeder rabbits to a pasture system much like our chickens.
-We need to add pigs! We would like to diversify our meat production, and we have some woods that we think will serve us well for pork production. We need to plan our infrastructure, so I'm sure more on this will be forthcoming.

This is just the start. Along with tangible farm changes, we are thinking about our marketing strategy, membership options, and customer base. We are looking at bigger delivery vehicles. We are planning to transition Kim to be on the farm full time, but we have to figure out the financials of this first and streamline out budgets even further. But in order to grow our business we both need to be on farm full time. We can't work more hours then there are in the day.

Farming isn't just brute strength, it's managing a living, breathing business that Mother Nature plays the last card on. And likely, everything I just laid out will change. Maybe by this afternoon. But we're hoping that by being flexible and open to the short comings and changes we can succeed.

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