So 2016 was quite a year down here on the farm. Like any small business there were ups, downs and lots of lessons learned. We increased considerably in 2016 - It was a very busy but gratifying year. Will Rogers once said something like ‘a farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer’. I am definitely an optimist, but also fatally hooked on the gratification of providing good food to appreciative customers. Could there be any more satisfying way of spending any and all free time?
2016 saw the farm, and our community, lose an amazing friend. Carl truly loved it here. He gave the farm, and especially the animals, his time, his heart and his patience. He will be missed by all, and will not be forgotten.
Although we cut back on turkeys, we doubled the number of pigs we raised and tripled the number of chickens. It was pretty crazy, but we got through it relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, we ended the year with unavoidable butchering delays that threw off our customers and our bottom line. (Apparently the drought in the rest of the province reduced feed and hay availability, which resulted in a lot more cows going to the butcher than is typical. Changing climate strikes again.) The good news is that it means even more beef and pork will be available in 2017 ... Stay tuned for more on that.
Even though we increased production considerably, we still had no trouble selling everything. This was very heartening, and of course suggests that there is room to produce even more. As much as I would love to do that though, we are making a conscious effort to try and get smarter about a few things before getting bigger.
So what do we need to get better at? Well one thing that bothers me is that we currently bring most of the feed for chickens and pigs onto the farm. I would like to begin moving the farmer towards being more self sufficient, and have a few ideas I’d like to try this year to do that. I don’t believe that I can do it at a lower cost in the immediate future. However, I do think I can do it in a more sustainable way. And, I strongly believe that as awareness is raised around the impact of conventional agriculture on our climate the cost of ‘conventional’ agriculture will increase. Conventionally grown grain, which makes up the majority of feed for chickens and pigs, is a climate nightmare, and I would really like to try and move away from it.
The other thing I need to do is try and deal with all of the travelling involved in getting critters back and forth to the butcher. Legally selling meat in Nova Scotia involves a number of hurdles, the biggest of which is that it must be butchered and cut in provincially licensed facilities. The options for these in our area are both limited and distant. Shot of opening our own abattoir (zero chance) the only real option is to raise end send larger batches. So, for chickens we are going to go from 4 flocks down to two larger ones. And for pork we will try and send as many on a load as possible.
Speaking of pigs, a big mistake I made last year was getting a litter of pigs too late in the year. This pushed their college admissions into December and January. While they seemed to weather the cold fine, the lower temperatures and lack of grazing drove up our feed costs considerably. Plus, dragging water to them when the temps get below zero really sucks. Next year we are going to make sure all of the pigs are ready for fall semester.
Price wise it looks like only chicken will need to change in 2017. Beef, pork and turkey prices will stay the same, while we will need to move chicken from $3.33 to $4.00 / lb. We were really happy with the ‘Nova Free Rangers’ we raised most of this year. However, feed conversion (i.e. how much feed it takes to raise a pound of chicken) is not as good as the conventional Cornish cross chicken. Customers really seemed to prefer the Nova’s, and all things considered I think the extra cost is worth it.
So, there you have it. Here’s to a great 2017. Thank you again for your encouragement and support.