The new piglets arrived yesterday, so that means we are off and running for another year down on the farm. It seemed like we might have an early spring, but looking out the window today at the recent snow that doesn’t seem so likely. Still though, spring will come and before you know it things will be in high gear.
Before discussing plans for 2018, and before you lose interest, I wanted to say a very sincere thank you to all of our awesome customers. It was a mere four years ago that we really started getting serious about selling direct, and the response has been truly great. Farming can be a lot of work, and trying to do it 'on the side' is not always easy. But the feedback and response we get from customers really makes it worth while. I do understand that taking a chance on something as important as your food outside of the conventional grocery store can be daunting. So for those that have been willing to give us a chance - Thank you!!
mmm - Kubota!!
Last year we did not increase the amount we produce, but instead focused on trying to improve how we were doing it. We made lots of improvements on the farm, but there are still lots more that need to be made before we can increase production AND not go crazy trying to keep up with it all.
Last year we moved from 'range feeding' our chickens (where they are free to move around inside a fenced area) to 'chicken tractors'. These are smaller pens that are completely enclosed and are moved to a new spot with fresh grass once per day. While I resisted this change for a few years because the chickens, in my mind, are not completely free range, we were simply losing too many chickens to predators and had to make the change. I was very happy with the results - For the chickens it is actually better because they are getting fresh grass every day and they are not stressed about predation. And, although it is more work, the boost the grass gets from the evenly spread chicken manure is well worth the effort. We also fully switched last year from the white 'cornish cross' chickens to a breed grown here in Nova Scotia called 'Nova Free Rangers'. These hens are a little slower to grow, but do much better on pasture and the taste seems to be even better.
Last year it felt like we finally got managing the pigs on pastured figured out for us. The plan is to do basically the same again this year, except try to grow more of their feed on the farm. Also, we did manage to get piglets earlier in the year this year, which should mean we can finish them before mud and snow season hits in November.
On the beef side we are going to try again getting better at rotational grazing. 'Rotational grazing' is where the animals are kept on a small area for a short period of time, then moved to a new area. There are clearly benefits for the soil and grass of managing this way, however it is a big time commitment to do it. The plan is to make another attempt this year at moving towards this. On the production side we expect to have beef available again starting in June. There is a new inspected facility opening outside of Antigonish, and if that happens it will make life a lot easier. To date the biggest frustration in the whole farming cycle is the lack of facilities where we can take our animals to be processed.
I don’t think it would be a surprise to anyone that making a small farm profitable is not an easy thing to do. One thing that is becoming more apparent to me is that the closer we put our product to the customers table the more opportunity there is to make a better return for the farm. Selling live animals at the auction is the worse return, selling sides is better, and individual cuts even better. Taking the next logical step, prepared foods such as meat pies, is something we would like to do more of in 2018. However, I do not have the time (or skill!) to do this myself so it will mean partnering with those that do. So watch out for some hopefully awesome new products in 2018!
For those interested in ordering in advance (which we strongly encourage!) we will have processing dates available for chickens, and a rough idea for pork soon. Foe those that have no done this before … This is the most cost effective way of getting pork and chicken from our farm. For chicken you can order in advance for pick up in Port Hawkesbury or St. Peters. The chickens are literally processed just a few hours before you get them, so they could not be any fresher. It looks like we will have dates in late June, early July, and early October this year. We will have specific dates and make ordering available soon.
For pork in addition to pork sides we will again be offering the 1/4 pork box, a mix of bacon, sausage and your choice of pork cuts. These should be available in October and November this year. Again, stay tuned for ordering details.