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Farm Update, Outwintering Cattle + Chicken Sale and 2023 Plans

FARM HAPPENINGS

I started working on a Holiday newsletter before Christmas, then got busy dealing with the big storm, holidays, and year end inventory. Now that is all behind us and I finally have some time to finish it....so Happy New Year.


We took the last group of summer hogs in for processing last week, and yesterday I picked up our December beef and pork from previous batches so we are well stocked in the farm store now with all beef and pork cuts. And our milk production is strong for now so we haven't been selling out much over the last few weeks.


For the most part I think we are ready for winter. Between our two large barns and the wrapped fermented hay we store outside I think we should have enough of our own hay to feed our dairy and beef herds through mid-late April. Of course the dairy diva's get only the best hay to keep producing high quality milk through the winter, while the more rugged beef herd can survive and prosper on the lower quality hay. Unlike last year when we were grazing through the end of December, with the dry fall slowing pasture growth early we began feeding hay to both herds in mid-November.


We processed our last batch of stewing hens the first week of December and it feels good knowing that we don't have to make any more trips to our poultry processor until early June of next year. Each batch of broiler chickens, turkeys, or stewing hens requires one round-trip for dropping off the live birds, and a second round trip for picking up the processed birds. In 2022 we processed 15 batches of broiler chickens, seven batches of turkeys, and two batches of stewing hens, so if my math is right that was 24 batches total x 2 trips/batch so at least 48 round trips over the course of the year! Good thing they are only about an hour away from us in Clinton, Wisconsin.


Now that the older hens have been converted into stewing birds we have lost their egg production. The newer pullets residing in the hoophouse have also slowed down due to the shorter days and cold weather, so we are selling out of eggs most every day for the last few weeks. However we have noticed an uptick in egg production for the last week and hopefully that will continue with the longer days. A little more sunshine would also be welcome.


OUTWINTERING BEEF HERD

A lot of customers ask about how we feed and overwinter our grass-fed cow herds. The 30 or so dairy cows at our Dundee farm location have a shed attached to the big dairy barn near the store where they can relax and lounge on a deep bedding pack of straw. We have two rolling hay feeders and a stationary feeder that we keep filled up with hay for them to munch on day and night. Normally we keep the gate open to the adjacent 40-acre ield so they can wander around and get some exercise during the winter when the weather is nice.


The 120-head beef herd at our Wisconsin farm can be a little more challenging to care for in the winter. We normally "outwinter" the beef cattle on the fields that need more fertility. This involves feeding them out on the pastures for the winter and only bringing them back to the barn area for water once per day.


While they are drinking we bring 4-5 large bales of hay out to the field and either unroll the round bales or spread the large square bales around on the snow so when the herd comes back from watering they can all eat at the same time without much competition.


Normally they will eat about 80% of the hay and the remaining 20% is used for bedding as they don't like to lay on the snow. We spread the hay on a different part of the field every day so that in the spring the uneaten hay plus manure piles will serve as a fertility boost to feed the pasture plants and soil microbes.


On really wet or very cold days we have the option of bringing the beef herd into the cow shed (third picture above) which has a long feed alley where we push hay up to the rail and the cows can eat. Last year we used the cow shed for maybe two weeks during the coldest part of the winter. This year we put them into the cow shed the week before Christmas when the forecast called for 3-4 inches of rain, then left them in there for the 40 below zero wind chills that came with the big storm. Then the weather warmed up and we got more rain so we had to leave them in the shed area for another week. We plan on moving them back out the field when the soil dries out or freezes again, hopefully this weekend.


LOTS OF CHICKEN INVENTORY = SALE TIME!

During the the last two weeks of the year we start working on the dreaded task of conducting a full farm inventory, which includes all product inventory, hay, straw, livestock, etc. This gives us a very firm count on the value of our inventory for year-end financials. The most challenging part is weighing and counting all the cuts of meat and bins full of chicken and chicken parts we have stored in our three walk-in freezers.


We discovered just how many whole chickens we have on hand. We have raised more the last few years to make sure we had enough to sell through June of the next year when our first batch of new chickens went in for processing. But this year we have a lot more than last year. We started looking back at our sales and noticed that demand for chicken parts is very strong and whole broiler chickens less so. Conseqently we will be taking in more of the whole frozen chickens to have parted out this winter, and for the next week we will be marking down the whole and cutup whole broiler chickens 10% to move some of that excess inventory. Purchase in store or online for home delivery on our pastured poultry page.


FARM STORE UPDATE

With winter settled firmly in we will try to keep a good supply of local root vegetables in the store, but our focus for winter will be keeping our milk and egg production strong and the store well-supplied with our grass-fed beef, pork, and chicken. And possibly trying out a few new ferments and pickled/canned vegetables.

  • NEW and VERY TASTY - Anna has sourced raw cow's milk cheese from Clover Creek farm in Pennsylvania. We met them at a grazing conference last year and their cheese's are really good.

  • As noted above, Whole and Cutup Broiler Chickens are now 10% off

  • Our pork Shoulder Roast and Shoulder Steaks are stilll on sale 20% off

  • Wild-caught Monkfish (aka poor man's lobster) available now while supplies last

Also we are saddened to hear that Arize Kombucha has ceased production of their wonderful brews. We received our last shipment this week of a few kegs and a few flavors of bottled kombucha. We are looking for a new local, organic kombucha provider and open to suggestions.


FARM PLANS FOR 2023

With the 2022 production season behind us, we now have time to spend the next two months wrapping up last year's financials, analyzing the results, and deciding on our goals and production plans for 2023.


We have experienced significant growth over the last three years, weathered the COVID pandemic, and integrated the Wisconsin farm into our operations. We are hoping that in the coming year we will be able to manage our existing business better without any major operational changes to deal with.


A few ideas we are discussing with the operation and store teams now include:

  1. Launching a customer loyalty program that rewards our best customers with benefits including reserved raw milk/herdshare benefits, loyalty discounts, and first dibs on rare or hard to get products like beef liver.

  2. Developing a subscription program that includes a monthly or bi-monthly box of meats, poultry, eggs, and maybe raw milk for a flat fee. Similar to our old full-diet CSA but it would be a year-round program (no veggies) with several different bundle options and possibly home delivery.

  3. More on-farm events, including summer camps for kids, workshops on raising chickens for meat and eggs, more farm tours and hopefully more dinners or possibly a pig roast.

  4. Improved website with more focus on shipping and possibly home delivery in the Chicago metro area. We actually have a new website ready to launch when we can find a few days to transfer over all of our order history and customer databases, possibly this month. Then we can put additional effort into improving our shipping processes and procedures as the year progresses.

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We hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year. Please follow us on our Instagram Page where Anna posts photos and farm updates a few times per week.


Cheers,

Cliff, Anna, and the Farm Team

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