The Farm is Coming Along
We had a lot of internal debate this year as we dealt with blue hairs in the neighborhood upset that farm animals were allowed on our 12 acres, learning the hard way that we didn’t have enough land or the proper infrastructure for cattle, heavy predation on our ducks and chicks, and the list goes on. We debated heavily over whether or not to sell our property and move further into the county or stay put. Well, we decided to stay put. We started this venture partly because I couldn’t find any organic chicken near me. My wife couldn’t find any grass-fed beef near San Antonio, and feeding our kids quality meat is critical. By moving out into the county, folks around us wouldn’t have the educational opportunity and we wouldn’t be able to add as much value to the community. We’re also focused on showing people that you can be better than a certified Organic Farm in San Antonio. South Texas is a harsh climate, but you don’t have to spray or pour on all the chemicals for good production, that’s how you get the concrete-like dirt we have on some of our pastures. This isn’t to say we will never move, we will need more land at some point, but for now, we’re staying on our original farm.
Scaling on this little farm has been incredibly challenging without water. While we get super cheap water from the city, a 3/4″ water line at the street just isn’t enough pressure to get the animals water on the far side of our property and not enough to run sprinklers to get the grass growing again after we rotate animals through the pasture. In a mega-drought year like this one, water only becomes more necessary. All that to say, we’re about to take on some serious debt to increase our sustainability and decrease our reliance on outside grain for our pigs. We had a permaculture designer (Nick Ferguson) come in this summer and anticipate his design before Christmas. Nick with HomeGrownLIberty.com may have made the entire trip worthwhile with his recommendation of White Mulberry trees. There is some data to show that pigs can eat up to 92% of their diet from White Mulberry leaves. That is significant as a pig easily consumes 800-900 lbs of grain on pasture. To grow these trees in the hot desert-like environment of south Texas, we need water and a bunch of organic matter.
This is where the loan comes in. We’re preparing to spend $25K on a well and another $12K on irrigation. I encourage folks to think about that next time they ask why it costs so much. Each pig is about $1K in feed as it stands, not including processing, transport, market fees, the baby pig from the farrowing farmer, and all the government fees on top of it. It’s no wonder we only have big factory farms at this juncture, taking care of animals AND the land is hard and expensive. Who can afford it?
A lot of folks ask, “If you’re doing all that to improve the land, why not get the Organic label?”. Unfortunately, the Organic label doesn’t mean anything anymore. The government gets in there, adds in a bunch of genius lobbyist ideas and now we have a watered-down version of commercial farming with a spiffy new label. Beyond the destruction of the meaning behind Organic, you’re looking at a stack of paperwork taller than your average adult, well over a decade of work, and even more money. We are confident our product is better than organic. The feed we give our animals is better than organic, namely because all the organic feed you get in Texas has soy to meet the protein requirements.
- Peanuts and other legumes are extremely sensitive to herbicides resulting in far less spraying. This ensures a lot fewer chemicals in the feed and therefore your meat.
Our feed is a peanut and milo-based grain. We partner with Smith Pastures to drive to Waco once each month for a big feed run. It’s expensive in fuel and takes an entire day, but Steve & Sandy are dedicated to supporting the local community, and for that, we’re forever grateful. With any luck, our future White Mulberry fodder will reduce the need for feed by at least 25%.
In our drive to scale this year, we now have 12 pigs on pasture, those guys can EAT. We’re going through ~150lbs each day and anticipate nearly $12K in feed cost before they go to the processor and bring in another hefty bill before market. Thank god for our day jobs because this scaling thing sure ain’t easy. We love farming and encourage others to start, but do so with your eyes wide open. Farming isn’t super profitable, it’s unreasonably expensive, and a quality product takes a whole lot of explaining for the average consumer to understand. Farming can be a whole lot cheaper, but when you’re striving to be better than Organic, especially in San Antonio. you’ve got a lot of work cut out for you.
The last couple of big updates before Thanksgiving, we tried Pick Your Own Turkey, probably not going to do that again. The little house is almost done and freezer space is expensive and hard to come by. Turkeys are wonderful and quite fun to have around the farm, unfortunately, they eat a TON, nobody wants a giant 45 lb turkey, and we have yet to find a bag big enough to package a turkey over 20lbs. Also, we learned the hard way, it is crucial to restrain the heck out of them at processing, or all that flapping as you catch them results in bruising which looks green. I don’t expect a customer to be happy with a green spot on a turkey at $7/lb, so we ended up with a lot more turkey than we anticipated. We love the quality meat, but it sure is hard on the profit margins. For a first-time run, we should break even, which is a whole lot better than a loss. Suffice it to say, we don’t plan on doing Turkeys next year, we’ll let that to Smith Pastures. In a mad dash to find enough freezer space for our 4 Berkshires heading off to Freezer Camp around Thanksgiving, we ran across Lisa’s Appliances in Lytle, TX. We are over the moon with their amazing customer service, selection, and prices. I have been quite clear with Alan that I don’t think they charge enough on repairs, but they won’t hear anything of it. They helped us out with 2 single-door stand-up freezers and a jumbo double-door freezer. The little processing house I have been remodeling for the past 6 months is near completion, just waiting on electricity and it’s packed with freezers. We have bets on the monthly electric cost, hopefully, we’re overestimating that. Either way, it will feel amazing to finally complete that and maybe get a weekend back to just sit and not have something that needs to be done. Fat chance we take advantage of that and don’t work, but it sure would be nice to not have to work if we don’t want to.
Alright, you farmy people, it’s about time to sleep harder and faster so I can work on the feed/fence trailer and get a shed moved in the morning. As always, if you’re in the San Antonio area, looking for farm fresh meat and better than organic, local meat, we are your go-to. We’re happy to deliver, we just ask that if you’re outside the Devine area you make it worth the gas money, it’s not cheap these days. Local food is crucial as HEB runs out and shortages become real, find a farmer near you and build that relationship so you’re not hungry when shelves go empty.