Rain, Tricks, and Eggs: Life at Smart Growth Farms

It’s been a scorching summer here at Smart Growth Farms, but God has smiled upon us with a change in weather. Bringing some much-needed rain and cooler temperatures, grass is beginning to grow again. As the rain pours down, the dry lot where our sheep have been confined turns into a muddy playground, and they will be ecstatic to get on some fresh grass. Oddly enough, they detest hay.

But let’s talk about the real mischief-makers on the farm – the pigs. These sneaky little turds have been up to no good, playing tricks on our poor dogs. We suspect they’ve been scaling the barn roof, taunting the dogs from above. That’s the only logical explanation for why our loyal canines hate them and bark incessantly at night. It’s a never-ending battle of wits between the pigs and the dogs, and we can’t help but guess what happens during the night.

Now, let’s move on to the feathered residents of Smart Growth Farms – the chickens. These clucky ladies have been holding out on us all summer, not laying a single egg. We’ve been feeding and caring for them; all we got in return was an empty nesting box. But finally, the tides have turned, and the eggs are starting to roll in.

Oh, the joy of collecting fresh eggs from our very own chickens! No more relying on others or paying the grocery store for eggs from who knows what feed and care. The satisfaction of cracking open a warm, freshly laid egg for breakfast is unparalleled. It’s a small victory but one that brings us immense delight.

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 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.

August 2022

As usual, we’re running at full speed, nearing completion on the farm office, kitchen, and brewing room.  That has been a very long process as we had to do most of the work on our own due to most contractors simply not showing up and the one who did was such a poor craftsman that we had to undo and redo a great deal of his work. We are pleased. We are pleased to announce that the farm building will be complete by Christmas, enabling us to expand freezer space to ensure we stop running out of meat as often.  We can also begin working out Kombucha recipes.  While we can’t sell that without a commercial kitchen, our friends at Smith Pastures are installing one this year, so we anticipate having Kombucha blends by early 2023. That will also clear a ton of poultry supplies out of the house as we currently do cuts in our kitchen, which makes sense, but does not allow much space for living. Having a totally separate kitchen for brewing and food prep will ensure we don’t lose our minds. I would say something about cleanliness and food standards, but we keep our place super clean, so I don’t see any improvement there.


In other news, the Red Rangers and Cornish Cross chicks from Hoover Hatchery are doing spectacular.  The Turkeys went out to pasture a week after the chicks arrived and are doing stellar.  We had some serious losses on the Cornish chicks the first 72 hours, losing 10 or 30, but they are doing wonderful since that point. We really can’t say enough good things about Hoover’s hatchery, but we will have to try another hatchery due to the heavy losses from transport, 3 days in the mail is just too long. They were kind enough to refund us for all the birds we lost in the first 48 hours, which is more than any other hatchery will do, but that shipping stress is simply too much.  We’re now looking at a New Mexico-based Hatchery and will try another local hatchery a second time to identify if the feed or the chickens were the problems.  With that note on feed, we have just started sourcing our feed from a church-based co-op near Waco, TX.  They are amazing!  The feed is some of the best I’ve seen, both for the pigs and the chickens.  Our health problems have completely vanished, and animals are growing much better.  The downside to our new feed provider is the 4-hour drive and doubled cost.  That also means a higher cost for customers, unfortunately, but with the feedback, we’re getting from our meat, we don’t expect that to be a huge problem.

The last update for this month is the lamb.  We sent 5 off to Freezer Camp, but have 4 more ready to go.  We would really like to find a Halal butcher in San Antonio, TX. We found Alamo Heights Market, but they can only do as small as quarters for our lamb and not individual packaged pieces under State or USDA regulation. If you know anyone, please reach out as we would really like to serve the Islamic Community with a high-quality, grass-fed lamb for Arbaʽeen, Eid-e-Shuja’, or Mawlid an-Nabī this year.  We chose to breed our herd in order to provide the lamb for these holidays specifically, but lack connections with the community, and our friends in other places don’t know anyone locally.


That’s all for this month folks, have a good one and be sure to check out what we’ve got in stock over at the store.

July 2022

We are officially in full swing of summer, though most wouldn’t know any different as we have been in the 100+ degree days since April, with not a hint of significant rainfall.  This makes sense being that the dry line seems to have moved closer to Dallas-Fort Worth, I still don’t have to like it though.  Drought is an ever-present worry for farmers, yet very few take sensible steps to address the problem, namely less water intensive practices or simply moving somewhere water falls from the sky.  We are actively working on the former as we don’t have a well to irrigate if we wanted to.  The downside is that we can’t feed just grass this year, that’s a huge bummer.  Not only does grain cost significantly more than grass and require more labor, but we also can’t regenerate burnt-out soils, sand in our case, without rain to grow something after we rotate the sheep, pigs, chickens, and turkeys over it.  Don’t fret over grain, we are sourcing ours from Coyote Creek, an Organic producer near Austin and the sheep still have a primary diet of hay and what grass does grow.

All that being said, we are doing significantly better than the folks farther West pulling water from Lake Meade.  That lake is nearly dry and their underground lake doesn’t have many years remaining.  We are lucky enough to have several aquifers that do recharge from time to time, though I am unsure how that will look in another 20 years, after we get all the West Coasters here, sucking up all the water for lawns, only time will tell.


Enough about problems, the farm is still doing great!  We have listed our 12 acres for sale as we hope to expand to more land in the county, outside city limits.  That will take some time to sell this property, then move everything, move the animals to a temporary farm, which we are beyond thankful for, then move to our new land once we find it and build perimeter fencing.  Driving the 15 min to the temp farm will be a huge challenge and stress as it’s never an easy sleep when you can’t check on the animals, that allows us two 20-acre parcels to graze on.  That saves us a significant amount of money and we are beyond grateful to the friends for allowing us to use their property.  While it sure would be nice to have a written lease, never look a gift horse in the mouth.   While we’re in flex, we are cutting our sheep herd down quite a bit.  This year’s lack of rain had decimated the sheep market, any of the sheep I don’t absolutely LOVE to deal with are headed to freezer camp.  The biggest reason beyond prices being so low is the simple fact that mutton burgers and sausage sell for $12-15/lb and lamb goes for 15-25/lb.  Even on a small lamb, that is far more than the competitive rate for even registered St Croix right now.  The price drop this year has me seriously thinking about leaving the registered community and breeding in some black-headed Dorper.  We’ll see how Joey B’s economy takes the farmer’s markets.


The pigs are doing incredible and are such a joy to have on the farm.  They have been transitioned out of their training pen and are now happily living inside a large pasture, galloping about and playing with one another, as pigs do.  We just got out meat back from Dziuk’s in Castroville and we couldn’t be happier.  We got nice, 1.5″ thick cuts so you can have a REAL pork chop and really taste the difference.  This pork is nothing like you’ve ever had unless you frequently eat some of those rare breeds of pork. The pigs’ ability to have fun and live in an open environment really improves the meat quality more than words can explain.


Pasture Raised Turkey

We get our first batch of Turkeys in mid-July, and we are stoked, though Turkeys are notoriously difficult to raise due to heavy losses as babies.  Once you get them to pasture, they are practically bulletproof, which is great because hawks are not playing around during the dry periods.  We will let everyone know once we get them processed shortly before Thanksgiving.


If you want to learn more or just chat about the farm, starting a farm, or anything in between, catch us at DeCock Farm in Castroville for their 3rd Saturday market.  Starting in August we will be at the Devine Farmer’s Market as well.  You can find us by the logo as well as all the Bitcoin signs as we STRONGLY encourage business to be conducted in Bitcoin, over lIghtening to maximize privacy, speed, and reduce fees for everyone, also we love freedom.

March 2022 Pork Operation

Pigs are an awesome addition to a farm, they’re just like dogs, but socially acceptable to eat, and presumably more delicious.  I need to make an assumption on one of those.  We started our pig journey in Fall 2021 with two Kune Kune pigs, but due to the loss of one, we ended up getting 2 more Yorkshire pigs after show season ended.  We are ready to expand!

Since South Texas Livestock Auctions stopped allowing Swine, local producers have been severely hobbled.  This among other issues has motivated me to build LocalFirst.Live, similar to a Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist just for farmers and consumers to interact, but some lack of time and funding has set that back a bit.  Anyway, I hope to connect more farmers and grow this operation enough to employ a couple of family-run, pig farrowing operations.  Both are specialties and have their own challenges, I want to pay someone else for being good at making bacon seeds.


After building systems and some makeshift infrastructure, we are happy with the quality of life for the pigs on-farm and the processes developed to care for them.  We don’t graze them on the “sugar sand” or beach sand as I call it, at the back of our farm because they cause damage to the ecosystem, but they do wonderful on the clay-sand-loam on the front of our property.  There are a few areas that were overgrazed in decades past, so we concentrate feeding, housing, and water in those areas to maximize disturbance and regenerate the land back to growth, away from desert. We also deliver plenty of nutrients to those damaged areas with the extra pig fertilizer from their feed and rear ends, in addition to water spillage. Wallows are welcomed as the ground is like concrete when dry and needs some texture to hold water when it does rain.

The pigs are genuinely a joy to work with.  While their curiosity can be a little terrifying at times, especially when they want to eat your shoe, they are like giant, hungry dogs.  They run to you for snacks and head scratches, they respect the fence and live their best pig lives until the one bad day, when they go to freezer camp.  We certainly don’t enjoy sending these piglets to freezer camp, but we certainly feel better knowing that our meat had a quality life and wasn’t abused like the atrocities noted in the factory food system.  There is also the Soy concern, which I can absolutely attest to the problems of, as the father of 2 girls.


For all you folks concerned about us having enough pork for you this season, get on over to pre-order a pig ahead of time.  You won’t find them cheaper and at this quality level.  Prices will go up considerably once they make it to the freezer.  Either way, we will have the stock for a short period of time this year and will have even more next year.


Contact us to get on our list for updates and to know when we get more stock.

Our First Year

It has been a full year since beginning this venture.  The house is nearing completion, the farm is coming along, fencing has been installed, then needed to be repaired, and now needs more repairs, but that’s just how it goes when you don’t have enough time.  Even better, we were able to maintain our day jobs and my wife is about to complete her Ph.D.!  We couldn’t be more excited for the future, but boy was it ever a tough journey and we’re still on it.  I read a quote today that really sums this up well, “Every path has a few mud puddles”.  Down here in South Texas, there aren’t many mud puddles, but this path sure has had a few and it is steep.

My piece of advice for all those folks wanting to start a farm, buy a piece of junk house with land (period).  If we hadn’t got this house that took 2 full months to make livable, then spent the following 18 months (we’re still finishing up a few things) to make nice, we would have never been able to afford a farm.  The barn is in shambles, the rats are everywhere, but we have a farm and after a lot of work, a clean, livable home.  My wife was still in Hawaii for the first 10 months, focusing on her career, working way too long of days while also working through her dissertation and literally all of the reading for this Ph.D. She got promoted, I am eager to stay right where I am.  While she was becoming Sugar Mama, I was single Dad’n it up.  That experience, while a lot of suck, brought the kids and me closer and taught them quite a few valuable skills.  They learned just how important a part of the team they were on those late nights when we needed dinner and I just couldn’t cook it.  At 6 & 9, they worked together with the skills I taught them to make chicken, fry frozen veggies, get in the shower, and get us all to bed for school and work in the morning.


If anyone ever said farming was easy, they’re a freakn liar!  If you are new and think it’s this beautiful, magical thing, you’re kind of right, but only if you’re seriously into long, difficult days and are ok going to bed and work the next day know the fence isn’t working and just praying nothing gets in to eat the animals and they don’t get out to eat a truck bumper.  Pasture-raised meat may be the best quality, but it is considerably more work than a feedlot or barnyard.  The pasture moves are a ton of work, but it enables us to stay drug and wormer free.  Pastured chicken in San Antonio is a great impact on the land, adding plenty of fertilizer, but the lack of available rain makes everything harder.  The pastured pork is especially fun, we love their personalities and so long as we keep them on the clay and off the sand, they are wonderful on the land.  The pastured lamb is a breeze, they are easy on the fence and easy on the land, they just need moved and a mineral feeder, which we get from Free Choice Enterprise.  The mineral feeder and mineral is quite expensive, but it enables us to have top-notch lamb and healthy stock.


San Antonio is hot and dry, with surprisingly chilly “winters”.  While this winter barely constitutes a spring up north, it is enough to freeze water from time to time and require a real shelter for the animals.  At the end of each hard day, we sit down to a dinner of the absolute best meat money can buy, with the knowledge that we helped create it.  That is a feeling you can’t replicate.