The End of the Birds
It has been an eventful summer. We started the season going full blast and gearing up for the Bentonville Farmers Market. We purchased 75 additional laying hens to support our market business; we had scheduled out our meat chickens to purchase, raise and process every 4 weeks; and we had approximately 30 feeder pigs in staggered growth to process throughout the season. In addition, we had sheep and cattle that we had decided to grow through natural birth, rather than buying more to increase our herd. We were ready to grow our business! In reality we were exhausted and it was only May!
We were doing 2 markets a week, moving freezers from garage to trailer, unloading them at market, reloading at the end of market and then unloading back into the garage. This took a significant toll on this old body! I want to chase a squirrel here and encourage you to really appreciate all the work that goes into a farmer being at the market every week. Not only are they working out in the heat every day, laboring from dawn to dusk to grow delicious and healthy food, they have all of the additional prep and stress of market. The stress of "do I have enough?" or "do I have too much?" If you have too much, it is wasted effort, if you do not have enough, it is lost sales. Thankfully we keep all of our products frozen and don't have wasted effort.
At the end of June, we decided as a family we did not want to continue with the Farmers Market. Sales were fantastic, almost too good. We raised our first batch of 100 meat birds and sold out the first day we had them! This leads me to chasing another squirrel and explaining how we raise meat chickens:
We order our meat chickens through another farmer who is much larger than we are. They arrived the same day they are hatched, so they are hours old when we get them. We set them up in our brooder with feed and sugar water, heat lamps and bedding. They live in the brooder for the first 3 weeks. We feed and water them daily and clean out bedding regularly. The brooder gets stinky and the flies are horrible! The waterers get disgusting and the birds make a huge nasty mess of their food.
After 3 weeks, we move the birds to pasture, as long as it is warm enough and not raining. If it raining the first day or 2 they move to pasture they will often die! So watching the weather, we move them to portable hoop coops. We have the feeders and waterers hanging to make moving the coops easier, and so the chickens do not waste the feed, and to keep their waterers clean. Every day we use our 4-wheeler to move the birds to fresh pasture. That sounds so easy and fun, however, it is a 2 person job because someone has to stand at the back of the coop and clap to get the birds to move. If you don't there are casualties...don't ask how we know :-).
Then the feeders and waterers have to be filled. Thankfully we have spigots in the fields but we still have to run hoses to the coops so there is still labor to fill the waterers...and these birds consume a lot of water! This process happens daily until the chickens are approximately 8 weeks old. Please know that we believe in this process and would not raise them any other way. Their manure fertilizes our pastures which provides wonderful grass for our sheep and cattle.
The night before taking the birds to the processor, we have to load all of the chickens into crates. There are a mixture of roosters and hens, the roosters have extremely sharp claws and the stress of picking them up causes them to scratch. After they are loaded in crates we load them on the trailer and strap them down for the ride. The next morning we take the chickens to the processor in Van Buren, AR, approximately 1 1/2 hours away. We help unload the birds, and then take the trailer and empty crates back to the farm to clean it all up... another absolutely disgusting job.
The schedule through the summer is immediately clean the brooder and get new chicks in and growing.
Back to our story: Last summer we had the brooder going from March to November with zero breaks. We were absolutely exhausted and truthfully we dreaded starting up the brooder again this year in March. However, because of business growth, we knew we needed to be organized and get started as early as possible. So we did what we needed to, in order to service our wonderful customers...we love you all!
The Farmers Market started in April and we were going strong. Then one day as I was moving a chicken pen, my back went out and I was down. Now, Tim still works full time so the farm is really my gig and I am the cheerleader who keeps everyone moving forward. Ok, sometimes I am the screaming banshee, not really a sweet cheerleader :-/.
Once I was down, we realized the crazy train we were on. Our original mission was to raise food for ourselves. We were blessed with an abundance of land and realized we had potential to raise food for our community too. We jumped in wholeheartedly! We love raising food for others, we believe in what we are doing by raising food the way the LORD intended, we love the taste of our food and we think y'all do too. However, I also understand why the commercial farming system has been implemented to support the supermarket structure.
The way we raise food is hard and extremely labor intensive. In order to get bigger and grow more, we would have to compromise our beliefs. We would have to hire labor, which leads to zero profits unless you cut corners by feeding inferior feed, or raise prices. We don't want to do either of those things. We have decided to stay small and serve the customers that we can. We have decided to cut back the number of animals we raise to keep our quality of life in check and we will no longer be selling chicken.
We truly do love sharing our products with our customers and friends. We appreciate all of the support the community has given us. We are very blessed to be able to farm and thank you all. We will continue to offer a small amount of products that you can order through our website and we will deliver directly to you.
At this time we have pork, lamb and eggs available.