Here's our annual report on how the pigs' money got spent on the farm. To start off, we moved to our own farm, Iris Hill, and no longer have to rent. Yay! Getting it ready to accept animals securely and move them out contributed a lot to the expenses this year, but it was money well spent.
In addition to feed, which is always at the top of the expense list, the farm spent a fair bit of money on contract labor. We had a handful of folks come out to clear fence lines, reclaim hog and cattle panels and tee posts from over grown fields (a cost savings!), put in tee posts and wooden posts, put up perimeter fencing and run high-tensile electric fencing on the insides of the enclosed areas, hang fences, build huts. We aren't finished yet, but it is certainly looking do-able. As my industrious nephew-in-law and right hand man Kenneth said, "I thought maybe we had bitten off more than we can chew, but now I know we can do it." Never underestimate the land-clearing properties of the pastured hog!
Fencing material, such as tee posts and wooden posts, power augers, field fence, panels, hot wire and all the accessories also expanded our expenses. Right now, we have 3 areas fenced off and in use, and will be able to finish off the new sow paddock and the long finishing paddock for the fattened hogs this spring. We'll probably hire more help to do that.
The pastures need reclaiming and reseeding. We got a start on that in 2017, seeding in a diverse array of plants: oats, barley, clover, vetch, radishes, turnips, winter peas. The hogs ate lots of squash and pumpkin, so those fertilized seed packages will sprout later this year. We had a drought this fall, which reduced the amount of green forage available, but we were able to get 5 acres of hay field cut and baled, filling our barn with "banked" forage, which the animals are all making use of till things start greening up next month. The bales cost us only $1.65/bale in the form of the service of cutting and baling.
We bought a really nice looking Hereford boar for our sows. Bad news: his testicles didn't descend. Good news: he was still edible, so not a total loss. We also purchased a new, grown, and proven boar, a Gloucestershire Old Spot named Possum who will be joining the farm later this month.
We needed pregnant sows, so Big Lil, Almond, and Beulah went to visit Possum's daddy, Kermit. We paid for their pleasure-filled vacations, with the pay-off that Beulah is due 13 February, and Almond is due 1st of March. We'll have piglets everywhere this spring! Big Lil didn't settle, but it was still hot this fall, which can affect fertility, so she will get an extended honeymoon with Possum.
We bought a family milk cow that was pregnant. The idea was that we could milk every day, give whey, buttermilk and unused milk to the pigs. It was a great idea that wasn't a great reality. My knees hurt too much to milk every day, and I am just not a person that bonds with cattle in general. I am fond of our cow, but we will be finding her a new home where she will be more appreciated and of use to a family as their cow. She had a very healthy calf, and he will be raised out on the pasture this year and go to his destiny early next year. He will have benefitted from his mother's milk for 5 months, and he is stocky, healthy, and active. We are already pre-selling beef and have 1/2 of a beef available for our meat layaway plan. He will pretty much pay for the expense of buying his mother. So that was a loss for last year, but the steer will be earning money for the farm this year.
The bottom line is, we were in the red this year by a fair amount. We had to buy pigs from off-farm, we put a lot into infrastructure at the new farm, and we're shifting up how we are doing things. Some things worked, some didn't. Our financial advisor points out that we are in an expansion phase. The business has been growing steadily. We even made a profit in 2016, our 2nd year of business, which is pretty good for a farm. We are careful in how we spend the money on this farm, making do with good, used equipment, building a lot of structure and infrastructure ourselves, making sure the sow fertility will support growing our own feeder pigs for the fattened stock that feeds our customers and their families. We're preparing pastures on a new farm for rotational grazing that will increase the health and tilth of the land, but it will be a 2 year process before we see returns on that. So we are taking the long view, and we have indeed already seen a lot of progress here at Iris Hill, and look forward to seeing what unfolds here in 2018. We invite you to come along with us!
Merry Schepers lives on a farm with her heritage pigs in Nixa, MO.