So the accountant prepared a lovely set of accounts that showed us a healthy gross profit this year ad congratulated us on a good year. I went home all pleased and upbeat and showed Emma (my wife) the headline gross profit figure to which she said, “so where is it?” to which I replied “I’ve reinvested it dear” to which she replied “but the bank account is empty, stop reinvesting!”
But we can’t ………. We are still a young business expanding and improving constantly, so we are continually re-investing, hopefully always wisely and with the long term benefit to the business in mind. This year has been particularly busy (expensive) but one has proved immediately beneficial this year. We have been fortunate to acquire from one of our customers a load of second hand fridge panels which, along with a lot of concrete, adapting, plumbing, wiring and hardwork, we have used to build a pair of large coldrooms.
And these have been liberating for us this summer, allowing us to store eggs carefully and most importantly, store our bumper crop of apples at 3 degrees c, brilliant, allowing us to sort, ripen and sell without the usual pressure of having to instantly balance supply and demand. However typically and really foretunately it has been a great year and demand has massively out stripped supply. Good summer!
I regularly find myself saying ‘Every day is a school day!’ Education seems to be a common theme to us at present, (especially being married to a busy teacher, and with elections loaming etc.) with farm walks, Open Farm Sunday etc., coming up. Next couple of weeks we are hosting a group of Agricultural Degree students from South Devon College with a view to them using us and our significant bank of data for their studies and project work. We also have a food journalist and blogger ‘the running buffet’ visiting to learn more. We regularly answer queries from ours and Riverford’s customers, some of which can be quite challenging. We welcome all of these interactions as opportunities to share our approach to farming and spread the organic message, often dispelling myths. Our belief is that we can’t sit on our arse and moan if we are not prepared to get involved.
As relatively new entrants to farming we are always learning ourselves and one of the common themes of organic farming is that every year throws up new and different challenges, just when we think we have got one thing sussed another challenge comes along. Last year our apple harvest was disappointing so we are working hard this year to see if we can improve. We are really pleased with the quality and condition of our hens this year and production is good, but the current challenge on the farm seems to be vermin control, with another short and mild winter allowing vermin, namely rats, rabbits, flies, foxes etc., to thrive and breed.
My favourite form of ‘education’ has to be children, mainly my own and their friends. Children’s lives and spare time are so full nowadays with the added distraction of ‘screens’ that it often seems an effort to get the kids involved in the farm and outdoors. However more recently there has been a new attraction, calving and in particular Connie the orphan calf, who must be the best fed, looked after and groomed calf around. We will see whose interest fades first!
Calving this year is proving to be a classic and costly example of new challenges. This years calves are being given names beginning with C and the latest one, requiring two vets called out for a caesarean at four in the morning probably ought to be called ‘Costa’, not looking forward to the bill, but the outcome was good and was definitely an education!
Blogs are back after what has been ‘abit of a break’ we have finally got around to getting our website up and running properly again, sorry! If you are looking for a bit of a potted history for what we have been upto we do regularly post golden nuggets of exciting (Emma tends to disagree!) things we have been upto on our Facebook page which you are welcome to look through by clicking the above link. Our Facebook page has a faithful following so to avoid being boring we will avoid going back over old news and will start to post new news blogs every few weeks again now going forward.
Bringing us upto date, we are now upto approximately 5,000 hens in nine mobile buildings busily laying rarely well at the moment. To keep up we have recently finished refurbishing of grading barn and installing a new (ish) grading machine to make us more efficient. The machine resembles something from Wallis and Grommet humming and whirring away, nut it is now at least running forward. When it is behaving we, a team of four, can now comfortably grade and pack 4,000 eggs per hour. There is a short video of it working on our YouTube page which can now be found using the new link above!
In a kind of ‘Tale Wagging the Dog’ way, our team of staff has grown to keep up as you will see on the Team page and we will try to persuade them to stand still long enough to get photos to add. We are very lucky to have lots of diverse bt hardworking and fun help.
We are just starting calving and now have eight lovely South Devon cows plus George the bull and last years calves, great time of year and amazing weather.
We have lots coming up and going on at the moment so will be sure to post plenty of more interesting and less woolly blogs shortly, in the meantime thanks for looking!
We have agreed to host and lead a set of Soil Association and Dutchy College FIELD LAB. The Lab is an on farm investigation / study into, in our case, Moulting of Laying Hens.
Until recently the Soil Association would not permit the ‘forced’ moulting of laying hens as it was deemed to be ‘un natural’ and detrimental to the welfare of the hens. We have persuaded the Soil Association to allow us to trial moulting commercial laying hens in a compassionate way and over the last two years now moulted six flocks. We have gained alot of knowledge and information and the intention to share and explore this as well as follow a flock through the process in the Field Lab. We will aim to set out and discuss the many factors involved in the process including the below short list in order to attempt to conclude whether moulting commercial laying hens can be a successful option within an organic system.
• Welfare of the hens
• Additional life span of the hens
• Saving in cost of replacement hens
• Drop in production
• Egg size and quality
• Pressure on range and house
• Mortality and condition
The Lab will be advertised by the Soil Association and the first meeting will be the 28th August 2013.
Hurrah! Great news. In a triumph for bees and the independence of science, our Environment Secretary and the chaps from Syngenta were defeated last week by an EU commission vote, which will now restrict the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops. To descend to the Defra position, where nature is expendable unless it can be demonstrated incontrovertibly that it is worth saving on economic grounds, would be hugely depressing. It makes me ashamed to be human and even more ashamed to be British. Our current government and Defra care very little for agriculture and even less for organic farming and, whilst the only focus is on cutbacks little is likely to change. Thankfully there was more enlightenment elsewhere in Europe – as well as a great number of passionate Brits campaigning here.
We have a neighbour and friend who has sixty years experience of game keeping and traditional vermin control methods and is an invaluable help to us. He spends alot of time walking the farm, and our various neighbours, and keeps a very close eye on the land and us. Mike is also a keen bee keeper, but i only recently leant in a chat that he has also always been an avid butterfly collector. Mike is not particularly organic minded but in our chat he explained how he regularly sees many many more butterfflies and insects in our hedges and varities he hasn’t seen for years, a resounded endorsement of organic farming! We will be relying heavily on bees and our insect friends over the next few weeks as our apple trees come into blossom. We are Bee freindly!
We have posted a great little video clip on our Facebook page which you can get to via the facebook links on this site. Hope you enjoy!
Back to square one, or possibly further back than that ….. It was our youngest daughters third birthday at weekend, last year we had her freinds around to the house and sat out in the garden basking in the sun, this year involved an last minute booking of the village hall and a bouncy castle! It is wetter, colder and windier than it has been nearly all winter, and that is saying something!
Like many farmers, we had let our cows out a couple weeks ago in those few lovely days sent to provide us with false hope, they loved it. The ground is now saturated again and grass stopped growing so they are back in again sadly (considerably worse further up country). This has meant that we have had to go and buy some straw from our large farming neighbour, chance to chew the fat. He is all to happy to sell us some straw as having an really trying winter, having already ploughed up £30K of winter cereals and replanted, he has now been closed down with TB (boughten in cattle foretunately). this means he cannot buy in any more young stock to fatten so his barns are emptying rapidly, a cashflow crippler, so all to happy to sell forage and straw. It has been a pretty terrible couple of years to be a farmer, we are so dependent on so many variable beyond our control, the weather being at the top of the pile!
On a more positive note our cows start calving soon, always exciting! We have agreed to host a set of ‘Field Labs’, more info to come. And we are doing some filming over the next few weeks, will keep you posted. And spring must come soon, my favourite time of year!
DUST FLYING! Something we haven’t seen for months and months! We have now had a week of virtually continual dry weather, albeit freezing bitter easterly winds. As predicted this has led us into a mad frenzee of activity. When you drive around the countryside at the moment fields are alive with tractors trying to make the best of an awful year. Our large conventional neighbouring farmer is frantically replanting virtually all of thier winter cereals, circa 400 acres costing him around £30K, frightening.
We have been busy spreading dung, moving and cleaning out chicken shed, hedging, fencing, ploughing, rolling, digging. We have treated our cows and opened the barn door so they can go out by day and wonder back in at night, unsuprisingly they are loving it and the barn is gathering dust. They did however come in to keep an eye on my bedding up helpers and kick up thier heels.
We have also finished the big task of pruning our 800 plus apple trees, very important and labour intensive task.
Frighteningly Easter is loaming at a pace now, which will be our next blog!