Friday, July 31, 2015

"there is no labor cost to us..."

Walter Jefferies has been building his butcher shop for a very long time.  So long in fact that I had to go back and look to see when he first started working on it -- in April of 2008.  

7+ years later he's got the building in some sort of shape, but hasn't finished what I consider to be the most important stuff -- the food-handling documentation that allows your facility to be licensed,   His schedule lists that as being done in winter of 2008 -- and a 7 year slip is a long, long time.  

He could be licensed by either by state or federal agencies but apparently hasn't finished the required paperwork.    On the project, Mr. Jefferies does put up schedules every couple of years, and then slips the dates on them.  It's a bit reminiscent of a sofware project, actually. 

He's at least 3 years behind where he thought he would be in this project is what it looks like to me.  
An except from Mr. Jefferies schedule for this project.  Snapshop taken 7-31-2015

In a comment about the work he's put into it, he talks about the expenses so far:  

"Basically we spent about $56K on concrete and about $120K or so on other materials. There is about $30K in equipment. There is no labor cost to us since we did all of the construction in our own time and I did all of the engineering and architecture. That is a rough accounting of costs of construction at about $206K for the building. Sometime I’ll do a detailed cost breakdown. " -- Walter Jefferies on his butcher shop

Couple of things; the building itself only has one floor; it might be taller than usual, but there's no second story; so what he's done so far has cost him $128 square foot in construction costs; and by my measure that's a pretty high price to pay considering labor costs for construction usually run more than 40% of the total project cost.  (With labor added, he's paying $180.00 a square foot.  that's an expensive building!)

   A 40x40 pole barn, concrete floors and washable walls, floor drains and so on, would have cost him around $50k.  

And the difference between $50k and $206k, $150k, will probably never be paid off by savings on heating or cooling costs, at least not in Mr. Jefferies likely farming lifetime.  Maybe his grandchildren will break even.   or great -grandchildren 

But the real cost that he's ignoring is that this building has consumed all of his time for the last 7 going on 8 years, and he considers that to be worthless time.  

I think the other way about this stuff.  I always figure labor costs at $15/hour  -- which is higher than typical farmhand pay around here, but if I do it that way, and it pencils out, I can afford to pay someone to do the work in my stead.  

If you're running a farm you have a lot of different demands on your time -- some of the time you can schedule, some you can't (like when its sunny enough to make hay) -- and time that isn't devoted to something, for me anyway, is pretty precious.  It's very difficult for me to make time to leave the farm, for instance.  

It's been interesting watching him work on this project, and it reminds me that when I think about this sort of thing that I should probably run it by cooler heads to make sure that it makes sense.   I'm not convinced that this direction gets him to where he wants to go as fast as other choices he could have made.  

Note:  I've donated money to Mr. Jefferies and solicited donations for Mr. Jefferies to complete this project.  I think it would be great if it does work out for him.  

keywords:  sugar mountain farm, butcher shop, walter jefferies, USDA slaughter

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Talking about the weather - long term forecasts

One of the blogs I watch is written by a professor of meteorology over at the University of Washington, a fellow named Cliff Mass.

Professor Mass' blog is one of the reasons that I chose to plant the crops I did this year, and so far, he's been spot on in his prediction of a warmer, drier summer than usual.  So when he posted recently about long-term forecasts for the coming 12 months, I'm all ears.

In short, he's saying that there's a pretty good chance that we will get less rain this winter (and have lower snowpack levels) than in an average year, and that this could mean water shortages for the cities around here.  It doesn't mean that we'll get no rain, like the 55 day no-rain period we had just end, but it does make a difference in my farm plan.

As far as drinking water and water for the animals, I've got two sources that won't be affected much by the drought.  One is that I'm allowed to draw 5,000 gallons a day out of the local river to water the livestock, and the second is that I've got two deep wells, one that services the barns, and one that services the house and offices and milking parlor, and I have senior water rights to many acre feet of water from those wells.

But as far as water goes, one of the biggest assets I've got on my farm is my manure lagoon.  It holds about 11 acre feet of water, and is part of the system that makes sure that any nutrients that my farm produces stays on my farm.  We collect the manure in solid and liquid form during the months where it is too cold for plants to use it, and spread it on the plants when its warm enough for them to benefit.   All of the water that hits the concrete between the barns makes its way into the manure lagoon via a large pump.  

So Dr. Mass' predictions mean that I'm going to do the following this winter:

1) Keep the manure lagoon pretty close to full at the start of the growing season; which around here starts in on April 25th... well, earlier than that probably this year.  Remember -- warmer than normal conditions.  So by the 1st week of April, I want to be at the top.

2) Install efficient irrigation systems for those crops and plants that might need it.  For me, this means I'll put in drip tape for the grapes and probably for the fruit trees I've planted.

3) Finish the work removing solids from the manure lagoon so that I have the maximum capacity available

4) Seriously consider getting some sort of irrigation equipment for watering my pastures.  Something like a wheel line would probably work pretty well.

This year I've found that an inch or two of water at the right time increases growth quite a bit, so I want to make sure that I'll all set in the event that the long term forecasts are correct.   Irrigation means that my pastures are growing about twice the rate of the neighboring fields, and that makes a different to my farms bottom line, too.

The long term forecasts have been correct so far, so I don't have much reason to doubt them now.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Airedales - Grooming the dogs

This pup is pretty sure this is not good

Built a grooming bench to make it easier to care for the farm dogs.    Brush them down and remove burrs and matted hair, inspect for ticks and fleas, check them for various wounds, cuts, bruises or any other injuries.

I own 9 airedales at this point; they spend most of their time investigating things; the injuries come when they dive into blackberry bushes when chasing a rat; which may be a real rat or an imaginary one.  Either way they think it should be chased.

If the dogs are particularly dirty I'll bring a hose over and soap them up and get the worst of the dirt off.   I use a systemic flea medicine, which is probably why I haven't seen any ticks on them this year.  I do see some fleas from time to time -- figure they get transferred to the dogs from rats that they kill and eat.

I was paying for individual licenses for each dog, but finally figured out that the county I live in provides you a bulk-dog discount in the form of a commercial kennel license.  for $250 you can own up to 20 dogs; the zoning that I'm in (Agriculture-10) allows commercial kennels, and it also prevents complaints about barking dogs if any were to come up.

I do my own vaccinations for the dogs; it's a lot cheaper to buy the shot at the feed store and administer it, but I cannot legally buy the rabies shot; so once a year I pack them all into the truck and off to the vet we go.   The rabies shots are important for farm dogs because they have nearly-constant contact with wildlife, mostly rats.