Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The farm calendar - what I've found useful as a new farmer

I'm a relatively new farmer. Most of my adult life has been as an engineer or teaching engineers, and that background works pretty well for analyzing and breaking down situations.

When I was looking at farming, what I didn't really get a handle on is that each crop or animal or activity like plowing, fencing or clearing, had its own time. That is, each task required a certain amount of work, and that time really was related to the date more than anything else.

Turkeys as a crop
For example, turkeys. When you first get turkeys you spend quite a bit of time making sure they thrive. My experience is that turkeys are very delicate for the first two weeks, and then suicidal for the next 2 months, and then they settle down to adult life. At the end of their span there's a bit of work related to marketing them and processing them and then getting them into the customers. So a turkey calendar looks like this for me:

Early Feb: Order poults or put eggs in to hatch
Early Feb: Prepare brooding areas, check lights and equipment, water, and order feed
March: Hatch poults or receive poults.
April/May/June: 2-3 hours a day tending to turkeys. 7 days a week.
July-early November: 10 minute a day feeding turkeys
November 1: Count turkeys, confirm orders, set delivery days/places
Early November: Select breeding stock from this years birds
mid-November: Process & deliver turkeys

When I started thinking about my activities this way, I found that I got a better handle on what the workload would be for me. I could look at the calendar and figure out if I needed to bring in extra help, or for a time that I could do things that can be deferred until sometime when I'm less busy.

Adding more crops
With a calendar, I can then choose crops or activities that fit in well with my current schedule. So for instance, if turkeys are consuming 4 hours a day, I have another 4 or so hours that day I could be doing other things. I can then choose crops or animals that fit in well and don't overload me for a particular day or week or month. Load averaging by date.

Chickens and turkeys
For me, chickens and turkeys are two very similar crops. I can grow out batches of chickens at the same time as my turkeys for not much more labor, so that's a crop mix that works for me.

Timing animal breeding for minimum work and best price.
Another thing a calendar allows me to do is time the breeding and birth of my other animals, particularly the sheep and cows. By controlling when they're bred I can have a better idea of when they'll lamb or calve, and do it at a time that allows me to schedule some time for them.
Piglet prices are pretty seasonal. If I can get a sow pregnant in November, for instance, her litter will wean at pretty much peak market.

So on my farm calendar for January:
Look at turkey breeding flocks, cull any birds that aren't perfect
Look at chicken breeding flocks, cull.
Order chickens from hatcheries for delivery in Feb, March, April, May, June
Order turkeys from hatcheries for delivery in march.
Pregtone all sows, cull as appropriate
Inspect and repair fencing
Make salami


Anonymous said...

Suicidal for the next two months...LOL, no kidding! By the way, what type of turks are in your header, they are gorgeous. I'm guessing not quite Broad Breasted Bronze, but a close relative? Kentucky something.

I raised the BBB once two years ago and loved them, far less suicidal than the whites!

Loving your blog. I'm going to put you on my blogroll today.



Bruce King said...

The darker turkeys are either narragansett or eastern wild. The main difference in coloration between the two is that the tips of the tail feathers of eastern wild are light brown, and are white in narragansett.

I raise black spanish, eastern wild, narragansett, blue slate and bourbon red turkeys. I have a few royal palm, and a few standard bronze. I sell a few hundred finished turkeys each year. The last few years poult supply has been a problem, so my solution was keeping my own breeding flocks. If you're paying $9 a poult (plus shipping, plus mortality), that's $108/dozen for turkey eggs. That's a great price. And it only takes a dozen eggs to pay for the turkey feed for the rest of the year.
Plus I'm finding that there's a fairly steady market for grown birds all year. I sold 5 of them yesterday, for instance.

Smeltzerville said...

How much can you sell a grown turkey for?