ASK THE EXPERTS: Spring 2011

This season, CFSA asks about animal health, marketing, feed prices, and processing

Happy, healthy chickens. Photo from

David White (“The Chickenman”) – Oaklyn Plantation Free Range Chicken in Darlington, SC
Charles F. Sydnor – Cane Creek Farm in Snow Camp, NC
Ben Bergmann – Fickle Creek Farm in Efland, NC
Casey McKissick – Crooked Creek Farms in Old Fort, NC

Now that the weather is finally warming up, what are your top priorities to maintain ideal animal health?

David White: I will be moving the birds outside sooner from the brooders as it warms up.  When it gets really warm my priority will be to see that they have water all day in the shade and that it is as cool as possible.

Charles Sydnor: We have not had to worm cows for more than five years because we now move them at least once per day, sometimes twice.  This means that they are always on fresh pasture with their manure behind them.  Once they leave a pasture they don’t return for 45 – 90 days.  With no toxic wormer in the manure, the Dung Beetles disperse the manure quickly resulting in a reduced parasite load and a better nutrient cycle

Ben Bergmann: Animal health priorities for us this time of year are typically:

• Keeping chicks in brooders, warm, dry, and draft-free, and timing their move to pasture just right weather-wise.

• Transitioning sheep and any steers that have been on hay back to green pasture in a methodical way to avoid problems that can come with grazing the first flush of spring grass.

• Keeping up with hoof trimming of sheep as the cool/wet of winter can lead to greater problems.

Casey McKissick: Getting lactating and nursing cows on spring forage growth, not too early at the detriment of the forage health, but the cows are begging for it! Poultry are arriving as day-old chicks here and in the brooder. Even our nights in Western NC are still pretty mild so we anticipate putting well-feathered birds on pasture by mid-April, but we will be ready for spring weather surprises!

What marketing ideas are you excited about for 2011?  Any thoughts on consumer demand and pricing?

David White: I hope to have to work at marketing as my volume increases.  I have not out produced my current markets for some time so my efforts are aimed at production right now.

Charles Sydnor: Company Shops Market, a coop grocery store, will open in Burlington in June 2011. This is a project that a group of people have been working on for the past 6 years.  It will provide a new marketing opportunity for many local growers of meat, produce and value-added products.  Our traditional markets include restaurants, farmers’ markets, food stores and our own on-farm store.  All of these continue to grow largely through word of mouth.

Consumer demand for beef will probably decrease because of the unprecedented rise in the price that we have seen over the past year.  I believe that this will drive more people to local and organic markets. It will also provide an opportunity for some to raise prices in keeping with the increasing costs.

Ben Bergmann: We assume consumer demand will continue to rise as it has for the last 10 years for us, even through the recession.  We are most excited about retail-direct sales outside of farmers’ markets (i.e. on-farm sales, meat/egg buying clubs).

Casey McKissick: We are excited about the opening of the Foothills Pilot Plant, McDowell County’s (soon-to-open) USDA inspected processing facility for rabbit, chicken and turkey.  This will open up new markets for farmers in the region and offer our cow/calf operators a viable, low-risk enterprise to increase revenue on their acreage and decrease nitrogen and phosphorus inputs.  Many signs indicate the economy is on the uptick and consumers in this area seem ready to continue supporting farmers.

Animal feed prices are rising.  How will this affect you?

David White: Feed is a major cost and I will need to raise prices to reflect the increased feed bill.  I may try growing all cocks to see if that saves on feed at all.

Charles Sydnor: We use few purchased inputs for cows, but pigs are finished on a grain-based diet. This has been steadily rising in price and has resulted in an increase in our price for pork.

Ben Bergmann: Hog, layer, and broiler feeds are all considerably more expensive than last year.  Thus, we will likely have to increase pork, egg, and chicken prices.

Casey McKissick: Grains are up, feed is up so meat prices will have to rise if farmers want to maintain their thin margins. With a new source of bulk certified organic feed now available from Reedy Fork Farm, I am seeing the gap between the price of conventional feed and certified organic feed continue to close.  Despite higher prices, I think many farmers will begin to see commercial use of certified organic feeds as economically viable.

How is your processing situation shaping up for this year?

David White: We are pleased with the processing at Williamsburg Packing in Kingstree for the most part and have confidence that Sep is doing what he can to make it work for all of us.

Charles Sydnor: We have been blessed to have an excellent relationship with our processor. This is probably based on two factors.  First, we have increased our volume considerably over the past three years and second, my partner, Eliza MacLean, is in the plant every week to pick up product and give feedback and constructive criticism.  We also work with other processors for specialty products and are pleased to have butchers willing to work with us.  I look forward to an increase in the number of processors to stimulate some competition.

Ben Bergmann: We are lucky compared to many parts of the country where there is no choice in animal processing facilities, but we continue to need more meat processing options for small-scale farmers.  We are also lucky that the processors we have are willing to work with us small farmers even as they do more and more processing for relatively large-scale accounts.

Casey McKissick: Many of the area’s inspected meat processing facilities have some major plans for growth and expansion in the next few years.  This is in response to the demand by farmers and consumers to increase services.  Farmers and ag support organizations need to support the existing plants through this time of unprecedented growth before investing in new “bricks and mortar” processing facility projects.

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