Monday, May 22, 2017

Eggs Abound!

If you have been a Carlton Farms customer for a while, you are aware that sometimes we have a shortage of milk or eggs, and sometimes we have an abundance. Let me use this space to help you understand what causes these peaks and valleys.  
Our laying hens follow a pretty consistent pattern. Interestingly, it is mostly based on photoperiod. Photoperiod simply means the length of daylight in each day. As the days start to get long in the springtime, the hens start laying eggs as regular as clockwork. Of course this coincides with moderate temperatures and plentiful forage and bugs available. Most importantly there is a natural correlation also to the best time of year for chickens to be raising baby chicks. It wouldn't make sense for them to lay lots of eggs in the winter, when it would be devastatingly difficult on a newly hatched baby chick.  It makes perfect sense for them to lay lots of eggs in the mild springtime when food is plentiful for a baby chick.  Knowing this gives us a deeper understanding of what it means to eat seasonally, the way the natural world provides food. Eating seasonally goes farther that the vegetable harvest. As livestock farmers that work with nature, we have seasonality too. 
During spring we are likely to find eggs in the strangest places.
This is a flower pot right beside my front door, only steps from the kitchen. 
As for the milk, there are many moving parts to the dairy business. Time of year is important. The dead of winter is a challenge due to temperatures and no lush grass. The heat of summer is also a challenge due to temperature and also very little lush grass.  We are having pretty good luck evening out the milk production with the use of our fresh grown fodder that I have written about in this space before. Unfortunately there's not much we can do about the extreme temperature swings here in Georgia. Another factor that affects milk production is the lactation curve.  Each cow starts producing milk after having a baby. The milk production is pretty high as soon as the calf is born, but then peaks a little higher in about 100 days. Production then tapers downward over the next few months. Most cows produce milk for around 300 days during each lactation. After the lactation ends, they get a break for a few months, called the "dry period". During this dry period, the cows aren't asked to do anything, just rest and get ready for the next lactation.  Why does the lactation curve cause problems in managing milk production throughout the year? It's because cows have babies all throughout the year.  We milk about 50 cows, so for a moment just imagine overlaying 50 different lactation curves over the top of each other. The aggregation of all those lactation curves represents your daily milk production. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Its Not All Sunshine and Roses, Part 2

I'll warn you upfront, this is not a happy post. Unfortunately I do not have good news about Atticus Calf. Named Chevy by the way.  In case you missed last week's episode; Chevy came down with what presented as a neurological condition due to vitamin/mineral imbalance. Cause was determined to be, get this, grass that was too lush. The young and tender grass shoots hadn't yet pulled the minerals from the soil. Apparently Chevy was fond of those young and tender shoots and ate them exclusively. With the help of our local veterinarian , we had treated the underlying issues, and Chevy was making slow incremental progress. However, she was not eating or drinking on her own. I had tube fed her twice daily to keep her hydrated and to keep her energy level up.  She had gotten to where she could stand on her own, and keep her balance  while standing, a major improvement over where we started. On friday evening she couldn't stand on her own, and I didn't force her. It was late and I wanted her to be able to rest.  I did tube feed her the smoothey that we had developed for her, and I went home to see the family, after all is was 9:00 pm. At around 10:30 for some reason I got out of bed and decided to check on Chevy. As I walked to the barn I could hear a strange sound. It was Chevy, and the sound was very labored breathing. As soon as the beam on my flashlight landed on her I knew the dire situation that we were in. Chevy was bloated. Bloat happens when the stomach gets twisted in such a way that gas from the rumen (second stomach) can't escape the body. Bloat can be a rapidly fatal situation, and I knew we had literally seconds to relieve the gas pressure. I first tried to stand her up thinking being vertical would help the her to be able to naturally expel the gas.  I soon realized that wasn't gonna work, mainly because she didn't stand on her own and I can only hold a 350 lb calf for so long. Then I sprinted to a different barn to get the esophageal tube that I had been using to tube feed her,  thinking that it could work in reverse. By inserting the empty tube down her throat, the gas would have a passage to escape.  I ran back to her pen, inserted the tube, and the gas started to escape. Unfortunately, i was to late. Despite relieving some of the gas pressure, Chevy died right there as I held her head. I had done everything I knew to do, but she didn't make it. 
I went right into my typical mode of second guessing myself when something like this happens.  What could I have done differently? Could I have prevented this? I should have acted faster.  I tend to carry this type of thing around with me for quite a while.  I only really want a few things from this life, but being a great farmer is one thing I want. When something like this happens it shakes my foundation and makes me question myself.  Hopefully, through that questioning, I learned something from Chevy. Some little nugget of experience that will help me take better care of some future animal. 
Ultimately, I'll start to gain a little perspective. In time, I'll remember that at this moment we have around 300 head of cattle, 150 pigs, and 4000 chickens. While I would like nothing more than to have a 100% success rate with every animal, I know that's not possible.  I have several farming role models, and they all lose animals from time to time.  The loss hurts, it always hurts.  I think the key is to let the loss strengthen your resolve to get better, to be even more aware, and to be diligent on every detail. 

Thanks for allowing me to share this unhappy story with you. Writing it has allowed me to get some closure, and I needed that. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Its Not All Sunshine and Roses, Part 1

Among many there is a romanticised view of farming.  I would even put myself in that category. It is a lifestyle that I love dearly. Many of the things that I do from day to day, I would continue to do after winning the lottery (for the record, I don't play the lottery). As a result of my affection for my chosen profession, I probably even portray a somewhat romanticised image of life here on the farm. After all, isn't that what social media is best at. It lets us show the world the portions of our life that we want to put on display. 

Well, today i'm going against the grain. Believe it or not, life here on the farm isn't all sunshine and roses. 

Last friday, the third of three, fourteen hour days delivering our products around Atlanta. I got a call that we had a sick calf.  Not just any calf, this was the baby calf that Atticus got for Christmas. We were shorthanded that day here at the farm already, but the employee that was here took care of the calf all evening.  I called the vet from Atlanta. He and I talked about the calf and came to a preliminary conclusion that it was a magnesium deficiency.  He was busy at the clinic and couldn't come out, but he put together a treatment plan and my brother was kind enough to pick up everything from the clinic and administer the first treatment.  He was also very busy so he couldn't help our only employee move the 300 lb calf into the barn where she could be dry and warm. They did snuggle her into some hay and rig up a tarp covering, protecting her from the light rain that we got Friday.   When I finally got back here at 9:00pm, It was unseasonably cold with a light rain still falling. I just couldn't leave that calf out in the uncomfortable weather, So I got the tractor with the front loader and went to fetch the calf. Understand that the calf hadn't stood all day, so my plan was to get her into the bucket of the tractor and bring her inside the barn. There I could monitor her more closely and take better care of her. As I tried to gently slide her into the bucket, she tried to stand. It was apparent she had trouble with her balance, but as long as she was leaning on me she could stand. I probably stood there 30 min. to see if she would regain her balance and be able to walk. Finally, I was able to  get her onto the tractor and to the barn in her dry warm bed. For the weekend the treatment seemed to be working. She got a little better, but then stabilized still barely able to stand. Monday I called the vet and he was able to come to the farm.   After further analysis and considering our initial treatment, we now think the problem may be a thiamine deficiency. Treatment is currently underway, and we hope to see some progress tomorrow. 
I know this post is a far cry from the sundrenched green pastures you normally see on social media from all farmers. It is a wonderful life out here, but it's not for the faint of heart. 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Making Hay!

Make hay while the sun shines. That's the old adage. To extrapolate that out into more generic terms, don't procrastinate doing something when the conditions are right. The implication is that the conditions won't be right forever. It's a pretty good rule to operate by in the abstract. Here at Carlton Farms, we try to abide by that rule in the figurative sense, but also in its quite literal sense. We knew rain was coming in sunday night and monday, but there was grass standing in the field that need to be stored in the form of hay. So, we devised a plan. Some of our team cut the hay down on Friday while I was on a delivery route. I raked the hay on Saturday with Atticus in tow. Then I baled and wrapped on Sunday (I normally do very little on Sunday, but remember... "Make hay while the sun shines"). All together we put up 63 rolls of hay that we will use this winter. It seemed that a number of things worked against me this weekend, and I lacked about 10 bales getting the whole crop wrapped when the rain started a few hours earlier than forecasted. I'll be wrapping those 10 bales this afternoon and we will have a portion of our hay crop complete, all because we made hay while the sun shined.  Now we can wait on another few days of sunshine to do it all again. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Chicks on Grass!

We moved another batch of broilers out to pasture last week and this picture is too pretty not to write about.  These are 3 week old chicks that will get to spend their days roaming and pecking through this type of pasture. We will move the bottomless structure (pasture pen) as often as is necessary to insure that these birds always have pasture available. These pasture pen moves will be every 2-3  days when the chicks are little, but will be required daily as the birds get bigger.  This is a lot of work, but If you've ever had good pasture raised chicken, you will understand why we go to this extra effort.  The percentage of a chicken's diet that they can get from grass is minimal, usually estimated at only about 10-15% on really good pasture. However, it is an important 10-15%. I believe the grass improves overall health of the bird and also has positive impacts on taste and texture. Not to mention, wouldn't we all prefer to eat chickens that were allowed to run around on the pasture eating grass and bugs while breathing fresh air? As usual there is a nutrition and a welfare component to how we design our systems. Some might ask why we don't just turn the chickens out and let them run completely free. Well, as it turns our young chickens are not yet weary to the predators that would also like to consume a chicken dinner. They are easy prey for hawks, coyotes, owls, and a variety of other animals that see a chicken as a free lunch. By using the mobile bottomless pasture pens we can provide both pasture and protection.  To us it seems like a wonderful compromise, we think the chickens would agree.  

Monday, April 17, 2017


Sonny is one of the few Brown Swiss cattle that we have here at Carlton Farms. We milk a couple of brown swiss cows, along with our jersey herd. Brown Swiss is a old, large, dual purpose (milk & meat)  breed that originated in the swiss alps. We have a special fondness for this breed, as they were the type of cattle my grandfather first started milking in 1946. We still have old breeding records (the paper kind) from the 40's where my grandfather would record the lineage of his prize Brown Swiss cows. We have moved on to Jersey Cattle, which we also love, but keeping a few Brown Swiss around serves to remind us that there is an important heritage to uphold. 
Oh, before when I said Brown Swiss is a dual purpose breed. Well, Sonny is actually a zero purpose Brown Swiss. He could most accurately be described as a "pasture ornament". Brown Swiss are known to be large and we wanted to raise a steer that would get really large as a sort of Farm Mascot. Now many customers and corn maze visitors have been checking on sonny every time they come to the farm. In the spring we host several school groups for dairy tours and milking demonstrations. 

If you would like to come visit Sonny or even bring your group on a spring dairy tour please contact Brad: at 770-546-5179

Monday, April 10, 2017

New Chicks

Another group of Broilers have been started in the brooder. It is our plan for this to be the beginning of a trend this year. We are preparing to be able to grow several batches of broilers in succession throughout the summer and into the fall. We have our fingers crossed that the new poultry processor that we will be working with in Alabama will be able to get up and running as he has planned. Of course, there will be growing pains and hiccups in the system as we get the process developed and refined. However, in the end a good supply of clean chicken will be worth the effort. If you have been waiting on this supply of chicken, like I know many of you have, the wait is almost over.