Twin Creeks Farms- Wesley Stephens and Bethany Stephens

  (Council, North Carolina)
Providing layers, natural beef, pork, & fresh chicken
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New happenings

It has been much too long since we posted anything on the blog, and things have steadily progressed here. We have been working to expand our beef and pork production, and have been selling products on an online local farmers market called Down East Connect for over a year now. It is a successful venture for all of the farmers involved, and we are happy to be a part of it. We also sell to customers directly off the farm as we always have. We currently have sows farrowing with one litter of pigs born and several more on the way. We will soon be getting in chicks for layer pullets and spring is just around the corner, so we will continue to be busy.
 
 

We are finally making our own feed.

After struggling to find feed that is free of animal by products locally, we have started to make our own. We have a hammer mill that was purchased by my great-grandfather in the early 50's but was idle for close to 50 years. We were able to get it in tip-top shape with only a little cleaning and oiling. We can now formulate our own custom rations at a significantly lower cost. This development also allows us to support our local economy more. We grow some of our own corn but we currently don't have enough production and storage capacity to meet all of our needs, so we have to buy a large portion of our corn. We can now purchase it from fellow farmers in our community instead of having to use corn that is hauled long distances and the money stays in our local economy. If any of our customers are interested in buying feed from us or having a custom formulation made, we will be glad to supply it. 
 
 

Broiler Chicks Arrive Friday

We will be getting 125 broiler chicks in this Friday. A lot of folks are hesitant to start chicks this time of year, but we have had good success with them in cold weather, though it does require close attention to brooding temperature. We will brood the chicks inside on pine shavings until they are cold-tolerant and then we will put them on pasture in portable pens. We will have them processed when they reach 6-7 pounds live weight and they will be inspected and vacuum packed at a USDA approved facility. We are debating whether we will have them cut up or packaged as whole chickens, so we will probably have some done both ways. 
 
 

Sausage is ready and there is more than we thought

The hogs we had processed were much heavier than conventional wisdom would dictate, so we are thankful that we wound up with more sausage than we had hoped for. Our county is large geographically- over 800 square miles- but has a small population- about 32,000. A local online news outlet (www.bladenonline.com) does an excellent job of covering the local area, and has been very successful. As a matter of fact, Bethany writes an article for them once a month. Their number of daily hits is over twice the population of the county.  We are starting to advertise on that site so that we can hopefully sell more of our products close to home. There are several cities within 50-100 miles and many of our customers come from those areas, but we would like to add to that customer base with local folks. People in rural areas like ours have a great appreciation for quality meat and poultry, but it can be hard to come across in this area unless your family or friends produce it. 
 
 

It's raining again

We are certainly thankful to be out of the drought that plagued us for the last couple of years, but this fall has turned out to be much wetter than we thought it would be. The remnants of Tropical Storm Ida dropped six inches of rain about three weeks ago, and we are getting a good soaking as I write this. This is not the ideal time to have a 4 day old calf, but a heifer was born this weekend on a cold morning and is doing great. Pregnant and lactating cows can have a hard time in the cool seasons, but the heirloom corn silage we use provides good nutrition during the gap between warm and cool season pasture so that calves born in less than perfect weather can still thrive. We say that we "raise" animals and that word is appropriate I guess but it is really Nature that does the work. Wet periods in cold weather can mean problems for hogs raised on pasture, but we are fortunate to have our hog pasture in a place where they can stay dry and have protection from the wind. I have visited farms where hogs were in several inches of mud with no dry place, and I feel that is not humane at all. We have a building that they can go into, but they seem to prefer the shelter of the trees and the wallows that they make for themselves in the woods. We are anxiously awaiting the sausage that will be ready this Friday. We can't wait to try it. Good quality meat is always something to enjoy, especially when you have the satisfaction of it coming from your own animals. We had crown roasts cut from 3 young hogs for Christmas dinner, and I'm sure that my aunt who is the "family chef" will do them justice. We are also working on a Local Harvest store so that customers can order products from us using LH if they wish.
 
 

We finally have a front-end loader

We are thankful to report that we finally have a front-end loader on one of our tractors. As is the case with most of our equipment, the tractor was purchased about 40 years ago, but we have never had a loader. To make a long story short, we found a good deal on a used one that would fit and got it mounted and working with very little trouble by our standards. The method we have been using for handling silage has been effective but slow, and having this loader will make that chore much more efficient, not to mention the other uses for it that will inevitably appear. We have also made the decision to have 3 more hogs processed into sausage the week after Thanksgiving. We are going to give a lot away as Christmas presents to our friends and we will have some for sale, also. As Thanksgiving approaches and we look back on 2009, we can come to no other conclusion than that it has been a good year and the stage is set for a good 2010. We are looking forward to new ventures and projects in the for the rest of 2009 and into the new year, and we hope that the future continues to be bright for us and all of the other farmers out there.
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Christmas is coming, and so is the sausage

This fall continues to be our busiest ever. Our winter pastures are turning green and looking very nice and we are taking the first 3 beeves of the fall to be processed tomorrow. Traditional country sausage is very popular in our area, especially around the holidays, and it is hard to find good quality home-style sausage. We will be taking some hogs to be made into sausage the week after Thanksgiving, and we are hoping for a good response from it. We are also getting some broiler chicks in the next few weeks and we will be selling them in early 2010. We have slaughtered small numbers of chickens on the farm in the past, but we are excited to be able to offer inspected and vacuum packed chicken either as whole birds or parts.
 
 

We wanted rain, but it looks like we're going to get more than we bargained for.

We were hoping for a little rain to make our winter wheat get off to a good start, but it's looking like the remnants of Ida are going to give us a good soaking. I won't complain, though. Two years ago the soil was like walking through flour when we planted our winter pastures. We have made better use of our WWII designed chick brooder for our current flock and have been very impressed. Instead of 1000 watts of electricity, we are able to brood the same number of chicks with 375 watts and they are thriving. For those of you who raise baby chicks, here is a link to the free plans.   http://www.plamondon.com/brooder.shtml  It is an inexpensive and very effective design. I built it for half of the cost of a 4 lamp brooder and it uses less than half of the energy. Another new development is the "resurrection" of our hammermill, which has not been used since the early 1960's. Getting the 40' flat belt that turns it lined up and tracking properly has been an interesting learning experience. We have it operational and have purchased a 5 cubic foot mixer, so we are now able to grind and blend our own feeds for the hogs and chickens. This will give us more control over our animals' diets and will provide a significant cost savings.
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Busy Fall

Wet weather has slowed our small grain planting down, but it looks like we will finally get it in the field soon. We have started feeding heirloom corn silage and the cows love it. Winter coats are showing up on the animals and we will be processing 5 or 6 beeves before long. Our expansion into pork production is going well and we are looking forward to some Christmas sausage. Our latest litter of pigs is almost 4 weeks old and they are beautiful. We have expanded our hog lot to include a shaded and protected natural area with a good many oak trees (in case you didn't know, acorns are a "delicacy" for hogs). The short days are coming sooner than I would like, so I guess that means more work by flashlight. This week's project will be preparing our brooder house for a shipment of baby chicks that will arrive late this week if there is no delay from the hatchery. Orders for beef have come fast, and we only have 2 cows ready to process that are not spoken for. We are thrilled at the response, and just wish we had more cows ready. We have more on the way, though.
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What's new at Twin Creeks Farms

We are improving a variety of aspects of our operation this fall. Thanks to our customers we are growing and we are switching to a rotational grazing system. We are presently installing new fences which will allow us to frequently move our cattle on pasture. This will improve the quality of the forage that the cattle consume and make the best use of our land in a sustainable way. We use a variety of forages throughout the year and supplement the cows' diet with heirloom, non-GMO corn silage in the winter months. We are currently finishing grazing the last of our summer legumes and grasses and will be planting cereal rye and turnips for the cattle to graze in the cooler months. As is our practice, these forage crops will not be sprayed with fungicides or insecticides so you can have confidence that the product we sell is wholesome. We are also working on a new, much larger hog pasture that will allow us to raise pork for sale in the coming months. We have a limited number of hogs at this point, but more will be born soon and we will keep you posted on when pork is available in 2010. We will also be getting a new batch of baby chicks soon and they will probably be ready to sell in early November.
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We are now registered meat handlers with the NC Dept. of Agriculture

We are now registered with the NC Dept. of Agriculture as Meat Handlers. This is an important step for us, because it means that we can now sell inspected beef by the individual cut. We will have a price list soon and we will have meat ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas. All beef will be inspected and vacuum packed to preserve quality. We will still offer quarters, halves, and whole cows to those interested. We also have rabbits on hand which we will slaughter ourselves when ordered.
 
 

This year's corn crop

We are finishing up this year's corn crop. We had a good growing season and our corn turned out very well. We cut most of it for silage and saved some to pick as ear corn. The heirloom variety we planted- Boone County White- produced some very tall stalks and large, full ears. The tallest stalk we measured was 14'. We will soon be planting winter annuals and turnips for winter forage. Since last year we have begun raising hogs on a limited scale and have added rabbits to our livestock operation. Currently we only have enough hogs for our own consumption, but we hope to expand next year and offer pork for sale. Our cattle are coming along nicely and we should be ready to sell beef by late fall. If you are looking for layer pullets, live or dressed rabbits, or high-quality beef, please let us know.
 
 

We are raising ducks for the first time.

In addition to our broiler chickens for meat, we are raising a limited quantity of ducks for meat this spring. This is something new for us and we are doing it as an experiment to see what the demand will be. If it is successful, we will continue to raise them. They are getting here in a few days, so we'll find out before long. I guess if they don't sell it won't be too much of a loss, though. Duck is one of my favorite foods.
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"New" corn variety

We will be planting corn in a few weeks and this year we are switching to an heirloom open-pollinated variety called Boone County White. It dates to the mid 19th century and grows very tall, so it should yield a lot of silage. We would like to use a non-GMO variety, and one we can save seed from. Information we have found has shown that open pollinated corn silage has higher nutritional value than silage from hybrid varieties, so we are looking forward to seeing how it performs. In addition to silage, we will be feeding turnips, peas, and hay.  Our small herd is now up to 10 beeves, and they are looking great.
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Chickens for Insect Control

Here in southeastern NC, flies on cattle can be a problem in the hot, humid summer. We were reluctant to use pesticides on our cattle, so we found an effective alternative. We free-range roosters with our cattle and they do an excellent job of keeping flies under control. In the late fall, we sell the roosters for meat and we have had excellent feedback on the quality and taste of the meat. The only drawback we have seen is loss due to predators, but our mule Fred does a pretty good job of keeping predators chased out of the pasture. We have about 30 roosters now that will be large enough to safely free-range in a few weeks when it starts warming up, and we will probably add more as we go.
 
 
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