THUNDER 5 Ranch Inc.
11141 County RD. 300E, McLeansboro IL. 62859
Phone 618-308-0917 or 618-308-0792
We are on FaceBook
The Thunder 5 Ranch is a small family farm located in Hamilton
County IL.  The T5R is owned and Operated by Mike and
DeeAnn Hammack, together we have over 80 years of real life
working experience in sustainable small to mid size agriculture.  
The T5R is a diverse well balanced and rounded operation that
includes Hogs, Irish Dexter Cattle, Chickens, Turkeys, fruits,
vegetables and value added cottage goods.

We serve Southern IL. Primarily in the towns of Johnston City,
Carbondale, Marion, Harrisburg, Carterville, West Frankfort,
Salem and Benton.  We operate the Regional Producer
Farmers' Market in Johnston City, a year round small town
market located in the 100 block of downtown Johnston City.

The T5R was born in concept in 1986 by myself, Mike
Hammack.  As I watched many small family farms simply cease
to exist through the 1970s and 1980s and the rise of monolithic
Corporations come to dominate all aspects of food and
agriculture.  For me it was more about the destruction of a
traditional culture of small farmers and rural communities that
are largely depopulated now, as a result of farm consolidation
and the slow death of many rural communities that supported
the local agriculture chain.

As I have posted on FB the latter half of 2015 and 2016 is
going to be a time of change here on the T5R.   One  of the
things that has contributed to our ongoing success, has
been my ability to see trends and navigate them.  Over the
last several years I have observed several new trends
starting, as trends tend to do most of them petered out
and died.   A few have continued and have been gaining
strength.  I am reorganizing the T5R not to ride these
trends but rather to survive them.  The dominate trends
that have formed are not beneficial to small farms.  A good
commander know when to go on the offensive and when
to dig in and build strong defenses.   Right now is a time
to start building defensive structures and yes I know the
vast majority of people in local food will not agree with
what I am saying here.  Lets keep in mind that there are
two types of defense.  The first is put up in desperation
and is usually to cover a retreat.  The second is a well
thought out and planned defence designed to hold the
ground you have already gained.  I don't do desperation :)

I also look at things from reality not through idealism.  
The reality is across the Nation the local food movement
is largely composed of fragmented groups and
individuals.  What leadership there is within this
movement is largely composed self centered flakes who
are more interested in dictating for personal gain than
leading a movement.   The only hope local and
sustainable food ever had was to grow into a force as
strong as conventional food.  That did not happen and
Big Food has been taking over the aspects of the
movement for a while now.  Starting with Certified Organic
as soon as Organic became regulated it was clear that it
would fall under the control of big food and the time has
arrived that the vast majority of Certified Organic food is
controlled by a hand full of corporate interest.  If there is a
big enough profit to be made, it will attract the attention of
the Multinational Corporations.   What we did accomplish
was to get big enough to attract their attention.  What we
did not do was get organized enough to stop the
Corporations from taking over.   

 For that failure those of us who see the backlash coming
are preparing for it.   The bulk are going to keep charging
ahead and believing they are winning.   For years I have
preached independence and not dependence.  Despite all
of the outcry over big ag subsidies from the small farms,
most of the small farms are heavily subsidised
themselves, either through grants, loans, or off the farm
jobs that support the farms.  Very few of us operate farms
that can stand alone and that are profitable.  Sorry folks
but profitable is a key part of sustainable.   We are looked
down on and considered evil because we seek profit and
obtain profit.  Sorry but I did not invest over $500,000 into
the T5R to lose money!    But if you are profitable in the
local food circles you will most likely be viewed as an
outsider and only doing what you do for the money and
not the love of it.  FOLKS THAT IS SOME OF THE
farm and this life you better damn well do what it takes to
make it profitable and self supporting or you will be in
love with something in foreclosure and heading for the
auction block!   

Anyway I am done with that nonsense and have been for
a while.  The people that preach dependence and failure,
have a better story and sales pitch and for the time being
roll in grant money.   The leadership is composed of small
farms that can't fail because they hobbies and tax shelters
for already wealthy and retired people that really don't
care one way or another if they make or lose money.  
Their income does not depend on the success of their
small farm.  It is a hobby and a game for them.  A status
symbol and social standing.  It is after all hip to be a small
farmer at the moment.

The backlash is coming and it is going to hurt from the
National level right down to the local level.  If I were
looking at starting a small farm today,  I very simply would
not, at least not with the idea of being able to earn a living
with it.  I would buy land and I would operate at a
homestead level.  I would develop a small customer base
to sell my excess to in hopes of earning enough to ideally
bring the cost of operating to break even or at least offset
the cost of producing for myself and family.  I would build
working assets and play the long and slow game.  I would
focus on paying off debt in particular a mortgage and I
would cut the credit cards up and use cash only.  If
something was not a net gain for the homestead in terms
of generating some income or making things more
efficient by saving labor, I would not even consider
buying it.    I would take some courses in areas that I am
weak in.  Most Notably Accounting and Small Engine
Repair and from what I have seen it would not hurt most
small farmers to take a semester or two of business
management classes :)    I would hope anyone
considering a homestead or a hobby farm would have at
least some foundation in horticulture or animal husbandry
preferably both.   I would practice slow and controlled
growth.   I would build a series of plans, very short term,
short term, mid term, long term and very long term.  In the
Mid Term through very long term I would leave quite a bit
of wiggle room as things can change and you will need to
be able to adapt.  If your plans are rigid and you follow
them like a religion you lose the benefit and edge of
adaptability.   Very simply things die because they can't
adapt including farms.   I would not follow every new ager,
hipster flaky trend.  They are always dead ends no matter
how popular they might be in the short run they always
peter out.   Maybe dabble in them and take a little profit
from them but never commit to them or be dependent of
fads and short term trends.   I would avoid wholesale like
the plague.  Instead I would focus on direct niche
marketing.  Wholesale for the small farm is death 95% of
the time.  Again you might dabble in some wholesale but
dependence is death.  Leave that to the wealthy small
farms that don't depend on the farm to  sustain them.   If
you ain't got a Trust, A Phat Bank Account or a hefty
pension backing you...... you can't afford to get caught up
in the elitist farmers games.  I would network with other
small farms and homesteads that are like me but different.  
The idea and experience sharing is priceless.  You will
come up with things they would never think of and they
will come up with things you would never think of!   I
would prepare my self mentally for the fact that, I will win
some and I will lose some.  The idea is to win more often
than you lose but to be stable enough to ride out a losing
streak.   I would not waste time, effort or money being
certified anything.  That might mean something at a
statewide or national level, it means so much as fart gas at
the local level.  Remember you are selling to people who
will ultimately become your friends and friendships are
based on trust and honesty not which certification you
are throwing in their face.   I personally see each new
customer as the opportunity to make a new friend.   
Gaining new customers is not nearly as important to a
small farm as retaining existing customers.   I would be
my real self 100% of the time.  You are not going to have
the broad based appeal of being living in pretense and
projecting a false image.  But neither will you see a mass
exodus of customers when you express an opinion that
does not fit an illusion you fabricated.   "Wow Mike is a
real asshole!,  Yeah but he is an honest asshole!!"  You
might do a brisk business projecting an illusion for a
while, perhaps even years, but illusions always unravel at
some point.   I would never take it personally that
someone does not like me or what I produce.   God knows
there are plenty of people I don't like or want to be
associated with, that make and sell some of the worst
garbage in the world IMO.  They have their own following
and customers that love their stuff.  I may dislike them and
think their product is trash, but I can atleast respect them
if they are real and honest.   I would never intentionally
deceive anyone.  I have no reason to because I strive to
always be real and 100% honest.  Yep I lose potential
business because of that.  I could care less,  I don't want
customers that are gullible and honestly more than a little
on the dumb side.  There is a large portion of the market
that I believe actually wants to be lied to and there are a
large number of vendors that are all too happy to make
that accommodation for that segment of the market.  I just
won't participate or even attempt to compete for a
customer base I don't want or like.  I could go on and on.  

Right now is not a good time expand meat production.  It
is a good time to back off and consolidate resources and
fortify your position.   Particularly in pork, there is going to
be a short term uptick in locally produced pasture pork
and it will be followed by a steep decline.  There are
multiple factors contributing to that and it is going to take
about 3-7 years to reset itself once that small wave hits.   I
am backing off to 2012/2013 production levels and
serving the existing customer base as a primary and the
retail market customers with the surplus if any left from
the loyal customer base.  There is no force on Earth that
would cause me to expand pork production at this time.

Getting started in beef now is just plain stupid.  It would
be like buying a house in 2007 at a premium price, right
before the housing bubble popped and sent home values
on a downward spiral.  Right now it is very expensive to
buy breeding stock, even crappy bucket calves are selling
at premium prices.   It is a good time to start expanding an
existing herd by retaining heifers and select bulls.  At
some point the beef market is going to level out and
decline and I believe that will be sometime in the next 2-3
years.   The last 8 years have been a wild ride in beef, with
the national herd shrinking to the lowest numbers since
the 1950s.   A lot of folks are holding onto heifers because
prices are high and supply is low.  That is shifting and I
expect when the decline comes it will come fast and hard.  
That will be the time to buy into cattle and start building a
herd.  Myself I am expanding the Dexter herd but I already
have a solid existing herd to expand on without spending
a dime.

Poultry is worth expanding at this time.  It is in high
demand and it has fairly stable prices.  Chicks and
breeders are expensive to buy but once a solid flock is
built it is a simple matter to start hatching your own
replacement layers and cross breeding your own meat
birds.  I am expanding both the layer and meat bird flocks.

Fruits and Vegetables have been relatively stable and
borderline stagnate in the market place for the last 3
years.  Regionally we have classic market saturation of
the existing market.   Two things are playing out the
marginal growers are dropping out and the larger
producers are doubling down.  Personally I see a 3rd
option and that is instead of competing for a sliver of the
already small market base........ Expand the Market Base to
be more attractive and obtainable by the large number of
folks deemed to be not viable local food customers.  To
me this is kind of like DUH is you folks stoopid to not see
this?   3,000,000 people give or take in the 618 and only a
small fraction of a vast market potential are viewed as
viable by the powers that be and status quo.  But hey
gotta keep local food special and the prices high so that
only the elite foodies can afford it.  Screw that!  I am
expanding our fruit and vegetable production both
seasonally and year round.  I have no problem producing
more, and selling more for less. And I certainly have no
problem serving "Those Kinds of People" Since I am one
of "Those Kinds of People".

Cottage goods and value added products.  This is an
interesting area.  It is also a rapidly growing area.  People
like things that are ready to go.  Over the last two years
our prepared foods have seen 1200% growth.  Primarily in
the Jellies/Jams,  Pies and Breads.   When I made the first
2,500 jars of persimmon jelly, I honestly believed I would
be dumping out a whole lot of 1/2 pint jars.  Instead I by
June 2014 I was taking preorders for the next falls runs of
Persimmon Jellies.  Sadly the persimmon crop was a
complete loss in 2015 and we are pretty much sold out of
all of the 2014 fall run of 6,000 jars.  Hopefully the 2016
persimmon crop will be normal.   We did make and sold
out of 2,000 jars of strawberry jam,  500 jars of blackberry
jelly,  3000 jars of apple jelly,  1500 jars of apple butter,
1000 jars of peach jam,  and 1500 jars of grape jelly.   I also
made all of our pie fillings in particular 1000 pounds of
apple,  and 1000 pounds of Country Apple.   At this time I
have 2 gallons of Country apple and 12 bags of apple left
in the freezer :(    All of the fruit for our pies, Jellies and
Jams are produced here on the  T5R.   With two
exceptions,  about half of the blueberries come from a
partner farm in N.Central IL.  and all of the Cherries come
from that partner farm.  I am not even going to attempt to
grow cherries in SI :)    I am going to not only continue
with the fruits and berries I am going to accelerate the fruit
tree planting schedule.   I am going to let the best wild
blackberry patches grow farther out into the hayfield  and
I have already been transplanting more persimmon
seedlings from the persimmon tree that makes the biggest
and sweetest persimmons.   I am also going to build 5
more grape arbors on one of our hillsides in the spring.  
And yes I have started gooseberries but it is going to be
2017 or 2018 before they are producing enough to be
worthwhile :)

Nope I don't sell the hooch I make :)  If you are lucky I will
share a half pint with you.