cold birds

It’s 2am and -4 degrees out. NEGATIVE FOUR! I just woke up to collect eggs, stoke the woodstove and sit thinking. We’ve been harvesting turkeys, chickens and started in the geese yesterday. It’s been wretchedly cold out, but there’s always a silver lining- it has not been windy and yesterday we even had a sunny day. Wednesday we worked on harvesting the 64 chickens and got them all finished. I always feel a hole in my heart when the Bubsters leave. I adore them, but aren’t they lovely to look at all cleaned and bagged, off to feed many customers with their bountiful delicious muscles and healthy fats.

Our turkeys have been super heavy and this has been showing us we are getting older! Lifting 20 to 30 lb live weight birds up off the ground into the kill cones, then out again and over and into to the scalder, then out and into the plucker, then out and into the cooler positioned in the sled, then up and out of the cooler into the house (our old house) and up the stairs, and then they are eviscerated and a wee bit lighter. But schnikes, do that 21 times and your back, arms and shoulders will feel it!

 

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What I’m sitting here thinking this morning is why it’s so hard to make a living as a farmer. Especially with poultry. I don’t want to always be completely transparent about money and margins, but with poultry I think it is REALLY important to explain why we ** almost ** don’t want to do it anymore. A turkey takes 6 months to raise. He will cost about $5 as a baby bird to purchase, and will eat around 80 lbs of feed in those 6 months (that’s 180 days or so). Organic feed costs between 50 cents a pound, and 25 cents (when we buy whole grains in the later part of the growth cycle, not ground chick starter.) We feed about half and half, so 40 lbs at .50=$20.00 + 40lbs at .25= 10.00 so we’re at $30 in feed expense PER TURKEY. Plus the $5 to buy each bird to raise.

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So we have $35 invested in each bird. We had 21 turkeys to process, because although we ordered 25, we had some casualities (our mortality rate is excellent actually, turkeys are notoriously difficult to raise, especially when little.) Most of the casualities happen early, before we’ve put much feed money into the birds. But we had one big tom turkey who must have landed on his leg wrong, because one day he just couldn’t walk 3 weeks ago. I harvested him for our own use, but that’s a lost sale, which takes away the over-all profitability of our turkey project. Then after harvesting we found one bird with something odd going on inside after we eviscerated, I think it was another leg injury, but it affected him internally, needless to say, that bird was another financial loss for the turkey project.

I excitedly weighed a couple turkeys after they chilled and were bagged up. We had a 16 and a 22 lber. Most are on the 20 lb side (we had an unusually high number of males, who do grow bigger and heavier) We charge $3.50/lb. So the 16lber is $56. And we have $35 invested in that bird, we had to tend her for 180 days, and THEN harvest and process her. $21 in profit to do all that? What makes up for it is the 22 lbers bringing in $77 in gross profit, minus the $35 in expenses and we’ll make $42. So it balances out to be profitable, but for all the work, is it worth it?

Here’s the overall project

Start with 25 poults at $5 = -$125

We raised 22 to fullsize  ($30 per bird in feed)= – $660

Expenses are $785 in total, plus our labor, which is not paid technically, all our number are a mess- I sigh with the truth that we’re basically unpaid interns on our farm right now. It’s only when we look at numbers and work to improve things that this will change. Hence this article.

We ended up with 20 turkeys to sell and say they average 18 lbs (I’ll know the exact numbers after we weigh them all) 20 x 18=360lbs of turkey x 3.50= +$1260. Which sounds great, woohoo! But, take off the expenses, the costs to buy and feed the turkeys, and we’re left with $475 in profit. That will pay our internet/phone bill for what, not even four months? Also, that is NOT enough profit for the amount of time and work it took us. This is precisely why we tried to scale up on turkeys the year previous, but that just didn’t work. Our farm is just not set up for raising pastured turkeys on a large scale in this predator rich region.

Chris at Nami Moon Farm wrote a post detailing turkey “numbers” in this excellent blog post: the Price of a Turkey.

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I’ve been working on this part of the post for a while, and I think it shows what I’m talking about. If you have a dayjob which pays $10/hour, each 8 hour shift you make $80 profit, in trade for your time. $80 x 40 hours/week is $400 a week. Of course taxes are taken out of paychecks, but it’s an interesting comparison with $475 turkey profit made in 6 MONTHS. So, to equate a $10/hour job with farming, we need to be harvesting and selling the equivalent of 20 turkeys every week. This is the “scale” piece that is so missing from many aspiring new farmers’ perspective, and even we haven’t made it work, not yet.

 

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Part of the new farmer/entrepreneurial learning curve is understanding how to equate your new chosen job with financial terms you previously understood, and likely took for granted; the almighty paycheck.

Responsibly providing for yourself is one big benefit of getting a paycheck. I definitely took that wonderful, regular cash-influx in my life for granted in the past. And I won’t lie, I miss it. Even though my paychecks were never enormous while on the time-clock at a job, that bi-weekly check was still a regular financial addition to my bank account. Most working folks rely on that money, and plan around it. Some live beyond those means and use credit cards to finance their life activities. I feel so silly when I reflect on how I viewed my paycheck as an hourly tithe. When I got it, it was mostly something to spend, like an allowance.

The thing with day-jobs that is so ‘easy’ is that you are simply trading your time and effort for money. When you are a new entrepreneur, like a farmer, you don’t have a paycheck and when you do make any income, you put your business expenses and growth first. Your time and effort are are essential for success, but not something you can pay yourself for, unless you are successful in bringing in lots of cash over the business expenses. (Which rarely happens as you start up.) Honestly, I don’t know any farmers that give themselves a paycheck, and we are included in that group. But I aim to change that next year. I want to give to our public radio stations, to the podcasts I listen to, be able to buy gifts instead of always having to do homemade things. I want that freedom to not worry about every single penny, and always be paying farm bills exclusively. One could argue it’s our own fault if we aren’t making enough from the farm to pay ourselves. In fact many sustainable farming elders speak this- grow enough to pay yourself! But it took us forever to figure this out. And we weren’t opening a business with a giant loan to set it all up, it’s been shoestring and bootstrapping, and lots of help and support from family and friends.

As I cleaned eggs, I was listening to a farmer podcast called Growing Farms. The topic of the episode from June this summer that I listened to was “Is starting a farm really as stressful as it seems?” The host goes on to explain some of his trials and tribulations of his summer so far. One thing that really caught my attention was his lamenting over how broilers are not as great as the “poulet rouge” chickens, and he eluded to some of the problems he’d had with his cornish cross. I once again, want to share that there is nothing wrong with these birds, and heart attacks will happen if you let the birds just eat and eat and eat, especially over night. But what struck me was he was admitting he didn’t really like these birds. They are not his passion, but the previous year he had done so well and had such a great reception, he built a whole business around them, and now not only are they not selling as fast, he has a whole bunch of frozen birds that no one wants to buy, and another 700 birds currently growing and where are they going to go? He should be raising the birds he loves and is passionate about, not the ones that he thought he could turn a quick dollar on. Just my opinion.

However, the most valuable part of the episode was when he talked about stress and how to de-stress as a struggling new farmer. Talking about absorbing and reflecting on the good moments, and keeping your chin up- it is SO hard when things are not going as well as you planned or how you thought they would.  Everyday now, I am doing what I love. I am surrounded by animals that I adore, and doing what I set out to do. We have simply AMAZING family, friends and customers. It’s been a struggle, and still is.

cold eggs & thanksgiving prep

It has been really cold here since my old dog Javi passed away, nights now usually in the single digits. This is FAR colder than what we are used to for November, and we’ve had quite a bit of snow too. We went from a sunny, dry and pretty dang perfect autumn to awful hardcore winter, basically overnight.

It’s mid-November and the ducks keep on laying eggs. With temperatures like 5 degrees though, those eggs will freeze and crack open, which is fine for the pigs or us to eat, but not our egg accounts. Luckily ducks lay their eggs early in the morning, and not usually throughout the afternoon like chickens. I’ve been pushing myself to find out just exactly how early in the morning the ducks lay. So far the earliest I’ve managed to get my butt out there is 2:30am, when it seems about 1/3 rd of the total eggs have been laid.

I wake from our cozy bed in the upstairs of the farmer barn to go collect the first round of eggs. I bundle up, pull on my boots and trudge in the dark on the snow path to the old house to wash my hands and get the egg buckets. The old house is being shut down for the winter; water turned off and there’s no heat running in it, except for our egg room which has a small heater in it.

The ducks are not happy to see me, they dislike any interruption from humans. It’s hard to not take offense, as I raised all of these ladies up from ducklings, but now they act like I am a deranged killer chasing them. I’ve taken to wearing my ipod in the barn, so that the earbuds will protect my ears from the voiciferous shrieking quacks in the hundreds as the ducks move like a school of fish together, swarming like bees as far away from me as they can get, as I move to their various nests and pick up eggs. Some eggs lay in the middle of the barn, like they were just dropped out of the ducks. It’s those out-in-the-open eggs I need to get as soon as possible after laying; they emerge hot from the duck, but will quickly freeze. Most eggs are nestled in cubbies and corners, carefully covered by the ducks with hay.

As the nights at nearly 0 degrees increase in sequence though, the number of eggs is dropping. 430, then 370, 330 and then 275 and it’ll keep dwindling until they all shut off their egg makers. We’ve been blessed that the ducks did so well this year. I and my wrists will enjoy having a total break from my egg routine for a month or so, until they begin laying after the harshest part of winter passes.

For next year, we’re investigating a few things to improve the duck and egg set up- first is an egg washer that our egg inspector recommended and approves of. At $2,000 it seems crazy expensive, but if it cuts the time needed to clean eggs by 75%, it would totally be worth it. If all the ducks lay eggs 100% of the time next year(which they won’t, they NEVER lay as well as you read) but we’ll have around 800 layers, so we could have 800 eggs a day somedays. That’s a LOT of eggs to clean one by one, by hand with a scrubby. I’ll do it though, it’s my job.

The other thing is a grain bin for the duck feed. Right now we are using a gravity box, which is not exactly meant to be used as a feed dispenser. It works, and it is WAY better than what we used to do (unloading 50 lb bags into barrels, and then scoping feed out of barrels to feed the ducks.) A grain bin with an auger could dispense feed more cleanly and RIGHT INTO THE BARN! There are so many pieces of farm equipment that I just didn’t know about, that now I know I want!

The last thing I wanted to write about is how awful this week is going to be. I am not trying to be a complainer, but dear god, what a mess we’re in…we have 70 chickens and 14 geese and 21 turkeys to harvest, in forecasted 17 degree (daytime!!!) weather. I am NOT happy about this at ALL. We’ve always harvested our fall birds the weekend before Thanksgiving, and the coldest it’s ever been is around 30, when we whined about our cold fingers and had some struggles with keeping the hose running, but this time? Well, the good news is that since we are not living in our old house, it is an available sort-of-protected space now! We’re going to set up our poultry harvesting equipment right outside the door. Kill, scald, and pluck outside, and then bring the naked birds into the house to eviscerate, and package up. Since the house is as cold as a refrigerator (or colder) we can just have the birds sit in there until our customers come pick the up this weekend. Wish us luck!

Next weeks’ docket includes going to look at piglets, now there’s something to look forward to!

 

RIP Javi

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Things were going as usual. I was cleaning the second round of eggs after breakfast and suddenly Andrew came rushing through the doorway into the tiny eggroom. He’d hit my old dog Javier as he was backing out of the driveway. Ran over him actually. I started bawling immediately, and was simultaneously livid. My husband has a way of not being very careful. Horrified, I screamed at him- how bad is it? What fucking happened? He screamed back in horror, asking what he should do. I said get the gun, you have to shoot him, you have to put him out of his misery.

Javier was about 14 years old. I don’t know what his age was exactly because when I picked him from legions of dogs at the Golden Valley Humane Society over 12 years ago, they guessed he was 2 then. He’d been to that shelter 4 times in his young life, because he’d been a naughty dog- chewing up couches and causing all sorts of problems, always being given up on and returned to the shelter. When I spotted him in the long line of kennels at the dog jail, I knew he was exactly what I was looking for- a big intimidating pooch. I was still living in Uptown Minneapolis, and I wanted a dog who would keep me safe from my freaky ex-boyfriend. I wanted a big dog who could transition with me from my apartment to my new place in the country.

This kenneled big black and tan stranger showed little interest in me or my gentle croons. He knew the drill. He stayed where he was in the back corner, laying on the cold cement, thinking, I’m sure, here we go again. Determined, I asked one of the staff if I could have some time with him in the “getting to know you” room. Smiling with giddiness, I followed the lady walking the beast, noting his noble stature and his adorable bowed legs, a testament to his rottweiler heritage. In the room, he acted extremely indifferent to me. I told him my plans and that I thought we might be made for each other. With a bit of encouragement, he jumped up on the bench and sat next to me and tolerated my pats, but then jumped back down to the floor, where he laid down again. The clincher for me deciding this was to be my dog was when after 10 minutes had passed, a family stood outside the window of my room, watching. As the handler, the dog and I left the room, i heard one of the kids say “Dad, isn’t that the dog WE were going to get?” I’ve never been too keen on kids, and so this little statement is what sealed the deal and brought Javi and I together for the rest of his life.

His kennel tag said he was a Rottweiler mix, and that his name was Bear, which I thought was too generic sounding. I christened him with a name I’d always loved, Javier, which if you speak the kind of Spanish I learned in Bolivia, you can hear the similarities to “bear.” Ja-bear. He rode on the bench seat of my truck as we drove home, looking fine and mighty. I told him he had to be real good for about a month in an apartment and then he’d get to be a real country dog.

My family had had a couple dogs, so I was sort of used to them, but not one this big. Scottie, the little-bit-too-big-for-a-Sheltie, was my childhood dog, docile and loveable, and snuggly as all get out. I remember one day my sister and I came home from school, and my Mom told us that Scottie had passed away, and there he was, laying in the hallway, covered in a sheet. Later in my teen years, we adopted a young and wild Golden Lab when we lived in suburbia, and we named her Ginger. She and I went through obedience training together, but it always irritated me that she would never heed my voice if my Dad was around. His deep voice got her attention EVERY TIME. Ginger had a penchant for running off, like really RUNNING off, which after several years wore the entire family down, and we found her a new home where she could run to her hearts desire.

When I moved from the apartment in Minneapolis to my new place in the “country” in Osceola, Javi had ridden there with my friend Heidi, sitting in the passenger seat, with his head on her shoulder the whole ride. He loved the freedom there and was generally trustworthy to let out to go pee, and then he’d come back inside. He slept in my bed with me, next to my feet. I felt safe with him around.  I was working an early hours job receiving deliveries at the co-op at 4am, and I worried he’d be lonely, so I’d bring him with me to work, where he’d sit in my truck all morning. After he chewed on my truck bench seat, I knew that something had to change. So, I decided to get him a puppy for Christmas and the two of them could stay home together. I found Blue Heeler puppies for sale locally, and took Javi with to go take a look. There were 3 left, and the one who saw Javi and leapt on him came home with us.

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As Andrew got the gun ready, I was sobbing hysterically, looking for a place to hide from the sound of the shot. I was sure what was going on outside was a horrible nightmare, and I just wanted it to be over. I didn’t want to go see, I wanted my dog to not suffer. Just end it. I went into the unlit walk-in cooler, crouching, plugging my ears, sobbing and crying out in a way I don’t remember doing since my mom died. I felt the vibration of the floor as Andrew came back in the house. Leave me alone, do NOT come in here, I thought. But he did. And he hadn’t done it yet, because Javi had sat up. He couldn’t get UP, but he wasn’t mauled or ripped apart like I’d feared. There was yelling and I pushed past to go out to see my old dog.

He looked at me with sad eyes, laying like he normally did. I got a towel to use as a lift, and I decided I’d be the one to take to the vet to put him down. I brought him a plate of lard to distract him. It wasn’t til I got to the clinic that I realized it was Sunday. I called Andrew, called the posted emergency number and was furious that the recording said they no longer handled emergencies. Andrew found a clinic 1/2 hour away where a veterinarian would come meet me, so I drove along Hwy 8 with Javi laying in the back , tears rolling down my cheeks, watching him in the rearview mirror. He seemed to not be suffering too much, but it was horribly sad to know what was happening. I texted Andrew to dig a grave by the firepit.

At the vet’s office, I opened the hatch for Javi to have one last soak of the suns rays, then I entered the front door of the clinic and a kind woman greeted me, explained what would happen, and soothed my sobs. She said he’d first be given a sedative, which would pretty much knock him out and then be given an injection that would stop his heart. I laid there next to him as she gave him the first injection, looking into his eyes, stroking his big head, telling him what a good boy he’d been. Within a minute, his head grew heavy and he laid it down for the last time. It was very peaceful. The vet came back, and administered the killing drug. She then took a full five minutes with her stethoscope to make sure his heart had indeed stopped.

I am not unfamiliar with death. I watched my Mom die. I witness the death of our animals when they are harvested for food. This death of Javi wasn’t hard because he was put down, it was hard because of how everything went down. I knew he was in his twilight year, he’d been unable to keep weight on, was absolutely terrified when storms would approach, and he had a tumor forming on his chest. I’d been contemplating putting him down before the winter hit, because he would have had a really hard time with the cold. But I’d put it off, which was irresponsible. I just kind of hoped one day we’d find him peacefully passed away in a pile of leaves. Many people have since shared stories of dogs they had, or similar stories of senior “suicidal” dogs doing this same thing- lying in the path of a car or truck, or beneath tires. It does make me feel better, but I really wish I had taken Javi to be put down before he had been run over. I forgive Andrew, but this was just such a hard experience, and Javier was such a wonderful dog. At least he had a great life.

the almighty Subaru

The last two days I’ve been shuttling our last Pork Shares of the year from our Butcher’s freezer to our customers. I drove 600 miles over those two days, and had 13 deliveries of over 1200 lbs of pork (we raise big pigs.) As I headed home yesterday, my trusty and awesome late 90′s Subaru sighed a breath of relief, finally free of the weight burden. This car has been simply amazing, especially since we bought it for $1,100 3 years ago.

This car, in which my mother-in-law taught me how to drive a stick shift, has been through a LOT since it’s come to us.

Last summer, we slept in the back of the Subaru every night for 2 months, out in the hayfield when our turkeys were getting attacked by owls as they slept on their roost. One of us would wake up at 3am and stand vigil against the silently winged killers, wandering around the turkey roost, playing solitaire on the ipod. Then at dawn the birds were watered and fed and the delirious vigilante would drive the other, who was sleeping in the back, down off the hayfield and back up the road to the farm. I loved the mornings it was my turn to “sleep in” and that feeling of slowly being jostled awake as the car rocked back and forth, navigating the bumpy hay wagon path.

In February, this car carried 16 piglets in big tubs, in 2 separate trips, home. Indeed those were the very pigs who are made up the Pork Shares I was just delivering. There was this funny joyful realization of full-circled-ness as I drove out the driveway, eating a pork breakfast sausage patty made from our pigs, in the car that hauled home the piglets, who became the hundreds of pounds of pork this same car is loaded down with.

March was when I got to take a long weekend vacation down to Iowa to visit Heidi, and this was the first time the Subaru had mechanical issues. The alternator went out right as we came back from a beer run at the little Sattre store, the day before I was scheduled to go back home. Conveniently, I was stuck at my friend’s house while the alternator was replaced and I had an extended vacation! Don’t worry, Andrew took a little vacation after I came home, thankfully he didn’t have any car problems.

Early April was frigid at 20 degrees one morning, and that meant of course our first shipment of ducklings was arriving at the post office, the call coming at 7:25am, “there’s some boxes with some little peeping birds here for you.” The Subaru is great at handling baby bird runs- it heats up thoroughly on the way to the post office. I picked up the 250 ducklings who were carefully packed in ventilated shipping containers. There was only 1 DOA, amazingly. Then in May, we had 2 more duckling/post office runs, luckily the weather was a touch warmer those times.

Later in May, this car hauled home 3 newborn calves in the back, me sitting back there with them in the hay to keep them upright on their knobby knees as Andrew drove carefully around curves in the road. Then in August, this car also hauled coolers full of our first trial Pastured Veal packages to 4 special customers.

Then the Subaru had it’s 15 minutes of fame, as it was filmed on-location in August, as part of a promo video for this Co-op marketing effort called “p6,” which stands for the 6th Principle of Co-operation. It’s all about Co-ops supporting small scale, local and/or cooperative farming efforts. There was the rusty, loud Subaru in all it’s glory, packed to the gills, with me being filmed unloading eggs out of the coolers! When they release the video, I’ll be sure to share a link.

Last month, May May the goat hopped right up into the back of the car to go visit her goatie boyfriend. She’s used to be transported in a Subaru, no biggie. My sister sat in the back with her to make sure she didn’t lose her footing, and I grinned to see Mel’s smile next to May’s massively arched ivory-hued horns in my review mirror. As soon as we arrived at Erin’s farm and I opened the back hatch of the Subaru, May bolted out, heading towards the barn. She knew what a car trip meant, and was ready to see her boytoy!

Every single week since March, this car has been making weekly egg deliveries to the Cities, and in late May also delivering our CSA shares- about 14 large boxes a week, which together would comically fill ever single square centimeter of that Subaru! I can’t believe I never took a picture of that hilariousness.

And not only all of that- up until recently, a second weekly trip into town was made to pick up the 500-700 lbs of organic grain we bought, which we soaked for our pig’s favorite fermented feed. The Subaru would labor up hills on the way back home, as I nursed the clutch between 3rd and 4th, accordingly.

I don’t know how I ever will live without this amazing car. At 174,000 miles, it’s got a long while yet for a Subaru. But maybe not when we work it so hard?

 

 

the not so bright and shiny life

We used to joke about a reality tv show we’d make someday called “Glamour Farm.” It would basically follow us around showing every not so awesome part of our new-farmer life; the stupid decisions and actions, the heavy lifting and struggles, the mucky messes, the fails, the injuries, the tragedies. I think it would be a hit. But I sure don’t want to even think about that idea now, and in fact this blog chronicles many of these ridiculous events over the past 4 years.

The Farmer Barn, our little cabin home to-be, is getting there, and it can’t come soon enough. 2 weeks back Andrew had a fall off of the scaffolding. He’s been working so hard, and was exhausted and lost his balance. Thankfully he didn’t fall from the top tier, but his fall did really hurt him a lot, so he’s been healing and not able to work much since. This means I’ve got all the chores and projects and day to day tasks on my plate. I have been stern in not letting him work, he has a tendency to keep working through injuries- sometimes out of necessity, like last year with finishing the 2nd half of the duck barn and then the harvesting of 50 turkeys and 90 heritage cockerels. But sometimes he’s just stubborn and wanting to get going again, and then it’s to soon. Healing is important! But I won’t lie, I’m a bit jealous of all the books he’s read while I lug feed buckets around.

Thankfully, my youngest sister Melanie’s visit correlated perfectly when this happened. In fact, it was her second day at our place, and we were returning from taking my goat May May for her conjugal visit with Coltrane. As we came back home, we saw Andrew and his Dad walking along the road as we came cruising over the hill. As I pulled over next to where they were, Andrew said he’d fallen and he couldn’t see us very well. That’s a scare alright. His parents were talking to their chiropractor, I contacted ours, while looking up his symptoms online. Was it a concussion? Brain damage? Our chiro said that the vision part of the brain can easily be jostled with nearly any fall, but he needed his neck realingned for sure. She gave me a list of things to watch for but said his fall and his symptoms indicated that his situation was not life threatening. See, we don’t have insurance, so we couldn’t just run to the ER if it wasn’t a really serious emergency. Andrew’s vision returned to normal, but he’d had the beejeez scared out of him and he hurt a lot.

For the past 2 weeks, my sister and I spent most of every day together, after I did chores and cleaned eggs (things I don’t want to saddle on anyone else.) She was an expert at just tackling any project I mentioned, and diving into the very helpful maintenance-type tasks like washing dishes, without me asking her to do that. She broke up hundreds of garlic heads into cloves for planting, she cleared all the tomato vines in the hoophouse, she did daytime feeding and watering of the chicks and turkeys, she dug up the lavendar and rosemary plants and potted them for overwintering indoors, dug baby carrots, set me up with a huge itunes account, and made us tons of delicious and unique vegan food. Together she and I rolled huge and heavy fencing up the hill to a spot north of the berms and swales and south of the hayfield. We carried up fence posts and set up a spring calf paddock, after analyzing the lay of the land and the quantity of equipment we had to work with.

Mel just returned from a year of WWOOF-ing, spending time in 13 different countries on all sorts of farms. You can check out her blog and absorb some of her contagious enthusiasm for life and experiences. I’m so proud of her for going for it, and it was really wonderful to get the opportunity to go through her photo archive with her and hear her stories from life out and about. She’s heading back out into the world, living and working on a coffee farm in Columbia next month.

Now that Mel’s left, here’s what my days consist of:

In the early morning I feed and water the ducks- that’s about 250 lbs of feed to truck over in buckets from the gravity box, and 40 gallons of water to fill into their tubs (luckily we have a hydrant in the barn with some snazzy hose and PVC pipe arrangements so water doesn’t have to be carried at all for them anymore.) The ducks are extremely wary of me, even though I have tended to them every single day of their life. I notice eggs around the water tubs and hope none break under chaotic webbed feet before I can come back to collect them. Also noted that I need to haul some hay bales in from the haystack to spread for bedding.

Next I open the chicks’ brooder, which needs to be enlarged (I need to get on that) and let the gorgeous Bubbies out into the hoophouse, then feed and water them. The 73 of them are voraciously hungry and thirsty and are suddenly needing 10 gallons of water in the morning. They then ramble about in the hoophouse eating their organic grain breakfast, scratching in the dirt and snacking on the leaves of the still strangely frost-untouched pepper and eggplant plants.

Then I head down to open up the turkey and goose night shelter, the old horse trailer. Rambunctiously, they pour down the ramp out into the old goat paddock, the geese honking, running and flapping their wings in ecstasy, the turkeys stand tall as soon as they emerge for a brief wing flap/stretch, but then get down to eating immediately. Good, because the more they eat, the more weight they put on, and the bigger payoff in a month when Thanksgiving harvest comes. We’re gonna have some big turkeys!

Now I go to tend to the pigs. I scrape and hoist immensely heavy soaked organic grains (buckwheat is their favorite) out of the soaking barrels- about 100 lbs or so, and heft the buckets over the fence into the 10 pigs’ troughs. 6 of the pigs are coming soon to harvest, actually tomorrow, so I give them extra treats of a slurry of cracked duck eggs, clover I pull from lush patches, vegetable trimmings and bottom of the jug homebrew glugs.

After all this, I go strain my coffee and drink it rapidly while I catch up on email and do a farm Facebook post. Sunday/Monday I have duck egg orders to organize with the buyers at the stores we sell to. Monday also involves harvesting what little vegetables we have, cleaning them and packing up the CSA boxes, and emailing members with a reminder and what they can expect. After the caffeine hits, I go back outdoors to get the first round of eggs. Cleaning and candling eggs takes about 3 hours of my time each day, and I really enjoy it. I’ve been a egg handling podcast addict since my friend gifted me her MIL’s used iphone. Judge John Hodgman, RISK and Put Your Hands Together are some favorites. Check ‘em out! Lately I’ve also been getting books on CD from the library to listen to while I’m working in the egg room.

Once I complete the first bucket of eggs, its time to let the ducks out for the day, at about 9:15. I let them out, and then check on the various other animals and make sure they are doing well, before collecting the second round of eggs.

All these tending tasks are on repeat at 3:30pm, and then another round of chores happens right at dusk, when all the animals are put into their safe night houses. Tuesdays I spend delivering CSA shares and egg orders, and then Thursdays or Fridays, I drive into town again to drop off the Madison co-op order, which is delivered via Co-op Partners Warehouse in St. Paul On my way back home, I pick up the 500-700lb organic grain order in Stillwater.

I work about 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’s WAY more than a fulltime job. Glamour Farm, people, Glamour Farm. This is not an easy life, but you know what? I don’t have a boss, don’t punch a time clock, and I love it.

 

 

 

meat and milk

 

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These bizarre grey/blue looking creatures are Black Silkies, an exotic and ancient breed of chicken from China. I got them from a friend of mine who hatches a few different breeds of chickens. She had bought a half of one of our pastured veal and when I was heading over to her place in August, she’d said she had 5 Silkie roosters that she didn’t want, so would I like to take them?

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I’ve been fascinated by all this black chicken information circulating on the internet for a while, so I said yes. Silkies were reputed to have black bones, skin, organs and meat. Fascinating! The 5 roosters came home with me and lived on pasture in a chicken tractor for a month. I wanted them to have time to enjoy the grass and sun and “fatten up” on organic grains before harvesting them. They were ridiculous, like stuffed animals that crowed, but they looked more scary- a bit like gremlins or characters in the movie Labyrinth. I really enjoyed their antics, strutting around like pompous puffy Steampunk wind-up toys. Each night I had to put them into a brooder tub, which served as a mobile “coop” and kept them safe from predators. But they did not like me gathering them up at night, leaping away from my hands as I tried to collect them, shrieking in melodramatic shrieks and wails. In the morning, they’d leap out of the brooder with the exact same sounds, then strut about, eating grass between crowing their territory all day.

But they were roosters, and I am not looking to keep ornamental birds or pets. The last summer Bubster had been living with the turkeys and geese for a bit longer to grow more, and he’d suddenly reached basketball size (you can see him behind the turkeys, he was darling) The weather was looking fair, so I decided it was time to harvest. I can’t deny that everytime I can knock a chore off the list of things to remember to do everyday, that’s a good thing. With these shortening evenings I was ready to take “catch the Silkies” off my nightly routine.

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Silkies are said to have some sort of historical use in Chinese medicine, there’s lots of info and recipes out there.  I have not cooked one of them yet, but because they are lean and tiny pigeon size, I will probably poach them, pick all the blackish meat off, and then make a rich and interestingly colored broth with the bones and skin. I didn’t save the feet because they were absolutely terrifying looking. Silkies have 2 extra toes and very furry feathered feet, with long straggly black feathers growing between their crazy toes. No thanks for my broth making! The dogs liked them though. There is nothing wasted here.

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When we harvested our own calf in August, we de-boned all the veal instead of cutting it into traditional beef cuts. I have a bunch of bags in the freezer labeled with vague terms trying to describe the size of the meat chunk and where on the calf it came from such as “leg roast, or “neck bits.” Andrew’d been watching this Alaska documentary, showing the Inuit people taking all the meat off the bones of a massive moose because then the meat required less space to store. The basic idea is you follow the muscle groupings to find where they attach to the bones, and then try to keep them intact, instead of just slicing into the mass of muscles.

I’m not very familiar with cooking beef, let alone veal, so this bounty of food is quite the experiment. After hearing the word taco on a podcast, I wanted to make veal tacos. That’s basically how my menus get planned; I hear a suggestion that triggers a belly rumble, and then I make it work with what we have. I took out a 2 lb sized “leg roast” bag to defrost, and then rubbed the surface with chopped garlic, chili powder, pepper and our own bacon fat (I know right!?). I know veal is lean and I didn’t know if this roast, being from the leg, would be tough or not, so I stuck in it a 350 oven for about an hour. When I checked it was delicious AND tender, but you know what? It tasted almost exactly like pork, with just a hint of beef. I let it rest, then served it sliced thinly with oregano roasted potatoes and the last of the vine-ripened tomatoes (the ones with bad spots- our CSA members got all the nice ones.) Andrew had the great idea of putting a smear of duck egg aioli in our tacos, since we don’t have sour cream, and it was a very complimentary and pleasing mouth marriage.

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May May is still giving a bounty of milk, and she has since March! At 6 years old this year (I think) she’s really gotten into her stride. After years of dealing with first fresheners, I’m just loving having a mature goat who I have a long relationship with. We hate each other some days, and “someone” sure knows how to push my buttons, but May gives so much, it’s impossible to not give her a ton of props for being such a solid goat. Milking time, which was on the 8am and 8pm routine this year, has started to get a bit off schedule because it is getting dark SO much earlier now. I’m milking in the pitch dark even at 7pm, shooting the sweet smelling hot milk from her giant warm teats aimed at jar mouths I can’t see. You can see my latte foam stack there, huh? Kind of hilarious. I’ve noticed her milk quantity varies significantly if she does not drink the water in her bucket. Goats often do this if something tastes funny about that particular bucket, or that particular water. But if she gets plenty of grass and fresh water, and some grain, she is still milking 3/4 gallon a day.

May has an appointment in the next couple of days to go visit her “boyfriend” Coltrane, the gorgeous black San Clemente goat owned by my friend Erin. I am very grateful to Erin for providing stud service for May so I don’t need to keep a buck, or buy one and risk exposing May to goat illness from other herds. Once May gets knocked up, I’m going to stop milking for the year and let her conserve her energy as her baby or babies grow, and also take that chore off my list!

I’ve been stockpiling her milk in the freezer for soap making, and then set to work on revamping my cheese making before May heads over to her romantic rondevouz. I got a culture going again over the past 2 weeks so I could make a batch of feta cheese. It’s been 3 years since I made feta, and we’re on my very last jar. Boy did it age gorgeously in the brine! It’s creamy, tangy and super richly flavored. Natural cultures are pretty easy to make, you just start with a bit of raw milk in covered jar. Let it clabber/thicken on the counter, then add some more milk. Let that thicken. Repeat several times, like feeding a sourdough, then pour out most of the jarful and give to the pigs or dogs, add fresh milk to the jar one last time, let it thicken again, then you’ve got a strong culture. Not at all scientific or precise though! More of a traditional foods/Wild Fermementation way. I adapted my techniques from the legendary Dr. Fankhauser’s “Cheese page” website. In my 3 gallon batch of feta, I used maybe 1 cup of culture and 3 drops of rennet. I hope I remembered the ratios right! It’s been so long! Our old house is freezing  cold, like a fridge, so that may mess up my actual feta process, or maybe it will make the fermentation process slow down, which could actually enhance the flavors. We’ll see.

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After the pot of renneted, cultured milk starts to curd up and float in the whey, I’ll cut and then drain the curds for a number of days, then lay them out on a board and salt the crap out of them and let them air dry for a week or longer. More flavor enhancement happens throughout all of these processes, as the cultures are still alive and kickin. Finally, the salted curds will go into a salt water brine in a clean jar and into the fridge, which by then will be located in our new home:

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Wootwoot! Here’s the latest on the Farmer Barn. I just want to roll myself up in all that insulation. Well, not literally. But I see it and it feels like a warm winter is coming our way! Next up is getting the floor in, then the woodstove installed.

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Our “Farmer Barn” is really coming along,  the roof is now fully shingled, the first windows have been installed, there are now stairs going to the 2nd floor, and the front door is on and the electric line is getting hooked up this afternoon. My husband and his Dad are working their tails off, we’re so glad for George’s vast experience and knowledge and help!DSC01714 With the urgency of winter’s arrival pushing them to get the little cabin done, comes my part of the deal- making soap to help pay for it. We’ve now spent the lion’s share of the money it’s going to take, and it’s all on a credit card. The hope is we’ll be bringing in profit as the year comes to a close- with our pork, chickens, turkeys and geese, as well as the newest layers adding into the egg production. We don’t intend to live with the debt for too long, if all goes as planned. We’ve gotten a bunch of awesome supporters to sign up for our “Year of Goatmilk Soap”as well as some unexpected generous donations to the cause. Thank you thank you thank you, we are going to be warm this winter!!!!

For the past couple of months I have been a soap making machine, crafting soaps in quantities I only imagined possible. I just finished  my 3rd batch of soap for the day. That makes 19 batches in the last 2 months, which is more than I made in total the past 2 YEARS! Each batch is about 13 pounds of soap, approximately 90 bars. That is a whole lot of soap! Today’s selections include Creamy Marjoram, Lemongrass Cumin, and Cinnamon Swirl. I am really excited to start sending them out in December!

Other news- My third and final article in the New Farmer series published in the October ACRES USA arrived, and boy oh boy does it look fantastic. Kind of crazy to remember obsessing over every single word I’d written, rewriting and rewriting it again, wondering if I’d be laughed at by the editor. And there it is, out in the world! Feeling very blessed.

Our turkeys and goslings are growing huge and doing very well. I know they are probably large enough to not need to go into a solid shelter at night, but we don’t want to take any risks. It’s adorable to watch them all in a row each evening, climbing into the horsetrailer. We have roosts in there for the turkeys and the geese sleep on the hay bedding. There are two birds in this group who need a bit of assistance each evening- a straggler Bubster who was a runt and we kept on instead of harvesting him with the others a month back, and a (I think) blind gosling who needs a lot of help getting into the trailer at night. The eggs keep coming on strong, no doubt this fantastic weather is keeping the ducks very, very content and comfy. Our investments and risk taking over the past years are finally paying off, and that feels awesome. In late fall, if things are still looking good egg-wise, I plan to be doing lots of duck egg demos at the stores.

Our friends, the new-to-dairy-farming couple who we’d bought our calves from this spring, came over for lunch last weekend. I really wanted to share with them how deliciously their bull calves raised as pastured veal turned out, so Andrew made gorgeous veal meatballs with homemade marinara and spaghetti. We also wanted to talk to them about their calf situation for next year. Sadly, it looks like they are facing a bit of a crisis with most of the young cows they’d expected pregnant for next spring to not be preg-checking positive. She said they suspected one of the bulls running with the heifers was shooting blanks. Uhh oh. Since they are a seasonal dairy, they need cows to calve in spring, so that their main lactation is during the grazing part of the year. Now they are having to deal with a very challenging situation as they plan for next year. Heifers take over a year to grow before they can be bred, and then have a 9 month gestation period, so a dairy farm always has to be thinking WAY ahead to ensure consistent milk supply. What do you do if your next generation of heifers isn’t going to be joining the milk line when you thought and had planned financially for? They are meeting with consultants to talk over the options. That’s got to be one of the best things about farming a “commodity” product, that there ARE experts to talk to, banks and lenders who understand the terms of your farm world. We’ve tried twice to get agriculture loans and have literally been greeted with glassey-eyed stares and nearly gaping mouths from the loan officers when we said “duck eggs,” That’s ok- they can keep their money and their grip out of our life, and we’ll do it the bootstrapping way. The down side of raising a commodity farm/food product is that you are very susceptible to market swings in the price you receive. It is just fascinating to me that commodity farming is this whole other side of agriculture that I really know very little about, and it’s what produces most of the food in stores in this country.

bird nerd – part 1

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Suddenly we have extended night warmth into late September, leading to pollinators stockpiling pollen all day long from the fall blossoms around the farm. Hoping this will mean the honeybees all have a safe winter. We don’t keep bees, but we do have quite a few humming around the land here. I intended to make a “Honey Cow” hive this year but never got around to it, that’s ok, but I do aspire to it at some point, maybe next year.

 

Here’s little piece I’m working on, examining my life with birds.

“Oh Blackbird please come down to me, you have something I wish to see. My pockets never seem to show, yours are all red with gold below.”

- a song my mom used to sing when the redwing blackbirds appeared in the spring

 

Birds of all sorts have been flying in and out of my life since my adolescence. It all started with one little baby-blue colored parakeet named Lily. My initial teenager foray into avian adventures with pet birds indirectly led me to my current scenario of being a small scale farmer tending a flock of over 1,000 ducks, as well as geese, chickens and turkeys.

I grew up on a hobby farm in South Dakota as a little girl, a truly beautiful childhood full of wildness and adventures. In the 80′s though, my dad couldn’t find steady-enough employment in the rural countryside to support the family, so we moved to the Twin Cities and lived in a series of suburban apartments. Though we had left South Dakota when I was just 7, I never forgot one of my favorite parts of the country; Smokey, my sweet smelling grey pony. No matter how much I wanted to move back to the country though, it was just not feasible for our family. Once it was apparent that my horsey-dreams would not be coming true again, like any other youngster, I found a new obsession; pet birds.

Parakeets were my gateway drug to the avian world. As a 12 year old, I fixated on getting one, pouring over all the library books I could find on the subject of pet birds. Under my sheets in bed with a flashlight, I stayed up way too late researching cages, breeds, behavior, feeding, colors, wing trimming and bird toys while I saved up all the money I made doing babysitting jobs in our apartment building. Finally the day came, and with my parents’ relieved-I’d-given-up-on-ponies blessing, we went to our favorite pet store (nearly every Saturday we toured pet shops with my Dad.) My sister and I stared through the window at the rows of caged birds, and I picked out a pretty female parakeet who’s feathers were blue with black striations. She fit the name I had already picked for her, Lily.

Lily was not too keen on having been chosen, with what must have seemed like a huge monster with large flesh colored branch-like fingers reaching into her cage at the pet store. She fluttered amongst the chaos of her panicked cagemates, flying from side to side, clinging to the metal bars and then sliding down. My heart raced. Eventually the pet shop owner grasped her then made sure she was the one I wanted, and then showed us how to trim the flight feathers so that she wouldn’t accidentally fly out a window. I had studied this in book, so to see him so deftly clip the feathers made me nervous- would she get hurt? He placed her in a cardboard box with air holes punched out on the sides. How I had longed for this day, when I would be the one leaving the pet shop with a little box that said “live animals inside” clutched to my chest. I remember Lily nibbling on my finger tips through the air holes on the ride home.

She turned out to be very affectionate and smart, a perfect companion pet, that unlike a pony, fit in an apartment.  Soon I wanted a friend for Lily, and the bedroom my sister and I shared slowly filled with more cages and more birds, and eventually after we moved from our apartment into a house, our new bedroom soon sported  a ramshackle aviary my Dad built us for the growing flock of keets. I branched into cockatiels, who got along very well with the parakeets. I remember feeling so much pride when Lily and her new budgie partner made a nest and she succeeded in hatching out her first clutch of baby parakeets. They were so naked and so tiny, but Lily did a wonderful job regurgitating food for them, and the 4 babies all survived and thrived into adulthood. My flock was multiplying!

Still I wanted more and kept reading and researching,  feeling eager and ready to dive into the larger parrot world. My first parrot was a little Senegal parrot who I named Sysco (after seeing this on food trucks, I liked the unique spelling, how silly.) Sysco, who’d been handfed as a baby, identified with humans and bonded to me- a whole other type of bird experience. She became much more attached to me than lily had, shrieking with a high pitched whistle/scream when I left the room. After school and at night she was attentive and cuddly, snuggling alongside my neck as I read as much bird material as I could get my hands on. My sights were set on more parrots. I had outgrown my parakeet obsession, and the next parrot I had in mind was a Pionus. They were said to be quiet and shy, yet intelligent parrots, a small to medium size- not as intimidating as a big macaw or cockatoo.

I ended up getting a job at an exotic bird specialty shop when I was just 14, after I purchased a baby Pionus parrot from the owner. She had been so impressed with my enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge of all things bird that she offered me a part-time job, as long as my parents were ok with it. Oh my goodness the thrill of this- being surrounded by hundreds of beautiful parrots, cleaning the cages out, chopping up their veggies and fruits, engaging with potential parrot-parents, working in an entirely adult atmosphere, and finally being trusted enough to learn about handfeeding the expensive baby cockatoos, macaws, amazons and eclectus parrots. There was something about the baby macaws that really called to me, their giant beak-jowls, their jumbly movements and jerks towards the feeding syringe. The absolutely adorable way their head feathers would raise up in pleasure when you scratched their chin.

Sylvester, my Pionus parrot, was not what I had hoped he’d be- he was beyond shy and turned out rather neurotic, entering my world saying “who are you, you are not my mom” even though I’d raised him up as a baby. More research verified my findings, these were not the best type of wild parrot species to keep as a pet, even if they were handfed by humans from the start, they just were a bit too nervous and flock oriented to be kept as a single pet. Sylvester had a big flock of other birds around him, but he pined for one of his own. My sights kept getting set further, on the most ideal parrot in my mind- a macaw. Macaws were enormous, intelligent, gregarious, affectionate, playful, loud and adorable. I wanted one. They were extremely expensive for a 16 year old, but nonetheless, I managed to save up not only the $1200 needed to buy my baby redwing macaw, but also another $400 for her enormous hard-core cage. The original store I had been working at closed as the two owners parted ways, but the original owner delivered me my baby macaw at my family’s house after all that went down. Valentyne arrived as a giant 6 week old pinfeathered dinosaur looking chick, full of awkward noises and movements, as well as bottom-less hunger.

 

 

 

 

coldy

The other night I heard the rain drops as they loudly started falling on the fiberglass porch roof outside our bedroom window. I felt the cold air blowing in through that window, pulled the covers up around my neck and cuddled up to the warmth emanating from my sleeping husband.

It is September in Wisconsin. Sometimes this month is a gloriously warm “summer” month to enjoy, but yesterday we had a wet, windy, cold day to charge into while Andrew lugged feed buckets and I collected eggs. I had bedded down all the ducks the night before, anticipating the rain. The siting of our duck barn is still allowing a lot of rain water to go right into the barn (we need to do some more earthwork to get this resolved) which isn’t horrible if there is fresh bedding on top of the deep bedding pack. Ducks love wet and mucky, and will do their best to make that happen ASAP, but it’s not the ideal for their night housing arrangement.

We currently have three groups of ducks, technically 5 different age groups, but they are grouped into three flocks. The oldest ducks and now 4 years old, in their third laying season. We did not expect them to still be laying, which is a blessing, but has complicated our flock rotation a bit. The other two groups are Khakis we raised over last fall with another group of Khakis we raised this April, and the 3rd group is Golden 300′s (Goldens are a khaki cross) we’ve raised up since May  with a few “white layers” we received as a substitute to make up for Metzer’s mess up on our order. That’s another story. Really Metzer, you didn’t load the hatcher right when we pre-ordered our ducklings? I bet it was because they over sold on their ducklings. Anyways all our ducks are all doing wonderfully. The Khaki group from last fall and this April are laying eggs (not at peak production though), and the Goldens should begin laying in the next month or so, they are becoming full sized and getting extremely loud and sassy, which I have found is a reliable precursor to maturity and egg laying. I love collecting eggs so much. These porcelain looking orbs are the fruit of my dreams, the product of our hard work, investment and faith. Back in the beginnings of my duck adventures, I was SO thrilled when I was collecting 30 eggs a day from my small beginner flock. These days it’s hundreds.

We are finally going to begin delivery of duck eggs to the Wily Street Co-op in Madison this week, thanks to the Wedge’s Co-operative Produce Warehouse offering drop shipment for local farmers. All of our local co-ops are rocking the duck egg sales, as this is the time of year when people start ramping up cooking at home and just generally eating more. We did time these new layers’ arrival in April and May specifically for this reason. Having layers begin laying right before winter is a bit of a risk (the cold and gloomy winter days are not conducive to egg laying), but we are hoping that with night lighting and a cozy, happy life, they will keep laying into the winter so we can supply that vacant niche. When we only had one flock of all the same age birds, they dictated when our duck egg season was over for the year, and that has usually been around Thanksgiving. We had the whole busy “holiday baking time” missing from our farm revenue stream. So fingers crossed that this works.

My in-laws are here this afternoon working with Andrew to start the shingling of the roof on our cabin! The windy and wet weather yesterday was not a good time to be climbing around on scaffolding or the roof, so instead they fixed the flat tire on the horse trailer, so we could move the goslings and turkeys to their new pasture placement. The horse trailer is their night coop, a solid and safe place to get locked up each night. They love it. We had let them out in the morning and herded them over to their new pasture, and once the tire was replaced on the horse trailer, Andrew pulled it over to the pasture with the tractor. The birds know their coop and all came running over to see it in it’s new location.

Since we harvested our Bubsters, who shared the horsetrailer coop and pasture with the goslings and turkeys, the turkeys have literally doubled in size. Apparently the giant chickie Bubs had been hogging all the feed! This small and very manageable group of turkeys (20) and goslings (14) is actually so lovely. Last year we had such a nightmare of stress with raising 100 turkeys and dealing with owl predation, that we decided to take it easy on turkeys this year. What a nice decision this has been! We are now re-enjoying turkeys, because in a smaller group we can just manage them so much better. However, it always makes more sense financially to raise as more birds in a group, to up the total revenue from your feed hauling and tending efforts -which usually doesn’t change much from a small to medium sized group. But when we went from 40 tureys in 2012 to 100 turkeys in 2013, we didn’t have the proper infrastructure in place and learned that scaling up lesson the hard way.

We have found over the years with turkeys that not many people think about where their bird is coming from until the weeks right before Thanksgiving, which makes raising the right number impossible to plan for. We ask for deposits at the beginning of the season, and those who did that (thank you!) are on the list. Having only 20 turkeys this year means we will have to turn down a lot of sales, but sometimes, taking a year to get back on track is the right decision over risking failure again to make a buck.

 

TV and co-ops

We don’t have a tv, all our movie viewing is done on this laptop. I’m not even sure if people get regular tv service anymore, isn’t everything online now? Well, regardless, I have exciting news: I’m gonna be on the tv!

The Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis is one of our best duck egg customers, and this week is the co-op’s 40th anniversary. They are having a block party on Sunday, and asked us if we’d like to be part of the FOX 9 news segment being filmed at the event. (I’ll be on at 9:30am this Sunday) Oh yeah! Duck eggs are going to get mainstream exposure!

I have much to reflect on in regards to my long relationship with the co-ops. I started working at the Seward Co-op when I was 20, and the experiences I had there birthed me into the person I am today and opened my eyes to the world of real food and sustainable agriculture. There are so many wonderful co-workers, employees and vendors I can conjure in my mind from those years. The farmers I worked with while I was the infamous “vegan meat buyer” really riled up the farm-life nostalgia in my soul and they are the major reason I am now, 15 years later, a fulltime farmer. Evolving from a vegan to a meat farmer is a whole other topic.

 

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Now, gearing up for my first live tv experience, I was told the focus will be first on our farm, our ducks and our duck eggs, and also on how our relationship with the Wedge has helped us as local, sustainable farmers. This’ll be pretty easy, but I should practice now- working with the Wedge really opened up our farm’s specialty product to a whole new audience. Wedge shoppers are amazing and boutiful- it’s one of the busiest co-ops in all of the country. The members and shoppers there are very interested in supporting farms who are local, ethical and sustainable. There are also lots of foodies who just can’t help but gravitate to something new, unique and extremely delicious, like our duck eggs. When I do tasting demos there, people get so excited and totally enthusiastic after their first taste. I just bring a hot plate, duck eggs, a cast iron pan, olive oil and salt and pepper. Our eggs are really that good!

My first experience at the Wedge was when I was just entering my rebellious phase at 17. I had a boyfriend who I had met at an animal rights group meeting, and he lived close to the co-op.  On one of our first dates, he took me to the Wedge juice bar and ordered us 2 vegan “monkey smoothies”- a ridiculously sumptuous concoction of pureed frozen organic bananas, soymilk and peanut butter. The girl who made our smoothies was tattooed and had fascinating piercings, as did many of the shoppers I saw wandering about in the store. Having grown up in the suburbs, this co-op was so….hip. It felt rebellious, subversive- these were definitely my kind of people. And all the Vegan products just being so normal was exhilarating to me, after growing up in such a meat and potatoes world.

Of course, that guys and I eventually parted ways, but the Wedge never stopped being an entrancing enigma to me. In fact were were terrified to start selling eggs there. They are SUCH a busy and bustling store, we didn’t think we could get our foot in the door, being such small farmers. And indeed it took several years and the prodding from a friend who works there (thanks katrina!!) and our dear farmer compadre Angelica (who sells her delicious fermented goodies there, thank you angelica!!!) to get that door opened for us. They both repeatedly talked to the Dairy buyer and told him he had to give us a chance. We started selling our duck eggs at the Wedge last year, and ever since, it’s been simply amazing. The staff are all so nice, very helpful, curious and enthusiastic. The customers are devoted and consistent. It’s a dream come true. Bring it on, tv. Even if I don’t see it, I hope to proudly and properly represent our farm, our duck eggs and the ways the Wedge has helped us grow our farm business and the farm to table connection, for their and our customers.