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.

what summer?

Up until 4 years ago, when I worked at the co-op, I had the blessing of access to free “cull” vegetables galore from the produce department. This was produce that was past it’s peak and deemed non-saleable. For those 12 years, I rarely had to buy organic vegetables or fruits- cull was a perk of the job. Now, as a farmer, I should have as much garden fresh vegetable content in my meals as I want, right? Nope. We’ve decided and confirmed that there are some necessary big changes coming for our lives and farm next year.

I remember fondly the 2012 gardening year. OMG did we have amazing bounties of EVERYTHING. Then 2013 happened, and while the garden didn’t turn out too bad, it was our first extremely late spring experience, and it was extraordinarily hectic and stressful. I’d gotten used to a frost free date of May 10th, and we weren’t able to plant until after June 1st.

Then this spring and non-existent summer happened, and it’s been the most awful vegetable growing season for us. Once again, our gardens had a very late start, it being such a soaking wet and extremely cold spring. This summer never really happened, at least it was not like I remember real summers being. We’ve had many, many nights at around 50 degrees and barely any vegetables thrive in that kind of cold. Even in the hoophouse the tomatoes are just not rocking it. They have plenty of fertility, but without long periods of heat, they are just sitting there. The other morning I was picking the few fruits we have, and they were condensing- a sign that they basically were at refrigeration temperatures over night. Grrr. The cold temperatures have allowed pests and plant diseases to flourish. For instance, zucchinis are usually a summer pest themselves, but after battling the squash bugs for over 2 months, my plants are all dead or dying. I think I got three 5 gallon buckets full, from about 100 feet of plants, total over the “summer.” That is pathetic. I had planted them with compost, and mulched the crap out of them as well. The bugs and powdery mildew took advantage of the plants’ weakness in the cool, and they won.

Having a garden that is not producing bountiful amounts, and we need 15 “servings” of at least several vegetables each week for our CSA boxes, is extremely stressful. I could shrug my shoulders and be like, oh well, but I cannot do that. We want to provide huge amounts of food for our CSA members. I bear all that stress and feelings of failure on my shoulders, and that’s not how I want to spend my life energy. The climate change effect has really taken the wind out of my gardening sails.

The one brilliant idea and solution we had for next season was to work with my youngest sister to have her start taking over the veggie side of our farm. She’s a vegan and has spent the past year WWOOFing around the world on farms. It wasn’t “start to end of season” experience, but she had more exposure to professional vegetable growing techniques than we’ve ever had. The idea I contrived was we’d incubate her, she could have her own business on our land, and do the thing we do not specialize in so much. However, now we’ve all decided, based on her desire to keep traveling and not being ready to settle down yet for a while, that that’s not going to happen next year. So we’re pulling the plug on our current CSA box setup going into next year. No more vegetables for CSA, we’re just going to raise proteins. It’s the only responsible and sane thing to do. I don’t think any of our current members will disagree with us- we are just not that great at growing veggies and especially so in this changing climate. There are skilled vegetable farmers who specialize in and know all the organic tricks to coax bounties from annual vegetables. It’s just not our skill, nor passion. As I have declared before, I most love raising animals and making them happy.

One super frustrating thing about not having a surplus of vegetables is that we don’t get to eat hardly any of them; it all has to be saved for the boxes. Once again I am scouring the co-op cull box when I can, after dropping off our CSA share boxes. Ridiculous, right? I hunger for vegetables! Being an ex-vegan, I am used to planning meals around them. Now days, we are eating much more meat than I’d ever have expected, because we raise it and have plenty of it. We ARE good at raising happy, healthy pastured animals, and damn they are ridiculously delicious. I am not complaining, just trying to explain another aspect of how frustrating this all is, and why we’ve made the choice we have.

I am very excited to just focus on the animals we enjoy raising and the products we raise exceptionally well. Over the next month, we’ll hammering out all the details for our 2015 Protein CSA offerings. Our garden next year will just be a homesteading garden for our own use, with a few crops grown in larger quantities (like garlic, greens, wildcrafted goodies, herbs) that we can offer for sale when we deliver our Protein CSA products. Big changes ahead, and a huge relief to stop trying to fight against the single largest stressor in our lives.

 

When our friend Heidi left on Sunday, she took the last 9 of the adult geese with her back to Iowa. She’s a goose lover and we had decided that breeding our own goslings just did not make financial sense. The first year from 40 adult breeder geese, we got 20 goslings. This year, even set up with better pasture and nests, they only managed to hatch out 14 babies. It will make much more sense to buy goslings from someone else next spring, even though they are quite expensive, for us, they are totally worth it to buy and not breed. I would highly recommend gosling raising though. What darling birds! Our 14 goslings hatched out 3 months ago, are now full sized, but still filling out. Going from beebee peep talking to honking. So adorable! If you are interested in raising geese, this is my “Gorgeous Grass-fed Goose” article, which was published by ACRES magazine this past March.

The Gorgeous Grass-fed Goose

By Khaiti French, Living the Dream Farm

As an Eco-Farmer, are you looking for a delicious and grass-based source of meat, eggs, healthy fat and even insulating down? You may want to give the amazing goose a try on your farm. We had a tremendously excellent experience raising them for the first time in 2013. I’d like to share what we learned.

My love affair with the goose began with our first goslings. They really impressed me with their uniquely personable ways. Even at 1 day old they were responding to my every coo with their chatty little whistle song, stretching out their neck and talking back in their little goosey way. Their baby down feathers had a texture of the softest stuffed animal toy you have ever held, it was impossible to not snuggle them! We kept our precious goslings in DIY plastic brooder tubs in our house for the first couple weeks. Goslings are rather messy as it is in their nature to splash around in their water as they bathe and clean out their beaks. It doesn’t make sense to deny them this, but using a washable tub that’s easy to switch out and clean helps manage the mess. We used giant Rubbermaid tubs lined with a piece of a paper feed bag and covered with wood shavings, and made a screened opening in the lid to attach the heat lamp to. Having an extra brooder tub works great because you can then move the babies out of their messy brooder and into the fresh one, and just switch over the top with the heat lamp over. To clean, simply dump the nutrient and carbon rich contents in the compost, spray out the tub and set in the sun to dry. Goslings are very hardy birds, and after the first week, they didn’t really need the heat lamp except at night when the house was cool.

Our gorgeous goslings grew extremely fast, weighing nearly a pound in 2 weeks! We fed them an organic 22% protein chick starter with a little Diamond V Yeast Extract for extra B vitamins, as well as several handfuls of greens and grass each day. We brought these to them in their brooder until they could go outside and gather it themselves. They didn’t need to be taught to eat greens, as it comes naturally to them, and the minerals and vitamins help them grow healthfully. The amount of green material they could eat each day, even as babies was impressive, and their poops came out a deep dark emerald green!

At not even 1 month old, they were huge and getting more awkwardly proportioned. Their “big goose” feathers began to emerge from their down, and it was time for their first foray into the great outdoors. We started “hardening them off” by bringing them out to a chicken tractor during the day. They went crazy grazing all the grass they could get their beaks on. We brought them back into the house at night for about 2 more weeks, until the nights were warmer. All this handling of the youngsters really keeps them bonded and used to you and easier to work with.

When the warm summer nights arrived, and the goslings had a good amount of their adult feathering, we kept them loose in an electronet paddock near our house during the day, and put them into a chicken “tractor” at night inside the electronet. You do need to make sure the electronet is electrified and their introduction to it is supervised, otherwise they can get confused and tangled up in it because they will try to chew on it and might try to run through it when they get hit by the shock. They are very intelligent and will figure it out very quickly. Putting them into a covered enclosure at night for the first month prevented any owls from attacking them in the dark hours.

At about 2 1/2 months of age, they moved out to our hayfield in an electronet pasture with a flock of young heritage cockerels. This was a great combo, as the goslings grazed the grass down, while the chickens scratched up the turf, revitalizing and fertilizing the pasture. The goslings were extremely voracious grazers. Because they had an earlier introduction to the electronet, we never had a problem with them chewing on it or flying over. They just kept away from the edges of their paddock. The chickens roosted at night in a horsetrailer we’d modified into a mobile coop, and the geese could go in there if they wanted as well, but we found they never needed or wanted to, unless it was to get at the chickens water bucket! They were such hilariously boisterous birds, and especially enjoyed racing around the horsetrailer in a group with their massive wingspans extended, plowing through the flock of chickens. At 2 – 3 months old, they were large enough that they didn’t need to be enclosed at night, as long as they were surrounded by electronet to keep away 4 legged predators. We moved the whole set up about once a week. The group was fed whole organic grain, but the chickens were much more interested in eating the grains than the young geese were. It was fascinating to see the geese growing into such big, healthy and robust birds and wonder how they could do that without eating tons of grain. A grass fed miracle bird!

The goslings were a joy to raise over the summer and into fall, to herd to their new pasture, to sit with, to watch swoop around with their new adult honking sounds, to feed, to sing along with. Our flock of hand-raised geese were always polite and never lived up to the “mean goose” stereotype. Raising them was just wonderful, but I’d only tried goose meat once before, so I was very excited to taste what my beauties had grown.

In our state, we’re allowed to process and sell poultry without a license or inspection as long as we don’t exceed 1,000 birds a year and we sell direct to the final customer on the farm, meaning we could not sell our geese to restaurants or deliver them to customers. We harvested the young geese the week before Thanksgiving on our farm. To collect them and avoid stressing them, we gently herded them up a ramp into the horsetrailer and they kept calm in that familiar place. I picked one up at a time, we told them how good they’d been and thanked them, then slid them into a large and deep killing cone and cut their head off with a very sharp knife. They bled out immediately and thoroughly and then we scalded them for about 40 seconds in a large vat of very hot (180 degree) soapy water. They have two layers of feathers that are very resistant to water, because they are WATERfowl! We used a dowel to ruffle the feathers and get the hot water to penetrate through the heavy layer of down, which loosened the follicles pretty well. Scalding is a fine art, and takes patience and care to do perfectly. Scalding eliminates the laborious dry plucking that we first tried, it took my husband 3 hours to dry pluck 2 geese! After scalding, we used a rented Featherman Plucker, which removed about 75% of the feathers if the scald was successful. Some of the birds we carefully re-scalded and sent through the plucker again. There was still quite a bit of plucking to finish by hand, but we always expect that, especially with waterfowl. The main feathers left on the bird were the breast feathers, and that’s where the down cache is, so we saved all of those handplucked breast feathers for later projects.

Eviscerating our geese was thrilling, as these birds had more gorgeous golden fat than I would have ever believed. Pigs with wings I tell you! All this fat from grazing and very little grain! It was a tight fit to get my hand in to pull out the organs and intestines. Their livers were not engorged, but a deep delicious red. There was about a pound of fat attached to outside of the intestines, and I carefully stripped that off to save for rendering. Pastured Goose fat is such a delicacy, and extremely healthy for you as it is high in mono and poly-unsaturated fats. Perfect for roasting big slabs of cabbage in a cast iron pan or frying potatoes and root vegetables. The meat is divine- rich, dense and beefy. My first bite actually reminded me of the texture and flavor of a braised pig heart, absolutely finger licking delicious! The skin makes for a satisfying crackling, and after roasting, I found each goose rendered out over a quart of gorgeous golden fat into the roasting pan. This I poured into jars to store in the fridge.

We sold the dressed birds at $8/lb, which was comparable to the goose prices in specialty markets. We charged more since we fed them all organic feed. Each bird weighed between 8-11 lbs at approximately 6 months of age. The customer reviews of our pastured goose have been outstanding so far, and we are already reserving “Goose Shares” as part of our CSA offerings for next season.

Some breeds of geese will grow even larger- the Embden is known as the main meat goose and they can dress out at 15 or more pounds in 6 months. I have heard some stories that they are a more aggressive goose, which may only apply to the adults. I feel that stereotypes do not always meet up with true experience, and if you raise your goose babies up by hand. with care, respect and love, any breed be a very rewarding and delicious experience.

 

Breeding vs. Raising

We started our goose experiment in early 2013 with an adult breeding flock of Pilgrims and Toulouse geese. I would caution anyone from starting in any new livestock endeavor by getting breeding stock, hoping that they will produce offspring. Not only is there a sharp learning curve in breeding animals, but you also have to care for and feed the adults year round and that can get very expensive. If you don’t have offspring as a result of your investment, it can be very frustrating and discouraging. I’d encourage anyone thinking about raising geese to start by supporting someone locally who raises geese and knows what they are doing. If you want to order goslings via a hatchery, be sure to reserve them ASAP as they often book fast and sell out. A $7 gosling seems pricey, but she’s totally worth the price, as you’ll be saving a good chunk of change by not feeding adult breeding stock. You may fall in love with geese like we did and then it might be the time to investigate the financial viability of adding a breeding program to your production of pastured young goose.

However, it still looked promising to breed geese and raise up the youngsters to sell for the Holidays. With a large pen set up in our hoophouse, we brought the adult geese home to our farm, visions of hatching out 100’s of goslings dancing in our head. We decided to keep them together as a flock because it would be simpler and there is a thought that geese mate for life and make their own pairs. However, we found if they are kept in a group during the breeding season, there is violent squabbling and lots of extra-marital affairs taking place. Separating your pairs or trios into separate pens before breeding season begins (by February) is essential to bond them in that pair for the season, and to have success with the females sitting on their nest, incubating and hatching youngsters for you.

The geese began to mate and lay eggs in March. I collected the eggs several times throughout the day to ensure they didn’t freeze. After researching the controversy over washing hatching eggs, I decided I would clean the shells if they were dirtied. I saved the eggs up for 3 days and then filled our incubator in one big batch. After incubation began, fertility proved to be excellent with the embryos developing visibly in the first 5 days. Things were looking promising. The geese kept laying eggs, and I found some people with incubators to incubate eggs on a barter – they would keep of half the goslings they managed to hatch out. We’d be spreading the genetics of these geese out into the world as well, which is critical for heritage breeds to thrive and continue on. But we still had more eggs coming every day, so we started selling fresh goose eggs for eating to some of our retail accounts and due to their novelty size, they were a hit! Honestly I don’t think that goose eggs are that delicious, I’d compare them to a gigantic chicken egg. I definitely prefer a duck egg on toast myself. The thing with selling goose eggs is that although we could sell them for $3 apiece, quick reviews of the cost of feed for just one female goose shows that a $3 goose egg times the 3o or so eggs per year she’ll lay won’t really cover her feed bill for the year, let alone pay you to take care of her. Even though geese can grow and nearly live off pasture, in a cold climate they will need to be fed some grain to survive and do well through the breeding season. There are some breeds of geese which are much more prolific at egg laying, but all geese are strictly season layers, usually ceasing egg production in May. They keep on eating year round though. Selling the surplus eggs once our incubators were maxed out made sense, but as a main business focus it would be foolish. If each $3 egg can become a $90 organic goose, that’s where goose breeding can become a viable business.

Slowly I came to the sad realization that the embryos in my incubator were dead after the initial good start. They just stopped developing after the first 2 weeks. Many things can cause this, but having our goose eggs in others’ incubators seemed to spread out the possibilities of success. We didn’t know if it was because I’d cleaned the eggs, which is controversial, or if something went wrong in the incubator. I stopped cleaning the eggs and that next batch of eggs hatched out at a friend’s place better with 12 goslings arriving in the world. 12 babies out of 60 eggs is not too impressive. The last group of eggs in their other incubator hatched out 20. So that was that. As I researched, I found out this was a very common problem for anyone trying to hatch out goose eggs artificially. They just don’t do well in incubators. We ended up with 42 lovely goslings out of over 300 eggs, 21 of which were ours to raise after the incubating barter.

We love raising geese so much and we will keep growing the audience for this succulent, delicious and low carbon footprint meat and healthy fat source. We have the flock of adults and will try this again, now that we have learned that we need to set them up ahead of time in separate pens. We’ll sell the first month’s goose egg production for eating in order to stimulate the females to continue laying. Then once the weather warms, we’ll attempt to let nature do it’s thing and hope the female geese can successfully sit and hatch their own eggs, bringing us our next round of beautiful goslings to raise on pasture.

 

chicken harvesting and such

Since the summer of 2009, I have loved raising “the Bubsters.” When I raised my very first 25 broiler chickens as a practice run, it was for an older couple who nostalgically remembered how farm-fresh, pastured chicken tasted. I raised those first broilers for them specifically so I could learn how to harvest poultry FROM them; I was still at that point a vegetarian, but interested in learning and interested in raising ethical meat. I didn’t really know the controversy behind the cornish cross chickens until later on. I bought 25 chicks and raised them without any premature causalities or problems and then Ron, Mary Lou and I harvested those 25 who, in 2 1/2 months, grew into giant, gorgeous chickens.

I’ve always been sort of a contrary farmer; liking what others dismiss, and proving dissenters wrong. The Cornish Cross chicken has been one of those controversial things. Most everyone who’s raised them says they are lazy, have bad legs and  grow freakishly fast, implying they are not a “real” chicken. They say they are only suitable for the production model they have been genetically/selectively bred for- factory farms. I beg to differ, with 5 years of experience raising these birds on pasture (and heritage cockerels as well) under my belt.

As chicks, the Cornish Cross birds are similar to any other baby chicken. They eat, they scratch in their brooder bedding, they rest and grow. The Cornish Cross chicks do have a stronger desire to eat and keep eating than a heritage chicken, but as babies they all want to eat their fill to fuel their bodies’ development. We feed our chicks lots of snipped up greens right away to supplement their grain based feed, even giving them tufts of grass and weeds with the soil attached to the roots. As soon as they’ve grown enough to handle the outdoor temperatures, they go out on pasture. Both types of chicken baby are equally attracted to dirt and greens, and we find that doing this really helps ensure they will be good grazers when they are introduced to pasture after the brooding stage. They see green and want to eat, peck and scratch in it. They love eating the dirt in the clumps, and I feel this inoculates their immune system with good soil microbes.

The major difference I see with the Cornish Cross compared to heritage birds, is that they more efficiently turn feed (input) into meat (output). And for a farmer buying the feed, this is really important. The heritage breed roosters ate just as much as the Cornish cross and even given an extra three months of grow time (and another 3 months of eating), came out giving us peanuts in weight. Seriously- after 6 months they dressed out at 3 pounds MAX. A Cornish cross chicken dresses out for us at 5-7 lbs, in half that time. They live the same life here, but the heritage breed roosters cost us twice and much in feed and twice the amount of time in labor. The heritage breed cockerels, even sold at $6/lb, actually cost us money instead of bringing in any profit. But that was an experiment, and one we had to do.

We have a pretty solid feel for how harvesting days will go now, and we have set up a pretty ideal harvesting setup in our pavillion area. I love raising these beautiful birds, and while the harvesting is intense, it is an oddly a pleasurable and satisfying experience. Seeing these chickens from day one to the last day is wonderful. Having our customers come get their birds so fresh it’s ridiculous, is a seriously fantastic thing.

The night before, we pulled them in their horse trailer coop up to the area near the pavillion. Since we’d raised them up with our goslings and turkeys, the whole group came along for the ride. They all went the night without food and water so that the broilers wouldn’t be so full of food in various stages of digestion (to make the gutting part cleaner). The morning of harvest, the scalder water was set to heat, the plucker was checked and cleaned out, and the mise en place was assembled; paring knives and the beheading cleaver were sharpened, surfaces of stainless steel tables, coolers and the chilling sinks bleached and wiped down, bowls for organs, buckets for offal and feathers, and bags for the birds themselves were collected and brought to the scene. After our other morning chores were finished and we’d had a huge breakfast of lard-fried hashbrowns, duck eggs and pastured bacon, we set about on our most pressing and important job of the day.

Harvesting animals is not a lighthearted thing to undertake, no matter how many times you’ve experienced and done it. With our poultry, it is much more intense than when our mobile butcher comes, because he does all the work when he comes. When we harvest our birds, it is all on our shoulders, and with poultry, it’s always quite a number of them in the group. Not three pigs or 2 calves. We had 70 broilers to get harvested, cleaned, chilled and bagged up before our customers arrived at 4pm, in just 6 hours. But we did fine, the lovely chickens had no idea what was going on, other than their “mom” (me) was picking them up, holding them tucked in my arms, and taking them over somewhere, and then suddenly, they, as a being, ceased to exist. I thank my husband for being so agile with his cleaver, and I thank these awesome birds for being such beautiful and lovely sources of nourishment.

Our dearest friend Heidi came to visit for weekend of Andrew’s birthday, so I didn’t get any writing done for the past few days. I’m conspiring on a post about keeping one goat and how awesome that is- a total revelation in my life- for real. I got three batches of soap made today, after cleaning 290 duck eggs and candling about 500 eggs, doing chores and such, so Andrew and his dad could focus on getting the roof rafters started. It was a full and wonderful day! We have 16 subscribers so far (thank you thank you!!!) for our “Year of Goatmilk Soap” fundraiser, so I need to make soap while Ms. Goat Girl is giving plenty of milk. MayMay is such a bountiful milk giver, she’s amazing and is so happy to not have any other goats in her way to enjoying her life. Today she’s enjoying browsing on young poplar saplings and goldenrod.

the “Farmer Barn”

Here’s the siting of our “Farmer Barn” (that’s our duck barn to the right) and all the progress that’s been made as of today. Second floor! My husband and my Father in Law are kickin’ butt! And look at the view from the kitchen/living area! So excited! The roof will be going on next. Oh boy, it is really the most anticipation I have had in a long while- we are going to be upgrading our living situation SO MUCH, and this is really essential for us to continue being here as farmers. If you are so inclined, we’re doing a fundraiser to help get this thing built. No one gets rich by farming, especially new farmers, so we need help cash flowing. Help us out and YOU get a “Year of Goatmilk Soap” mailed to your door! Here’s the link, thanks for considering it!

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Finally finished my homemade garlic powder process. I’ve not had a bounty of surplus beyond what our CSA members get from the garden this year, so I am putting up what I can, even if it’s not canning like the usual maniac I usually become. This garlic powder was from about 5 pounds of the reject garlic heads -I tried to pull them out like the rest last month, but the roots were too strong and the stalk just pulled out (sometimes I flew backwards with the force,) so I had to dig them out. Losing their stalk prevented these heads from being able to cure properly. I noticed that they were getting a tiny bit of mold inside the heads, so I quickly peeled all the cloves and chopped them in batches in the cuisinart, then laid that out on parchment paper on baking sheets. Those baking sheets I set on my planting shelves in the hoophouse, thinking it gets so hot in there they’d dry out quickly. That was a bad idea. It is too humid in there, and there are all kinds of gnats that flutter up and then fall down after they get exhausted trying to escape out of the roof of hoophouse plastic. Adn since it was so humid, the garlic did not dry out very fast, and so it lost much of it’s potency. I had to warm them in the oven to finish drying out, and then I ground the dried bits into “powder” in the cuisinart. What I should have done initially was put the baking sheets of fresh minced garlic in the sunny car, like a solar oven. The car would have smelled delicious too! Instead, we have garlic powder with a tiny bit of gnat. Don’t worry, this is just for our personal use!

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The September issue of ACRES magazine has arrived with my second “New Farmer” article!! One more to go, and that will make 5 articles I have had published in ACRES this year. What an exciting honor. You never know what’s possible until you just go for it. All it took was an email to the editor, some interesting topics, and follow through.

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vegetarians

Last week, as my husband and father-in-law got the walls up on our new cozy cabin, I delivered 6 of our first pastured pork shares of the year. We have been raising 16 pigs in a 2 acre paddock in the woods, and the 3 we had harvested had been literally hogging all the feed- they were the enormous “boss hogs” of the herd. At over 300 pounds, they were indeed ready to harvest and finally contribute to the cash flow on our farm. We have been spending a small fortune feeding our pigs this year! The second that those three big hogs (Philomena, Sheerah and Goldie) were out of the herd, the remaining 13 pigs were eating like crazy- we need them to be able to bulk up too, as all of our other customers are eagerly waiting for their pork shares!
Our “Pig Park”, where the piggles stay cool in the shade
After a long, glorious day delivering pork, meeting up with our customers, hauling heavy coolers into their homes and helping unload some of the most ethical and gorgeous pork, cut and wrapped beautifully by our butcher Mike, I stopped at my previous workplace to get some bulk whole wheat pastry four and polenta meal before heading home. One of my old co-worker friends was there working, and as I dug out my coins she asked what I’d been up to that day. I told her with a huge proud smile that I had been distributing our first pork shares, and wow, wasn’t that amazing?! I forgot though, that she was a vegetarian, and exactly the kind I used to be- a rather self-righteous one. She held her face in a stoic grimace while I explained what a great life these pigs had lived, and how they were providing an alternative to all the pork that would have been eaten. I told her how they’d been harvested on the farm, peacefully. They didn’t even see it coming and were instantly dead. I think I said that’s how I’d want to go. And then she said, “so what did the other pigs do, just stand there and watch their friends get killed?” I told her no, indeed they had gone off to eat because there was now more room at their feed trough. This isn’t Charlotte’s Web. They didn’t sit there and wimper and cry about their buddies being gone. Pigs are not people, as much as vegetarians like to anthropomorphize animals’ behaviors. Pigs are opportunists.
But talk about an buzzkill. Here I had spent the day with people who were so grateful for what we do, and in that moment, she kind of just wrecked my glow. I wanted to be sensitive to her opinions, but I also didn’t feel I needed to defend myself either. She’s a cashier at a store where she rings up all kinds of ethically-borderline “natural” meat all day long. Our customers went out of their way to buy an entire half hog directly from a farmer they know and trust. They watched the pigs grow virtually on facebook and on our website; saw how they romped and played in the woods and enjoyed belly rubs and forest walk abouts with us. Some of them even came to meet the pigs in person. I just felt like I deserved a bit more credit than the condescending vegetarian was giving me.
To her credit, at the end of our awkward interaction, she said she still admired what we do, and appreciated that we were trying to make a difference in our animals’ lives. But she still chose being a vegetarian because , you know, it’s got a lower environmental impact, and is better. What is it with vegetarians who are so sure of themselves and quick to point out they believe that their choice is superior? And why does she think she is impacting the environment more positively? All crops need fertility, and even organic fields of vegetables rely on factory farmed animal waste to supply that. All industrial crops require immense amounts of tillage and cultivation, organic crops even more so because they can’t use the “easy solution” of spraying herbicides to control weeds. Yes, eating lower on the food chain may be more immediately ethical because you are not eating flesh from a living being, but how do you measure the loss of habitat in 1,000s of acres of organic soybeans for your tofu? Let alone how many creatures are killed to cultivate the soil around the soybean plants?
I understand the vegetarian stance that people should eat the crops, not feed the crops to animals and then eat the animals. I get it. But what they don’t know is that ethically raised meat is just so delicious. I was a vegan for over 6 years, and I did just fine with my veggie scrambles, tofu sandwiches, seitan stir-fries. However, when I had my first bite of roast pork from our first pig Roxy, I didn’t know how I had ever lived more fully. So perhaps, in choosing to not be a vegetarian and go the complete opposite route, I am having a much more meaningful and religious experience every time time I eat. I have an actual  relationship with the animals and with the meals that they provide. I’ll take that any day over a faceless tofu sandwich. It just tastes and feels better.

2014 First harvesting of the year

At dusk last night, a coyote family was yipping in a big pack, deep in the woods. Our dogs ran over there barking, and then have continued to bark all night long. Little Blue is still way over there from the sound of his echo as he let’s those coyotes know they are not welcome in these parts. because of the barking, I’ve been up since 2am catching up this blog to my wordpress site.And it’s finally done!

First- check out the progress on our “farmer barn!” Andrew and his dad are rocking it!!

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I’ve had a bunch of vegans join my Tumblr, so i want to be clear. I am on your side. I am vegan except if I raised it myself. I am providing an alternative to factory farm meat as a small-scale Compassionate Carnivore farmer. Please respect me and I respect you.

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The pig and calf harvest went perfectly smooth and peacefully on Thursday. That morning, we were extremely anxious waiting to hear the ETA from our on-farm slaughterer. I felt all jittery and nervous, sad, ethically challenged, already mourning the change about to come, but finding comfort in their absolute lack of knowledge of what was to come. Three of our biggest pigs were brought into a fresh grassy paddock in the morning, they were elated to turn the roots over and lay in the shade on the cool grass. The evening before, I hung out with the calves, rubbing their chins as they used my back to rub their big heads.They were starting to grow horns and get a bit rowdy and bull-ish (riding and humping each other), so we knew it was time before they might become dangerous with their hormones and heft.

Mike arrived right after I finished chores at 3:45, and with three shots, the three pigs were instantly dead. Immediate and unknown death is what I think we all hope for. Mike’s wife Jen, his youngest son, and nephew Steve were there to help. We’re so grateful for his skills and for their friendship. He used a hoist to skin and gut the pigs as they transformed into pork. We chatted about labeling regulations, how to deal with the various inspectors, the co-ops and whether he could get his braunschweiger into that market, his latest awards for the jerky he specializes in. I collected the enormous livers, hearts and skinned heads. The sun was hot, but there was a slight breeze and occasional clouds drifting across the sky.

Then we headed over to the calves. My father-in-law helped brace me, I clutched his arm as we watched. I didn’t know if the calf harvest would be any different, but with two perfectly aimed shots, the two biggest calves were instantly down. After a few minutes, the electrical impulses left the bodies and they lay still on the grass. From days-old babies coming home in the back of the Subaru, to nearly 300 pound young cattle. They grew so much in just 3 months! I collected the livers, hearts, tongues and kidneys. Jen told Mike to cut out the skirt steaks for us, I didn’t know this but skirt steak is the diaphragm; the muscle that pushes air in and out of the lungs. I marveled at the deep red color; this is not like the veal meat color I’d seen. She told me I should probably remove the fascia and silver skin covering the thin strip of muscle and then google a recipe. I don’t think they are really used to cooking unusual cuts. I found a recipe on the Art of Manliness website – a balsamic and garlic marinated grilled skirt steak served with a warm greek-inspired pasta salad. Andrew had to go pick up our organic grain order before dark, and I prepared the meal. This would be our first taste of pastured veal, and I have really been anticipating it from the beginning of this experiment.

After cleaning off the fascia and silver skin as best I could, there was maybe a pound of meat, and interestingly, it really smelled like BEEF. I was elated! There was this little bit of worry in the back of my mind that veal would be like rabbit, and thankfully that’s not how it was looking! I drizzled a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the strips, with some salt, fresh pepper and chopped garlic, then massaged it all together and let it sit for an hour as I went to the garden to collect herbs and couple veggies for the pasta.

Andrew arrived back home, my father-in-law came over from his camper, and I heated the cast iron skillet to medium high. Once it was hot, I laid the strips carefully on the oiled surface and let them sear. When there was a nice crisp on the bottom, I flipped them over and turned down the heat, to let them slowly finish cooking. The smell was heavenly, and we dished up the pasta and waited. I divvyed up the strips between the three of us. Skirt steak from a calf is pretty small, not like a big steak. But as we tucked into our plates, a communal sigh rose from the table, our eyes rolling back into our heads with the pleasure of a perfect bite. This pastured veal skirt steak was beefy, it was tender, it was succulent, it was DIVINE! And this was just the diaphragm!

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I looked at both of them and said that this felt like my second “Duck Egg Moment-” meaning, pastured veal is seriously something I want to grow the market for. It only makes sense as Wisconsin is the dairy state, and these bull calves are the by-product of dairy production. If we can give them a happy life outdoors, on pasture, and then they can provide amazing meat? Sounds like a no-brainer.

There is more harvesting coming up. We have a group of 75 broiler chickens to process towards the end of the month when they are about 11 weeks old. A side note- people get all weird about veal because it’s a “baby” cow, but I want to point out that almost all the chicken meat in the store came from even more of a “baby” than the 3 month old calves we harvested. The majority of chickens are harvested when just 6 weeks old. That’s not even 2 months old. Don’t even get me started on how most meat is raised.

Later today we are planning to harvest our own calf ourselves, as we can’t afford to have Mike process our own meat (his skills are worth every penny for the meat we sell to others). I enjoy butchery, but am a bit nervous to be doing the kill/gut/skin ourselves. Andrew is a very good shot though, so after seeing how Mike did it, I feel confident we can do this humanely.

What a pleasure and joy the calves have been to raise, and now that I know just how delicious they are, I am getting the business plans rolling for next year.

 

 

 

Harvesting our own Veal – Cutlet

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Oh dear Cutlet, it was a privilege to raise you up the right way outdoors, in the sun and fresh air on pasture with bottles each and every day. Thank you for living your beautiful life and now, thank you for all the goodness you are providing us.

Where to start on butchering up a whole veal? After 3 hours, we ended up with about 70 lbs of boned-out meat, 10 gallons of giant stock bones, 8 pounds of organ meat, and plenty of odd bits for the dogs. This was our smallest of the three pastured veal calves we raised. He was 1/2 jersey,1/2 a more beef type mother. Quite impressed! #pasturedveal all the way!

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Polenta “Enchilada” Pie with shredded veal, tomatillo salsa and Ireland Creek Annie Beans

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What’s that?? Spaghetti and pastured veal meatballs!!!

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I made about a gallon and half of delicious silky, gelantinous veal broth with 1/2 of the bones, some herbs and veg thrown in and simmered on low-low for 3 days. Then I took a bit of that broth and simmered the tongue (not pictured) for two hours, and took it out to cool a bit, and then cooked duck egg pasta in that same broth, and served with the sliced tongue. It was probably one of the most DELICOUS meals I have ever had. Raising pastured veal has been the highlight of my year. I loved those boys, and felt honored to have given them a peaceful life.

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2014- mid summer

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a long horrible joke

There’s this joke my mom used to tell about a very special pig. When I became a vegetarian in my teens, this joke really irked me, but now I remember her telling it and smile.

There were two old friends. Steve lived in the country and Carl lived in the city. The city friend, Carl, came out to visit Steve’s farm on a nice fall day. They were old friends and enjoyed getting together to catch up once in a while although neither really knew each other very well anymore. Carl cautiously followed Steve around the farm, getting his nice shoes dirty as they wandered around the barn and pastures. Carl demonstrated what a city slicker he was in the garden when he didn’t believe that carrots grew underground until Steve pulled one out of the soil to prove it.

Steve enjoyed showing his friend around the farm, his pride and joy. He also loved that Carl was so naïve about rural life and country living. With a twinkle in his eye, Steve said- “Oh, hey, did you have a chance to meet Sara yet?” Carl scanned his memory and with a guilty twinge admitted he didn’t recall meeting anyone named Sara. Steve puts his hands around his mouth like a megaphone and calls “hey, Sara! Where are you? Sara… SARA…come here Sara!” Around the corner of the barn a red flash comes flying awkwardly towards them. Too big to be a dog, but what WAS that? Steve crooned “Sara, come here you big beast.” The big red pig hobbled over to stand by Steve’s leg and starts rubbing her monstrous head on Steve’s overalls, nearly knocking over her master. Carl can’t believe it, he’s never seen a pig in person and he never imagined they could be huge while appearing so tame and, well, sweet. Then he notices this pig is standing there, but only has three legs. Carl asks with a bit of caution what happened to this pig named Sara that she is missing a leg. Steve laughs out loud, stroking the beast’s forehead and tells Carl that this is a very special pig.

“See, one day in the early spring, I was out cultivating the field, but it was too wet to be out there on the tractor. I should have known better, but I always get so impatient to begin planting. As soon as I went down the first row, one of the back tires got stuck. I got out to try to get it loose, then I discovered one of the bolts was broken off and before I knew it, the tractor had me pinned to the ground. Not crushed, thank god, but I was thoroughly stuck and had no way to get myself out. I thought and prayed and could think of nothing, so I laid there crying in despair, and had to just leave my predicament up to the Lord. Then I heard a grunting, and what do you know, there was Sara. She was rooting around the soil by my shoulder, trying to loosen it! I took this as a sign from God, and that pig kept at it until I could wiggle out, totally unharmed in anyway. Can you believe it?!? That pig was sent to save me from a long and slow death by god above. A miracle.”

Carl listened to this story with disbelief and amazement. “ Wow, WOW! You were saved by an angel. An angel pig! A 3 legged angel pig!” Steve chuckled and sort of choked up a little, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye. He stroked Sara’s broad bristly back and said “Oh she had all 4 legs then. But that’s not the only story- Sara is a VERY special pig. In the middle of a hot summer night, I woke up to Sara outside my bedroom window, she was shrieking like a hound dog, grunting and squealing, banging around in some sort of insane fit. I’d had a hard time falling asleep in the heat that night, and didn’t want to get up, so I yelled from my bed for her to quiet down, not really sure what she was doing up by the house. She wouldn’t stop though, and fearing she was being attacked by a bear or something, I got out of bed and grabbed my gun to find out what was going on out there. As soon as I opened my bedroom door, the smoke hit me. There was a fire in the kitchen! That pig…………she saved my life again! I was able to get out and call the fire department from my neighbor’s house, so she even saved most of the farm house from being destroyed! It’s it something? She is such a special pig!”

“I really can’t believe a PIG could save your life, and twice! That is really something. She should wear a badge of honor around her neck, be on the road, be a celebrity pig! But, I still don’t get why she only has 3 legs. Did she get injured in the fire?”

“Well Carl, the truth is…a pig that smart, this sweet and who saved my life twice? Well, a pig like THAT, you just can’t eat her all at once.”

Hullo August

I sound like a broken record with yet another “what weird weather we’re having.” Nights are dipping down to 45ish, and daytime temps go up to 80. At least we get a feel of summer during the day!

Cashflow is tight this year, as we are raising a whole lot of ducks who are eating tons of feed (literally) but not laying eggs yet. We’re taking the little bit of extra money we do have to build a winter hide-away. Our old current house is not really a candidate to fix up- in the winter it leaks heat like a colander strains pasta water. So, we’re making a place to spend the winter, one that is cozy and warm. This, officially, is not a habitation we’re building, but a studio or insulated shed. it won’t be fancy, but it is something we absolutely need to get through another Wisconsin winter with our sanity intact. 8 months of wearing snowpants in the house is not an option anymore. I wore mine out.

Andrew’s been designing and organizing the entire construction project. His awesome Dad was here to help, so I could keep my focus on tending the farm. The studio is being built on piers, since we have a rather high water table. Andrew hemmed and hawed over piers vs. a rubble trench foundation. It’s all greek to me. Today the cement truck came and poured the piers. It is very exciting! This is happening! No more snowpants! Winter is right around the corner!

What else has been happening- well, sadly, yesterday was super hot and we had 3 Bubsters (our broiler chickens) pass away, not sure if was the heat or their eating too much, but it seemed to be heart related. One of the three was close to perishing when I found him, I tried to bathe him in cool water to bring down his temperature, but he was wheezing and not able to stand up. I humanely harvested him for us to eat, so as not to waste his life. it was a seriously mixed emotion situation. The two that were already dead when I found them, I gave to the dogs. We could have eaten them, but they had blood in them that had not been able to drain out as in a traditional chicken harvest. Weird farm life realities.

I had enough lye left from my spring soap-making ingredient purchase to make three more batches of goatmilk soap. Lemongrass Oatmeal, Citrus Swirl and Sweet Orange Clove w/tumeric. As we’re short of cash right now, I’m thinking of doing a fundraiser with a “Year of Soap” CSA. I’ll mail you 2 bars of soap every month for a year, for $100. Non-US shipping might be a little bit more. If I could get 20 people to sign up, it would help us significantly! Email me if you might be interested: farmerkhaiti(at)gmail.com

My first farming business endeavor was goatmilk soap, and that’s because I make AMAZING soap. I won’t even be humble about this, it is awesome soap. It’s so silky, yet leaves no gross residue. Goatmilk has a ph level that equals human skin, so my soap does not steal your skin’s natural moisture. It lathers and cleans gorgeously.

Our 3 biggest pigs and two of our calves will be harvested by our professional licensed butcher Mike this week. We’ll be butchering the smallest, Cutlet, ourselves for our own home use. I really am anticipating the first taste of our own pastured veal. This was purposely a home-scale project this time around, but I am extraordinarily grateful we have 4 customers ready and lined up to buy halves. Thank you thank you! for supporting our endeavors to do good in the world! If we all love the pastured veal product, this could become a permanent part of our farm operation. There are SO many dairies all around us with dairy bull calves that have no place to go other than an auction barn. It feels good to know we gave these three beautiful bull boys a wonderful life here on our farm. I’ve really adored raising these calves as an immersion into the world of cattle.

What’s next? I really, really want Scottish Highlands. I chose the calves this year as my birthday present. May I seed the idea of some Highlands for next year, if not sooner? The thing with raising and finishing grassfed beef is it takes years, and every time I pencil out the numbers, it’s a bit sketchy, especially if we were breeding Highlands. But if we bought a few yearlings?

As I sit, an Amish hay wagon pulled by a horse went by, driven by 3 kids alone. I lifted my hand to wave and all 3 waved back. Awww, life in the country. I love it.

July 2014- ACRES and picking your battles

It’s finally arrived!

The August issue of ACRES USA has arrived. Here’s my first of three articles in the series! SO EXCITING!

And, if you are curious, here’s the link to the WCCO radio show, I’m on 7/19/14 episode, I join Dara about half way in. Hearing yourself speak is really one of the oddest sensations ever. Seriously.

http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/show/off-the-menu-with-dara-moskowitz-grumdahl/#

 

Things are exhausting but rolling along on the farm. I’ve been hitting the weeding again in the mulched beds, showing that quack grass who’s boss. The incredible thistles rise like spiky snakes from the thick mulch, undeterred. My fingers are riddled with tiny thistle splinters from trying to get them out at the base with my bare hands like a moron.

Our field garden, which I was so hopeful for, has become such a mess. And we have a doe with twin fawns who ate all the tops off our sugar snap peas. I spent SO MUCH TIME weeding the onions as they established themselves in May, but now it’s a sea of ragweed. Pick your battles I say. I give up on that garden. Hopefully we’ll find some onions there in a month or 2. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Andrew’s been focusing on starting the cabin build (we are not going to have to live in a frigidly cold home this winter if all goes as planned!), which leaves just lil’ ole me to do all the gardens, and as far as the field garden goes- I just failed. I didn’t even want to be a vegetable farmer, you guys! I am good at animals, not so much at large scale vegetable production.

In the main garden though, I am winning. The mulch is helping tremendously with the weeds. And I timed my planting MUCH better for seeding too. I have big healthy brussel sprout plants for the first time ever. All the fall transplants are in the ground too- napa cabbage, fennel bulbs, cauliflower, broccoli, and seeded lots more carrots, turnips, beets, parsley, scallions, chives, arugula, spinach, daikon and winter radishes. Picked the first round of green beans, but sadly the squash bugs are just wrecking my hopes and dreams of crazy amounts of cucumbers. I started more plants in the hoophouse, which seem to be doing much better. Stupid squash bugs.

The calves are growing and starting to get a little rowdy as their testosterone kicks in at about 2 1/2 months of age. Bucco regularily is out of the fence in the morning, he’s pretty smart and has learned he can sneak under the electric fence wire, which is no biggie, he just wanders around where his 2 buddies are. Nevertheless we’re thinking of harvesting them soon. I read that dairy bull calves after around 150 pounds live weight will primarily focus on building up their frames/bones, not adding muscle. This was intentionally an experiment experience, just to see how we like raising pastured veal calves, and then ultimately how they taste, which I am eager to try. I really love having the calves, they are so different than any other animal. Very mellow.

 

July 2014 – feeling good

Joy returns

I have been eluding to the hardships of this life and work we’ve chosen, because I feel there is this romanticism that so many people (and even corporations) attach to farms and farming. In my writing and sharing, I want to emphasize that it is NOT all peaches and cream. The entrepreneurial learning curve, as well as the new farmer learning curve, has been incredibly steep. Actually being a farmer though, IS absolutely great and gives us an extremely fulfilling life. I mean, for real, we live off the land and we provide delicious food to literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people in various outlets. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of! We run a business from this farm, eat extremely well, and have our basic and primal needs met. So why have I been so frustrated and restless?

The 5 year out question has been festering in my mind. What do I want to do, I mean really want to do in five years? I’ve achieved what I really wanted 5 years ago; I am a fulltime farmer. I spend my days surrounded by our animals, the natural world, our gardens. It’s “multitasking central,” which is my specialty.

What I would want to do, if I could have no worry of financial responsibility, is 2 things: homesteading and raising happy animals.

Being as self-sufficient as possible for our household, and as low carbon foot print as I can be, has been my goal for a long while. I get such pleasure and fulfillment from toodling around with growing, preserving, fermenting, brewing, curing, smoking, butchering. And being around content, healthy and joyous animals makes me extremely happy, especially if I was directly involved in their comfort and satisfactions being met. I also want to have more time to write and do other creative projects too.

Being a business owner, the line of what’s “me” and what’s “the farm” has been blurred over the past 4 years, because we have had to focus on bringing in income to pay for our farm’s expenses, as well as our own. As newbie farmers, we’ve had to focus everything and every penny on making our business work before our own personal desires were filled. That’s part of any business, especially as it starts and grows.

We’re finally at the point now where we have things pretty set up to just farm, not struggle. I am extremely proud to say that! It has been SO HARD, but we have persevered. Now, as we look to next season, we can actually have the luxury of saying “what do I really want to be doing with this one and precious life?”

This year we’ve had a terribly late and super wet spring, which has been a major pain in the butt for CSA gardening. The stress of the way we’ve been doing our CSA shares has really been too much with this fickle climate now rearing it’s head 2 springs in a row. Our CSA program has got to change. We have some really exciting plans for an overhaul and re-invention of how we do it next season. It’s kind of a secret right now, but I am feeling the joy return and the stress lift from my shoulders. Yeehaw!

An aside- my New Farmer Article Series is beginning in the next issue (the August 2014 edition) of ACRES USA magazine! I am so nervous and excited!

That squash bug smashing over the past month has paid off and the zucchini plants are FINALLY starting to grow their first fruits- this is a round zucchini variety, I just want to pinch those chubby round orbs of cuteness! All of this is heading to our CSA members tomorrow. I didn’t get to even eat one yet. Soon, soon I hope to be overloaded with all kinds of zukes!

That squash bug smashing over the past month has paid off and the zucchini plants are FINALLY starting to grow their first fruits- this is a round zucchini variety, I just want to pinch those chubby round orbs of cuteness! All of this is heading to our CSA members tomorrow. I didn’t get to even eat one yet. Soon, soon I hope to be overloaded with all kinds of zukes!

Crazy craze

It’s been a rather trying season, but awesome things keep happening- and this helps us keep our morale up. This Saturday I’m going to be on Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl’s radio show- 11am on WCCO for all my Twin Cities peeps. AND….The Perennial Plate is coming out to film tomorrow afternoon, and this footage MAY end up in a PBS special on the new Victory Gardens. WHAT??? I know!!! So fingers crossed. My dear husband spent the day getting our kitchen and bathroom revamped and cleaned, so, well, we will see how all of this goes.

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