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.

 

 

 

 

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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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