The fact is that many, many people who want to eat good local meat do not want to come to our farm and be a part of the harvesting process. Do we allow for this? What do you think?
We’re planning to raise some different types of grass and forage based poultry next season. Our farm already specializes in humanely raised & sustainable meats, but we want to upgrade our portfolio to include more variety. New grass-fed options, not more grass-fed beef, which is available everywhere now. We’ve had success with the rabbit project, and goat too. Grass based meats make sense- if you eat an animal who eats what we cannot, that being grass and pasture plants, well, that is a better “green” choice. Most meat available in the US is fed grain, which has a very high carbon footprint. The meat from pastured animals will be a healthier choice for the land and the eater & flavors will be more complex and delicious.
As we work out the 2013 numbers, we’re realizing to really, actually make a living wage farming small scale, we need to increase our customer base. That means we need to think outside our comfort zone, to get in the comfort zone of others. We’ve been opposed to sending our birds to be slaughtered anywhere else but here, however this has legal limitations. Under current Wisconsin laws, we may process up to 1,000 birds on our farm to sell directly to the consumer ON OUR FARM. We can’t take our lovingly raised and peacefully harvested birds to sell at the farmer’s market, the customer must come to the farm to buy it from us. This is hard for many folks to do, although we have a group of amazing customers who do it (thanks you guys!) it is just not enough people who will come out, for us to make a living. So, we’re thinking of having some of our poultry processed next year in a local small processing plant. If we can have these birds prepared and inspected by the USDA, we can apply for the proper licenses and then be able to cross state lines and sell these birds. Imagine if we had a “meat-mobile” delivering into town, or were able to have fresh, legal poultry to sell at our farmer’s market. I feel we could increase our sales so much by doing this. We need to bring in more gross revenue in order to make a living. Sustainable isn’t just about proper farming methods- it also applies to the farm’s ability to continue and sustain it’s self.
Interestingly, if we sell larger mammals “on the hoof” by the whole or half, we can hire a mobile slaughterer to come and dispatch the animals here (which feels better for us, to not have our animals stressed by live transport to the facility), take them back to his abattoir, cut them up and process them for the customers who own those halves or the whole animal. They have to pick up their processed meat at his place though, we cannot deliver it to them under this exemption. If we want to sell individual cuts in individual packages, we need to bring the live animals in to his abattoir. Are we crazy to not really want to do this? If we brought goats to our local (again, very small scale and very local) slaughterhouse, we could, with the proper licensing on our part, then sell the packaged cuts individually at a farmer’s market, or in our mobile meat-mobile.
My question is this- do people really care about where or how their sustainable meat is harvested? Do ENOUGH people care and can they make the adjustment to coming to the farm to pick up their fresh poultry, or go to the butcher’s place to pick up their half of a goat? Is it ok if we are looking at these alternatives? I am on the fence still.
As the day length decreases, the goats does are going into heat. They have been since August actually. I was waiting to introduce a buck to the herd, because we do not want to have goat kids being born in January this coming year. Nope, “we’re” waiting for April to have kids! This way the goat kids will be able to go outside as soon as possible and have a lovely spring, summer and fall with us. We won’t be selling all the newborns as bottle babies, as I did this year, because we’re ready to begin offering pasture raised, milk-fed kid goat as part of of our farm portfolio for 2013. New paddocks will be put up and we’ll be able to begin to raise goat as a new grass-fed alternative to beef. These kid goats will get also be milk-fed as long as they desire. Since we learned we cannot distribute anything edible (for humans) from our goats’ milk until we become a licensed facility, most of all the milk will be going to feed the goat kids. Why wouldn’t I just let the mothers raise them? Well, several reasons- one of our adult milkers (and we don’t know which one) has something in her gut bacteria that is potentially a problem as it comes out the other end, for young kids to deal with before they have developed immune systems. So pasturing the kids away from the main herd will be safer for them. And the other reason to be milking instead of letting the kids nurse on their own is we’re PROBABLY going to get pigs, a couple of them, next year as well, to raise on the excess milk, as well as to assist us in their piggy glee, preparing some of the new garden space for 2014. Always have to think into the year beyond the year about to be.
Anyways, BlackJack the yearling Alpine, is doing a good job after a bit of confusion abut which end to tackle first! He himself was a bottle-fed baby, so he’s very friendly, which is not so cool, as his face is plastered with acidic urine, which he sprays on himself. Ugggg. He wafts forth the absolutely most rank shit smell of rutty musk you’ve ever and never imagined. So far it appears his entrance to the girls’ lair has brought nearly every goat into heat within the past 2 weeks. May was first, followed by Segway, then Honey, then Desti, and today Brenna. There are only 2 ladies to go, Metallika and then Mabel. Mabel is technically old enough at 8 months to be bred, but I always want to wait as long as possible with the doelings born this year, If they are bigger and more full grown they are the better set to be growing kids inside themselves. Mabel’s momma, Segway, was bred a bit early last fall, but she is half Boer Goat, and is tough as nails. Just this fall something “happened” to her and she looks absolutely amazing. Chunky and filling out into full size, a lustrous, thick coat and a zip in her step. I’m confident her daughter will step along the same path of excellence.
Yesterday began our Turkey harvesting on the farm. The night before, a small group of our gorgeous turkeys are brought together for their over night fast, which empties their systems and makes processing cleaner. Early this morning, we got the scalder heating over a wood fire, and prepared the stations for plucking and eviscerating. As our customers come to help with the processing, and take home their fresh Thanksgiving turkeys, we are elated to be know such wonderful folks who can look at a bird and know this is where meat actually comes from.
All of our turkeys sold out early this year, which is wonderful, except for having to turn a few people down. Next year we will be offering heritage Bourbon Reds as well as our succulent Broad Breasted Whites. They will be raised the same way- on pasture, living a free and good life, foraging and exercising, but still supervised, protected and cared for.
Did you know that most turkeys in the store are 12-16 weeks old when they are harvested? Our turkeys are 24 weeks old when we harvest them, that’s 6 whole months. At this age, they get to mature and develop a nice layer of fat which actually has a self-basting effect. Maturity in our turkeys also means they actually taste like TURKEY. If you’ve only had grocery store birds, an LTD Turkey will blow you away with tenderness and flavor. A pastured turkey living outdoors 24/7 is healthier too, and you are what you eat. We all know the wonders of a little fresh air & sunshine in our lives, so why not expect that for the animal you eat as well?
A couple technical notes on harvesting:
We changed two major things this year in our harvest techniques. We switched from using a knife to cut the jugular vein, to a single shot from a tiny 22 bullet, and THEN we bleed the turkey out. The bullet ensures no suffering to the bird, and instant death without fear. Everyone comments on how calm the birds are. We still contain the bird before the shot, as their sheer muscle reaction is dangerously powerful. We use a solid wood box with a hole in one side, a lever to hold the bird’s neck in place, and cushions around the bird to hold it’s body through the death throes. We don’t want to use “killing cones” because we feel the turkeys will be frightened if we suspend them upside down (to place them in the cones) while they are still alive.
The other thing we changed is that we are now “TAA- DAAH” scalding our turkeys, instead of dry-plucking. Dry plucking is nice if you want to spend an hour per bird, pulling feathers out by hand, but scalding is wonderful if you want to save your wrists from repetitive stress syndrome! These two changes have significantly improved our scenario on harvesting days. Andrew took a food grade steel drum, cut it in half, and we put it over a fire. Adjust the temp to 160 with the fire and some cold water if it gets too hot. Dunk the bird for less than a minute at this temp, and then wipe those feathers off, pulling out the bigger wing feathers.