Nov 2013- geese and turkeys

gorgeous gluttonous golden gobbets

It was a pretty intense day. This morning we rounded up the gentle goslings into the horse trailer and brought them to our harvest pavilion. We harvested all of them today. We raised 21 from start to finish, and they have been my most favorite thing about this year. Such dear, intelligent and hilariously boisterous birds. It was a bit hard to see their spirits leave our farm, but so beautiful to harvest them with care & witness their transformation into the most succulent and gorgeous food. What we do here is so intense, and if you eat meat, I hope you think about the animal that grew that meat/those muscles, how it lived and how it died. We all deserve respect and a peaceful end.

The amount of fat that the goslings have is beyond surreal. They have nearly an inch thickness of golden fat on the inside of their body cavity! These bowls in the photo are the fat that spilled out as we opened up the cavity to eviscerate- we were not expecting that at all! I guess since we’d scalded the birds prior to plucking, a small amount on the very outer layer liquified and well, we couldn’t let it go to waste! They were hard to hold onto being so glisteningly greasy. Beautiful golden fat from my beautiful goslings. They will make all of our holiday goose customers so happy and nourished.

It’s amazing, this abundant amount of fat, because the goslings were not grain hogs at all. They grew this fat and meat on some organic grain, but mostly they just loved to graze on grass. This kind of animal fat is the most healthy for you kind, and an important part of a well rounded whole foods diet. Speaking of which, we saved the feet and they are simmering on the stove with the chicken necks from my Bubsters that we harvested last week, as well as a few chicken carcasses I saved in the freezer. It smells like ambrosial savory heaven in here! Bone broth, made from slowly simmered bones cooking in water with a bit of apple vinegar in there to release minerals from the bones, is not only ridiculously delicious, but super healthy. Calcium from bones is much higher quality and more absorb able than any pill you can take- most calcium supplements are made from rock.

Our big turkey harvest (about 60 birds) and customer pickup is this weekend, and the weather forecast is not looking too kind. We were planning to harvest most of the turkeys on Saturday when most people are coming out, but the weather will be 19, way below freezing. We’re not big babies, it is just that our hose obviously won’t run in that temperature, and we need to use the hose while operating the plucker. So since it was about 40 today, we decided we needed to have the goslings done, so tomorrow and Friday we can just be focused on harvesting turkeys.

About the price we charge for our goose, $8/lb. I can tell you- these beauties take SO long to process after harvest, that is why the price of waterfowl generally is so much higher than other poultry. They have two layers of feathers that are very resistant to water, because they are WATERfowl! That means more than three times the amount of time to remove the feathers. Even the professional Featherman plucker we were using could not make much of a dent. We love raising geese so much and we will keep trying to grow the audience for this delicious low carbon footprint meat and fat source. We have a flock of adults which we will hope and plan to have more success with hatching their own eggs next spring. Artificial incubation of goose eggs is definitely as difficult as you hear. Next spring, we’ll attempt to let nature do it’s thing to bring us our next round of beautiful goslings to raise on pasture.

turkey weekend

exhausted happy sore frozen to the core

For 6 months we tended our 100 turkeys. We dealt with all sorts of problems, mainly predators at night of the winged variety- OWLS. I’ve never dealt with owls before, but we’d never raised birds out so far away from our homebase. Owls tend to patrol for their dinner especially during the super early morning hours before dawn, so we camped with the turkeys for 3 whole months. We got up at 3 am to keep an owl-vigil with a flashlight, some cold coffee, an Ipad solitaire game, and a general presence. It worked. Our birds who made it through that tender young age (the majority of them) thrived on pasture out there and slept well on their modified ancient  manure spreader frame night roost.

After many months out on the spacious and rotated pastures, the nights became very cold in late October and the freezing rains started, so we moved the turkeys up near our house. They transitioned into the cozy hoophouse, where we used the wooden frames from the out of service rabbit hutches as their roosts. (Did I ever tell you we were getting out of rabbits?) This space that’s out of the wind & freezing rain with a roosting area worked great for them, until they became so heavy that they began to break the frames of their roosts under their own weight. We were close to harvesting time at that point, so then we moved the turkeys out to a new paddock enclosing the overgrown original permaculture installation of berms and swales. Moving turkeys can be simple, but not when they are such athletic birds! I discovered a bamboo rod with a plastic shopping bag tied on the end worked wonders as a turkey herding tool. They moved quickly away from the flapping bag! A crazed lady waving her shopping bag wand at a herd of 85 turkeys must have been quite the sight.

In this, their final paddock, the turkeys ate much of the goldenrod and grass they found there, leading to an herbal tea fragrance rising from their gizzards as we carefully sliced them open after harvest. Andrew made open-ended cones out of sheet metal to hold each turkey’s bulk as we carefully & quickly ended their life with a sharp blade. Previous years we have tried out many methods, but this has worked the best. We were able to hold each bird before, calm them and wait for the right moment to slip them into the cone so that they were not frightened or stressed..

At $1,500 plus shipping, the featherman plucker machine is not something most farmers can go out and buy, so we are extremely grateful that we were able to barter with some local friends to use theirs. It speeded up the processing side of the turkey harvesting. We don’t want to hurry the killing and harvesting part, just the aftermath. After the bird’s electrical energy left their body, we dunked them in a scalding tank of very hot water to loosen the feather follicles. Then the body was put in the plucker, which, when switched on, has a rotating bottom plate that moves the body round against a wall of rubber “fingers” that just pull the feathers right out. It’s a miracle! To use the plucker machine, you need to have running water to keep those feathers moving out of the barrel, out of the bottom chute. Day 1 of turkey harvesting, we had perfect weather for the first 6 hours, and we finished 50 turkeys right as the snow and wind picked up. Day 2 of turkey harvesting was so cold we could not use the hose, and so the plucker could not be utilized. A dear friend of ours came to help, and lucky she did because my poor husband was out of commission. He seriously wrecked his left shoulder most likely during the barn construction project we’d just completed. She and I scalded and then plucked by hand, talking about everything the whole while. It was a lovely and efficient time! We surprised Andrew by finishing 16 turkeys up, which brought us up to the preordered # of birds. There were still 6 turkeys left, but we called it a day. There’s a certain point where the job at hand becomes so exhausting, the taking of a life is so intense. I don’t want to fall into a routine too much with it, I want to hold this act in a special place, my heart and mind full of reverance for these birds. Yes we need to get the job done, but I want to be fully conscious of what it is I’m doing the entire time. This is why I’m glad to not do this every day, or every week, or even once a month. Killing for food is what happens in nature, but apparently I do not have a raptor’s stone cold heart. I want to keep it that way.

Saturday and Sunday were when the majority of customers were coming to pick up their turkeys, and it was SO COLD OUT! We had to have a heater in the walk-in cooler to keep the bagged birds from freezing solid! Everyone showed up, we sold a few goodie boxes too, which helps out financially. In between the dogs sounding the “someone’s here” bark, we worked on numbers and plans for how and what we’ll be doing turkey-wise next year. Yes, it is stupendous to sell out of our turkeys, but we did not turn a profit the same way we would have if the birds averaged higher weights. We have to weigh many things in the turkey equation:

it took SO LONG to raise them, and each and every day increases our risk of financial loss.

Harvesting life is hard work physically and emotionally.

Turkeys eat like horses, and because much of our feed is shared among all our animals, it’s pretty hard to actually know what it costs us to raise a turkey up per pound sold.

The last minute emails and orders are crazy making. When you are juggling 85 freshly processed turkeys, you need to make sure they are all getting picked up and paid for, and this is a leap of faith with the final birds being spoken for.

Having a fall “crop” and the money come in late in the season is very helpful for us, as we run this ship currently on a shoestring.

We love to know that our birds are replacing a shittily raised and fed turkey, that’s been something very important to us as we’ve grown our farm mission.

We’re hoping to round up all our turkey customers for next year now, and raise that number of birds only. No last minute sales. We’ll see how 2014 unfolds. I’m exhausted and so thankful.

pigs with wings

The title of this post means no disrespect to pigs. I love our pigs, and I LOVE our pork, but I might just love geese even more. Look at all that fat! They truly are pigs with wings.

My love affair with the goose began with the goslings. My god they knocked my socks off with their adorableness, and their unique, extremely personable ways. Even at 1 day old they were talking to you and responding to every coo you made towards them with this chatty little whistle song.

Their baby down feathers had a texture of the softest stuffed animal toy you have ever held. We coddled them in brooders in our kitchen. The goslings grew extremely fast, weighing nearly a pound in a week! Then came the irresistably lanky fuzz butt stage, we couldn’t help but snuggle them on the couch, with a poop blanket on our lap. As they grew, they got more awkwardly proportioned, and then their big goose feather sprouts began to emerge from the down. It was time for their first foray into the great outdoors, where they went crazy grazing all the grass they could get their beaks on.

As I wrote earlier, we have since harvested all of our young geese. They were a joy to raise, to herd to their new pasture, to sit with, to watch swoop around with their enormous wingspans, to feed, to sing with. They 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. We didn’t sell all of them, but that’s ok. It’s a new product for our farm to offer. Farmer’s Perks for us is delicious goslings to roast up over the winter. Hey, we don’t even make minimum wage, but we eat like freaking royalty I tell you!

Here I show my first ever confit experiment.

Searing off the legs from 2 geese, after which I placed them in a deep tight fighting cast iron “chicken fryer” pan (it was my mom’s pan!) added bay leaf, garlic and thyme, salt and pepper, and covered them with more goose fat.

After 3 hours in a 300 degree oven

I roasted the breast-on carcasses, breast side down separately in a deep roasting pan. Doing breast side down leads to breast meat not drying out and being more succulent. Look at all that fat! I think each goose is yielding about 2 quarts of golden gorgeousness! Immediately I starting tearing off the exposed skin and eating it, it is like cracklings, I could live on goose and cabbage I tell you!

The legs I had confit’ed went into a big jar, and were covered up to the brim with fat. This is a method of keeping meat out of the freezer (our freezer space is suddenly rather tight.) From my research, the confit’ed legs will keep for months in the fridge.

The goose fat when chilled gets semi-firm, but at room temp it stays nearly liquid. Do you know what that means? It’s very healthy fat. If an animal fat solidifies at room temp, imagine how it looks in your arteries.

After we had our goose dinner, I picked all the meat off the bones and cofit’ed it too. I laid out the bits of skin on top to re-roast after our Thanksgiving gorging tomorrow. There are still some meaty bits on there, and the skin, dear god, the crispy goose skin will be a super treat. Then I’ll pour off the glorious goose fat into jars for frying potatoes or whatever else this winter, and make stock from the bones.

Dear geese, I treasure your existence in the world and on our farm. Thank you for your beautiful and amazingly delicious bounty of food, for your lovely lives and for the extreme pleasure of making your acquaintance. Full of Thanksgiving I am.

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